In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Narakasura or Naraka is the asura son of the earth goddess Bhudevi (Bhumi) and Varaha (third avatar of Vishnu) and is said to have grown to be a demon through association with Banasura. He is said to have established the kingdom of Pragjyotisha after overthrowing the last of the Danava king Ghatakasura.
It was foretold that he would be destroyed by a later incarnation of Vishnu. His mother, the earth, sought the boon from Vishnu that her son should have a long life, and that he should be all powerful. Vishnu granted these boons. The legend of Narakasura is important in the history of Assam, particularly Kamrup; since Narakasura is cited as 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 Hindu belief of the shakta goddess and place of worship Kamakhya.
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Narakasura became evil, in association with another Asura named Banasura. Drunk with power, as he knew himself to be unrivalled in prowess, he brought all the kingdoms on earth under his control. Next, he turned his eyes towards Swargaloka. Even the mighty Indra 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 usurped some of her territory, while also kidnapping 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 attend to this matter, when he would be incarnated as Krishna. As promised to Mother Earth, Narakasura was allowed to enjoy a long reign. At last Vishnu was born as Krishna. Aditi, who was a relative of Krishna's wife Satyabhama (believed to be an Avatar of Bhudevi - Narakasura' mother), approached Satyabhama for help. When Satyabhama heard of the 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, the Lord slew them all with little effort. Krishna also killed Mura, Narakasura's general. Thus 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 requested a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. This day is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' - the second day of Diwali.
In another version, Narakasura had gained a boon from Brahma that he would die only in the hands of his mother. On the day of the war, Satyabhama with Krishna fought Narakasura bravely, but she was no match to his trained skills. After a few days, when Narakasura got a chance, he took aim at Krishna, hurting him lightly. Krishna fainted in a preordained, divine plan adopted to empower Satyabhama. As expected seeing this, Krishna being hurt, Satyabhama was furious. She doubled her attack on the demon king and finally killed him. Before Narakasura's death, he requested a boon from his mother, Satyabhama, that everyone should celebrate his death with colorful light. Thus this day is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' - the day before Diwali. Krishna's and Satyabhama's victory on Narakasura translated into freedom for all his prisoners and honoring of Aditi. Having rescued the 16,100 women, Krishna married them to restore them to their former dignity.
Narakasura and his kingdom, Pragjyotisha, find mention in both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, in the sections which were written not before the first century. His son, Bhagadatta, is said to have fought for the Kauravas in the Mahabharata battle. Though the boar Prajapati finds mention as early as the Satapatha Brahmana, that the contact with Bhumi engendered a son is first mentioned in the Harivamsa which is assigned to the fifth century. This theme, that of the son Naraka, is further expanded in the later Vishnu Purana. The Bhagavata Purana, which was composed
The Naraka belief gets the most extensive elaboration in the Upapurana called Kalika Purana (10th century), which was composed in Assam itself. Here the legend of Janaka of Videha, the father of Sita, is also added to the legend of Naraka. Once Naraka, motivated by his carnal desire, wanted to marry Devi Kamakhya. When proposed, the Goddess playfully put a condition before him that if he would be able to build a staircase from the bottom of the Nilachal Hill to the temple within one night before the cock crows to indicate Dawn, then she would surely marry him. Naraka took it as a challenge and tried all with his might to do this huge task. He was almost about to accomplish the job before it was dawn. When Kamakhya Devi got this news, panic-stricken she strangled a cock and made it crow untimely to give the impression of Dawn to Naraka. Duped by the trick even Naraka thought that it was a futile job and left it half way through. Later he chased the cock and killed it. Now the place is known as Kukurakata situated in the district of Darrang. The incomplete staircase is known as Mekhelauja Path.
Inner Significance - Symbolic meaning of Diwali
- Epico-Puranic Myths and Allied Legends, D. C. Sircar, in The Comprehensive History of Assam, Vol 1, ed H. K. Barpujari 1990.
- Vettam Mani, Puranic Encyclopaedia.