demonic beings

   Much of Vedic mythology, epic mythology, and early Puranic mythology (see PURANAS) depicts an ongoing war between the gods (devas) and demonic beings, called usually asuras, but some-times rakshasas (both terms now simply mean a “demonic being”). Indian tradition, it must be noted, does not see the demons in completely polarized terms, as, for instance, in Christianity, in which Satan is an absolutely evil counterpart to God. The asuras are known to be the sons of the same father as the gods, and both asuras and rak-shasas finally go to heaven after their battle with the different gods, its being understood that they have played a role in the glorification of God by being his (or sometimes her) opponents.
   In the VEDAS a special role is played by the demon (asura) Vritra, a serpent being who is the enemy of god INDRA, king of the gods. Indra strikes Vritra with a thunderbolt to force him to release the terrestrial waters. Sometimes Vritra in his mountain lair holds back the summer waters of the “seven streams” of the INDUS River, so important to the ARYANS; Indra must force him to release them.
   A later example of a demon or asura, found in the epics and puranas, is BALI, who through severe austerities usurped the throne of Indra himself to perpetrate evil in all the worlds. VISHNU finally must take incarnation as the VAMANA AVATA R, the divine dwarf, to depose him.
   Beginning with the epics, the demonic group is enhanced by the addition of the rakshasas, demons who are cannibilistic and blood-thirsty. In the MAHABHARATA the PANDAVA brothers encounter various such demons in their travels. BHIMA in fact had a son named Hidimba by a female demon. The most famous rakshasa must certainly be Ravana, ruler of Lanka. He was depicted as having 10 heads and 20 arms. It was he who abducted RAMA’s wife, SITA, in the RAMAYANA; Rama destroyed him in the end, as was the divine plan. Rashasas are seen in later puranas (c. sixth through 16th centuries), as they are in the epics, often attacking sages in the wilderness and disrupting Vedic rites.
   Further reading: William Buck, Ramayana (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Robert Goldman, trans., Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, Vol. 1 Balakanda (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984); Wash Edward Hale, Asura in Early Vedic Religion (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); Alfred Hillebrandt, Vedic Mythology, 2 vols. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); M. V. Kibe, Cultural Descendents of Ravana. Poona Oriental Series No. 5 (Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1941); Ajoy Kumar Lahiri, Vedic Vrtra (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984); Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 2nd ed. (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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