The worship of devas (demigods, celestial beings) is extremely prevalent in India, and clarifying the difference and non-difference between the worship of devas and the worship of the Supreme Lord Himself, Sri Krishna, is a perpetual necessity.
The following article has been compiled in question and answer format with all the answers being verses from within Srimad Bhagavad-gita itself that explain the nature of Sri Krishna, the devas, and their worship. All verses cited are spoken by Lord Sri Krishna Himself unless noted otherwise.
Question: Is Krishna a deva (demigod)?
aham adir hi devanam maharsinam cha sarvasah
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 10.2)
“I alone and in all respects am the origin of all the devas and great sages.”
pasyami devams tava deva dehe
sarvams tatha bhuta-visesa-sanghan
brahmanam isam kamalasana-stham
rsims cha sarvan uragams cha divyan
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 11.15)
[Arjuna glorifies the universal form of Krishna:] “O Lord, I see within Your (universal) form all the devas, all the varieties of embodied living entities, all the divine sages, all the serpents, Lord Siva, and Lord Brahma seated on the lotus flower.”
tvam adi-devah purusah puranas
tvam asya visvasya param nidhanam
vettasi vedyam cha param cha dhama
tvaya tatam visvam ananta-rupa
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 11.38)
“You are the origin of all the devas, the eternal Supreme Being, and the sole refuge of this universe. You alone are the knower (of everything) and the knowable (all that is to be known). You are transcendental to the modes of material nature. O Lord of infinite forms, the entire universe is pervaded by You.”
Question: Where does the process of deva worship come from?
saha-yajnah prajah srstva purovacha prajapatih
anena prasavisyadhvam esa vo ’stv ista-kama-dhuk
devan bhavayatanena te deva bhavayantu vah
parasparam bhavayantah sreyah param avapsyatha
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 3.10-11)
“In the beginning (of creation), (by My arrangement) Lord Brahma manifested the progeny of the world, along with sacrifices. He instructed them thus: ‘Take shelter of this religious principle of sacrifice (yajna), prosper, and flourish. May such sacrifice be the granter of all the things you desire. Satisfy the devas by sacrifices, and may they satisfy you by bestowing upon you your desired ends. In this way, by mutually satisfying one another, you will be the gainers of great auspiciousness.’”
Question: What is the benefit of worshipping the devas?
istan bhogan hi vo deva dasyante yajna-bhavitah
tair dattan apradayaibhyo yo bhunkte stena eva sah
yajna-sistasinah santo muchyante sarva-kilbisaih
bhunjate te tv agham papa ye pachanty atma-karanat
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 3.12-13)
“Satisfied by sacrifices, the devas (My worldly representatives, the limbs of My universal form) will bestow upon you the ends you desire to enjoy. One who (selfishly) enjoys what is granted by the devas without making (corresponding) offerings to them is a thief. Virtuous persons are liberated from all sins arising from exploitation of other living entities by subsisting (solely) upon the remnants of sacrifices (that they make to the devas) while those who prepare food (partake of the fruits of their actions) for their own selfish pleasure (alone) partake only of sin.”
Question: How do people become devoted to the devas?
yo yo yam yam tanum bhaktah sraddhayarchitum ichchhati
tasya tasyachalam sraddham tam eva vidadhamy aham
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 7.21)
“I (as the Supersoul dwelling within the heart) make firm the faith of any devotee who desires to faithfully worship any of the devas (as all devas are forms of Myself).”
sa taya sraddhaya yuktas tasyaradhanam ihate
labhate cha tatah kaman mayaiva vihitan hi tan
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 7.22)
“Being endowed with firm faith (by My grace), such devotees worship the devas (of their choice) and obtain all their desired ends (from those demigods) by My arrangement (as I am also situated as the Supersoul within the hearts of the demigods).”
Question: Are persons who choose to worship the devas intelligent? Is deva worship the best way of life?
antavat tu phalam tesam tad bhavaty alpa-medhasam
devan deva-yajo yanti mad-bhakta yanti mam api
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 7.23)
“Those who devote themselves to the devas have only meagre intelligence and obtain (only) fruits that are temporary (invariably subject to destruction). The worshippers of the devas go the (abode of) the devas, but My devotees come to Me (My eternal spiritual abode).”
Question: Why do people take to deva worship?
kamais tais tair hrta-jnanah prapadyante ’nya-devatah
tam tam niyamam asthaya prakrtya niyatah svaya
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 7.20)
“Persons whose conscience (jnanah) is stolen away (hrita) by material desires (kama) worship other devas (gods other than Myself) and follow the particular rules and regulations (niyamas) of worship which correspond to the ends they desire, being governed by their own (conditioned) natures (prakriti).”
kanksantah karmanam siddhim yajanta iha devatah
ksipram hi manuse loke siddhir bhavati karma-ja
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 4.12)
“In the human world, persons who desire the fruits of their actions worship the various devas (by making sacrifices unto them). (This is because) within the human world fruits produced by actions (such as enjoyment, entrance into heaven and so forth) materialise very quickly.”
Question: Do these sorts of persons ever surrender unto Sri Krishna Himself?
na mam duskrtino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah
mayayapahrta-jnana asuram bhavam asritah
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 7.15)
“There are four types of wrongdoers who do not surrender unto Me: foolish persons (mudhas, karmis, those who, like animals, act solely for the purpose of enjoying the fruits of their actions); fallen persons (those who take up the practice of devotion but later reject it, considering it unavailing); those whose conscience (jnana) is stolen away by illusion (maya); and those who have adopted a demoniac temperament.”
yam imam puspitam vacham pravadanty avipaschitah
veda-vada-ratah partha nanyad astiti vadinah
kamatmanah svarga-para janma-karma-phala-pradam
kriya-visesa-bahulam bhogaisvarya-gatim prati
vyavasayatmika buddhih samadhau na vidhiyate
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 2.42-43)
“O Partha, foolish persons (avipaschitas—mudhas, karmis, those who cannot understand the true meaning or spiritual essence of the Vedic scriptures—buddhi-yoga), who are attached to (secondary, materially connotative) interpretations of the Vedas (veda-vada-ratah), who are at heart ridden with material desire (kamatmanah—desirous of the fruits of their selfish actions) and who are solely intent upon heaven (svarga-para—who consider attaining heavenly enjoyment to be the ultimate aim of human life) proclaim that there is nothing (of significance) other than the flowery (fleetingly pleasing) expressions (pushpitam vacha) of the (karma-kanda section of the) Vedas that prescribe various forms of sacrifices (kriya-visesha-bahulam) which grant one good birth, good fortune, and one’s desired ends and act as a means to attain enjoyment and opulence (janma-karma-phala, bhoga-aisvarya). (Persons who advocate such a conception (vadinah) in effect contend that there is nothing beyond animals, food, children, heaven, and so on—that there is no Supreme Lord governing everything who should be served exclusively.) The intelligence (buddhi) of such persons who are completely attached to (mundane) enjoyment and opulence (bhogaisvarya-prasakta) and whose conscience (chetasa) is stolen away (apahrita) by these flowery words within the Vedas (by material desire and the pursuit of the fruits of their actions) never gains resolute determination to serve (one-pointed, uninterruptible focus upon) the Supreme Lord (samadhi).”
Question: Do the worshippers of the devas attain the same ends as persons who surrender exclusively unto the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna?
yanti deva-vrata devan pitrn yanti pitr-vratah
bhutani yanti bhutejya yanti mad-yajino ’pi mam
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.25)
“The worshippers of the devas go to (the plane of) the devas, the worshippers of the ancestors go to (the plane of) the ancestors, the worshippers of ghosts go to (the plane of) the ghosts, and those who worship Me come to Me (My eternal spiritual abode).”
Question: What is the destiny of the worshippers of the devas?
trai-vidya mam soma-pah puta-papa
yajnair istva svar-gatim prarthayante
te punyam asadya surendra-lokam
asnanti divyan divi deva-bhogan
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.20)
“Persons who perform sacrifices described in the three Vedas (the Rig, Sama, and Yajur Vedas) worship Me (in My forms as the various devas). They drink soma after completing their sacrifices, become purified of sin, and pray to ascend to the heavenly planets (the abodes of the devas—Svargaloka). As a result of their piety, they reach the abode of Indra and the other devas (Surendraloka) and enjoy all the wonderful pleasures of the devas in heaven (divya deva-bhoga).”
te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam visalam
ksine punye martya-lokam visanti
evam trayi-dharmam anuprapanna
gatagatam kama-kama labhante
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.21)
“After enjoying the vast heavenly plane (Svargaloka), upon the exhaustion of their pious merits (punya) they return to the human plane (the mortal world—martyaloka). In this way, persons desiring material enjoyment who follow the Vedic rituals for demigod worship (simply) come and go—they achieve nothing more than continuing to revolve through the cycle of birth and death in this material world.”
Question: What is the destiny of those who devote themselves exclusively to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna?
dvandvair vimuktah sukha-duhkha-samjnair
gachchhanty amudhah padam avyayam tat
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 15:5)
“Those who are devoid of vanity (mana), illusion (absorption in falsity—moha) and the contamination of bad association (the association of ungodly, materialistic persons—duhsanga-dosha), devoted to the eternal religion of the soul (adhyatma-nitya), completely free from material desire (vinivritta-kamah), completely liberated from the dualities of happiness and distress (heat and cold, victory and defeat and so forth), and free from ignorance (amudhah—non-foolish) attain entrance into the eternal (imperishable) abode (upon surrendering unto the Original Person, the Supreme Lord, from whom the whole of the illusory material world has manifest).”
yad gatva na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 15:6)
“Once such surrendered souls reach My supreme abode, they never again return to the material world.”
mam upetya punar janma duhkhalayam asasvatam
napnuvanti mahatmanah samsiddhim paramam gatah
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 8.15)
“Once having reached Me, the great souls (mahatmas) who have attained the supreme fulfilment (who have become My associates in My divine Pastimes), are never born again within the abode of impermanence and misery.”
a-brahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino ’rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya punar janma na vidyate
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 8.16)
“O Arjuna, the residents of all planes of existence (within this universe) from the plane of Lord Brahma (and the various devas) downwards are subject to perpetual rebirth. Yet, O Kaunteya, upon reaching Me (reaching the shelter of My supreme abode), there is no rebirth.”
Question: Why do the worshippers of the devas attain a fate inferior to the exclusive devotees of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna?
ye ’py anya-devata-bhakta yajante sraddhayanvitah
te ’pi mam eva kaunteya yajanty avidhi-purvakam
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.23)
“O Kaunteya, the devotees of the devas who worship them with faith in actuality worship Me alone, but they do so erroneously (they worship Me in a way that does not lead to obtaining Me).”
aham hi sarva-yajnanam bhokta cha prabhur eva cha
na tu mam abhijananti tattvenatas chyavanti te
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.24)
“I alone am the (rightful) enjoyer (bhokta) of all sacrifices, and I alone am the granter (Prabhu) of the results of all sacrifices (upon the participants). However, being ignorant of My true nature (neglecting their soul’s natural eternal service relationship with Me, the Supreme Lord who is the true proprietor of everything, pursuing their own selfish ends, and considering the devas to be equal to Me or to be independent of My supreme will), the worshippers of the devas fall to take birth again.”
Question: If one neglects to worship the devas, will they be implicated in sin?
sarva-guhyatamam bhuyah srnu me paramam vachah
isto ’si me drdham iti tato vaksyami te hitam
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te pratijane priyo ’si me
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma suchah
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 18.64–6)
“Now again hear My supreme teaching, My most profound expression of all. I tell you this for your benefit as you are most dear to Me: ‘Give Me your heart (always meditate upon Me—Man-manah), become My devotee (always engage in hearing and chanting about Me—Mad-bhaktah), worship Me (serve Me—Mad-yaji) and surrender yourself unto Me (dedicate all your actions to My satisfaction—Mam namaskuru). By doing so, you will surely come to Me (you will surely obtain eternal, spiritual, ecstatic service to Me). Truly I make this vow before you because you are most dear to Me. (So,) utterly abandon all forms of duty (dharma—all worldly duties, and in particular, the worship of the devas) and surrender unto Me exclusively. I will liberate you from all sin (that you may incur by neglecting to worship the devas, sages, ancestors, and so on). Do not hesitate.’”
Question: How will persons who faithfully follow this instruction and surrender exclusively unto the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna be maintained?
ananyas chintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate
tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.22)
“I (personally) bear the responsibility of acquiring and protecting the necessities of those who constantly aspire for union with Me, who worship Me in every respect, who are always absorbed in thought of Me, and are exclusively devoted to Me (who have no desire for anything apart from Me and My service and satisfaction—who give up all worship of the demigods).”
Question: Does Krishna see those who worship Him exclusively and those who worship the devas in the same way?
ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
mama vartmanuvartante manusyah partha sarvasah
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 4.11)
“Howsoever anyone surrenders unto Me (worships Me in the form of a deva), I accordingly reward them (grant them the appropriate result for their worship). All human beings (cannot but) follow the various paths set out by Me.”
samo ’ham sarva-bhutesu na me dvesyo ’sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya mayi te tesu chapy aham
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.29)
“I am equally disposed to all, no one is My enemy or My friend (I have no particular interest in those who are ridden with material desire and who worship the devas to attain their desired ends). Yet, those who serve Me (My personal form directly, not through the devas) with loving devotion, as they are always lovingly attached to Me, so I am correspondingly lovingly attached to them (they are present in the core of My heart as I am present within the cores of their hearts).”