The festival of lights is upon us! That time of the
year when we overdress, overspend, overindulge on ghee laden sugary treats, and
argue about whether we ought to burst crackers or not before doing it anyway.
Feeling guilty over the excess, we wonder if there is a point to all this…
This is the moment when we dredge up legends of yore
for their entertainment and edification value. My favourite Diwali story is the
one where Narakasura, a legit villainous type whose every pore supposedly oozed
evil was slain in a twist worthy of Hitchcock. Naraka was born at the end of
Krita Yuga when Vishnu in his Varaha (Boar) avatar took out Hiranyaksha,
another legendary baddie whose shocking shenanigans ensured that Bhumi Devi
sank to the bottom of the ocean. While Varaha bore her to the surface on his
tasks, a single drop of sweat which was the only sign of his mighty exertions,
landed on her, impregnating the Goddess.
Besotted with her boy, Bhumi Devi, asked Lord Varaha
to grant him immortality. She was gently refused but told that Naraka could
only be slain by her hand. Breaking off his tusk, Varaha offered it to Naraka,
urging him to stay true to Dharma. This advice was disregarded and Naraka,
armed with the promise of invincibility began his reign of terror. His
stronghold – Pragjyotishapura, was impregnably fortified and guarded by the
Naraka eventually went too far, when he raided Indra’s
capital – Amaravathi and carried away 16,000 damsels but not before snatching
the ear - rings mother Aditi was wearing. Krishna was asked to set him
straight. He was with Satyabhama, who had just been complaining that he was always
too busy for her. Playfully, grabbing her by the waist he placed her on Garuda,
and they took off on a date/perilous mission.
Krishna made short work of Pragjyotishapura’s vaunted
defences and slew Mura, earning himself the title of ‘Murari’. Naraka acquitted
himself more respectably and using the tusk gifted by Varaha, managed to strike
Krishna in the chest. Seeing her husband drop in a dead swoon, Satyabhama
realized her date was officially ruined. Enraged, she picked up a bow and
released an arrow, which to their combined surprise, mortally wounded Naraka.
It was then, that Krishna rose and allowed the truth to shine through. Naraka understood
that Varaha’s weapon could not be used against an avatar of Vishnu and that
Satyabhama was an incarnation of Bhumi Devi, his mum. Prostrating himself
before his parents, he died peacefully having been cleansed of his sins,
embracing dharma in his dying moments, fulfilling his purpose in the grand
design of the universe, and achieving moksha.
A tearful Bhumi Devi asked Krishna to ensure that
Naraka’s memory be preserved for all of time, his life and death celebrated
with lights and sweets so that his legend may remind humanity to dispel the
evil in their hearts and stay true to Dharma in order that someday, they too
may be deemed worthy of redemption. Krishna acceded to her request. True to his
word, Diwali has been celebrated ever since and we continue to fight the demons
within and without, knowing that damnation is always closer than salvation, but
that is no reason to stop trying to be better than we are.
An edited version of this piece was published in The New Indian Express.