Diwali is the biggest festival for Indians…it is like Christmas but has been in practice for more than 3000 years approx.
The festival is associated with three stories. The one which we celebrate in South India—the TamBrams especially—is related to the story of a demon and how his death is celebrated as the victory of good over evil.
Narakasura or Naraka was the asura son born to the earth goddess Bhudevi (Bhumi-earth) and Lord Vishnu when he had taken his incarnation as a boar Varaha Avatar to rescue her from the great deluge. Some texts say that he is the son of the asura Hiranyaksha. Naraka is said to have established the kingdom of Pragjyotisha in Assam after overthrowing the last of the Danava king Ghatakasura. It was foretold that he would be destroyed by a later incarnation of Vishnu. His earth mother sought and was granted the boon from Vishnu that her son should be all powerful and have a long life.
The legend of Narakasura is important in the history of Assam since Narakasura is said to be the progenitor of many dynasties that ruled Kamarupa in historical times. A hill, to the south of Guwahati is named after him. He is also associated with the myth of the Shakta goddess Kamakhya.
As promised to Mother Earth, Narakasura enjoyed a long reign. Naraka wanted to marry Devi Kamakhya. When he proposed, the Goddess playfully said that if he would build a staircase from the bottom of the Nilachal Hill to the temple in one night’s time and before the cock crowed to indicate Dawn, then she would surely marry him.
Naraka tried to accomplish this huge task and nearly succeeded. When Goddess Kamakhya Devi got this news she became panic-stricken and so strangled a cock. The bird crowed before Dawn. Duped by the trick Naraka thought that he had lost and deserted the task but he did chase the cock and killed it. Now the place is known as Kukurakata situated in the district of Darrang, Assam. The incomplete staircase is known as Mekhelauja Path.
Narakasura became more and more evil and he associated himself with another demon called Banasura. Drunk with power for he thought himself to be invincible, he brought all the kingdoms on earth and Swargaloka under his control. Even the mighty Indra, King of the Heavens could not withstand the assault of this son of Earth and had to flee the heavens. Narakasura had become the overlord of both the heavens and earth. Addicted to power he stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess and mother of the Sun. Naraka usurped some of her territory and kidnapped 16000 women.
All the Devas, led by Indra went to Vishnu, to ask him to deliver them from Narakasura. Vishnu promised them that he would do so when he would be come to earth as Krishna.
When Vishnu was born as Krishna, Aditi approached his wife Satyabhama for help. When Satyabhama heard of Narakasura’s ill treatment of women and his behaviour with Aditi, she was enraged. Satyabhama approached Lord Krishna for permission to wage a war against Narakasura. As promised to the Devas and Aditi, Krishna attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with wife Satyabhama. The battle was furiously fought. Narakasura possessed 11 Akshauhini (a division of the army), that he unleashed on Krishna. However, Krishna defeated them all and also killed Mura, Narakasura’s general. That is why Krishna is called ‘Murāri’(the enemy of Mura).
In desperation, Narakasura launched his great weapon, sataghini (a thunderbolt) on Krishna. However, it made no impact whatsoever on Krishna. At last, when Narakasura tried to kill the Lord with a trident, Krishna beheaded him with his Sudarshana Chakra (discus).
Before dying, the Asura realised that he had been depraved and wicked and asked for a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. This day is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’ and is the second day of the five day Diwali festival.
In another version, Narakasura had gained a boon from Brahma that he would die only at the hands of his mother. On the day of the war, Satyabhama became the charioteer for Krishna. During the battle, Narakasura aimed at Krishna who fell unconscious in a preordained, divine plan that empowered Satyabhama. Seeing Krishna, Satyabhama, who was the Earth mother Bhumadevi, doubled her attack on the demon king and finally killed him.
Before Narakasura’s death, he requested his mother Satyabhama to establish a custom that everyone should celebrate his death with colourful lights, sweets and joy.
The custom is to get up in the early hours before dawn, in the night and have an oil bath. This custom fortifies a belief that having an oil bath in the morning on the day of Diwali is equivalent to taking bath in the Ganges. Before the bath, elders in the house apply medicated sesame (til) oil on top of the heads of the younger members. The time of Diwali is rainy season and this oil helps to ward off chills and colds!
Lord Krishna was born at midnight. Lors Shiva is also supposed to be very powerful and energised in the night and early hours of the morning.
In the Vedic tradition, the Brahma Muhurtham (three hours before sunrise) between 3AM and 5 AM is auspicious for meditation and communing with the divine. Naraka Chathurdasi (the 14 day after the Full Moon) celebrations are during this hour! Of course, this quiet and divine hour is greatly disturbed by the sound of firecrackers!
Anyway, it is only for one day….Happy Deepavali!
This post is part of the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium initiative where eight of us write on the same topic. I am coming in after some time. Today’s topic has been chosen by Will Knott. The other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order,Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Paul, Shackman, The Old Fossil.