Editor’s note: The following are questions and answers from a Vaishnava forum.
Hare Krishna! Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga Ki Jaya !
Please accept my humble obeisances. Thank you for your good questions. I will answer them briefly from both the Apostolic Catholic-related and Eastern Vaishnava-centric Traditions.
>>> What kind of beings are the angels?
ANGEL is a rather generic term for MESSENGER that is found in the Biblical Tradition, where it usually refers to a more-than-human being that is a servant of God. It may also rarely refer to a human servant or messenger of God. Thus some ‘angels’ are human, and some are super-human and among these, there are many kinds and grades from elemental and planetary protectors, to transcendent beings in the highest heaven of heavens, who are very close to God.
The English word ANGEL is related linguistically to the Anglo-Saxon word ENGEL, the Latin word ANGELU and the Greek word AGGELOS or AGGAROS. AGGAROS should be compared to the ancient Persian word for a mounted courier, and to the Sanskrit word ANGIRA-s. All these forms of the word retain the same meaning, which is MESSENGER. On pages 21 and 22 in Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary (Oxford), the etymology of ANGEL is given with the meaning of Sanskrit ANGIRA-s as “a messenger from the gods to men (MacDonnell).” In Fr. Raimundo Panikkar’s translation of the Vedic Hymns, on page 869, he also compares ANGIRAS to the Biblical Greek ANGELOS, and says that they are the “…mediators between the world of Men and the Gods.” In the Vedas, the ANGIRASAS are the sons of AGNI and the Fire Priests of the Rig Veda (pages 13 and 14 Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism). Monier-Williams (page 8) compares ANGIRA-s and the Greek AGGELOS / AGGAROS, and cites the Vedic sources for the Rishi ANGIRAS, author of Rig Vedic Hymns, and son of Brahma, who was sometimes mentioned as the father of AGNI and BRIHASPATI, or even humanity.
These bare facts do not reveal the all-important connection of the Angirasas to VISHNU WORSHIP, to the uninitiated. ANGIRAS RISHI was related to VISHNU WORSHIP, and the ANGIRASAS were fire priests of VISHNU. Agni was considered the Tongue of Vishnu for accepting fire sacrifices. The fire priests who conducted such rites were also called PUROHITAS. Now let us consider the Helleno-Semitic connections between the Proto-Catholic fire priesthood of HELIOS or ELI-YAHU and the Rig Vedic fire sacrifice priesthood of HARI or VASUDEVA (VISHNU). One is associated with the messenger Angelos and the other with the messenger Angirasas
A Few of the Angel Cults’ Related Deity Names and Terms
Ignis Fire-Priest of Rome as hearth Servitor Lord UESNOS, Sanskrit Agni cult of VISHNU
Roman Flamen Dialis, Vedic Brahmin Devarishi
Hebrew YISHMA, Sanskrit VISHNU
Hebrew ELI, Greco-Egyptian HERI / HELI, Sanskrit HARI (the so-called ‘Solar and Fire’ form of Monotheism)
Hebrew YAHU (TOBA-YAHU), Greek Ousios, Sanskrit VASU (VASU-DEVA)
Hebrew AZAR, Greek OSIRIS, Sanskrit ASURA (root ASU)
Scripture Name …Hebrew YEDA, Greek OIDA, Sanskrit VEDA
Fire Priest….Greek-Jewish PROPHETA, Sanskrit PUROHITA
Seer ….Jewish Hebrew ROEH, Sanskrit RISHI
Fire, the Tongue of Vishnu …Latin IGNI, Sanskrit AGNI
The Greeks called the fire priests of both the Egypto-Greek Deity Helios and of the Jewish Deity Eli-Yahu PROPHETAS (prophets). These performed the same kind of rites as the PUROHITAS of VISHNU. AGGELOS (Angels called MALAK in Hebrew) were associated with the fire sacrifices of Helios / Elijahu. In fact these beings were sometimes seen ascending or descending in the flames of the sacrificial fires. Thus there is a clear connection between the messenger ANGELS of the Biblical Deity ELI-YAHU and the fire sacrifice related ANGIRAS messengers of HARI or VASU DEVA. The seers or sages of the fire sacrifice cult of Helios / EliYahu were called ROEH and their Vedic Counterparts were called RISHI, both terms meaning ‘seer’. Later the word PROPHETA for these fire-sacrifice cult ‘seers’ was confounded with the meaning of their other name, ROEH, so that by association, the Biblical use of the word for fire-priest came to mean SEER / PROPHET. The meaning of ‘messenger’ in general and specifically a messenger of Vishnu and the Vasudevas is consistent in the common Sanskrit usage, and carries through the Persian (where very early AHURA God’s messengers had wings, for example see the Fravarshi of Cyrus the Great at Parsagard), and is preserved in the Greco-Jewish and Catholic Traditions. In Judaism’s oldest scriptures the Angels are called MALAK in Hebrew. AGGELOS is used to translate the Hebrew MALAK many times in the Greek ‘Old Testament’ Bible Septuagint and Apocrypha. In the New Testament AGELLOS is translated ‘angel’ 181 times and ‘messenger’ 7 times. Beginning in the first Book of the Bible GENESIS (compare JANUS and GANESHA as the Patrons of Scripture, Writing, and all Creations and Beginning Endeavors) the Hebrew word MALAK is translated as ANGEL 111 times, as MESSENGER 98 times and as AMBASSADOR 4 times. MALAK is also associated with royalty (as ambassadors of God), see ‘begin to reign’ 284 times and to ‘make king’ 39 times. ( Find any of these numbers in a good Biblical concordance with a Greek and Hebrew Lexicon.) ANGEL or MESSENGER is really a very generic term, and is used as such in the Bible. It may be used for every kind of celestial and actually heavenly (transcendental) being, and even for human messengers of God. ANGEL may even be used for ‘rebellious’ angels or agents of death and destruction, such as the ‘angel of death’. Let us look at some of these different kinds of angels, or uses for the word angel as a messenger, and especially a messenger of the True God.
In the Bible’s Catholic Apocalypse (Protestant Book of Revelation) a HUMAN ANGEL ARISES FROM THE EAST AND SEALS (by anointing) THE ELECT OF GOD IN THEIR FOREHEADS WITH “THE NAME OF THE LIVING GOD”. THIS HUMAN ANGEL AS A PUROHITA / PROPHET IN THE ANCIENT TRADITION OF CONSECRATION BY ANOINTING WOULD BE AN ANGIRASA. AS A FIRE-PRIEST REPRESENTATIVE OF THE BRAHMA SAMPRADAYA, SRILA PRABHUPADA WAS AN ANGIRASA ( being in the Line of the Angirasas). HE INITIATED AND ANOINTED ACCORDING TO THE RIG VEDIC PURUSHA SUKTA FIRE SACRIFICE TRADITION, THUS REVIVING THE ANCIENT HELLENO-SEMITIC RITE (RITYA IN SANSKRIT) OF THE PROTO-CATHOLIC MEDITERRANEAN FORM OF VAISHNAVISM. HE WAS A HUMAN ANGIRASA / MESSENGER WHO AROSE FROM THE EAST AND CAME WEST ANOINTING AND SEALING PEOPLE DEVOTED TO GOD IN THEIR FOREHEADS WITH THE SAME MANUMISSION MARK THAT THE ANCIENT HELIOS AND ELIYAHU WORSHIPERS USED TO WEAR ! FOR THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN DEVOTEES, THE ‘URDHVA TILAKA’ ‘U’ or ‘Y’ or ‘V’ MARK WAS THE SIGN OF THE NAME OF THE LIVING GOD YAHU THEOS / VASU DEVA / WASU THEOS ! IT WAS USED BY JEWS, PYTHAGOREANS AND OTHER HELIOS / ELIYAHU WORSHIPERS. THE GURU MESSENGER WHO INITIATES IN THE LINE OF BRAHMA AND AGNI / THE RIG VEDIC PURUSHA SACRIFICES MAY BE CONSIDERED A HUMAN ANGIRASA OR ANGELOS / ANGEL.
SACRED TRADITION TELLS US THAT ONE PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE CAN HAVE MORE THAN ONE MEANING AND THAT THOSE MEANINGS CAN ALSO BE TIME-AND-PLACE RELATED. THE BOOK OF REVELATION PASSAGE ABOUT THE ANGEL ARISING (NOT DESCENDING !) AND SEALING THE DEVOTEES IN THEIR FOREHEADS WITH THE “NAME OF THE LIVING GOD”, CERTAINLY HAS ONE SIGNIFICANCE IN RELATIONSHIP TO SRILA PRABHUPADA ! THE LOGIC OF IT CANNOT BE DENIED, BUT THIS READING DOES NOT RULE OUT OTHER READINGS OF COURSE.
In Jewish Mysticism there are also 72 Angels with the Names of God. These Angels’ Holy Names contain elements of the EL (HARI) Name, and the YAHU (VASU) Name. For example MICHAEL is a compound of the Names MICHA and EL. There are scores of such compound Theophoric Names in the Bible and Jewish / West Semitic Sacred Tradition. Each one of these compound EL and Yahu Names reveals something else about the ELIYAHU GODHEAD. In the Judeo-Catholic Tradition, the angels were also revealers of GOD, and the guides and protectors of creation and humankind. Angels like the so-called ‘Solar’ Vasu Devas, Suras or Adityas presided over all of the elements, every organ and limb, every person and family, house, community and nation, planet and universe.
>>> Does every person have his own angel protector like Christians say?
Yes. Such angels came to be called ‘guardian angels’ in elaborate Catholic angelology. The doctrine of these guardians in relationship to protecting devas as the good agents of God in Vaishnavism has been examined by Vaishnava Vedic Astrologers and Jewish Scholars like Isa Dasa (Jewish) and Jeffery Armstrong (Astrologer). I have personally discussed the Judeo-Catholic doctrine of presiding Angels from the Vaishnava viewpoint of presiding Devas with numerous Jewish and Catholic experts throughout the years, and it has always been agreed that these protecting planetary, personal and elemental devas are the same as some of the presiding or guardian angels of the Judeo-Catholic Tradition.
>>> Should we pray to them?
We should never pray to them as separate from or, equal to the Supreme Lord, but we can venerate (not ‘adore’ ) them, and pray to them as great devotees and agents of the Lord. Thus the Catholic Church actually encourages praying for the help of one’s guardian angel.
There are many other beings generally called ‘angels’ in the Judeo-Catholic Tradition. Some of these are hierarchically ranked as (highest to lowest) Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, then Dominions, Virtues, Powers, and lastly Principalities, Archangels and Angels. They may be venerated (worshiped appropriately) by the faithful, just as Saints may be venerated as the servants, sons and daughters, friends, parents or even brides of God in the Catholic Tradition.
>>> Angels are Krishna’s servants, one is His associate and the other, have managed to merge into the Lord’s brahmajyoti. And angels float. One is floating and flying in fields of Goloka Vrindavana, and the other is floating and flying around a bottomless pit, which is the abyss or hell. Do you have therefore an angel which is applicable to both of the above?
I recommend that you read the story of Rahu-Ketu, keeping the story of Satan’s casting-out-of-heaven in mind. SETU / KETU and his minions the RAHUS become the arch-enemies of Hari and the Suragana / gods.
>>> It means that angels are not like Christians say with the wings, in white cloth?
Since there are countless angels of many kinds, why not ? Why reject the iconographic tradition of the white robed winged beings? Is there not enough room in all the various heavens for some angels with white robes and wings? In ancient Egypt, Israel and Judah, Ananta Shesha Naga was sometimes depicted with wings and then called a SERAPH. This Winged Serpent Form of His in China is the Good Dragon of Mother Kuan Yin. In the early Sumerian and Assyrian and Persian Traditions, and in Egypt the Lord and His expansions or representatives were sometimes depicted as having multiple arms or limbs and some of these were sometimes wings or wings with hands. Thus the Lion-Headed wrathful Form of God as Time in these areas sometimes had multiple arms and sometimes multiple wings, and sometimes wing-arms (with hands) and sometimes both wings and arms. Six was a common number. I have personally seen these kinds of ancient Icons of the Lord with six limbs ( arms, or wings, or wings and arms) many times in my studies. It is often purely prejudice that blinds people to recognizing GOD when he appears before them in His unfamiliar Multi-Form. Be open to God ! Open your hearts and Minds my dear brothers and you will begin to see Him everywhere! Do not let your minds dictate to God what He can look like, or whom He can choose for His devotees, and what they can look like !
>>> Remember Ajamila? Ajamila was brought to the supreme court to be judged by Lord Yamaraja, having been accused of committing acts which offended Good Itself. Ajamila was a Vaishnava but later in his life forgot about the instructions given to him by Good itself. In fact, Ajamila was an adulterer but because of his being a Vaishnava, his sin was abominable when compared to those who were devoid of good consciousness. Eventually Ajamila was saved after he uttered Good`s Holy [Name]: Narayana. Instantly the Vishnudutas arrived to stop the Yamadutas from bringing Ajamila to the court room presided by Lord Yamaraja. The rest therefore is history. In other words, if you read Srimad Bhagavatam compiled by good himself, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, did you ever see these angels, Yamadutas and Visnudutas, sporting wings? Of course not!
When a language’s word for ‘appendage’ or ‘limb’ is non-specific, then the same Shastric description may be iconographically rendered with any combination of arms, wings, or both, or composite wings-with-hands, which are very common in the Vaishnava-related Traditions from Persia to Europe and Africa. There is also a pictorial pun in the root of the Names ‘Angel’ and ‘Angiras’, because ANGA can also mean ‘limb’. Commonly in the East, the Vishnu Dutas have four arms, while in the Mediterranean the Messengers of Eli-Yahu (the Biblical Deity) have two arms and two wings. Ancient Icons of Biblical Seraphim (Angels) often have hands on or under their wings, and may have two arms and four to six wings or wings-with-hands. Anantadeva as the Egypto-Jewish Seraphic Sesha Nachash (Sarpa Shesha Naga) was depicted as a Giant Egyptian Cobra, Who sometimes had WINGS or WINGS WITH HANDS. When Anantadeva was depicted with wings, He was called a DRAGON, or celestial Naga. He was worshiped this way by the ancient Jews and Egyptians, and is still worshiped this way (with wings) throughout the Orient / Buddhist Lands. ‘Anga’ meaning ‘limb’ has another meaning from what is folded, curved or bent. Thus in English, ANKLE and ANGLE are both from this root.
The Vishnuduta and Yamaduta messengers of Vishnu and Yama would qualify as kinds of angels. The Vishnu Dutas have a form like the Lord’s. They look like Jaya and Vijaya in Vaikuntha. The Guards in front of ancient Pure Land Buddhist Shrines used to look just like Jaya and Vijaya. I saw many of these while studying Pure Land Buddhist archaeological sites in Sri Lanka and Nepal. The Guards or Fravarshis outside the throne rooms in Pre-Zoroastian and Zoroastrian Persia and Egypt would often have wings instead of more than two arms. Of course in Catholicism, ‘Angels’ guard both the gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem, where God is worshiped in awe and reverence as the King of Kings (BASILEOS BASILEOS = VASUDEVA OF THE VASUDEVAS), and they also guard the passage way to the Garden of Paradise. There, God sports with His Brides and Brides-Maidens and dances His sacred CHORUS / HORA CIRCLE DANCE, the CAROLING ‘Angelic Round’ of God as KOURU-AULOS. The word ‘CAROL’ is derived from KOURU-AULOS, because the Lord, as the Ever New Beauty and *Lover of the soul, led His sacred CHAKRA / KYKLOS or Circle Dance (CHORUS) while PLAYING ON HIS FLUTE / AULOS !
The Iconographic variations within Indian Vaishnavism are so extreme, that it is simply illogical to dismiss Iconographic variations from outside India as somehow less sacred than those from inside India. The Lord has infinite Forms and Names, and His devotees do too ! The same principle of simultaneous oneness-and-difference applies to differences in Form, color, hair, decoration and dress, etc. The Lord’s Forms are so astoundingly variegated within the Eastern Bhakti Traditions, that it is simply ridiculous to disallow Him the same degree of difference outside of the Eastern Traditions.
*The Biblical Shastric reference for the Lord as the eternal Beautiful Youth and Lover is the “Song of Songs”, “Song of Solomon”, or “Canticle of Canticles” found in the Hebrew or Greek Jewish Scriptures, and in the Catholic / Christian Bible ‘Old Testament’. Catholic theologians have always referred to the “Song’s” tradition of God as Lover as ‘Bridal Mysticism’.
SRI SRI GURU AND GAURANGA KI JAYA