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Madhwa has the taratamya - that assigns ranks to about 100 deities. More recent scriptures have ratings baed on Kalas - a deity with 64 Kalas being supreme.

Have there been such detailed comparisons (not merely that "deity A is superior" or "deity A gave birth to deity B" etc.) of deities before Madhwa?

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There are some statements in the vedas which might give scope to an interpretation of the existence of ranking among deva-s.

Aitareya brahmana 1.1.1

agnir vai devānām avamo Viṣṇuḥ paramas, tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā

Agni is the lowest of the deva-s and Vishnu is the highest. Between them are all other deva-s.

Madhvas interpret the above statement as a ranking among the deva-s.

A similar statement is found in Taittiriya samhita 5.5.5.1 -

When about to consecrate himself, he offers to Agni and Visnu on eleven potsherds; all the deities are Agni; the sacrifice is Visnu; verily he lays hold of the deities and the sacrifice; Agni is the lowest of the deities, Visnu the highest; in that he offers to Agni and Visnu on eleven potsherds, the sacrificer envelops the gods on both sides and wins them.

In the above, the talk of enveloping the Gods on both sides may hint at the other Gods being in between Agni and Vishnu.

That Agni is the lower end of the Gods and Vishnu is the upper end, and all other Gods are in between, is also hinted at in Satapatha brahmana 5.2.3.6 -

And on the following day he prepares a cake on eleven potsherds for Agni and Vishnu, and offers it in the same way as the (regular) ishti: this indeed is just what that approved initiation-offering to Agni and Vishnu is there 2. Now Agni is all the deities, since in Agni one offers to all deities; and Agni forsooth is the lower end, and Vishnu is the upper end: 'May I be consecrated, after thus encompassing all the deities, and after encompassing the whole sacrifice!'

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  • OMG - "agniravamo" again. The bolding in your citation is misleading. It is just the order in which the offerings to the Gods are to be placed for the rite @also ran
    – S K
    Apr 5, 2021 at 21:58
  • Agni islast deveatha ..PUshakara is the last of tattvabhimani devatha..
    – Prasanna R
    Apr 6, 2021 at 6:33
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    Here is the Sayanacharya commentary for 'agniragre prathamo...' where too the 'first' nature of agni and the 'uttama' nature of Vishnu is stated: adbhutam.files.wordpress.com/2021/04/sayana-agniragre.jpeg Apr 6, 2021 at 11:52
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Harihi Om.

No, these hierarchies between devas are definitely not recent and are accepted indirectly or directly by every sampradaaya. Shripaada Madhvacharya was one of the few philosophers who wrote a detailed version of this hierarchy.

Primarily, the Devata Taraatamya is derived from the hierarchy of the Tattvas This is mentioned in the Katha Upanishad twice.

इन्द्रियेभ्यः परा ह्यर्था अथेभ्यश्च परं मनः । मनसस्तु परा बुदि्धः बुद्धेरात्मा महान् परः ॥ १० ॥

महतः परमव्यक्तमव्यक्तात् पुरुषः परः । पुरुषान्न परः किंचित्सा काष्ठा सा परा गतिः ॥ ११ ॥

Higher than the senses, are the objects of perception (arthas). Higher than the arthas is Manas and higher than Manas is Buddhi. Higher than Buddhi is the Mahat Ātmā. The Avyakta (formless or without personality) is higher than Mahat, the Purusha is higher than the Avyakta. There is nothing higher than Purusha. He is the end and He is the Highest goal.

-Katha Upanishad, Adhyaaya 1, Valli 3, Mantras 10–11

इन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनो मनसः सत्त्वमुत्तमम् । सत्त्वादपि महानात्मा महतोऽव्यक्तमुत्तमम् ॥ ७ ॥

अव्यक्तात् तु परः पुरुषो व्यापकोऽलिङ्ग एव च । तं ज्ञात्वा मुच्यते जन्तुरमृतत्वं च गच्छति ॥ ८ ॥

Higher than sensation is Manas, Higher than Manas is Buddhi, higher than Buddhi is the Mahat-ātmā. Higher than the Mahat is the avyakta (formless or without personality). Beyond the Unmanifested is Purusha, the all-pervading and devoid of a linga, whom having comprehended, one is liberated and goes to the state of deathlessness.

-Katha Upanishad, Adhyaaya 2, Valli 3, Mantras 7–8

The Tattvas are the elements that constitute the objects and particles in the universe. Each Tattva has an associated devata and therefore, the hierarchy of the Tattvas also implies that it is the hierarchy of those devatas. This is evident from the 5th Khanda of the Subaala Upanishad and the Vaishnava Khanda of the Skanda Puraana, Vaishaakhamaasa Maahaatamya, Adhyaaya 19, both of which list the Tattvas and their associated devatas. In fact, Yama Deva himself says that a proper comprehension of the hierarchy of the devatas is necessary for moksha.

इन्द्रियाणां पृथग्भावमुदयास्तमयौ च यत् । पृथगुत्पद्यमानानां मत्वा धीरो न शोचति ॥ ६ ॥

Knowing the difference between the devas of the senses, their origin and destruction, of things and the difference in their modes of origin, the wise does not grieve.

-Katha Upanishad, Adhyaaya 2, Valli 3, Mantra 6

Further, in the Mahaabhaarata Taatparya Nirnaya, Adhyaaya 2, Shloka 110, Shripaada Madhvacharya quoted the following shloka, that glorifies the Pancharaatra philosophy and also mentions a hierarchy between the devatas.

पञ्चरात्रविदो मुख्या यथाक्रमपरा नृप । एकान्तभावोपगता वासुदेवं विशन्ति ते ॥

“Those eminent ones who comprehend the Pancharaatra philosophy and through understanding the relative position of the Devas, thereby attain single-minded devotion, enter into Vaasudeva (i.e., obtain moksha).”

-Mahaabhaarata, Shaanti Parva, Adhyaaya 359, Shloka 72 (var. Adhyaaya 337, Shloka 67)

Not just this, but the Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad also lists the respective devatas of the various Tattvas, in the same order and mentions that the higher ones experience greater bliss (aananda) than the lower ones.

Therefore, the hierarchy of devatas is nothing recent and has been mentioned in several Shaastras.

Shri Krshnaarpanamastu.

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garuDapuraNa-brahmakhanda(moksha khanDa), chapters 1 to 9 give a detailed description of ranking among deities. The content is too long to be added as an answer here. One can go through those chapters available online here

The rankings described in garuDapuraNa, however, apply to deities in their original form and not to their portions/children in mortal world i.e. bhima (vAyu) is ranked lower than bhIShma (vasu) in chapter 1 verse 91 of garuDapuraNa-brahmakhanda(moksha khanDa) :

Among Bhlma and others Bhlsma and Drona are principal. The noblest of men they are worthy of worship. Thus I have told

skandapuraNa-Vaiśākhamāsamāhātmya-ch.19 also has a similar but very short description of rankings :

16. The power of Viṣṇu is present in each of these: Devas, sages, Pitṛs and Mothers. It shall be comparatively more or less in each of these.

64. Prāṇa is identified with all the Devas. He is the soul of all the Devas. He is a perpetual follower of Vāsudeva. He is always under the control of Viṣṇu.

65-66. He neither hears nor sees anything opposed to Vāsudeva. The Devas, the leading Suras, including Rudra, Indra etc. do act in opposition to (Vāsudeva), but Prāṇa which is present in all, never opposes (Vāsudeva). Hence learned men say that Prāṇa is the strength of Viṣṇu.

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First of all What is a Yajna or Sacrifice.?

Satapatha Brahmana (9:1:2:11) says.:

“bāhyenāgniṃ harati | ime vai lokā eṣo 'gnirebhyastallokebhyo bahirdhā śucaṃ dadhāti | bahirvedīyaṃ vai vedirasyai tadbahirdhā śucaṃ dadhāti |”,

“Outside the fire-altar he throws it; for this fire-altar indeed is the same as these (three) worlds: he thus puts pain outside these worlds;--outside the sacrificial ground (vedi); for the Vedi is this (earth): he thus puts pain outside this earth”.

So, a Sacrificial Alter is the 3 world itself with Vedi as the earth.

Let’s see what Vedas state about the Earth.

Agni produced the Earth and he became the Earth in fact. So, Earth is same as Agni. This is evident from the below verse from Vedas.:

“tā vā etā nava sṛṣṭayaḥ | iyamasṛjyata tasmādāhustrivṛdagniritīyaṃ hyagnirasyai hi sarvo 'gniścīyate |” (Satapatha Brahmana 6.1.1.14).

“This (earth), then, was created as (consisting of) these same nine creations. Hence they say, 'Threefold (three times three) is Agni;' for Agni is this (earth), since thereof the whole Agni (fire-altar) is constructed”.

Then that Earth sang (gâ), therefore she is Gâyatrî. But infact it was Agni who sang. Hence it is Agni who is Gâyatra.

"abhūdvā iyam pratiṣṭheti | tadbhūmirabhavattāmaprathayatsā pṛthivyabhavatseyaṃ sarvā kṛtsnā manyamānāgāyadyadagāyattasmādiyaṃ gāyatryatho āhuragnirevāsyai pṛṣṭhe sarvaḥ kṛtsno manyamāno 'gāyadyadagāyattasmādagnirgāyatra iti tasmādu haitadyaḥ sarvaḥ kṛtsno manyate gāyati vaiva gīte vā ramate |" (Shatapatha Brahmana 6.1.1.15).

“'This (earth) has indeed become (bhû) a foundation!' (he thought): hence it became the earth (bhûmi). He spread it out (prath), and it became the broad one (or earth, prithivî). And she (the earth), thinking herself quite perfect, sang; and inasmuch as she sang (gâ), therefore she is Gâyatrî. But they also say, 'It was Agni, indeed, on her (the earth's) back, who thinking himself quite perfect, sang; and inasmuch as he sang (gâ), therefore Agni is Gâyatra.' And hence whosoever thinks himself quite perfect, either sings or delights in song".

Therefore Gayatri is none other than Agni indeed. It means Agni (male god) is visualized as Gayatri (the female deity). But indeed they are same.

“agnirvai gāyatrī |” (Shatapatha Brahmana 3:4:1:9).

“Gâyatrî is verily Agni”.

Therefore, Agni is below because agni is Earth itself and so is near vedi or the vedi itself.

So, Rig Veda (10:5:7). states Agni as Androgynous as,:

“aghnirha naḥ pra thamajā ṛtasya pūrva āyuni vṛṣabhaścadhenuḥ ”,

“Agni, our first-born of Holy Order (rita), the Milch-cow and the Bull in life's beginning.”

Now, Rig Veda 1.22.20.:

तद्विष्णोः परमं पदं सदा पश्यन्ति सूरयः । दिवीव चक्षुराततम् ॥

“The wise ever contemplate that supreme station of Viṣṇu, as the eye ranges over the sky.”

Commentary by Sāyaṇa: Ṛgveda-bhāṣya paramam padam = supreme degree or station, svarga.

Meaning of Padam.:

padaṃ < padam < pada [noun], accusative, singular, neuter

“word; location; foot; footprint; pada [word]; verse; footstep; metrical foot; situation; dwelling; state; step; mark; position; trace; construction; animal foot; way; moment; social station; topographic point; path; residence; site; topic.”

So, from the above verse, commentry and meaning by Sayana we can conclude that Vishnu's Param Padam is Swarga and it is also identical with him as his own seat or position.

Thus, Vishnu is the upper portion being Heaven.

Again, Yajur Veda 2.8.:

वसुमतीमग्ने ते छायामुप स्थेषं विष्णो स्थानमसि ।

Oh Agni, I have placed the earth under your shadow, and you are the supreme abode of Lord Viṣṇu.

Shatapatha Brahmana (3.1.3.1) calls Agni as “agnirvai sarvā devatā ” which means, “Agni is all the deities”

“tvamaghna indro vṛṣabhaḥ satāmasi tvaṃ viṣṇururughāyo namasyaḥ tvaṃ brahmā rayivid brahmaṇas pate tvaṃ vidhartaḥsacase purandhyā ” (RV 2.1.3).

"Hero of Heroes, Agni! Thou art Indra, thou art Viṣṇu of the Mighty Stride, adorable: Thou, Brahmaṇaspati, the Brahman finding wealth: thou, O Sustainer, with thy wisdom tendest us".

“aghne yaṃ yajñamadhvaraṃ viśvataḥ paribhūrasi sa iddeveṣu ghachati ” (RV 1.1.4). "Agni, the perfect sacrifice which thou encompassest about Verily goeth to all the Gods".

“tava praśāstraṃ tvamadhvarīyasi brahmā cāsi ghṛhapatiśca no dame ” (RV 2.1.2). "Thou art Director, thou the ministering Priest: thou art the Brahman, Lord and Master in our home".

“rājantamadhvarāṇāṃ ghopāṃ ṛtasya dīdivim vardhamānaṃsve dame ” (RV 1.1.8). “[Agni] Ruler of sacrifices, guard of Law eternal, radiant One, Increasing in thine own abode".

Thus, from the above verses we get that Agni is all the Gods, including, Vishnu. He is also the ruler, priest and the full perfect sacrifice himself as Agni makes the sacrifice complete by encompassing it fully, and that goes to all gods when it gets fulfilled in this manner. This implies that Agni is the fulfiller of sacrifice.

In this answer of mine, I have discussed how Agni takes 3 steps of Vishnu in different meters. As Agni is called 3 fold.

At last,

“atha viṣṇukramān kramate | devānvā eṣa prīṇāti yo yajata etena yajñena 'rgbhiriva tvadyajurbhiriva tvadāhutibhiriva tvatsa devānprītvā teṣvapitvī bhavati teṣvapitvī bhūtvā tānevābhiprakrāmati |” (Satapatha Brahmana 1:9:3:8). “He (The sacrificer) now strides the (three) Vishnu-strides. He who sacrifices assuredly gratifies the gods. In gratifying the gods by that sacrifice--partly by riks, partly by yagus, partly by oblations (of samas)--he acquires a share among them; and having acquired a share among them, he goes to them”.

So, Agni along with the sacrificer takes 3 steps viz from Household Fire to Funeral Fire to Sacrificial Fire and Ultimately after engulfing all Devas including Vishnu reaches Brahman viz The All Exchanging Fire (Paramatma).

Bdw, remember these are all inner sacrifices done through Pranayama. See the above given link for more.

As for the ranking, Shiva Sankalpa Shuktam of Rig Veda Khilani gives the ranking as follows.:

Rig Veda Khilani SSS.:

परात्परतरो ब्रह्मा तत्परात्परतो हरिः । तत्परात्परतो ईश तन्मे मन शिवसंकल्पमस्तु ।। 18 ।।

Greater than the great is Brahma, greater still than that great one is Hari, even greater than this one is Ishana. May my mind always remains full of Auspicious Shiva thoughts.

I hope this clarifies all your queries. Prd..

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