Why does Hinduism have Several Deities (33 Koti Devatas)? Is there a Concept of “Demigods” or Inferior Deities?

हरिः ॐ । Harihi Om.

This post shall explain two commonly asked questions related to Sanaatana Dharma:

  • Why does Sanaatana Dharma advocate a concept of many deities? Why are they thirty three crore in number?
  • Is there a concept of one Supreme God as per the Shaastras and inferior deities or demigods?

One may refer to the references and verify them too.

The Position of the Devatas

To begin with, the word devata literally means ‘divine’ and refers to an entity with the quality of divinity. Its usage is quite vast and can even sometimes be applicable to devotees, who are considered divine. This can be noticed in the Bhagavat Geeta and Bhaagavata Puraana.

The deities such as Indra, Agni, Varuna, etc., are also commonly known as ‘devatas’ and are positions of Svarga Loka. Pious souls, who reach Svarga Loka, can attain such positions. The main devatas of Svarga Loka are categorized as follows:

  1. The 12 Aadityas
  2. The 11 Rudras
  3. The 8 Vasus
  4. and the two Ashvins

The last two devatas vary as per different sources. Importantly, Svarga Loka is just two lokas, or realms, above Bhuloka (Earth). The highest loka is Brahma-Loka, the abode of Brahman (not to be confused with Satya-Loka, the realm of Shri Chaturmukha Brahmaa). Therefore, Svarga Loka itself is not at a high position, compared to the higher Lokas. One can refer to the 10th Khanda of the Subaala Upanishad or this post, for a list and hierarchy of the Lokas.

Additionally, the devatas are attributed to certain Tattvas. ‘Tattva’, literally meaning “truth” or “reality”, refers to a component that constitutes the material universe, starting from the Pancha-Bhutas, upto Purusha-Tattva (Brahman). Each Tattva is presided over by a certain devata. One may refer to this post for more details regarding the Tattvas. The Katha Upanishad briefly mentions the hierarchy of a few of the Tattvas.

इन्द्रियेभ्यः परा ह्यर्था अर्थेभ्यश्च परं मनः ।
मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिर्बुद्धेरात्मा महान्परः ॥ १० ॥

महतः परमव्यक्तमव्यक्तात्पुरुषः परः ।
पुरुषान्न परं किञ्चित्सा काष्ठा सा परा गतिः ॥ ११ ॥

Katha Upanishad, Adhyaaya 1, Valli 3, Mantras 10-11

Higher than the Indriyas (the senses), are the arthas (objects of perception). Higher than the arthas, is Manas (the mind) and higher than Manas is Buddhi. Higher than Buddhi is the Mahat Aatma. The Avyakta (formless or without personality) is higher than Mahat, the Purusha is higher than the Avyakta. There is nothing higher than Purusha. He is the end and He is the Highest goal.

Not only does this talk about the hierarchy of the Tattvas, but it also shows that there exists a hierarchy of the devatas of the respective Tattvas, too. Shripaada Madhvacharya highlights this, in his commentary on these particular mantras.

The 14th mantra of the Purusha Sukta even explicitly states that prominent devatas, including Indra, Agni, Chandra and Vaayu, were born from Purusha:

च॒न्द्रमा॒ मन॑सो जा॒तः । चक्षोः॒ सूर्यो॑ अजायत ।
मुखा॒दिन्द्र॑श्चा॒ग्निश्च॑ । प्रा॒णाद्वा॒युर॑जायत ॥ १४ ॥

Rgveda, Shaakala Samhita, Mandala 10, Sukta 90 (Purusha Sukta), Mantra 14

Chandra (the moon) was born from his mind, Surya (the Sun) was born from his two eyes. Indra and Agni were born from his mouth, and Vaayu was born from his breath.

Hence, these statements confirm that the devatas are not Supreme. They are also living entities, who are yet to attain moksha.

So, who is the Supreme God or Eeshvara, as per the Shaastras?

It is Purusha, or Brahman. In the Upanishads, these words are synonymous to refer to Paramaatma. For instance, as seen already, the Katha Upanishad (Adhyaaya 1, Valli 3, Mantra 11) says:

महतः परमव्यक्तमव्यक्तात्पुरुषः परः ।
पुरुषान्न परं किञ्चित्सा काष्ठा सा परा गतिः ॥ ११ ॥

The Avyakta (formless or without personality) is higher than Mahat, the Purusha is higher than the Avyakta. There is nothing higher than Purusha. He is the end and He is the Highest goal.

The Mundaka Upanishad says:

यदा पश्यः पश्यते रुक्मवर्णं कर्तारमीशं पुरुषं ब्रह्मयोनिम् ।
तदा विद्वान्पुण्यपापे विधूय निरञ्जनः परमं साम्यमुपैति ॥ ३ ॥

प्रणो ह्येष यः सर्वभूतैर्विभाति विजानन्विद्वान्भवते नातिवादी ।
आत्मक्रीड आत्मरतिः क्रियावानेष ब्रह्मविदां वरिष्ठः ॥ ४ ॥

Mundaka Upanishad, Mundaka 3. Khanda 1, Mantras 3-4

When the seer sees him of golden line, the creator, Eesha, Purusha, and the source of (Apara) Brahma, then the knower, having shaken off all deeds of merit and sin, attains supreme equality, being untouched with stain. For it is Praana, Eeshvara, who shines forth in all beings and senses — knowing this, the wise abstain from useless controversy. He contemplates on Him, enjoys the bliss of His company, (and when out of trance) is active in performing works of Brahman — such a Jeevan-mukta is also the teacher of those who are seekers of the knowledge of Brahman.

In this way, it is demonstrated that ‘Brahman’ and ‘Purusha’ are synonyms for Bhagavaan. Additionally, the Upanishads also mention that Brahman/Purusha is not formless. Rather, Brahman has a divine and inconceivable form. The third mantra of Mundaka 3, Khanda 1 of the Mundaka Upanishad mentions seeing Brahman, who is ‘rukma-varna’ (gold complexioned). Following are additional pramaanas (proofs) for the same:

बृहच्च तद्दिव्यमचिन्त्यरूपं सूक्ष्माच्च तत्सूक्ष्मतरं विभाति ।
दूरात्सुदूरे तदिहान्तिके च पश्यन्त्विहैव निहितं गुहायाम् ॥ ७ ॥

न चक्षुषा गृह्यते नापि वाचा नान्यैर्देवैस्तपसा कर्मण वा
ज्ञानप्रसादेन विशुद्धसत्त्वस्ततस्तु तं पश्यते निष्कलं ध्यायमानः ॥ ८ ॥

Mundaka Upanishad, Mundaka 3, Khanda 1, Mantras 7–8

That shines as vast, heavenly, of unthinkable form and subtler than the subtle, much farther than the distant, near, also here, and seen fixed in the cavity, by the intelligent. He is not grasped by the eye; nor by speech; nor by other senses; nor by tapas; nor by karma; when one’s mind is purified by the clearness of knowledge, then alone he sees the indivisible (Brahman) by contemplation.

अव्यक्तात्तु परः पुरुषो व्यापकोऽलिङ्ग एव च ।
यं ज्ञात्वा मुच्यते जन्तुरमृतत्वं च गच्छति ॥ ८ ॥

न संदृशे तिष्ठति रूपमस्य न चक्शुषा पश्यति कश्चनैनम् ।
हृदा मनीषा मनसाभिक्लृप्तो य एतद्विदुरमृतास्ते भवन्ति ॥ ९ ॥

Katha Upanishad, Adhyaaya 2, Valli 3, Mantras 8–9

Beyond the Avyaktam is the Purusha, all-pervading and devoid of linga (indicative mark), knowing whom, the mortal is freed and attains immortality. His form stands not within the fold of vision. None sees him with the eye. By the intellect controlling the mind, and by constant meditation is he revealed. Whoso knows that becomes immortal.

These statements have two direct Upa-Braahmana (supporting statements from the Smrtis), from the Bhaagavata Puraana and the Bhagavat Geeta.

पश्यन्त्यदो रूपमदभ्रचक्षुषा सहस्रपादोरुभुजाननाद्भुतम् ।
सहस्रमूर्धश्रवणाक्षिनासिकं सहस्रमौल्यम्बरकुण्डलोल्लसत् ॥ ४ ॥

Bhaagavata Puraana, Khanda 1, Adhyaaya 3, Shloka 4

The devotees, with their perfect eyes, see the transcendental form of the Purusha who has thousands of legs, thighs, arms and faces — all extraordinary. In that body there are thousands of heads, ears, eyes and noses. They are decorated with thousands of helmets and glowing earrings and are adorned with garlands.”

आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः श्रोदव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यः

Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad, Adhyaaya 4, Braahmana 4, Mantra 5 (var. Khanda 2, Braahmana 4, Mantra 14)

“Verily, Aatma (Paramaatma) is to be seen, heard, thought and deeply contemplated.”

पुरुष: स पर: पार्थ भक्त्या लभ्यस्त्वनन्यया ।
यस्यान्त:स्थानि भूतानि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् ॥ 22 ॥

Bhagavat Geeta, Adhyaaya 8, Shloka 22

The Purusha is greater than all that exists. Although He is all-pervading and all living beings are situated in Him, yet He can be known only through devotion.

Further, in the Bhagavat Geeta, Shri Krshna said:

सर्वत: पाणिपादं तत्सर्वतोऽक्षिशिरोमुखम् ।
सर्वत: श्रुतिमल्लोके सर्वमावृत्य तिष्ठति ॥ 14 ॥

Bhagavat Geeta, Adhyaaya 13, Shloka 14

(Shri Krshna said): “Everywhere are His (Brahman’s) hands and feet, eyes, heads, and faces. His ears too are in all places, for He pervades everything in the universe.”

Such statements cannot be applicable to a formless entity and therefore, the notion that Brahman is formless, is quite flawed. One must pay proper attention to certain recurring words mentioned in these references:

  • रूपं (roopam) — form
  • पश्यते (pashyate) — sees/seeing
  • रुक्मवर्णं (rukma-varnam) — lusture/complexion of gold
  • अचिन्त्य (achintya) — inconceivable

The repeated usage of these words proves that Brahman has a divine form. Moreover, Shripaada Madhvacharya, in his Bhagavat Geeta Bhaashya, Adhyaaya 2, Shloka 72, points out that Brahman is described to possess:

  • Thousands of heads, arms and legs
  • Aanandarupa (blissful form) and Suvarna-Jyoti (golden effulgence)

Therefore, one must not conclude that Brahman is formless, when the Shaastras explicitly mention that Brahman possesses a divine and blissful form.

The Identity of Brahman

The Vedas, Ithihaasas, Puraanas and Smrtis have even mentioned the identity of Brahman, who is Shriman Naaraayana, or Vaasudeva.

नारायण परं ब्रह्म तत्त्वं नारायणः परः
नारायण परो ज्योतिरात्मा नारायणः परः ॥ ४ ॥

Taittireeya Aaranyaka, Prapaathaka 10 (Maha-Naaraayana Upanishad), Anuvaaka 13 (Naaraayana Sukta), Mantra 4

Naraayana is the Supreme Brahman, Naaraayana is the Supreme Tattva. Naaraayana is the Supreme Jyoti (effulgence), Naaraayana is the Supreme Aatma (Paramaatma).

The first Khanda of the Naaraayana Upanishad even mentions that Shri Vishnu is the originator of all the devatas.

ॐ अथ पुरुषो ह वै नारायणोऽकामयत प्रजाः सृजेयेति । नारायणात्प्राणो जायते । मनः सर्वेन्द्रियाणि च । खं वायुर्ज्योतिरापः पृथिवी विश्वस्य धारिणी । नारायणाद्ब्रह्मा जायते । नारायणाद्रुद्रो जायते । नारायणादिन्द्रो जायते । नारायणात्प्रजापतयः प्रजायन्ते । नारायणाद्द्वादशादित्या रुद्रा वसवः सर्वाणि च छन्दाꣳसि । नारायणादेव समुत्पद्यन्ते । नारायणे प्रवर्तन्ते । नारायणे प्रलीयन्ते ॥

Naaraayana Upanishad, Khanda 1

Om. Then Naaraayana, the Supreme Purusha indeed, desired — “I shall create offspring.” Praana, Manas, the several organs of sense and action, Aakaash, Vaayu, Agni, Aapas and Prthivee that supports all, are born from Naaraayana. Brahmaa is born from Naaraayana. Rudra is born from Naaraayana. Indra is born from Naaraayana. Prajaapati (the divine progenitor) is born from Naaraayana. The twelve Aadityas, Rudras, Vasus, and all the Chhandas (Vedas) appear from Naaraayana. (They all) proceed from Naaraayana. (They) prosper in Naaraayana. (They) diminsh and dissolve into Naaraayana. The Rgveda teaches this.

This Khanda has been quoted by Shri Vatsya Varadacharya (1165 – 1275 C.E.), the grandson of Shripaada Ramanujacharya’s nephew, in Para-Tattva Nirnaya.

The Mudgala Upanishad (quoted by Shripaada Ramanujacharya, in his Brahma Sutra Bhaashya) both mentions Shri Vishnu’s Aniruddha Vyuha as the devata of the Purusha Sukta, and additionally states that Vaasudeva is the originator of both Prakrti and Purusha Tattvas.

तस्माद्विराडित्यनया पादनारायणाद्धरेः ।
प्रकृतेः पुरुषस्यापि समुत्पत्तिः प्रदर्शिता ॥ ५ ॥

Mudgala Upanishad, Mantra 5

In ‘from that Virat was born’ has been shown the origin of Prakrti and Purusha from a quarter of Hari.

To conclude, the fourth Khanda of the Naaraayana Upanishad says:

प्रत्यगानन्दं ब्रह्मपुरुषं प्रणवस्वरूपम् । अकार उकार मकार इति । तानेकधा समभरत्तदेतदोमिति । यमुक्त्वा मुच्यते योगी जन्मसंसारबन्धनात् । ॐ नमो नारायणायेति मन्त्रोपासकः । वैकुण्ठभुवनलोकं गमिष्यति । तदिदं परं पुण्डरीकं विज्ञानघनम् । तस्मात्तटिदाभमात्रम् । ब्रह्मण्यो देवकीपुत्रो ब्रह्मण्यो मधुसूदनः । ब्रह्मण्यः पुण्डरीकाक्षो ब्रह्मण्यो विष्णुरच्यत इति । सर्वभूतस्थमेकं नारायणम् । कारणरूपमकार परं ब्रह्म ॐ । एतदथर्वशिरोयोऽधीते ॥

Naaraayana Upanishad, Khanda 4

The Yogin who pronounces (the name of) Him, who is complete bliss, who is the Brahma-Purusha and who is of the nature of Pranava (Om) — a combination of the letters A, U and Ma, is released from the bondage of birth and mundane existence. He who practises the mantra “Om-Namo-Naaraayanaaya” reaches Vaikuntha. It is this lotus (heart). It is replete with vijnaana: It has the brilliancy of lightning. The son of Devaki is Brahmanya. Madhusudana is Brahmanya. The One Naaraayana, who pervades all entities, who is the causal Purusha and who is causeless, is Para Brahman. The Atharvana Upanishad teaches this.

Therefore, the Brahman of the Vedas is Shri Naaraayana, or Bhagavaan Vishnu.


1. Subaala Upanishad, Khanda 10 (https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/subala-upanishad-of-shukla-yajurveda/d/doc217022.html)
2. Katha Upanishad, Adhyaaya 1, Valli 3, Mantras 10-11; Adhyaaya 2, Valli 3, Mantras 8–9
3. Purusha Sukta, Mantra 14
4. Mundaka Upanishad, Mundaka 3. Khanda 1, Mantras 3, 4, 7 and 8
5. Bhaagavata Puraana, Khanda 1, Adhyaaya 3, Shloka 4 (https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/1/3/4/)
6. Bhagavat Geeta, Adhyaaya 8, Shloka 22; Adhyaaya 13, Shloka 14
7. Naaraayana Sukta, Mantra 4 (Taittireeya Aaranyaka, Prapaathaka 10, Anuvaaka 13 — https://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_upanishhat/mahanarayana.html)
8. Naaraayana Upanishad, Khandas 1 and 4 (https://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_upanishhat/nArAyaNopaniShat.html)

Thank you for reading.

श्री कृष्णार्पणमस्तु ।






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