A class of semi-divine beings who inhabit the Cātumma-hārājika-realm and are the lowest among the devas (D.ii.212). They are generally classed together with the Asuras and the Nāgas (E.g., A.iv.200, 204, 207). Beings are born among them as a result of having practised the lowest form of sīla (D.ii.212, 271).
It is a disgrace for a monk to be born in the Gandhabba-world (D.ii.221, 251, 273f). The Gandhabbas 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 Dhatarattha, ruler of the eastern quarter (D.ii.257). Other chieftains are also mentioned (D.ii.258): Panāda, Opamañña, Sakka's charioteer Mātalī, Cittasena, Nala and Janesabha.
The Gandhabbas are sometimes described as vihangamā (going through the air) (A.ii.39; AA.ii.506). In the ātānātiya 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.250f).
It is often stated that the Gandhabbas preside over conception; this is due to an erroneous translation of the word gandhabba in passages (E.g., M.i.157, 265f) dealing with the circumstances necessary for conception (mātāpitaro ca sannipatitā honti, mātā ca utunī hoti, gandhabbo ca paccupatthito hoti).
The Commentaries (E.g., MA.i.481f ) explain that here gandhabba means tatrūpakasatta - tasmim okāse nibbattanako satto - meaning a being fit and ready to be born to the parents concerned. The Tīkā says that the word stands for gantabba.
See also Gandhabbarājā.