Devayana - The Immortal Path of Liberation

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

Devayana means the journey (yana) of the gods (devas or immortal beings). It refers to the path by which those who achieve liberation travel after they depart from here. You may also call it devapatha or the path of the gods or immortal beings. Devayana, is an original Vedic concept described in the earliest Upanishads such as the Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, and Kausitaki Upanishads.

The verses related to it describe how and under what circumstances, liberated beings (jivanmuktas) travel by this route and reach the highest world of Brahman, also known as Parandhama, and the experiences they go through during the journey. According to the Vedic beliefs it is located in the sun and those who travel by this path and reach this world never return and take birth. It is mentioned in the Mundaka Upanishad in the verse related to the famous saying, Satyameva Jayate: "satyam eva jayate nanrtam satyena pantha vitato devayanah." It means, "Truth alone wins (the Self), but not untruth. By truth is laid out the path of the immortal gods."

The Upanishads suggest that after death, human beings reach one of the three worlds mentioned in the Vedas: the sun, the moon, and the underworld (Patala). Those who achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of births and deaths through austerities and renunciation go to the world of Brahman by the sunlit path of the immortals (devayana). The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.2.15)explains the process in some detail:

"Those who know this, and those who meditate upon truth in the forests with faith, they pass into the region of light rays. From the region of light rays into the day, from the day into the fortnight of the waxing moon, from the fortnight of the waxing moon into the six months during which the sun flies northward, from these months into the world of gods, from the world of gods into the sun, and from the sun into the lightning. Then a mind-born (son of Brahma) goes to that world of lightning and leads them to the world of Brahman. In those worlds of Brahman, they live for very long periods. Of them, none returns."

The Kausitaki Upanishad narrates the wonders the souls experience during this mystic journey and how well they are received by Brahma. We find a similar narrative in Maitri Upanishad. Next are those who perform good deeds in their lives such as sacrifices and obligatory duties, and live virtuously observing the laws and the code of conduct enshrined in the Vedas. They go to the world of ancestors, travelling by the moonlit path of the ancestors (pitrayana), and stay there as long as their karmas permit and their descendants here observe the necessary rites to help them keep their astral bodies. Once their karma are exhausted, they return again to the earth and take rebirth according to their karma and their dominant desires (samskaras). The same Upanishad (6.2.16) explains this processin the following manner.

"Now, those who win the worlds by sacrifices, charity and austerity they pass into the smoke, from the smoke into the night, from the night into the fortnight of the waning moon, from the fortnight of the waning moon into the six months during which the sun files southwards, from these months into the world of ancestors, from the world of ancestors into the moon. Upon reaching the moon, they become food. There the gods enjoy them, just as the priests enjoy the drink of Soma watching the moon wax and wane. When that ends (due to the exhaustion of karmas) they enter into space, from space into air, from air into rain, from rain into the earth. Having reached the earth, they become food. Then they are again offered in the fire of man, and from there into the fire of a woman so that they can go again to the other worlds. Thus, they keep rotating."

Finally, those who commit mortal sins and lead very impure and evil lives fall down into the lower world, below the earth where they suffer for their crimes. When their karmas are exhausted they return to earth to take birth as worms, insects and other low life forms. Thus there are three paths.

  1. Devayana, the path of the immortals, lit by the sun. By truth alone one travel by this path (satyameva jayate - Mundaka Upanishad).
  2. Pitrayana, the path of the ancestors, lit by the moon.
  3. Adhoyana, the path of sinners, covered in darkness.

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