Gandharva: A Demigod Race

Gandharva: A Demigod Race

Gandharvas, integral to Hindu, Buddhist, and sporadically Jain mythology, represent a multifaceted group associated with nature and the creative arts. Their presence is particularly notable in Hinduism, where they undertake various roles, from celestial messengers to entertainers in heavenly realms.

In Hinduism

Early Conception

The term “gandharva” in early Hindu traditions holds a dual significance, referring both to a divine being and a demigod race. The celestial gandharva serves as a mediator between divine and human realms, guarding the gods’ secrets and playing a crucial role in the preparation of Soma, a ritualistic beverage.

Gandharvas as Nature Spirits

Later interpretations expand “gandharva” to denote a race of male nature spirits, purportedly the offspring of Lord Brahma. Possessing both healing powers and the ability to induce madness, these spirits, numbering 60 million, were associated with remote areas like forest glades, demanding offerings to appease them.

Associations and Rivalries

Gandharvas, husbands to Apsaras, are portrayed as handsome, skilled musicians. Their role as entertainers in heavenly courts, especially for the storm-god Indra, is highlighted. They engage in fierce rivalries, such as overthrowing the kingdom of Nagas, defeating them in battle, and claiming their jewels.

Gandharva Marriage

Hindu law recognizes Gandharva marriage, a consensual union without formal approval, witnessed only by Gandharvas. While valid, this form of marriage is viewed as “reprehensible” due to its basis in lust rather than ritual affirmation, emphasizing the need for parental validation in union.

In Buddhism

Buddhist theology aligns with later Hinduism, portraying gandharvas as demi-gods among the lowest devas. Their proficiency in music and connection to the wilderness make them potential disruptors of monks in meditation. Notable gandharvas include Timbaru, Pancasikha, and Matali.

Love Stories and Buddhist Lore

In Buddhist narratives, gandharvas feature in captivating love stories. Pancasikha’s infatuation with Timbaru’s daughter Bhadda Suriyavaccasa, intertwined with themes of music and devotion, leads to unique alliances. These stories reveal the complexity of relationships among gandharvas and their connection to Buddhist cosmology.

Gandharvas in a Liminal State

In Buddhist soteriology, sentient beings may be reborn among gandharvas due to basic ethical practices. The term “gandharva” also refers to beings in a liminal state between birth and death, reflecting the consequences of their actions in the causal continuum of consciousness.


Gandharvas, pervasive in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythologies, embody diverse roles from messengers to entertainers. The rich tapestry of their characteristics and associations contributes to the vibrant narratives across these traditions, underscoring their significance in the cultural and spiritual heritage of the respective belief systems.

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