ye ’py anya-devatā-bhaktā
yajante śraddhayānvitāḥ
te ’pi mām eva kaunteya
yajanty avidhi-pūrvakam

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 9.23

Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only Me, O son of Kunti, but they do so in a wrong way.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

“Persons who are engaged in the worship of demigods are not very intelligent, although such worship is offered to Me indirectly,” Krishna says. For example, when a man pours water on the leaves and branches of a tree without pouring water on the root, he does so without sufficient knowledge or without observing regulative principles. Similarly, the process of rendering service to different parts of the body is to supply food to the stomach. The demigods are, so to speak, different officers and directors in the government of the Supreme Lord. One has to follow the laws made by the government, not by the officers or directors. Similarly, everyone is to offer his worship to the Supreme Lord only. That will automatically satisfy the different officers and directors of the Lord. The officers and directors are engaged as representatives of the government, and to offer some bribe to the officers and directors is illegal. This is stated here as avidhi-purvakam. In other words, Krishna does not approve the unnecessary worship of the demigods.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

In verse 15 you have mentioned the three types of worship, and then to explain the third type of worship (visva rupa) you have recited verses to illustrate it (verse 16-19).  Some others worship Indra and others as part of their practice in karma yoga (verse 20). Though they predominantly worship other devatas, they also are your devotees. Why do they not get liberation? For you have said, “They again take repeated birth and death (verse 21)” and “Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary.” BG 7.23

This verse answers. Yes, they do worship me (te mam eva yajanti). However, they worship without any rules for attaining me (avidhi purvakam). Thus they return to this world.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

9.23 Those, however, who are devoted to Indra and other divinities, who rely on the three Vedas alone, and who, possessed of faith, worship Indra and other divinities — they too worship Me actually in the light of the truth that all existing things constitute My body and have Me for their selves. In the light of this principle, terms like Indra denote Me only. The worshippers of Indra and other deities therefore worship Me only, in ways not sanctioned by the Sastras. They do not worship Indra and other divinities with a proper understanding of the place of these deities in the light of the Vedanta texts. An example is ‘Wherein (i.e., in the Supreme Self) the sacrifices known as the Caturhotri attain their fulfilment through the divinities’ (Tai. Ar., 4) etc. These texts say in what way these forms of worship apply to these divinties. For all Vedanta texts lay down that the Supreme Person alone is to be worshipped directly when they enjoin the worship of Indra and other divinities, as they form the body of the Supreme Person. The meaning is that in the Caturhotri sacrifice like Agnihotra, the full moon and the new moon sacrifices etc., it is the Supreme Self only that is worshipped, as He abides as the self in Indra etc., who are the ostensible objects worshipped in these sacrifices by which these worshippers obtain their fulfilment through them. Therefore, the votaries of the three Vedas do not understand that these rituals form the worship of the Supreme Person and that He alone is to be worshipped. As they do not do so, they become experiencers of limited results, and they are again liable to fall into Samsara. Sri Krsna gives expressions to this:

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

As the reality is that there is only one Supreme Lord and that is Lord Krishna and that the worship of any of the demigods who manage universal creation are all His devotees as well; then needless to say the worship of any other lesser god unconnected to Him is superfluous. But how is it that His devotees must still transmigrate incessantly in samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death? What happens to them is being explained here. Although they are devotees of Lord Krishna they have a desire to worship demigods as well for material desires and although those desires zealously sought for are sanctioned to the demigod for bestowal because they are not following bhakti or loving devotion they have no chance for moksa or liberation from Lord Krishna because they are interested in mundane transitory acquisitions. Hence they also are born again and again continuously without cessation.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Lord Krishna speaks this verse to alleviate any doubt that He is the sole recipient and ultimate goal of all Vedic yagnas or offering and propitiation as enjoined in the Vedas.

Now begins the summation.

Superior by far to the worshippers of the demigods for desired results as found in the karma kanda or rituals for fruitive reward section of the Vedas are the Vaisnavas the exclusive devotees of the Supreme Lord Krishna or any of His authorised incarnations or expansions. The Vaisnavas are infused with bhakti or loving devotional service for the Supreme Lord and are without any desires for anything that is not directly associated with Him. The worship of Brahma or Shiva or the demigods is also worship of the Supreme Lord as it is He who they are worshipping but it is indirect. Also to perform Ashwemdha or other such Vedic rituals for desire of rewards is also worship of the Supreme Lord as it is He who sanctions such rewards but it is not direct as well. The Agni Purana states: That the spiritually intelligent verily regard the demigods who are the directors and managers of different aspects of creation as Vaisnavas and that is their service to the Supreme Lord. It should be noted that upasana or meditation on the attributes of the Supreme Lord as paramatma the Supreme Soul within the etheric heart of all sentient beings as well as meditation on His qualities and lilas or divine pastimes is in and of itself the Supreme State.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

The astute can perceive that if all the demigods comprise the Supreme Lord Krishna’s transcendental body and that He resides within each and every one of them as paramatma the Supreme Soul as He does in all sentient beings; then worship of them is indirect worship of Him and also that all the demigods devotees are indirectly the Supreme Lords devotees. So what is the cause of their falling into samsara the perpetual cycle of bith and death without cessation. Just as Lord Krishna’s devotees worship Him directly, the devotees of the demigods such as Surya and Indra worship them directly. But because Lord Krishna is Himself eternal He can award benedictions that are eternal such as moksa o liberarion from samsara. Contrarily the demigods themselves are not eternal so they cannot offer anything to their votaries that is eternal and hence everything bestowed by them has a time limit and after it has expired such votaries are forced back into samsara. In an unconscious, indirect way the devotees of the demigods are worshipping the Supreme Lord but they are not worshipping Him in accordance with the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures and so they are not entitled to receive eternal benedictions from Him as they are merely worshipping the demigods in accordance with the Vedic scriptures. The ignorant worship the demigods, lesser gods and even impersonal gods profusely without any reference to the Supreme Lord.

Oblivious to the reality that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Lord of All and that He exists omnipresent within and without all living entities; whatever ritual, ceremony or worship the ignorant embark upon for their fruitive desires has no real significance as there is no propitiation to the Supreme Lord and has no real meaning as it is devoid of knowledge of Him.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

9.23 Api, even; ye, those who; anya-devata-bhaktah, being devoted to tother deities; and anvitah sraddhaya, endowed with faith; yajante, worship (them), te api, they also; O son of Kunti, yajanti, worship; mam, Me; eva, alone; (though) avidhi-purvakam, following the wrong method. Avidhi implies ignorance. So the idea is that they worship (Me) ignorantly. ‘How it is that they worship (Me) ignorantly?’ [i.e. the worshippers of other deities worship them knowingly, and hence, how can the question of their ignorance arise?] This is being answered: Because-

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

9.23-26 Ye’ pi etc. upto prayatatmanah. Even those who worship [gods] with other names, they too [in fact] worship Me alone, becaue there is nothing (no god) to be worshipped apart from the Brahman. But the difference is that [they do so] by non-injunction. Non-injunction : different injunctions. [This amounts to saying that] having the innate nature of the Absolute Brahman-Existence, I am indeed worshipped by manifold injunctions (i.e., sacrifices enjoined by injunctions). But non-injunction should not be explained as ‘by defective injunction’ as it has been done by others (other commentators), who acquire dirts of great sins by insulting other systems of philosophy. If their view is correct then the declarations that are actually found viz., ‘They offer sacrifice to Me alone’, and ‘I am alone the enjoyer of all sacrifices’ – all would be inconsistent. Enough of talk with the sinful ones. Our preceptors, however, explain [ye’pyanya-etc.] as follows : Those who, following the principle of the doctrine of duality consider certain deity as different from their own Self and as devoid of the innate nature of the Brahman, and offer sacrifice to that deity only-but it is only to Me, their own Self that even those men offer their sacrifices, however by non-injunction i.e. by faulty injunction of the nature of duality-view. That is why [the Lord] says (in verse 25) ‘They do not recognise Me, their own Self, correctly as that deity itself, i.e., as the enjoyer [of the oblation of the sacrifice]. Hence they move away from My nature . Why ? By being votaries of gods, they attain the gods etc. (verse 26). It amounts to say that this [fact of attaining these gods] is itself nothing but moving away [from Me, the Self]. On the other hand, those who realise My nature (i.e. Me) as being not different [from their Self], they offer sacrifices to Me alone, even though those sacrifices etc. are for the gods, goblins and manes.’ [The Lord] is going to conclude [the present topic] as : ‘(Thus) offering sacrifice to Me they attain Me alone.’ (IX-29,35). But that alone is called a deity which is aimed at [according to injunction], for offering things (i.e. oblation). Hence, how can a sacrifice be offered to one’s own Self, a category that cannot be aimed at ? For example, there is the injunction: ‘The oblation [of rice] of the rite prayana, crooked in the milk, is intended for the deity Aditi’; and hence this Aditi becomes the object intended [in the sacrifice], because that particular deity is an adjunct of an injunction, and because it is included in the injunction as one to be aimed at. But [in the present case], there is no injunction that concerns the Self. Having [these objections] in mind [the Lord] says : [They offer sacrifice] to Me following non-injunction. The idea is this : An injunction is required only in the case of a deity that is different from one’s own Self. For, the injunction is one of the nature of imparting the knowledge only of that particular thing which is not known [otherwise]. But, one’s own Self, the Absolute Lord, is known, not following any injunction. For, the knowledge of the Self is not brought by injunction. Certainly no action is undertaken not aiming the Self. Therefore in all cases [of offerings], intended for the deities like Indra etc., this Self of one’s own is certainly intended , as the Self is, by nature, the illuminator of the entire Universe; as It is like a thread in a garland; and as It is illumining [on Its own accord], asserting Its superiority [over all others] and only serving as a background (bhittih, ‘a screen’, or ‘a wall’) of the manifestations of the deity so intended by him [in the sacrifice]. Thus it is established by logic that even the votaries of gods offer sacrifices to Me (the Absolute) alone, becuase ‘I’ depends on no injunction. As far as these sacrificers are concerned, the principal effect of the sacrifice viz., attaining ‘Me’, is not intended by them as their own. On the other hand, they are very much satisfied with attaining the status of Indra etc., just as a priest is satisfied with limited fees. To indicate this, the parasmaipada form (yajanti) [is used]. For, it has been stated by myself (Ag.) [else-where] as : ‘One, who knows the Vedas and does not know [to intend for] the status of (or the word) Sambhu (the Absolute), would feel afflicted in despair. [For], aspiring for the heaven, and [hence] rejecting the status of [the actual] performer of of sacrifice (yajamana), [but at the same time] performing sacrifice for others (yajan), he has become a [mere] priest in the sacrifice. Indeed, the divergently flowing floods of taste for action, without exception, – even though they flow from the Absolute consciousness – do not bestow [on the performer] the mighty ocean of Bliss of one’s own Self if they do not gain a complete stability’ Thus whosoever realises in the said manner, his sacrifice, though aimed at the deities like Indra, is in fact a sacrifice offered to the Absolute Lord. Whatever may be the other actions of his, they too become acts of worshipping his own Self, the Absolute Lord, as It alone is intended in all his action. This [the Lord] says :

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

ye ’py anya-devata-bhakta
yajante sraddhayanvitah
te ’pi mam eva kaunteya
yajanty avidhi-purvakam

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

ye — those who; api — also; anya — of other; devatā — gods; bhaktāḥ — devotees; yajante — worship; śraddhayā anvitāḥ — with faith; te — they; api — also; mām — Me; eva — only; kaunteya — O son of Kuntī; yajanti — they worship; avidhi-pūrvakam — in a wrong way.