Category Archives: g. Other Deities, Demons, and Entities

The Dikpalas

The Dikpalas (also called Lokapalas) are known in Hinduism as the guardians of the directions. Each god or goddess represents a specific cardinal direction and are used in ritual for various purposes. It is generally agreed upon that there are four main deities, which correspond to north, south, west, and east. However, it is common that those 4 deities are expanded to include deities for the southwest, southeast, northwest and northeast. For this article, I will include Yama, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Indra, Nirrti, Kubera, Isana, Brahma, and Visnu (Morgan 65). The last two deities symbolize the two additional directions, the nadir and zenith. The kshetrapala was known as the guardian of the farmland, but has now become a deity who resides over a particular piece of land (Werner 65).

The dikpala that is associated with the Eastern direction is Indra. Indra is the god of rain and thunder (Perry 121). He is often depicted riding a white elephant, while holding a lightning bolt called a vajra. As the leader of the devas, or gods, he is believed to be constantly waging war on the asuras, or demons (Morgan 73). Indra is represented in the eastern direction of Hindu temples.

Agni is most commonly associated with the southeastern direction and is depicted with two heads. He is known as the god of fire and is responsible for leading man to the gods. He is thought to be represented by sacrificial fire, from which he takes offerings into the godly realm. In the Rg Veda, he is second in power to Indra. It can be interpreted that he represents both fire and water because he is said to be fire born from water (Werner 17). His bearded, pot bellied form is commonly seen riding a ram as a mount (Morgan 73).

Yama is the god of death or the underworld and represents the southern direction. In the Rg Veda, he is said to be the first mortal who died and became ruler over the underworld (Werner 119). He is thought to represent the element of fire and is positioned over the southern area of the temple.  He is often depicted riding a buffalo with a mace in his hand (Morgan 73).

Nirrti is the goddess of the southwestern direction, and is thought to represent poverty and corruptions. She is commonly depicted having dark skin, hair, and clothes (Kinsley 13). She is thought to be the embodiment of pain, and is often depicted riding a man as her mount with a sword in her hands (Morgan 73).

Varuna is the god who represents the western direction. He is known to be the god of water and the sea and is represented by the serpent snare (Acri and Jordaan 293). He is often seen together with Mitra and the two of them make up the gods of the oath or societal affairs. Alone, he is often depicted on an alligator-like mount holding a noose (Morgan 73).

Vayu is the god of the northwest and is known as lord of the winds. In the Rg Veda hymns, he is described as having exceptional beauty, but is not as prominent as others gods such as Indra or Agni. He is often depicted riding a stag, while holding a flag in his hand (Morgan 73).

Kubera is the god associated with the northern direction and is the lord of wealth. He is often depicted wearing many jewels, being overweight and having a winged conch shell. His vehicle is sometimes a man or horse. He is the treasurer of Laksmi, who is the goddess of good fortune and prosperity (Morgan 73).

Isana is associated with the god Siva and represents the northeast direction. Isana is a form of the god Siva, and represents knowledge and prosperity. This god is known as the one from whom the universe originates. He is often depicted riding a bull and holding a trident (Morgan 73).

It is worth mentioning that sometimes there are two other gods included in the dikpalas. Brahma is a god that is associated with the zenith, the upward direction. He is commonly understood as having a significant impact in the Hindu creation story. He can be seen riding a goose as his mount and has four faces and arms (Buhnemann 65). The zenith is represented between the northeast and east. Visnu is the god that is associated with the nadir, or downward direction. He is highly significant in Hinduism and his incarnations include Rama and Krsna. As the god of preservation, he is known for preserving the universe during its endless cycles of rebirth. He can be depicted as a pale blue being which has four arms. It is common for objects such as a lotus, conch, discus, prayer beads or a manuscript to be visible in his hands. The nadir is represented between the southwest and south direction (Buhnemann 65).

The Dikpalas are used in Hinduism as guardians of the cardinal directions and guardians of the sacred worship space. The first six gods mentioned above are older gods that appeared in the Vedas, while Kubera and Isana are from folk cults predating the Vedas (Morgan 72-73). In temples, each corresponding god is represented in each corresponding cardinal direction. For example, Yama would be portrayed in the southern area of the temple and Indra in the East.

A Hindu practitioner would salute the guardians during the beginning of the ritual.  This is commonly done in parts, depending on how elaborate the ritual is. First, each guardian is invoked into his or her specific cardinal point starting with Indra in the east. Next, the attributes of the directional guardians can be invoked (Buhnemann 65). They correspond as follows: East – the thunderbolt (vajra), southeast – the spear (sakti), south – the staff (danda), southwest – the sword (khadga), west – the noose (pasa), northwest – the goad (ankusa), north – the mace (gada), northeast – the trident (trisula), zenith – the lotus (padma), and nadir – the wheel (cakra) (Buhnemann 65).

Each of the eight directional diety’s consort, vehicle, and directional elephant can be named as well. Respectively, they are named: Indra – Saci/Airavata (his mount is already a directional elephant), Agni – Svaha/the ram/Pundarika, Yama – Varahi/the buffalo/Vamana, Nirrti – Khadgini/the corpse/Kumuda, Varuna – Varuni/the sea monster/Anjana, Vayu – Vayavi/the deer/Puspadanta, Kubera – Kauberi/the man/Sarvabhauma, Isana – Isani/the bull/Supratika. Depending on the practitioner or the type of ritual being conducted, some or all of the above may be used (Buhnemann 65-66).



Werner, Karel (1997) A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Surrey: Curzon

Perry, Edward (1885) “Indra In The Rig-Veda”. Journal of The American Oriental Society 11: 117-208

Morgan, Kenneth (1987) The Religion of The Hindus. Delhi:  Shri Jainendra Press

Kinsley, David (1987) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of The Divine Feminine in The Hindu Religious Tradition. Delhi:  University of California Press

Jordaan, Acri, and Andrea (2012) “The Dikpalas of Ancient Java Revisited: A New Identification for the 24 directional deities on the Siva temple of the Loro Jonggrang complex”. Brill 168: 274-313.

Buhnemann, Gudrun (2003) Mandalas and Yantras in The Hindu Traditions. Leiden:  Brill


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Article written by: Meghan Gausman (March 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.

Demons defeated by Krsna

The myths pertaining to Krsna’s destruction of demons begin before he was born. It all started with a prophesy that was foretold at his mother’s wedding, while his mother and father were being driven by King Kamsa, his mother’s brother. As they were driving a voice was heard in the sky calling Kamsa a fool because he is driving the chariot of his sister; whose eighth son will kill him ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 1). These events led Kamsa to be fearful of the offspring of his sister which caused him to imprison his sister’s family, and murder her children as they are born. One of the main reasons that Kamsa was so afraid of his sister’s future child is because a sage, Nanda, informed Kamsa of his old life. He told him that in a past life Kamsa was a demon, named Kalanemi, who was defeated by Visnu. Then Kamsa learns that his sister’s child will be the God Visnu who had already killed him before (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 1).

Because he had been murdering his own sister’s children, Visnu ensured that when he incarnated as Krsna, Kamsa would be powerless to kill him. Visnu appeared to his parents upon Krsna’s birth, and had his father switch Krsna with a female infant, to escape the grasps of Kamsa  (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 3, Bryant p.240). But Kamsa was not content with letting the child live, so he gathered his Demon ministers who advise him to kill all the children that were recently born. Kamsa approved of this plan which led to Krsna’s first encounter with a demon (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 4).

One of the demons dispatched by Kamsa’s kill order was Putana. Putana had the abilities to fly and shapeshift; with these powers she roamed the lands, devouring infants. While searching for more infants to slaughter, Putana happened upon the house where Krsna resided. Krsna closed his eyes to avoid Putana’s wickedness as Putana approached him and placed him on her lap.  Putana then gave Krsna her breast which was covered in poison in an attempt to kill the infant.  Krsna accepted the milk, but also sucked away Putana’s life breath. Losing her life breath caused Putana to collapse and lose control of her powers as she was dying. While Putana lost control of her power she transformed back into her original, grotesque form extending over miles; her transformation destroyed everything in it’s path.  As Putana collapses there is a loud noise and everyone nearby is astonished by the sudden appearance of this defeated demon. While everyone is in disbelief, the Gopis see Krsna playing on Putana’s lap, they then quickly came and picked him up ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 6, Bryant 120-121).

The second Demon defeated by Krsna was Trnavarta, a servant of Kamsa’s, who was sent to devour Krsna. Trnavarta appeared before Krsna in the form of a whirlwind, to create a dust storm in order to hide himself while kidnapping Krsna. But as Trnavarta was flying away with Krsna, baby Krsna assumes a huge weight so that Trnavarta could fly no further. Burdened by this weight Trnavarta crashed to the ground and immediately died under the weight of Krsna. Again the Gopis saw Krsna playing on top of this dead demon’s body ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 7).

As Krsna grew up, he assumed duties to help his father, such as watching the calves. One morning Krsna was playing with his brother, Balarama, by the river while they were watching the calves. Eventually a demon by the name of Vatsasura arrived taking the shape of a cow in an attempt to hide from Krsna’s sight. However, Krsna noticed the imposter and followed him with his brother until Krsna saw his chance to defeat Vatsasura; Krsna took the demon from behind and threw him into a tree, immediately ending his life (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 11).

On another occasion, while Krsna was watching the calves with some of the other boys they noticed a giant duck-like creature or the embankment. This creature was the demon Bakasura, a friend of Kamsa’s. As soon as Bakasura saw Krsna, he attacked him and attempted to swallow him whole, but eventually fails and threw him up. After Bakasura failed to devour Krsna, he tried to crush him between his beak. Krsna fearing for his life, grabs the beaks of Bakasura and breaks his mouth into two. This is how Krsna killed his fourth demon (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 11, Bryant 240).

Early one morning, Krsna, accompanied by his cowherd friends went into the forest (Bryant 125-126). While in the forest, they came upon the Demon Aghasura, who was the brother of Putana and Bakasura that Krsna has already killed, so he wanted revenge for his brother and sister. Aghasura was a giant serpent, and he wanted to devour Krsna, his friends, and all of their calves. To reach his ends, Aghasura opened his mouth extending it from the land to the sky; eventually, all of the calves and all of the children, enter his mouth. Krsna entered last and as Aghasura was closing his mouth to devour the children, Krsna expanded his body, causing Aghasura to choke and eventually suffocate to death (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 12). A Sourcebook recognizes the trip into the forest and repeatedly acknowledges that Krsna has defeated Aghasura, but does not talk about the specific fight (Bryant 117, 170, 424, 557).

Krsna’s friends approached him telling him about the demon named Dhenukasura and his friends, and how they kept people and animals from the fruit in an area of the forest. While talking about this area, Krsna’s friends asked him to slay the demon, so that they may have access to that area. Krsna, wanting to please his friends, went to the forest with his brother and his friends; as they arrived in the forest, Balarama pushed the trees, causing the fruit to fall which alerted Dhenukasura of their arrival. Dhenukasura is in the form of an ass and runs at the boys, arriving at Balarama first; upon his arrival he kicked Balarama in the chest, and on the second time that he tried to kick him, Balarama grabbed the demon’s hind legs, swirls around and threw him into the treetop, killing him. This causes Dhenukasura’s demon friends to attack Krsna and Balarama, but they are defeated in the same manner as Dhenukasura (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 15). Sourcebook again references Krsna’s the defeat of Dhenuka (Bryant 170, 333). Earlier in the story Bhaktivedanta made the claim that Balarama was the incarnate of Anata Sesanaga, a god with great strength, that carries a mountain giving him a great weight, this is what allowed Balarama to fight demons next to Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 12).

In the river Yamuna, housed a giant black serpent named Kaliya, the hundred and one headed snake, who was poisoning the river. For this reason, Krsna decided that he would defeat Kaliya. Krsna jumped into the Yamuna river and made a very loud noise; he was successfully in getting Kaliya to approach and when Kaliya arrived he grabbed Krsna in his coils. At the same time, the Gopis had been searching for Krsna and found him in this same instant. When they saw Krsna in the coils of the snake, it made all of the Gopis distraught, to such an extent that Krsna’s parents attempted to enter the lake to help him, but were stopped by Balarama. Krsna noticed how distraught his community was becoming by thinking he was in peril, so he rose up from Kaliya’s grasp; this angered the snake and allowed Krsna to circle behind Kaliya head. Krsna then bent the snake’s neck, climbed on his head and started dancing. Kaliya tried to lift his other heads, but every time he did, Krsna kicked that head back down while dancing, slowly killing Kaliya (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 16, Bryant 126-127). Kaliya’s wives, known as Nagapatnis, saw their husband getting defeated by Krsna, so they decided to pray to Krsna and offer things to him in an attempt to free their husband from his impending death. They started begging Krsna for Kaliya’s mercy and eventually Krsna granted this mercy and demanded that Kaliya and his family leave the river and go to the sea, so that they could no longer harm people (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 16).

The eighth demon defeated by Krsna was Pralambasura, who disguised himself as a cowherd boy, with the intent of kidnapping Krsna and his brother while they were playing with the other boys.  Krsna saw Pralambasura as the demon he was and tricked Pralambasura into joining them for game. The boys split into two teams, Krsna was one leader and Balarama the other. The game eventually ended with Balarama’s team winning. The losers had to carry the winners on their backs, which ended up with Pralambasura carrying Balarama on his back. Pralambasura took this chance to kidnap and devour Balarama, but he was unaware that Balarama was the incarnation of Anata Sesanaga, giving him a great weight which prevented the asura from easily taking him. In an attempt to escape with Balarama on his back Pralambasura transformed into his normal body which was monstrously big, and gave him more strength to carry Balarama. At first Balarama was scared, but then he realized that this was a demon trying to kill him, so Balarama used his great strength and struck him on the back of his head, killing him (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 18).

One evening, Krsna and Balarama entered the forests near Vrndavana, with many beautiful women accompanying them. While they are enjoying each other’s company, the demon Sankhasura appeared. Sankha meaning white conch, this demon was called Sankhasura because of a marvelous gem on his head that resembled a conch shell. This demon was driven by greed; he saw the beautiful woman surrounding Krsna and Balarama and became jealous. Sankhasura saw himself to be wealthier than these two boys, so he saw himself as deserving of the company of these woman. With this thought, he came before Krsna, Balarama, and the women and he started to lead all of the women away, almost as if he were their husband. While he leads the women away, they call for help so Krsna and Balarama chase down the demons. Fearing for his life, Sankhasura releases the damsels and ran from Krsna and Balarama. While Balarama stays to take care of the women, Krsna continued to chase Sankhasura with the desire of defeating him and taking the sankha from his head. Eventually, Krsna caught up to Sankhasura and hit him in the head, killing him; Krsna then took the sankha and presented it to Balarama (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 33).

One day, a demon in the form of a giant bull, Aristasura, came to Vrndavana and as he entered the city, he started to make a terrifying amount of noise (Bryant 426). This led the animals to run in fear, and the inhabitants to call Krsna for aid. Krsna confronted this giant demon trying to pacify the situation, but this only angered Aristasura. The demon charged towards Krsna, but Krsna simply grabbed him by his horns and tossed him to the side. Aristasura became injured, but was so enraged that he mustered enough strength to stand again and again he attempted to charge Krsna, but Krsna again tossed him aside. Krsna, then, approached the demon that he knocked down and kicked him until he perished (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35).

The sage, Nanda, wanted to rush the prophesy along; he noticed Kamsa’s plan of killing the children born around the time of Krsna to be ineffective, so he told him of the location of Krsna. This led Kamsa to order the Kesi demon to kill Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35). So Kesi went to Vrndavana in the form of a horse, and when he arrived there, he stormed around the town to challenge Krsna to a battle. Once Krsna arrived Kesi charged at him with the intent of stomping on him; Krsna used his strength to grab hold of the demon’s legs and, spinning around the horse, Krsna throws Kesi. This stuns Kesi for a moment, but when he regains his senses, he attempted to run at Krsna again. This time Krsna shoved his arm down Kesi’s throat, while using his powers to make his arm expand, suffocating Kesi. After a few moments of this Kesi perished (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 36).

Later that same day, Vyomasura appeared. He was a demon with the ability to fly through the sky, as Vyomasura passed over, he saw the boys playing a game. The demon desired to kidnap and devour these children so he hid himself among the boys and slowly took many of the boys that were playing with Krsna, and hid them in the hills for later. Krsna noticed what was happening and caught Vyomasura as he was trying to take another child; Vyomasura began to fear for his life and expand himself, Krsna then threw him to the ground with such force that he died immediately. Then, Krsna went and freed his friends (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 36).

Kamsa decided on a new plan; he organized a wrestling match, telling his servants that this will be their chance to kill Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35). Krsna and Balarama decided to go to the wrestling match and when they arrive, Kamsa set a Giant elephant to try to kill Krsna. In a heroic feat of strength Krsna overpowered the elephant, killing him and his handler (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 42). Now that Krsna has displayed his strength, the wrestlers had an opportunity to challenge Krsna; this led to two simultaneous fights, Canura fighting Krsna and Balarama fighting Muskita. After the matches began, the people in the audience started doubting the boy’s strength due to their size and boyish beauty, which caused Krsna and Balarama to no longer wish to wrestle and they decided to kill their opponents. In Krsna’s fight, he quickly struck Canura, briefly stunning him, Canura began fearing for his life and started punching Krsna in the chest with both his hands. Krsna was not disturbed by these attacks and simply grabbed Canura’s arms and swung him, throwing him and killing him instantly. In Balarama’s fight, it began with Balarama getting struck, but then returned the blow with tremendous force causing Muskita to die (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 43).

While the crowd cheered for Krsna’s victory, Kamsa became angry, and ordered that Krsna and Balarama be driven from the land, and everyone who came with them should be robbed. Kamsa also orders for the people whom he sees as related to Krsna to be killed, namely Krsna’s father, the sage Nanda, and Krsna’s grandfather (Kamsa’s father). Hearing these atrocious commands, Krsna became angered with Kamsa and attacked him; Krsna threw Kamsa to the ground, got on top of Kamsa’s chest and repeatedly struck his face until he dies. This ends the prophesy of Krsna killing Kamsa (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 43). Later Krsna is referred to as the slayer of Kamsa during later expeditions (Bryant 186).



Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Los Angeles: ISKCON.

Bryant, E. F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Nectars of Devotion. Los Angeles: ISKCON.


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Related Websites (list of demons defeated by Krsna and the anarthas they represent) (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead)


Article written by Jeffrey Freedman (April 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.

Lord Dattatreya

    The origins of Lord Dattatreya’s myths and stories are first found in two great epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. However, it is in the Puranas that we find the detailed legendary character which evolves. In the Puranas we learn that Dattatreya was born to Anasuya and her husband rsi Atri as an incarnation of the Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu and Siva (Rigopoulos 1). Lord Dattatreya is a male deity with three heads which represents the Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. He is portrayed with four dogs in front which symbolise the Vedas and a cow behind, which stands for Mother Earth. In the Mahanubhava panth, Lord Dattatreya is worshipped as a single- headed deity (Joshi 130-161). Lord Dattatreya is mostly worshipped in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat. Lord Dattatreya is viewed by his devotees as the Guru of Gurus and initiator of Navnath sampradaya.

The Avdhuta Gita is one of the famous writings which are associated with him. This book consists of 289 slokas which are divided into eight chapters. It is based on Vedanta philosophy (Joshi 58). This book was very influential in the western part of India and was widely used by the Navnath sampradaya to spread the Dattatreya cult. The first chapter deals with the condition of the human soul. The other chapters describe the nature of the reality that everything is Brahman and the   innermost self (atman) is one. There is no duality; Brahman is a universal soul. The eighth chapter recommends the avoidance of the women: It describes the harm done by women to man on the path to liberation. Avdhuta Gita forbids the pursuit of worldly pleasures to those who want to enjoy the complete happiness or bliss. Even today the book is popular among the devotees of Dattatreya in Maharashtra (Rigopoulos 192-220).

The Guru Caritra is credited for the rise in the Dattatreya cult in modern era. Until the sixteenth century Lord Dattatreya used to represent Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. From that period onwards, he developed two incarnations Shripad Shri Vallabaha and Narshima Saraswati. The popularity of the Dattatreya cult grew among the masses as indicated by his frequent appearances in Marathi Literature (Raeside 498). The Guru Caritra is the most influential text in the Dattatreya sampradya or his cult. The book claims its mystical origins and it describes the life stories of two avatars: Shripad Shri Vallabaha and Shri Narshima Saraswati who were born in Pithpur, Andhra Pradesh and Karanja, Maharashtra (Rigopoulos 110). The Guru Caritra was written in Marathi by Saraswati Gangadhar in 1550. It is divided into fifty-one chapters, including the avataranika which is the set of instructions for reading it. The text is a conversation between two people: Siddha muni and Namdharaka. Chapters 5 to 10 describe the Sripad Vallabha`s life story and the miraculous powers he used to help people. Chapters 20 to 51 describe the life story of Shri Narshima Saraswati and the miracles he performed. The Guru Caritra is a book which promotes orthodoxy, the importance of performing rituals and dharma (Rigopoulos 109).

The story of the birth of Shripad Shri Vallabha takes place in a village called Pithapur near Rajmahendri in Andhra pradesh there lived a Brahmin couple, Alparaja and his pativrata wife Sumiti. The Brahmin was well versed in the Vedas and both of them had a strong belief in god. Once there was a sraddha ceremony in their house which was performed to please their ancestors. On that day a renouncer came to their door and asked for alms. Sumiti immediately gave the alms to the renouncer, despite the fact that she was not supposed to offer alms on that day. Due to this, the renouncer who disguised himself appeared in his real form as Lord Dattatreya. He was very pleased with the act of Sumiti and he offered a boon to her. The Brahmin and his wife had two sons who were blind and lepers. She asked Lord Dattatreya to be born as her child. Lord Dattatreya granted the boon and after a few months she had a son who had a shining face likes the sun and he was very beautiful. The Brahmin couple gave him a name of Shripad which is one of the names of Lord Dattatreya. Shripad grew up very well there and at the age of sixteen said he would like to renounce worldly pleasures and go to the Himalayas to initiate and guide a few saints. Sumiti was very sad after hearing these words and she tried her best to convince him to stay with them. Shripad renounced worldly pleasures and made his way towards the holy places like Banaras, Badrinath and Gokrana. Before he left he cured his two brothers and blessed them with every-lasting wealth and prosperous lives. On his way he helped people such as Ambika and her son who was mentally handicapped. Shripad also promised Ambika that he would be her son in her next birth. In Kuravapur, Sripad gave a boon to a washer man that he would be born in a Muslim family in his next birth and would be a ruler. Shripad also mentioned to him that he would meet him again when he would be Narshima Saraswati in his next birth (Bhagvant 59-126). [see Sri Guru Caritra in Marathi Ch. from 5 to 10. It also describes the stories in detail including the story of Gokrana Shiva linga, the Brahmin killed by thieves and who was brought back to life].

It is believed by the devotees in the Dattatreya sampradaya that Lord Dattatreya is reborn from time to time to guide his devotees to salvation. The stories related to Sri Narshima Saraswati who is considered as the second avatar of Lord Dattatreya in the Guru Caritra are as follows: Shri Narshima Saraswati was born in town Karanja, Maharashtra in a Brahmin family. His parent’s names were Madhav and Amba. His given name was Narhari. Prior to his upanayana he just uttered the “OM” sound and nothing else. After performing the upanayana he is reputed to have spoken and recited all the hymns of the Vedas. At this time he was only seven years old and people were amazed by his knowledge. Narhari decided to renounce the materialist world and its pleasures and he also renounced his family at a very young age. He promised his parents that he would return after twenty years of penance. On his way to Kasi Narhari met many sannyasins and he guided them. Narhari got a diksa from an old sannyasin Krsna Saraswati and he was given a new name, Narshimha Saraswati, to keep the linage of his guru. On his way towards Gangapur, he guided many people on the spiritual path, healed and gave boons to many. Narshimha Saraswati lived for few years at Narsobawadi and Audhumbar before he decided to spend his rest of his life at Gangapur. He accomplished his mission by showing people the right way and re-establishing the correct dharma (Joshi 70-72).

There is a story in the Guru Caritra which shows his character when he helps a Dalit man to defeat two learned arrogant Brahmins in a Vedic recitation competition. As per the Guru Caritra, he helped all the people without any discrimination regarding their caste or religions. Narshima Saraswati used his miraculous powers to represent himself as one who had come for humanity to save them from ignorance. His teachings are based on doing the good karma, observing the vratas which are believed to purify the body and soul and give the observer what he wishes. Narshimha Saraswati`s main mission was to awake the people towards the reality. The Guru Caritra tries to list that the miracles which Narshimha Saraswati performed, such as waking up a dead Brahmin, healing lepers and giving a boon to a sixty year old lady to give birth to her first child. Blessing his disciples to provide food to thousands of people, curing the smallpox of a Muslim king were among other miracles attributed to him. Every miracle he performed had a message to the people that there was something deeper beyond the worldly pleasures and one should find the reality of existence (Rigopoulos 117). [During this period his fame and glory was spread all over Maharashtra and he was recognized as a great sage by Hindu sections as well as Muslim rulers in India. After spending twenty years in Gangapur in 1459 he left for ShriShaila Mountain and was never seen again (see Sri Guru Caritra Marathi)].

Today Gangapur, which lies in Karnataka state, is considered the center place by Dattatreya worshipers. The Gangapur ksetra lies near the sangama of two great rivers, Bhima and Amarja. In the Dattatreya temple there is a small room in which the Nirguna-Padukas are kept, these padukas are believed to be certain signs of the never ending presence of Lord Dattatreya in them. The Nirguna-Padukas were the holiest thing to be worshiped in Dattatreya sampradya from many centuries. In this temple there is a little window from where the devotees take darshan of Dattatreya (Rigopoulos 119). This place is also famous for healing people who are possessed by evil spirits. The sufferer is generally taken to the temple when the prayers or artis are performed at certain times of day. It is believed that evil spirit cannot stand in front of the presence of god and leaves the sufferer. This is another reason why Dattatreya temples at Audhumbar, Narsobavadi and Gangapur are famous as powerful healing centers. There are millions of locals who visit these sites to be free from the evil supernatural powers such as the possession by sprits, black magic. These places are known as jagrit sthanas that is an awakened deity (Rigopoulos 122). [See Rigopoulos 121 where he references M.S. Mathe and describes in detail the worship of the Nirguna-Padukas. Also see Rigopoulos 123 where he says it is not clear why these places got importance of healing centers].

DattaJayanti is one of the Hindu festivals which is associated with Lord Dattatreya. “This festival is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the full moon of month of marga-sirsa according to the Hindu calendar” (Rigopoulos 122). The DattaJayanti is certainly one of the popular festivals in Maharashtra. But there is no evidence in the Guru Caritra where it instructs or emphasises to celebrate the festival. This festival has been celebrated since ancient times and no one knows exactly when it was celebrated for the first time. Devotees believe that Dattatreya was born on this day and it is celebrated as his birthday. The festival lasts for a day and involves his devotees coming together, make prayers and offerings to him.[ see Rigopoulos 132 where he says it is unclear to scholars which is the right day , but he references the dasopant caritra which says Dattatreya`s birthday is on Monday . However tradition believes it’s on Wednesday].

Today Lord Dattatreya has his own unique place among the Hindu gods and in hearts of his devotees, despite being a very ancient avatara of the Trimurti. Lord Dattatreya is regarded as the immortal guru who answers the prayers of his devotees and helps them to prosper in their material life as well as spiritual path. The various sampradayas and saints associated with Lord Dattatreya are equally helpful in spreading his glory and uplifting the lives of the believers and removing their sorrows. It is believed by his devotees he grants vision in dreams and comes to fulfil their wishes and desires (Rigopoulos 253-255). The Guru Caritra stands as a central text in Dattatreya sampradaya which describe the life stories of two avataras. The NirgunaPadukas at Gangapur stand as main pilgrimage site.




Bahadur, Sri Jaya Chamarajendra (1982) DATTATREYA: The Way and the Goal. London: Coombe Springs Press.

Bhagvant, Yogiraj (2002) Sri Guru Caritra in Marathi. Pune: Rajesh Prakashan.

Chetanandnda, Swami (1984) Trans Avadhuta Gita of Dattatreya. Calcutta: Advaita Ashram.

Dhere, R.C (1964) Datta Sampradayaca Itihas 2nd edition. Pune: Nilakanth Prakashan.

Joshi, Hariprasad Shivprasad (1965) Origin and development of Dattatreya worship in India. Baroda: Maharaj Sayajirao University of Baroda Press.

Mate, M.S (1988) Gangapur Dattatreya: In Temples and Legends of Maharashtra. Bombay: Bhartyiya Vidhya Bhavan.

Raeside, I.M.P (1982) “Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London”,  Dattatreya: Vol. 45, No. 3: 489-500.

Rigopoulos, Antonio (2000) Dattatreya: The Immortal Guru, Yogin, and Avtara. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.


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Written by Abhijeet Shende (Spring 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.


Yama is the much dreaded god of death. Depicted as a man with a gruesome face with dark green skin, coppery eyes, and blood-red robes, he resides in his palace in Naraka situated in the nether regions. Yama rides his buffalo when entering the human realm carrying his mace and noose, dandahasta and pasahasta, everywhere in case he needs to cut off an individual in the midst of his or her life. Recorded in the Book of Destiny, every living soul’s life span has been predetermined. Assistants to the god are responsible for fulfilling the duties of the book and bringing down the souls to Naraka. With Yama sitting on his throne, Chitragupta, one of Yama’s better known servants, will read out the sum of the deceased man or woman’s assets and sins as they pass judgement before the god. Accordingly the hardened sinner will be sent to one of Yama’s many Hells, or virtuous individuals will be reconciled with his or her forefathers in Pitris (Pitris is an equivalent to heaven). In some cases, it is told that an individual may also be reincarnated (rebirthed) back to the world either as a superior or inferior organism; depending on their Karma. As stated by Dieter B. Kapp in his article The Concept of Yama in the Religion of a South Indian Tribe, “Life on earth is characterized by deeds performed according to one’s own will and wishes, though they are predestined. Life after death, i.e., life which starts with death and ends with the reaching of paradise, means purification from worldly sins. The span of life which has to be spent lying on the ‘refuse heap’ of the region of ancestors serves for purification from pollution sins. Life in paradise is marked by external bliss, it., eternal youth, love, abundance of vegetarian food, music and dance” (Kapp, 518).

Despite Yama’s later evil role in Hindu mythology, the Vedas described Yama as the first man who died and the king of the departed. Vedic tradition also references Yama as the lord of justice, giving him the title Dharma. Yama can be interpreted to mean “twin” in Vedic tradition some myths have him paired up with his twin sister Yami. Surya, the sun god is also the father to Yama, his brother Shani and sister Yami. Yami has a minor role in the rg Veda, but fascinatingly Shani is portrayed as the deity that gives the sentence of one’s deeds throughout life by appropriate punishment and rewards; Yama grants the outcomes of the actions after death.

Relating back to death, Yama is given another name: Kala, Sanskrit for “time”, appropriately assigned because time is naturally selected and nobody can stop or change time. To better explain, human health always nears death after birth through decay, disease, or accident. The only cause of delay of being taken to Naraka is due to treatment options of sick persons, but the inevitability of death can never be stopped due to the outline of nature.

The Hindu God of Death, Yama, with his skull topped staff and buffalo mount, Pratihara period, 10th century, Rajasthan, Delhi National Museum
The Hindu God of Death, Yama, with his skull topped staff and buffalo mount, Pratihara period, 10th century, Rajasthan, Delhi National Museum

In terms of classification systems of Hindu mythology, Bodewitz best describes it in his article The Dark and Deep Underworld in the Vedas. “In the classificatory system (see Bodewitz 2001) the east belongs to the gods, the southeast to (some of) the Pitrs, the south to (some of) the Pitrs, and the southwest to the demons (at least it represents hell). Here the south (the region of some of the Pitrs) is in opposition to the north (the region of people living on earth). Again this opposition has to do with light (north) and darkness (south). It also deals with above and be- low, since the north (uttard) and the south (adhard) are qualified by adjectives in this sphere.” (Bodewitz 221). To better explain, Hindus view the southern region as inauspicious because of Lord Yama’s ruling. East and North having to be associated with light are considered auspicious.

In addition to Hindu mythology, Yama is included in Buddhist teachings. Though in Buddhism, Yama loses his role as a judge and punisher of the underworld because Buddhist teachings state that Karma alone will determine an individual’s fate come time for death. Logically, because of karma there is no need for a supernatural justice, restating the lack of Yama’s role. Come death the souls of the dead are reminded by Yama the concept of Karma and that the souls are responsible for the punishment they will undergo. Buddhist teachings also surround Yama by a concept of Mara which speculates Yama is hidden in the embodiment of moral evil. Contrasting from the Hindu’s depiction of Yama: dark green skin, gruesome face with copper eyes, and blood red robes, tantric Buddhism shows Yama as a terrifying figure ornamented with human skulls, consumed by flames, and holding in his right hand prajna (sword of insight), and in his left hand the mirror of karma, so the individual looking into the mirror shows the true reflection of their deeds. Japanese Buddhism worships Emma (same role as Yama), the demon lord of the Underworld who judges the dead. Emma (Yama) can only be overruled by prayers.

In addition to his rule as king and judge of the underworld, Yama is also a great teacher. “This is one of the ten principal Upanishads, which are expansions to the four Vedas that are usually delivered” as explained in Laura Strong’s written works, Immortal India: Mythic Hindu Death Rituals and Beliefs about the Afterlife. Despite the obvious meaning of the Upanishad (death, and the meaning surrounding it), it also elucidates the meaning of life and secret to immortality. To summarize the Katha Upanishad surrounding Yama and his teachings, the myth starts with a character Nachiketa. Nachiketa had a pure soul, despite being the son of a notoriously greedy man. Feeling disturbed by viewing his father inappropriately sacrificing cows, the boy asks his father to whom was he given. Despite being ignored Nachiketa asked again, and on the third time the irritated man banished Nachiketa to Yama’s abode. Upon discovery of Yama’s absence, loyal Nachiketa waited three days and nights. Upon Yama’s return, the might god offered him three wishes. Firstly, Nachiketa wished to be returned alive to his father and have his father be pleased with him. Secondly, Nachiketa wished to be instructed on how to perform a proper Vedic fire-sacrifice. “The third and most important boon requested by the young student is to know the secret of immortality. Yama is not as eager to hand over this knowledge, but eventually Nachiketa persuades him and he begins by teaching Nachiketa “the mystic sound which all scriptures praise–Om.”” (Strong 2000:6). He then goes on to explain that, “When the body dies, the Self (Atman) does not die!” (Strong 2000:6). Accordingly, one must fully understand Atman.

Upon writing about Yama, it is logical to provide information about Hindu death rituals. Following the passing of a family member, relatives of deceased individual start preparing for either cremation or having the body placed in a burial ground. Typically, unless the family is dealing with an infant, the body is cremated in which the cremation pyre is lit by the eldest son. Subsequently the ashes are then submerged into a holy river, following the family undergoes a purifying bath to enter a state of extreme pollution. Pinda (rice balls) are then offered to the spirit of the deceased during the memorial service. Particularly, this is viewed as a contribution to cleanse the soul so it can pass through the realm of Yama.

In conclusion, Yama is guardian of the South presiding over the resting place of the dead and the lord of death Yama is relatively a substantial part of mythology in India. Earlier represented by the Vedas as a cheerful king of the departed ancestors who became the first human to die, this god’s role quickly changed in later mythology to become a judge of good and evil deeds of deceased souls and determine their retribution. Beyond Hindu mythology Yama has passed over into Buddhist mythology with a lesser but similar role as guardian of the dead in the following countries: Tibet, China, and Japan. Reflecting on the recently deceased individual’s karmic balance, Yama makes judgement and governs a proper reprisal. Upon deciding, Yama safeguards proper rhythm in considering rebirths back to the Hindu world so the Hindus make daily offerings of water back to this god.






Works Cited (APA)


L.D. Barnett (1928) “Yama, Gandharva, and Glaucus”. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies: University of London, Vol. 4, No. 4, p. 703-716


W. Bodewitz (2002) “The Dark and Deep Underworld in the Veda”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 2, p. 213-223


Doniger, Wendy (1976) “The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology”. Berkeley: University of California Press Ltd. pp. 1-157


Keown, D. (2008). “Into the jaws of Yama, lord of death: Buddhism, bioethics, and death”. Buddhist-Christian Studies, p. 156-171


B. Kapp (1982) “The Concept of Yama in the Religion of a South Indian Tribe”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 102, No. 3, p. 517-521


MacDonnell, A. A. (1898). “Vedic Mythology (Reprint Delhi 1974 ed.)”. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd. ISBN 81-208-1113-

Rodrigues (2006) “Hinduism The eBook an Online Introduction” Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

 Roy, Christian (2005) “Traditional Festivals a multicultural encyclopedia” Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.

 Strong, L (2000) “Immortal India: Mythic Hindu Death Rituals and Beliefs About the Afterlife” Mythical Arts

Yama (2013) In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://



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Article written by: Blake Irvine (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content

Siva and Demons

Siva is regarded as one part of the Great Hindu Trinity, alongside Brahma and Visnu. Brahma is the creator, Visnu the preserver and Siva the destroyer of the universe (Ghosh 13). Siva resides on Mount Kailasa along with his wife, Parvati. While he is known as the destroyer of the universe, Siva possesses a myriad of contradicting qualities. He is both terrible and benign; the supreme ascetic, yet a symbol of sensuality; granter of boons to those who are most devoted to him, and destroyer of those who displease him. It is these qualities which result in some interesting encounters with various demons.

While we can call some of the beings that Siva encounters and battles with “demons” in English, there is not always a clear-cut line between good and evil in Hinduism. Although gods are supposed to be different from demons, there is not always a clear cut distinction between the good characteristics of one and the evil characteristics of the other. While most Hindu demons behave in the way that is expected of them in the West – stealing, killing, raping, generally being evil – there are some demons in Hindu mythology that are righteous and practice asceticism. It is through this asceticism that the gods grant boons to these “good” demons, and it is through the abuse of these boons that they become evil. Siva’s mythology tells of encounters of both “evil” demons and “good” demons, and has even granted boons to some “good” demons, only to have them turn around and use their boons against him.

It is possible for demons to be born from gods, and for gods to cleanse demons of their “demon-ness”. The story of Andhaka illustrates both concepts. Once, Parvati covered Siva’s two eyes, and a drop of sweat fell into his third eye. From this, the demon Andhaka was born, with Parvati as his mother and Siva as his father. Siva saw the evil that Andhaka was capable of and gave him away to the demon king Hiranyaksa to raise. When Andhaka was older, he inherited Hiranyaksa’s kingdom. After meditating and sacrificing pieces of his own flesh, Andhaka was able to request a boon from Brahma. Andhaka wanted to live forever, but as all things must eventually die, Brahma could only grant him near immortality; Andhaka had to declare the conditions for his death. Wanting to make the conditions near impossible, Andhaka wished that his death would only come when he developed feelings for his own mother and that even if he desired his own mother, only Siva could kill him. One day, while in the forest, Andhaka encountered an ascetic and his beautiful wife. Andhaka tried to seduce the woman and demanded that the ascetic surrender his wife, as a man who had renounced his worldly ways would have no need for a beautiful woman. The ascetic refused, to which Andhaka sought to do battle with him, not knowing that the beautiful woman he lusted after was Parvati, his mother. This meant that the ascetic with whom he challenged to battle was Siva. Siva impaled Andhaka with his trident and burned him with his third eye. Siva’s third eye was so powerful, he not only burned away Andhaka’s body, but also his sins and demonic ways. Then Siva gave Andhaka a form with three eyes, a blue neck, and matted hair, and Parvati adopted him as her son (O’Flaherty 1973:191).

When seduction is used by both Siva and his enemy, Siva emerges supreme by virtue of his sexual powers (O’Flaherty 1973:184). Siva once commented on Parvati’s dark complexion, which angered her. She left to perform austerities to lighten her skin color and assigned her attendant, Viraka, to guard the door, fearing her husband’s lust would get the better of him and he would sleep with another woman before she could return. While she was gone, Adi, the shape-shifting son of Andhaka, learned of her absence, and devised a plan to avenge his father’s death by killing Siva. Adi figured that if he could destroy Siva’s linga (phallus), Siva himself would be ultimately destroyed. He snuck into Siva’s palace by transforming himself into a snake and slithered past Viraka undetected. He then transformed himself into Parvati, but placed sharp teeth inside the vagina. When Siva saw Adi in his Parvati form, he embraced him/her, but was suspicious that Parvati would return before completing her austerities. He began to look at his wife more closely and seeing that the Parvati in front of him was missing a birthmark, Siva suspected that it was a demon in disguise. He then placed a thunderbolt on the tip of his linga, and while making love to Adi, killed him with it.

So far, Siva has been shown to be able to spawn demons and to kill demons, but Siva also from time to time helped demons out. The demon Bana is one of these cases. Bana was the son of the demon Bali, but Siva and Parvati adopted him as their own son. With the backing of Siva, Bana became strong and hungered for war. He once complained to Siva that there were no wars to fight and that he was depressed. Siva smiled and told him that when his flagstaff fell, a great war would come to him. When Bana’s flagstaff broke, he happily relayed Siva’s message to his minister, Kusmanda, but Kusmanda, who was more level headed than Bana, could sense trouble brewing. Bana’s daughter, Usa, wanted a husband and Parvati told her that one night she would have a dream where a man would come to her and join with her in sexual union. The man in that dream would be her future husband. Sure enough, one night she had this dream and the man was Aniruddha, the grandson of Krsna. The problem lay in the fact that Krsna and Bana were sworn enemies. Usa asked her friend Citralekha to find Aniruddha and bring him to her, which she did. The two had a secret love affair, but Bana found out and sought to punish Aniruddha. Aniruddha proved to be an experienced fighter and Bana could not defeat him in physical combat. Under the advice of Kusmanda, Bana resorted to magic instead and managed to tie Aniruddha down with ropes made from snakes. Bana was about to kill Aniruddha, but the wise Kusmanda suggested that since the boy was such a great warrior, it might be better to inquire as to who he was and to protect him instead of killing him. If he did manage to secretly marry Usa, it would not look good if Bana killed his own son-in-law. Meanwhile, Krsna heard about Aniruddha’s capture and mobilized a great army to Bana’s capital, set on either rescuing his grandson or avenging his death. Bana’s army and Krsna’s army collided on the battlefield, but Krsna’s force proved to be the better and Bana was forced into a corner. This was unacceptable to Siva, who felt he needed to protect his adopted son, so he sent his own army to help Bana and even stepped on the battlefield himself. The war turned into a battle between Siva and Krsna, who was an avatar of Visnu. The Earth was under great stress from the war and Brahma requested that Siva step out of the fight, since both Siva and Visnu were invincible, so the fight would be never-ending. With Siva gone, Bana had no chance of victory and was facing defeat, but Siva took Bana away with him and granted him immortality. Aniruddha was rescued and was married to Usa and Bana’s kingdom was given to Kusmanda to rule.

These were only three examples of Siva’s encounters with demons. With Siva’s unique contradicting characteristics and the ambiguity of evilness of demons in Hindu mythology, there are a vast number of demon encounters that were not mentioned. Even the three examples given were only one version each of a myriad of versions for the same story. However, unlike Western mythology, where there is usually a distinct black and white aspect to good and evil, where gods are good and demons are bad, in Hindu mythology, sometimes the gods are good and the demons are bad, but other times, the gods do terrible things and the demons are righteous. Similar to India’s class system, “god” or “demon” is like a class that one can be born into. How one acts in that class is of their own volition.


Bhattacharji, Sakumari (2000) The Indian Theogony. New Delhi: Penguin Books India.

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (2000) Indian Demonology: The Inverted Pantheon. Daryaganj:  Manohar Publishers & Distributors.

Ghosh, Mandira (2007) Shiva and Shakti in Indian Mythology. Gurgaon: Shubhi Publications.

Michaels, Axel (2008) Siva in Trouble. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1973) Siva The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Los Angeles: University of California Press.












Mount Kailasa








Article written by Allan Chiem (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.


To individuals who are familiar with the Hindu epic Ramayana, the name Ravana has come to mean the main antagonist of the epic, the demon king of Lanka who was manipulated into kidnapping Sita, the wife of Rama. In the epic Ravana is described as the mighty king of the Raksasas with ten heads, twenty arms, and copper-colored eyes, and bright teeth like the young moon (Valmiki, Vol 2: 94-95). He gained control of his kingdom by banishing his half-brother Kubera who was the rightful king. His kingdom was the Kingdom of Lanka, which was said to be at the southern tip of India and some believe that it may be the current state of Sri Lanka as Hanuman, the monkey god, is depicted jumping over a sea to reach the kingdom.

In terms of Ravana’s ancestry, he was a Brahmin by birth as he was born the Visrava, a Brahmin sage and Kaikesi, a Raksasa princess. It is believed that Sumali, Kaikesi’s father who was the king of the Daiteyas, wanted her to marry the most powerful man in the world and chose Visrava as he was the son of Rishi Pulastya, one of the six human sons of Brahma. Ravana also had quite a large number of brothers and sister, the most famous being Surpanakha, who manipulated him into kidnapping Sita because she was insulted by Laksmana and Rama; other siblings are listed as Kumbhkarna, the sleeping giant who was quite skilled at war, Vibhisana, the dharmic Raksasa who eventually helped Rama and older half-brother Kubera, the god of wealth. Even though it is said that Ravana had quite a large of number of queens and a great harem, his favorite queen was said to be Mandodari, a woman of great beauty and wisdom. Mandodari was a pious women who was always apologetic for the misdeeds of her husband. He was the father to several children; Trisiras and Indrajit, who were killed in the battle of Lanka, and Ravani, Aksa, Devantaka, Atikaya, and Narantaka. It is recorded that all of Ravana’s wives performed Sati after his death and died at his funeral pyre.

In terms of Ravana’s kingdom, Lanka was initially ruled by Sumali, Ravana’s maternal grandfather. The ruling was then taken over by Ravana’s half brother Kubera, also known as the god of wealth, who was given the kingdom as a prize because of the austerities he performed to Brahma. Ravana eventually took over the kingdom forcibly, however it is recorded that Lanka flourished under his rule and after Ravana’s defeat; the kingdom was then turned over to his dharmic brother Vibhisana. It is believed that Lanka is the current state of Sri Lanka as the island of Sri Lanka is at the southernmost tip of India. There is also remains of a land bridge that connected Sri Lanka and India, which is known as Rama’s Bridge to this day, and some consider this as proof that Sri Lanka is connected to the Ramayana.

Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India
Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India

In the Ramayana there are many references to Ravana’s wickedness and evilness. First of these can be seen as his defeat of his half-brother to gain control of Lanka. This was not done through normal means as he performed asceticism for Brahma, the god of creation, and a boon was granted to him for his perseverance (Pollock 509). Ravana in turn asked for the ability to defeat gods in battle and with this ability he was able to defeat his half-brother and win his kingdom. Ravana was also well known for forcing himself upon women and it is believed Kubera had cursed Ravana after such a conquest and that is why he was not able to force himself upon Sita. The greatest misdeed of Ravana in the Ramayana is the abduction of Sita who is seen as the image of righteousness. The abduction was caused by Surphanakha’s need for revenge because of Rama’s reaction after her proclamation of love as well as Laksmana cutting off her nose and ears as punishment for insulting Rama. Ravana in turn sent fourteen thousand Raksasas to Rama, Sita, and Laksmana’s dwellings yet they were all defeated. Ravana then decided to take matters further by flying to Rama’s dwellings and abducting Sita after distracting Rama and Laksmana (Kishore 1995: 69-71). As Sita was in captivity for approximately a year, during which time Ravana repeatedly tried make her his wife using many tactics; meanwhile, Rama had prepared an army of monkeys to rescue Sita. This lead to the Battle of Lanka in which the vast army of Raksasas were defeated by Rama’a army and Ravana was slaughtered by Rama himself. However, the demise of the demon king did not come easily, as Rama had to acquire extraordinary weapons in order to slaughter him, the reason for this pertains to Ravana’s boon granted by Brahma.

Even though Ravana is depicted mainly negatively in the Ramayana, there are also positive aspects of his embedded in the epic. He is shown as a great scholar who mastered the Vedas and the arts as well. He was knowledgeable in Brahmin skills as well as Ksastriya skills. Ravana was also a great ruler, which was seen by the prosperousness of Lanka during his reign. When Hanuman first visits Lanka, he was amazed the “splendid yellow-white palaces, like to a city stationed in the sky” (Valmiki, Sundarakandam: 15) He also was said to be a fair ruler and this was cemented by the loyalty of his subjects which is seen many times in the epic. Ravana was a firm devotee of the destructor god, Siva and this devotion seems to stem from his meeting with the god at Kailash. It is said that Ravana may have written a devotional hymn to Siva, the Siva Tandava Stotra. When analyzing the epic the battle of Lanka could be seen as the clash of the two great devotional sects, Saivism and Vaisnavism because of Ravana’s devotion to Siva and Rama being the incarnation of Visnu himself.

When discussing the great demon king, Ravana, one must always consider his positive and negative aspects. Even though he is depicted as evil and wicked in the epic and his effigies are burned even today where as Rama is seen as righteousness, one must realize that for all of Ravana’s negative aspects, positive aspects must be present as well.


Dowson, John (1879) A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature. London: Trübner

Kishore, B.R. (2005) Ramayana. Diamond Pocket Books

Pollock, Sheldon (1984) The Divine King in the Indian Epic. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Richman, Paula. (1991) Many Ramayanas: The diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rocher, Ludo (2006) The Ramayana Revisited. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Roy S.B. (1982) Mohenjodaro and the Lanka of Ravana: a new hypothesis. New Delhi: Institute of Chronology.

Valmiki. Dutt, M.N. trans., Arya, Ravi. Eds. – Ramayana (Volumes I,II,III,IV)I. New Delhi: Parimal Publications.


Life and Character sketch of Ravana.





The Ramayana





Kingdom of Lanka








Bala Khanda

Ayodya Khanda

Aranya Kanda

Kiskindha Kanda

Sundara Kanda

Yudda Kanda

Uttara Kanda


Written by Savini Suduweli Kondage (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Brahma Prajapati

The Rg-Veda is a sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns and is also one of the four major sacred texts of Hinduism, the Vedas. Within the Rg-Veda many Hindu deities are identified as are the origins of their creations. Among these deities, there is mention of a supreme creator god known as Prajapati. Prajapati is identified as the first god, and creator of all other gods and beings. He is also associated strongly with ritual sacrifice and takes on many zoomorphic forms. In later scripts he is associated with the god Brahma and many believe that Brahma himself is Prajapati. He is a god who, although not widely mentioned in the Rg-Veda, plays a major role in Hindu traditions and still has influence today over modern India regardless of his worshipped form.

Prajapati is introduced in the tenth book of the Rg-Veda and is said to have been produced in the form of a golden egg. In the story he hatched from this egg and with his first breaths created the gods Agni (god of fire), Indra (god of lightning), and then Soma (the sacred plant). From his downward breath he created the asuras, creating darkness. The tears he wiped away with his hands created air, the tears that fell into the waters became earth and the tears wiped upwards became the sky. From his first wounds came the seasons and other planets and then he created everything else (Coulter and Turner 388). Through his daughter Usas, the goddess of the dawn, he became the father of all living things (Kapoor 1438). Other tales say that his first words created the worlds and the seasons. In the Brahmanas it is said that Prajapati sacrificed himself to tapas, the cosmic result of which was brahman, transcendent reality, and then the gods, humans, animals and so on.

There is a hymn addressed to Prajapati, the Rg-Veda 10.21, called the Hiranyagarbha, which addresses the “golden germ.” He is identified as the burning seed or embryo which is produced in the waters. The Artharvaveda portrays images of the seed, egg, and embryo which have become guides for samskaras such as marriage, pregnancy, offspring deliverance, first feeding, and first tonsure (Jones 7356).

In post Vedic scripts, there is an association of Prajapati with Brahma, god of Ka. This occurred as the word Ka, or who?, was elevated in the Brahmanas to a godly ranking and was then equated with Prajapati, who possessed many of his godly qualities. Brahma is associated largely with Prajapati; in fact his “mental sons” are known as prajapatis. There is no official number of prajapatis. Most texts cite ten beings, while others state as few as seven, and some cite up to twenty one. The ten most recognized prajapatis are: Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Daksha, Vasishtha, Bhrigu and Narada. Another relation Prajapati holds is to one of his created gods, Agni. To perform his sacrifice, Prajapati constructed a great fire place, and upon finishing it became Agni or came to exist within the fire place (Gonda, 6). He then sacrificed himself to the tapas, fervour of ascetic and erotic heat (Jones 7356), and was dismembered. It must be noted that this account of sacrifice is known as the first sacrifice in Hinduism. It essentially created yajna and therefore Prajapati himself is sacrifice. Currently, the act of building a fireplace for sacrificial purposes is associated with cosmologically restoring the dismembered pieces that constitute Prajapati or Agni.

Brahma Prajapati (Cambodian Style, Musee Guimet, Paris)

Almost all Hindu gods and deities are associated with animalistic forms which are often associated with their respective characteristics. It is therefore no surprise that the creator of all beings and gods is associated with not one but many animalistic forms which include the boar, goat, bull, horse, stag, ant, and one of the most sacred animals, the cow, among many others (Jones 7356). Prajapati takes the form of the boar to raise the earth out of the waters and to create the starting point of the myth cycle of the boar incarnation of Visnu (Kapoor 1211). His current association with Visnu may be linked to this tale. One count tells of his daughter Usas, changing herself into a gazelle, upon which Prajapati turns himself into the corresponding male figure and has sexual intercourse with Usas. However, it must be noted that in other versions, he marries off all his daughters, including Usas, to Soma (Kapoor 1211).

Being a supreme god, it is no wonder that there are many rituals devoted to Prajapati. Among those, one famous example is that of the horse sacrifice or asvamedha. To perform this ritual an emperor would select his best horse, which would then undergo a three day ceremony and then be released into the wild to roam freely for a year. If the horse, representing the king, wandered into another ruler’s territory the owner of that land had to choose to either let the horse wander freely in his kingdom, submitting himself to the owner of the horse, or to keep it for himself and wage war. After the year of wandering, the horse would then be returned to the kingdom where it would then undergo a sacrifice. During the ritual, a dog representing the king’s enemies would be sacrificed and then the horse would be suffocated. The queen would then perform a mock copulation on the horse, which would then be dismembered and sacrificed into the fire. The chief priest, the horse and the king are representative of Prajapati and are elevated to his cosmological status during the ceremony. During the ceremony rice would be consumed which was meant to distribute the horses’ virility among the priest, king and Prajapati (Rodrigues 63).

The Vedas are the oldest Hindu sacred texts that exist in the religion and are very much a backbone to the Hindu way of life, and the Rg-Veda identifies a supreme god known as Prajapati. Prajapati is a deity and symbol of many things such as yajna and divinity, and is a god who has had many different roles in the Hindu tradition. Obviously, one of the most important aspects of his history is that he created all forms of life, natural and cosmological, including himself. He is the god who sacrificed himself to the world and has embodied himself in the likes of Agni among others. Certain Hindu’s today believe that Visnu and Krsna may be the reincarnates of Prajapati. The more popular belief is that the god Brahma is himself Prajapati, which is also why Prajapati is sometimes referred to as Brahma-Prajapati. On top of still being portrayed in current Hindu traditions, he also played a significant role in formerly practiced sacrificial traditions, such as the asvadmedha, which was made to unite certain individuals with Prajapati himself. Though there are many inferences of the power of Prajapati in the Rg-Veda, nothing can compare to the magnitude of his accomplishments and it is for this reason his essence lives on today in modern India

References and related readings

Gonda, Jan (1983). Vedic gods and the sacrifice:

Smith, Brian K. (1985) Sacrifice and being: Prajapati’s cosmic emission and it consequences.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism- The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

(1998) The New Encyclopaedia Britannic. Chicago, IL.: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World: An encyclopaedic Survey of Hinduism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Kapoor, Subodh (2000) The Hindus: Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. New Delhi: Comso Publications.

Kapoor, Subodh (2002) Encyclopaedia of Vedic Philosophy: the Age, Religion, Literature, Pantheon, Philosophy, Traditions, and Teachers of the Vedas. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Coulter, Charles R. And Turner, Patricia (1997) Encyclopaedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Jones, Lindsay (2005) Encyclopaedia of Religion Second Edition. Farmington Hills, MI.: Thomson Gale.

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Written by Blair Stark (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Yaksas and Yaksis

The nature of the yaksas in Hindu mythology is one that is complex and multifaceted. They serve a functional role in many traditions as local nature spirits/deities that are worshipped. The characteristic of their worship depends largely on the local traditions of specific regions. Surrounded with a sense of ambivalence, they embody benevolent and malevolent qualities that are displayed in both their portrayal in Vedic literature and in traditional worship. Within worship practices, they may simultaneously be guardians that bestow fertility and wealth while also being feared demonic creatures. The basis of this multifaceted nature is entrenched within their wide variety of portrayals in Vedic literature. Whereas later Vedic portrayals refer to yaksas as semi-divine/demon creatures and concentrate on malevolent traits, earlier portrayals as shown in the Atharva Veda refer to yaksas as a cosmic/acosmic concept rather than an entity. These seemingly contrasting descriptions mix together to create the complex identity that is ambiguous and yet all encompassing.

Within the Atharva Veda, the term yaksas is used present a concept that encompasses both the cosmic and acosmic sharing similar resemblance to the later concept of Brahman:

Atharva Veda 10 7 38-39: The Great Yaksa, steeped in concentration on the surface of the water in the middle of the world, on him the various gods are fixed like branches around the trunk of a tree. (Sutherland 21) [Sutherland’s (1991) translation is used for AV 10 7 38-39, but Shendge (1977) also offers a translation of the same passage.]

The yaksas is metaphorized as a tree that unifies the physical and non-physical elements of the universe. It is an integral part of the essence of the universe that connects gods and the like to the physical world. Furthermore, the imagery of the cosmic tree and water lends to an intimate relationship with that of fertility. It is argued that the concept of yaksas precedes Brahman (Shendge 120), however its full meaning is still under debate. Indeed, this early portrayal greatly contrasts the role of yakas in later Vedic text; yakas also serve as a possible base for the association of deified yaksas to trees, water and fertility. Furthermore, the concept of yaksas evolves into a physical form, a being that is either expressed as animallike or godlike, in later AV verses (Sutherland 71).

Mudgarpani Yaksha (2nd century BCE, Mathura Museum)

Later Vedic texts have shed the cosmic/acosmic concept of yaksas and moved toward one of a physical nature. Origins of yaksas in these later Vedic texts vary slightly, but they have a similar motifs throughout each of them: a) they are earthly physical beings, b) they share an ancient demonic lineage with other demons such as raksasas, and c) sacrifice is an important part of their identity. Classified as a type of demon, malevolent attributes such as lust and hunger are frequently associated with them (Sutherland 54). In the Epics, both yaksas and raksasas are often portrayed as possessing a barbaric nature that feed on human flesh.

The origin of the yaksas is told within the Srimad-Bhagavatam 3:19-21. As Brahma withdrew from the physical body of ignorance with disgust, demons fought one another for possession of his body. One side shouted that he should be devoured and the other side said that he should be protected. These demons were born from the ignorance of Brahma’s body and respectively became the yaksas and the rakasas. Ramayana 7 4 9-13 shares a variation of a similar story [Details of following translation are taken from Sutherland (1991)]. Prajapati created creatures to protect the element of water. These creatures asked their creator on what they should do. Prajapati answered that they should protect the waters. Some of the creatures replied with “Raksami” (“We will protect”), becoming the raksasas. The other creatures replied with “Yaksami” (“We will sacrifice”) and became known as the yaksas.

Yaksas and Yaksis (Yaksi with fruit and urn, Kusana Period, Mathura Museum)

The contrasting descriptions of yaksas in Vedic texts allows for the development of a multifaceted nature that is both respected and feared. This complexity creates an ambiguous moral position for yaksas, especially those who have been deified (Sutherland 61). The complexity of the multifaceted aspects is exemplified within Kubera, king of the yaksas, in the Mahabharata. Portrayed as a semi-divine entity, he is a lokapala (world guardian) of the north that guards jewels and gems in the earth [see “Kubera and the Lokapalas” (Sutherland 1991) for a description of the lokapalas system]. He governs over and protects wealth and earthly fertility. Geneologically, he shares an intimate relationship with the raksasas through his half-brother, Ravana, king of raksasas. This connection places Kubera in association with demons and malevolence. Though Kubera is not portrayed as malevolent, his yaksas servants and guardians are considered as such.

The ambiguity has allowed breathing room for the yaksas to become deified within certain regions of India. Benevolent in nature, they are viewed as stewards of the wilderness and holy places, akin to that of sprites or fairies. Depending on the practice of certain local traditions, these yaksas are worshipped for healing, protection, wealth and/or fertility. The region of Braj supports a long standing local tradition of worshipping yaksas. Yaksas and nagas are worshipped alongside Krsna, a cult of worship that entered the region in the 1600s (Sanford 89). Both yaksas and nagas are devatas; they are semi-divine beings that wield power over specific region and bestow blessings upon those who worship them. Though Krsna is seen as the center of devotion, yaksas play a critical role in stabilizing the region by governing over human concerns largely in the social sector, such as protection and wealth (Sanford 90) [Sanford (2005) concludes that yaksas have structural importance in the region that allows Krsna to take the pastoral and devotional role which he is known for in Braj]. Just as yaksas are capable of bestowing benevolence upon a population, they are equally capable of governing acts of malevolence such as sickness, famines and natural disasters. This reversible relationship process compels worshippers to appease the yaksas responsible for the event (Sanford 102). Yaksas worship is done outside on a platform under a neem tree.

Yaksis (or yaksinis) are the female counterpart of the yaksas. Similar to yaksas, yaksis have complex identity consisting of both malevolent and benevolent nature. Once again, Vedic texts have concentrated on a demonic nature, while traditional worship focuses on the benevolent blessings that they bestow (Sutherland 137). Statues of yaksis are worshipped for fertility, which is largely displayed in their iconography of a young full bodied woman. This view of sexuality and fertility contrasts with the malevolent yaksis in Vedic text. She is portrayed as a seductress capable of illusion and shape-shifting (Sutherland 138). The malevolent yaksis tempts travelers with her sexuality and men caught within her trap are consumed.

Yaksas and yaksis have evolved drastically since their conception in Vedic text. Though the early Vedic texts do not represent their status in traditional worship, it gives an insight to the stepping stones that may have assisted the formation of their identity. The complex nature of the yaksas and yaksis allows it to persist within contemporary practice.


Sanford, A. Whitney (2005) “Shifting the Center: Yaksas on the Margins of Contemptorary Practice,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March Vol. 73, No. 1, 89-110

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon, The Development of Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism, New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Shendge, Malati J. (2003) The Civilized Demons: The Harappans in Rigveda. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Related Topics for Further inverstigation

Braj devotion






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Written by Mark Mendoza (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Demon Bali

The story of the demon Bali appears many times throughout Hindu literature, showing that this figure has significance in the development of Hindu culture. For example, Bali’s tale appears in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Vayu Purana. While Bali appears in Hindu literature many times, the most important story of Bali comes from the tale of his interactions with Visnu’s avatar Vamana. Another important myth surrounding Bali is his role as a teacher of Indra. Both of these myths are significant to Hindu literature, and both myths will be discussed here.

In the Bhagavad Gita Bali is reborn as a demon after his previous life as Kitava. Kitava is branded as an evil man in this literature; however, by the grace of Siva he is granted the throne of Indra for a time. During his reign on Indra’s throne, Kitava proceeds to give away all of the possessions of Indra, including Indra’s elephant, horse, and wishing cow (O’Flaherty 127). When Indra was returned to the throne, Indra was clearly displeased by what had happened and pleaded to Yama, the god of death, to curse Kitava to hell. However, through his karma, Kitava was reborn as the son of Virocana, the demon Bali (O’Flaherty 128).

According to Hindu literature, a war began between the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) for control over the heavens and the earth. Bali had been proclaimed king by the other asuras and was charged with removing Indra from power over the three worlds, and restoring the prestige of the demons. Bali was chosen as the king because he had virtuous qualities, and was considered to be grateful and wise. Many of the important figures of Hindu demonology were granted powerful armies to fight for Bali against the gods (Bhattacharyya 151). At the end of the war, the asuras were victorious in driving the devas from heaven. The throne that had belonged to Indra was now given to Bali, the son of Virocana (Hospital 25).

The devas, angered by the loss of their kingdom, appealed to the god Visnu for help in regaining their lost lands. It was understood by the gods that Bali was a very generous ruler, and would give his subjects any possession they asked for. With this knowledge, Visnu is reborn as the dwarf Vamana and seeks an audience with the king Bali, while he is performing a sacrifice to celebrate his victory over Indra and the other gods (Bhattacharyya 152). It is during this meeting that the main flaw of Bali is exposed. Vamana asks Bali for all of the land that he can walk in three steps. Bali is pleased with this request, seeing only a dwarf in front of him. However, as it is stated in the Vaya Purana, Vamana “…with three strides stepped over the sky, the mid-region and the earth – this entire universe.” (Hospital 28). For Bali, his generosity would be his demise as he is forced to give the kingdom to Vamana, the avatar of Visnu, who returns Indra to the throne of the universe. In O’Flaherty’s book, she quotes a Sanskrit aphorism as saying “Because of his excess of generosity, Bali was captured… Excess should always be avoided” (O’Flaherty 131).

Visnu's Vamana (Dwarf) avatara sends the demon Bali to the underworld

According to O’Flaherty, the actions of Bali in this myth go against what is considered to be Bali’s svadharma. That is to say that the duty of a demon is to interfere with sacrifice, and to kill gods (O’Flaherty 127). While it is true that the armies of Bali were responsible for the death of gods, in the myth, Bali is seen as performing a sacrifice ritual when he is approached by Vamana. Performing this ritual causes a disruption in the cosmic order of things, which Vamana is praised for restoring. O’Flaherty states in her book that “…the dharma of the whole world – owls and stars and lotuses are disturbed by the sudden imbalance in the social order, for cosmic order is maintained by the proper performance of all svadharmas.” (O’Flaherty 130). This could be understood as one of the main reasons that despite all of Bali’s virtues, he is considered to be a force of evil that disrupts the cosmic order.

In the second important myth about Bali, Indra is seeking Bali out for instruction. According to the myth, Indra finds Bali reborn as an ass. During their conversation Bali attempts to explain to Indra the significance of time and of prosperity (Hospital 74). This entire myth is centered on helping to explain the ideas of dharma in its relation to samsara. In his teachings to Indra, Bali attempts to show Indra that until an individual achieves atman, all things are transitory. Materialistic possessions, such as jewels, as well as possessions such as armies, are all subject to time (Hospital 61). The discussion continues with Bali describing his understanding of life and death as such: “Death is the end of creatures as the ocean is for rivers” (Hospital 61).

The story of Bali’s discussion with Indra contains a number of examples of behaviour that would have an impact on one’s rebirth. Bali lectures Indra on how it is wrong to mock someone who has been reborn into a lower status than they were previously. In the case of Bali and Indra, Bali says “You mock me who am in adversity. When you are as I am, then you will not talk like this” (Hospital 61). However, it is not Bali’s plan to lecture Indra on how to have a positive rebirth, rather, Bali aims to advise Indra on how to achieve atman. Understanding that time will eventually remove prosperity from one individual, and grant it to another, and that a person should not grieve at the loss of prosperity, nor celebrate the gain of it is ultimately what Bali is attempting to teach to Indra.

The story of Bali in these two myths can be seen as being related. In the first myth, Bali is responsible for actions that result in his rebirth in a lower status than he had previously. This rebirth allows Bali to understand that all things are subject to the power of time, and that without a realization of the transitory qualities of time, a person cannot achieve atman. Developing the relationship between these two myths also proves to be important, as it becomes obvious that the second myth would not have the influence it has without understanding the first myth. Having a former demon king who was reborn as an ass, to teach the god Indra about the fickleness of possessions is a much powerful lesson than one taught by someone else.

References and Further Reading

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (2000) Indian Demonology: The Inverted Pantheon. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers & Distributors

Hospital, Clifford (1984) The Righteous Demon: A Study of Bali. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy (1988) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Singh, Balbir (1984) Hindu Ethics: An Exposition of the Concept of Good. New Delhi: Gulab Vazirani

Stietencron, Heinrich von (2005) Hindu Myth, Hindu History: Religion, Art, and Politics. Delhi: Permanent Black

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Bhagavad Gita

Vaya Purana







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Written by Kris Duncan (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Garuda: King of the Birds

Garuda is a Hindu deity and is not to be confused with the Garuda Purana, which will be briefly described later. Garuda is described as having the body of a human with a face of an eagle. His hair is tied in a top knot, and with beautiful strong wings, he is known for having an abundance of strength. In different epics, Garuda is described as having either two or four arms, wearing snakes as anklets and bracelets, similar to what Visnu is depicted as wearing (Dallapiccola 2002). The Indian myth of Garuda and how he became to be Visnu’s vahana is found in the Mahabharata, an 180,000 line poem written in Sanskrit by a sage called Vyasa, and is filled with courage, betrayal and maternal love (Mcleish 1996).

The myth of Garuda starts with Kasyapa, a tortoise-man, who had two wives named Vinata and Kadru (Wessing 208). He impregnated both his wives at the same time and mentioned that he would grant them both a boon since he was very pleased with the services they provided him. Kadru asked Kasyapa for a thousand nagas (half human beings and half serpents, usually of the feminine gender (Wessing 208) while Vinata asked Kasyapa for two sons, which would be more powerful and heroic than Kadru’s thousand nagas. After granting Kadru’s and Vinata’s boons, Kasyapa disappeared in the forest. (Mani 581)

Both Kadru and Vinata took great care of their eggs. On the 500th year, Kadru’s thousand eggs hatched and all kind of nagas came forth, but Vinata’s eggs showed no sign that they would be hatching anytime soon. It truly pained Vinata as she watched Kadru playing with her children, so that out of curiosity, Vinata secretly cracked open one of her eggs. Out came Garuda’s oldest brother, Aruna, a half grown child. He was upset not only having his egg cracked prematurely but for having his rest disrupted as well. For having done so, Vinata was punished and was to be Kadru’s slave. She would be freed 500 years from then, when her second egg would hatch naturally (Mani 581). Aruna would later become the vahana of Surya.

Garuda was born 500 years after the birth of Aruna, in the shape of a human, having a head of an eagle with a beak, and with wings and talons instead of toes and fingers. Due to his golden skin colour, Garuda was initially and accidentally worshiped as Agni, the god of fire.

Garuda figure (Srirangam Temple, South India)

While his mother was still enslaved to Kadru for having lost a bet, and Garuda was not able to bear the sight of his mother enslaved and performing Kadru’s demands. Garuda took it upon himself to free his mother from Kadru’s enslavement, and asked Kadru what the price of his mother’s freedom would be. She replied, “Amrta from Devaloka,” an elixir that would revive the strength of the gods and render them immortal. Garuda informed his mother of his journey to find the elixir to purchase her freedom and she wished him well. She asked that his wings be blessed by Vayu, his lower body by the sun and the moon and the rest of his body by the Vasus and he then embarked on his journey (Mani 581). As a final word of warning to Garuda, his mother warned him to not eat anything, for it would burn his throat.

After having embarked on his journey, Garuda found his father Kasyapa in the forest, where he told him of his journey and asked Kasyapa if he could have something to eat. Kasyapa replied by telling him the story of a fight between two brothers, Vibhavasu and Supratika, who were enemies at the time and had been transformed into an elephant and a tortoise, respectively. Kasyapa told Garuda that he could eat them without his throat burning. Since Vinata settled for two eggs that would lead her children to be powerful, Garuda had an enormous amount of power. Because of this power, he was not able to sit down to eat the elephant and the tortoise because anything he would approach or sit on would collapse within a blink of the eyes, due to the vibration his powerful wings created. (Mani 581)

Garuda faced many opponents and events throughout his journey before he had reached the heavens, where the Devas where protecting the pot of Amrta. The same moon and sun that had blessed Garuda’s lower body attacked him when he got closer to the pot of Amrta. Garuda not only defeated the moon and the sun but also defeated anybody that was against him, for his strength was unmatchable. The strength of his wings, when flapping, created a dust storm which blinded his opponents (Mcleish 1996). As he got closer to the tower of flames where the Amrta was kept, he noted two wheels with serpents protecting the elixir. Even though he was blinded by looking into the eyes of the serpents, he defeated the serpents with his beak, grabbed the elixir and flew away.

Mahavisnu, proud of Garuda’s achievements, granted him two boons. Garuda asked to become Visnu’s vahana and to be immortal without having to drink the elixir so that he could return safely and deliver the elixir to his mother Kadru. Indra attacked Garuda as he was flying away with the elixir, by striking him with lightning. Indra told Garuda that the only way they would become friends and be at peace would be if Garuda would return the elixir back to the heavens. In another version, Indra took the elixir before Garuda was able to take it and a few drops of the elixir spilled onto the ground. The drops of the elixir fell near the snakes that were protecting the pot. The snakes both split their tongues and tried to lick off as much elixir as they could which; is the reason why snakes are immortal and shed their skin to be re-born once again (Mcleish 1996).

Garuda replied that the elixir was not for him and that the only reason that he stole the elixir was to release his mother from her sister’s slavery. When he returned to his mother, she was released from Kadru’s enslavement. From that moment on, Garuda wanted to take revenge on Kadru. He decided that he would slowly eat all of Kadru’s nagas. After a certain time that Garuda was hunting and eating the nagas, they came to him with a deal that a naga would come to him day after day for him to feed on and Garuda accepted.

Throughout his life, Garuda faced many opponents and went through many adventures, such as helping Galava, a disciple of Visvamitra, fighting Airavata, searching for the Saugandhika flower and saving Uparicaravasu (Mani 584). To this day, Garuda is a sign of speed and force due to the abundant strength he has. The image of Garuda is widely used throughout Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Mongolia. It is a symbol depicted from flags to royal crests and hotels, and even on the national airline of Indonesia. Although the image portrays a different form of Garuda, they all carry the same meanings: speed and strength.

Garuda Statue (Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal)

In the early 1970’s, a statue dating from the 7th century was discovered in Kathmandu, Nepal, depicting Garuda kneeling and praying (Exhibit 1). Garuda is normally depicted as devouring snakes or carrying Visnu on his back, with two of his arms folded in anjalimudra (where the hands and palms are clasped together near the chest) and his other two arms holding Visnu’s feet (Dallapiccola 2002).

According to myth, after Garuda became Visnu’s vahana, and Visnu subsequently wrote the Garuda Purana, a set of instructions for Garuda to follow. The Garuda Purana contains all kind information regarding funeral rites, the reconstitution of a new body, judgement of deeds and the many stages between death and rebirth (Dallapiccola 2002). Although the Garuda Purana is extremely long and consists of many stories, it is still widely read by Hindus to this day.

References & Further Recommended Reading

DALLAPICCOLA, Anna L. (2002) Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. New York: N.Y. Thames & Hudson

DOWSON, John (1979) A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology. London: Trubner’s Oriental Series.

MANI, Vettam (1979) “Garuḍa” Purāṇic Encyclopaedia. 1st ed.

MCLEISH, Keenth (1996) Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd.

VAJRĀCĀRYA, Gautamavajra. Sheperd Slusser, Mary (1974) A Newly Discovered Garuda Image in Kathmandu, Nepal. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 36, No. 4 P. 292-293

WESSING, Robert (2006) Symbolic Animals in the Land Between the Waters: Markers of Place and Transition. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 65, No. 2 P. 205-239

Related Topics for Further Investigation


  • · Airavata
  • · Agni
  • · Amrta from Devaloka
  • · Anjalimudra
  • · Aruna
  • · Devas
  • · Flower of Saugandhika
  • · Galava
  • · Garuda Purana
  • · Indra
  • · Kadru
  • · Kasyapa
  • · Mahabharata
  • · Nagas
  • · Purana
  • · Supratika
  • · Surya
  • · Uparicaravasu
  • · Vasus
  • · Vayu
  • · Vibhavasu
  • · Vinata
  • · Visvamitra
  • · Vyasa


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Written by Maxime Babin-Lavoie (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.