The deva-asura is a spiritual concept rather than species of being.
Brahma is considered to be the father of devas, asuras and humans. Asuras and devas have emerged from the same father and they are related as cousins. Vedic literature states that all supernatural beings are either devas or asuras. It is believed that Brahma has given the same knowledge to both of them. But each have understood the knowledge in different ways depending on their thinking, attitude and understanding. Thus, asuras are said to be power-seekers whereas devas are termed as knowledge-seekers and benevolent.
We all interpret different things differently. This is because of the variations in our thinking and temperament. Universal creation has this diversity of variation. In reality these differences happen due to the influence of our karmas and gunas. Vairocana was the leader of the Asuras. Indra was the leader of the gods. Brahma gave the same knowledge of “self” to both of them. Vairocana saw his reflection in water and with what he had heard from Brahma, he believed that the self was the body and physical form. Indra stayed a hundred years more with Brahma to understand the concept in-depth. He understood the truth and the true meaning of self. This story gives us the basis for developing an understanding the asuras and devas. As signified in the story the asuras believe in superficial knowledge. The asuras lack understanding of the nature of reality. Due to this the asuras mistake maya as the highest reality and are disposed to power, attachment, ignorance and delusion. They are ruled by their senses. The main thing that distinguishes asura from deva is their intent, action and choice they make in their lives. Asuras have the character of powerful beings who are obsessed with wealth, ego, anger, force and violence.
On the other hand, devas operate at intelligence and mental level. They see beyond the surface reality. They keep their senses under control and use their intelligence and analytical ability which gives them the discerning wisdom to know right and wrong. With this discretion they can differentiate between illusion and reality.
Asuras, when they lose or don’t get what they want because they were distracted by their cravings, they challenge and attack the devas to loot and snatch everything from them. The hostility between the two is the source of many tales, literature in Hindu mythology and annual festivals. Some examples are of stories of asura Raavan and Rama and of asura Hiranyakash and Vishnu as Narasimha. They are celebrated as Diwali and Holi.
Asuras battle constantly with devas. They compete against the devas and are considered enemy of the gods. There are many mentions and many theories with regards to asuras and devas in Indian mythology. The role of asuras comes into play after earth, sky and living beings were created. The sky then denoted the devas and the underworld denoted the asuras. It is during the battle between good and evil, creation and destruction, some side with the good and are called devas and some side with evil and are called asuras. As per one theory deva and asura are children of Kashyapa from different wives, Aditi and Diti respectively. Kashyapa is a manasputra of Lord Brahma and as per some texts Kashyapa is the grandson of Brahma.
Devas are also called adityas because of their mother Aditi. Asuras are daityas and danavas because of their mother Diti and Danu. The devas and asuras are constantly fighting each other. Indra is always seeking help from Trimurti to save him from asuras. And asuras with their strong will, special abilities, and tenacity are always asking for boons to drive devas from Swarga-loka.
There are lessons that we can take from this concept of asura and deva. When devas and asuras go to Brahma to understand the self and how to realize it, the first answer that Brahma gives is superficial. This answer is accepted by asuras and they leave. But devas led by Indra stay back. They do not accept and questions further. Indra feels that he hasn’t grasped its full significance. So, the lesson is that one must struggle with ideas and obstacles. Learning is a process and the deva nature will emerge with effort. The differences in approach between Indra and Virocana is a reflection of tendencies within ourselves. Indra keeps investigating the ideas and learning about means to inner happiness and power. Virocana leaves thinking he can use the knowledge as a weapon. This point can be further proved by the fact that Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada are born in families of asuras illustrating that motivations, beliefs and actions make someone deva-like or asura-like and not one’s birth or family circumstances.
Deva and Asuras are symbolically the contradictory forces that motivate each individual and people. Devas think about others and Asuras think just about themselves before anyone else. Both traits are essential for excellence. When they worked together, as they did during Samudra Manthan, the best fruits came out. Thus, Deva-Asura dichotomy is a spiritual concept rather than some species of being.
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