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The Danavas and Daityas are referred to as Asuras in the Puranas but in The Vedas many Devas are also referred as Asuras.

May the golden-handed, life-bestowing, well-guiding, exhilarating and affluent Savitri [Asura] be present; for the deity, if worshipped in  the evening, is at hand, driving away Rakshasas and Yatudhanas.(Rig Veda 1.135.10)

Even Devas like Indra, Agni, Varuna, Rudra (Shiva) are often called Asuras in the Vedas especially in Rig Veda.

So what does the word Asura mean in the Vedas? Does the word have a deep or spiritual meaning in the Vedas?

  • Asura word has multiple meanings. Asura also means Powerful. Basically, Asura can be anyone who emerges from Prajapati/Brahma. – user6990 Nov 14 '17 at 12:38
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    @OnkarKarambe Shatapata Brahmana says that Prajapati/Brahma in creation created two groups of beings devas and asuras and valmiki Ramayana says devas drink sura so they are called suras while the asura does not drink sura so they are called asuras.But there may be some diffearent meaning of asura IN Rig veda.It is possible that powerfully beings may have called asura. – Karmanya Nanda Nov 14 '17 at 15:02
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    @KarmanyaNanda An interesting question and challenging too. I will try to answer in detail soon. For time being I am quoting a couplet from RigVeda " mahat devanam asuratva ekam". – B.N. Bhaskar Nov 14 '17 at 19:12
  • @B.N.Bhaskar ok waiting for it:) – Karmanya Nanda Nov 15 '17 at 4:23
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Yāska in 7th century BCE analysed/interpreted the Vedas. He is the first known grammarian which traced the meaning of Vedic words. He provided various meaning of Asura in his work Nirukta

1. a-su-rata > a (na) su (susthu) ra (rata) sthanesu 'not fixed at one place' or 'not very happy'

2. as (√as 'to throw') -u-ra 'thrown out or striped out from their place'

3. asu + ra 'possessed of breath'

4. a (na) - su (good) -ra 'born out of evil'

5. (v)-asurtva > vasurtva 'possessor of water/wealth'

Outside samhita text Asura only has negative connotation.

  • That's Informative! – user6990 Nov 15 '17 at 11:26
  • Btw see my answer the word Asura has two meanings in the vedas – Karmanya Nanda Nov 15 '17 at 12:43
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The word Asura has 2 meanings in the text Rig Veda In positive sense and negative sense.

The word asa means breath and the word Asura would mean who has his strength in the breath or who is the possessed of breath (the meaning given by yaksha nirukta).That means an asura is someone who is posser of breath that he could perform Great actions by his power or a very powerful supreme Being.

For they are Asuras of Gods, the friendly make, both of you, our lands exceeding fruitful.(Rig Veda 7.65.2)

Here Varuna Mirta as called asuras as they are very powerful beings and similiarly powerful deities like Rudra(Shiva),Indra,Agni have been called asuras.

Asuras in negative sense is also discribed in vedas like yajur Veda tattireya samhita kanda 2 Prapathaka 4.3

The gods and the Asuras were in conflict;

Gods means devas and yajurveda provides further detail of the fight between devas and asuras.also in Rigveda asuras have negative meaning like

BRING song and hymn to Agni, Asura-slayer, enlightener of all and thought-bestower.(Rig Veda 7.13.1)

Here Agni deva has called the asuravan which means asura slayer

This prelude of my speech I now will utter, whereby we Gods may quell our Asura foemen.(Rig Veda 10.53.4)

Here Agni deva says that may we defeat our foeman that is the asuras.

Radiant, as high Truth, cherished, best at winning strength, Truth based upon the statute that supports the heavens, He rose, a light, that kills Vṛtras and enemies, best slayer of the Dasyus, Asuras, and foes.

Here Surya deva has said to slay the Asuras.

Finally,the word 'Asura' in the Vedas means possessed of breath or very powerfull beings and it also means the diffearent class of beings who quarell with the Devas as discribed in Brahmans and Puranas.

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' mahat devanam asuratva ekam' is a couplet repeated at the end of every hymn of the verse RV.3.55.(1-22). The entire verse is devoted to Agni.At first I could not understand why Rishi is refering to Deva and Asur. Then the concept of poetic analysis came to my mind,according to which a poet wants to emphasise the main theme by repeating. And in this sense it becomes clear what Rishi wants to tell us - Agni is known as Deva by many names such as Apam Napat, Matrishwa, Vaishwanar etc, but as Asura he is only one i.e. Sun. Thus the meaning of Asura here is Sun. In the hymn RV.3.29(14) Agni is said to be born from the abdomen of Asura (yat Asurasya jattarat ajayat).

One more verse of Rig Veda RV.10.92.6 indicates that the term Asura mean 'Sun'-

krAnA rudrA maruto vishva kristyo divah shyanAso asursya nilayah

meaning- RudrA Maruts speedly reach to the farmers of the world, as the eagles move in the blue sky of Asura i.e. Sun.

The epithet of Sun is given to important gods like Yama, Varuna and Indra etc. For example Indra is compared with Sun at many places in RigVeda but in the hymn RV.1.131(1) he is called Asura of this world (Indraya hi dhyo Asura). Asura as Sun is also described in the hymn RV.1.35 (7) " vi suparno antrikshanya akhyad gabhir vepa Asurah sunithah" (there at the horizon speaking with serious quiver/vibration Sun with golden wings (suparno Ashura) gives good guidance).

There was a cult of Sun worshiping before the emergence of 'fire cult' and followers of earlier cult were called as Asura. This distinction can be seen in RigVeda itself in the hymn RV.1.123(3) "devo no atra Savita damuna anagaso vochati Surya" (our god here is Savita (Sun) in villages Nagas call it Surya).

There was some historical development which changed the meaning of Asura in the later scripture. However the traces of brilliant craftmanship of Asura we find even in Mahabharata e.g. Mayasur.

  • Yeah but I want to know what is the meaning of the word Asura? – Karmanya Nanda Nov 15 '17 at 11:59
  • Didn't I explain the meaning is Sun. – B.N. Bhaskar Nov 15 '17 at 14:27
  • I like the etymology that asura could also mean sun in the vedas,so I upvoted the answer. – Karmanya Nanda Nov 15 '17 at 15:42
  • @KarmanyaNanda So, truth is what we collectively "like?" – Rubellite Yakṣī May 6 '18 at 16:39
  • Having said that, Surya comes from PIE "súHr̥," so this is a line of reasoning worth investigation. Particularly interesting as (a-)/(an-) would mean "not __." – Rubellite Yakṣī May 6 '18 at 16:49
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The basic meaning of Sura is from Saur/Surya i.e. one who radiates with light, just like a sun and knows his real self, Aatma(which is without Tamas). Hence, Gods in Hinduism are always depicted with a Sun like halo behind their heads. Asura is the opposite, one who does not know the Aatma and hence full of Tamas. Difference between Asuric and Sura buddhi has been discussed number of times in Vedas.

From Chandogya Upanishad, Chapter 8.7-12

The Story of Indra and Virochana

Once Prajapati, the creator of the universe announced, “The Self is the sinless, ageless and deathless One; it has no sorrow nor hunger nor thirst. The goal of all its desire is the Truth, Truth is the one thing worthy of its resolve. It is this Self that has to be sought after, it alone one should seek to know. And one who seeks after the Self and knows it, gains possessions of all the worlds, wins all that is desirable.” Both the gods and the demons heard this announcement and thought, “We must know this Atman or Self and seek this knowledge that promises all worlds.” Hence, Indra, the king of the gods and Virochana, the leader of the demons, approached Prajapati with all the humility of a disciple and requested him to impart this knowledge to them. Prajapati accepted them as his disciples and asked them to stay with him for thirty-two years. Both, Indra and Virochana, stayed on living the life of a Brahmachari. At the end of that period, Prajapati called both of them and said, “Dear ones, the person visible in the pupil of the eye is Atman. This Atman is the Brahman, the immortal and fearless. Go and see yourself in a pan of water and then tell me what you saw.” Next day when Prajapati asked both of them to narrate their experience they both said, “Lord, we saw the Self entirely as we are, the very image even to the very hairs and nails.” “Go and adorn yourself and then look into the pan of water and tell me about your experience” said Prajapati to both of them. Happy, they went and adorned themselves, looked into the pan of water, came back and replied to Prajapati, “Revered Sir, we saw ourselves well dressed, well groomed and well adorned.” “Very good, this is Atman, the immortal and fearless, the Brahman” thus confirmed Prajapati to them. Both Indra and Virochana, went happy and very much satisfied in their heart. Prajapati saw them going away and exclaimed to himself, “Whether they are gods or demons they will inevitably perish if they are satisfied with the mere reflection of the Reality.” Virochana went to the demons and taught them this knowledge by saying that this bodily self is all that we need to know and serve and glorify. This is the supreme knowledge by which one obtains the world here and hereafter. Indra was different from Virochana. He realized that something is wrong with what he has just learnt about the Atman. He felt uneasy. He thought to himself that as the water reflects a well adorned body so does it reflects a blind man if he is blind, a defective man if he is defective. If a body is destroyed or dead, then there is no reflection of a living body. How then could the body or its reflection be said to be the deathless Atman? He went back to Prajapati and said, “Lord, I see really nothing worthy in this body or in its reflection. Please give me the true knowledge about the Atman.” Prajapati was happy with Indra and asked Indra to stay with him for another thirty-two years. At the end of that period Prajapati called him and said, “That which moves about in dreams is Atman.” Indra seemed to be satisfied and made his way to the abode of gods. But as he went along, again doubt crept into his mind and he thought, “How can the dream self be Atman? In dreams one suffers, one is wounded, one weeps when afflicted. The fearless and sinless Atman cannot be subject to such happenings. This does not seem to be the truth. Even this time also something again is wrong with what I have learnt.” He came back and prostrated himself before Prajapati requesting him to explain the truth of Atman. As usual, Prajapati told him to stay with him for another period of thirty-two years. Indra was all prepared. At the end of this period, Prajapati called Indra and said: “The self who is full pleased and is in a happy mood in deep sleep is the Atman.” Indra was satisfied and went home. But before he reached his place, again doubt overwhelmed him and he said to himself, “In a dreamless sleep, the self does not know itself. It is not conscious of its own existence. How then can the unconscious self be Atman when it is described as the ever luminous one, ever conscious one?” He came back again to Prajapati and reported to him about his difficulties. This time Prajapati was more pleased with Indra and told him to spend five more years with him. After the period was over Prajapati called Indra beside him and said: “O Indra, you have deserved the knowledge of the highest truth by your persistent effort and intense inquisitiveness.” Saying this Prajapati revealed that part of the highest knowledge to Indra for which he was ready at that point of time. “This body is subject to death yet it embodies the deathless and bodiless Atman. This embodied Self falls into the trap of all dualities like pleasure and pain, but the bodiless Atman is not touched by any duality. So long as the Atman resides in the body and attaches itself to them he seems limited and restricted, but again when freed from the body becomes one with the infinite spirit. When the Atman leaves the body, goes wandering freely in the infinite worlds. The eye, the ear, the senses, the mind are there only in order that the Atman may see and hear and think. It is on account of Atman and in the Atman that the things and beings exist. He is the Truth and the final repository of all existence.” This time when Indra went back to impart this knowledge to the gods, he had no doubt. The gods received the true knowledge and therefore live in the full knowledge of their Self. And because Virochana was satisfied with the knowledge of body as self, the Asura demons, even today live in the ignorance taking body as Self.

This is also discussed in Bhagwat Geeta, where "Asura" has been translated as demon in english, but the real meaning of word "Asura" is the one in whom Tamas dominates and devoid of knowledge of Self-soul, Satva and considers manifested reality is the only truth just like animals.

BG 16.1 – 16.3 The Supreme Divine Personality said: O scion of Bharat, these are the saintly virtues of those endowed with a divine nature—fearlessness, purity of mind, steadfastness in spiritual knowledge, charity, control of the senses, performance of sacrifice, study of the sacred books, austerity, and straightforwardness; non-violence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, peacefulness, restraint from fault-finding, compassion toward all living beings, absence of covetousness, gentleness, modesty, and lack of fickleness; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, bearing enmity toward none, and absence of vanity.

BG 16.4 O Parth, the qualities of those who possess a demoniac nature are hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, and ignorance.

BG 16.5 The divine qualities lead to liberation, while the demoniac qualities are the cause for a continuing destiny of bondage. Grieve not, O Arjun, as you were born with saintly virtues.

BG 16.6 There are two kinds of beings in this world—those endowed with a divine nature and those possessing a demoniac nature. I have described the divine qualities in detail, O Arjun. Now hear from me about the demoniac nature. Bhagavad Gita 16.7

Those possessing a demoniac nature do not comprehend what actions are proper and what are improper. Hence, they possess neither purity, nor good conduct, nor even truthfulness.

BG 16.8 They say, “The world is without absolute truth, without any basis (for moral order), and without a God (who has created or is controlling it). It is created from the combination of the two sexes, and has no purpose other than sexual gratification.”

BG 16.9 Holding fast to such views, these misdirected souls, with small intellect and cruel actions, arise as enemies of the world threatening its destruction.

BG 16.10 Harboring insatiable lust, full of hypocrisy, pride and arrogance, the demoniac cling to their false tenets. Thus illusioned, they are attracted to the impermanent and work with impure resolve.

BG 16.11 They are obsessed with endless anxieties that end only with death. Still, they maintain with complete assurance that gratification of desires and accumulation of wealth is the highest purpose of life.

BG 16.12 Held in bondage by hundreds of desires, and driven by lust and anger, they strive to accumulate wealth by unjust means, all for the gratification of their senses.

BG 16.13 – 16.15 The demoniac persons think, “I have gained so much wealth today, and I shall now fulfill this desire of mine. This is mine, and tomorrow I shall have even more. That enemy has been destroyed by me, and I shall destroy the others too! I am like God himself, I am the enjoyer, I am powerful, and I am happy. I am wealthy and I have highly placed relatives. Who else is equal to me? I shall perform sacrifices (to the celestial gods); I shall give alms; I shall rejoice.” In this way, they are deluded by ignorance.

BG 16.16 Possessed and led astray by such imaginings, enveloped in a mesh of delusion, and addicted to the gratification of sensuous pleasures, they descend to the murkiest hell.

  • question is about vedas .. please make sure to give vedic references only.... thanks – Rakesh Joshi Jun 3 at 20:30
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There is no universally accepted answer to your question. However, because knowing how something came to be can help us better understand that thing, here's the etymology (history & origin) of the word.

Etymology of Ásura

According to Wiktionary it's,

From Proto-Indo-Aryan * Hásuras, from Proto-Indo-Iranian * Hásuras, from Proto-Indo-European * h₂ń̥suros.

Related to असु (asu-), with several possible etymologies and meanings. In the context of asura conventionally associated with asu- in the sense of "master of the house". This meaning is not further narrowed by its etymology: cf. Avestan 𐬀𐬵𐬎‎ (ahu, “lord”) and 𐬀𐬵𐬎𐬭𐬀‎ (ahura, “lord”), Hittite 𒈗 (ḥaššū, “king”), and Latin erus (“lord”). Possibly ultimately from Proto-Indo-European h₂ens- (“to engender, beget”). Compare Old Norse æsir.

The Brahmanas and the Puranas derive asura from another asu-, "breath", a cognate of which is found in Av. ahu-, "life, existence". In yet other post-Vedic Sanskrit literature, asura was back-formed as a-sura, "non-sura", with sura then associated with a group of gods who inhabit Indra's domain.

According to Etymonline,

"spirit, lord," from Indo-Iranian asuras, from suffixed form of PIE root ansu- "spirit"


Interestingly, the origins and background meaning of deva clearly comes from "to shine," and is heavily connected to "the solar sky," that which provides life on Earth—whereas ásura (most likely) comes from the context of "breath," "lifeforce," "spirit." That is to say, the earliest difference in meaning was "that which provides the conditions in which one may exist" (deva) and "that existence itself" (ásura).

  • This is a context-based version of my previous post, which was too much pure data – Rubellite Yakṣī Sep 27 at 4:57

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