By Swami Harshananda
Dānavas literally means ‘children of Danu’.
The depiction of conflict between the forces of good and evil is a common phenomenon seen in many cultures and civilizations of the world. In the scriptures, including mythological works, such conflicts are seen in wars between the suras and the asuras, or the devas and the dānavas, where the asuras and the dānavas represent evil.
These beings, who are often perceived as evil, or even ‘anti-gods’, are also referred to by other names such as:
- Asuras - Those addicted to pleasure of the senses, and are hence opposed to all spiritual values and ways of life.
- Daityas - who are sons of Diti. Diti was among the thirteen wives of the sage Kaśyapa, who was one of the Prajāpatis (progenitors) of mankind.
- Dānavas - whose name means 'sons of Danu'. Danu was also among the thirteen wives of the sage Kaśyapa.
- Rākṣasas - who are the children of Khasā, who is also among Kaśyapa's wives.
The three--daityas, dānavas, rākṣasas--are sometimes bracketed and treated as the same type. Although, the daityas and the dānavas may be taken as archetypes of races that are physically stronger, and also more prone to violence. Even though these races known for being evil, there are some exceptions: Prahlāda and Bali do not share the same attribute of being evil as others in their race. Finally, the rākṣasas could be seen as a race ranked a bit higher in the list of those who are evil.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore