Thirty-three Koti Divinities


Aug 23, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — One of the common misunderstandings heard in mainstream discussions of eastern religion is that 'Hindus have thirty-three crore gods'. While even the term 'Hindus' is misapplied, both the count and the nomenclature of 'gods' are misleading. The Vedas offer a precise description of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. Sastra delineates the Lord's plenary portions, expansions and incarnations, and all the various divine personalities who serve Him.

    "So all the incarnations of the Lord are mentioned in the revealed scriptures. There is no scope for an imposter to become an incarnation, for an incarnation must be mentioned in the sastras. An incarnation does not declare Himself to be an incarnation of the Lord, but great sages agree by the symptoms mentioned in the revealed scriptures. The features of the incarnation and the particular type of mission which He has to execute are mentioned in the revealed scriptures.

    Apart from the direct incarnations, there are innumerable empowered incarnations. They are also mentioned in the revealed scriptures. Such incarnations are directly as well as indirectly empowered. When they are directly empowered they are called incarnations, but when they are indirectly empowered they are called vibhutis. Directly empowered incarnations are the Kumaras, Narada, Prthu, Sesa, Ananta, etc. As far as vibhutis are concerned, they are very explicitly described in the Bhagavad-gita in the Vibhuti-yoga chapter. And for all these different types of incarnations, the fountainhead is the Garbhodakasayi Visnu."

    (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.3.5 Purport )

One of the reasons for the common mis-statement about 'thirty-three crore gods' is a misinterpretation of the word koti. There are thirty-three divinities mentioned in the Yajur-veda, Atharva-veda, Satapatha-brahmana, and other Vedic and later texts. This count of thirty-three divinities is also found in the Parsi scriptures of Avesta.

The expression trayastrimsa deva is found in the list of classes of gods in Sanskrit Buddhist texts, like Divyavadana and the Suvarnaprabhasa-sutra, and the tavatimsa-loka is there in the Jatakas and other Pali works. Lord Buddha went to the Trayastrimsa heaven to preach to his mother, who took her birth there.

However, The word koti in trayastrimsati koti does not mean the number 'thirty-three crore'. In this context, koti means 'supreme', or pre-eminent, excellent… as in thirty-three supreme' divinities. The word koti has the same meaning as ucca koti. There have been problems with this nomenclature ever since 725 A.D., when the philosopher Subhakarasimha and his Chinese colleague I-hsing translated the Mahavairocana-sutra into Chinese. They rendered the compound sapta-koti-buddha as being shichi (sapta) kotei (koti) butsu (buddha) , in which they did not translate the word koti but transliterated its pronunciation as kotei. For example, the Buddhas were not 'seven crore', but only 'Seven Supreme Buddhas': six predecessors and the historic Buddha. Tibetan masters then went on to translate Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, and they rendered koti by rnam, which means 'class, kind, or category'.

Hierarchy of Transcendental Personalities

Here is a brief summary from sastra of the hierarchy of divine persons, shown in a hierarchical chart below:

Krsna Adi-purusa - the Original Person: there are innumerable expansions of the Lord, all of them purusas, but only Krsna is adi-purusa, original.

Balarama: the immediate expansion of Lord Krsna, and Krsna's first Vishnu-tattva manifestation. Balarama is the expansive source of Krsna's abode and paraphernalia, and the whole spiritual creation.

Visnu-tattva: Krsna's primary expansions, the Visnu-tattvas have ninety-four percent of Krsna's 64 transcendental attributes.

Sakti-tattva: while Vishnu-tattva are worshippable, sakti-tattva and jiva-tattva are meant for service.

Siva-tattva: between Visnu-tattva and jiva-tattva, the Siva-tattvas have eighty-four percent of Krsna's 64 transcendental attributes.

Jiva-tattva: the living entities, jiva-tattvas have seventy-eight percent of Krsna's 64 transcendental attributes.

Radharani: The expansion of Krsna and Radharani is simultaneous. Krsna expands in Vishnu-tattva forms, and Radha expands in Sakti-tattva forms by Her internal potency (yogamaya) as goddesses of fortune. She is hladini-sakti, or pleasure potency.

Aniruddha: a partial expansion of Pradyumna, He is the predominating Deity of the ego and is a four-handed and bluish-black form of the Lord. He expands into Hrsikesa, Padmanabha, and Damodhara, then again into Hari and Krsna (4-arm Vilasa form).

Vasudev: the supreme cause of all causes. Lord Krsna in Dwarka is the Vasudev expansion. He expands into Kesava, Narayana and Madhava, then again into Adhoksaja and Purusottama.

Shankarsana: the next expansion from Balarama, and predominating Deity of the jivas. One of the first of two quadruple expansions, or Catur-vyuha, from Balarama. He expands into 4-arm Govinda, Visnu and Madhusudana, then again into Upendra and Acyuta.

Pradyumna: the predominating Deity of the mind, and the transcendental Cupid. He expands into Trivikrama, Vamana and Sridhara, then again into Nrsimha and Janardhana.

Narayana: an expansion from Shankarsana. There are innumerable four-handed Narayanas.

Maha-Shankarsana : an expansion from Shankarsana, he is one of the second quadruple expansions, from Narayana. Maha-Shankarsana maintains the transcendental existence of all the planets in the spiritual sky, where the eternally liberated souls reside.

Aniruddha : an expansion from Narayana, in the second quadruple expansion.

Vasudev : an expansion from Narayana, in the second quadruple expansion.

Pradyumna : an expansion from Narayana, in the second quadruple expansion.

Ananta : an expansion of Balarama through Maha-Vishnu. Garbodakasayi Vishnu lies upon Ananta Sesa while dissolving the material creation.

Laksmi : a subordinate expansion of Srimati Radharani, she too is hladini-sakti, and she is equal to Visnu-tattva. Radharani has innumerable expansions of goddesses of fortune, and Laksmi is always anxious to be elevated to the position of the gopis.

Purusa-avataras : the three purusa-avataras are Karanodakasayi Maha-Vishnu, Garbhodakasayi Vishnu, and Ksirodaksayi Vishnu. With Maha-Shankarsana and Ananta, they are the second Catur-vyuha, or quadruple expansion.

Karanodakasayi Maha-Vishnu : an expansion of Shankarsana. Expands as Siva-tattva and agitates the causal ocean.

Garbhodakasayi Vishnu : Garbhodakasayi, or Hiranyagarbha, is an expansion from Maha Vishnu and a partial expansion from Pradyumna. Hiranyagarbha Supersoul enters each universe and begets the living entities within the womb of prakrti.

Ksirodakasayi Vishnu : an expansion from Maha-Vishnu and a partial expansion from Aniruddha. Paramatma (supersoul) is a temporary, all-pervasive aspect of Ksirodakasayi.

Virat Purusa : the universal form of the Lord, a direct incarnation, or purusa. In each universe there are Garbhodakasayi Visnu, the Virat-purusa and Ksirodakasayi Visnu.

Lord Brahma : considered to be one of the living entities. Brahma, born from the lotus flower from Garbhodakasayi Visnu, is the first jiva-tattva and is an expansion of Balarama. Brahma is known as Hiranyagarbha.

Lord Siva : Rudra is the via medium between the Lord and the living entities. An expansion from Shankarsana.

Guna-avataras : the three incarnations that control the material qualities are Lord Brahma, Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu.

Saraswati : the Goddess and learning or education, and Lord Brahma's consort.

Parvati : Parvati, or Uma, is the wife of Lord Siva.

Krsna-avataras : Krsna is the full representation of all the avataras, and all the avataras are included in Him. When Krsna appears, all the avataras appear with Him.

Dasavatara : the ten major incarnations of Vishnu are collectively known as the Dasavatara.

Manvantara-avataras : incarnations of the Manus. The 14 Manu incarnations are sometimes called vaibhava-avataras.

Lila-avataras : There are 25 lila-avataras, or Catuh-sana.

Yuga-avataras : incarnations in different millenniums. The Satya-yuga avatara is sukla or white. The Treta-yuga avatara is rakta or red. The Dvapara-yuga avatara is syama or dark blue. The Kali-yuga avatara is krsna or black, or yellow like Caitanya.

Shaktyavesa-avataras : incarnations of empowered living entities. Either forms of divine absorption, or divinely empowered forms, of whom there are seven.

Siva expansions : there are eleven expansions of Rudra, or Lord Siva. They are Ajaikapat, Ahibradhna, Virupaksa, Raivata, Hara, Bahurupa, Devasrestha Tryambaka, Savitra, Jayanta, Pinaki and Aparajita.

Controlling deities : the demigods and departmental heads, called adhikari-devata.

Vasus : Like the controlling deities, the Vasus are responsible for the management of universal affairs. There are three types of Demigods, including Vasus, Adityas and Rudras, beneath which are other demigods like Maruts and Sadhyas.

Adityas : Like the Vasus and controlling deities, when the cosmic manifestation is annihilated, these expansions merge back into Narayana.

Mahamaya : an expansion of Laksmi. Mahamaya is the origin of material nature. As stated in the Narada-pancaratra, mahamaya is a partial expansion of yogamaya. Mahamaya manages the material world and she bewilders the conditioned souls.

Durga : an expansion of Radharani's internal energy. Like Radharani, Durga is yogamaya.

Kali : an expansion of Durga.

There are thirty-three supreme deities enumerated in the Satapatha-brahmana (, being:

    8 Vasus
    11 Rudras
    12 Adityas
    2 Heaven and Earth

    and this adds up to 33.

The Trayastrimsa divinities are supreme or koti because they anoint Lord Indra, the mightiest, as representative ruler. All the Chakravarti kings were crowned with Indra's mahabhiseka to invest them with kingly qualities. This is described in the Aitareya-brahmana, in the chapter on Rajasuya.

There are eight classes of divinities who worship Lord Indra, for eight specific potencies:

    Vasus – East – samrajya – Overlordship

    Rudras – South – bhaujya – Paramount rule

    Adityas – West – svarajya – Self-rule

    Visvedevah – North – vairajya – Sovereignty

    Maruts – Heaven – paramesthya – Supreme authority

    Angiras – Heaven – rajya – Kingship

    Sadhyas – Earth – maharajya – Great kingship

    Aptyas – Earth – adhipatya – Suzerainty

Sources:, Lokesh Chandra @ Kriti Rakshana


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