In Hinduism, the Vasus are attendant deities of Indra, and later Vishnu. They are eight elemental gods (called "Aṣṭa-vasu", 'Eight Vasus') representing aspects of nature, representing cosmic natural phenomenon. The name Vasu means 'Dweller' or 'Dwelling'. They are eight among the Thirty-three gods.
There are varying lists of the eight Vasus in different texts, sometimes only because particular deities have varying names. The following are names and meanings according to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and according to the Mahabharata as normally equated:
|Agni||"hot fire"||Anala (also called Agni)||"living"|
|Āditya||"eternal", a very common name for the sun Surya||Pratyūsha||"pre-dawn", that is morning twilight, but often used to mean simply "light"|
|Chandramas||"moon"||Soma||"soma-plant", and a very common name for the moon|
|Nakstrani||"stars"||Dhruva||"motionless", the name of the Polestar|
Though the Shatapatha Brahmana uses the Brhad-Aranyaka names, most later texts follow the Mahabharata names with the exception that Āpa 'water' usually appears in place of Aha. The Vishnu Purana equates Prabhāsa with the lights of the 27 or 28 Nakshetra (Constellations/Lunar Mansions) and Dhruva with Akash Tatwa, that is "space", Dhruva seemingly taking over Aha's role when Aha is replaced by Āpa.
Ramayana and Mahabharata
In the Ramayana the Vasus are children of the sage Kashyapa by Aditi and so are full siblings to the Adityas. However the Mahabharata makes them sons of Prajāpati son of Manu son of Brahma by various mothers.
The Mahabharata relates how the Vasus, led by "Prithu" (presumably here a male form of Prithvi), were enjoying themselves in the forest, when the wife of Dyaus spotted an excellent cow and persuaded her husband Dyaus to steal it, which Dyaus did with the agreement and aid of Prithu and his other brothers. Unfortunately for the Vasus, the cow was owned by the sage Vashishta who learned through his ascetic powers that the Vasus had stolen it and immediately cursed them to be born on earth as mortals. Vashishta responded to pleading by the Vasus by promising that seven of them would be free of earthly life within a year of being born and that only Dyaus would pay the full penalty. The Vasus then requested the river-goddess Ganga to be their mother. Ganga incarnated and became the wife of King Shantanu on condition that he never gainsaid her in any way. As seven children were born, one after the other, Ganga drowned them in her own waters, freeing them from their punishment and the king made no opposition. Only when the eighth was born did the king finally oppose his wife, who therefore left him. So the eighth son, Dyaus incarnated, remained alive, imprisoned in mortal form, and later became known in his mortal incarnation as Bhishma.
A later section of the Mahabharata gives an alternate version in which each of the Vasus gives a portion of himself to create a ninth being and so all eight are later drowned leaving only this ninth composite as an incarnation of parts of all the Vasus to live out a very long mortal life as Bhishma.
Vasu is also the name of the eighth chakra (group) of Melakarta ragas in Carnatic music. The names of chakras are based on the numbers associated with each name. In this case, there are 8 Vasus and hence the eighth chakra is Vasu.
- South Indian Music Book III, by Prof. P Sambamoorthy, Published 1973, The Indian Music Publishing House
- Ragas in Carnatic music by Dr. S. Bhagyalekshmy, Pub. 1990, CBH Publications