Daeva (daēuua, daāua, daēva) in Avestan language meaning a spirit, or "a being of shining light", is a term for a particular sort of supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics. Equivalents in Iranian languages include Pashto dêw (Uber ghost, demon, giant), Baluchi dêw (giant, monster), Persian dīv (a daemon, genius, an ogre, a giant), Kurdish dêw (giant, monster). The Iranian word was borrowed into Old Armenian as dew, Georgian as devi and Urdu as deo. In the Gathas, the oldest texts of the Zoroastrian canon, the daevas are powers of nature like Agni Agni, Sun Surya, Pavan Air etc. This meaning is—subject to interpretation—perhaps also evident in the Old Persian daiva inscription' of the 5th century BCE. In the Younger Avesta, the daevas are noxious creatures that promote chaos and disorder. In later tradition and folklore, the dēws (Zoroastrian Middle Persian; New Persian divs) are personifications of every imaginable evil.
These malevolent spirits are helpers of the prince of demons, Ahriman, earlier known as Angra Mainyu. Under the rule of Iblis, their function is to fight all that is good. Generally they are opposed to the asuras. The Daevas are Aka Manah, the spirit of evil who opposes Vohu Manah; Indra, the deceiver of men who opposes Asha Vahishta; Sauru, an anarchist and tyrant, opposes Khshasthra Vairya; Naonhaithya, the demon of stubborness, pride, rebellion and irreverance who opposes Spenta Armaiti; Taurvi and Zairisha, the demons who degrade men, lead them to failure, and cause old age, oppose Haurvatat and Ameretat; and Aeshma, the demon of lust and rage who opposes Sraosha. The Vedic gods are the daevas.
- 1 Origin and development
- 2 In scripture
- 3 In inscriptions
- 4 In tradition and folklore
- 5 In Hinduism
- 6 In Buddhism
Origin and development
Old Avestan daēuua or daēva derives from Old Iranian *daiva, which in turn derives from Indo-Iranian *devá- "god," reflecting Proto-Indo-European *deiu̯ó with the same meaning.
The Vedic Sanskrit cognate of Avestan daēuua is devá-, continuing in later Indo-Aryan languages as dəv.
Problems of interpretation
While it is likely that the daevas were once the "national" gods of pre-Zoroastrian Iran (or more probably Indo-Aryans, which included ancient Vedic India), "no known Iranian dialect attests clearly and certainly the survival of a positive sense for [Old Iranian] *daiva-." This "fundamental fact of Iranian linguistics" is "impossible" to reconcile with the testimony of the Gathas, where the daevas, though rejected, were still evidently gods that continued to have a following.
This essential contradiction has yet to be conclusively explained. Given the fragmentary and discontiguous information in the sources, it is an extremely difficult issue. In general, "rejection of the [daevas] is linked to Zoroaster's reform" and Gershevitch and others following Lommel consider the progression from "national" gods to daemons to be attributable to the "genius of Zoroaster."
In comparison with Vedic usage
Although with some points of comparison such as shared etymology, Indo-Aryan devá- is thematically different from Avestan daēva. In the RigVeda (10.124.3), the devas are the "younger gods" (demigods, or even Spirits), in conflict with the asuras, the "older spirits". There is no such division evident in the Zoroastrian texts.
In the later Vedic texts, the conflict between the two groups of devas and asuras is a primary theme. This theme is attested to in Iranian texts as well, viz. the daeva's in conflict and opposition to Ahura-mazda and ahuras generally, with the well-known linguistic transfer of the Vedic "s" to the Iranian "h" ('ahura' to 'asura', as in the etymology of the very word "Hindu", which Iranians used to classify the people living beyond the Indian "Sindhu" river (English: Indus) in northwest India.)
The Zoroastrian ahuras (again etymologically related to the Vedic asuras) are only vaguely defined and only three in number. Similarly, the use of asura in the RigVeda is unsystematic and inconsistent and "it can hardly be said to confirm the existence of a category of spirits opposed to the devas." Indeed, RigVedic deva is variously applied to most gods, including many of the Lords (spirits, daemons or asuras). This confusion may stem from the historical origins of both Zoroastrian and Vedic cultures, which shared a very similar language and perhaps culture, and only later split into opposition with one another.
Moreover, the daemonization of the asuras in India and the daemonization of the daevas in Iran both took place "so late that the associated terms cannot be considered a feature of Indo-Iranian religious dialectology." The view popularized by Nyberg, Duchesne-Guillemin and Widengren of a prehistorical opposition of *asura/daiva involves "interminable and entirely conjectural discussions" on the status of various Indo-Iranian entities that in one culture are asuras/ahuras and in the other are devas/daevas (see examples in the Younger Avesta, below).
There is also some mention of ocean Churning by Devas and Asuras in Hindu Puranas Samudra manthan.
In Zoroaster's revelation
In the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the daevas (also spelled daēuuas) are not yet the evil spirits that they would become in later Zoroastrianism; though their rejection is notable in the Gathas themselves. The Gathas speak of the daevas as a group, and do not mention individual daevas by name. In these ancient texts, the term daevas (also spelled 'daēuuas') occurs 19 times; wherein daevas are a distinct category of "quite genuine gods, who had, however, been rejected." In Yasna 32.3 and 46.1, the daevas are still worshipped by the Indo-Iranian (Aryan) peoples. Yasna 32.8 notes that some of the followers of Zoroaster had previously been followers of the daevas; though, the daevas are clearly identified with "wrong spirits" (e.g., Yasna 32.5).
In the Gathas, daevas are censured as being incapable of discerning truth (asha-) from falsehood (druj-). They are consequently in "error" (aēnah-), which led them to have accepted the wrong religion. The Encyclopædia Iranica notes: Furthermore, in the Gathas the scope of the word aēnah-, and thus of the error to which it refers, is not precisely understood, and criticism of the daēuuas seems to differ slightly in different contexts. In the passage in which their relation to fundamentally negative abstractions (druj-, aka-manah-, pairimaiti-) is defined (Y. 32.3), a syntactical construction otherwise unknown in Old Indo-Iranian has been adopted: masculine plural subject plus verb “to be” plus attributive adjective in the form of a singular neuter noun in the accusative plus ablative. The meanings are thus fundamentally incomprehensible. The pejorative terms applied to the daēuuas are duždāh- “miserly” and xrafstra-, referring to noxious creatures, depicted as harmful in the Younger Avesta, though the significance of the term in the Older Avesta is not certain. On the other hand, the daēuuas were never identified as drəguuaṇt- “people of the lie,” which would be very significant if it could be demonstrated that it is not a chance of survival. The conclusion drawn from such ambiguity is that, at the time the Gathas were composed, "the process of rejection, negation, or daemonization of these gods was only just beginning, but, as the evidence is full of gaps and ambiguities, this impression may be erroneous."
In the younger Avesta the daēuuas (daevas) were represented as "small, wicked geniuses who disturbed the order of the world, human health, and the regularity of religious life". The chief among daevas are Indra, Sarva and Nasatya. The Encyclopædia Iranica states In the Vidēvdād (10.9,19.43) Iṇdra (Vedic Índra), Sauruua (Vedic Śarvá), and Nåŋhaiθiia (Vedic Nāˊsatya) are mentioned at the head of a list of daēuuas, immediately after reference to Aŋra Mainiiu (Ahriman); in the Pahlavi books the same three were recognized as the enemies of Aṧa (Asha), Xšaθra, and Ārmaiti respectively. In Yasna 32.4, the daevas are revered by the Usij, described as a class of "false priests," devoid of goodness of mind and heart, and hostile to cattle and husbandry (Yasna 32.10-11, 44.20). Like the daevas that they follow, "the Usij are known throughout the seventh region of the earth as the offspring of aka mainyu, druj, and arrogance. (Yasna 32.3)." Yasna 30.6 suggests the daeva-worshipping priests debated frequently with Zoroaster, but failed to persuade him.
In the Younger Avesta
In the Younger Avesta, the daevas are unambiguously hostile entities.
In contrast, the word daevayasna- (literally, "one who sacrifices to daevas") denotes adherents of other religions and thus still preserves some semblance of the original meaning in that the daeva- prefix still denotes "other" gods. In Yasht 5.94 however, the daevayasna- are those who sacrifice to Anahita during the hours of darkness, i.e., the hours when the daevas lurk about, and daevayasna- appears then to be an epithet applied to those who deviate from accepted practice and/or harvested religious disapproval.
The Vendidad, a contraction of vi-daevo-dāta, "given against the daevas," is a collection of late Avestan texts that deals almost exclusively with the daevas, or rather, their various manifestations and with ways to confound them. Vi.daeva- "rejecting the daevas" qualifies the faithful Zoroastrian with the same force as mazdayasna- ('Mazda worshiper').
In Vendidad 10.9 and 19.43, three divinities of the Vedic pantheon follow Angra Mainyu in a list of demons: Ahura Mazda answered: 'After thou hast thrice said those Thris-amrutas, thou shalt say aloud these victorious, most healing words: '"I drive away Indra, I drive away Sauru, I drive away the daeva Naunghaithya, from this house, from this borough, from this town, from this land; from the very body of the man defiled by the dead, from the very body of the woman defiled by the dead; from the master of the house, from the lord of the borough, from the lord of the town, from the lord of the land; from the whole of the world of Righteousness. (FARGARD 10.9. Formulas recited during the process of cleansing) Completely adapted to Iranian phonology, these are Indra (Vedic Indra), Sarva (Vedic Sarva, i.e. Rudra), and Nanghaithya (Vedic Nasatya). The process by which these three came to appear in the Avesta is uncertain. Together with three other daevas, Tauru, Zairi and Nasu, that do not have Vedic equivalents, the six oppose the six Amesha Spentas.
Vendidad 19.1 and 19.44 have Angra Mainyu dwelling in the region of the daevas which the Vendidad sets in the north and/or the nether world (Vendidad 19.47, Yasht 15.43), a world of darkness. In Vendidad 19.1 and 19.43-44, Angra Mainyu is the daevanam daevo, "daeva of daevas" or chief of the daevas. The superlative daevo.taema is however assigned to the demon Paitisha ("opponent"). In an enumeration of the daevas in Vendidad 1.43, Angra Mainyu appears first and Paitisha appears last. "Nowhere is Angra Mainyu said to be the creator of the daevas or their father."
The Vendidad is usually recited after nightfall since the last part of the day is considered to be the time of the demons. Because the Vendidad is the means to disable them, this text is said to be effective only when recited between sunset and sunrise.
Old Persian daiva occurs twice in Xerxes' daiva inscription (XPh, early 5th century BCE). This trilingual text also includes one reference to a daivadana "house of the daivas", generally interpreted to be a reference to a shrine or sanctuary.
In his inscription, Xerxes records that "by the favour of Ahura Mazda I destroyed that establishment of the daivas and I proclaimed, 'The daivas thou shalt not worship!'" This statement has been interpreted either one of two ways. Either the statement is an ideological one and daivas were gods that were to be rejected, or the statement was politically motivated and daivas were gods that were followed by (potential) enemies of the state.
In tradition and folklore
In Zoroastrian tradition
In the Middle Persian texts of Zoroastrian tradition, the dews are invariably rendered with the Aramaic ideogram ŠDYA or the more common plural ŠDYAʼn that signified "demons" even in the singular.
Dews play a crucial role in the cosmogonic drama of the Bundahishn, a Zoroastrian view of creation completed in the 12th century. In this text, the evil spirit Ahriman (the middle Persian equivalent of Avestan Angra Mainyu) creates his hordes of dews to counter the creation of Ormuzd (Avestan Ahura Mazda). This notion is already alluded to in the Vendidad (see Younger Avestan texts above), but only properly developed in the Bundahishn. In particular, Ahriman is seen to create six dews that in Zoroastrian tradition are the antitheses of the Amahraspands (Avestan Amesha Spentas).
Mirroring the task of the Amesha Spentas through which Ahura Mazda realized creation, the six antitheses are the instrument through which Angra Mainyu creates all the horrors in the world. Further, the arch-daevas of Vendidad 10.9 and 19.43 are identified as the antithetical counterparts of the Amesha Spentas. The six arch-demons as listed in the Epistles of Zadspram (WZ 35.37) and the Greater Bundahishn (GBd. 34.27) are:
- Akoman of "evil thought" opposing Wahman/Bahman of "good thought" (Av. Aka Manah versus Vohu Manah)
- Indar that freezes the minds of the righteous opposing Ardawahisht of "best truth" (Av. Indar versus Asha Vahishta).
- Nanghait of discontent opposing Spendarmad of "holy devotion" (Av. Naonhaithya/Naonghaithya versus Spenta Armaiti)
- Sawar/Sarvar of oppression opposing Shahrewar of "desirable dominion" (Av. Saurva versus Kshathra Vairya)
- Tauriz/Tawrich of destruction opposing Hordad of "wholeness" (Av. Taurvi versus Haurvatat)
- Zariz/Zarich who poisons plants opposing Amurdad of "immortality" (Av. Zauri versus Ameretat)
These oppositions differ from those found in scripture, where the moral principles (that each Amesha Spenta represents) are opposed by immoral principles. This is not however a complete breach, for while in the Gathas asha–the principle–is the diametric opposite of the abstract druj, in Zoroastrian tradition, it is Ardawahisht, the Amesha Spenta that is the hypostasis of asha, that is opposed to by Indar, who freezes the minds of creatures from practicing "righteousness" (asha). Greater Bundahishn 34.27 adds two more arch-demons, which are not however in opposition to Amesha Spentas:
- Xeshm of "wrath" opposing Srosh of "obedience" (Av. Aeshma versus Sraosha)
- Gannag menog, the "stinking spirit", opposing Hormazd (Gannag menog is unknown in the Avesta, and Hormazd is Ahura Mazda).
Also mirroring Ormuzd's act of creation, i.e., the realization of the Amesha Spentas by his "thought", is Ahriman's creation of the dews through his "demonic essence." Other texts describe this event as being to Ahriman's detriment for his act of "creation" is actually an act of destruction. Ahriman is the very epitome (and hypostasis) of destruction, and hence he did not "create" the demons, he realized them through destruction, and they then became that destruction. The consequence is that, as Ahriman and the dews can only destruct, they will ultimately destroy themselves (Denkard 3). As the medieval texts also do for Ahriman, they question whether the dews exist at all. Since "existence" is the domain of Ormuzd, and Ahriman and his dews are anti-existence, it followed that Ahriman and his dews could not possibly exist. One interpretation of the Denkard proposes that the dews were perceived to be non-existent physically (that is, they were considered non-ontological) but present psychologically.
For a different set of texts, such as the Shayest ne shayest and the Book of Arda Wiraz, Ahriman and the dews were utterly real, and are described as being potentially catastrophic. In such less philosophical representations, the dews are hordes of devils with a range of individual powers ranging from the almost benign to the most malign. They collectively rush out at nightfall to do their worst, which includes every possible form of corruption at every possible level of human existence. Their destructiveness is evident not only in disease, pain, and grief but also in cosmic events such as falling stars and climatic events such as droughts, cyclones and earthquakes. They are sometimes described as having anthropomorphic properties such as faces and feet, or given animal-like properties such as claws and body hair. They may produce semen, and may even mate with humans as in the tale of Jam and Jamag (Bundahishn 14B.1).
But with the exception of the Book of Arda Wiraz, the dews are not generally described as a force to be feared. With fundamental optimism, the texts describe how the dews may be kept in check, ranging from cursing them to the active participation in life through good thoughts, words and deeds. Many of the medieval texts develop ideas already expressed in the Vendidad ("given against the demons").
A fire (cf. Adur) is an effective weapon against the dews, and keeping a hearth fire burning is a means to protect the home. The dews are "particularly attracted by the organic productions of human beings, from excretion, reproduction, sex, and death." Prayer and other recitations of the liturgy, in particular the recitation of Yasht 1 (so Sad-dar 57), is effective in keeping the demons at bay. Demons are attracted by chatter at mealtimes and when silence is broken a demon takes the place of the angel at one's side. According to Shayest-ne-Shayest 9.8, eating at all after nightfall is not advisable since the night is the time of demons. In the 9th century Rivayats (65.14), the demons are described as issuing out at night to wreak mayhem, but forced back into the underworld by the divine glory (khvarenah) at sunrise.
The Zoroastrianism of the medieval texts is unambiguous with respect to which force is the superior. Evil cannot create and is hence has a lower priority in the cosmic order (asha). According to Denkard 5.24.21a, the protection of the yazatas is ultimately greater than the power of the demons. The dews are agents ("procurers–vashikano–of success") of Ahriman (Avestan Angra Mainyu) in the contests that will continue until the end of time, at which time the fiend will become invisible and (God's) creatures will become pure. (Dadestan-i Denig 59)
But until the final renovation of the world, mankind "stands between the yazads and the dēws; the [yazads] are immortal in essence and inseparable from their bodies (mēnōg), men are immortal in essence but separable from their bodies (moving from gētīg to mēnōg condition), but dēws are mortal in essence and inseparable from their bodies, which may be destroyed."
In addition to the six arch-demons (see above) that oppose the six Amesha Spentas, numerous other figures appear in scripture and tradition. According to Bundahishn XXVII.12, the six arch-demons have cooperators (hamkars), arranged in a hierarchy (not further specified) similar to that of the yazatas. These are "dews [...] created by the sins that creatures commit." (Bundahishn XXVII.51)
- Akatash of perversion (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Anashtih "strife" (e.g., Chidag Andarz i Poryotkeshan 38)
- Anast that utters falsehood (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Apaush and Spenjaghra who cause drought (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Araska of vengeance (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Ashmogh of apostasy (Avestan Ashemaogha)
- Az of avarice and greed (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Buht of idolatry (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Bushasp of sloth (Avestan Bushyasta) (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Diwzhat (Av. Daebaaman), the deceiver, the hypocrite
- Eshm of wrath (Avestan Aeshma) (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Freptar of distraction and deception (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Jeh the whore (Avestan Jahi) (e.g., Gbd III)
- Mitokht (also Mithaokhta) of scepticism and falsehood (e.g. Gbd XXVII)
- Nang of disgrace and dishonor (e.g., Dadestan-i Denig 53)
- Nas or Nasa (Avestan Nasu) of pollution and contamination (e.g., GBd XXVII)
- Niyaz causes want (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Pinih of stinginess and who hoards but does not enjoy its hoard (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Rashk (Avestan Areshko) "envy" (e.g. Denkard 9.30.4)
- Sij who causes destruction (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Sitoj that denies doctrine (e.g., Dadestan-i Denig 53)
- Spazg of slander (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Spuzgar, the negligent (e.g., Andarz-i Khosru-i-Kavatan)
- Taromaiti of scorn (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Varun of unnatural lust (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
Other entities include:
- Aghash of the evil eye (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Astwihad of death (Av. Asto-widhatu) (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- [Azi-/Az-]Dahak (Avestan Azi Dahaka), a serpent-like monster king. (e.g., J 4)
- Cheshma who opposes the clouds and causes earthquakes and whirlwinds (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Kunda, the steed that carries sorcerers (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Uta who brings about sickness through food and water (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
- Vizaresh that fights for the souls of the dead (e.g., Gbd XXVII)
The most destructive of these are Astiwihad, the demon of death that casts the noose of mortality around men's necks at birth, and Az, who is most capable of destroying the "innate wisdom" of man. Az is thus the cause of heresy and blinds the righteous man from being able to discern the truth and falsehood.
In the Shahnameh
A list of ten demons is provided in the Shahnameh: Besides the afore-mentioned Az "greed", Kashm "wrath" (MP: Aeshma), Nang "dishonor," Niaz "want," and Rashk "envy", the epic poem includes Kin "vengeance", Nammam "tell-tale", Do-ruy "two-face", napak-din "heresy", and (not explicitly named) ungratefulness.
Some of the entities that in the Middle Persian texts are demons, are in the Shahnameh attributes of demons, for instance, varuna "backwards" or "inside out," reflecting that they tend to do the opposite of what they are asked to do. Although Ferdowsi generally portrays divs as being distinct from humans, the poet also uses the word to denote "evil people."
One of the more popular stories from the Shahnameh is that of Rostam and the Dīv-e Sapīd, the "white demon" of Mazandaran, who blinds Rostam's men but who are then cured with the blood of the demon's gall.
Ape-man or Dev
Dev also used by Tajiks for a huge ape (yeti) with long dirty hair who is believed to live in between Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Westerners occasionally reported seeing odd creatures or strange tracks in this region since 19th century. Also reported in the thick forests of Alborz mountains in southern Caspian areas until historic periods.
The Sanskrit deva- derives from Indo-Iranian *dev- which in turn descends from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word, *deiwos, originally an adjective meaning "celestial" or "shining", which is a PIE (not synchronic Sanskrit) vrddhi derivative from the root *diw meaning "to shine", especially as the day-lit sky. The feminine form of PIE *deiwos is PIE *deiwih2, which descends into Indic languages as devi, in that context meaning "female deity".
Also deriving from PIE *deiwos, and thus cognates of deva, are Lithuanian Dievas (Latvian Dievs, Prussian Deiwas), Germanic Tiwaz (seen in English "Tuesday") and the related Old Norse Tivar (gods), and Latin deus "god" and divus "divine", from which the English words "divine", "deity", French "dieu", Portuguese "deus", Spanish "dios" and Italian "dio", also "Zeys/Ζεύς" - "Dias/Δίας", the Greek father of the gods, are derived.
Related but distinct is the PIE proper name *Dyeus which while from the same root, may originally have referred to the daytime sky, and hence to "Father Sky", the chief God of the Indo-European pantheon, continued in Sanskrit Dyaus. The bode of the Devas is Dyuloka.
The Vedas, the earliest comprehensive literature, contain mantras for pleasing the devas to obtain blessings. The Rig Veda, the earliest of the four, enumerates up to 33 devas.
Some devas represent the forces of nature and some represent moral values (such as the Adityas/asuras, Varuna, and Mitra). The main devas addressed in the Rig Veda are Indra, Agni (fire) and Soma, the latter two representing modes of sacrifice, called yagna. The post-Rig vedic Aitareya Brahmana in its opening stanza suggests a hierarchy among devas. Many of the deities taken together are worshiped as the Vishvedevas, the "all-deities". Varuna has the dual epithet of ]] is the only god.
Savitŗa, Vishnu, Rudra are Demi-Gods and (later given the exclusive epithet of Shiva, "auspicious one"), Prajapati (later identified with Brahmā), and devis (female deities) such as Ushas (dawn), Prithvi (earth) and Sarasvati.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says there are 33 devas in the celestial world, in terms of performance of yagnas. They are eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra, and Prajapati, these groups, however, are mentioned already in the Rigved.
- In Sanskrit:
- स होवाच महिमान एवैषामेते त्रयस्त्रिँशत्त्वेव देवा इति कतमे ते त्रयस्त्रिँशदित्यष्टौ वसव एकादश रुद्रा द्वादशादित्यास्त एकत्रिंशदिन्द्रश्चैव प्रजापतिश्च त्रयस्त्रिँशाविति॥ (वृहदारन्यक ६.९)
As per Puranas, Brahma had ten sons: Marici, Atri, Angira, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vasistha, Daksa, Narada. Marici had a son called Kasyapa. Kasyapa had thirteen wives: Aditi, Diti, Danu, Kadru etc. The sons of Aditi are called Adityas, the sons of Diti are called Daityas, and the sons of Danu are called Danavas.
Nature and Hinduism
Hindus call these deities "twinkling, unsleeping, eternal orbs of light". It means worship of devas are a worship of the skies and principle forces of life. Primary Devas include Varuna (Jupiter), Mitra (Apollo/Sun) and Savitri (Diana/Moon).
Nature Devas are responsible for elements or objects 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 tremendous tasks under their diligence that they are sometimes called themselves gods under the Supreme One God. The Trimurti is composed of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. (Note: Mahadeva generally refers to Shiva)
Devs, 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 only Supreme one 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, Ishvara 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, oṃ tad viṣṇoḥ paramam padam sadā paśyanti sūryaḥ: "All the suras (i.e., the devas) look always toward the feet of Lord Vishnu." Similarly, in the Vishnu Sahastranama 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). "O ruler of men, Aditi had twelve sons, headed by Indra. The youngest was Vishnu, in whom all the worlds reside." (Mahābhārata 1.60.35)
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 divyacakṣus (Pāli: dibbacakkhu), an extrasensory power by which one can see beings from other planes. Their voices can also be heard by those who have cultivated divyaśrotra, 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.
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 dhātus, or "realms" of the universe they are born in.
The devas of the Ārūpyadhātu 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.
The devas of the Rūpadhātu 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:
- The Śuddhāvāsa devas are the rebirths of Anāgāmins, Buddhist religious practitioners who died just short of attaining the state of Arhat (Brahma Sahampati, who appealed to the newly enlightened Buddha to teach, was an Anagami from a previous Buddha). They guard and protect Buddhism on earth, and will pass into enlightenment as Arhats when they pass away from the Śuddhāvāsa worlds. The highest of these worlds is called Akaniṣṭha.
- The Bṛhatphala devas remain in the tranquil state attained in the fourth dhyāna.
- The Śubhakṛtsna devas rest in the bliss of the third dhyāna.
- The Ābhāsvara devas enjoy the delights of the second dhyāna.
- The Brahmā devas (or simply Brahmās) participate in the more active joys of the first dhyāna. 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 Brahmās 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 devas of the Kāmadhātu 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 realm that Māra has greatest influence over.
The higher devas of the Kāmadhātu 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-vaśavartin devas, luxurious devas to whom Māra belongs;
- The Nirmāṇarati devas;
- The Tuṣita devas, among whom the future Maitreya lives;
- The Yāma devas.
The lower devas of the Kāmadhātu 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 Trāyastriṃśa devas, who live on the peak of Sumeru and are something like the Olympian gods. Their ruler is Śakra.
- The Cāturmahārājikakāyika devas, who include the martial kings who guard the four quarters of the Earth. The chief of these kings is Vaiśravaṇa, but all are ultimately accountable to Śakra. They also include four types of earthly demigod or nature-spirit: Kumbhāṇḍas, Gandharvas, Nāgas and Yakṣas, and probably also the Garuḍas.
"Furthermore, you should recollect the devas: 'There are the devas of the Four Great Kings, the devas of the Thirty-three,..." [196. Dh.] "Feeders of joy we shall be like the radiant gods (devas)."
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.
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.
There is also a humanistic definition of 'deva' [male] and 'devi' [female] ascribed to Gotama Buddha: a god is a moral person. This is comparable to another definition, i.e. that 'hell' is a name for painful emotions.
Devas vs. gods
Although the word deva is generally translated "god" (or, very occasionally, "angel") in English, Buddhist devas differ from the "gods" and "angels" of most 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 (at least) 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 beyond comprehension.
- 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 a god. Nor are they merely symbols. They are considered to be, like humans, distinct individuals with their own personalities and paths in life. Devas however, have an immanent Buddha Nature, as also do humans.
- 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. It should be noted that some buddhas resemble devas in the fact that they also inhabit celestial planes (or pure lands).
- Buddhist devas are not omnipotent. 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 rather than by physical intervention.
- Buddhist devas are not morally perfect. The devas of the worlds of the Rūpadhātu 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 Kāmadhātu 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 considered as equal to a Buddhist refuge. While some individuals among the devas may be beings of great moral authority and prestige and thus deserving of a high degree of respect (in some cases, even being enlightened practitioners of the Dharma), no deva can ultimately be taken as the way of escape from saṃsāra or control one's rebirth. The highest honors are reserved to the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha.