“May Indra protect you on the East, may Yama protect you on the South and Varuna on the West and Kuvera on the North.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 16.24)
It is a colorful panorama. The altar is beautifully arranged. One figure has an elephant-like head. Another is seated on a lotus flower, where gold coins fall from her hands, which are four in number. Another is dark in color, with a snake around his chest. One person has four faces, and another looks like a bird.
In the Vedic tradition there are many devas, or gods. Since there is an original source, a supreme who is worshiped by everyone else, another translation for deva is “demigod.” There are different ways to understand exactly who they are.
1. Conditioned souls
Birth and death. Coming and going. Living and dying. Arriving and leaving. Every spark of spirit in the manifest world participates in this cycle. The devas are no different. They are prone to be victim of the duality of attachment and aversion.
“O scion of Bharata [Arjuna], O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.27)
The devas are unique, though. Their duration of life is quite long when compared to the residents of the earthly region. The demigods live in the heavenly planetary system, which has enhanced material enjoyment.
They are still conditioned souls, but living in the mode of goodness. Human beings live in a combination of the three modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. Animals are in the mode of ignorance. Goodness leads to the heavenly realm, but that is not the end of the evolutionary chain nor the highest achievement. Even Lord Brahma, the original deva, eventually has to leave his body; though he lives for an incomprehensibly long time.
The earth has a predominating deity. So do the sun and the moon. There is a god of fire and a god of air. In this respect the devas are also guardians. One time the prince of Ayodhya was preparing to leave for the royal palace, as He had been summoned by the father Dasharatha. The prince’s wife, wishing Him well at all times, prayed to different devas to protect her husband in the different directions.
One political party likes to emphasize that people don’t build things on their own. There are the roads that government provides. There is the protection from the police and the military. The opposition party says that these statements are meant to be excuses for increasing taxes. They also point out that nothing gets done without personal effort. The successful business didn’t come together randomly. There was hard work, risk, and sacrifice.
The proper understanding incorporates aspects of both sides. The living entity is inside of the body, and they make the choice to act. The outcomes are not guaranteed, however. In this respect nature must cooperate to generate outcomes. I am not the doer, and neither are you.
If I want help in seeing favorable outcomes in material life, I can pray to the devas. They are empowered to grant different benedictions. What is the limit? As much as a person can hold in a material existence, possessed for as long as the hourglass of time allotted for their temporary existence runs. There are the examples of Hiranyakashipu and Ravana. They both received tremendous benedictions from the devas. There was great strength, proprietorship over the entire world, and protection nearing the point of immortality. Others pray for and get basic things like good health, wealth and learning.
4. Glorifiers of God
This is actually the original position of every living thing, but the devas are uniquely situated due to their close association. They are like God’s deputies. They are something like His entourage. In places where the Supreme Personality of Godhead is celebrated for His pastimes, the devas are prominently featured, as well.
For instance, in the sacred land of Vrindavana there are places of importance relating to Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, and Indra, the god of heaven. The devas are like God’s family, and so they are to be respected. The Vaishnavas worship the personal and original God directly, but if they ever do seek the favor of the devas, the objective is to get help in the practice of devotion, in putting a smile on the face of the all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Colorful the panoramic view,
Four heads, elephant and birds too.
What all the gods to mean,
Why collected in single scene?
As deputies, benedictions giving,
Help in favorable outcomes living.
Family, associates close by to stay,
Glorifying Lord in most wonderful way.
Categories: the four