By Swami Harshananda
Devatās literally means ‘divine beings’. Etymologically speaking, the words ‘devatā’ and ‘deva’ mean the same thing. The devatās are gods, deities or divine beings endowed with extraordinary or supernatural powers.
Devatās as per Vedic Literature
We become familiar with many devatās in the Vedic literature. They are usually enumerated as 33. There are quite a few female devatās also though they are not as prominent as the male deities. Apart from these gods, many other qualities and inanimate objects have been described as gods. They include:
- Grinding stone
- Aspects of nature like dawn
These deities may or may not have an anthropomorphic form. As an aspect of nature or a physical object they don't, but as the presiding deity behind them they do.
Categorization of Devatās
The Vedic deities have been allotted different places in the universe.
- Agni, Pṛthvī and Somapavamāna belong to the pṛthvī.
- Indra, Vāyu and Parjanya belong to antarikṣa.
- Varuṇa, Mitra, Surya and Viṣṇu belong to dyuloka.
Devatās as per Purāṇas
The paurāṇic religion has offered a large number of devatās, gods and goddesses most of whom do not seem to have existed during the Vedic period. However, the basic idea that all of them are different aspects of one and the same Supreme God (Brahman or Paramātman) persists.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore