What is the difference between Devas, Daevas, Asuras and Rakshasa fundamentally? It is very confusing to distinguish and characterize them without clear examples.
The usual translations are dēva=sura=divine, āsura=demoniac, rākšasa=man-eating.
The divine qualities
The dēvas are supposed to have these: fearlessness (abhayam), purification of existence (sattva samšuddhih), adherence to knowledge (jnāna vyavastitih), cooperation (yoga vyavasthitih), charity (dāna), self-control (dama), sacrifice (yajna), svādhyāya (contemplation), austerity (tapah), straightforwardness (ārjavam), nonviolence (ahimsā), truthfulness (satyam), placidity (akrodhah), renunciation (tyāgah), peacefulness (šāntih), non-malignancy (apēšunam), compassion towards embodied beings (dayā bhūtēšu), generosity (aloluptvam), gentleness (mārdavam), modesty (hrīh), reliability (acāpalam), influence (tējah), forgiveness (kšamā), determination (dhritih), cleanliness (šaucam), faithfulness (adrohah), limited ambitiousness (na ati mānitā). (From Bhagavad-gītā 16.1-3.)
live on Svargaloka (capital Amaravatī), are headed by Indra, are authorized to receive worship from humans and grant benedictions to them (Bhagavad-gītā 3.11), fly on flower airplanes, fight with demons, are generally descendants of Āditi and are amicable to God (who is Dēva-Dēva, worshiped by the worshipable) .
The demoniac qualities
Hypocrisy (dambhah), arrogance (darpah), cheating (abhimānah), anger (krodhah), harshness (pārušyam) and ignorance (ajnānam) are typical for demons. (From Bhagavad-gītā 16.4.)
live on dark hellish planets (Īšopanišad 3), regularly lose their leaders due to warfare (but not their guru Šukrācārya), are only allowed to abuse and exploit human sinners, rely on desperate painful austerities and mechanical contraptions (Rāvana planned to build a stairway to heaven), they are generally descendants of Diti and Danu and envy God.
Sura/asura designates one's attitude towards God, but it is not strictly a race. However,
are a race, generally of demoniac character, but not always. Bhīma's son Ghatotkaca and Rāvana's brother Vibhishana are ethnically rākšasas but have divine disposition. Bhāgavatam 3.6.29 says that rākšasas live in antarikša (among clouds, space above Earth but below bhuvarloka).
All three of these are super-human, but there are also other types, look at Bhāgavatam 2.10.37-40. Another related longer read is here: http://truthdisclosed.wordpress.com/tag/lokas-locations-in-universe-as-explained-by-vedas/
I'm not a member here, but I was doing some research and came upon this thread, so I thought I would contribute.
I'm a Eastern philosophies scholar and a Shakta and Advaita Vedantist. My swami and religious instructor is a Dharmic teacher, teaching almost 50 years. I asked him this same question once.
Suras and Asuras were originally ways to describe behavior more than identity in the Vedic literature. The suras were those beings who upheld the Dharma and order. The asuras were beings who typically worked against order. Both were necessary to maintain balance, but the asuras tended to be more troublesome than not.
However, the line between the two is not absolute. In the Vedas, some of the gods are often described as asuras based on their behavior. And some of the asuras were known to be devotees of the Mahadevas, particularly Brahma and Shiva.
A deva is a sura (or possibly asura) who is worshiped as a god (representative of the Dharma) by other beings. Eventually, deva became the title of choice in Sanatana Dharma for the maintainers of order and karma.
Daevas are not of India origin, they are an Iranian concept which was borrowed from the Hindu devas in a indirect way. The word "daeva" may in fact be a corruption of a rare term in Sanskrit, "adeva", which is basically described as a "false god" or a god who has gone against the the natural order and promote chaos or disorder. These may have existed in pre-Vedic lore, but there are no known adevas in the Vedas or other scriptures. The closest you can get is Indra who on occasion was a bit of a trickster, and even in one case, a murderer. This "adharma" activity on his part almost led to the destruction of the gods by the hands of some powerful asuras and required the intervention of Mahadevi to set things right again.
Bhagavad Gita has the most precise terms for Deva-s and Asura-s.
- Deva = the one with Daivi sampada (divine quality)
- Asura = the one with Asuri sampada (demonic quality)
BG 16.6 — O son of Pṛthā, in this world there are only two [kinds of] created beings. One is called divine and the other demonic. ...
BG 16.5 - The divine quality is [for] the Liberation; The demonic [quality] is considered as bondage. ..
BG 16.1-16.3 - The Blessed Lord said Fearlessness, purity of mind, persistence in knowledge and yoga, charity and control of the external organs, sacrifice, (scriptural) study, austerity and rectitude; Non-injury, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, control of the internal organ, absence of vilification, kindness to creatures, non-covetousness, gentleness, modesty, freedom from restlessness; Vigour, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, freedom from malice, absence of haughtiness-these, O scion of the Bharata dynasty, are [the tendencies] of one born destined to have the divine quality
BG 16.4 - O son of Prtha, (tendencies) of one destined to have the demonic nature are religious showoff, pride and superiority complex, anger as also rudeness and ignorance.
BG 16.7-9 - Neither do the demoniacal persons understand activity and retirement; nor does purity, or even good conduct or truthfulness exist in them. They say that the world is unreal, it has no basis, it is without a God. It is born of mutual union brought about by passion! What other (cause can there be)? Holding on to this view, (these people) who are of depraved character, of poor intellect, given to fearful actions and harmful, wax strong for the ruin of the world.
...the list goes on within chapter-16....
The meaning of Daiva is usually as those who have ascended to heaven. From the above perspective, it's those who attained "Daivi sampada" (divine qualities).
All the natural elements like rains, rivers, mountains, wind are associated with certain deities. They tend to have divine qualities. Hence often they are prayed upon by people.
RAkshasa means those who have protective or attachive qualities. The word is originated from Raksha. Usually these people are high on Rajas and hence have more possibility of Asuri sampada (demonic quality).
BG 17.4 - Those having the sattva, worship the deva-s; those having rajas, [worship] the raksha-s & yaksha-s; and other people possessed of tamas worship bhuta and preta.
From Kashmir, which belongs square within the Vedic world, comes crucial evidence regarding a three-way division consisting of devas, asuras, and daevas. The scheme reflects the three fundamental gunas of Indian thought: sattva, rajas, and tamas.
- Deva, or devata (sattva): power related to understanding
- Asura (rajas): power related to activity
- Daeva (tamas): power related to acquisitiveness
Mantra of the Universal Soul: Gae-ush Urva-nem
The Earth’s Souls’ lament: Ys29.1
In anguish; wailed Mother Earth, taking the shape of the self sacrificing Cow. Why & for what purpose have I been created, what hands have moulded me, The degenerate forces of Hate, Deceit & Violence, encircle me---strangulate me, For me , there is no Protector, other than you. Guide me, I plead with thee, to a safe shelter through an efficient & powerful Saviour.
Amongst the Par-asu tribes of the 16 aryan lands, Zarathushtra was born, in answer to this appeal of mother earth.
Srimad Bhagvatam (X.1.17-18)
The earth, oppressed by schemes of the princes proud, Leagued in their might with countless demon hosts Bowed down with this great burden, She approached her great creator, seeking help from him, Wearing the shape of a Cow, two streams of tears, Flowing adown her face, lamenting loud, And piteously, with heavy heart she stood, And poured out to her lord, her suffering soul In answer to this appeal, we are told that Sri Krishna was born. Interestingly, this name "Krsna" also appears in the Farvardin Yasht as that of a good King.
As per my understanding
Deva(देव) - God (Its categorized further in 33 category(तैतिसकोटि). Which sometime misunderstood as 33 Crors) Daiva(दैव) - According to Law of Karma, Your balance according to good and bad karma(Fortune) Asur(असुर) - People of a perticular culture. Mostly from south India(पाताललोक). Rakshash(राक्षस) - Devils