by Jayaram V
The Ashtadikpalas are eight in number. As their collective name
suggests, they rule
the eight quarters or the eight directions of the universe.
Ashta means eight, dik means quarters or directions and palas means
rulers. According to Hinduism each quarter is assigned to a particular
divinity, who presides over it and acts as its chief guardian spirit
ensuring the orderliness (rta) of the universe and the protection
of its occupants. (It is interesting to note that there are no goddesses
in this list, just as there are none in the list of navagrahas also).
Symbolically the eight rules of directions are represented as eight
elephants standing in eight directions.
The concept of Ashtadikpalas was a post vedic development. In
the Vedic period it was the Adityas who ruled the skies and kept
a watch over the world from one end to another. The Adityas knew
all the deeds, because they had eyes and spies everywhere. The Adityas
were born out of Aditi, the mother of all Gods. While the Adityas
rule the skies, on earth it is Pusan, the handsome god with a shaft
who knew the directions and who shows the paths that lead
to green pastures and safe places. In the Rigvedic hymns we do not
find any reference to the dikpalas. But as individual gods each
of them enjoyed a supreme status and commanded his own following
But in the post Vedic period, fundamental changes took place
in the Vedic religion. A new order emerged in the Vedic pantheon.
Many gods lost their ranks while some completely disappeared. Probably
the priests or the priestly families who specialized in their worship
and invocation of gods moved elsewhere or turned to new gods. The
Rigvedic Aryans migrated from inhospitable terrains to newer and
safer lands with a more dependable climate and more hospitable terrain. The
emphasis shifted from politics of isolation to politics of
adjustment and compromise with native cultures. With the rise of
bhakti cults such as Vaishnavism and Saivism, elaborate rituals
yielded place to simple devotion to a personal god. The Vedic
gods lost their significance during this period and reemerged as
Images of these gods can be seen in many temples on a central
panel in the ceiling of the central pavilion (Mahamandapa) facing
the main deity. If the temple is a symbol of God's abode, its ceiling
is the sky. The Ashtadikpalas are rightfully the guardians of the
sky, watching over us from eight different directions and keeping
an eye on all our activities.
The concept of Ashtadikpalas symbolically denotes that God is
every where and in every direction and that in whatever direction
you proceed or offer your worship, you will ultimately find Him.
In ancient times, when one had to travel through difficult terrains
or dangerous forests, this belief would have been a great comforter.
Many people are perhaps not aware that when we make an atma-pradakshina
(revolving around one self) in front of God, we are not only saluting
the self with in, the God in front, but also the divinities that
are around us in all the directions.
The knowledge of the Ashtadikpalas became the basis for the evolution
of the traditional Hindu science of design and construction called
Vasthushastra. Vasthu-shastra means knowledge of things. It is actually
a science which deals with how things should be organized in a particular
location for the better flow of energies and blessings of divinities.
In ancient India it played an important role in the 1. construction
of temples and places of worship, 2. location of various components
of a house in relation to the street, city or town where it
is located, 3. location and arrangement of various household
things like furniture and utensils and arrangement of rooms, doors
and windows with in the house, 4. location of the farm fields and
water tanks, how to position a dead body before and during cremation,
the direction in which one should sleep or sit while performing
a puja or a ceremony and so on. Vashtushastra might have drawn its
contents from various sources, knowledge of ancient mathematics,
water divining, knowledge of the human body, construction of the
ritual places, designing of yantras and the occult knowledge of
sensing the flow of energy and so on. The Knowledge of the directions
and its divinities was one of its core elements.
For example, many traditional Hindus believe that the north east
corner of a room should be left vacant, because that direction belongs
to Iswara. They would also prefer to do business facing north, because
north is ruled by Kubera, the lord of wealth, and avoid facing the
south generally, since the direction is ruled by Yama, the lord
of death. People also would not prefer to construct their houses,
with the main facade facing the south, since that would supposedly
lead to physical and mental difficulties and disabilities for the
occupants and the owners.
With the increasing pressures on the availability of space, problems
of finance and construction, few people are able to comply with
the specifications of this ancient science. Many educated Hindus
ignore it completely and carry on their businesses as usual. The
eight gods who rule the eight quarters are:
Suggested Further Reading