33 Devas (Pt. Sanjay Rath)

Most scholars misinterpret the word ‘Deva’ as meaning ‘God’. In reality, there are 33 Deva’s with about 330 million forms. The word is derived from the root Divu that has ten meanings[1] (for a better understanding, refer to the glossary) –
1.      Krida - sporting
2.      Vijigisha - conquest
3.      Vyavahar - occupation/pursuit
4.      Dyuti - intellectual inspiration or brilliancy
5.      Stuti – praise
6.      Moda – pleasure
7.      Mada – exhilaration, intoxication
8.      Swapna – dream
9.      Kanti – splendor
10.  Gati – direction, movement
These words define the purpose of a Deva. Jaimini defines Deva or Devata as indicated by the Devata Karaka[2] planet. This is the third in the hierarchy (of spiritual needs) after the Atmakaraka (helps in the determination of the Ista/Isa directing emancipation from the cycle of rebirth) and Amatya Karaka (deity symbolizing sustenance in this world). Thus Deva or Devata is the Guru and guides or illuminates certain inherent abilities that will develop in this life or the spiritual path or that which leads to fulfillment of desires etc. Nirukta[3] defines Deva as that which (a) confers benefits (Danada) (b) illumines (Deepanad) or (c) is the source of such knowledge or illumination (Dyutanad). Thus, translating deva as God is conceptually incorrect. This view is further confirmed without an iota of doubt in the Aitereya Brahmana[4] as well as the Sathapatha Brahmana[5]. The natural question is ‘if Deva’s are not Gods, then who or what are the Deva’s and in what manner are they linked to Jyotish’?
Sathapatha Brahmana 14.16:
Katame te trayastrimshat iti ashtou vasavah; ekadasa Rudra, dwadasa-Adityah ta ekatrimshat; Indraschaiva Prajapatischa trayatrimshaviti.
(We) speak of the thirty three (Deva) of which eight Vasu, eleven Rudra and twelve Aditya add up to thirty one. Indra and Prajapati included bring their number to thirty three.

1. Asta Vasava (Eight Vasu’s)
Sathapatha Brahmana 14.16:
Katame Vasava iti. Agnischa prithivi cha vayusch-antarikshamchaadityascha dyouscha chandramascha nakshatrani chaite Vasava aeteshu  hidam sarve vasu hitam aete hidam sarve vasayante taddyudidam sarve vasayante tasmad Vasava iti.
The Sathapatha Brahmana gives the list of eight Vasu as (1) Agni (2) Prithvi (3) Vayu (4) Antariksha (5) Aditya (6) Dyou (7) Chandrama and (8) Nakshetra. Prima facie this may seem a bit contradictory as Aditya has also been mentioned separately but here it refers to the Sun, Chandra refers to the Moon, Nakshetra are the lunar mansions or the constellations and the remaining five represent the states of material existence. These eight form the primary source of enlightenment about the self. They represent the basic variables that define every creation and its original source of illumination in the ten methods defined earlier as the purpose of the deva. The Vishnu Purana makes this more lucid in the definition of the Vasu’s as
1.      Apa – Jala Tatwa or liquid
2.      Dhara – Prithvi Tatwa or solid
3.      Anila – Vayu Tatwa or Gas
4.      Anala – Agni Tatwa or Energy
5.      Dhruva – the pole star representing 
     a.       Akash Tatwa – the sky or Vacuum and
     b.      fixity of the zodiac i.e. the relevance of Ayanamsa
6.      Soma – The Moon
7.      Pratyusha – the recurring dawn representing 
     a.       The Sun – as causing the night and day i.e. the source of light behind the dawn, 
     b.      Lagna – The ascendant or the point in the eastern horizon as representing the self and is equated to the dawn.
8.      Prabhasa – splendorous lights of the stars that are grouped into 27/28 Nakshetra (Constellations).
This list is the first principle of Jyotish where the bodies that create all beings as well as guide them through various activities are defined. These include (a) the Sun, (b) the Moon, (c) the constellations called Nakshetra and (d) the Pancha Tatwa or (the guidance/direction from) the five states of existence of all matter and energy. Thus, the luminaries (Sun & Moon), the five planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus & Saturn [ruling the five states of energy (Agni), solid (Prithvi), ether (Akash), liquid (Jala) and gas (Vayu) respectively] and the 27 (or 28) lunar mansion called Nakshetra form the first principle. Birth implies creation and this is the Satvic principle of sustenance of the born or created being.
2. Ekadasa Rudra
Sathapatha Brahmana 14.16:
Katame Rudra iti. Dasheme purushe praanaa atmaikadashah te yadasmat martyaacchreeradtkramanti atha rodanti tad yad rodayanti tasmad Rudra iti.
The eleven Rudra[6] are defined as Deva’s. Ten of these are Rudra are responsible for holding the ‘Prana’ (vital life force or air) within the body that sustains the breathing and life. Thus, their nature is akin to Marut or storm god and in a sense like Vayu (the air element). The eleventh Rudra is Maheswara and is responsible for the Atma (soul). These are called Rudra from the root Rud meaning to weep as their ‘going away’ results in the death of the native and the near and dear ones weep.
These eleven Rudra (including Maheswara) are responsible for the destruction of everything that has been created and form the second principle of Jyotish. In the first stage there is the destruction of the physical body by the ‘going away’ of any of the ten Rudra. Thereafter the Atma (soul) is separated from the Mana (mind) by Maheswara (Shiva) the eleventh Rudra.  The two nodes of the Moon called Rahu & Ketu are the destroyers. Rahu has the responsibility of destroying the Luminaries and the signs (Dwadasa Aditya). Ketu destroys the material creation represented by the Pancha Tatwa (in Jyotish the five planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn) and the Nakshetra. The Rudra can be viewed as the binding forces in any created being, both living and non-living. They symbolize the strength of God and are also the strength of the created being as their going away results in the weakness of the body and it is destroyed.
3. Dwadasa Aditya
Sathapatha Brahmana 14.16:
Katame Aditya iti. Dwadasamasah samvatsarasya
Aeta Adityah aete hidam sarvamadadaanayanti taddwididam sarvamadadaana yanti tasmaditya iti.
Dwadasa means twelve and Masa means the month – thus the Dwadasa (twelve) Aditya are the twelve months represented by the twelve signs in the zodiac. The month is variously defined in Jyotish and this specific reference indicates the motion of the during the period between two consecutive conjunctions with the Moon. This is the synodic month and is about 29.5 days, which for convenience is taken as 30 days. Since the average geo-centric motion of the Sun during 30 days is 30 degrees, this defines the Saura Masa (solar month) which is the third principle of Jyotish. Twelve such ’30 degree motions’ result in the Sun returning to its original position and this defines the Samvatsara or ‘solar year’. Thus, the third principle of Jyotish is that of time & space which is defined by the Dwadasa Aditya (twelve signs of the zodiac with the Sun as their overlord). The solar month and solar year are the foundation of Vedic astrology and that further sub-divisions of time are to be determined based on solar motion. The word Samvatsara means ‘year’ and specifically ‘solar year’ as this is based on the Dwadasa Aditya. This knowledge is of vital importance in determining the period of influence of the planets called ‘dasa’. Often astrologers are bogged down with misconceptions about using the solar or lunar year or even other variously defined time periods. This indicates the lack of appreciation of this principle of time & space relationship as defined by the Dwadasa Aditya.
They are called Aditya as they are the distributors of food  and all materials required for creation and sustenance (Dana) as well as inspiration, exhilaration, intoxication, sexual vitality and vigor (Mada). The Aditya are the givers and everything comes from them. Thus, the twelve signs represent all the material forms of creation.
4. Indra & Prajapati
Sathapatha Brahmana 14.16:
Katama Indrah katamah prjapatiriti. stanayitnurevendro yagyah prajapatiriti. Katama eko deva iti sa Brahma tyadityachakshate.
Stanayitnu means thunder or lightening and refers to the electrical impulses that are used by the brain to control the senses. Thus Indra is the demigod controlling the senses and the working of the brain as well as the intelligence of all creation. Yagyam is the worship or praise for Prajapati the progenitor. This is the fourth principle of Jyotish and is called Lagna or the ascendant representing the seat of Prajapati the progenitor and the ‘praise worthy one’. Indra is seated on the throne of the zodiac indicated by the point in the mid-heaven. This is the area of the tenth house counted from the Lagna or ascendant sign.
The zodiac at any point of time, is divided into two halves by the line of the horizon. Since the earth rotates from the west to the east, the planets and other stars seem to move in the opposite direction from any stationary point of observation on the earth. The Sun rises in the east in the morning, ascends to mid-heaven (middle of the sky) by mid-day and then starts descending till it sets in the western horizon. Lagna is the point in the eastern horizon that is just about to ascend or rise into the heavens signified by the visible half of the zodiac and is akin to sunrise. This is called the ascendant. Similarly the point in the western horizon which is just about to descend or go under the horizon is called the descendant. The zodiac is divided into two halves called the Drusya (visible) and Adrusya (invisible) by the line of the horizon with the sky in the visible half and the portion below the horizon in the invisible half. The Drusya Rasi or zodiac signs (complete or portions) in the visible half are the heavens called loka whereas the Adrusya Rasi or zodiac signs (complete or portions) in the invisible portion or below the horizon are called hell or Tala. There are two postulates based on (1) material or physical existence and (2) spiritual existence to describe these heavens and hell.
4.1. The three material worlds
The physical universe can be classified into three parts called Bhu loka (earth), Bhuva loka (firmament or the solar system which contains the nava graha) and Swarga loka (Sky containing the fixed stars which is the residence of the demi-gods). The geocentric zodiac (Bhu loka as its center) limited to the Bhuva loka is called the Vishnu chakra (Tropical zodiac where the weather and other phenomena of the atmosphere and beyond are experienced). The geocentric zodiac based on the fixed stars in the sky is called the Narayana chakra (Sidereal zodiac). These terms find specific mention in the Vishnu purana. The pious Hindu recited the prayer “Om Bhur-bhuva-svah” every morning for the blessings of this material creation as a prefix to the Gayatri mantra.

4.2. The Fourteen spiritual worlds
Thus, there are seven heavens and seven hell. The heavens called loka[7] are in seven parts:
                                i.      Visible portion of the Lagna (ascendant sign/house) that has ascended i.e. from the start of the sign to the longitude of the ascendant called Satya loka symbolized by the thousand petal lotus on which rests Prajapati (form of Brahma) the progenitor. This is the seat of the creator and He is praised by all His creation. It shows fame as a consequence of the praise and health and vigor.
                              ii.      Visible portion of the seventh house/sign that is about to descend or go into the invisible half i.e. from the longitude of the descendant to the end of the sign called Bhu loka (the earthly plane). It shows the death and re-birth as this is also the Mrityu loka or ‘where death occurs’.
                            iii.      The tenth house/sign (with the mid-heaven as the throne of Indra in it) called Svah or Swarga loka.
                            iv.      The remaining signs/houses in the visible portion (8th, 9th, 11th & 12th ) are the Bhuva, Maha Gyanah and Tapah loka.
Thus, the seven heavens are Bhu, Bhuva, Svah, Maha, Janah, Tapah & Satya loka[8] and the deities of the planets Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Saturn and Jupiter respectively, preside over these loka. The seven hell are the seven signs in the invisible portion of the zodiac called Atala, Bitala, Sutala, Talatala, Rasatala, Mahatala and Patala respectively. There are seven Narka (most inferior hells for punishment) below these seven Tala and are all situated at the nadir i.e. the point exactly opposite mid-heaven in the fourth house. The spiritual  Hindu recites the mantra “Om Bhur- Om Bhuva – Om svah – Om Maha – Om Gyana – Om Tapah – Om Satyam” everyday as a prefix to the Gayatri mantra aspiring for the highest heavens.
Thus, in any chart, the seventh house is examined for death and rebirth. If death occurs during the period of the planet in the seventh house or its lord, then rebirth is sure to occur. The place of rebirth can be guessed from the planet / sign in the seventh house. If Mars is in the seventh house, then rebirth shall be in an island like Sri Lanka. Others indications can be read from standard texts. It is also for this very reason that Parasara recommends the Mritunjaya Mantra with its prayer for Moksha (emancipation from the cycle of rebirth) during such periods of planets connected with the seventh house. The 12th house or the portion just before the Lagna is the Satya Loka, the highest spiritual point  and beyond this is the spiritual region of no-return. By constantly repeating Om Tat Sat and living a truthful life, the worshipper attains Satya Loka and the highest heavens beyond from where there is no return to this Mrityu loka.
Thus, we conclude that the 33 Deva’s are the basic paradigm of Jyotish and that they can also be grouped based on mobility. These groups would include:
a.      The immobile or stationary stars form the group of 27 (or 28) Nakshetra,
b.      The space and time divisions form the group of Rasi or Dwadasa Aditya and
c.       The luminaries (1) Sun & (2) Moon, the Pancha Tatwa controllers (3) Mars, (4) Mercury, (5) Jupiter, (6) Venus & (7) Saturn and the Rudra representatives (8)Rahu & (9)Ketu form the third group of mobile bodies called Graha. Since these are nine in number, they are called Nava Graha. We shall use the forced definition of ‘planets’ to indicate these nine mobile bodies. The Sun is not mobile within the solar system but from a geocentric viewpoint i.e. assuming the earth to be stationary, its movement is translated to be the movement of the Sun. 

[1] Dhatupatha

[2] Refer Chapter 8

[3] ibid 7.16

[4] Sloka 1.6 Satyasamhita vai deva

[5] Sloka Vidmanso hi deva

[6] Jaimini has given considerable details on calculating these eleven Rudra (infact ten Rudra and the eleventh he calls Maheswara or Shiva Who is responsible for delivering the soul). These have been discussed in Volume VIII (Ayur Khand – Longevity).

[7] The names of the seven loka as given here are from the Markandeya Purana. Human beings reside in the Bhu loka (earthly plane) while birds, clouds and the demigods reside in the Bhuva loka. The names given for the seven heavens indicated by the seven signs are different in other Vedic literature. However, the names given here are accepted as authentic as Rishi Markandeya was the recipient of the Vedic knowledge from the Maharishi’s through Rishi Chyavan & Daksha Prajapati. He was also the grandfather of Parasara.

[8] The names of the seven loka as given here are from the Markandeya Purana. Human beings reside in the Bhu loka (earthly plane) while birds, clouds and the demigods reside in the Bhuva loka. The names given for the seven heavens indicated by the seven signs are different in other Vedic literature. However, the names given here are accepted as authentic as Rishi Markandeya was the recipient of the Vedic knowledge from the Maharishi’s through Rishi Chyavan & Daksha Prajapati. He was also the grandfather of Parasara.


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