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Linga inside a railing (left), being worshipped by Gandharvas winged creatures. Art of Mathura, circa 100 BCE.[1]

In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, Gandharva is a class of celestial beings whose males are divine singers and females are divine dancers from Gandhara region. It is also a term for skilled singers in Indian classical music.

In Buddhism, this term also refers to a being in the intermediate state (between death and rebirth).

Vedic period

The term Gandharva is present in Vedic sources (including in the Rigveda). According to Oberlies, "In mandala I, IX and X the Gandharva is presented as a celestial being (dwelling near the sun / in the heavenly waters) which watches over the Soma (apparently) for the benefit of the gods and the sacrificers." The Gandarva also "receives the Soma from the ‘Daughter of the Sun' to put it into the Soma plant (RV 9.113.3), i.e., to bring it to this world."[2] The Gandarva also brings other things from the beyond, including humans (RV 10.10.4) and the horse (RV 1.163.2).[2] As such, the function of the Gandharva is "to escort things from ‘outside' into this world thereby divesting them of their (potential) dangerous nature."[2] Later the figure also came to be associated with fertility and virility.[2]


The horse-head Tumburu or Tumbara is described as best among Gandharvas in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the Gandharvas (Sanskrit and Hindi: गन्धर्व; Marathi: गंधर्व;Assamese: গন্ধৰ্ব্ব, gandharbba, Kannada: ಗಂಧರ್ವ; Odia: ଗନ୍ଧର୍ବ "gandharva" ; Telugu: గంధర్వ; Tamil: கந்தர்வன், "kantharvan"; Malayalam: ഗന്ധർവ്വൻ, "gandharvan") are male nature spirits and husbands of the Apsaras. Some are part animal, usually a bird or horse. They have exceptional musical skills. They guard the Soma and play beautiful music for the gods in their palaces. Gandharvas are frequently depicted as singers in the court of the gods.

Gandharvas in the historic sense acted as messengers between the gods and humans. In Hindu law, a gandharva marriage is one contracted by mutual consent and without formal rituals.

Gandharvas are mentioned extensively in the epic Mahabharata as associated with the Devas (as dancers and singers) and with the Yakshas, as formidable warriors. They are mentioned as spread across various territories.

Some of the prominent Gandharvas include Visvavasu (who was the father of Pramadvara), Chitrangada (who killed Chitrangada, the son of Santanu and Satyavati), Chitrasena (with whom the Kauravas and Pandavas fought in the Ghosha-yatra), Drumila (biological father of Kamsa), and Candavega (king of Gandharvas who invaded the city of Purañjana).[3]


Various parentage is given for the gandharvas. They are called the creatures of Prajapati, of Brahma, of Kasyapa, of the Munis, of Arishta, or of Vāc.[4]

The Bhagavata Purana mentions that when Brahma during creation, saw the activities of some sexually active Asuras, he laughed. From his laughter were produced the Gandharvas.


Dhṛtarāṣṭra, one of the Four Heavenly Kings and the king of the Gandharvas.

A Gandharva (Sanskrit; Pali: Gandhabba; Chinese: 乾闼婆; pinyin: Gān tà pó; Japanese: 乾闥婆; rōmaji: Kendatsuba; Korean: 건달바; romaja: Kŏndalba; Template:Lang-vi) is one of the lowest-ranking Devas in Buddhist cosmology. They are classed among the Cāturmahārājakāyika Devas, and are subject to the Great King Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Guardian of the East. Beings are reborn among the Gandharvas as a consequence of having practiced the most basic form of ethics (Janavasabha Sutta, DN.18). Gandharvas can fly through the air, and are known for their skill as musicians. They are connected with trees and flowers, and are described as dwelling in the scents of bark, sap, and blossoms. They are among the beings of the wilderness that might disturb a monk meditating alone.

The terms gandharva and yakṣa sometimes refer to the same entity. Yakṣa in these cases is the more general term, including a variety of lower deities.

Intermediate Rebirth

In the Mahātaṇhāsankhaya Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, the Buddha explains to the bhikkhus that an embryo develops when three conditions are met: the woman must be in the correct point of her menstrual cycle, the woman and man must have sexual intercourse, and a gandhabba must be present. According to the commentary of this sutta, the use of the word gandhabba doesn't refer to a celestial Deva, but a being enabled to be born by its karma. It is the state of a sentient being between rebirths.[5]

Notable Gandharvas

Among the notable Gandharvas mentioned (in DN.20 and DN.32) are Panāda, Opamañña, Nala, Cittasena, Mātali, and Janesabha. The last in this list is thought to be synonymous with Janavasabha, a rebirth of King Bimbisāra of Magadha. Mātali is the charioteer of Śakra.

Timbarū is a chieftain of the Gandharvas. There is a romantic story told about the love between his daughter Bhaddā Suriyavacchasā (Sanskrit: Bhadrā Sūryavarcasā) and another Gandharva, Pañcasikha (Sanskrit: Pañcaśikha). Pañcasikha fell in love with Suriyavacchasā when he saw her dancing before Śakra, but she was then in love with Mātali's son Sikhandī (or Sikhaddi). Pañcasikha went to Timbarū's home and played a melody on his flute of beluva-wood, with which he had great skill, and sang a love song in which he interwove themes about the Buddha and the Arhats.

Śakra petitioned Pañcasikha to intercede with the Buddha so that he might have an audience with him. As a reward for Pañcasikha's services, Śakra was able to get Suriyavacchasā, already pleased with Pañcasikha's display of skill and devotion, to agree to marry Pañcasikha.

Pañcasikha also acts as a messenger for the Four Heavenly Kings, conveying news from them to Mātali, the latter representing Śakra and the Trāyastriṃśa Devas.


Gandharva (right) with an Apsara, 10th century, Cham, Vietnam

In Jainism, Gandharvas are classed among the eight Vyantara Devas.

The Tiloyapaṇṇatti provides a list of ten Gandharvas:

  • Hāhā
  • Huhū
  • Nārada
  • Tumbara
  • Vāsava
  • Kadamba
  • Mahāsvara
  • Gītarati
  • Gītarasa
  • Vajravān

The Saṃgrahaṇī Sūtra of the Śvetāmbara sect provides a slightly different list:

  • Hāhā
  • Huhū
  • Tumburu
  • Nārada
  • Ṛṣivādika
  • Bhūtavādika
  • Kadamba
  • Mahākadamba
  • Raivata
  • Viśvāvasu
  • Gītarati
  • Gītayaśas

The Digambara sect describes the Gandharvas as having a golden complexion while the Śvetāmbara tradition recognizes them as blackish. The Tumbaru is their sacred tree.[6]

In Indian classical music

There are many singers known as gandharvas for their mastery of Indian classical music. All of them, at one time or another, were theater actors who performed in various musicals. Their style of music is known as Kula Sangeet in Marathi, literally "hereditary music". They are regarded as masters of Indian classical music by the vast majority of the general population, predominantly in the state of Maharashtra.

See also


  1. Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. p. 435. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Oberlies, Thomas 2005: "Der Gandharva und die Drei Tage Währende 'Quarantäne'", in Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 48 pp. 97-109.
  3. Bhagavata Purana translation of Motilal Bansaridadss Book 2 Skandha IV Chapter 27
  4. Monier-Williams, Sir Monier; Leumann, Ernst; Cappeller, Carl. A Sanskrit-English dictionary: etymologically and philologically arranged, by Sir Monier Monier-Williams. ISBN 9788120831056. Retrieved 2012-12-19 – via Google Books.
  5. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (30 November 2013). "The Greater Craving-Destruction Discourse (MN 38)". Access to Insight (BCBS Edition). Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  6. Shah, Umakant Premanand (1987). Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana, Volume 1. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 9788170172086.