Krishna and Narakasura: The Tale of Dharma Asserting Over Adharma

Krishna knew that Adharma did not end with the killing of the wayward Bhauma.

Naraka Chaturdashi, the fourteenth day of the darker fortnight of the month of Ashvayuja is celebrated as the day of Narakasura’s deliverance in the hands of Lord Krishna. As children, we have all heard of this story where we are told that Good prevails over evil. While it seems so at a macro level, the words good and evil are often used as a reductionist translation of Dharma and Adharma, while the gravity of Dharma is far more complex and dynamic than just ‘good’ (Same is the case with Adharma and evil). The root word from which the term Dharma is derived from is ‘Dhr’ which means to uphold, maintain, keep or preserve.

In the Hindu Puranic corpus, Narakasura comes across as one of the most interesting characters. His birth, his identity as well as his death has been narrated in a variety of versions, each celebrating its own unique central theme: from the protection of women to valour of women.

According to Srimad Bhagavatam, Narakasura is also referred to as Bhauma, the son of Bhumi. The later Puranas, including Brahmapurana have mentioned that he was conceived by Bhumi during the Varaha Avatar. He was the ruler of Pragjyotisha (Modern Assam) who had stolen treasures from Devaloka including the earrings of Aditi and kidnapped 16,000 women. Indra sought the aid of Krishna, the Lord of Dwaraka. Krishna attacks Pragjyotisha, accompanied by one of his spouses Satyabhama and breaks the formidable fortification of the province, fights and kills the commander Mura (thereby earning the epithet Murari). He also kills the seven sons of Bhauma. Bhauma, then attacks Krishna with several missiles, including Shataghni, the spiked weapon, a Shakti, which had once bettered the thunderbolt of Indra and finally, a Trident at which Krishna deploys his Sudarshana Chakra and severs Bhauma’s head.

Heeding the prayers of Bhumi, the mother of Bhauma, Krishna installs Bhauma’s son Bhagadatta as the ruler of Pragjyotisha and retrieves the stolen treasures to return them to their respective rightful owners. He also marries the kidnapped women to facilitate them to have a dignified life ahead.

It is intriguing as Bhagavatam does not explain why Satyabhama accompanied Krishna and why a demoniac son like Bhauma was born to Bhumi and Mahavishnu (in his Varaha-Avatar). It could also be a bit confusing to the readers of Mahabharata where Bhagadatta, the son of Bhauma is mentioned as a senior warrior, who fought from the side of Kauravas (a stark contrast to other sons of those kings killed by Krishna like Sahadeva, the son of Jarasandha and Drishtaketu, the son of Sishupala, who fought for the Pandavas) and not as the fearful boy who submitted to the mercy of Krishna and protected by him because of Bhumi’s prayers.

In Andhra Mahabhagavatam, a 15th Century work composed by Bammera Pothana, Satyabhama’s presence is not just ornamental. When Krishna faints out of fatigue, she engages Bhauma in a fierce battle till Krishna recovers and kills Bhauma with the Sudarshana Chakra. Other South Indian texts narrating this event have extolled Satyabhama as the incarnation of Bhumidevi (Rukmini being the incarnation of Sridevi). It is also believed that Bhauma could be killed only in the hands of his own mother, a boon he cleverly elicits taking for granted that a mother cannot kill her own son however wicked he is. Bhauma thinks that this boon effectively makes him immortal and invincible. Satyabhama being an incarnation of Bhumi could slay him, personifying female valour.

The Perspective of Shakta texts

The Shakta texts like Kalika Purana introduce yet another facet of Bhauma that he was a worshipper of Devi (if you are one of those who declared your allegiance to Mahishasura against Devi, do please be advised to stay away from Bhauma!). He was most probably a practitioner of the Vamachara order of Shaktism (as was believed to be followed at the temple of Kamakhya, Kamrup where he ruled). In the book,” Legends and Temples of Assam” authored by BK Barua and HV Sreenivasa Murthy (published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), Kalika Purana is quoted where Bhauma is believed to have been led astray by the King Bana of Shonita, who is also believed to be the son of Mahabali and a devotee of Shiva. (Readers of Bhagavatam would meet him in the episode of Usha Parinayam or the marriage of Usha and Aniruddha).

goddess_of_earth_gives_aditis_earrings_to_krishnaAccording to this legend, Bhauma was installed on the throne of Pragjyotisha by his biological father Lord Vishnu himself. He was instructed to worship the presiding deity of Kamakhya with single minded devotion and treat Brahmanas with respect. But fate brought him closer to Bana of Shonita pura (believed to be modern Tezpur). Under the influence of Bana, Bhauma is said to have become presumptuous and irreligious to the extent that he denied Rishi Vashishta, entry to the shrine of Kamakhya and was cursed to die in the hands of his own father Vishnu.

According to Kalika Purana, it is said that Goddess Kamakhya once appeared to Bhauma and he, enamoured by her beauty, desired her. The Goddess put in a condition that Bhauma should build a temple, a tank and stairs from the foothills to the shrine before the break of dawn. While Bhauma was set upon the task, the Goddess tricked him by inspiring a cock to crow much before dawn. Angry at the bird which frustrated his attempt, Bhauma killed the cock (the place where he is believed to have done so is called Kukurakata Chaki). This is believed to have incurred the wrath of the Goddess.

Naraka Chaturdashi, the day when Naraka/Bhauma was killed is also celebrated as Kali Chaudas when the Goddess Kali is believed to have assisted Vishnu/Krishna in killing Bhauma. While the differing interpretations can continue about the mystery of who killed Bhauma (Whether it was Satyabhama, Krishna or Kali), studying the incident in the interstices of Mahabharata would provide an interesting angle. During the Rajasuya campaign, Arjuna is believed to have faced and defeated Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisha. It could be deduced that the killing of Bhauma in the hands of Krishna would have happened much before Arjuna’s arrival at Pragjyotisha.

About the 16,000 kidnapped women

The women kidnapped by Bhauma are mentioned to be of royal (or noble) birth. Now an incident of this order escaping the notice of geographically closer and powerful Kings like Jarasandha, Drupada or even the Kurus while Krishna, literally at the other end of India gets to know about it seems hard to believe. One could guess that the number 16,000 is an exaggeration. (Not to speak of the possibility of imprisoning so many women in the small town of Kamarupa). But if one attempts to reconcile the Shakta origins of Bhauma, the Vama/Kaula practices prevalent at Kamakhya with the abduction of women as mentioned in the Bhagavatam, it is noteworthy that women are an important aspect of Devi worship. Shakta worship of the Kaula order (which was believed to be in vogue in Kamarupa) also includes Maithuna or the ritual of sexual union. One could speculate if the abducted women were forced into the ritual by Bhauma (It should also be noted that the tenets of Shakta worship clearly mention that forcing a woman is a sin against the Goddess. If Bhauma forced women, he was flouting the instructions of the very Goddess he ‘worshipped.’)

Apparently, their ordeals did not end with the death of Bhauma. The tough life that faced them with their families not accepting them back out of fear of ridicule and their continued life of peril threatened to undo the very purpose of killing Naraka. Krishna was faced with this challenge of so many women being thrown out of the mainstream life on the eve of Rajasuya of the Pandavas, for which he was the key mentor. Marrying these women to ensure their dignity surprisingly, has earned him ridicule in the modern era! (Ironically, most of this ridicule is heard from the very same corners which deride Lord Rama over his supposed abandonment of Seeta). But for the one, who embraced an abuse like Ranachor, would ridicule from such confused (or hateful?) corners even matter?

In his thesis, Krishna, a study in the theory of Avatars”, the eminent scholar, freedom fighter and Bharat Ratna Awardee, Dr. Bhagavan Das, categorises the types of Avatars as men of thought, emotion and action. He observes that Krishna was a Poornavatara or a complete Avatara welding the thought, emotion and action together, given his contributions as a teacher, thinker, strategist and a warrior.

Victory of Dharma was not asserted with just the death of Bhauma

The message Deepavali, of the victory of ‘good over evil’ needs a nuanced understanding as the victory of Dharma over Adharma. Often in a situation of conflict, when one needs to take a side, he or she would possibly find flaws in everyone. Choosing the side of Dharma over Adharma does not mean that there is a perfect force confronting the imperfect force. K.M Munshi in his Krishnavatara, details a contemplative chapter where Krishna muses on the definition of Dharma. He concludes that ‘Dharma is not merely a hope. Nor speculation. Nor rituals. Nothing which is inspired by anger, greed or fear…. It is the will to shape oneself, men and situations, by rising above weaknesses. Not only that, but Dharma for each one is, to weld the vision, the will and the deed – they are not three but one – so that he may strive, each in his own way, to live in All – VAASUDEVA – so that All may live in him.’

In the context of Narakasura Vadha, Krishna knew that Adharma did not end with the killing of the wayward Bhauma. Condemnation of the guileless women by the rigid societal norms for no mistake of theirs is also Adharma and Krishna, by marrying those women, prevented that Adharma as well. Some would dismiss even this as an act of patronisation. But this Dharma over Adharma, if duly contemplated, is a result of a continuous process of internal evolution than of a single bout of external confrontation.

The lamps of Deepavali, I pray, should help us realize that path of evolution which strengthens this civilization. A step in this path makes us all Krishnas in our own capacities.

Photo Credit: http://www.wikiwand.com

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
sai@ifrc.in'

An IITian and a former investment professional turned author, Saiswaroopa’s interests include Carnatic Music, Philosophy, History and Literature of India. Her debut work of fiction Abhaya explores the legend of Narakasura Vadha.

  • Sujata Srinath

    Beautifully written! Like a post-script to the book Abhaya.

  • I. About the 16,108 kidnapped women

    Correction.

    It should be 16100(16000 in some Puranas) princesses and not 16108, who were imprisoned and kept as slaves by Narakasura.

    The 8 in 16108 are actually Krishna’s Principal Consorts who are known as Ashta-Bharya.

    You are insulting the Ashta-Bharyas by bunching them with princesses as if they too were among the princesses kidnapped by Narakasura.

    II. Now an incident of this order escaping the notice of geographically closer and powerful Kings like Jarasandha, Drupada or even the Kurus.

    One reasons could be Political alliances of neighboring kingdom with Narakasura and therefore indirectly complicit so who knows.

    Or may be the neighboring Kingdoms are afraid of Narakasura because of his allegiance to Banasura(King Bana of Shonita), another powerful king.

    Or may be something similar to present situation, where even US, China or any other powerful nations don’t care about the plight of Yezidi women with many atrocities committed on them and are being sold as sex slaves by ISIS?

    III. while Krishna, literally at the other end of India gets to know about it seems hard to believe.

    Most probably Shree Krishna had a powerful spy and intelligence network.

    Why doubt Shree Krishna’s ability to take action when needed, His intelligence networks and Yogitva He possesses?

    What is actually hard to believe here is that you are, maybe unknowingly but definitely doubting Shree Krishna involvement in Narakasura’s Vadha.

    IV. It could also be a bit confusing to the readers of Mahabharata where Bhagadatta, the son of Bhauma is mentioned as a senior warrior, who fought from the side of Kauravas (a stark contrast to other sons of those kings killed by Krishna like Sahadeva, the son of Jarasandha and Drishtaketu, the son of Sishupala, who fought for the Pandavas) and not as the fearful boy who submitted to the mercy of Krishna and protected by him because of Bhumi’s prayers.

    Political Alliance change over time.Yes? Why again create more confusion and misguide readers when there are none?

    V. One could guess that the number 16,108 is an exaggeration. (Not to speak of the possibility of imprisoning so many women in the small town of Kamarupa).

    I don’t find 16108 Consorts of Krishna as an exaggeration. Calling it exaggeration implies the writer like many Hindus is embarrassed about the Virility of Shree Krishna and therefore feels the need to term it as exaggeration. Thereby the need to guess also doesn’t arise.

    VI. Marrying these women to ensure their dignity surprisingly, has earned him ridicule in the modern era!

    But it seems from your usage of the word “Exaggeration” to justify the huge number of Shree Krishna’s Consorts that you were indeed offended and embarrassed by the ridicule of Shree Krishna.

    The writer is basically trying to come up with excuses to what she perceives as faults or imperfections in
    Shree Vaasudeva Krishna when there are none and therefore not able to comprehend the various aspects of Shree Krishna.

    With the way the article is written along with the various statements framed within it, it is quite apparent that the writer’s views are bordering on atheism and therefore in her eyes, Shree Krishna is just a mere mortal like any other human being who possess no Siddhis.

    This is the 2nd article on Shree Krishna in few months here on IndiaFacts that unknowingly shows Shree Krishna in bad light due to style of writing and the narrative techniques employed. The other article I came across was: http://indiafacts.org/krishnas-lila-stories-life-sri-krishna-iii/
    An example of a victim of articles such as these is right below in the comment section. Just read the comment by @Keval:disqus

    So I think Indiafacts should avoid publishing articles on Shree Krishna’s henceforth if you cant properly celebrate and acclaim Him. It is only because of Shree Krishna, India today is a Hindu country.

  • Mdm

    A great read, thank you, especially since I am from Assam. We still have a mountain named after Narakasur – the Narakasur Parbat .

  • Prasad

    Thanks a lot . My deepavali wishes !

  • keval

    Great Article, It is good to see distillation of so many diverse traditions at one place.

    I wish sincere Hindus of India would one day have courage to say that Ram and Krishna are incarnations of the supreme and they are what they are. We can never understand, defend, rationalize their actions. They are not like Prophets to be followed. They are not ideal men, like prophets to be followed in action and deeds. How you will follow Lord Nrisingha, Parashuram or Varaha. Similarly Ram and Krishna are to be worshipped, ultimate goal being worshipping them with Nishkam Bhakti, they are not great men to be followed, rather they are to be attained, their darashans are to be attained-that is the only goal. Their deeds, reciting them, singing them, reflecting them, listening to them, is one of the ways to achieve just this. It is not they were, they are still here, they have not retired and people can still have their darshanas.

    But if liberals/ seculars who do not believe, that they even lived, or these are mere stories, why do they believe and ask any explanation for any action?

    • Read my post above(http://disq.us/p/1d83pwk) where I have pointed out the mistakes committed by the writer.

      …one day have courage to say that Ram and Krishna are incarnations of the supreme and they are what they are.

      From this statement of yours it is apparent that you are a victim of anti-Hindu propaganda prevalent in the media, Tv soaps you may watch everyday hence feels embarrassed to defend what you hold dear. Also because your mind is already made up on who is ideal and who is not.

      Non-colonized, Non-dhimmi Hindus are definitely neither afraid nor embarrassed about Shree Rama and
      Shree Krishna being termed as Avatars.

      We can never understand, defend, rationalize their actions.

      First of all the need to defend and rationalize the actions of Avatars doesn’t arise because they were part of very ancient Vedic society which was totally different from the society of today.

      …they are not great men to be followed,…

      Wow, just Wow. My Suggestion, buy and read Koenrad Elst’s Book: Decolonizing the Hindu Mind or atleast watch Rajiv Malhotra Youtube Channel.

      Shree Rama and Shree Krishna’s were Kshatriyas par excellence who accepted no transgression against their land or what They hold dear and who always uphold Dharma against all odds. According to numerous commentaries by various Hindu scholars, They definitely were considered as the Greatest of Men totally contrary to what you have written.

      They are not like Prophets to be followed. They are not ideal men, like prophets

      You have no knowledge on the abrahamic prophets yet you term them as ideal. If for you the definition of ‘ideal’ means raping and selling women then your are very much right about Abrahamic Prophets.

      The Abrahamic prophets, where muhammad raped women and kept them as sex slaves and sold them, Old testament allowed slavery and Jesus cursed and spread hatred against other human beings to eternal damnation whoever didn’t believe him.

      • keval

        I am not coming from colonized mentality, I don’t watch any soap-religious or otherwise on TV. My understanding comes from the grace of My Guru and the religious scriptures like Puranas and work of Saints. However, if you think Puranas and Ramcharitmanas etc are fakes and created by degenerate being like some Arya Samajis do, and that Ram and Krishna are not incarnations but merely great men, and we can also become like them, then there is no use commenting or talking to you. However, I will write my explanation for anyone interested in understanding my view point.

        “Ram and Krishna are incarnations of the supreme and they are what they are. We can never understand, defend, rationalize their actions.”

        Not even Veda can comprehend the Leelas of divine incarnation of the Supreme. Their description and explanation in language is beyond the capacity of even gods much less humans. Lord is not bound by rules given by Vedas/Dharmas, Only Shri Ram choose to accept that discipline, but that was out of pure Leela and not due to rigid compulsion. Vedas emanates from Lord, and not vice versa. Trying to defend incarnations before Mlecchhic and tamasik Hindus, or rationalizing leelas to fit them into patterns dictated by temporal values which keep on changing is akin to insulting the Lord.

        ‘They are not like Prophets to be followed. They are not ideal men, like prophets’

        It is very obvious that Prophets of one religion are not considered ideal and followed by other religious adherents, but the religious followers of prophetic traditions always try to follow their prophets in deeds and even in trivialities like beards etc.

        To consider Rama and Krishna as men and trying to imitate them is greatest of blunders. Jeeva can never imitate Ishwara, nor it can assume powers of Ishwara. All efforts to this end are arrogant, born out of delusional minds, lead to hypocrisy and downfall, rebirth in lower realms. Such imitators lived during Krishna’s time also, and many live in Kalyuga too. To say that Rama and Krishna are men (even great and ideal men), is following Rakshasas like Ravan, Kamsa, Shishupal, Jarasandh and Kalyugi cults of Islam, Christianity and Marxism or humanism.

        “…they are not great men to be followed,…
        Wow, just Wow. My Suggestion, buy and read Koenrad Elst’s Book: Decolonizing the Hindu Mind or atleast watch Rajiv Malhotra Youtube Channel.”

        I have read Elst, and Rajiv Malhotra, but my experience flows from the realization of divinity of Rama and Krishna, The Grace of my Guru and and the scriptures.

        Country is to be defended because it is our dharma, and not because Rama and Krishna did it and we are following into their footsteps. If anything Rama and Krishna left their own kingdom unguarded and went away to forest renouncing everything. If Arjuna imitated Krishna, he too would have given up taking arms and become charioteer of someone. If Vibheeshan/Sugriva etc imitated Rama, they would have never stood up against their brothers. Sanatan dharma does not produce photocopies or factory like mass production of brainless jombies as Chrislamarixts encourage, while imitating some historic person. Every one has to discern and follow one’s dharma.

        So we have to do anything, we have to do according to our dharma, while surrendering it to Lord, seeking refuge in Lord: Mamnusmar yudhya cha (Gita 8.7). But even doing so, we should not loose that from the single will of the Lord infinite number of universe springs and dissolves, India or earth is minor thing. There are enough great man to take inspiration from. Rama, Krishna, Hanuman etc are not to inspire us but to protect and provide divine strength and guidance to us here and hereafter. Existence along with all the dharmas, India and the whole earth are created and destroyed by the Lord in infinitesimal fractions of an instant.

        However, if you follow some sect, which do not believe in Puranas or incarnation of Vishnu, then you will find it difficult to even see my view point, and you are free to assume I am retrogressive, backward, superstitious, ignorant, irrational etc. But I value my own realization and experience more than anyone’s opinion.

        • In your original post, you termed Shree Rama and Shree Krishna as “not great men” which many readers would consider as an insult, hence I felt the need to address it.
          You have even belittled them by drawing comparison with Abrahamic Prophets, hence my reply.

          The qualities of Kshatriya displayed by Them are definitely something which Hindus should strive for.

          • keval

            I am sorry if u understood that, but I plainly meant to say that Shri Rama/Krishna etc is infinite supreme reality, ever present yet beyond time and space; that appeared in human form and conducted like wise. They are not men so great or less do not apply to them; I am not comparing them with Prophet,I am rather contrasting them. You can compare mosquito with a hawk or eagle and say which one is greater, but you can never compare a bird, however magnificent it is, to the infinite sky. It is those who try to defend or rationalize their leelas or provide explanation for Krishna’s many wives, or why he abandoned Sita or Agni-pareeksha etc. do that.