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As per my understanding, Vritra was a great ascetic and knew all the Shastras. He was the excellent son of Tvashtar, the divine artisan of Gods born of the divine fire of Vishwakarma's Yagya.

So why is he called an Asura? Which Scriptures say Vritra was an Asura?

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    As I described in this answer, he is mentioned as Vritasura in Srimad Bhagvata. – Pandya Aug 2 '17 at 13:19
  • @Pandya Yes. I read and even saw Indra calling him Asura and Danava once(though Vritra cannot be Danava, as he was Fire-born). But as you see, in a whole discourse of 4 full Chapters, 9 to 12, there were only 2 places hardly that said Asura. Also, as Vritra spoke to Indra, it is given as "ShriVritra Uvaacha"- "Shri Vritra said"[Book 6, Chapter 11, Verse 14, Bhagawatam]. More so, the Speech of Vritra was as great as any Great Sage gives, as Vritra Himself was Brahamana, son of Vishwakarma, the great God. – user9392 Aug 2 '17 at 14:36
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Well the following verse from Rigved 1.32.9 mentions Vritra as the son of Danu:

8 There as he lies like a bank-bursting river, the waters taking courage flow above him. The Dragon lies beneath the feet of torrents which Vṛtra with his greatness had encompassed. 9 Then humbled was the strength of Vṛtra's mother: Indra hath cast his deadly bolt against her. The mother was above, the son was under and like a cow beside her calf lay Danu.

This would make him a Danav (sons of Danu) which is a class of Asurs just like Daityas (sons of Diti). However, the Shatapatha Brahmana 1.6.3 mentions that he was adopted by Danu and is hence called a Danava:

  1. Tvashtri was furious, and exclaimed, 'Has he indeed consumed my Soma uninvited?' However, he himself desecrated the sacrifice, for what pure (Soma) there was left in the tub he let flow (into the fire), saying, 'Grow thou, having Indra for thy foe!' The moment it reached the fire, it developed, or, as some say, it so developed whilst on its way (to the fire). It became possessed of Agni and Soma, of all sciences, all glory, all nourishment, all prosperity.

  2. And since it so developed whilst rolling onwards (vrit), it became Vritra; and since he sprang forth footless, therefore he was a serpent. Danu and Danâyû received him like mother and father, whence they call him Dânava.

So the Danava aspect is explained by this but then SECTION LXVII of Sambhava Parva of Mahabharat while describing all the demons who had incarnated on earth also talks about him as an Asur:

And, O king, that great Asura who was known as Vritra became on earth the royal sage known by the name of Manimat. That Asura who was the younger brother of Vritra and known as Krodhahantri became noted on earth as king Danda. That other Asura who was known by the name Krodhavardhana became noted on earth as the monarch, Dandadhara. The eight sons of the Kaleyas that were born on earth all became great kings endued with the prowess of tigers. The eldest of them all became king Jayatsena in Magadha. The second of them, in prowess, like Indra, became noted on earth as Aparajita. The third of them, endued with great energy and power of producing deception, was born on earth as the king of the Nishadas

It is interesting that even though he was called an Asura he was reborn as a Muni. The Bhagvat Puran also mentions him as a great devotee of Vishnu. But in Chapter XVI of Devi Bhagwat Puran again he gets mentioned as an Asur:

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Again in Book 4 Chapter IX it is mentioned:

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Others have given different references in their answers so I will mention a different indirect reference from the Varah Puran. In Varah Puran 28.2-15 the rebirth of Vritra is mentioned in which he sires an Asur son called Vetra who again torments the Devas and is finally killed by the goddess:

5 In his former birth, he was the son of Tvasta, and being immune against the attack of any weapon, he was killed with foam. 6-7. Killed by foam, he was dissolved in it. Then he was born in Brahma’s line as the valiant Sindhudvipa, and he per- formed penance always thinking of his enmity to Indra.

8.After a long time, the auspicious river Vetravati assumed a beautiful human form and went to the place where the king was engaged in his austerities.

13 In Vetravati was born immediately a son named Vetra who was resplendent like the dozen suns, mighty and brilliant, and he became the king of Pragjyotisa. 14-15. In due course he became a powerful and courageous youth, much lucky, and he conquered the whole world consisting of seven islands and then, going up the Meru mountain, conquered Indra, then Agni and then Yama. 16. Indra, when vanquished, went to Agni, Agni when vanquished went to Yama, Yama when vanquished went to Niirti, and Nirrti when vanquished went to Varuna. 17. Varuna with Indra and others went to Vayu, and Vayu went to Kubera with them. 18. Kubera went to his friend Siva. The Asura was chasing them all with his club, and so he too came to Sivaloka.

19 Siva, knowing that he could not be easily killed, took the gods to Brahma worshipped by Siddhas and others. 20-21 . There Brahma, having created the world, was engaged in meditating on Gayatri, the Maya of the Supreme Being, within the water which was flowing from Visnu’s feet. At this Devas cried aloud: 22. Brahma, protect all of us Devas and sages, who have now come to you being harassed by the demon (Vrtra)”.

23 Prayed thus, Brahma looked at Devas and contemplated on Maya by whose prowess there will be no Asuras or Raksasas (left to harass them). 24-26. Then appeared there out of the water the great Goddess, a maiden wearing garlands and crown, clad in white cloth,with eight hands each holding a divine weapon, disc, conch, mace, rope, sword, bell, bow (and arrow) and with a quiver, riding on a lion.

27 She fought with the Asuras with great agility for a thou- sand divine years and with various divine weapons.

28 Finally the demon Vetrasura was killed by her in battle and there was then a great shout of joy in the ranks of Devas.

So in conclusion, even if he was a pious soul, it would be Vritra's actions of attacking the Devas that would probably lead him to being called an Asur.

  • "His actions of attacking God leads him be called Asura"- well, Asura is not synonymous to Bad. At the End, Vritra was a Great Muni and foremost of the ascetics. Your answer is great, and clears all points. – user9392 Sep 11 '17 at 17:27
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Which Scriptures say Vritra was an Asura.

Markandeya Purana – Chapter 5 – Indra’s transformations.

Background – In this chapter we find the story of birth of Vritrasura , here he is called as asura. Here in this chapter a bird explaining about five Pandavas being incarnations of Indra.

Indra Killed Tvasta’s son , then hearing his son was slain , the Prajapati Tvasta engaged , tearing out a single matted lock of Hair ,sacrificed that lock of hair in the fire then uprose Vritra , the mighty asura.

इत्युक्ता कोपरक्ताक्षि जटामग्नै जुहावताम् ||5||
ततो वृत्र: समुत्तस्थौ ज्वालामाली महासुरा: |
महाकायो महांद्रष्टो भिन्नाञ्जनचयप्रभा: ||6||

Thus having spoken ,he his eyes red with anger sacrificed that lock of hair in the fire. Then uprose Vritra, the mighty asura ,encircled with flame , huge in the body , with great teeth , resembling mass of broken collyrium.

  • BUT the interpretation could also be - Mahaa+Surah : Great Sura or Deva. For example- Brahmaanda Puraana UttaraBhaga Chapter 5, Verse 64: स्थूलमौक्तिकसन्नद्धनासाभरणभासुरा। : Mohini, the Supreme Lord Vishnu, the Goddess had beautiful nose ring shining on her nose. And, Devi Mahatmyam, Chapter 1, Verse 78- महामोहा च भवती महादेवी महासुरी। - Brahma said- O Thou Devi! You are the great fascination, the Great Goddess, and Great Suri(Devi)[or Asuri, demoness?]. Clearly, Hari and Durga are not "Asuras", but ? – user9392 Aug 2 '17 at 13:15
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    Mahaa+Surah : Great Sura or Deva. I don't think this is the Case.Because if carefully look at the MP chapter you will find that Tvasta saying "Let the worlds and gods see my might this day" .This clearly means he was opposing Devas ,besides he performed sacrifice in order to take revenge on Indra. – SwiftPushkar Aug 2 '17 at 16:33
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    Also if you look at SB 6.9.19 you will find him fighting with gods. So the Maha-Sura means "Mighty Deamon" only and not Mighty god. – SwiftPushkar Aug 2 '17 at 16:33
  • So in a sense he can be called an Asura that he fights with God. But inherently he was a Brahmin and Vishwakarma calls him son, so a God cannot have a son who is Demon. – user9392 Aug 2 '17 at 21:41
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    Prajapati Tvasta aka Vishwakarma later created him through sacrifice to take revenge on Indra and Devas. – SwiftPushkar Aug 2 '17 at 22:11
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Yes, Vritra is described as an Asura in Mahabharata many times. I am giving below some of the verses.

32 अनायुषः पुनः पुत्राश चत्वारॊ ऽसुर पुङ्गवाः
विक्षरॊ बलवीरौ च वृत्रश चैव महासुरः

And Danayu also had four sons who were bulls among the Asuras. They were Vikshara, Vala, Vira, and Vritra the great Asura. Mahabharata, Adi Parva, SECTION LXV

42 वृत्र इत्य अभिविख्यातॊ यस तु राजन महासुरः
मणिमान नाम राजर्षिः स बभूव नराधिपः

And, O king, that great Asura who was known as Vritra became on earth the royal sage known by the name of Manimat. Mahabharata, Adi Parva, SECTION LXVII

35 यदि वृत्रं न हन्म्य अद्य वञ्चयित्वा महासुरम
महाबलं महाकायं न मे शरेयॊ भविष्यति

If I do not kill Vritra, this great and mighty Asura of gigantic frame, even by deceit, it will not go well with me.' Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, SECTION X

2 सॊ ऽबरवीद अर्च्य देवेन्द्रं दिष्ट्या वै वर्धते भवान
विश्वरूपविनाशेन वृत्रासुरवधेन च

And Agastya honoured the lord of the gods and said, 'How fortunate that thou art flourishing after the destruction of that being of universal form, as also that of Vritra. Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva, SECTION XVII

Vritra, is mentioned as Asura also in Ramayana. Following are some examples:

129 स कुम्भकर्णं सुरसैन्यमर्दनं; महत्सु युद्धेष्व अपराजितश्रमम
ननन्द हत्वा भरताग्रजॊ रणे; महासुरं वृत्रम इवामराधिपः Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda, Chapter 55

Though its translation is not available but after analysis it is clear that this verse is saying Vritra as Great Asura.

9 भद्रं ते ऽसतु गमिष्यामॊ वृत्रासुरवधैषिणः
भजस्व परमॊदारवासवं सवेन तेजसा Ramayana, Uttara Kanda, Chapter 76

10 ततः सर्वे महात्मानः सहस्राक्षपुरॊगमाः
तद अरण्यम उपाक्रामन यत्र वृत्रॊ महासुरः Ramayana, Uttara Kanda, Chapter 76

  • The first verse is suspectable, as Vritra was born out of Fire and had only one brother VishwaRoopa TriShiraa, the great ascetic. – user9392 Aug 2 '17 at 21:45
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    @AnuragSingh At some places Vritra is said to be one of the sons of Danayu. – Triyugi Narayan Mani Aug 3 '17 at 4:50

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