Wednesday, August 04, 2010

About Devas and Gods

Creative Commons License

About God, Gods and Devas

The terms like Bhagwaan, Ishwara are used liberally in Indic texts while referring to some supernatural power which manifests itself in some form OR as a formless force. With translation of texts into English, the words like God, Gods were introduced as synonyms of the aforementioned Sanskrit words.

However, one word which predates all these "adjectives" is the word "Dev (देव)". The word Dev comes from word-root "Div" which means "Luminiscent". In other words, an entity OR a person OR a force which radiant (tejaswi). The word Dev is the parent word for "Daeva (the evil forces in Zoroastrian literature)", for Greek "Theos", for Latin "Deus". Dev is the root for the name of Zeus in Greek Pantheon. Thus, outside India, the derivatives of the word "Dev" is specifically used for certain supernatural forces.

This trend is however broken in India. While the noun Dev is used for supernatural forces and natural forces which are imagined in personified form (agni, varuna, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva, Buddha etc); it was not limited to them. We see the liberal usage of the word "Dev" while addressing men of honour, kings, sages, knowledgeable and rich men. Thus, similar to the noun "Aarya" which signifies nobility and aristocracy, the noun "Dev" refers to a being who possesses some quality which makes him "shine (literally and/or figuratively)".

The words like Sur, Dev all refer to "Shining". Thus, when Nasadiya sukta (Rigveda 10.129) proclaims all "Devas" were born much later than the moment of creation, it refers to all such people and supernatural forces. Thus, even while the figures from Indian "Itihaasa" (E.g.Raam, Krishna, and other characters) are referred to as "dev" in the literature, it is illogical to conclude on this evidence alone that they are ishwara.

The word Ishwara OR Eesh literally means Master, Lord. The word Bhagwaan literally means the "divider". Bhakti means to divide one's "self" infinitely so that no existence of "I" remains in the process. And Bhagwaan is the divider of this infinitesimal division. Prabhu refers to Pra+Bhu (One who exists intensely); in other words Supreme Truth, Satya.

Thus, we have established the true meanings of words which are commonly used in Indic literature while referring to both supernatural forces in universe and talented people in society.

Meaning of God

The Proto-Germanic meaning of *ǥuđán and its etymology is uncertain. It is generally agreed that it derives from a Proto-Indo-European neuter passive perfect participle *ǵʰu-tó-m. This form within (late) Proto-Indo-European itself was possibly ambiguous, either derived from a root *ǵʰeu̯- "to pour, libate" (Sanskrit huta, see hotṛ), or from a root *ǵʰau̯- (*ǵʰeu̯h2-) "to call, to invoke" (Sanskrit hūta). Sanskrit hutá = "having been sacrificed", from the verb root hu = "sacrifice", but a smallish shift of meaning could give the meaning "one to whom sacrifices are made."

Depending on which possibility is preferred, the pre-Christian meaning of the Germanic term may either have been (in the "pouring" case) "libation" or "that which is libated upon, idol" — or, as Watkins opines in the light of Greek χυτη γαια "poured earth" meaning "tumulus", "the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound" — or (in the "invoke" case) "invocation, prayer" (compare the meanings of Sanskrit brahman) or "that which is invoked". - From Wiki.

Translation as synonyms.

On the lighter note, we observe that according to this etymology of the word "god", it refers to Hotaara OR Hutaashana or "Agni". Thus, if we act as grammar nazis :P , then God = Agni and hence we can proudly declare that there is no God but "Agni". (think of this in context of Islamic Shahada, it is fun). :D

Coming back to topic. With time, the word God was used as the word for the middle-eastern diety of Yahveh/Allah in his pristine monotheistic form with all its positive and negative attributes. The "panch-naamaa" of the Abrahmic god is done by Prof. Richard Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion". I won't go into that, since that is outside the scope of this article.

What I would like to do is draw the attention of the gentle readers towards the discrepancy of using the term "God" as synonyms of Deva. I am talking about the psychological equation of Abrahmic God with Indic Ishwara and devas  in the process of translation. The metaphors, the adjectives, the similies and the arguments which are used by western system for and against the existence of "God" started being used as it is, in Indic context. We have a huge problem of Christian missionaries competing for the souls to harvest and indulging in mass-conversions using such misleading and specious translations which are most of the times used for defamation of Indic historical and mythological characters which were referred to as "Devas".  On the other end of the spectrum, we have new-age atheists who think that "Hinduism" is a religion which similar to Abrahmic religions and use the arguments of Western atheistic intellectuals  against Abrahmic god verbatim while negating the existence of Indic "Ishwara" and "Devas".

India possessed a system of systematic proselytizing of particular form of Ishwara and systematic negation of "Ishwara's existence". We have produced far more atheists and agnostics of various degrees and varieties than west has ever produced and all of them have argued and counterargued with each other without getting confused between usage of words Bhagwaan, Ishwara, Prabhu and Deva and other nouns and adjectives.

Deracination: Deracination here, as it is clear, is misunderstanding that Indic Devas and Ishwara is equivalent to Abrahmic "God". I am not asking everyone to stop using the word "God" and start using Ishwara. That will be acting like a Paki where they started enforcing removal of the word "Khuda" from vocabulary. God is an addition to Indian linguistic richness. It need not be discarded.

But it needs to be Indianized. One needs to understand the "nature" of Indic Ishwara and Deva and the meaning of these words. These words are used in different contexts and for different entities and people who may not qualify as "Abrahmic God". Abrahmic God is a small subset of Indic "Deva" and Dev is much more than abrahmic god alone. Only then, Indics will be able to withstand the ideological assault of Abrahmics and answer back from an advantageous position.

Most of the Indic "Devas" are as human and as divine as rest of us. Not all "Devas" in India are "God" and not all "Gods" are "Devas".

No comments: