“Actors, singers, soldiers, sons, and the people who were watching all praised the king and spoke of his deeds. The king, with joy and without hesitation, gave away jewels and elephants to the groups of brahmanas.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 20.2)
naṭa bhāṭa māgadha sūta jācaka jasa pratāpahiṃ baranahīn |
sānanda bhūsura bṛnda mani gaja deta mana karaṣaiṃ nahīn ||
The English term “demi-god” used by Thomas Jefferson in describing the group of men who assembled for the Constitutional Convention in 1787 gets a more complete definition in the ancient texts known as the Vedas. Demigod is the English term, while in Sanskrit the word is “deva,” which just means “god” or “godly.” The term “demigod” is a more accurate translation for “deva” because an ordinary god is always subordinate to the superior and singular Supreme Personality of Godhead. A godly entity is one who has more opulence and abilities than the majority of the rest of the living entity population in a particular region. The demigod possesses more of the qualities of the original God than do others.
When we hear that someone is godly, we immediately think of greatness. “Oh, they must live for a long time. They must have so much enjoyment where they reside. They must be able to grant wishes. If I’m in trouble, I should be able to pray to them for help. If I need guidance, a healing hand, or someone to rescue me from darkness, I should be able to go to them and find my way out through their intervention.”
“Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. They take birth on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.20)
These are natural expectations of the demigods. In order to deliver on the requests of the not as godly living entities, the demigods should have extraordinary powers. Therefore the demigods have designated for them a separate residence, a heavenly realm. When we contemplate the idea of ascending to heaven after death, it would be to the region of the demigods. There one gets to enjoy more, in their preferred fashion.
In the verse quoted above from the Janaki Mangala, we see that there can be demigods on the earth as well. The term used here is “bhusura.” This is a compound Sanskrit word composed of the words “bhu” and “sura”. “Bhu” refers to the earthly realm, i.e. where we currently reside. “Sura” refers to demigod. A sura is distinct from an asura, or one who is not a demigod. The foundational characteristic of a sura is their belief in God. They have some idea of realized knowledge and some faith in the highest power to accompany it. Their devotion may not always be entirely pure, but whatever deviations they have are innocent enough. They are not envious of God, and nor do they think that He doesn’t exist. The material nature is difficult to overcome, so even demigods have a difficult time remaining pure in their devotion. The asura is the opposite in qualities of a demigod; their foundational characteristic is their envy of God or their flat out denial of His existence.
“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.40)
The demigods of the earth are the brahmanas. Interestingly enough, they are typically not very powerful materially. They may not even live for very long. In some areas of the world, they live like homeless beggars. The famous Sanatana Gosvami of the Gaudiya-Vaishnava tradition would often survive on a little amount of flour which he would beg for every day. He would then take that trivial amount and mix in some water from a sacred river. Having something that resembled dough, he would then bake the compound in a makeshift oven. The resulting preparation would then be offered to God and eaten as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. This was certainly less food than what is found in the modern day practice of “dumpster diving” of the homeless. Though the amount was little, it was more than enough for the very powerful saint, who worshiped the Supreme Lord in thought, word and deed, writing so much about the science of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, in the process.
The work of such a brahmana is what makes them a bhusura, or a demigod of the earth. Though they may live completely renounced, not having a possession in the world, they can grant tremendous benedictions to others. One who approaches them humbly and inquires from them submissively can learn the truth. This is because the self-realized soul has seen the truth. They didn’t demand to see it right away, either. They didn’t insist that someone else show it to them. They instead followed the same process, accepting knowledge from a self-realized soul. By accepting that knowledge and carrying out the recommended practices, they were able to see the truth themselves. They acquired the eyes necessary to see the divine influence in everything.
To such demigods of the earth, King Janaka donated so many elephants and jewels. He did this after the wedding of his daughter was arranged and all were singing the glories of the occasion. In his royal kingdom, Janaka had supporters in singers, actors, poets, soldiers, sons, daughters, and everyone in the town practically. They were so happy that Janaka’s beloved daughter Sita found the perfect match in a husband. Rama is the Supreme Lord, the truth that the self-realized souls have seen. Through Janaka’s good character, Sita appeared in his family. Through his good works, Rama married into it. Thus the king’s glories know no end.
By giving gifts to the brahmanas, Janaka pleased them. They in turn were able to better carry out their duties, which are the most important in a society. Though perhaps paltry in physical stature, the demigods of the earth can give the whole world to a disciple who is sincere. They can give the benediction of devotional service, which allows one to feel happiness that transcends the bounds of birth and death. There is no proper way to repay the brahmanas for this gift, but pious souls still give away whatever they can at the appropriate times. Any person, whether they are a king or not, can at least attempt to repay the debt owed to the bhusuras by chanting the holy names continuously: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Demigods, often is used the term,
From the Vedas its true meaning learn.
A god of the type ordinary,
Distinguished from the Lord extraordinary.
Not only in heaven, on earth as well,
Knowledge of real Truth can tell.
Janaka happily elephants and jewels gave,
For the demigods on earth nothing to save.