Monday, October 18, 2010

Diwali and the myth of Narakasura

Photo: Krishna and Satyabhama fighting Narakasura's armies, painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA.

Deepavali (Divali or Diwali) literally means ‘row of lights’. According to one legend, the festival is celebrated on the occasion of Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama killing the Demon Narakasura. Another legend says the festival is celebrated on the occasion of return of Lord Rama and Sita to the Kingdom of Ayodhya after fourteen years in exile.

In Hindu mythology, Narakasura (or Naraka) is the Asura (demon) son of Goddess Earth (Bhudevi or Bhumi) and Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) Avatar (incarnation). Some other legends say that Narakasura is the son of the Asura, Hiranyaksha.

Narakasura established the kingdom of Pragjyotisha in Assam defeating the last of the Danava king Ghatakasura. As it was foretold that he would be killed by a later incarnation of Vishnu, Goddess Earth sought a boon from Vishnu that her son should have a long life, and he should be all powerful. Vishnu readily granted these boons.

In the history of Assam, Narakasura is cited as the progenitor of many dynasties that ruled Kamarupa in its golden times. He is also associated with the myth of the Shakta Goddess and the place of worship, Kamakhya.

Narakasura joined forces with another Asura, Banasura, and brought all the kingdoms on earth under his rule, conquered Swargaloka, and defeated Indra. Thus Narakasura became the overlord of the heavens and the earth. Also, he abducted and imprisoned 16,100 women in his palace. Besides, he stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped her territory.

Defeated and helpless, the Devas, led by Indra, complained against Narakasura to Lord Vishnu who promised that he will mitigate their plight when he will be incarnated as Lord Krishna.

During the Krishna Avatar of Vishnu, Aditi, who was a relative of Satyabhama (an Avatar of Bhudevi), approached Satyabhama for help. Upon this, because of Narakasuara's ill-treatment of women and Aditi, Satyabhama asked Lord Krishna’s permission to wage a war against Narakasura.

As promised to the Devas and Aditi, Krishna attacked the fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with wife Satyabhama. The battle was fierce, as Narakasura unleashed his huge armies of Asuras on Krishna. But the Lord slew them all, and killed Mura, Narakasura's general, because of which Krishna is also called Murari (the enemy of Mura).

In desperation, Narakasura launched Sataghni (a thunderbolt) on Krishna, but it made no impact on Krishna. Finally, when Narakasura tried to kill the Lord with a trident, Krishna beheaded him with his Sudarshana Chakra.

Before dying, Narakasura requested a boon from Krishna that his death anniversary be celebrated by all people on earth. So, the day of his death is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi', the first day of Diwali.

In another version, Narakasura had gained a boon from Brahma that he would die only at the hands of his mother. So, Satyabhama, along with Krishna, fought Narakasura bravely, but she was no match to him. When Narakasura got a chance, he took aim at Krishna, hurting him lightly. Krishna fainted in a preordained, divine plan adopted to empower Satyabhama.

On seeing the fainted Krishna, Satyabhama was furious, fought fiercely, and killed the demon finally. Before dying, he requested a boon from his mother (Satyabhama) that everyone should celebrate his death with colorful lights. Thus this day is celebrated as the first day of Diwali, 'Naraka Chaturdashi'.

The victory on Narakasura resulted in freedom for all his prisoners, and honoring of Aditi and Lord Krishna rescued all the 16,100 imprisoned women, and married them to restore their former dignity.

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