Once there was a community called ‘The-Learned‘. They called the others ‘Not-The-Learned‘. I wonder, did the ‘Not-the-Learned‘ call themselves ‘The-Learned‘ amongst themselves? Who knows? Demonising the enemies is a well-known psychological tactic, isn’t it! Our protagonist belonged to the ‘Not-the-Learned‘ community though some say that he was born to ‘The-Learned‘ and went over to the other side. Some even say that he was son of the best amongst the ‘The-Learned‘ himself.
His mother prayed and sought the boon that he should live a long life and be all powerful. How can we know the power of a mother’s prayer? He went on to establish a powerful kingdom far to the east, in high lands after defeating a previous dynasty of ethnic origins, another community that ‘The-Learned‘ demonized. The three dynasties which followed him in that region trace their origins to him. They say he ruled for a long time, eons over different eras. Perhaps it was him, perhaps there were descendants of the same ilk. Let us not question that, stories lose their charm if examined too closely.
Our protagonist became more and more powerful, defeating enemies and enlarging his kingdom amongst the ‘Not-the-learned‘. Then his eyes turned towards the lands of ‘The-Learned‘. He defeated the ruler and took over those lands too. Powerful indeed! It is said that all the power went to his head, that he insulted a venerable lady of ‘The-Learned‘, that he kidnapped 16,000 women. Maybe true. Maybe an exaggeration. Stories are written by the victors, and in our story our protagonist is the not eventual victor. You remember that he was said to be fathered by one of ‘The-Learned‘? Tired of his atrocities, all ‘The-Learned‘ begged his father for assistance.
But there were his mother’s prayers to protect him, and more time passed. Finally, his father was re-born and grew up to marry his mother-re-born. Or perhaps it was his father’s descendants; it matters not to us. It is then that the venerable lady whom he had insulted went to his mother-re-born. Eons have passed, so I imagine that it is another such offended lady. Remember that ‘The-Learned‘ were now the subjugated community? A society which offers violence to women does not stop at one; violence against women, especially subjugated women, often becomes endemic in communities. It happens today. Anyway, it is said that his mother-re-born was offended by his treatment of women, and she herself went to his father-re-born for permission to wage war against her son. The war was furious, with many powerful weapons used by both parties. Finally our protagonist was defeated when he was beheaded by the discus weapon of his father-re-born.
It is this defeat of a powerful foe of ‘The-Learned‘ by the foremost amongst them that we celebrate on Kartika Amavasya, just before syzygy (showing off a new word I just learnt!) in the Oct-Nov lunar cycle. Or at least, one of the myriad reasons quoted by those in the know. I am, of course, talking about Deepavali/Diwali being the celebration of the destruction of Narakasura by Krishna.
As I browsed for ideas for a post today, I came upon this kriti in the auspicious raga Madhyamavati composed by Papanasam Sivan. Surprisingly, I don’t remember having heard it before though I see that there are a few renditions available online. I must also confess that I haven’t quite taken a liking to the song…I wonder why? Maybe you’ll like it better. But it’s still perfect for Deepavali as the lyrics honour the day. Here is a rendition by the evergreen Sudha Raghunathan. I’ve listened to her for close to 40 years and she still sounds good to me!
kriti from 12:01
கண்ணா காத்தருள் மேக வண்ணா
கடைக்கண் பார்த்தருள் -கமலக்
விண்ணாடரும் முனிவரும் வணங்கி வேண்ட
நரகாசுர வதம் செய்ய விரைந்து வந்த
பாமை வடிவான பூமிப்பிராட்டி
தேரோட்ட அசுரர் குலம் அழித்தவா
சக்ரபாணி உலகெலாம் மங்கள
தீபாவளி ஒளி வீச அருள் புரிந்த
kaNNa kAttaruL mEgha vaNNA
kaDaikkaN pArttaruL -kamalak
viNNADarum munivarum vaNangi vENDa
narakAsura vadam seyya viraindu vanda
bhAmai vaDivAna bhUmipiraTTi
tErOTTa asurar kulam azhittavA
chakrapANi ulagelAm mangaLa
dIpAvaLi oLi vIsa aruL purinda
O Lotus-Eyed Krishna (kamalak-kaNNA, also Kanna means Krishna) coloured (vaNNA) like the clouds (mEgha)! Bless (aruL) us (implied) with a glance (kaDaikkaN pArttu – literally looking from the corner of the eyes)!
When the celestial beings (viNNADar) and (-um) sages (munivar) worshipfully (vaNangi) requested (vENDa), you are the one (implied) who came (vanda) speedily (viraindu) to kill (vadam seyya) Narakasura.
With Bhudevi (bhUmi pirATTi) in her form (vaDivAna) as Satyabhama (bhamai) driving (OTTa) the chariot (tEr), you Krishna, the Discus-Holder (chakrapANi), are the one who destroyed (azhittavA) the demon (asura) clans (kulam). You are the one who graced (arUl purinda) us (implied) so that (implied) the auspicious (mangaLa) rows (Avali) of lamps (dIpa) shine brightly (oLi vIsa) worldwide (ulagelAm).