Ashtadikpalas - the eight guardians of the sky
The dikpalas are eight in number. As their collective name suggests, they rule the eight quarters or the eight zones of the universe. Ashta means eight, dik means quarters or directions and palas means rulers. According to Hindu thinking each quarter is assigned to a particular divinity. He presides over it and acts as its chief guardian spirit ensuring the orderliness of the universe and the protection of its occupants. (It is interesting to note that there are no goddesses in this list).
We notice that during the Vedic period it was the Adityas who ruled the skies and kept a watch over the world from one end to another. The Adityas knew all the deeds, because they had eyes and spies everywhere. While the Adityas ruled the skies, on earth it was Pusan, the god with a shaft who knew the directions and who showed the paths that led to green pastures and safe places. In the Rigvedic hymns we do not find any reference to the dikpalas.
Thus the concept of Ashtadikpalas was a post vedic development. In the post Vedic period, many gods lost their ranks. Some gods completely disappeared. There was an obvious adjustment and compromise with native cultures. The Vedic gods lost their significance during this period and reemerged as the dikpalas.
The concept of Ashtadikpalas symbolically denotes that God is every where and in every direction and that in whatever direction you proceed or offer your worship, you will ultimately find Him. When one makes an atma-pradakshina (revolving around one self) in front of God, one is not only saluting the self within, the God in front, but also the divinities that are around oneself in all the directions.
The knowledge of the Ashtadikpalas became the basis for the evolution of the traditional Hindu science of design and construction called Vasthu-shastra. Vasthu-shastra means knowledge of things. It is actually a science which deals with how things should be organized in a particular location for the better flow of energies and blessings of divinities. In ancient India it played an important role in the:
- construction of temples and places of worship,
- location of various components of a house in relation to the street, city or town where it is located,
- location and arrangement of various household things like furniture and utensils and arrangement of rooms, doors and windows with in the house,
- location of the farm fields and water tanks,
- how to position a dead body before and during cremation,
- the direction in which one should sleep or sit while performing a puja or a ceremony and so on.
Just to give a few examples, many traditional Hindus believe that the north east corner of a room should be left vacant, because that direction belongs to Iswara. They would also prefer to do business facing north, because north is ruled by Kubera, the lord of wealth, and avoid facing the south generally, since the direction is ruled by Yama, the lord of death. People also would not prefer to construct their houses, with the main facade facing the south, since that would supposedly lead to physical and mental difficulties and disabilities for the occupants and the owners.
Following are the the eight gods who rule the eight quarters:
| South East
| South West