Gods of ambition and insecurity

Business 15 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, Nov. 26, 2010

Most stories in the Puranas, ancient Hindu narrative chronicles, begin with the defeat of the Devas by Asuras, and end with the defeat of the Asuras by Devas. Devas are described as gods and Asuras as demons. But they are both grandsons of Brahma, the creator. Brahma’s son, Kashyapa, has two wives, Aditi and Diti. Devas are the sons of Aditi; they live in the sky. Asuras are the sons of Diti; they live under the earth. The two sets of half-brothers hate each other. Devas are forever insecure about Asuras and Asuras are forever jealous of the Devas. Naturally, neither Devas nor Asuras are worthy of worship. There are no temples for Devas or Asuras.

Devas and Asuras represent two primal fears seen in the animal kingdom. Devas represent the fear of the predator; they constanty seek reassurance. Asuras represent the fear of scarcity; they always want more. These two emotions are widely prevalent in most organizations and can in different situations be either obstacles or levers.

Ramesh works as the manager of a bookshop. He is very happy with his job. Regular timings and not much pressure. He tends to be rather lazy and hates doing anything more than what his boss asks of him. He does not believe in being proactive. He is not a bad guy, just a simple guy with no ambition.  In meetings, he refuses to come up with new ideas in case it adds to the burden of work. He simply nods his head and complies. For him job security is the most important thing in the world. He expects what is due to him, not more. Naturally, he resists any change and feels threatened every time there is a new boss. He hates new policies and new ideas. He likes things to go the way they did in the past.

Senthil is the very opposite of Ramesh. He is hungry for growth. He too is a manager of a bookshop but he wants to be area manager in the next two years and works very hard for it. He is restless and aggressive. He looks down upon Ramesh. And Ramesh views him with suspicion. Senthil considers Ramesh a loser and a roadblock to progress. Ramesh considers Senthil to be dangerous and disruptive to stability.

Ramesh is a Deva, yearning for stability, trapped in insecurity with a tendency to be complacent. Senthil is an Asura, yearning for growth, trapped in ambition with a tendency to be arrogant. Both have values that are good for the company and both have values that are bad for the company. During consolidation phase, companies need Devas. During growth phase, companies need Asuras. Managing the two groups is critical to churn success.

When Sandeep’s factory was facing high attrition and severe market pressures, he ensured that old loyalists were put in senior positions. They were not particularly skilled at work. They were in fact ‘yes-men’ and not ‘go-getters’ who yearned for stability. By placing them in senior positions, Sandeep ensured that a sense of stability spread across the organization in volatile times. They were his Devas who anchored the ship in rough seas. When things stabilized and the market started looking up, Sandeep hired ambitious and hungry people into the company. These were Asuras, wanting more and more. They were transactional and ambitious and full of drive and energy. Now the old managers hate the new managers and block them at every turn. Sandeep is upset. He wants the old guard to change or get out of the way. But they will not change and they will not budge. Sandeep is feeling exasperated and frustrated. He needs to appreciate the difference between Devas and Asuras. Each one has a value at different times. They cannot play in the same team but are very good as force and counterforce in different phases of the organization. Sandeep must not expect either to change. All he needs to do is place them in positions where they can deliver their best.

Many people start as Asuras and end up being Devas. Ramesh, early in his career, was growth-seeking. Once he became manager, he became stability-seeking. Senthil is today an Asura but eventually may turn into Devas. To accept this reality and work with it is the hallmark of a leader.

  • Umakant

    Dear Sir,
    I have read few books of yours (Ram, Mahabharata & now reading the 7 secrets).
    I have a query on the subject article. As Devas are not worthy of worship and have no temples .. but don’t we have temple for Ganesha, Ayappa, Shankara, Balaji & Godesses too.

    Please help to clarify this

    • Devdutt

      Devas (gods with lower case) and Bhagavan (God with upper case) are two different concepts in Hinduism…

      • Sandeep

        In Sanskrit the word Bhagawan comes from the Dhatu or root Bhaga. The Dhatu Bhaga is a combination of six qualities; viz. yasha, shree, veerya, aishvarya, gyan and vairagya. If the person who is perceived to have these six qualities is a male, he is called Bhagawan and if that person is a female she is called Bhagawati.

        Many of the Rishis were reverently called Bhagawan. Patanjali who composed the Yoga sutra is routinely addressed as Bhagawan Patanjali even today. Similarly, Vasishtha and Vishwamitra have also been routinely addressed as Bhagawan. In recent past the devotees and followers of Shri Raman Maharshi fondly called the sage Bhagawan Raman Maharshi.

  • ashim

    The nice article removes the mystery around Devas and Asuras. Indeed both are needed in the journey of Life. Thank You for this nice lesson and piece of wisdom.


    Indeed a good story depicting the reality in business concern.However Devas need to be more dynamic and Asuras more sensile.

  • Today in this world Devas are spiritual people talking very Little and Asurasa are Monsters.Devas are few and Monsters are many.

    • kapil

      devas represent lazy people..thers is no place in this struggle market for lazy people..


    thank you very much for this article.

    This will help me in employing new employees for my organisation.

    But a Question,

    As an entrepreneur, i am doing both the roles of Asuras and Devas in different situation, So what would Entrepreneurs be called in the Indian Mythology Sense ???

    • kapil

      a successful man should play both the roles of asura and devas..

  • Maanav

    Hmmm…I have seen people grow (my own friends infact) and see them changed completely…now I understand…but honestly, I think this makes sense because an Asura would been seen as arrogant and a wannbe where as deva (a yes man) would been as a mature individual (?), which makes me laugh!

  • kARTIK


    You have explained the logic why a coin has two sides.. Devas and Asuras are two inbuilt qualities an individual always have within; so that one can be at peace or at war when needed in times of need.

    Thanks for the wisdom

  • One small observation, most of your stories have a hint of Advaita Vedanta. Is it by intention or by accident? Why?

  • This explains the main difference between two types of employees very well. Mere understanding of Devas and Asuras can resolve many issues.

    Thanks for the article.

  • kapil

    i am not agree with sehthil…future one should stop for getting success.just like ramesh..he is at stable position,senthil is also at stable position…dont become dev as in kalyug…asur are at highest position…dont discourage with this story….this story discourages people..completely not agreed……..

  • Venkatesh V

    A different perspective on Devas and Asuras;
    On seeing the Manthana picture, I thought the topic would be dealing with how a leader should be managing/ driving forward the mixed/opposing lot.
    Nevertheless, this is a good perspective.