The worship of demigods (devas) is extremely prevalent in India, and clarifying the difference and non-difference between the worship of demigods 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 cited verses cited are spoken by the Lord Sri Krishna Himself unless noted otherwise.
Question: Is Krishna a deva (demigod)?
aham ādir hi devānāṁ maharṣīṇāṁ cha sarvaśaḥ
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 10.2)
“I alone and in all respects am the origin of all the demigods (devas).”
paśyāmi devāṁs tava deva dehe
sarvāṁs tathā bhūta-viśeṣa-saṅghān
brahmāṇam īśaṁ kamalāsana-stham
ṛṣīṁś cha sarvān uragāṁś cha divyān
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 11.15)
tvam ādi-devaḥ puruṣaḥ purāṇas
tvam asya viśvasya paraṁ nidhānam
vettāsi vedyaṁ cha paraṁ cha dhāma
tvayā tataṁ viśvam ananta-rūpa
(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 demigod worship come from?
saha-yajñāḥ prajāḥ sṛṣṭvā purovācha prajāpatiḥ
anena prasaviṣyadhvam eṣa vo ’stv iṣṭa-kāma-dhuk
devān bhāvayatānena te devā bhāvayantu vaḥ
parasparaṁ bhāvayantaḥ śreyaḥ param avāpsyatha
(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?
iṣṭān bhogān hi vo devā dāsyante yajña-bhāvitāḥ
tair dattān apradāyaibhyo yo bhuṅkte stena eva saḥ
yajña-śiṣṭāśinaḥ santo muchyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā ye pachanty ātma-kāraṇāt
(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 yāṁ yāṁ tanuṁ bhaktaḥ śraddhayārchitum ichchhati
tasya tasyāchalāṁ śraddhāṁ tām eva vidadhāmy 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 tayā śraddhayā yuktas tasyārādhanam īhate
labhate cha tataḥ kāmān mayaiva vihitān hi tān
(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 demigod worship the best way of life?
antavat tu phalaṁ teṣāṁ tad bhavaty alpa-medhasām
devān deva-yajo yānti mad-bhaktā yānti mām 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 demigod worship?
kāmais tais tair hṛta-jñānāḥ prapadyante ’nya-devatāḥ
taṁ taṁ niyamam āsthāya prakṛtyā niyatāḥ svayā
(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).”
kāṅkṣantaḥ karmaṇāṁ siddhiṁ yajanta iha devatāḥ
kṣipraṁ hi mānuṣe loke siddhir bhavati karma-jā
(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 māṁ duṣkṛtino mūḍhāḥ prapadyante narādhamāḥ
māyayāpahṛta-jñānā āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ
(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.”
yām imāṁ puṣpitāṁ vāchaṁ pravadanty avipaśchitaḥ
veda-vāda-ratāḥ pārtha nānyad astīti vādinaḥ
kāmātmānaḥ svarga-parā janma-karma-phala-pradām
kriyā-viśeṣa-bahulāṁ bhogaiśvarya-gatiṁ prati
vyavasāyātmikā buddhiḥ samādhau na vidhīyate
(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?
yānti deva-vratā devān pitṝn yānti pitṛ-vratāḥ
bhūtāni yānti bhūtejyā yānti mad-yājino ’pi mām
(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-vidyā māṁ soma-pāḥ pūta-pāpā
yajñair iṣṭvā svar-gatiṁ prārthayante
te puṇyam āsādya surendra-lokam
aśnanti divyān divi deva-bhogān
(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 taṁ bhuktvā svarga-lokaṁ viśālaṁ
kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṁ viśanti
evaṁ trayī-dharmam anuprapannā
gatāgataṁ kāma-kāmā 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 vimuktāḥ sukha-duḥkha-saṁjñair
gachchhanty amūḍhāḥ padam avyayaṁ 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 gatvā na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 15:6)
“Once such surrendered souls reach My supreme abode, they never again return to the material world.”
mām upetya punar janma duḥkhālayam aśāśvatam
nāpnuvanti mahātmānaḥ saṁsiddhiṁ paramāṁ gatāḥ
(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 (asasvatam duhkhalayam—the material world).”
ā-brahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ punar āvartino ’rjuna
mām 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-devatā-bhaktā yajante śraddhayānvitāḥ
te ’pi mām eva kaunteya yajanty avidhi-pūrvakam
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 9.23)
“O Kaunteya, the devotees of the demigods 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).”
ahaṁ hi sarva-yajñānāṁ bhoktā cha prabhur eva cha
na tu mām abhijānanti tattvenātaś 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 demigods, will they be implicated in sin?
sarva-guhyatamaṁ bhūyaḥ śṛṇu me paramaṁ vachaḥ
iṣṭo ’si me dṛḍham iti tato vakṣyāmi te hitam
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo ’si me
sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śuchaḥ
(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 religion (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 sin 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?
ananyaś chintayanto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate
teṣāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy 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 demigods in the same way?
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
(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 ’haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu na me dveṣyo ’sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā mayi te teṣu chāpy 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 demigods 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).”