Danava (Hinduism)

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Matsya slaying a demon Wellcome V0050546.jpg
TextsMahabharata, Rig Veda, Natyashastra
RegionSouth Asia
ParentsDanu and Kashyapa

In Hindu mythology, the Dānavas were a race descending from Dakṣa.

They were the sons of Danu, the daughter of Dakṣa. Danu is connected with the waters of the heavens and is likely associated with the formless, primordial waters that existed prior to creation.

Under the leadership of Bali[1] and others, the Dānavas revolted against the Devas.[2] Despite initial successes, the Dānavas were defeated by the god Vāmana (fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) who came in front of Bali for three steps of land. Bali, a justful and always generous king, said yes to his wish. But, after King Bali's yes, Vamana took enormous form, so big that the entire earth was his first step, the second step covered entire heaven and hell. Now there was no place to put the third step. King Bali knew that the Vamana is none other than Lord Vishnu. King Bali, being an ardent devotee of Vishnu, showed his head for his third step. Vamana being pleased by his devotion, gave him a boon before placing in Pathala, that once in a year, he will be allowed to see his subjects. This day is celebrated as Onam, also the harvest festival of Kerala, as King Bali was the king of Kerala.

It is said that there are 100 Danava sons of Danu. The Dānavas were not considered to be universally evil and individual Dānava may be aligned with good or evil. There was Mayasura, the architect of the demons, who was a righteous man & a devotee of Shiva. Other Danavas, like Namuchi, Ilvala, Vatapi were crafty & evil beings, subdued by Indra & Agastya. Vrishaparva & Puloma fathered Sharmistha (Yayati's wife) & Shachi (Indra's wife)


The Danavas are a collective, mythological group of demons that are found in a range of Hindu texts. The Danavas are a part of a larger group of the Asuras and are typically portrayed as opposed to the Hindu deities. However, historically their role in Hinduism is varied and at times, the distinction between the Danavas and Hindu deities is unclear and they are difficult to distinguish from one another.


The name ‘Danavas’ stems from the mother’s name: Danu. Both Danavas and Danu are derived from the Vedic word ‘Da’ meaning “to give.” Ananda Coomaraswamy suggests this word connotes generosity.[3] Another interpretation of their name is associated with Danu’s relationship with her first son (and demon), Vritra. In Indian mythology, in an attempt to deceive the Vedic god Indra, Vritra hides away in the primordial water or blessed water from him. In this myth, Danu herself is embodied as being the primordial water in which he hides in. However, the names of Danu and Danavas as well as the individual names given to many of the sons of Danu differ across Vedic and Puranic literature, causing confusion as to where their etymological origins lie.[4]

While, many scholars attest the Danavas are Asura-like beings, the definition and etymology of the Asura are contested. W. E Hale suggests an alternate theory of origin that influenced by pre-Zoroastrianism, specifically between the Ahura and the Asuras. In the Indo-Iranian period, significant literature represented Ahuras’ positive or good nature while the Daevas or Devas represented evil. The swapping of these inherent qualities of these beings may have confused the earlier formations of Hindu mythological beings.[5]


The Devas exiled the Danavas from heaven during the Satya Yuga. After exile, the Danavas took refuge in the Vindhya Mountains or the Vindhya Range.[6]


The genealogical history of Asuras is laid out in a range of texts, most notably in the Mahabharata. The genealogy of the demons or Asuras begins with Brahma’s 6 sons. One son, Marici fathered Kashyapa, who wed 13 of Daksha’s daughters, including Diti and Danu. Diti and Danu’s children are among the most well known demons in Hindu mythology. Diti’s children are known as the Daityas and Danu’s offspring are known as the Danavas. It is important to note, that the names of Danavas and the Daityas are irregularly found and depicted throughout early Vedic literature such as the Rig Veda along with the Mahabharata.The Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism states, “... in the Mahābhārata Vṛtra is the son of Danāyu, (and) the Ṛigveda (1.32.9) speaks of Vṛtra as the son of Danu.” [7] However, in books 2-7 of the Rig Veda, Vrta is not considered an Asura or demon and, there is no mention of Danu or the Danavas at all.[8]

  • Brahma
    • Marici
      • Kashyapa
        • Danu
          • Ashva
          • Ashvagiri
          • Ashvagriva
          • Ashvapati
          • Ashvasanku
          • Ashvasiras
          • Ayumukha
          • Danayu
          • Dirghajibha
          • Ekacakra
          • Ekaksha
          • Gaganamurdhana
          • Gavisthar
          • Hara
          • Isrpa
          • Kabandha
          • Kapata (or Vegavat)
          • Kabila
          • Karambha
          • Kesin
          • Ketumat
          • Kupatha
          • Maydanav
          • Mrtapa
          • Naraka
          • Nichandra
          • Nikumbha
          • Pralambha
          • Puloman
          • Rambha
          • Salabha
          • Sankara
          • Sankusiras
          • Sarabha
          • Satha
          • Satrutpana
          • Swarbhanu
          • Tuhundra
          • Viprachitti
          • Vritra

At other times, the genealogical roots of the demons are not emphasised. Demons are sometimes depicted as ancestral, deceased beings who had been mistreated in their human lifetime by relatives who had not performed the proper and correct funeral rites for these beings in their human form.[9]

Physical Appearance

The Daityas and Danavas share the same physical features and characteristics as their counterparts, the Devas. In Hindu myth, the power of Maya or the power of illusion is possessed by both good and evil supernatural beings. The power of illusion allows beings to change their physical form.[10] There are not many examples of the physical characteristics of the Danavas in their own right or even in conjunction with Devas in literature and art, despite their extensive role in certain texts.

Myth and Literature

Role in Literature

The extensive research into the supernatural beings of Hinduism focuses on their ambiguity. Both good and bad supernatural beings, demonstrate malevolent, powerful and interestingly, merciful personalities. Therefore, at times, it is difficult to discern between the roles of the two oppositional beings. This is particularly evident in earlier Vedic literature where there is not a emphasis on the oppositional qualities of these beings. In many myths or hymns, they perform identical actions to one another. Subsequently, the Danavas role are hardly distinguished and mentions in Vedic literature. O’Flaherty and Doniger state that in later literature like the Mahabharata, these beings Are slowly considered as a part of, “…two separate castes; each has his own job to do – the gods to encourage sacrifice, the demons to destroy it – but there is no immorality in the demons; they are merely doing their job, a destructive one….” [11] While, in earlier Vedic period, themes of caste-based structures of worship were not prominent.

Notable Appearances


In the Natyashastra, the Danavas are depicted as evil demons, meddling with dancers. Particularly, in the first chapter of the Natyashastra, the Danavas freeze and stop the performance of the dancers during an important event dedicated to the Hindu deities. Angering the deities, the Danavas are attacked and defeated by Indra and an enclosed, safe dance arena is created for the dancers. Afterwards, dance-dramas depicting the defeat of the Danavas are performed at the arena and anger the demons further. The Danavas protestations are reserved for Brahma, the god of creation. Brahma advises the Danavas that dance drama allows participants and viewers to become divine or apart of the gods in unison. Therefore, some scholars interpret Brahma’s reply as the important role dance plays in worship.[12]

Indra-Vrta Myth

The Indra-Vrta myth is the only known myth that contains a prominent son of Danu and, therefore is a member of the Danavas. These myths are what later cement the rivalry of the Devas and Asuras. The struggle between Indra and Vrta act as a, “cosmogonic myth” as it discusses the birth of sat (order) from asat. (chaos) [13]

Maya Asura

Maya Danava or Maya Asura is a prominent member of the Danavas and is extensively found throughout the Mahabharata. He was known to be a popular architect and rival to the architect to the gods, Vishwakarma. He is also known as being the father in law to Ravana, a prominent demon in Hindu Mythology. He wrote the Surya Siddhanta. However, he is most known for his architecture. In the Book 2, Section 1: Sabha Parva of the Mahabharata, Maya Danava built the ‘Maya Sabha’ or the palace of illusions for the Pandava brothers. Here, Maya Sura or Maya Danava asked Arjuna for guidance and advised he wished to built something of value for him and the Pandavas. After Arjuna and Vaisampayana discuss what should be built, Krishna advised Maya to build godlike palace. As translated by Ganguli, Krishna contemplates and announces what he desires. Interestingly, Maya is referred to being the son of Diti, despite being addressed as Maya Danava during the entirety of Book 2.

Krishna, the Lord of the universe and the Creator of every object, having reflected in his mind, thus commanded Maya,--'Let a palatial sabha (meeting hall) as thou choosest, be built (by thee), if thou, O son of Diti, who art the foremost of all artists, desirest to do good to Yudhishthira the just. Indeed, build thou such a palace that persons belonging to the world of men may not be able to imitate it even after examining it with care, while seated within. And, O Maya, build thou a mansion in which we may behold a combination of godly, asuric and human designs.” Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (1883–1896). [[s:|]] – via Wikisource.

Elsewhere, Mayasura built the Tripura also known as the three cities of gold, silver and iron. Also, he built the city of Lankapuri in Sri Lanka.

See also


  1. Rose, Carol (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA, p. 94 ISBN 0-87436-988-6;
  2. Monro, W. D. (1911). Stories of Indian Gods & Heroes. London: Harrap (Unwin). p. ?.
  3. Coomaraswamy, A. (1935). Angel and Titan: An Essay in Vedic Ontology. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 55(4), 373–419
  4. Kinsley, D. (1988). ‘Goddesses in Vedic Literature’ Hindu Goddesses : Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition . (Pp.6-18) University of California Press.
  5. Hale, W. E. (1986). Asura in the Atharva Veda. ÁSURA-in early vedic religion.
  6. http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Dānava#cite_note-12
  7. Rodrigues, Hillary. ‘Asuras, Daityas, Dānavas, Rākṣasas, Piśācas, Bhūtas, Pretas, and so Forth.’ Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online. Ed. Knut A.Jacobsen et al. Brill Reference Online. Web. 11 Sept. 2020.
  8. Hale, W. E. (1986). Asura in the Atharva Veda. ÁSURA-in early vedic religion. (Pp.100-119). Motilal Banarsidass Publishe.
  9. Jain, P., Sherma, R., & Khanna, M. (2019). Hinduism and Tribal Religions. Springer Netherlands
  10. O'flaherty, W. D., & Doniger, W. (1980). God, Demons and Men. The origins of evil in Hindu mythology (pp.57-212) (No. 6). Univ of California Press.
  11. O'flaherty, W. D., & Doniger, W. (1980). God, Demons and Men
  12. McCulloch, Ann (2002). In/Stead Retrospective Issue 3: Bharatnatyam, the Technique of Story Performing! Double dialogues. Double Dialogues, Canterbury, Vic Retrieved from: http://www.doubledialogues.com/article/bharatnatyam-the-technique-of-story-performing/
  13. Rodrigues, Hillary. ‘Asuras, Daityas, Dānavas, Rākṣasas, Piśācas, Bhūtas, Pretas, and so Forth.’ Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online. Ed. Knut A.Jacobsen et al. Brill Reference Online. Web. 11 Sept. 2020.

External links