Who is Devta?

In the Sanatan Dharma or Hindu Dharma, the concept of devatas is multifarious. Broadly speaking there are two orders of devata worship amongst the Hindus. They are –

Vedic devatas: – Agni, Vayu or Indra, Surya and Soma.

Puranic devatas: – Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh and their various manifestations.

Besides the above two, also mentioned in the scriptures are the Planet devatas (Navagrahas) and Animal devatas.

However, it should be kept in mind that whether Vedic or Puranic or any other devatas, they all are forms or aspects of Supreme Brahman, the impersonal Godhead.

Each devata has his own virtue for which he is being worshiped. They are symbolic representation of different forms of knowledge. It is believed that it’s extremely important to propitiate each and every devata to maintain a balance in our surroundings. For instance, pure air is essential for the biosphere and is available in plenty, but if excesses are created whereby the cycle is broken or the balanced proportion of gases in the atmosphere is disturbed, it leads to catastrophe. In metaphoric language, it means that the devatas are satisfied when propitiated, but if not timely worshiped they may wreak havoc on earth.

Devatas: Their Actual Number

The Vedas contain descriptions of a large number of devatas. Before listing them, it is interesting to note the total number mentioned herein. In the Rig Veda, there are at least four richas giving this number, and no two richas give the same number, varying not by tens or hundreds, but rather by thousands. The devatas are enlisted in their foremost forms in these richas with maximum number reaching around 3339. Before we hasten to conclude that the Vedas are irrational on this topic, let us try to find the rationale behind it.

Once Yajnavalkya, a bright scholar and authority on the subject of Brahman, arrived at a meeting of learned brahmins who were discussing subjects from the scriptures in the presence of King Janaka. Some were delighted at his appearance and others resented it. One such boastful brahmin who did not like Yajnavalkya’s presence was Uddalaka. He began questioning Yajnavalkya randomly on various topics. Although Yajnavalkya did not approve of the method of questioning and sensed the ulterior motive behind it, he answered every poser with a cool demeanor.

After some time, the questioning turned to devatas. Uddalaka repeatedly asked only one question. This is how the dialogue progressed.

Uddalaka (U): Tell me, Yajnavalkya, how many devatas are there?

Yajnavalkya (Y): 3339.

U: Tell me the names.

Y: They are the large forms of god based on qualities, performance, etc.

U: Tell me how many devatas are there?

Y: 333.

U: Tell me how many devatas are there?

Y: 33.

U: Who are they?

Y: 8 Vasus, 11 Rudras, 12 Samvatsaras, and Indra and Prajapati.

U: Tell me how many devatas arethere?

Y: 6.

U: Name them.

Y: Agni, Vayu, Sun, Earth, Sky and Heaven.

U: Tell me how many devatas are there?

Y: 3.

U: Name them.

Y: Prithivi, Antariksha, Dyu.

U: Tell me how many devatas are there?

Y: Two, Prana and Anna.

U: Tell me how many devatas are there?

Y: One and a half (Vayu).

U: Tell me how many devatas are there?

Y: One, Prana. Prana is Brahman and is also called ‘tyat’, which means indirect (paroksha) knowledge of Brahman.

The story illustrates the notion of Brahman in Indian philosophy. Brahman assumes multiple forms and shapes, and individual souls are also a reflection of Brahman. This reflecting material is present in all parts of the universe. Yajnavalkya’s ‘numbers’ come from the assumption that in the three- tiered structure of the universe represented by Earth, Sky and Heaven, Brahman is present as Agni, Vayu and Sun, respectively. The representatives together, with the represented three levels, take the number up to six. With 11 subdivisions in each tier, the number goes up to 33, and so on. The number 3339 probably signifies that the forms of Brahman and devatas, can be as many as the stretch of one’s imagination!

Devatas in Vedic Verses

The way in which a multiple number of devatas is addressed in the suktas of the Rig Veda is explained by Yaskacharya in the Nirukta. In fact, one full chapter of the Nirukta is an exposition on devatas. In his characteristically deductive way, Yaskacharya explains how the word ‘devata’ is used. He calls the collection of all nouns that describe forms of devata as daivatsangraha. These nouns appear in mantras. The description could be:

(i)  direct, like Karpurgaura, meaning fair-complexioned, Lambodara, meaning pot- bellied, or

(ii) implied, like Umapati, meaning the husband of Uma – goddess Parvati, Vighnaharta, meaning the one who alleviates obstacles.

The mantra is said to be dedicated to a devata when the composer rishi, having a desire in mind, adores the devata. Such richas or mantras employ three ways of addressing a devata:

(i)  indirect reference,

(ii) direct reference and

(iii) a statement by the devata himself.

In the first type, the reference is through usage of the proper noun of the devata, like “Sing the samas for Indra” (R 8.98,1). Here, although the name of the devata (Indra) appears in the main part of the richa, the priest is obliged to sing and praise the devata. In the second type, the devata is referred to in the second person, like “0 Indra, (you please) destroy our enemy” (R 10.152,4). In the third case, the devata makes an assuring statement. Hence, the form of the noun is Uttama Purusha; for example, Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “Leave all paths and take shelter in me. I shall rid you of all sins. Do not worry or brood” (BG 18.66).

In the Veda Samhitas, most richas are of the first two types. Richas of the third type are very few. Generally, a richa contains sufficient information to enable a conclusion about the devata being praised. In some exceptional cases, however, there is no reference, direct or otherwise, to any devata. The accepted practice is to consider such a richa, mantra or sukta to be in honor of the devata for whom the yajna is being performed.

Sometimes a question arises as to why an entity like a horse or a herb should be treated as a devata. For an explanation, Yaskacharya points to the advaita (non-dual) principle. According to him, such entities in no human forms are, in fact, different manifestations of Brahman. They differ only superficially in the outer form, the inner ‘Content’ being the same ‘Brahman’.

Source: Internet

Forms of Devatas

This universe is divided into three parts called Lokas. They are: Prithiviloka, the region covered by earth, Dyuloka, the region covered by space in the sky, and Antarikshaloka, the space between the two. All devatas adored in the Rig Veda belong to one of the three lokas. The Nirukta (3.7.2) opines that there are only three cardinal devatas – Agni, Vayu and Surya, each representing a layer of the universe. Agni dwells in Prithiviloka, Vayu in Antarikshaloka and Surya in Dyuloka. However, their jurisdiction is not watertight. They are described as taking forms that span Lokas other than their normal abode. Thus, Agni takes forms that operate in Antariksha and Dyulokas, Vayu in Prithiviloka, and Surya in Prithivi and Antarikshalokas.

In fact, Vayu and Surya are said to be specific forms of Agni. Devatas are considered to have human-like, non-human and dual forms. Although examples of non-human forms can be readily given (such as earth, sea, etc.), Yaskacharya feels that all devatas have a human form. Any non-human form that is visible, whether earth, sea, etc., is just a different manifestation of the basic devata with a human form. Such manifestations are the outcome of the karmas of the basic devatas or their functions. Just as a yajamana is related to yajna through his resolve and participation (less at the physical, more at the mental level), so also non-human forms of devatas are related to the basic devata of the respective groups that have human forms.

The Puranas take a more direct approach to explain this, and personify the devata. In the Puranas, earth takes the form of a lady and approaches Brahma pleading against the increasing burden inflicted upon her by sinful people. The ocean presents himself in a human form to Lord Rama who is furious that it did not accede to his request to give way to Lanka. Agni emerges out of the sacred yajna fire to present himself to King Dasharatha in the Ramayana or King Drupada in the Mahabharata.

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