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Difference Between Asuras and Rakshasas – Are They Not Both Demons?

To majority of Hindus and those who read Hindu scriptures and stories, Asuras and Rakshasas mean the same – they are demons. But several scholars are of the opinion that an Asura and a Rakshasa are not the same. They are different. The primary difference is that Asuras reside in the netherworld or underground and Rakshasas live on the earth. Asuras are the enemies of Devas or demigods and Rakshasa are the enemies of human beings and saints.

Some scholars are also of the view that Rakshasas were the protectors of the forest and came into conflict with human beings who wanted to clear forest, cut trees and wanted to exploit the nature.

It must also be noted that majority of the episodes of battle between Rakshasas and human beings take place in forest. It looks like the humans were invading their space and it is when they retaliate.

Rakshasas are chiefly mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata like Tadaka, Surpanaka, Kumbhakarna, Hidimba, Ghatotkacha, Baka etc
Not all Rakshasas are of evil nature, there are several instances in scriptures when humans have taken the help of Rakshasas. Like Gahatokacha in the Mahabharata.

Another noteworthy aspect is that majority of the Rakshasas got the form due to a curse and escapes the curse when they are killed by an incarnation of Vishnu.

Most Rakshasas don’t challenge the authority of the Trimurtis.

If the above said difference between Asuras and Rakshasas is to be accepted then Asuras are chiefly mentioned in the Puranas. They always attempt to dethrone Indra and other devas from heaven. Vishnu, Shiva, Goddess Shakti or Kartik help the Devas to defeat the Asuras.

It must be also noted that Asuras also challenge the authority of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma – the trimurtis.
Yet again not all Asuras are bad. For example there is King Bali.

Most Asuras also have supernatural origin and supernatural powers. Interestingly they acquire most these powers by performing Tapas and austerities dedicated to the Trimurtis, especially Brahma.

There are also demons that fall into the category of both Rakshasas and Asuras – the best example is that of Ravana.