Categories: Hindu God and Goddess

Ashta Vasus:Eight Elemental Deities in Hindu Mythology

The Ashta Vasus or the “Eight Vasus,” are intriguing deities in Hindu mythology. They are closely associated with both Indra and Vishnu and play a significant role in ancient texts like the Ramayana (Valmiki Ramayana) and the Mahabharata. In the Ramayana, they are described as the offspring of Kashyapa and Aditi, while in the Mahabharata, they are mentioned as the sons of Manu or Brahma Prajapati. The Ashta Vasus represent different aspects of nature and cosmic phenomena, including fundamental elements and celestial bodies such as the Sun, Moon, and stars. The name “Vasu” itself signifies radiance, and they are revered as bestowers of wealth.

Ashta Vasus

Ashta Vasus in Different Scriptures

The identity of the Ashtavasus, the revered Eight Vasus, can be quite the puzzle due to varying lists found in different ancient texts. According to the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, they encompass Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Water), Aditya (Surya or Sun), Dyaus (Sky), Chandra/Chandramas (Moon), and Nakstrani (Stars). The Mahabharata names them as Dhara, Anala, Anila, Apa (Water), Pratusa, Prabhasa (often associated with constellations), Soma (Moon), and Dhruva (representing space). Interestingly, the Vishnu Purana links Prabhasa to the 27 or 28 Nakshatras and Dhruva to the concept of “space,” taking over Aha’s role when Aha is replaced by Apa in the list.

Story of Ashta Vasus in Mahabharata

The Mahabharata relates how the Vasus, led by “Prithu” (presumably here a male form of Prithvi), were enjoying themselves in the forest, when the wife of Prabhasa spotted an excellent cow and persuaded her husband Prabhasa to steal it, which Prabhasa did with the agreement and aid of Prithu and his other brothers. Unfortunately for the Vasus, the cow was owned by the sage Vashishta who learned through his ascetic powers that the Vasus had stolen it and immediately cursed them to be born on earth as mortals. Vashishta responded to pleading by the Vasus by promising that seven of them would be free of earthly life within a year of being born and that only Prabhasa would pay the full penalty.

The Vasus then requested the river-goddess Ganga to be their mother. Ganga incarnated and became the wife of King Shantanu on condition that he never gainsaid her in any way. As seven children were born, one after the other, Ganga drowned them in her own waters, freeing them from their punishment and the king made no opposition. Only when the eighth was born did the king finally oppose his wife, who therefore left him. So the eighth son, Prabhasa incarnated, remained alive, imprisoned in mortal form, and later became known in his mortal incarnation as Bhishma.

Ashta Vasus in Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna mentions the Ashta Vasus in Chapter 10, Verse 29. Here is the verse:

anantashchaasmi naagaanaam varuno yaadasaamaham;
pitrunaamaryamaa chaasmi yamaha samyataamaham.

Synonyms

Anantashchaasmi – I am the Infinite
Naagaanaam – among serpents
Varuno – I am Varuna, the god of water
Yaadasaamaham – among creatures of the sea, I am
Pitrunaam – among ancestors
Aryamaa – I am Aryama, a form of the sun god
Chaasmi – I am
Yamaha – among controllers or rulers
Samyataamaham – the chief controller or the ultimate controller

Meaning: “Of the celestial Nāga snakes I am Ananta; of the aquatic deities I am Varuṇa, of the ancestors I am Aryamā, and among the dispensers of law I am Yama, the lord of death.”

In this verse, Lord Krishna is describing various divine manifestations and aspects of himself, including his identity as Varuṇa, who is one of the Ashta Vasus.

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Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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