Wednesday 17 May 2023

Definition of 'Devata': Vedic Sanskrit Decoded

A devata is a devata! Let's keep it simple. There is no need to find a non-Vedic equivalent to it.

Translated scriptures can never present the authenticity of a pramaNa to its fullest. This is because the English vocab is very narrow to accommodate every possible word to describe the profoundness of a Vedic term.

One of the most corrupted translations comes to the term 'devata', which includes the variants 'deva' and 'devi' as well. If you watched the movie Kantara with English subtitles, you will notice the word 'devata' being mistranslated to 'demigod'.

Foremostly, there is absolutely no need to constipate your way through to find an English word that best represents the Vedic term 'deva'. The words 'deva' and 'devi' are very well found in the Collin's dictionary!

Image: Usage of plays like 'Dev' and 'Devi' in my recent Malaysian National Scrabble Championship game.

Root Words of Devata

'Devata', 'Deva', 'Devi' all come from the common root 'Div', which literally means 'to shine' or 'One who shines'. It simply refers to a divine / enlightened state.

These are broad-spectrum terms that are confined to various beings, entities, and even abstract concepts.

In our culture, saints, and sages are referred to as deva. 

The deity of every mantra is referred to as devata as well. Let us see some examples. 

(i) श्रीमहाविष्णुः परमात्मा श्रीमन्नारायणो देवता

śrīmahāviṣṇuḥ paramātmā śrīmannārāyaṇo devatā

( This comes in the viṣṇu sahasranāma. You can find the verse above being recited in the mentioned sahasranāma ).

(ii) श्रीकृष्णः परमात्मा श्रीमन् नारायणो देवता

śrīkṛṣṇaḥ paramātmā śrīman nārāyaṇo devatā

( This verse comes in the nyaasa done for viṣṇu sahasranāma ).

So here, even the 'supreme' as per Vaishnavism is coined under the 'devata' banner.

Similarly, Lalita Parameshvari who is considered ultimate by Shaaktas gets the 'devata' banner in Lalita Sahasranama.

Lord Agni, Vayu, Indra, etc also get the 'devata' banner in the scriptures.

Abstract components like 'night', 'feminity', 'longevity' are also seen as deities under the banner of 'devata' in the Vedas.

(3)आगमार्थं तु देवानां गमनार्थं तु रक्षसाम्।
घण्टानादं करोम्यादौ देवताह्वान-लाञ्चनम् ॥
घण्टादेवताभ्यो नमः॥

āgamārthaṃ tu devānāṃ gamanārthaṃ tu rakṣasām।
ghaṇṭānādaṃ karomyādau devatāhvāna-lāñcanam ॥
ghaṇṭādevatābhyo namaḥ॥

The hymn above is often used in puja related to Tantra. It is recited when we worship the bell. We refer to the bell as 'ghaNTa devata'. So the bell is a deity to us.

So we have to understand that the word devata is in no way translatable to some ridiculous term like 'demigod' or 'angel'.

Demigod is a term which finds place in the Greek tradition. It refers to a person who has one divine parent and one human parent. There is no Vedic term that directly translates to 'demigod'. 

Image: Hercules is a demigod as per Greek culture. His father is Zeus and mother, a mortal named Alcmene.

Devatas are not angels! I recently found an excellent explanation by Tantrist Rajarshi Nandy on this. He hits the dart here - The concept of Angels come from Abrahamic Religions which are based on the negation and denial of devatas. They oppose the concept of devatas. As such, how can Angels represent devatas?

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