By Swami Harshananda
Rākṣasas literally means ‘beings from whom one seeks to protect oneself,’ ‘demons’.
Synonyms of the Word
The purāṇas and the epics mention various kinds of living beings in creation of which the rākṣasas are also the one. The words oftenly applied to them are:
- Asuras - antigods
- Daityas - sons of Diti, a wife of the sage Kaśyapa
- Dānavas - sons of Danu, another wife of Kaśyapa
Classification of Rākṣasas
Though the general belief is that the rākṣasas are extremely evil, wicked or malevolent spirits. They represent more a race or species of beings which can be broadly divided into three groups:
- The yātudhānas and yakṣas who are good-natured, benevolent and skillful. They are semi-divine and possess magical powers.
- The titans, who are huge in size and mighty in strength. They are evil by nature. Viṣṇu, Śiva or Devī appear in various forms to kill them.
- The naktañcaras are the demons and fiends who wander about during nights, devouring human beings and disturbing the penances of ascetics and the sacrifices of the sages.
Picturesque of Rākṣasas
The rākṣasas are generally described as ugly, ugly-shaped creatures with terrible tusks. They wear blue garments and live upon human flesh. They become very powerful during nights. They live below the solar regions.
Iconography of Rākṣasas
In iconography, their images are shown in twelve tālas or nine tālas. Though eternally at loggerheads, the devas and the dānavas or rākṣasas were cousins, born of the same father, the sage Kaśyapa. Quite a few among the dānavas distinguished themselves as great devotees of Viṣṇu or Śiva. A few are:
- Devas means gods.
- Dānavas means demons.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore