Parashuram was the son of Jamadagni and Renuka. His story is a part of the epic literature and Parashuram is often cited for his unfailing loyalty to his father. Jamadagni was a Brahmin while Renuka belonged to the Kshatriya, or the warrior clan. Parashuram was a great worshipper of Shiva. He was a master at weaponry and is believed to have been teacher to the epic greats, Guru Dronacharya, Karna and Arjuna.
Remember those grandma tales? Tales, that amused and tickled our imagination as they explained why things were the way they were. Every kid wants to know why the sky is blue and grass is green; why could mountains not have wings and fly and how the rain falls from skies. Grandma had answers to all those tricky questions. Here is one such tale from A.K. Ramanujan’s basket of folktales. This curious story explains why the sky and sun are so high up in the sky.
Once upon a time sky and earth were in close embrace. As a result there was hardly any space for creatures on earth to move around or even breathe. Even the sun was so close to earth that its heat was unbearable. People died of either suffocation or excessive heat.
In the heart of Tamil Nadu, a little distance away from Chennai, flows the Varahanadi also known as Cankaraparani River. It is a perennial in a land of seasonal rivers and carries the mythologies of the region within her waters as it rushes into the sea, south of Pondicherry. This is the river around which the old and famous kingdom of Gingee flourished and where the epic heroine Draupadi came to reside and establish her cult.
The story of the river however has nothing to do with Draupadi but is linked with that of Vishnu and Shiva. Its name Cankaraparani is another name for the Ganga; it is the Tamil version of Shankarabharani which means the ornament of Shiva. In ancient times Gingee was considered to be a holy site, much like Benares where the Ganga flows. It was known as Sheo Gingee (Shiva’s Gingee). The main story of the river has more to do with Vishnu than Shiva. According to Alf Hiltebeitel (The Cult of Draupadi 1-Mythologies: From Gingee to Kurukshetra), the birth of the river is linked to a relatively unknown king of Kanchipuram known as Nantacola Raja.
Once upon a time, when Krishna was with his wife, Rukmini, Narada Muni walked into their home, greeting them with his signature lines: “Narayan Narayan”. The gleam in his eyes gave Krishna a hint that Narada was up to some mischief. Krishna smiled. After the initial courtesies, Krishna asked Narada the reason of his arrival.
Narada was evasive and wondered aloud whether a devotee ever needed to have a reason to meet his idol. Krishna was not one to be taken in by such talk and he knew only too well that Narada would never come to the point directly. He decided not to pursue the matter further and let Narad have his way. He would gauge the situation as it evolved.
Rukmini offered Narada fruits and milk but, Narada refused because he said that he was too full and wouldn’t be able to have even the smallest piece of a grape. At that Rukmini was quick to ask him where it was that he had been before he came into their home.
Without looking at Krishna, Narada said that he had been to Vrindavan. The gopis, especially Radha, he said had forced him to eat so much that if he had one more morsel his insides would burst. The mention of Radha made Rakmini anxious and her face reflected her displeasure. This was just the reaction Narada was waiting for.
Krishna knew what was coming. He asked Narada to tell them what had happened there.
Narada said, “Well, all I said was that I had been to Mathura and had met Krishna. No sooner had I said that, they left all their work and began asking about you. All except Radharani, she stood in a corner and heard them silently. She had no questions which was surprising.”
Rukmini too seemed surprised but she didn’t say a word. Narada did not need any coaxing to continue, “I couldn’t help but ask her why it was that she had no questions. She merely smiled and said: ‘What does one ask about someone who is always with you?” Narada paused and looked at Rukmini.
Rukmini’s face had changed colour. She seemed angry. Krishna decided to keep quiet. Surprisingly, Narada too decided to enjoy the silence in the room. After a few minutes he belched. The sound of his burp was enough to destroy Rukmini’s poise. Upset, she asked him whether the reason for his visit was to taunt her and let her know that Radha didn’t feel the absence of Krishna who had left her a long time ago. And she went on to tell Narada, she was Krishna’s wife and his present. Radha was his past and that is where matters should rest. There was no need to discuss this any further.
By this time Narada was beginning to enjoy himself. “Past, what past? That’s not the feeling I got when I went to Vrindavan. Radha doesn’t speak about the lord in past tense. He exists in every moment of hers. Isn’t that surprising? I actually wonder how?”
Rukmini was getting angrier and angrier and even more so because Krishna was quiet and smiling. And addressing Narada though it seemed that she was indirectly speaking to Krishna, she said “Munivar, there is no doubt about my love for the lord though I do not believe in quantifying my love, and so it is a waste of time comparing. But I know that there can’t a greater lover of the lord than me.”
So saying Rukmini left the place in a huff. Krishna smiled and Narada bowed and left saying, “Narayan Narayan”.
A few days later Krishna fell ill and no medicines could cure him. Rukmini was worried. A celestial vaidya arrived at their home saying that he had been sent by the Ashwins, the celestial doctors. The vaidya was none other than Narada in disguise and, needless to say, the entire charade was a joint act by Narada and Krishna.
The vaidya examined Krishna and said gravely that he was suffering from a debilitating disease which had no cure. Rukmini looked worried and asked him to save her husband. After a long pause, he said that there was a cure but it was not easy to procure. Rukmini asked him to go ahead and tell her what he needed to help her husband get better.
The vaidya said that he would need the water which had washed the feet of someone who loved or adored Krishna. Krishna would have to drink the water and only then he could be cured. Rukmini was taken aback. She did love the lord, but making him consume water which had washed her feet, would be a sin. After all Krishna was her husband. She could not do that she said. Queen Satyabhama and the other wives also declined.
The vaidya then went to Radha and told her everything. Radha immediately poured some water on her feet and gave it to Narada in a cup. Narada warned her about the sin that she was about to commit but Radha smiled and said, “No sin can be greater than the life of the Lord”.
Rukmini was embarrassed when she heard this and accepted that there was no greater lover of Krishna than Radha.
While this story is brings out the conflict between Rukmini and Radha, it also ends up pitching two kinds of love. Love within an established relationship and love outside a relationship. Rukmini’s love is that of a wife, who seeks love in return for love. She is also constrained by society and its do’s and don’ts. Radha’s love is not bound by a social contract and is thus boundless and free of expectations. Besides, Radha’s love is unconditional and non-reciprocal. It is perhaps this factor that made Radha’s love greater than the rest. It is also probably the reason why the love story of Radha and Krishna is more popular than that of Krishna and Rukmini or other consorts.
DISCLAIMER: Talking Myths Project does not discriminate between genders nor does it endorse beliefs, practices and rituals that suggest one to be inferior to the other
In the Puranas, it is said that in the later ages (Kaliyuga perhaps), even an ordinary man/king can acquire the position of Indra, the king of gods. The Vishnu Purana has the following story which tells us how a mortal king became an Indra. Once there was a bitter war between the gods and the demons. The war went on for a while and there seemed to be no resolution in sight. Finally, both sides approached Brahma the creator and asked him who would eventually win this apparently unending war. Brahma thought for a while and said, “The side that the King Raji, who rules the earth, supports by taking up arms on its behalf will win this war”.
The demons were quick to approach Raji and asked him to aid them in the war. King Raji agreed but on one condition. After the war, he said, he wanted to be crowned Indra. Now the demons were in a fix. How could they possibly guarantee the kingdom of gods, even more so because Indra Prahlad’s term was not yet over? Dejected, they withdrew in disappointment.
The gods came in next with same proposition. King Raji put forth the same condition. The gods agreed at once and soon Raji joined their army and as predicted, helped them win the war. Indra had to step down and accept Raji as the supreme king of the gods. He bowed before him and placing his foot on his head said, “You have saved me from great danger, I acknowledge you as my superior and my king. From now you will be known as Indra”. But Raji was content to remain on earth and so he asked Indra to continue as his representative on the throne of heavens. Indra agreed. So even though Indra performed all the kingly duties, the oblations and sacrifices reached Raji. Although Indra was unhappy, he could do little but accept the situation since that had been the condition the gods had accepted for their victory.
However matters got out of hand when Raji’s son wanted to perpetuate the arrangement after his father’s death. Indra opposed this idea but was compelled to yield at the end. Sad and frustrated, he went to his teacher Brihaspati and asked him for a morsel of the sacrificial butter. Brihaspati was sad to see Indra’s plight and said, “Had you been courageous enough to win the war for gods earlier, you would not have ended up thus. But I can help you to regain your sovereignty.”
Brihaspati set up a yagna for Indra which would help him regain his lost powers. The yagna made Raji’s sons arrogant, they began mocking the Vedas and neglected their religious duties and ended up as enemies of gods. And at a point when they had become too weak to put up a valiant fight, Brihaspati advised Indra to kill them and reclaim his position as the king of gods.
After killing the son of Twashtri and the demon Vritra, Indra was reeling under the guilt of brahma-hatya, the killing of a Brahmin, and was soon overcome by depression. Indra left his abode leaving the heavens and the earth without a ruler. Anarchy prevailed, aggravated by the absence of rain on earth and land was soon getting converted to deserts. The gods in heaven too were worried about the absence of a ruler and wondered how they would counter the attacks of asura’s if there was one. It was decided that the gods would appoint someone to rule in the absence of Indra, but who would that be? When none of the gods wanted to take Indra’s responsibility, the gaze shifted to earth.
Nahusha was a great king of the lunar race and had acquired a reputation of being a brave warrior, besides the people were happy under his rule. When the gods approached him, he was rather shocked and wondered how he could rule the gods when he was a mere mortal. The gods assured him, that as a substitute to Indra, he would also have powers of Indra. Soon Nahusha was crowned as the king of the heavens, but the transfer of powers did not do him any good. He was soon arrogant and was prone to shouting at the guards and gods alike.
One day, Nahusha saw Sachi, the beautiful wife of Indra in her palace and was besotted by her looks. He proposed to her and said that all that was Indra’s was now his and thus so should she. Sachi was furious, but she did not say anything and sought shelter with the guru of the gods, Brihaspati. When Nahusha learnt that Sachi had taken shelter with Brihaspati, he rebuked the sages and gods and ordered them to fetch Sachi for him or face the wrath of their new King. When they tried to reason with him, that it was evil to covet another man’s wife, Nahusha laughed at them and reminded them, that it was not unusual to covet others wives in heaven, at least not when Indra coveted the wife of Gautam and Chandra stole the wife of their guru, Brihaspati. So why were they so surprised when all he was asking for what obviously was now his? Not able to answer Nahusha, the sages and the gods soon landed at the doorstep of Brihaspati.
On the advice of Brihaspati, Sachi approached Nahusha and said, that she did not mind coming over to him, provided she made sure that Indra was no more and gone for good. She asked for time to find his whereabouts and if her efforts failed, then she would be his. Nahusha found the suggestion reasonable as he was sure that Indra could never be found and agreed to wait. After some severe prayers offered to the goddess of Night, Sachi managed to find Indra who had reduced his form to hide inside a lotus. When he learnt what had happened in the heavens, he was worried as at that moment, Nahusha was more powerful as all of Indra’s powers were transferred to him. But nonetheless, Indra asked Sachi to go back and suggest that if Nahusha wanted to marry her, he should come in a palanquin carried by none other than the seven sages. While Indra used horses for his chariot, Nahusha was different and this would make him unique. Indra further added that the rest would be taken care of by him.
Sachi conveyed her desire to Nahusha, who was too happy to do as told to him by her. In the meanwhile the gods too were searching for Indra and on Vishnu’s suggestion, he was asked to perform the Ahswamedha Yagna to rid him of the sin of brahma-hatya as well as regain all his lost strength and vigour.
In his desire to marry Sachi, Nahusha ordered the seven sages to carry him to the palace of Sachi. The sages had no choice but to do what was told to them. The sages carried him in a palanquin and proceeded towards the palace of Sachi. On the way, the sages asked Nahusha if they believed in the truth of the Vedas, to which the arrogant Nahusha said, that he did not believe in the Vedas. This angered the sages and rebuked him for not having faith in the Vedas. The now angry Nahusha stretched his foot out of the palanquin and touched none other than the sage Agastya. (Another version says that Sage Agastya was shorter than the others and thus the palanquin would tilt at one end every now and then leading to Nahusha not being able to sit properly and in anger he is supposed to have kicked Agastya for this discomfort). This insult of a sage was enough to rob Nahusha of all his powers. Sage Agastya immediately cursed him saying that he was guilty of three crimes, one to say that he had no faith in the Vedas, second to kick a sage and third to make the sages, each of who were equal to Brahma, carry him in a palanquin. For this crime, Agastya cursed Nahusha to turn into a serpent for ten thousand years on earth.
This way, the gods were rid of Nahusha and Indra was back on his throne, after being rid of his sin. Later, we find Nahusha as a serpent in the epic Mahabharata, when he grips Bhima and agrees to release him only after Yushishthir answers his questions, but that is another story.
Creation myths are among the oldest stories in the world. Fascinated by the universe and haunted by the question of ‘who we are’ and ‘where have we come from’, primitive communities sought answers which led to myths and later philosophies that defined the civilisations they set up. When placed in our present day context, these myths seem like bizarre and absurd flights of the imagination. If we were to look at them not as explanations of phenomena that science has been able to tackle with far greater clarity today, but instead as early explorations of thought and also as the remnants of early belief systems, they are invaluable. This is a myth from the Andaman Islands told by the Kol tribe which spoke a now extinct language called Aka Kol; they believe that the monitor lizard is the progenitor of their race. These stories were collected by A R Radcliffe Brown, anthropologist.
When Ta Peti (Sir Monitor Lizard) was unmarried, but had gone through the initiation ceremonies that young boys of the tribe had to go through, he decided to go on a hunting expedition. He went into the jungle looking for wild pigs and climbed up a having completed the initiation ceremonies), he went into the jungle to hunt pig. He climbed up the ‘garjan’ tree, commonly found in the islands’ forests whose botanical name is Dipterocarpus. Unfortunately Sir Lizard got stuck there. The civet cat found him there and she helped him get down. The two got married and their children are the ancestors of the Andamanese.
Sir Lizard is the ancestor according to another myth too, told by another tribe, the Pucikwars. The story goes that in the beginning Sir Lizard had no wife. One day he went fishing and found a piece of black wood which he brought back to his hut and placed it on a platform above the fire. He settled down near the fire and began working intently on making an arrow and he could not see what was happening to the log of wood that he brought along. After some time had passed he heard a laugh, he looked up and saw that the piece of wood had turned into a woman. She became his wife. They had a son named poi (a species of small bird), and afterwards many other children. They lived together for a long time and one day he went fishing and was drowned in the creek. He turned into a kara-duku.(kara duku according to some translations is a crocodile and some others a cachalot)
The story is a familiar one; many know it without ever having read it in a book or having been told it in its entirety. Yet, no matter how many times it is retold, the story never fails to sweep up the listener into its swell. A young girl, an imperious sage, a strikingly handsome god and the birth of a tragic hero; it has all the ingredients needed for a gripping story.
Kunti, the adopted daughter of Kuntibhoja, was still a young girl when Durvasa,a hot headed sage came visiting. Kunti had been given away by her father because his cousin, Kuntibhoja was childless and that is how, it is said, she also got her name. Kunti is also known as Pritha, the name she was given by her birth parents. When Kuntibhoja heard that Durvasa was visiting, he grew pensive and worried. The sage’s mercurial temper was legendary. Kings shuddered at the thought of having to entertain him and his army of aides and assistants. He made demands that were impossible to meet and when they were not met, cursed the king and his kingdom to a lifetime of despair. In his wisdom, Kuntibhoja thought that Kunti was best suited to serve the sage. And so she was assigned to look after his every desire. Now, Kunti managed to keep the sage happy, so happy in fact that he gave her a boon. He blessed her with the power to call a god of her choosing at will and beget a son from him. All gods, no matter how big or small, would have to do her bidding.
Kunti, a young girl barely out of her teens was curious and also disbelieving of the true power of her boon. It seemed to be too good to be true she thought and to test it out, she summoned the one god she had admired all her life, Surya, the sun god. Surya flew down at her call and as promised by Durvasa, fathered her son.
The boy was born with golden earrings and impenetrable armour, both gifts from his divine father. He was named Karna (and later would be given the epithet Danvir or the generous one). His gifts would make him invincible in battle and mark him out as a hero among the mortals.
Meanwhile the young Kunti was petrified; if word got out about her dalliance with the god, she would bring shame upon her father and her entire kingdom. So she placed her new born in a basket and set him down the river Ashva. The basket with the baby, (a motif found in many myths all over the world), floated down the river and settled in a bed of weeds where it was found by Adiratha (charioteer and stable hand) and Radha. The couple lived in a small hut, a far cry from the palace that Karna was born into. But they adopted Karna and brought him up as their own.
With a god for a father and a princess for a mother who abandoned him at birth, the boy grew up to become one of the epic’s greatest heroes.
Image source: Wikipedia
The story of Krishna’s birth is a familiar one; we know how Devaki and Vasudeva, imprisoned by Kamsa (Devaki’s brother), manage to spirit him away one rainy night to the home of a herdsman, Nanda and his wife Yashoda, in Vrindavan-Mathura and bring their new-born daughter to take his place. When Kamsa discovers that the child is a girl, he flings her against a rock to kill her, but she escapes and announces that the real killer was growing up elsewhere. In another version, the girl turns into a goddess, slips away from Kamsa’s grasp and makes a home in the Vindhya forests where she is known as Devi Ekanamsa, a protector of the hunter tribe. She was later considered to be a form of Durga.
This story turns into a completely different one in the Jaina texts. Jinasena, an acharya of the Digambara tradition and author of the Harivamsa Purana in 783 AD has a story about Ekanasa who is Krishna’s sister. Ekanasa means one with a single nostril (stub nose) and scholars believe that this was a counter story to the Vedic/Puranic versions.
Ekanasa was born to Yashoda and Nanda and took Krishna’s place in prison but instead of killing her, Kamsa decided to leave her alone. A woman could do him no harm he thought. But then he had second thoughts and decided that her future husband could bring about his death, so he pounded her nose to disfigure her face so that she would never find a husband. She grew up with people mocking her and calling her Cippita-Nasika (one with a stubbed nose).
One day the young sons of Balarama (her nephews) saw her admiring herself in front of a mirror and ridiculed her, at which she was so hurt that she went crying to a Jain mendicant and asked him to reveal the cause of her misfortunes. He told her that in her previous birth she was a handsome but vain young man. One day, he was driving his cart around when he came across a Jain sage deep in meditation and drove right into him, toppled him off his seat and broke his nose. The punishment that Ekanasa was suffering in this birth, the medicant told her, was a direct result of her actions in her previous life.
When she heard this account, Ekanasa was moved to tears and decided to give up everything and became a Jain sadhvi (nun). She travelled the length and breadth of the country before landing up in the forests of Vindhya. She made the forest her home, living sparely and performing severe austerities. One day as she sat in meditation under a tree, a group of hunters happened to go past. Apart from hunting, they would also rob the caravans of the rich that passed through the forest and they were on their way for just such an adventure. The hunter-robbers assumed that she was the goddess of the forest and offered her choice fruits and berries and asked for her protection and then they left.
While they were gone, a lion came upon the spot and attacked Ekanasa. It devoured her, leaving blood and entrails behind and three fingers. When the hunters returned, they thought that the goddess had disappeared, but that she must take delight in blood and sacrifice given that there was so much of it all around. And from that day on, they started sacrificing animals and worshipping her as their goddess Vindhyavasini.
The Jaina tale is meant to show the foolishness of a people who follow wrong scriptures and gods. The texts reiterate that Ekanasa is a Jain sadhvi and the image of her as a disfigured nun deep in meditation, surrendering herself to the lion, a powerful reminder of the courage and character that she had within her. Her worship as a bloodthirsty goddess, the text warns, is an example of pagan worship built on false premises.
The demon king Narakasur had become a menace. King of Pragjyotisha, present day Assam, and the son of Bhudevi (Mother Earth), he had become arrogant and drunk with power. Wherever he went he spread fear and destruction; the cruel king however exceeded his share of misadventures on earth when he took away the earrings of Aditi, the mother of all gods, and also kidnapped 16000 women who were the daughters of different gods and saints.
Aditi was related to Lord Krishna’s wife, Satyabhama who appealed to Krishna and he in turn immediately mounted his vahana, Garuda and attacked Narakasura. Now Bhudevi had been given a boon that her son would be killed only by Vishnu, in his Krishna avatar. A fierce battle took place and Krishna killed the demon general Mura (and earned the epithet, Murari). Narakasura used his thunderbolt on Krishna, but it didn’t work and at the end Krishna beheaded Narakasura with his sudarshana chakra.
A slightly different version says that Narakasura had a boon from Lord Brahma wherein he would be killed only by his mother. Satyabhama was an avatar of Bhudevi and thus his mother too, which was unknown to Narakasura. During the war, Krishna was injured and feigned an inability to fight. This enraged Satyabhama so much, that she struck Narakasura with such vigour that he died instantly.
In both the versions, a dying Narakasura asked for a boon that his death be celebrated by one and all on earth, and thus the day is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, the day before Diwali and also referred to as Chhoti Diwali. Not only was Narakasur killed and the precious earrings of Aditi recovered, but the 16,000 girls were also released. And to protect the girls, Krishna is said to have married all of them.
He also smeared his forehead with the blood of Narakasur and when he arrived home after the battle; his wives massaged him with perfumed oils and gave him a royal bath. Ever since it has become a custom in parts of Maharashtra, to get up early on the day of Narak Chaturdashi and have an oil-bath before sunrise. Many apply kumkum on their foreheads, as a ritual before the bath, imitating the smearing of the blood of Narakasur by Lord Krishna.