Classes of Beings

Danielle Feller

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Classes of Beings

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Besides gods, men, and beasts, Hinduism, including its earlier phase Vedism, contains a whole array of semidivine beings. They appear most importantly in Vedic, epic, purāṇic, and Kāvya literature. There is no obvious hierarchy among the different groups, whose natures range from benevolent to frankly evil (with considerable fluctuation over time). Some classes are more prominent than others, but each has its own mythological history: in purāṇic genealogies their origin is frequently traced back to certain demiurges. In Hinduism these beings, though powerful, are usually not immortal—not any more than most of the gods themselves—and are hence subject to rebirth according to the nature of their deeds. They are supposed to live in different realms, on the earth but also in underground worlds or in heavenly abodes in the vicinity of the gods. However, they frequently flock together to witness important events and are then listed in copulative compounds, such as “heavenly musicians, nymphs, sages, ghouls, demons, serpents, genies.” These lists display considerable variation, but the more prominent among them, which we shall examine here, are the Nāgas and Garuḍas; Apsarases and Gandharvas; Yakṣas; various types of demons, especially Asuras and Rākṣasas; Ṛṣis; and finally Pitṛs, Pretas, and Bhūtas.

Article.  9401 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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