- 1. Deity of a forest (vanadevata)
- 2. Deity of water (jaladevata)
- 3. Guardian deities of the entrance (dvarpal)
- 4. The family deity (kuladevata)
- 5. The mother deity (matrudevata)
- 6. The father deity (pitrudev)
- 7. The teacher deity (acharyadev)
- 8. Benevolent deities (ishtadevata)
- 9. The guest deity (atithidev)
- 10. The deity liberating from the bondage of the cycle of birth: The Guru as a deity (Gurudev)
Definition: This refers to a deity of a forest or a deity in the form of a forest.
Other Names: Deities with names of trees such as Amjai (deity of the mango tree), Nimjai (deity of the neem tree), etc.
Special features: It is said that this deity gets enraged and torments if it is not worshipped when crossing a forest or if one sings or whistles in its proximity.
Science behind the idol: These deities do not have specific idols like other deities. Branches of trees thrust into a heap of stones represent them.
Ritualistic worship: Tribals (adivasis) worship this deity in the form of stones and honour it by placing stones and branches of trees on it to prevent it from troubling them. A rooster, a billy goat or a piglet is offered as a sacrifice to it.
Woodcutters, shepherds, cowherds, tribals, etc. who constantly visit the forest receive tremendous psychological support from this deity.
A. Definition and meaning: ‘Deities resembling spirits (pishach) dwelling in or around a reservoir of water or close to flowing water are referred to as deities of water. They are distinct from deities of water like Varun, Apadev, etc. They are seven in number.
B. Other Names: These seven deities of water are called “Sat Asara”. Asara is a corrupted form of the Sanskrut word apsara meaning celestial beauty. Apa (अप) means water (apa) and sru sar (सृ सर) means to play. Celestial beauties are women who play in water. The number of celestial beauties living in the clouds and indulging in play with water (jalakrida) as mentioned in the Vedas and the Purans is seven. It is the same according to the text Amarkosh as well.
घृताची मेनका रम्भा उर्वशी च तिलोत्तमा ।
सुकेशी मञ्जुघोषाद्या: कथ्यन्तेऽप्सरसो बुधै: ।।
Meaning: The seven celestial beauties quoted by the scholars are 1. Ghrutachi, 2. Menaka, 3. Rambha, 4. Urvashi, 5. Tilottama, 6. Sukeshi and 7. Manjughosha. The seven asaras are named: Machi (Matsyi), Kurmi, Karkati, Darduri, Jatupi, Somapa and Makari. In different places they are considered as the seven sisters or seven matrukas (deities).’(1)
C. Special feature: They possess people specially young women and children who enter the water alone.
D. Science behind the idols: Their idols are not found anywhere. Seven lines drawn on a stone or seven stones painted with sindhur (a saffron coloured powder) near a reservoir of water depict the seven asaras.
E. Ritualistic worship: To appease them they are offered an animal sacrifice. If a woman is possessed by them then seven married women (suvasinis) are offered a meal and an oti with coconuts and material for a blouse. (Some spirits like Khavis, Zhoting, Jakhin, Lav, Hadal and Bapadev are also associated with water.)
Deities in the form of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Narmada are given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 9 B – Divine Energy (Shakti)’.
A. Definition and meaning: ‘Those who guard the entrance of a premise by standing at the door are guardian deities of the entrance. They come from a class similar to deities. They stand on either side of the main entrance of a big temple or a cave.
B. Names: They have Names like Chand-Prachand, Jai-Vijay, Chand-Mahachand, Padmapani-Vajrapani and Harabhadra-Subhadra.
C. Mission and special features
Protecting a premise
According to the Vajrayan, a Buddhist sect, various parts of a door as given below are considered deities.
1. Talika: Its symbol is a lock.
2. Kunchi: Its symbol is a key.
3. Kapat: Its symbol is a plank of wood.
4. Patadharini: It holds a curtain in its hand.
D. Science behind the idol: Its idol stands with the right foot held erectly on the svastik (an auspicious symbol), the left foot bent slightly and the hands held on the hips in a slightly bent posture. In some places these deities support the entrance (gopur) of the temple with their four hands. They have two arms, rarely four and wield a mace. Depending upon the deity of the temple whose entrance they guard like Shiva or Vishnu, they bear symbols of the respective deities. They have buck teeth and an ugly countenance. In temples of female deities instead of male guardian deities there are female ones (dvarpalika).’ (2)
The word family deity is used with reference to both the female (kuladevi) as well as the male deity (kuladev).
Kula means to gather; to unite. The word kula is derived from the root word kul. A family (kula) is comprised of those people who are closely associated with each other or related by blood. The deity of such a family is the family deity (kuladevata).
In ‘कु: पृथ्वीतत्त्वं लीयते यस्मिन् तदाधारचक्रं कुलम् ।’ ku (कु) refers to the absolute earth (pruthvi) element and la (ल) to merge. Kula (कुल) thus means to merge with or to destroy the absolute earth element present in the Muladhar chakra. Hence, the family deity is the one by whose spiritual practice the Muladhar chakra can be activated.
Words such as kulin (eminent descent), kulastri (a lady belonging to a good family), kulavadhu (a bride from a spiritual family), etc. indicate that the basic meaning of the word kula is legitimate descent (shuddhavansha). Thus worship of the family deity came into practice so as to acquire pure descent.
The word ‘kula’ means both, people related to one another and their place of residence. One comes across the word ‘kulapa’ in the Rugveda (10.179.2). It means the guardian or head of a family.
The following two types of hierarchies prevail in a family.
A. Patriarchal hierarchy: Here there is a male family deity and / or a female family deity.
B. Matriarchal hierarchy: Here there is only a female family deity which is suggestive of a matriarchal hierarchy.
Synonyms: Presiding male deity (kulasvami) or presiding female deity (kulasvamini) of a family
In Lord Krushna’s dynasty, the cowherds of the Satvat clan began the worship of Lord Krushna and since then He became their family deity. In the same way other male and female family deities came into existence. Since ancient times the tradition of worshipping the female family deity, the Guru and the founder of the family (mulpurush) has been handed down over the generations in some families.
Bahucharadevi: Once some women from the Charan community embarked on a journey. Bahuchara was their leader. On the way some lusty fishermen waylaid them and tried to outrage their modesty. Immediately Bahuchara removed her dagger and cut off both her breasts in one stroke. The next moment she dropped down dead. The same Bahuchara later became the family deity of the Charan community. Hundreds of such women from this community who have sacrificed their lives to preserve their chastity and honour have become their deities today.
Family deities may be male or female or belonging to the Shaiva or Vaishnav sects. Some have both male and female family deities whereas others have only the male or the female deity. In the Shaiva sect if Shiva is the male family deity, then Parvati is the female family deity and in the Vaishnav sect if Vishnu is the male family deity then Lakshmi is the female family deity. In the Path of Devotion (Bhaktimarg) this pairing of deities is done because the frequencies of Shiva and Parvati and Vishnu and Lakshmi are complementary to each other as Parvati and Lakshmi are the Divine Energies (Shakti) of Shiva and Vishnu respectively. Sometimes however even if Shiva is the male family deity, Lakshmi is the female family deity. The reasons for this are given below.
Among worshippers of Divine Energy as in the Tantra sect, a greater generation of energy is desired, hence this tradition is adopted. Since frequencies of Shiva and Lakshmi are different the energy so generated with Their combination is greater than that produced with the combination of Shiva and Parvati.
If Shiva has been one’s family deity but upon someone’s advice one’s ancestors had commenced the worship of Lakshmi then Her idol is also placed in the temple at home and both the deities are worshipped by future generations.
A. When one falls ill one consults one’s family physician since he knows all about one’s constitution and illnesses. Similarly, when one has to get some work done in an office rather quickly, one contacts an acquaintance working there. In the same way, out of the thirty-three crores of deities one’s family deity is the closest, the one who will respond to one’s call and will uplift one spiritually.
B. When all the principles in the universe are imbibed into the subtle body, spiritual practice is said to be complete. Just as the cow is the only animal which has the ability to attract the frequencies of all the deities in the universe (that is why it is said that there are thirty-three crores of deities in a cow’s abdomen); so also chanting the Name of the family deity alone has the potential to attract all principles in the universe and increase them all upto 30%. Contrary to this, chanting of the Names of deities like Rama, Shankar, Ganapati, Lakshmi, etc. increases only that particular principle in which one is deficient. This is akin to taking vitamin A, B, etc. as a supplement to reduce the deficiency of that vitamin in the body. The Name of the family deity is like a general tonic which contains all the required minerals and vitamins.
C. Glory sung by saints: This is a verse in praise of the family deity sung by Saint Eknath.
The Guru is the mother, the Guru is the father,
The Guru is our kuladevata.
In the most difficult times,
He always protects us in every way.
The body, speech and mind, I offer at the Guru’s feet.
Eknath surrenders to Lord Janardan and considers
His Guru to be Lord Janardan Himself.
All seekers who have not been blessed by a Guru (guruprapti) should begin spiritual practice of the family deity. Importance of spiritual practice of the family deity is given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Chapter 9 – Path of Chanting The Lord’s Name (Namasankirtanyoga), point 9 B 3’.
At times, inspite of being intelligent when a student does not study, his teacher reprimands him. Akin to this, if a person has the potential to progress spiritually and yet does not undertake any spiritual practice then the family deity expresses its wrath. Since the individual is unable to perceive this, the deity creates obstacles in his worldly life. When he is unable to resolve them despite maximum efforts the individual seeks guidance from a saint who then recommends worship of the family deity. Once this worship is begun, the deity eliminates these obstacles and even facilitates his spiritual practice.
A. ‘A devotee’s sister was critically ill, yet was not breathing her last. So our Guru H.H. Bhaktaraj Maharaj told the devotee, “Your family deity is obstructing her death. Pray to it asking for her to be liberated. Then the deity will liberate her.” After the devotee prayed thus his sister soon passed away. Here the omnipotent Guru could very well induce death Himself, but He asked the devotee to pray to the family deity to make him realise its importance.’(3)
B. If a family deity troubles someone then Shri Malangshahababa of Mumbai tells that deity, ‘First grant him a vision in a dream and advise him to perform a particular ritual. Only if he does not comply then trouble him. Why do you trouble him straightaway?’
The founder of a family is known as the mulpurush of that family. For instance if a person from Maharashtra settles down in Indore and later dies there then four to five generations thereafter the family members of that person consider him as their founder. At times he is worshipped by them and included in their deities. At some places he is found in a crude form of stones or in the form of a metal plate. It is also customary in some families to offer food (naivedya) in the name of their founder person on a particular day.
If the founder of a family is not honoured by lighting a lamp, offering a monthly or annual meal according to family tradition, etc. then that family is neglected by him. That person laid down his life for the sake of the family and had earned wealth for it. When that wealth is squandered away he gets enraged and destroys that wealth completely.
‘मां तुरीयते इति ।’ means the one who eliminates obstacles which one encounters beyond the states of waking, dream and deep sleep till attainment of the superconscious (turya) state, that is the one who takes one till the turya state is the mother (mata).
According to ethnology: The custom of worshipping the mother began with the ancient matriarchal society.
राजपत्नी गुरुपत्नी मित्रपत्नी तथैव च ।
पत्नीमाता स्वमाता च पंचैते मातर: स्मृता: ।।
Meaning: The queen (king’s wife), Guru’s wife (gurupatni), friend’s wife, mother-in-law and one’s own mother are all considered as mothers.
The following quotes expressing the importance of the mother are quite famous.
Shrirama has said ‘जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी ।’ meaning the mother who gives birth and the motherland are superior even to heaven.
Manu has said ‘सहस्त्रान्तु पितृन्माता गौरवेणातिरिच्यते ।’ which means that a mother is superior even to a thousand fathers.
The Vedic quote ‘मातृदेवो भव’ means the mother is a deity and ‘पितृदेवो भव’ means the father is a deity.
‘न मातु: परमदैवतम् ।’ means that there is no deity as great as the mother.
In the table in ‘Percentage of characteristics of The Supreme God and the three components in animate and inanimate creation’ the percentage of the principle of The Supreme God in the mother deity (mother) and the father deity (father) is given as 1% while that in a human being is 1/10,000%. Some may wonder how this can be possible when parents too are human beings. This difference is because of the spiritual emotion (bhav) that a child harbours towards its parents. If one considers even a stone as God then the percentage of the principle of The Supreme God in that stone rises accordingly. This is similar to that.
It is possible to undertake spiritual practice only because one is brought into this world by parents.
Once a severely ill psychiatric patient had come to H.H. Dr. Jayant Athavale for treatment. When giving his history he remarked that he was blessed by a Guru. On inquiry about his Guru he stated that since a quote says that the mother is a deity he considered his mother as his Guru. Dr. Athavale then requested him to bring her along on the next visit as He wished to speak to her not as his Guru, but as his parent. She accompanied him on the next visit. After conversing with her He realised that the mother herself was a psychiatric patient. Since he had been emulating his mother as his Guru he too had become a patient. Thus quotes like ‘the mother is a deity’ should be put into practice using common sense.
If a woman who drinks or consumes drugs conceives in that state or continues to drink or take drugs even after conception then these substances could have deleterious effects on the foetus in the womb. How can such parents be considered as deities?
If one’s parents are great souls like those of Pundalik or Shravan then God is really appeased if one serves them. Only if parents are spiritually evolved can they give birth to spiritually evolved progeny.
A. ‘रक्षति अपत्यं य: स पिता ।’ means the one who nurtures and protects one’s progeny is a father. The one who constantly gets the spiritual experience of God and guides others can be called a father in the true sense.
B. ‘तुरीयते पीयते यस्मिन् रस: ।’ means the one who gives birth to sons and daughters providing them with the nectar within him to attain the superconscious (turya) state, is the father.
C. The one who teaches his children how to avoid hell and how to enter the region of ancestors (pitrulok) as suggested by ancestors is called the father deity.
D. पिता धर्म: पिता स्वर्ग: पिता हि परमं तप: ।
पितरि प्रीतिमापन्ते सर्वा: प्रीणन्ति देवता: ।।
– महाभारत शांतिपर्व २६६.२१
Meaning: The father stands for Righteousness (Dharma). He is heaven itself and great penance too. If he is pleased then all the deities too are appeased. – Mahabharat Shantiparva 266.21
जनिता च उपनेता च यस्तुविद्याम् प्रयच्छति ।
अन्नदाता भयत्राता पंचैते पितर: स्मृता: ।।
Meaning: The one who gives birth to, the one who performs the spiritual rite (sanskar) of the thread ceremony, the one who imparts knowledge (the Guru), the one who provides food (and medicines) or the one who protects from fear is called a father.
The father is called the first Guru because he imparts the Gayatri mantra. The mother is considered a deity, but not a Guru.
The following deities constitute the family of five deities: 1. The family deity, 2. The deity of a place, 3. The deity of a premise, 4. The mother deity and 5. The father deity. All ancestors are included in the mother and father deities.
A. ‘मन्त्रव्याख्याकृदाचार्य: ।’ means a teacher is one who defines a mantra.
B. ‘यस्माद् धर्ममाचिनोति स आचार्य: ।’ means a teacher is the one from whom a disciple learns Righteousness (Dharma).
C. ‘आचार्य: कस्मादाचारं ग्राह्यनि आचिनोत्यथन्तिचिनोति बुद्घिमिति वा ।’ means a teacher is one who teaches good conduct, accumulates wealth (fees) or makes a disciple intellectually accomplished.
D. उपनीय तु य शिष्यं वेदमध्यापयेद् व्दिज: ।
सकल्पं सरहस्यं च तामाचार्य प्रचक्षते ।। – मनुस्मृति २.१४०
Meaning: The Brahman (priest) who performs the rite of thread ceremony on a disciple and imparts the knowledge of the Vedas, rites of sacrificial fires (yadnyakarma) and the Upanishads to him is called a teacher. – Manusmruti 2.140
The teacher imparts education useful for worldly life, specially for the stage of the householder (gruhasthashram). His mission is like that of a school teacher or a professor.
मुनींना दशसहस्त्रं योऽन्नदानादिपोषणात् ।
अध्यापयति विप्तर्षि: स वै कुलपति: स्मृत: ।।
Meaning: Kula means a group of students and pati means their guardian. An eminent Brahman who teaches ten thousand students, providing them with food, shelter, etc. is the head of a school.
Sometimes the word is used as a synonym for the family deity.
‘Before performing any important religious ritual or prior to any auspicious event to avert obstacles contemplation on some protector deities and their worship is done. Some of these deities are benevolent deities (ishtadevata). Just like family deities (kuladevata) they too are different for each family. Generally however deities which fulfill vows (navas) or are favourites are included among benevolent deities. The resolve (sankalpa) of every rite commences with offering obeisance to the benevolent deity as “ishtadevatabhyo namaha (इष्टदेवताभ्यो नम:)” Some rites are performed for benevolent deities annually.’(4)
Information on this is given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 1 C, chapter – 1 B, point – The stage of the householder (gruhasthashram)’.
Refer ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 4 – Path of Guru’s Grace (Gurukrupayoga)’.
‘Supreme God, God, Incarnations and Deities’, published by Sanatan Sanstha.
Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
. Vol. 3, Pg. 564 . Vol. 4, Pg. 532, 533
. Vol. 1, Pg. 563
. Biography (Charitra) of Saint Bhaktaraj: Compilers: Dr. Jayant Balaji Athavale and Dr. (Mrs.) Kunda Jayant Athavale.