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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Asura (असुर) was a republic known to Panini and mentioned as a race in Mahabharata (I.59.35), (I.65),(I.61.9), (1.67), (III.167.9),(III.170.8),(V.72.12),(VI.20.18), (VIII.51.8),(IX.44.19).

Mention by Panini

Asura (असुर), a warlike tribe, is mentioned by Panini in Ashtadhyayi. [1]

Asurimaya (आसुरी माया) is mentioned by Panini in Ashtadhyayi. [2]


They are a group of power-seeking deities, sometimes referred to as demons. They were opposed to the devas. Both groups are children of Kashyapa. The name is cognate to Ahura – indeed, the Oxford English Dictionary recognises the use of the term in reference to Zoroastrianism, where "Ahura" would perhaps be more appropriate – and Æsir, which implies a common Proto-Indo-European religion origin for the Asura and the Æsir.


V. S. Agrawala[3] mentions Sanghas known to Panini which includes - Asura (असुर) ), under Parshvadi (पर्शवादि) (V.3.117).

V. S. Agrawala[4] mentions Ayudhajivi Sanghas in the Ganapatha, which includes - Asura – It is a generic name but in this case may be identified with the name of the Assyrians, whose country formed part of the Persian empire in the 5th century BC and is mentioned in Behistun Inscription as old Persian Athurā, and Susian as Assura.

Behistun Inscription (Line-6) narrates list of countries ruled by Darius, this includes - Assyria (Athurâ).

The negative character of the asura in Hinduism seems to have evolved over time. In general, the earliest texts have the asuras presiding over moral and social phenomena (e.g. Varuna, the guardian of Ṛtá, or Bhaga, the patron of marriages) and the devas presiding over natural phenomena (e.g. Ushas, whose name means "dawn", or Indra, a weather god).

In Mahabharata

Asura (असुर) is mentioned in Mahabharata (I.59.35), (I.65),(I.61.9), (III.167.9),(III.170.8),(V.72.12),(VI.20.18), (VIII.51.8),(IX.44.19).

Adi Parva, Mahabharata/Mahabharata Book I Chapter 59 provides us origin of the celestials and other creatures. Asuras are mentioned in verse (I.59.35), ..."Thus hath been recited by me, as heard in the Purana, of progeny of the gods and the Asuras, both of great strength and energy. I am incapable of counting the descendants of these, countless as they are, are not much known to fame. [5]

Adi Parva, Mahabharata/Mahabharata Book I Chapter 61 gives us Genealogy of the Danavas, Asuras, Kauravas, Pandavas, Gandharvas, Apsaras, Rakshasas.

And he who was known as the great Asura Vashkala became on earth the great Bhagadatta. [6] The five great Asuras gifted with great energy, Ayahshira, Ashwashira, the spirited Ayshanku, Gaganamurdhan, and Vegavat, [7] were all born in the royal line of Kekaya and all became great monarchs. [8]

That other Asura of mighty energy who was known by the name of Ketumat became on earth the monarch Amitaujas of terrible deeds. [9] That great Asura who was known as Swarbhanu became on earth the monarch Ugrasena of fierce deeds. [10] That great Asura who was known as Ashwa became on earth the monarch Ashoka of exceeding energy and invincible in battle. [11]

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 167 narrates powers of Asuras in verses (III.167.9,13)...And when (their) illusion had been dispelled, some of the foremost amongst the Asuras, of unrivalled prowess, again spread diverse kinds of illusion. [12]

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 170 mentions the wonderful city of the Daityas:Hiranyapura. Arjuna asked Matali saying, 'What is this that looketh so wonderful?'[13] Matali replied, 'Once on a time a Daitya's daughter, named Pulama and a mighty female of the Asura order, Kalaka by name, practised severe austerities for a thousand celestial years. [14]

And at the end of their austerities, the self-create conferred on them boons. And they received these boons,--that their offspring might never suffer misfortune; that they might be incapable of being destroyed even by the gods, the Rakshasas and the Pannagas; [15]and that they might obtain a highly effulgent and surpassingly fair aerial city, furnished with all manner of gems and invincible even by the celestials, the Maharshis, the Yakshas, the Gandharvas, the Pannagas, the Asuras and the Rakshasas. [16]

And celebrated under the name of Hiranyapura, this mighty city is inhabited by the Paulamas and the Kalakeyas; and it is also guarded by those mighty Asuras. [17]

And having slain those mighty Asuras, and destroyed Hiranyapura, and having also killed the Nivata-Kavachas, I came unto Indra. [18]

In Indian epics

Mitra, Varuna and Vritra are the most well known Asuras.

Vairocana, Sumbha and Nisumbha are kings of Asuras

  • Mitra/Maitreya/Miroku bosatsu (Buddhist saint who will relieve people in the future)
  • Varuna/Sui ten (Ocean deva)
  • Vairocana/Maha vairocana/Dainichi nyorai (Great Buddha who shines on all entire universes)
  • Sumbha and Nisumbha Asura brothers/Trailokya vijaya and Vajra humkara/Gouzanze myo oh and Shyozanze myo oh (They are admired with the victor or Person who has them surrender)

In later writings, such as the Puranas and Itihasas, we find that the "devas" are the godly persons and the "asuras" the demonic. According to the Bhagavad Gita (16.6), all beings in the world partake either of the divine qualities (daivi sampad) or the demonic qualities (asuri sampad). The sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita describes the divine qualities briefly and the demonic qualities at length. In summary the Gita (16.4) says that the asuric qualities are pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance.

The Padma Purana says that the devotees of Vishnu are endowed with the divine qualities [19] whereas the asuras are just the opposite [20].

In an Indo-Iranian context

The term asura is linguistically related to the ahuras of Zoroastrianism, but has in that religion a different meaning.

For one, the term applies to a very specific set of divinities, only three in number (Mazda, Mithra and Apam Napat). For another, there is no direct opposition between the ahuras and the daevas: The fundamental opposition in Zoroastrianism is not between groups of divinities, but between asha "Truth" and druj "Lie/Falsehood." The opposition between the ahuras and daevas is an expression of that opposition: the ahuras, like all the other yazatas, are defenders of asha; the daevas on the other hand are in the earliest texts divinities that are to be rejected because they are misled by "the Lie" (see daeva for details).

The notion of an "inverted morality" and the supposition that a dichotomy between ahuras/asuras and daevas/devas already existed in Indo-Iranian times is not supportable from either the Iranian or Indian perspective. Not only is such a dichotomy not evident in the earliest texts of either culture, neither the RigVeda's asuras nor the Gathas' daevas are demons. The demonization of the asuras in India and the demonization of the daevas in Iran both took place "so late that the associated terms cannot be considered a feature of Indo-Iranian religious dialectology."[21]

The idea of a prehistorical opposition between the *asurás/*devás, originally presented in the 19th century but popularized in the mid-20th century had for some time already been largely rejected by Avesta scholars when a landmark publication (Hale, 1986[22]) attracted considerable attention among Vedic scholars. Hale discussed, "as no one before him" (so Insler's review[23]), the attestations of ásura and its derivatives in chronological order of the Vedic texts, leading to new insights into how the asuras came to be the demons that they are today and why the venerated Varuna, Mithra, Indra, Rudra, Agni, Aryaman, Pusan and Parjanya are all asuras without being demonic. Although Hale's work has raised further questions - such as how the later poets could have overlooked that the RigVeda's asuras are all exalted gods - the theory of a prehistoric opposition is today conclusively rejected.

Following Hale's discoveries, Thieme's earlier proposal[24] of a single Indo-Iranian *Asura began to gain widespread support. In general (particulars may vary), the idea runs as follows: Indo-Iranian *Asura developed into Varuna in India and into Ahura Mazda in Iran. Those divinities closest related to that "asura [who] rules over the gods" (AV 1.10.1, cf. RV II.27.10) inherit the epithet, for instance, Rudra as devam asuram (V 42.11).

In Buddhism

Asuras also appear as a type of supernatural being in traditional Buddhist cosmology.

An Interesting Article in Hindi about Asurs

लेखक - स्वामी ओमानन्द सरस्वती

(विस्तार से यहां पढिये - Haryana Ke Vir Youdheya/तृतीय अध्याय (पृष्ठ 106-108)

यह कहने की आवश्यकता नहीं कि राक्षस लोग प्राचीन भारत की एक जाति विशेष ही थे, जो ब्रह्मादि ऋषियों की सन्तान ही थे । रावणादि राक्षसों का वेद, शास्‍त्रादि आर्य-साहित्य में कुशल होना, यज्ञ यागों का करना रामायण से स्पष्ट सिद्ध होता है । राक्षस लोग भारतीय थे, वे सभ्यता और भौतिक उन्नति में भारतीयों से न्यून न थे । वे अमेरिका आदि देशों में राजनैतिक कारणों से (विष्णु के सताये हुये) बाधित होकर गए थे । उनके द्वारा वैदिक सभ्यता का पाताल देश (अमेरिका) में अच्छा प्रचार हुआ । क्वेटसालकटल वा सालकटंकट के फिर पाताल देश से लौट आने की कथा भी रामायण के उत्तरकाण्ड के अष्टम सर्ग में अत्यन्त विस्तार से लिखी है ।

चिरात्सुमाली व्यचरद्रसातलं, स राक्षसो विष्णुभयार्दितस्तदा ।
पुत्रैश्च पौत्रैश्च समन्वितो बली, ततस्तु लंकामवसद्धनेश्वरः ॥२९॥

भगवान् विष्णु के भय से पीड़ित होकर राक्षस सुमाली सुदीर्घकाल तक अपने पुत्र पौत्रों के साथ रसातल (अमेरिका) में विचरता रहा । इसी मध्य में धनाध्यक्ष कुबेर (वैश्रवण) ने लंका को अपना निवास स्थान बनाया ।

इस प्रकार राक्षस आदि आर्यों की ही सन्तान थे किन्तु ये इन्द्र आदि देवताओं को सताते थे ।

ततस्तु ते राक्षसपुंगवास्‍त्रयो, निशाचरै पुत्रशतैश्च संवृताः ।
सुरान्सहेन्द्रानृषिनागयक्षान्, बबाधिरे तान् बहुवीर्यदर्पिताः ॥४६॥

सुमाली, माल्यवान् और माली आदि तीनों श्रेष्ठ राक्षस अपने बहुत पुत्रों तथा अन्यान्य राक्षसों के साथ रहकर अपने बाहुबल के अभिमान से युक्त होकर इन्द्र और अन्य देवताओं को, ऋषियों, नागों तथा यक्षों को पीड़ा देने लगे । (उत्तरकाण्ड ५।४६)

तब भगवान् शंकर के परामर्श से भगवान् विष्णु ने इन सुमाली आदि राक्षसों का अनेक बार समूल विध्वंस किया तथा इन्हें बाधित कर पाताल देश (अमेरिका) में भगाया । पुनः लंका के वैश्रवण द्वारा बसाये जाने के पश्चात् ये राक्षस अमेरिका से लौटकर लंका में आकर बस गये ।

इस प्रकार संक्षेप से राक्षसों का वर्णन हमने किया, इनकी कथायें एवं वंशावली रामायण तथा महाभारत में विस्तार से वर्णित है । इनका राक्षस नाम जीवों की रक्षा करने के कारण पड़ा । जब प्रजापति ब्रह्मा ने पूछा कि इन जीव जन्तुओं की रक्षा कौन करेगा, तब जिन्होंने रक्षा का भार संभाला वे राक्षस कहलाये । यज्ञ करने वाले याज्ञिक लोग यक्ष कहलाये ।

‘रक्षाम’इति यैरुक्तं राक्षसास्ते भवन्तु वः ।
‘यक्षाम’इति यैरुक्तं यक्षा एव भवन्तु वः ॥१३॥
(उत्तर काण्ड सर्ग ४)

तुम में से जिन्होंने यह कहा है कि हम रक्षा करेंगे वे राक्षस नाम से प्रसिद्ध हों और जिन्होंने यज्ञ करना स्वीकार किया वे यक्ष नाम से विख्यात हों । इस प्रकार ये दोनों नाम ब्रह्मा प्रजापति के ही रखे हुये हैं ।

रक्षा करने वाले राक्षस और यज्ञ करने वाले यक्ष कहलाये । ये सब ब्रह्मा आदि के वंश में ही हुये ।

रावण आदि राक्षसों का वंश

राक्षसराज सुमाली की कन्या ने अपने पिता की आज्ञा से वैश्रवण (कुबेर) को वर लिया । उनकी सन्तान इस प्रकार हुई ।

विश्रवा (पत्‍नी - सुमाली की कन्या कैकसी)
•रावण, •कुम्भकर्ण, •सूर्पणखा, •विभीषण

यह सब जानते हैं कि रावण और कुम्भकर्ण दोनों महाबली राक्षस लोक में उद्वेग (हलचल) उत्पन्न करने वाले थे । विभीषण बाल्यकाल से ही धर्मात्मा थे । वे सदा धर्म में स्थिर रहते थे । स्वाध्याय और नियमित आहार करते हुये इन्द्रियों को अपने वश में रखते थे ।

विभीषणस्तु धर्मात्मा नित्यं धर्मे व्यवस्थितः ।
स्वाध्यायनियताहार उवास विजितेन्द्रियः ॥३९॥
(उत्तर काण्ड ९ सर्ग)

ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि विश्रवा और वैश्रवण नाम के अनेक ऋषि इस वंश में हुये हैं । उनमें से ही एक विश्रवा की सन्तान रावण आदि राक्षस थे । प्राचीन साहित्य में यह रीति प्रचलित थी कि प्रसिद्ध व्यक्तियों के नाम देकर साधारण व्यक्तियों के नाम छोड़ देते थे । ऐसा ही यहां किया गया है ।

इससे यही सिद्ध होता है कि देव, असुर, किन्नर, राक्षस, वानर आदि सब ऋषियों की सन्तान हैं । जो महर्षि ब्रह्मा के शिष्यों (मानसपुत्रों) की ही सन्तान हैं, उनके बहुत शिष्य थे, उनकी सन्तानों से सभी देवासुरादि की सृष्टि वा परम्परा चालू हुई । यह प्राचीन साहित्य से प्रमाणित होता है । इन्हीं की सन्तान ने अमेरिका आदि देशों को बसाया तथा वहां पर आर्य सभ्यता का प्रचार वा प्रसार किया । कृषि की शिक्षा देकर भौतिक उन्नति के साधनों को जुटाया । खाना, पीना, ओढ़ना, पहनना, भवन निर्माण, पशु-पालन और अनेक प्रकार के कलाकौशल भी सिखलाये ।


  1. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.447
  2. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.364
  3. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.500
  4. India as Known to Panini,p.447
  5. असुराणाम उपाध्यायः शुक्रस तव ऋषिसुतॊ ऽभवत, खयाताश चॊशनसः पुत्राश चत्वारॊ ऽसुर याजकाः(I.59.35)
  6. बाष्कलॊ नाम यस तेषाम आसीद असुरसत्तमः, भगदत्त इति खयातः स आसीन मनुजेश्वरः (I.61.9)
  7. अयः शिरा अश्वशिरा अयः शङ्कुश च वीर्यवान, तथा गगनमूर्धा च वेगवांश चात्र पञ्चमः (I.61.10)
  8. पञ्चैते जज्ञिरे राजन वीर्यवन्तॊ महासुराः, केकयेषु महात्मानः पार्थिवर्षभ सत्तमाः (I.61.11)
  9. केतुमान इति विख्यातॊ यस ततॊ ऽनयः परतापवान, अमितौजा इति खयातः पृथिव्यां सॊ ऽभवन्न नृपः (I.61.12)
  10. सवर्भानुर इति विख्यातः शरीमान यस तु महासुरः, उग्रसेन इति खयात उग्र कर्मा नराधिपः (I.61.13)
  11. यस तव अश्व इति विख्यातः शरीमान आसीन महासुरः, अशॊकॊ नाम राजासीन महावीर्यपराक्रमः (I.61.14)
  12. तेषां चरणपातेन रदनेमि सवनेन च, मम बाणनिपातैश च हतास ते शतशॊ ऽसुराः (III.167.9) ततॊ ऽहं लघुभिश चित्रैर अस्त्रैस तान असुरान रणे, सायुधान अछिनं राजञ शतशॊ ऽद सहस्रशः(III.167.13)
  13. तथ अहं परेक्ष्य थैत्यानां पुरम अथ्भुतथर्शनम, अपृच्छं मातलिं राजन किम इथं थृश्यतेति वै (III.170.5)
  14. पुलॊमा नाम थैतेयी कालका च महासुरी, थिव्यं वर्षसहस्रं ते चेरतुः परमं तपः, तपसॊ ऽनते ततस ताभ्यां सवयम्भूर अथथाथ वरम (III.170.6)
  15. अगृह्णीतां वरं ते तु सुतानाम अल्पथुःखताम, अवध्यतां च राजेन्थ्र सुरराक्षस पन्नगैः (III.170.7)
  16. रमणीयं पुरं चेथं खचरं सुकृतप्रभम, सर्वरत्नैः समुथितं थुर्धर्षम अमरैर अपि, सयक्षगन्धर्वगणैः पन्नगासुरराक्षसैः (III.170.8)
  17. हिरण्यपुरम इत्य एतत खयायते नगरं महत, रक्षितं कालकेयैश च पौलॊमैश च महासुरैः (III.170.11)
  18. हिरण्यपुरम आरुज्य निहत्य च महासुरान, निवातकवचांश चैव ततॊ ऽहं शक्रम आगमम (III.170.61)
  19. viṣṇu-bhaktaḥ smṛto daiva
  20. āsuras tad-viparyayaḥ
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