Ashta Dikpalaka, an Introduction
Ashta Dikpalaka can be called as the guardian deities of the directions. They are eight in number, and every one of them is believed to be the ruler of one of the 8 directions or the eight quarters of the universe. They are none other than the well-regarded Godly entities and were worshipped by our ancestors during ancient times.
The word ‘Ashta’ denotes the number eight, ‘Dik’ means the direction and ‘Pala’ or ‘Palaka’ is the guardian or the ruler. These eight directions are the North, South, East, West, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. The ruling directional-deities or the concerned Dhikpalakas remain as Kubera (North), Yama (South), Indra (East), Varuna (West), Isana (Northeast), Agni (Southeast), Vayu (North-West) and Nirrti or Rakshasa (Southwest).
Development of Ashta Dikpalaka Concept
It is a well-accepted and age-old belief in our land, religion, and culture that God is an omnipresent divinity. One need not take any pain to go searching for him, as he is present in every nook and corner of the world. This is the idea that must have formed the basis of the development of the concept of the Ashta Dikpalaka.
The idea of having Gods for the protection of the space in general and various places, in particular, is quite old and was prevalent even during the ancient Vedic times. However, the development of the concept of Ashta Dikpalaka as the guardians of the directions, and of identifying the Gods for this role and earmarking of the directions for each of them, belonged to the subsequent times. It was the divinities known as the Adityas, the sons of mother Aditi, who was regarded as the rulers of the skies, during the period of the Vedas. A similar role was given to a handsome divinity called Pusan, and the earth had remained as his domain then. However, each of the Gods who came to be regarded as the Ashta Dikpalaka subsequently had remained as powerful, individual Gods even during that Vedic times and were highly respected and worshipped by the people then.
Many changes started taking place in the lives, thinking and outlook of the people post the Vedic times due to historical, geographical and other reasons, and this led to a transformation in their religious beliefs too. With the advent of the powerful Bhakti cult, worship of specific Gods like Shiva and Vishnu started gaining predominance, over all others. Slowly, some of the Vedic Gods who were venerated then started losing their importance and began ceasing to be the prime objects of worship. These Vedic Gods turned into the guardian deities of the directions soon, and eight of them came to be regarded collectively as the Ashta Dikpalaka, the Lords of the eight quarters or the direction.
Ashta Dikpalaka and Vastu Shastra
It is believed that it is this concept of directional deities that led to the evolution of the now popular Vastu Shastra. This is nothing but the science about the design and construction of structures or buildings. Knowing, which God or Dikpalaka is ruling what direction, Vastu Shastra decides about the structural pattern and the placement of facilities in any construction, so that divine energies flow in the appropriate direction and the real blessings of the Dikpalaka deities are available to people. For instance, Kubera the Lord of wealth rules the northern direction, and hence, a business establishment can be designed facing north so that it can get that Lord’s blessings and make handsome profits.
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