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Gandhabbā

A class of semi-divine beings who inhabit the Cātummahārājikā realm and are the lowest among the devas (D.ii.212). They are generally classed together with the Asura and the Nāgā (e.g., A.iv.200, 204, 207). Beings are born among them as a result of having practised the lowest form of morality (sīla) (D.ii.212, 271). It is a disgrace for a monk to be born in the Gandhabba-world (D.ii.221, 251, 273 f). The Gandhabbā are regarded as the heavenly musicians, and Pañcasikha, Suriyavaccasā and her father Timbarū are among their number (D.ii.264). They wait on such devas as Sakka, and the males among them form the masculine counterpart of the accharā, the nymphs. Their king is Dhataraṭṭha, ruler of the eastern quarter (D.ii.257). Other chieftains are also mentioned (D.ii.258): Panāda, Opamañña, Sakka’s charioteer Mātalī, Cittasena, Naḷa, and Janesabha.

The Gandhabbā are sometimes described as going through the air (vihaṅgamā) (A.ii.39; AA.ii.506). In the Āṭānāṭiya Sutta (D.iii.203, 204) the Gandhabbas are mentioned among those likely to trouble monks and nuns in their meditations in solitude. The Buddha says that beings are born among the Gandhabakāyikā devā because they wish to be so; they are described as dwelling in the fragrance of root-wood, of bark and sap, and in that of flowers and scents (S.iii.250 f).

It is often stated that the Gandhabbā preside over conception; this is due to an erroneous translation of the word gandhabba in passages (e.g., M.i.157, 265 f) dealing with the circumstances necessary for conception (mātāpitaro ca sannipatitā honti, mātā ca utunī hoti, gandhabbo ca paccupaṭṭhito hoti). The Commentaries (e.g., MA.i.481 f ) explain that here gandhabba means “tatrūpakasatta — tasmiṃ okāse nibbattanako satto” — meaning a being fit and ready to be born to the parents concerned. The Subcommentary (ṭīkā) says that the word stands for “gantabba.”

See also Gandhabbarājā.

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