Deepavali – Naraka Chathurdasi
Deepavali is a pan India festival that has been celebrated from time immemorial. Even though Deepavali is festival of lights everywhere, it is celebrated for different reasons in different parts of the country. In the North, Deepavali is celebrated for the return of Rama to Ayodhya, in the West it is celebrated as Lakshmi Puja, in the South, it is celebrated as Naraka Chatudasi.
The day Narakasura was vanquished and people were freed of his terror, is celebrated to this day, as Naraka Chathurdasi. It falls during the period of Deepavali festival. It is called Chathurdasi, as it was the fourteenth phase of the dark fortnight of the moon, just one day preceding the New Moon.
What is this Naraka Chaturdasi?
The legend from the Bhagavata Purana states how Krishna vanquished Narakasura who had held captive several thousands of damsels.
It had been prophesied that Narakasura would die at the hands of a woman. Hence he had all the maidens in his, as well as nearby kingdoms, captured and locked up in prison. Feeling secure that he would no longer be killed, Narakasura went on a rampage causing widespread distress.
Krishna, to put an end to his tyranny, went to battle with Narakasura, accompanied by His valiant wife Sathyabhama, skilled in warfare.
Sathyabhama engaged Narakasura in a duel and killed him. The prophesy had indeed come true. Narakasura finally met his end at the hands of a woman.
Sathyabhama fighting with Narakasura
Krishna then released all the damsels from captivity. Each wanted Krishna to marry them as none else would, since they had been held captive by Narakasura.
As a form of succour, Krishna manifested that many times over, so that, each damsel had her own manifestation of Krishna to marry and live with in Dwaraka, in her own home.
An explanation to the manifestations of Krishna married to each damsel comes from the concept of Yogamaya. Krishna is described to have extended Himself yogically to marry and be with each of the rescued damsels as their dedicated spouse, leading the life of a common householder with them.
This concept of Yogamaya is as yet unexplainable in science as it seems to go against the normal physical laws known today. But that is the beauty of Yogamaya which contains the word Maya meaning “illusion” in it.
A Metaphoric Marriage
Another angle to this comes from the fact that Krishna was adorable and everyone was attracted towards Krishna. It is a fact of nature that attraction gives rise to various forms of bonds – bonds of friendship, service, devotion, mentoring, motherliness, brotherhood, guardianship, conjugal bliss, infatuation and so on.
All are various forms of love. The vast sources of literature produced in different languages, right through the times, across the land, are proof of how Krishna indeed was an object of attraction for many poets and saints – men and women alike. Through their beautiful poetry, they have poured out their feelings for Him.
Some have beheld Him as a divinity, some as a guide, some as a friend, some as a child and some as a lover. Many men too in their poetry have imagined themselves to be a woman in love with Krishna. Such was the charisma of Krishna.
Those who could not mouth lyrics, silently adored Krishna in their own way.
So, it would not be surprising for the maidens released from captivity, to eulogize and look up to Krishna as the prince who had come to save them and therefore think of themselves as a “consort to Krishna”.
Eventually this metaphor could have morphed to linger in memories as a fact that Krishna married 16,100 princesses.
A Similar Situation
There is an unconfirmed story floating around in recent times. Nevertheless in this context, it does present us with an easy way to understand how the minds of people, world over, across ages, work similarly.
As this story goes,
“A case was filed by a Nun in Eastern Europe, objecting to the veneration of Krishna, saying Krishna had displayed loose morals by marrying thousands of wives.
The response from the people who were venerating Krishna, was to ask the honourable court to read the oath taken by the Nuns in the local seminary and in different parts of the world.
As part of the oath, the Nuns declare that they are married to Jesus, in service to Him.
Using this argument that such an oath implied that Jesus too was married to millions of Nuns, the case was dismissed.”
But such an oath by Nuns the world over, does not mean that Jesus is physically married to all the Nuns. This solemn oath indicates commitment to noble, selfless, lifelong service of Nuns and does not change the status of Jesus.
Similarly in the case of Krishna too, the wish, the prayer, the feelings shown by others towards Him, does not necessarily make Him the party to a physical relationship with them. The yearning of the thousands of damsels does not, from His side, make Him physically married to all of them.
But that does not take away the fact that Krishna is surely with all of them, in their thoughts, throughout their lives.
More on this in our book, Historical Krishna.