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Linga inside a railing (left), being worshipped by Gandharvas winged creatures. Art of Mathura, circa 100 BCE.[1]

Gandharva is a name used for distinct heavenly beings in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It is also a term for skilled singers in Indian classical music.


Gandharva (right) with an Apsara, 10th century, Cham, Vietnam

In Hinduism, the Gandharvas (Sanskrit and Hindi; Assamese: , gandharbba; Bengali, "gandharba", Kannada: ; Odia "gandharva" ; Telugu: ; Tamil: , "kantharvan"; Malayalam: , "gandharvan") are male nature spirits and husbands of the Apsaras. Some are part animal, usually a bird or horse. They have superb musical skills. They guard the Soma and play beautiful music for the gods in their palaces. Gandharvas are frequently depicted as singers in the court of the gods.

Gandharvas in the historic sense acted as messengers between the gods and humans. In Hindu law, a gandharva marriage is one contracted by mutual consent and without formal rituals.

Gandharvas are mentioned extensively in the epic Mahabharata as associated with the Devas (as dancers and singers) and with the Yakshas, as formidable warriors. They are mentioned as spread across various territories.


Various parentage is given for the gandharvas. They are called the creatures of Prajapati, of Brahma, of Kasyapa, of the Munis, of Arishta, or of V?c.[2]


Dh?tarra, one of the Four Heavenly Kings and the king of the Gandharvas.

A Gandharva (Sanskrit; Pali: Gandhabba; Chinese: ; pinyin: G?n tà pó; Japanese: ; r?maji: Kendatsuba; Korean: ?; romaja: Gandareuba; Vietnamese: Càn Thát Bà) is one of the lowest-ranking Devas in Buddhist cosmology. They are classed among the C?turmah?r?jak?yika Devas, and are subject to the Great King Dh?tarra, Guardian of the East. Beings are reborn among the Gandharvas as a consequence of having practiced the most basic form of ethics (Janavasabha Sutta, DN.18). Gandharvas can fly through the air, and are known for their skill as musicians. They are connected with trees and flowers, and are described as dwelling in the scents of bark, sap, and blossoms. They are among the beings of the wilderness that might disturb a monk meditating alone.

The terms gandharva and yak?a sometimes refer to the same entity. Yak?a in these cases is the more general term, including a variety of lower deities.

Intermediate Rebirth

In the Mah?ta?h?sankhaya Sutta of the Majjhima Nik?ya, the Buddha explains to the bhikkhus that an embryo develops when three conditions are met: the woman must be in the correct point of her menstrual cycle, the woman and man must have sexual intercourse, and a gandhabba must be present. According to the commentary of this sutta, the use of the word gandhabba doesn't refer to a celestial Deva, but a being enabled to be born by its karma. It is the state of a sentient being between rebirths. [3]

Notable Gandharvas

Among the notable Gandharvas mentioned (in DN.20 and DN.32) are Pan?da, Opamañña, Nala, Cittasena, M?tali, and Janesabha. The last in this list is thought to be synonymous with Janavasabha, a rebirth of King Bimbis?ra of Magadha. M?tali is the charioteer of ?akra.

Timbar? is a chieftain of the Gandharvas. There is a romantic story told about the love between his daughter Bhadd? Suriyavacchas? (Sanskrit: Bhadr? S?ryavarcas?) and another Gandharva, Pañcasikha (Sanskrit: Pañca?ikha). Pañcasikha fell in love with Suriyavacchas? when he saw her dancing before ?akra, but she was then in love with M?tali's son Sikhand? (or Sikhaddi). Pañcasikha went to Timbar?'s home and played a melody on his flute of beluva-wood, with which he had great skill, and sang a love song in which he interwove themes about the Buddha and the Arhats.

?akra petitioned Pañcasikha to intercede with the Buddha so that he might have an audience with him. As a reward for Pañcasikha's services, ?akra was able to get Suriyavacchas?, already pleased with Pañcasikha's display of skill and devotion, to agree to marry Pañcasikha.

Pañcasikha also acts as a messenger for the Four Heavenly Kings, conveying news from them to M?tali, the latter representing ?akra and the Tr?yastria Devas.


In Jainism, Gandharvas are classed among the eight Vyantara Devas.

The Tiloyapaatti provides a list of ten Gandharvas:

  • H?h?
  • Huh?
  • N?rada
  • Tumbara
  • V?sava
  • Kadamba
  • Mah?svara
  • G?tarati
  • G?tarasa
  • Vajrav?n

The Sa?graha S?tra of the ?vet?mbara sect provides a slightly different list:

  • H?h?
  • Huh?
  • Tumburu
  • N?rada
  • iv?dika
  • Bh?tav?dika
  • Kadamba
  • Mah?kadamba
  • Raivata
  • Vi?v?vasu
  • G?tarati
  • G?taya?as

The Digambara sect describes the Gandharvas as having a golden complexion while the ?vet?mbara tradition recognizes them as blackish. The Tumbaru is their sacred tree.[4]

In Indian classical music

There are many singers known as gandharvas for their mastery of Indian classical music. All of them, at one time or another, were theater actors who performed in various musicals. Their style of music is known as Kula Sangeet in Marathi, literally "hereditary music". They are regarded as masters of Indian classical music by the vast majority of the general population, predominantly in the state of Maharashtra.

See also


  1. ^ Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. p. 435. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0.
  2. ^ A Sanskrit-English dictionary: etymologically and philologically arranged, by Sir Monier Monier-Williams. Retrieved – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu (30 November 2013). "The Greater Craving-Destruction Discourse (MN 38)". Access to Insight (BCBS Edition). Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ Shah, Umakant Premanand (1987). Jaina-R?pa-Maana, Volume 1. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 9788170172086.

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