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In Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Veda is a term that means spirit, demi-god, celestial being, angel, deity or any supernatural being of high excellence. In Hinduism, the devas are opposed to the demonic asuras.


The word is from Proto-Indo-European *deiwos, originally an adjective meaning "celestial" or "shining", a Proto-Indo-European (not synchronic Sanskrit)vrddhi derivative from a root *diw "to shine", especially of the daylit sky. The feminine is Devi "goddess" (PIE *deiwih2).

Today, Hindus also refer to Devas as Devata. The Romani word for God, del or devel, is directly descended from devata (to which the word "devil" is wholly unrelated). Also cognate to deva are the Lithuanian Dievas (Latvian Dievs, Prussian Deiwas), Germanic Tiwaz (seen in English "Tuesday") and Latin deus "god" and divus "divine", from which the English words "divine", "deity", and French "dieu",and Italian "dio" are derived.

Vedic religion

The Vedas, the earliest comprehensive literature of the Indo-European people, contain mantras for pleasing the devas to obtain blessings. The Rig Veda, the earliest of the four, enumerates 33 devas, which in later Hinduism became exaggerated to 330 million, likely because the same Sanskrit word means "ten million" and "class, group", i.e. "33 types of divine manifestations".

Some devas represent the forces of nature and some represent moral values. The main deva addressed in the Rig Veda is Indra. Agni (fire) and Soma represent modes of fire-sacrifice, called yagna, but personified are also seen as devas. All gods taken together are worshipped as the Vishvedevas. Varuna, identified by some to have become the Supreme God of Zoroastrianism Ahura Mazda, has the dual title of deva and asura. There are also other devas like Savitr, Vishnu, Rudra (later given the exclusive epithet of Shiva), Prajapati(later identified with Brahma), and devis (goddesses) like Ushas, Prithvi and Sarasvati.

Nature devas are responsible for 'things' such as fire, air, rain and trees - most of them assumed a minor role in the later religion. Certain other deities rose into prominence. These higher devas control much more intricate tasks governing the functioning of the cosmos and the evolution of creation. Mahadevas, such as Lord Ganesha, have such tremenduous tasks under their diligence that they are sometimes called themselves gods under the Supreme One God. The Hindu trinity is composed of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Vayu or the Lord of the wind is an example of an important deva. Also, Death is personified as the deva Yama.


Devas, in Hinduism, are celestial beings that control forces of nature such as fire, air, wind, etc. They are not to be confused with the One and the Supreme God or His personal form, Saguna Brahman which can be visualized as Vishnu or Shiva. A famous verse from the Katha Upanishad states: “From fear (here, power) of Him the wind blows; from fear of Him the sun rises; from fear of Him Agni and Indra and Death, the fifth, run." In actuality, Brahman is the only Ultimate Reality, and all devas are simply mundane manifestations of Him.

The Vaishnavites (who often translate deva as "demigod") cite various verses that speak of the Devas' subordinate status. For example, the Rig Veda (1.22.20) states: "All the suras (i.e., the devas) look always toward the feet of Lord Vishnu." Similarly, in the Vishnu sahasranama the concluding verses state: "The Rishis (great sages), the ancestors, the Devas, the great elements, in fact all things moving and unmoving constituting this universe, have originated from Narayana," (i.e., Vishnu). Thus the Devas are stated to be subordinate to Vishnu, or God.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna himself states that worshipers of deities other than the Supreme Lord, Vishnu, are incorrect (Gita 9.23) as such worship leads only to temporal benefits, rather than to the Lord Himself (Gita 7.23). Krishna also says: "Whatever deity or form a devotee worships, I make his faith steady. However, their wishes are granted only by Me." (Gita: 7:21-22) Elsewhere in the Gita Lord Krishna states: "O Arjuna, even those devotees who worship other lesser deities (e.g., Devas, for example) with faith, they also worship Me, but in an improper way because I am the Supreme Being. I alone am the enjoyer of all sacrificial services (Seva, Yajna) and Lord of the universe." (Gita: 9:23)

The pantheon in the Srauta tradition consists of various gods and goddesses.

The main devas are (vide 6th anuvaka of Rudram Chamakam):

   * Agni
   * Indra
   * Soma
   * Savitr
   * Vayu
   * Varuna
   * Marutas
   * Aditya
   * Rudra
   * Vishnu
   * Brahma
   * Pusha
   * Brihaspati
   * Ashwinis
   * Vishvedavas
   * Prithvi
   * Dyaus
   * Antariksha
   * Dishas
   * Moordha
   * Prajapati 

Mitra and Varuna are asuras, not devas.

The main devis are:

   * Vaak or Sarasvati
   * Uma or Shivaa
   * Lakshmi or Shri 

Buddhist mythology

Types of deva

The term deva does not refer to a natural class of beings, but is defined anthropocentrically to include all those beings more powerful or more blissful than humans. It includes some very different types of being; these types can be ranked hierarchically. The lowest classes of these beings are closer in their nature to human beings than to the higher classes of deva.

The devas fall into three classes depending upon which of the three dhatus, or "realms" of the universe they are born in.

  1. The devas of the Arupyadhatu have no physical form or location, and they dwell in meditation on formless subjects. They achieve this by attaining advanced meditational levels in another life. They do not interact with the rest of the universe.
  2. The devas of the Rupadhatu have physical forms, but are sexless and passionless. They live in a large number of "heavens" or deva-worlds that rise, layer on layer, above the earth. These can be divided into five main groups:
    1. The Suddhavasa devas are the rebirths of Four stages of Anagamins, Buddhist religious practitioners who died just short of attaining the state of Arhat. They guard and protect Buddhism on earth, and will pass into enlightenment as Arhats when they pass away from the Suddhavasa worlds. The highest of these worlds is called Akaniṣṭha.
    2. The Brhatphala devas remain in the tranquil state attained in the fourth dhyana.
    3. The Subhakrtsna devas rest in the bliss of the third dhyana.
    4. The Abhasvara devas enjoy the delights of the second dhyana.
    5. The Brahma devas (or simply Brahmas) participate in the more active joys of the first dhyana.
  3. The devas of the BKamadhatu have physical forms similar to, but larger than, those of humans. They lead the same sort of lives that humans do, though they are longer-lived and generally more content, indeed sometimes they are immersed in pleasures. This is the dhatu that Mara has greatest influence over.

They are also more interested in and involved with the world below than any of the higher devas, and sometimes intervene with advice and counsel. Each of these groups of deva-worlds contains different grades of devas, but all of those within a single group are able to interact and communicate with each other. On the other hand, the lower groups have no direct knowledge of even the existence of the higher types of deva at all. For this reason, some of the Brahmas have become proud, imagining themselves as the creators of their own worlds and of all the worlds below them (because they came into existence before those worlds began to exist).

The higher devas of the Kamadhatu live in four heavens that float in the air, leaving them free from contact with the strife of the lower world. They are:

  • The Parinirmita-vasavartin devas, luxurious devas to whom Mara belongs;
  • The Nirmanarati devas;
  • The Tushita devas, among whom the future Maitreya lives;
  • The Yama devas.

The lower devas of the Kamadhatu live on different parts of the mountain at the center of the world, Sumeru. They are even more passionate than the higher devas, and do not simply enjoy themselves but also engage in strife and fighting. They are:

  • The Thirty-three gods devas, who live on the peak of Sumeru and are something like the Olympian gods. Their ruler is Sakra.
  • The Caturmaharajikakayika devas, who include the martial kings who guard the four quarters of the Earth. The chief of these kings is Vaisravana, but all are ultimately accountable to Sakra. They also include four types of earthly demigod or nature-spirit: Kumbhanda, Gandharvas, Nagas and Yaksha, and probably also the Garuda.

Sometimes included among the devas, and sometimes placed in a different category, are the Asuras, the opponents of the preceding two groups of devas, whose nature is to be continually engaged in war.

Powers of the devas

From a human perspective, devas share the characteristic of being invisible to the physical human eye. The presence of a deva can be detected by those humans who have opened the Divine eye (Pali: dibbacakkhu), an extrasensory power by which one can see beings from other planes. Their voices can also be heard by those who have cultivated a similar power of the ear.

Most devas are also capable of constructing illusory forms by which they can manifest themselves to the beings of lower worlds; higher and lower devas even have to do this between each other.

Devas do not require the same kind of sustenance as humans do, although the lower kinds do eat and drink. The higher sorts of deva shine with their own intrinsic luminosity.

Devas are also capable of moving great distances speedily and of flying through the air, although the lower devas sometimes accomplish this through magical aids such as a flying chariot.

Humans are said to have originally had many of the powers of the devas: not requiring food, the ability to fly through the air, and shining by their own light. Over time they began to eat solid foods, their bodies became coarser and their powers disappeared.

Devas vs. gods

Although the word deva is generally translated "god" (or, very occasionally, "angel") in English, Buddhist devas differ from the "gods", "God", or "angels" of western religions past and present in many important ways.

  • Buddhist devas are not immortal. They live for very long but finite periods of time, ranging from thousands to billions of years. When they pass away, they are reborn as some other sort of being, perhaps a different type of deva, perhaps a human or something else.
  • Buddhist devas do not create or shape the world. They come into existence based upon their past karmas and they are as much subject to the natural laws of cause and effect as any other being in the universe. They also have no role in the periodic dissolutions of worlds.
  • Buddhist devas are not incarnations of a few archetypal deities or manifestations of an all-embracing pantheistic One. Nor are they merely symbols. They are considered to be, like humans, distinct individuals with their own personalities and paths in life.
  • Buddhist devas are not omniscient. Their knowledge is inferior to that of a fully enlightened Buddha, and they especially lack awareness of beings in worlds higher than their own.
  • Buddhist devas are not all-powerful. Their powers tend to be limited to their own worlds, and they rarely intervene in human affairs. When they do, it is generally by way of quiet advice than by physical intervention.
  • Buddhist devas are not morally perfect. The devas of the worlds of the Rupadhatu do lack human passions and desires, but some of them are capable of ignorance, arrogance and pride. The devas of the lower worlds of the Kamadhatu experience the same kind of passions that humans do, including (in the lowest of these worlds), lust, jealousy, and anger. It is, indeed, their imperfections in the mental and moral realms that cause them to be reborn in these worlds.
  • Buddhist devas are not to be worshipped. While some individuals among the devas may be beings of great moral authority and prestige and thus deserving of a high degree of respect, no deva can be a refuge or show the way of escape from Samsara or control one's rebirth.

Confused with devas

The world of Buddhist meditation and practice includes several types of being that are often called "gods", but are distinct from the devas.

  • Bodhisattvas – A bodhisattva may be a deva in a particular life, but bodhisattvas are not essentially devas, and if they happen to be devas it is only in the course of being born in many different worlds over time. A bodhisattva is as likely to be born as a human or as an animal, and is only distinguished from other beings by the certainty that eventually, after many lives, the bodhisattva will be reborn as a Buddha. For example, the current bodhisattva of the Tushita heaven is now a deva. In his next life, however, he will be reborn as a human – the Buddha Maitreya. Advanced Bodhisattvas are also capable of manifesting themselves in a great variety of forms, including the forms of devas, depending upon the circumstances.
  • Yidams – These meditational deities sometimes take the form of ordinary devas and sometimes appear as manifestations of bodhisattvas, but they are in all cases to be taken as manifestations of enlightened mind with which the meditator intends to unite.
  • Buddhas – A Buddha (physically manifesting Buddha) is always a human and not a deva, as the right conditions for attaining supreme enlightenment do not exist in the deva-worlds. A Sambhogakaya Buddha has the form of a very high-ranking deva, but does not exist within the universe, subject to birth and death, as all the devas do. The Dharmakaya is beyond all worlds and limitations.

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