Thirty three Devas or one Deva

There is great confusion regarding the number of Devas (deities) in the Hindu religion. Some say it is thirty three crores. We clarify through information given in Vedas and Upanishad that there is only one Deva.

Sr. No.Paragraph
1Definition of term Deva
2Properties of Devas
3Devas as per Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
4Details of thirty-three Devas
5Eight Vasu Devas
6Eleven Rudra Devas
7Twelve Aaditya Devas
8Indra and Prajapati Devas
9Six and three Devas
10Two, one and half, and one Devas

Definition of term Deva

The term ‘deva’ (देवः) originates from the Sanskrit root दिव् – क्रीडा विजिगीषा व्यवहार द्युति स्तुति मोद मद स्वप्न कान्ति गतिषु i.e., the root is used in the sense of – to play, to gamble, to dice, to desire to win, to transact, to glow, to shine, to praise, to please, to boast, to sleep, to wish, and to go.[2]

Yaska, in his Nirukta, defines the term Devas(देवः) as

देवो दानाद् वा, दीपनाद् वा, द्योतनाद् वा, द्युस्थानो भवतीति वा। (Nirukta 7.15)

Devas are those who bestow (give) something, who are self-effulgent, or who helps others shine, or who lives in the celestial region.[1]

Devas are benevolent

Properties of Devas

Devas are benevolent

Devas are benevolent and helping in nature to other beings. In light of these perspectives, the elements such as Earth (Prthvi), Water (Jala), Fire (Agni), Air (Vayu), the Sun (Surya), the Moon (Chandra), the Clouds (Megha) etc are all devas because they are always benevolent entities always giving and helping all the beings of the world.[1]

We have a particular devata for each mantra. Thus, Devas became the subject matter described in a mantra. Sayan acharya mentions thus,

देवता तु मन्त्र प्रतिपाद्या । (Sayana, Rigvedabhashya Bhumika Page 114)

The mantras throw light on the nature of a particular deity but the knowledge about them can only be obtained by tapas and sadhana. 

As regards number of Devas, it is mentioned in the following Richa of Rigveda:

ये देवासो दिव्येकादश स्थ पृथिव्यामध्येकादश स्थ।

अप्सुक्षितो महिनैकादश स्थ ते देवासो यज्ञमिमं जुषध्वम् ॥1.139.11 ॥

Thus, there are thirty-three divinities in all, eleven each in three worlds. May they enjoy our Yagya.

They are described as 12 Adityas, 11 Rudras, 8 Vasus, and 2 Ashvins in the Brahmanas.[3][4]

Devas as per Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

A detailed discussion on number and identification of Gods is available in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. King Janak had arranged Bahu-Dakshina Yagya with the purpose of selection of the best knower of Brahm as his spiritual teacher. This led to claim by Yajnavalkya as the best knower. Several great scholars challenged him. Eight important scholars asked him very interesting questions ranging from rituals to Atma, and from deities to Brahm.

The answers to these questions have led to uncovering of several Brahm Vidyas, such as Akshara Vidya, Ushast Kahol Vidya, Antaryamin Vidya and Neti-Neti Vidya, which have been narrated in my book series on “Eternal Meditation Principles: Brahm Vidyas”.

It was during the question answer session with eighth scholar, Sakalya, that Yajnavalkya provided several insights into the number and identification of Deities.

Sakalya asked “How many gods are there?”. Yajnavalkya contemplated the list of gods given in the Mantra of the Veda, and said “Hundreds of thirty-three” and then “Thousands of thirty-three”

“All right! Let me see,” was the retort of Sakalya. He asked, “Is this the answer that you give me to my question, how many gods are there? Have you no other answer to this question?”

Then Yajnavalkya gives another answer, “There are thirty-three gods.” 

“All right!” Again, he asks, not being satisfied with this answer. “Tell me again properly; how many gods are there?”

“Six are there,” Yajnavalkya now answered.

 “All right!” He was not satisfied. He again asks the same question, “How many gods are there. Tell me again. Think properly.” 

“Only three gods are there.” 

 Not being satisfied, Sakalya asks again: “How many gods are there? Tell again.

 “Two gods are there.”

Again, he repeats the question, not being satisfied, “Tell again correctly, how many gods are there?” 

“One and a half gods,” answered Yajnavalkya. 

Then Sakalya was very much upset. He almost shouted, “What is this you say, one and a half gods. Tell again properly; how many gods are there?”

“One god is there,” Yajnavalkya said finally.

So, a series was recounted by Yajnavalkya in a very humorous manner, all of which has some meaning.

Details of thirty-three Devas

Sakalya asked further, “All these numbers that you have mentioned –thousands of thirty-three, hundreds of thirty-three, and thirty-three– what are these gods? Give the names of these gods, the deities.”

Yajnavalkya replied, “All these thousands and hundred times thirty-three that I mentioned – they are not really gods. They are only manifestations of the thirty-three. The thirty-three are the principal manifestations, and others are only their glories, radiances, manifestations, magnificence or forces, energies, and powers.”

“But what are these thirty-three?” 

“The thirty-three gods are eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas – they make thirty-one, and then Indra and Prajapati – these make thirty-three gods.”

Now, these are called gods in a very special sense, and there is a meaning behind their being designated as gods. The term ‘god’ means a power that causally works inside a form. That which regulates from inside any individual, groups of individuals, etc. is the god of that individual or the god of that group of individuals.

Eight Vasu Devas

Sakalya continued, “What are these Vasus which are eight in number?”

 “Fire is one deity; earth is one deity; air is another; the atmosphere is one deity; the sun is one deity; the heaven is one deity; moon is one deity; the stars are one deity. These constitute eight groups”

“Why do you call them Vasus?”

In Sanskrit, Vasu means, to abide. That which is an abode of something; that in which something abides; that which is the repository or the support of something is the Vasu of that thing. Now, these things mentioned here, eight in number, are really the substances, in a subtle form, out of which everything is made, including our own selves.

Even these distinctions between earth, fire, air, etc. are tentative distinctions. One is convertible into the other.  The solidity of the earth; the fierceness of fire, the fine character of air; the glowing nature of the sun, etc., can be attributed to the increased density of the manifestation of the force of which they are all constituted. So, all bodies are constituted of these Vasus.

“Everything is deposited as it were in these constituent principles. Therefore, they are called Vasus.”

Eleven Rudra Devas

“Who are the Rudras?”

The Rudras are inside us, operating in a particular manner. They are eleven in number. “The ten senses and the mind make eleven. These are the Rudras.” They make you do whatever they like. They are the controllers of your system. You cannot do anything independent of the senses and the requisites of the mind.

Rudu is to cry, in Sanskrit. “When the senses and the mind leave the body, they make one cry in anguish.”

Inasmuch as these eleven, the senses and the mind, subject the individual to their dictates and make you yield to their demands and clamours, and make you cry in agony if you violate their laws, they are called Rudras.

Twelve Aditya Devas

Sakalya asked, “What are the twelve Adityas, the suns?”

“They are not twelve suns. They are twelve forces of the sun, twelve functions of the sun, twelve ways in which the sun’s energy works.” 

Aditya is a Sanskrit word meaning the sun. The root word is ādadānā, which means, they take you, withdraw you, absorb you. The forces of the sun, the movements of the sun, the phases of the sun, take away the lives of people. Every day is a passing of life. The movement of the sun is not merely a beautiful phenomenon that we can gaze on with wonder every morning. Every rise of the sun is an indication that so much life has gone.

These twelve months of the year may be regarded as the twelve functions of the sun. They are twelve functions in the sense that they are responsible for the twelve ways in which the sun influences the individuals on earth and the entire atmosphere around it. The movement of the planets, and other stellar bodies in connection with the location of the sun, becomes responsible for what we call the twelve months in the passage of time.

These twelve influences of the sun are called twelve Adityas, by way of symbology because they withdraw the lives of things. They are the cause of the perishability of bodies. Time, is meant here, which “takes away the vitality of people.”

Indra and Prajapati Devas

Sakalya asked. “Who is Indra? Who is Prajapati?”

 “The raining cloud can be called Indra. Yajan functions, Yagya can be called Prajapati.” 

“What do you mean by rain cloud?”

“By rain cloud I actually mean the lightning which is the embodiment of energy.”

Indra, therefore, is the designate of force which overwhelms other forces. It is Indra because it rules. Indra represents here a deity designating a force present in every individual, yourself and myself included, a force that can give you the confidence of there being nothing impossible for you. A ruler in everybody and the energy that is latently present in every individual is what the term Indra conveys in this context.

Prajapati is the Supreme Being Himself. He is identified with Yagya, or yajan karm. He is identified with paśava iti. The individual is bound by the compulsion exerted upon it by the goal of the Yagya. We are obliged, compelled, forced to yield to a law which is transcendent to our own selves. It is obligatory on the part of every individual to participate in the function of universe, accede to the Law of this Being.

Our freedom is conditioned by the necessity of that law which operates within us as the Antaryamin, and which calls for the surrender of our own value to the Eternal Value. Therefore, in that sense, Prajapati, Yagya includes within Himself every individual.

Description of six, and three Devas

Sakalya again asked, ” You said six gods. Who are these gods?”

“The six are the same as already mentioned, minus two. Agni, the earth, the Air, the sun, the Space, and the heavens – these are the six. I have already described eight elements. Two I have excluded. By excluding two, I tell you, six gods are there.”

“What are the three gods?”

“The three worlds themselves are the three gods.”

We do not have gods outside the universe. They are inside the universe. The word ‘outside’ is inapplicable to the connection of gods to the bodies over which they preside. They are like causes with effects. They are immanently hidden in the bodies, which they preside over, which they control, and which are the effects thereof.

All the fourteen realms of beings, called the Lokas, are what we call the worlds. They are constituted of three levels – the higher, the middle and the lower. These three worlds are the entire creation.

“All the gods are inside the three worlds.”

Description of two and one and half deities; and one Devas

Now Sakalya says: “You told that there are two Devas (gods). Who are the two Devas?” 

“Energy and matter – these are the two gods.” The whole universe consists of matter and energy. There is nothing else. Outwardly it is matter, inwardly it is energy. And these may be called the ultimate gods in one sense, matter, and energy, called here Anna and Prana.

“Be satisfied Sakalya,” says Yajnavalkya.

“There is one Being which is the Sutratman, the Supreme Vayu Principle; how do you call it one and a half?”

As regards what he had said, “Number of Devas is one and a half”, he explained in the following way:

The Cosmic Vital Force functions in two ways, cosmically and individually. In its comprehensive transcendent aspect, it is one; there is nothing second to it. But since it appears as if it is whole, even in individuals, it makes everyone imagine that he or she or it is complete and not a part thereof. This capacity of the Cosmic Prana, or Sutratman, to remain complete in the Cosmic status and yet make the individuals also complete in themselves, is responsible for the designation of this force as one and a half. It is this way and that way, both ways.

For one Deva, the answer is given by Yajnavalkya. 

“Because of the fact, as mentioned, that everything flourishes on account of the function of this Vital life force, the Prana.” It is present in every individual, and yet it remains transcendent, so it is called Tyat. Tyat means remote.

To the individuals, this Cosmic Immanent Being appears as a remote Reality, this is why we refer to God as something other than us, ‘That’. The demonstrative pronoun ‘That’, which is usually used in pointing out or referring to the Universal Reality, is inapplicable, really. You cannot call it ‘That’, as if it is there far off in distant space. This is called ‘That’ because of its transcendent character from the point of the individuals to whom it remains an external Reality and a cause, though it is also immanent in them. It is the Brahman, the Supreme.

21 thoughts on “Thirty three Devas or one Deva”

  1. It looks like profound research has been done and a very interesting amd thought provoking read!

  2. Sridhar kinhal

    One supreme God is correct …but there are devathas beyond 33 ….these are context based numbers ..and are therefore relative .

  3. I loved reading it. The Author seems to have good command over the subject. So much depth with simplicity. I had no idea about Devas before. It is worth reading it.

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