By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Devayana, DevayAna, Devayaana
Devayāna literally means ‘the path of gods’. It can mean taking the spiritual path to worship The Divine or to come into contact with the divine. Coming into contact with The Divine could be directly as Arjun had been in contact with Krishna, or through a psychophysical experience as a vision.
It is quite likely that the Devayāna and the Pitṛyāna were the celestial paths by which the gods like Indra and the manes used to descend to this earth to receive their sacrificial and obsequial offerings and return. Gradually, the paths were ‘open’ to deserving human beings too.
Solutions To the cycle of Birth and Death
Birth and death have always proved to be a deep mystery for mankind. The solution is found in the Vedic literatures like:
- The Ṛgveda
- The Satapatha Brāhmana
- The Bṛhadāranyaka Upaniṣad
- The Chāndogya Upaniṣad
Teachings of Shāstra
The main teaching of the Vedas, the Upaniṣads and all the allied scriptures is that if one wants happiness and peace in life one has to live in accordance with the principles of:
- Ṛta - straight forwardness
- Satya - truth
- Dharma - righteousness
Vedic seers reflected on the sojourn of the eternal soul after the death of its host body. The discovery in their moments of revelation was given expression in some of the mantras found in shāstra. Vedic works have predicted three general destinies for the soul of a dead person:
- Going to the Brahmaloka or the world of Brahmā by the Arcirādimārga which is the path of light, also called as Devayāna or Uttarāyaṇa from which there is no return to this mundane existence
- Going to the Pitṛloka or Candraloka or the world of manes by the Dhumādi-mārga (the path of smoke) from which there is return after the fruits of the merit acquired earlier in this world are vanquished
- Repeated birth and death in various bodies
Reference of Devayāna in Shāstra
- The first mention of Devayāna and Pitṛyāna is found in the Ṛgveda where Agni is addressed as the one knowing the path of gods and the path of the manes. In the Mṛtyu mantra, the god of death is requested to clear the path of gods.
- The Satapatha Brāhmana also mentions these paths in several places.
- The Rgvedic verse is repeated in same words as in the Atharvaveda.
Constitutes of Devayāna
The Devayāna starts with arcis or the light of the funeral pyre and ends with the Brahmaloka. Various stations are mentioned in between. The stations commonly mentioned include:
- Arcis - light
- Ahah - day
- Āpurya-māṇapakṣa - bright fortnight
- Uttarāyaṇa - summer solstice
- Sariivatsara - year
- Āditya - Sun
- Candramas - moon
The enumeration of these stations is found in the following Upaniṣads:
- Brhadāranyaka 6.2.15 and 16
- Chāndogya Upaniṣad 4.15.5 and 5.10.1 to 6
- Kaustaki-brāhmana 1.3
- Bhagavadgītā 8.24
Journey of a Soul Through Devayāna
It is opined that an ‘amānavapurusa’ will come and take the soul to Brahmā in Brahmaloka or Satyaloka. Sometimes ‘candramas’ is omitted and ‘devaloka’ is substituted for ‘saihvatsara’. The divine being had also been called ‘puruṣo mānasah’ which means ‘the mind-born person’. The terms used in these lists such as arcis (light) or ahah (day) actually refer to the ātivāhikās or divine guides on the path.
Persons Eligible to Travel Through Devayāna
The fortunate persons considered as fit enough to tread this path and go to Brahmaloka from where there is no return are:
- The Chāndogya and the Brhadāranyaka. declare that those who know the Pañcāgnividyā (‘the doctrine of five fires’) and those who live in the forests, devoted to faith, austerity and truth, go by this path
- The Mundaka Upaniṣad also mentions that those who are self-controlled, full of knowledge, wisdom, living on alms in forests and devoted to austerity, go by the ‘Suryadvāra’ (i.e., Devayāna) and attain the Immortal Being
- The Praśna Upaniṣad also proclaims the same thing
Life of a Soul in Brahmaloka
Those who reach the Brahmaloka are supposed to live there enjoying great peace and bliss till the end of Brahmā’s life, after which they along with the Brahmaloka and Brahmā get merged in Parabrahman or the Supreme Spirit. This mode of mukti or liberation is called kramamukti or gradual liberation.
- Ṛgveda 1.72.7
- Ṛgveda 10.2.7
- Ṛgveda 10.18.1
- Satapatha Brāhmana 10.18.1
- Atharvaveda 12.2.21
- A being who is not a human; a divine being.
- Brahmasutras 4.3.4
- Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.10.1
- Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 6.2.15
- Mundaka Upaniṣad 1.2.11
- Praśna Upaniṣad 1.10
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore