12:29 am - Wednesday July 24, 2024

Historical Personality

Sages, Rushis and Saints of India


A holy personage and celestial musician, always facilitating the good of the world; engaged in aiding hte pious in times of challenge and in hastening theretribution of evil-doers. Traversing the three worlds, he spread the Path of Devotion to the Lord.


"Keep your army as well as the weaponry always in readiness... Be kind to your servants in order to win their hearts.... Always be prompt in paying the wages of the soldiers and servants. Never spend more than what you earn. Build lakes and canals and provide the farmers with all facilities."

Don't the above words seem like the advice of a modern political pundit to a senior administrator of a state? Army, weaponry, income-expenditure, farmers, lakes and canals - who is it that gave the above counsel?

It was indeed Narada, who is generally considered as a quarrel-monger and a talebearer.

The wise words quoted above were addressed by Narada to king Yudhishthira, in the epic Mahabharata.

The name of saint Narada is well known. Narada appears in every 'Purana' (ancient epic-tale). There is not a religious discourse or pouranic play or Yakshagana without the entry of Narada. No story is complete without Narada! Without Narada the story fails to sustain interest.

Usually Narada makes his characteristic entry with a Veena (stringed musical instrument in his hand and the name of Lord Narayana on his lips. He appears in the stories pertaining to all the three yugas, namely - Krita, Treta and Dwapara.

Narada's True Intention

The word 'Nara' means knowledge useful to mankind and 'Da' means 'a giver'. So 'Narada' means the one who gives useful knowledge to mankind and guides it in the right path.

Narada was a first-order musician. He always loved to sing songs praising the glory of the Almighty. It is said of Narada that he was the inventor of the musical instrument Veena. He played on his Veena, which was named "Mahati." Among the 'Devarshis', Narada is one of the holiest.

He commanded the respect of all. It was his habit to travel and to go round preaching to people, uttering his words of wisdom and telling people stories carrying an ethical message. He was loved by all - be it Gods, Demons and human beings.

He had one weakness - that of disclosing to both gods and demons, the secrets about each other. Gods and demons, naturally, hated each other. Narada's deeds often created trouble and friction among gods, demons and men, and such friction often led to a war in the end! Hence Narada acquired the name, 'Kalahapriya' or the lover of quarrels.

How can we call such a person a saint? Was it right that he set people against one another by spreading gossip? But we must remember that Narada's intention was to espouse a good cause. It was his constant desire that bad people should bepunished for their deeds, that the haughty ones should learn their lesson soon, and that the good should live happily.

"May You Wander Like A Vagabond"

Narada was travelling around all the three worlds. There is an interesting story about this.

The children of Dakshabrahma were called Haryashwas. One day Dakshabrahma called them to his side and said: "0 my children! Observe penance and you will derive strength and spiritual splendor. Later you must get married and lead a contented life." In response to the command of the father, the children went to the Himalayas and commenced a rigorous penance near theNarayana-saras. Narada happened to go there. "0 sons of Dakshabrahma, why at all are you observing such a penance? Is married later? There is no joy in married life. You must develop devotion for it merely to get Lord. Our aim must be to escape from the sorrows of family life. Must you observe penance only to get trapped in misery? practice renunciation, aspire for deliverance." Saying thus, Narada went away.

The advice of Narada made a tremendous impact on the minds of the children of Daksha. They took an oath not to marry. This news upset Daksha. He called his other children who were named Shabalashwas, and instructed them properly and sent them for penance.

But, sure as ever, Narada came and taught them too the ways of renunciation!

Dakshabrahma's anger knew no bounds. He said to Narada: "0 Narada, it was my heart's desire that my children should marry and lead a happy household life. But you interfered and misled them. Don't you have any other occupation? I am cursing you to remain a vagabond eternally!"

Narada was not upset by the curse. "All the better indeed! I shall spend all my time wandering and preaching the people the best" he determined.

Story Of Earlier Birth

It is said that Narada himself once told the story of his birth.

The great sage Vedavyasa divided the Vedas into four branches - Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana. Vedavyasa felt that common people could not comprehend the Vedas, and therefore wrote the Puranas which explained the meaning of the Vedas. He also wrote theMahabharata; he brought out the essence of the Upanishads in a chapter called 'Bhagavad Gita' using very simple language.

The great sage was not satisfied even with such wonderful writings meant for the good of humanity. He was somehow convinced that there was yet one more work to be carried out by him for thebenefit of humanity. A worried Vedavyasa was once sitting on the banks of the river Saraswati. Narada came there.

Narada knew what was worrying the sage Vyasa. He said: "Great sage, you have done so much for the welfare of humanity. And yet you are not satisfied. It is because none of your writings thoroughly describes the glory of Lord Narayana. You have not adequately brought out the greatness of devotion. In the coming Kaliyuga people will not live for as long a period as in the present era. For them it will be a tough task to acquire spiritual knowledge. The best way for them will be the Path of Bhakti or Devotion. You must write a book, which will describe the glory of the Lord and the greatness of Bhakti. Only then will you find peace. The company of good men generates Bhakti. 0 sage Vyasa, words fail to describe the all-pervasive influence of good men and their devotion towards God. I was once a very ordinary man. But today I am revered as Saint Narada. I owe this entirely to the company of great men; to the devotion I have towards God."

Sage Vyasa was dumb-founded. Is it ever possible that this universally respected 'Devarshi'was once upon a time an ordinary man? A baffled Vyasa stared at Narada in wonder. Narada.could read his mind. So he explained: "0 Vyasa, I was once an angel. I was called Upabarhana. I was an expert in music and I was handsome to look at, too. Once Dakshabrahma decided to perform a sacrifice. He arranged a big function. I sang devotional songs on that occasion. But I was not concentrating; my attention was diverted towards the apsaras (heavenly damsels). Dakshabrahma was upset by my behavior. He turned towards me and cursed me, 'You lecherous gandharva! Let the devil take away your entire Knowledge and spiritual splendor.

You don't deserve to live in Heaven. May you be born as a little, despicable human being on earth!'

"I came to my senses only after I had heard the dreadful curse. I begged for his forgiveness. Daksha then said: 'do not lament, 0 Upabarhana. You will be blessed by the company of good men.' 0 Vyasa, it was owing to that curse that I was born to a slavewoman."

"Later, my mother started working as a servant-maid in an ashram. I was a little boy then. The rainy season came. Some sannyasins came to the ashram and stayed there. They were learned men and great devotees of God. Every day they conducted prayer meetings in which they sang the glory of Lord Narayana. Their preaching changed my very behavior. I became increasingly attracted to their preaching as days passed. Gradually I became more and more devoted to God. The sages began to like me. They would offer me fruit and speak to me with much warmth. I carried out devotedly whatever work they assigned to me."

"The rainy season came to an end. The sages prepared to leave for another place. I felt very sad. The kind sages understood my feelings and consoled me. 'Do not worry. Have trust in God and be always eager to realize Him. Do not while away your time on earth. This world is a creation of God and it finds its ultimate fulfillment in Him. Not a straw moves without the will of God. Keep repeating with whole-hearted devotion the mantra 'Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya'and you will be blessed.' Having uttered this benediction, the sages went away."

"The departure of the sages made me sad beyond words. I spent all my time thinking about God."

"Days passed. One day my mother died bitten by a snake. I placed all my trust in God and headed northwards. I had no particular destination. After a great deal of wandering, I came to a beautiful uninhabited place. I took my bath and drank the water from a nearby pond. I felt comforted. Body and mind became light. I remembered the good words the holy men had preached in the ashram. I sat under a people tree contemplating on God."

"Many years passed by. I lived on the fruits and leaves of the forest. My mind was immersed in contemplation. As time passed, I realized that God is present everywhere and in all objects. One day I saw a brilliant flash of divine light. I saw that the Lord was standing before me. His magnificent form thrilled me. Everything else looked meaningless. I was over- whelmed. I began to wander everywhere. I longed to see that divine form again.

Then I heard a divine voice: 'you will not see me once again in this birth. I do not appear before people who have not rid themselves of desire and anger. As you have seen me once, your devotion for me will now become more steadfast, especially since you keep company with good men. In your next birth you will be one of my close attendants.'"

"I felt somewhat relieved after I heard that voice. I felt a surging spirit of renunciation. The world appeared to be pervaded by the Lord. There was no trace of ego in me. I remained loosely attached to that body for a while like a drop of water on a lotus-leaf. Once, while I was in deep meditation, I felt as if I was touched by a divine light. Immediately I cast away my body. Then the deluge came. I along with all the living creatures became absorbed in the body of the Lord."

"Some time after the deluge, new creation began. Out of the navel of Lord Narayana came Brahma. He engaged himself in the work of creation, in accordance with the Lord's command. Then Brahma created Marichi, Atri and the other eight Prajeshwaras. I happened to be one of them. Vyasa, I became Narada thanks to the blessings of the Lord. I am wandering round the world singing the glory of the Lord accompanied by this Veena Mahati. It has since then been my aim to convert people into the Path of Devotion (Bhakti) and Piety. In the future Kaliyuga, the chanting of the Lord's name will bring greater reward than performance of sacrifices. The Path of Devotion is the easiest and best. The mind becomes steady, cleansed of passions like greed and anger. Knowledge can be attained only when the mind becomes pure. Of course you are aware of all these things. I therefore ask of you to compile a book setting out the greatness of Devotion (Bhakti) and the glory of God. I shall narrate to you the ideas of Vedanta, which Brahma has taught me briefly. Let this be the basis of your great work. That book will make people happy and will bring mental peace to you."

And then Narada communicated to Vyasa the secrets of Vedanta. Vyasa composed the Bhagavata deriving inspiration by Narada.

In The Hermitage Of Valmiki

Narada had a part to play even in the composition of the Ramayana. Once sage Narada came to the hermitage of Valmiki.

He was received with warmth and the two hermits sat chatting with each other. Something had been worrying Valmiki for a long time. He wondered whether there was any man who tenaciously stuck to the path of righteousness even in the midst of the greatest odds; whether there was any man who could be pointed out as an ideal to the whole world.

Narada traverses in all the three worlds. Valmiki thought that Narada might find an answer to his questions. He asked Narada: "0 great sage, you are all knowing. You have studied the Vedas. Can you tell me if there is any man in this world who is virtuous, pious, ever truthful and tenacious? Is there any one who wishes well or all living creatures and who are also a hero and a scholar? Such a man should be free from jealousy and be a man of invincible valor. He should be the most handsome among mankind. If there be such a man, please let me know."

Narada beamed with a smile and replied: "0 yes. I understand you. You want to find out if there is a flawless perfect human being. It is no doubt difficult to come across such a man. But there is a man who has combined in himself all the virtues you have enumerated. He i6 Sri Rama the king of Ayodhya." Then Narada narrated the story of Sri Rama and went away.

Sage Valmiki was thrilled to listen to the story of Sri Rama. He decided that Sri Rama was truly the greatest living being. With the story of Sri Rama still fresh in his memory, Valmiki set out for the river Tamasa for his morning ablutions. Two birds were seen playing about on the banks of the river. A hunter shot down the male bird. The female bird wailed sorrowfully for the loss of her male. Sage Valmiki was greatly moved by the misery of the stricken bird.

Unable to restrain his sorrow, Valmiki cursed the hunter for his shameful deed. But no sooner did he utter the curse than it was converted into the form of a shloka - a verse. The sage was amazed.

He returned to the hermitage after his ablutions. Meanwhile Lord Brahma himself arrived there. Valmiki was astonished. Early morning was Narada's surprise visit; later, the death of the bird, and his utterance of a shloka; lastly it was Brahma's arrival. Lord Brahma said: "0 sage, the shloka you have uttered is due to my inspiration. Your mind is now mature enough for writing poetry. Please write in poetic form the story of Sri Rama as narrated to you by Narada. Your poetry will be acclaimed all over the world as the 'Ramayana'. The first 'sarga' or canto of Ramayana written by Valmiki contains one hundred shlokas. These contain a concise account of the Ramayana narrated by Narada.

Narada And The Other Great Epics

Again it was Narada who popularized the story of Mahabharata. The Mahabharata that we know of today contains a hundred thousand shlokas, whereas the Mahabharata written by sage Vyasa contained three hundred thousand shlokas. Narada recited it before the devatas (gods). Thus Narada had a role to play in all the three great epics, namely the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavata. They are also Bharat'sgreatest contribution to world literature.

Desire For Marriage

There are many strange stories about Narada. One such story runs thus:

Narada had a nephew called Parvata. One day these two together went to the palace of Ambarisha, the ruler of Ayodhya.

Ambarisha had a beautiful daughter by name Srimati. She was an embodiment of all good qualities. Narada and his companion were attracted by her beauty. Each of them wanted to marry her! They secretly disclosed to Ambarisha their heart's desire.

Ambarisha was in a fix. How could he disobey the sages? He said to them:

"0 revered sages, both of you desire the hand of my daughter. How am I to decide? Well, I shall arrange a Swayamvara. Whomsoever Srimati selects shall be her husband."

The Naive Sages

Without Parvata's knowledge, Narada went to Vaikunta to consult Mahavishnu. He narrated to him all that had happened. He said to Lord Vishnu: "0 Lord, have mercy on me and do me a favor. At the time of the Swayamvara, please make Parvata look like a monkey." The Lord smilingly assented.

Later, it was sage Parvata's turn to approach Lord Vishnu - without Narada's present. He said to Vishnu: "0 Lord, at the time of the Swayamwara, please make Narada look like a bear." Vishnu said to himself, "Aha! Both are naive, and there is little to choose between them!" But he smilingly assured the sage that he would grant his request.

The day of the Swayamwara. Came. Both the sages arrived at the Swayamwara each congratulating himself on their cleverness.

Srimati's Choice

Ambarisha led Srimati to the dais of the Swayamwara. Srimati blushingly stood before the rishis with garland in her hand. But she was taken aback when she lifted her head and saw both Narada and Parvata. Her hand trembled. She said: "Father, I can see no rishi here. Instead I find two men, one with the face of a bear and the other with a monkey's face. But in between these two I find a handsome man with an attractive well-dressed in jewel- studded clothes, and he is smiling. He has stretched his right hand as if to beckon me." Both Narada and Parvata were astonished. Narada said: "0 king, is this one of your tricky schemes to deceive us?" Then it struck Srimati that the two angry sages would curse her father if she did not act quickly. So she declared that she would throw the garland in the direction of the sages and that she would marry the one who caught the garland thrown by her. She flung the garland at them. The garland fell on the handsome man sifting between the two sages. All at once Srimati and the handsome man disappeared. That handsome man was none other than Lord Vishnu.

It was then that wisdom dawned on both the sages. They realized that they had been taught a lesson for their conceit. They felt ashamed that they should have thought of marriage. They took an oath that they would remain bachelors for life.

Narada The Guide

Narada was not the kind of rishi who would sit at a place and meditate. He always strove for human welfare. Since he was always chanting the name of God, one could say he was engaged in austerities even while he was moving about. He was busy enlightening the good, guiding the perplexed, giving solace to those in tribulation, offering advice to the ignorant, promoting godliness among the pious. He devised plans for protecting the righteous and punishing the wicked.


King Uttanapada had two wives. Dhruva was the son of Suniti, the elder of the two wives and Uttama was the son of Suruchi the younger wife. Once Suruchi chided Dhruva and taunted him that he was not eligible for the throne. Dhruva felt humiliated by her remarks. He took an oath that he would become the king by propitiating Lord Vishnu by penance.

But Dhruva was hardly five years of age. How could a five-year-old boy know anything about the observance of penance? Narada came to know of it and appeared before Dhruva. He taught Dhruva various aspects of worshipping and penance. He taught Dhruva the mantra 'Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya.'In accordance with Narada's instructions, Dhruva observed penance and earned the blessings of Lord Narayana. He achieved this feat which had eluded even mighty yogis.


The kingdom of Shurasena was ruled by a king by name Chitraketu. He had a son after a very long time. But the jealous stepmothers poisoned and killed the child. Chitraketu wept bitterly over the dead body of the child. Then Narada arrived and he tried to console the king, but it was in vain.

Narada then used his yogi's powers and made the child come back to life. The boy sat up and said: "I went through many births, saw countless mothers and fathers. I felt like a coin being passed from hand to hand in a fair. To whom does a coin belong? No one can hoard it for long. It keeps constantly circulating. Likewise, a human being, on account of his Karma, takes birth in the womb of a woman. Again, owing to his Karma alone does he take his birth again. I have gone through this cycle of births and deaths. I do not wish to get caught in it once again." So saying he cast away his body. Only then did wisdom dawn on Chitraketu. His mind became calm. Narada later taught him the sacred mantra and guided him in the spiritual path.


Hiranyakashipu was an enemy of the devatas (gods). Once, while he was away at the Mandara mountains for penance, Lord Indra. Kidnapped his wife Kayadu and tried to kill the child in her womb. Then Narada went to Lord Indra and prevented the misdeed by preaching him good sense. Narada then took away Kayadu to his ashram and looked after her till Hiranyakashipu came back from his penance. The child in her womb was Prahlada. Narada used to address Prahlada even while he was in his mother's womb and he would preach the child Dharma and describe the glory of the Lord. Thus when Prahlada was born he was already a great devotee of Mahavishnu.


In the state of Madra there was a king by name Ashwapati. Savitri was the name of his daughter. She grew up to be a woman of great wisdom and beauty.

Once she saw a young man named Satyavan and decided that he alone should be her husband.

On hearing this, Narada said to the king: "0 king, I happen to know that young man. No doubt, Satyavan is as bright as the Sun God, as wise as Brihaspati and as brave as Lord Indra. But he will live only for a year from today. This is the only problem."

Narada's words shocked king Ashwapati. He grew pale and shuddered to think that his prospective son-in-law would live only for one year after the marriage. But Savitri said: "Father, I have accepted Satyavan devoutly and sincerely as my husband. Hence, only he shall be my husband." Narada consoled the king and l said: "0 king, none can change Savitri's decision. There is no more worthies than Satyavan. Hence I feel it is but proper that you 'give your daughter in marriage to him. The Lord is great. Everything will turn out to be favorable."

Later the wedding of Savitri and Satyavan did take place. As predicted by Narada, Satyavan breathed his last after one year. The Lord of Death - Yama himself came to take away his life. But Savitri got back her husband's life by winning Yama's favor with her unswerving virtues. It was owing to Narada's timely guidance that Savitri was vigilant and cautious and was able to win back her husband's life.

Punishing The Evil : kamsa

Sometimes Narada's remarks outwardly looked like scandalous gossip. But it was his intention that evildoers should merit punishment and the virtuous are fittingly rewarded. We may for instance look at the episode of Kamsa. Kamsa was a cruel king. He, along with his like-minded 'Rakshasas', used to torture people. His sister Devaki got married to Vasudeva. Then an invisible voico said: "0 Kamsa, you shall meet your end at the hands of the eighth child of Devaki." Kamsa's anger knew no bounds. At once he took out his sword and rushed to kill Devaki. Vasudeva begged him not to kill her. He assured Kamsa that he would handover to -his custody all the children born to Devaki. Kamsa left Devaki unharmed.

Later Narada met Kamsa in secrecy and said: "0 Kamsa, the angels have conspired to kill you. Your father Ugrasena, Devaki, and Vasudeva - all these people have joined hands with the angels. You are after all a 'rakshasa', a demon. Don't you know that the angels and the rakshasas are sworn enemies?" On hearing this Kamsa was outraged. Immediately he imprisoned Devaki and his father Ugrasena, and declared that thereafter he was the king of that state.

One wonders why Narada stooped to such tale bearing. But he had a noble purpose. He knew that it was only when the cup of evil was filled to the brim that the wicked will attract punishment. Kamsa's cruel acts came in quick succession. He sent an army of 'rakshasas' to kill Sri Krishna who was then a little boy in Nandagokula. All of them met their end. Soon Lord Krishna found enough justification for killing Kamsa, and did so.


In the Mahabharata also, Narada intervenses at many points. Narada knew for certain that the Pandavas were virtuous and Dharmaraja was truthful. For some time he was staying at Indraprastha. It occurred to Narada that the young Dharmaraja needed to be advised in matters relating to ethics and polity. He came to Indraprastha and gave him a discourse. He said, "0 Yudhisthira, you must treat your subjects kindly as did your elders. Do not swerve from the path laid down by them. You should have among your minister men who are righteous, knowledgeable and experienced.

Attened to your household duties in time. Listen to good counsel before taking a decision. Let your army and war machines are kept ever in readiness. Never let the guilty go unpunished. Have compassion for women, children and the aged. Treat your servants with kindness. Wages must be disbursed to servants and soldiers at the appointed time without fail. Do not spend money extravagantly. Look after the peasants by providing them with adequate facilities like tanks and canals. Let not the rich exploit the poor. Do not entertain sycophants. Do not indulge in pleasures. Only Dharma can preserve Dharma. Protect Dharma at all times."

Narada was by the side of the Pandavas and he entertained the Pandavas during their stay in the forest. He requested Markandeya to narrate for the benefit of Pandavas a number of instructive stories. He consoled Dharmaraja when he was grief-stricken on account of Karna's death. He advised the Pandavas to get moral instructions from Bhishma who was lying on his bed of arrows. He advised the aged king Dhritarashtra to undergo penance when the latter was mourning his son's death, and thus showed him the path of peace.

Book-Learning Not Enough

Once Narada was sitting in Lord Ishwara's court on Mount Kailasa. It was attended by illustrious sages and brahmarshis. Just then Durvasa entered the assembly carrying a huge bundle of books. Although Durvasa was a great saint, he was highly irascible, quick to anger. Ignoring the august assembly, he went and sat by the side of Lord Shiva. Shiva asked him smilingly: "Sir, how are your studies progressing?" The saint proudly displayed his bundle of books and said, "I have thoroughly studied these books and I know them by heart."

Narada stood up and called Durvasa a donkey carrying a burden of books on his back. Durvasa thundered in wrath.

Narada retorted, "There you are! You have not been able to get over your passions in spite of your scholarship. You have ignored the assembly and gone and sat by Lord Shiva. What good is scholarship without patience and forgiveness? These books are nothing but the burden of a donkey." Durvasa realized his folly. He Narada threw away the books into the sea and went into penance Revered, Learned Once Narada was sitting in Lord Ishwara's court on Mount Kailasa. It was attended by illustrious sages and brahmarshis. Just then Durvasa entered the assembly carrying a huge bundle of books. Although Durvasa was a great saint, he was highly irascible, quick to anger. Ignoring the august assembly, he went and sat by the side of Lord Shiva. Shiva asked him smilingly: "Sir, how are your studies progressing?" The saint proudly displayed his bundle of books and said, "I have thoroughly studied these books and I know them by heart."

Narada stood up and called Durvasa a donkey carrying a burden of books on his back. Durvasa thundered in wrath.

Narada retorted, "There you are! You have not been able to get over your passions in spite of your scholarship. You have ignored the assembly and gone and sat by Lord Shiva. What good is scholarship without patience and forgiveness? These books are nothing but the burden of a donkey." Durvasa realized his folly. He Narada threw away the books into the sea and went into penance.



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