In past blog posts written on the subject of Hinduism I have often mentioned the mythical conflict between the devas and the asuras, and have not written favorably about the devas. However, I don’t feel I’ve written a lot about why the devas are particularly bad, or why the asuras sometimes didn’t deserve being dominated by the devas in a whole lot of detail. I’ve also come to find examples of why Vishnu is actually a dishonorable and contemptible deity. For the purpose of this post, instead of commenting on the narrative itself like I did only last year, I choose to refer to specific mythological cases that point to the devas being far from the good guys and the asuras not always being evil. For the case of Vishnu and the devas I won’t try and cover every story, since that would be insane, just the ones I feel highlight their devious character. I already talked about one myth: the myth of the churning of the milk of oceans, in which the devas and the asuras “collaborated” to churn out the nectar of immortality using the serpent Vasuki, but there are some myths I have not written my personal take on, and some myths I may have mentioned before not written about in any detail to speak of.
Vishnu helps the devas cheat the Asuras in the form of Mohini
Although I said I wrote about the myth of the churning of the ocean of milk, there’s an aspect of that myth I did not write about before in previous posts. After the devas and the asuras churn the sea of milk, the heavenly physician Dhanvantari (who was actually a form of Vishnu) arose from the ocean of milk and he carried the nectar of immortality in one of his hands. The devas and the asuras fought fiercely to possess it, until eventually the asuras won the nectar from the devas. While the asuras celebrated, the devas pleaded with Vishnu to help them take the nectar of immortality from the asuras. Before the asuras managed to drink the nectar of immortality, Vishnu took the form of an enchanting woman named Mohini, who distracted the asuras with her dancing, which led to them becoming totally enticed by here beauty and allowed her to snatch the nectar of immortality from the asuras so she can distribute it among the devas.
Mohini takes the amrita from the asuras while she dances.
However, not all the asuras fell for this trick. The asura Rahu figured out that Mohini was actually Vishnu, and that her dancing was but a devious ploy to steal the Amrita from them. In order to get a share of the nectar of immortality, he disguised himself as one of the devas in order to drink some of the nectar of immortality, but the gods Surya and Chandra saw through Rahu’s disguise and informed Mohini. Mohini then decapitated Rahu before he could finish consuming the nectar, which mean that his head was somehow immortal but not his whole body. By the time the pitcher was empty, the devas got more of the nectar than the asuras. Vishnu had successfully cheated the asuras out of the nectar of immortality, and when the asuras tried to attack the devas, the devas defeated them in battle. Only the devas gained the nectar of immortality in the end, not through honorable means but because they complained to Vishnu about losing it to the asuras, who won it from them in the first place.
By the way, the churning of the oceans and the fighting for the nectar all started when Indra, who was a deva and not an asura, insulted the sage Durvasa when his elephant threw down a garland of flowers offered by the sage, which led the sage to curse the devas so that they lose their strength.
The subjugation of Mahabali by Vamana
Vamana stepping upon Mahabali
Mahabali, or just Bali, was an asura who, unlike most asuras, was highly regarded among the people. He was actually known as one of the most virtuous asuras of all, who once governed Kerala as a benevolent king. He was known to be very generous, charitable, and righteous, and even gods such as Brahma recognized this. After defeating the devas in battle with the help Sukracarya, the teacher of the asuras, Mahabali extended his rule to the realm of the devas. During that period of time Mahabali invited his grandfather Praladha to heaven to accept a very honorable seat there, after which he was appointed the same position Indra held for the devas, and he then asked Praladha for advice on how to be a proper ruler and carry on the government of the heavens, and Praladha told him “Only virtue will always win. Rule the kingdom without deviating from virtue.”. Following his grandfather’s advice, he did indeed establish a kingdom based on virtuous rule in which everyone was happy and content, and there was no corruption, crime, or discrimination based on class or caste. Of course, not everyone was happy about this. The devas didn’t like it at all that they were defeated by an Asura, no matter how righteous he was, and Indra was particularly upset that Mahabali not only defeated him and claimed his position in heaven, but he also showed the devas how much of a proper ruler he was. So Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf, named Vamana, and requested three paces of land from Mahabali as measured by his feet. Despite the warnings of Sukracarya, who tried to tell him that Vamana was deceiving him, Mahabali granted him this request. After which, Vamana grew in size to cosmic proportions, and covered the whole world and the realm of the heavens with his first two steps, and Mahabali offered his head as the place of his final step in order to prevent the destruction of the world, which led to him being pushed into the netherworld and losing his status as the ruler of the three worlds.
Vamana revealed to Mahabali that he was actually the god Vishnu (in his fifth avatar), of whom Mahabali was a devotee, and he claimed that he was testing Mahabali. But in actuality, Vishnu was actually trying to remove Mahabali from power through deceit and trickery, and Sukracarya knew that all along. It was nothing more than deviousness on the part of the Vishnu at the request of the devas, and through that trickery the devas did reclaim lordship over the heavens.
Parashurama, the genocidal warrior avatar of Vishnu
I have a distinct feeling that some of you who know me may look at just the above image and ask me “how can you not like this guy?”, and my answer would be because he’s a genocidal maniac, and for an avatar of Vishnu no less (the sixth to be exact). Some time after Parashurama received an axe and martial arts training from Shiva, his father Jamadagni was visited by the king Kartavirya and hosted a grand feast for the king. Kartavirya asked how Jamadagni managed to do this, and showed him a calf of the Kamadhenu, a sacred cow said to provide its owner with whatever he/she desires, that was given to him by Indra and had the power to grant wishes. Kartavirya became jealous when he was denied the calf, and stole the calf. What does Parashurama do when he finds out? He kills Kartavirya and his guards before retrieving the calf. Naturally, some time later, Kartavirya’s sons discover his corpse and work out that Parashurama killed him, so while Parashurama was gone they travel to the hermitage of Jamadagni, surrounded him, and killed him with arrows before decapitating him and taking his head with them. When Parashurama returned from a pilgrimage and discovered his father’s murder, he was enraged, and hunted down the sons Kartavirya in revenge, then took his fathers head in order to conduct his cremation. You’d think that this would be over, but after this whole mess Parashurama goes way over the top and vows to kill all members of the Kshatriya caste. He travels across the land and murders all members of the Kshatriya caste, regardless of whether they were innocent or guilty of anything. The Kshatriya caste constituted of the military elite who wielded secular authority, as opposed to the religious authority held by the Brahmin caste. According to the Mahabharata, the Kshatriya caste had become arrogant and corrupt, oppressing the people instead of protecting them, but this means nothing because Parashurama doesn’t simply kill the tyrannical members of the Kshatriya caste, he kills all of them even the ones who weren’t evil. Parashurama also gives power to the brahmin priests after the end of his campaign of genocide, and performs a sacrifice, so if anything the story has that undertone of “Vishnu comes to earth to murder all the secular rulers, regardless of their crimes, to give power back to religious leaders” so any morality of his tale is lost.
I’d also like to mention that Parashurama’s father, Jamadagni, wasn’t such nice a character on his own. When he found out that his wife Renuka felt physically attracted to the gandharvas she saw in the sky and briefly lost devotion to her husband, he became enraged and ordered one of his sons to decapitate Renuka. When his son refused, Jamadagni petrified him. He did the same with each of his sons except for the young Parashurama, who submitted to his commands and decapitated his mother Renuka. This pleased Jamadagni. However, because of this act of obedience, Jamadagni offered two boons to the young Parashurama, who requested the resurrection of his mother and that his brothers no longer be petrified. I don’t like how that aspect of his story turns out, because just think of it: imagine if you’re forced to decapitate your own mother by your angry and jealous father, but because you obeyed his commands, he revives your mother and then everybody’s happy? That’s horrible! This is Old Testament standards! Come to think of it, the whole story of Parashurama doesn’t feel entirely different to a lot of the violent stories of the Old Testament. Not to mention, since Parashurama was an incarnation of Vishnu, Parashurama was Vishnu the entire time. So Vishnu in the best interests of the cosmic order and all that is good beheads his mother rather than oppose his father, which you’d assume he’d be capable of doing since Parashurama is actually Vishnu (and don’t give me anything about how Parashurama was just a boy; look what Vishnu is capable of as Krishna when he was young), and later in his life he murders the entire kshatriya caste regardless of whether anyone it was good or bad and regardless of what they did to him, and justifies it with his own quest to avenge his father’s death, which he had already done by killing Kartavirya’s sons? There’s no reason to think of any of this anything other than totally wrong and totally mad, unless you are fucked up on religion.
I’ve talked before about how Krishna was basically a hypocrite who thinks everyone should abandon their self-desire and worship him as God Almighty while he got to do whatever he wanted for himself, but it turns out I only scratched the surface back then. In the Mahabharata, Vishnu in his eighth avatar is as manipulative and dishonorable as it gets, all supposedly in the name of upholding goodness in the world. In one instance, Krishna weakens Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, so that he may lose in battle against Bhima, who was supported by Krishna. It started when Duryodhana’s friend Karna was killed on the battlefield. Duryodhana was usually said to never shed a tear for anyone, but he shed a tear for Karna because he held Karna in high regard. His mother, Gandhari, saw Duryodhana losing confidence, and wanted to bestow a blessing unto him to make his body virtually invincible. For this blessing to work, his body had be exposed and unclothed. Apparently Krishna must have been aware of this because he urged Duryodhana to cover the area of his privates before meeting his mother, which meant that now Duryodhana’s body was virtually invincible except for his thighs and private parts. When Duryodhana challenged Bhima, his rival from the Pandavas, to a mace fight, Bhima almost lost to Duryodhana until Krishna signaled him to strike the area of his thighs, which was not blessed by Gandhari, which mortally wounded him. The problem? Hitting someone at the thighs or below the waist is against the rules of mace fighting, and Krishna encouraged Bhima violate the warrior code and defeat Duryodhana by fighting dirty in the name of bhakti (devotion to God).
Bhima standing over the defeated Duryodhana.
Speaking of cheating, I should mention how Karna died. During the war of Kurukshetra, one of the wheels of Karna’s chariot sank into a deep pit in the ground. Since his charioteer refused to lift it out of the ground, Karna had to do it himself. Arjuna, Karna’s opponent, delayed in killing him because it was dishonorable and against the rules of war for Arjuna strike Karna down while his chariot is unable to move. But Krishna urged Arjuna to kill Varna while he was still struggling with the chariot anyway, which is dishonorable according to the rules of war. On top of that, Krishna at one point even praises Karna as a great warrior and a virtuous man, this is before ordering Arjuna to kill him. Before all this, Krishna sent Karna’s mother, Kunti, to try and persuade Karna to join the Pandavas, but Karna denied this offer. Kunti requested that Karna promise not to harm any of the Pandavas in battle and not to use his celestial weapons twice, and so Karna promised to not harm any of the Pandavas except Arjuna and to only use his celestial weapon once. Krishna knew this, and he knew that Karna’s celestial weapon would be a threat to Arjuna, so he provoked a rakshasa named Ghatotkacha to attack Karna and his forces, which caused him to expend his celestial weapon. Karna also had celestial armor and earrings which might have led him to victory against Arjuna, but Indra convinced him to trade them for the celestial weapon previously mentioned, and Indra did so at the behest of Krishna in order to exploit his reputation as a charitable and honorable person. What kind of deity who promotes good would manipulate the outcome of a battle by exploiting the honor and character of his opponent?
There is an important event in the Mahabharata in the Pandavas and the Kauravas have a game of dice, after the Pandava leader Yudhisthira is challenged by Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni. Yudisthira gambles everything: their wealth, their brothers, his wife Draupadi, and the lives of the Pandavas, and he lost every single time. Krishna did not seem to reprimand the Pandava for betting on human lives in a game of dice, nor stop them from doing so. All he did about the dice game was prevent Draupadi from being totally disrobed by granting her an infinitely spawning fabric to cover her body. Draupadi herself criticizes Yudhisthira for gambling the Pandava’s kingdom to Duryodhana and Shakuni, especially considering he was unskilled at gambling, but Krishna does not. Instead, he uses the incident against Duryodhana, who points out to Krishna that Yudhisthira accepted the challenge of his own free will, that it wasn’t their fault the Pandavas were defeated, and that Duryodhana ordered the return of the wealth the Pandavas had lost (through Yudisthira gambling it away) in the dice game, as well as releasing. Krishna himself starts the war of Kurukshetra by mouthing off to Duryodhana rather than reprimanding Yudhisthira for his reckless behavior, and he doesn’t seem to care about the point of view of the Kauravas or that Yudhisthira considered human beings an object of betting. This to me reveals Krishna as not just biased, but as a being who thinks humans being gambled is not as important as how bad he thinks the Kauravas are, or as important as his conception of a greater divine order or greater dharma. Or you could just say, nothing is more important for Krishna than his own egomania. Speaking of which…
The killing of Shambuka by Rama
Shambuka was an ascetic who was killed by Rama, Vishnu’s seventh avatar. Why did Rama kill Shambuka? Apparently it was because Shambuka wanted to attain the state of devaloka and attain godhood. He didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t rape or molest anyone, he didn’t steal anything, as far as I know he didn’t commit any moral crimes. All he did was perform penances for the purpose of attaining a level of divinity normally reserved for not just Indra, but Shiva as well.
Rama killing Shambuka (the guy who’s hanging upside down)
By this point, Rama had supposedly reigned as a benevolent king, but I personally would think that killing a man for unorthodox religious practices is not something a benevolent king would do. This would be like Jesus killing one of those Gnostic practitioners of the Left Hand Path for attaining a level of godhood equivalent to the Christ, or like Zeus killing an Orphic practitioner for seeking to deify his soul and join the gods and heroes in the afterlife. Rama killed Shambuka for the same reasons that YHWH destroyed the Tower of Babel or why the Greek gods punish humanity for reaching to the heavens or besting them in competitions. It is pure egomania unbefitting of a supposedly benevolent king.
Apparently, according to some sage named Vashishtha, Jambuka’s penances were forbidden except during the Kali Yuga and that his penances inadvertently caused the premature death of the son of a brahmin. Not only are believers supposed to buy that (which would be bullshit enough), but apparently after Shambuka is killed by Rama, the boy suddenly returns to life (which is even more bullshit). Are people actually expected to find that right? Why should the bizzare religious practices of an ascetic lead to the death of a young boy, with no explanation at all as to how? And why can’t the gods come up with a way to revive the boy without killing the equivalent of a Left Hand Path ascetic? This story makes no sense when examined and only shows Vishnu to be the same kind of tyrant as YHWH and Zeus.
The three asuras
This is the last story pertaining to Vishnu or the devas. Three asuras named Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha, and Viryavana perform austeries, and this pleases the god Brahma so much that he wants to grant them any boon they desire (except for immortality, which he can’t grant). They grant Brahma a very specific and unusual request: they requested three forts be built, with the first one gold, the second one silver, and the third one iron. They further requested that they would live in each fort for 1,000 years, that these forts would be place in different realms (the heavens, the sky, and the earth), align once every thousand years, and that death shall come to them when one can destroy all three forts with a single arrow. Brahma granted this request and asked an asura named Maya to build the forts, after which the three asuras lived in the forts prosperously. The devas didn’t like this at all, even though they weren’t essentially doing anything wrong, so they demanded Brahma do something about it. Brahma couldn’t do anything since he granted them the boon in the first place. Then they turned to Shiva, but he wouldn’t do anything because he knew the three demons weren’t doing anything wrong, and because they still worshipped the Shiva linga and followed the Vedas. Then they turned to Vishnu, who suggested that since they weren’t doing anything wrong, they should be persuaded to deviate from the religion of the Vedas. Apparently the gods think non-belief justifies murdering innocent beings. So Vishnu created a man to go and spread a materialistic teachings that contradict the Vedas and convert the three asuras to it, so that they can justify destroying them. After the three asuras were converted, and after 1,000 years, Shiva was convinced to destroy the forts of the three asuras.
Shiva destroying the three forts.
Why? What kind of god or person would conceive this? Why should these three asuras who didn’t do anything wrong be destroyed for not following the religion of the Vedas, or be persuaded to deviate from their religion just because they’re asuras who got a break for performing austerities? There’s no way this makes any moral sense whatsoever. After being converted, there are no evil actions alluded to at all. All the three asuras did was stop following the teachings of the Vedas and stop worshipping the Shiva linga. That can’t possibly merit any kind of destruction! All it proves is that, in Hindu myth, the asuras are automatically worthy of destroy for doing no wrong, that the gods are perfectly OK with destroying apostates (or at least as long as they are asura), and that Vishnu is enough of a bastard to openly suggest that three asuras who have done nothing wrong can be destroyed as long as they don’t believe the Vedic religion.
The case for the asuras
Statue of Mahishasura
Not all of the asuras are necessarily good, but when they are good, they seem to be more good then the devas. There are specific examples of asura rulers who are said to have ruled with benevolence, justice, virtue, and nobility, while I have not found a single example of a deva doing so. In fact Indra, the king of the supposedly good and orderly devas, tricked women into having sex with him about as much as Zeus did. There is little to say about the Asuras as a whole however, and in fact I’ve found that most of the well known Asuras did little or nothing to deserve being called “evil” other than fight the devas for control of heaven. For instance, Mahishasura. Mahishasura is considered to be a symbol of evil to be defeated by good, but I have not found any specific actions he may have done to warrant being called evil. In fact he was pious in his austerities, despite his ultimate desire for power. The only real character flaw I’ve found about him is that he considered women to be weak (which is the reason he allowed himself to be vulnerable only to women). Other than that, all he did to earn the emnity of the gods was attack the devas and fight for control of the heavens, which is the same trait ascribed to all of the asuras in Hindu mythology, but ultimately his most egregious “sin” was that he challenge Indra and the devas to a fight and won. Just like with Mahabali.
Or how about Raktabija, the asura slain by Kali? I’ve searched high and low for any evil actions on his part, and found nothing. No character flaws, no evil actions, all I’ve found out about him is that he fought against the gods and received a boon that meant that if a drop of his blood be spilled then more asuras would multiply out of him. What about Sumbha and Nisumbha, the asuras whom Raktabija fought alongside? There’s no real evil deeds to speak of for them. There’s one case where an asura named Karambha is brutally killed in the water by Indra in the form of a crocodile, but Karambha was doing nothing more than performing austerities for the god Varuna, thus did nothing to deserve it. Really all the asuras usually do is fight against the devas and their established order while seeking power for themselves. The only truly bad or nasty asuras I can think of are Vritra (for stealing the world’s waters), Hiranyaksha (for kidnapping the earth goddess), Hiranyakashipu (for trying to kill his son just for being devoted to Vishnu, and killing anyone who didn’t worship him), and Narakasura (for apparently kidnapping 16,000 women).
Hindus sometimes stress the ideas that the asuras, partiuclarly the more powerful asuras, represent ego because they challenge the devas and the gods, who represent the moral/religious order ordained in the heavens. In my opinion, since the order of the devas was established by cheating the asuras out of the nectar of immortality, which they won through sheer force of will against the devas, so ultimately the asuras are rebelling against a moral order that is unjust, biased against them, and was only established through dishonest means. Whenever the asuras defeat the devas it feels like the asuras manage to do it through sheer force of will and after performing austerities to the gods usually Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and the devas only defeat the asuras with the help of the same gods and Durga. It’s rather strange how Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva grant boons to the asuras after being pleased by the austerities they perform, but are still willing to let the devas coax them into knocking them down to restore their order! As a matter of fact, the asuras so often come so close to defeating the asuras that without the help of Vishnu or Shiva they would lose. For instance, when the asura Jalandhara arranged that Vishnu make his home in Ksheera Sagara (the ocean of milk) after almost being defeated by Jalandhara, the devas where defeated by Jalandhara and his army without Vishnu’s aid. It was only after Vishnu weakened Jalandhara by having sex with his wife Vrinda while disguised as Jalandhara that the devas were able to defeat Jalandhara, having lost the power derived from his wife’s fidelity and devotion. To me this still means not only are the devas weak on their own or don’t bother to become stronger on their own, but it also cements Vishnu as a dishonest prick (to be fair, Jalandhara tried to do the same thing to Parvati, but I don’t believe that justifies a supposedly all-good Vishnu doing the same thing).
Sometimes the Asuras are painted by interpreters as the individual ego fighting to oppose the outer supreme consciousness of God in addition to the moral order created by the devas. That only seems to make the asuras more sympathetic to me becuase (a) they represent the isolate and individuated existence promoting its own existence apart from the order established by religious belief, and (b) this supreme consciousness seems interested in making sure all follow its will or become harmonious with it and forcefully incorporate all that dares to elevate itself to the level of the divine.
Ultimately the asuras in Hindu myth are vehicles for the Hindu concept of self versus God and the established order, but I also feel that the concept of the asura can be an Indian expression of that which is Left Hand Path: immortalizing the self and creating your own order as opposing to obeying God’s order.