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Epic Characters of Purānas

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GANESHA

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Known by various names, Ganesha is a divine force, a remover of all hurdles and one who is worshipped before doing any good work. The story of Ganesha here is based on Brahmavaivartha Purana. Lord Sri Krishna was born as Ganesha to Siva and Parvathi after she completed the Punyaka vratha , the king of all vrathas. As dakshina, Sanatkumara asked Parvathi for her husband if she wanted to enjoy the fruits of the vratha completely.

It is said that Shaneshwara who was under his wife’s curse  was forced to look at baby Ganesha when the baby’s head got severed from his body. Lord Vishnu got an elephant’s head, stuck it to the baby’s body and breathed life into it. Once when Parasurama came to  have a darshan of Siva and Parvathi, Ganesha refused to allow him inside as his parents were resting. Incensed, the  sage  cut off one of Ganesha’s tusks with his axe.  Ganesha and Tulasi once had a duel during which Tulasi offered to marry Ganesha and when he declined she  cursed him saying that he would be married one day. He in turn cursed her but felt sorry and comforted her saying that as a plant,  she would be a favourite of Lord Sri Hari.

Ganesha beat his brother Karthikeya in a competition when they were asked to go round the world to visit holy places in order to win the divine modaka and the promise of getting married. While Karthikeya actually went round the world, Ganesha went round his parents as he believed that everything holy lay at his parents’ feet. He was then married to Siddhi and Buddhi. Ganesha was once abandoned in a forest. Sage Parashara recognized  the divine being in the baby and took it home. Due to sage Saubhari’s curse, Krauncha was cursed to become a rat, but one that would enjoy the status of being Ganesha’a vehicle. The legend of  the Moon laughing at Ganesha and the latter cursing the Moon is quite well known. One must  note that it was because of Ganesha’s wisdom and blessings that he was chosen to be Vedavyasa’s scribe and thus the world got a great epic, the Mahabharatha.

PARVATHI 

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Matha Parvathi, the mother of the entire world, is delineated in this book in her three forms- as Sati, Parvathi and Kathyayani. Sati was Dakshabrahma and Prasuti’s daughter. Her consort, Shiva, didn’t get up to pay respects to her father due to which he was  cursed. Getting to know that her father was performing a yagna for which all her sisters were invited, Sati sought Shiva’s permission to attend the  yajna . As Shiva refused to accompany her, she went alone and as expected, her father insulted her husband. Unable to bear it, Sati entered the sacrificial fire. Shiva lost no time in sending Veerabhadra who not only spoilt the yagna but killed Daksha as well. Later, upon Brahma’s request, he brought back Daksha to life who completed the yagna and offered havis to Shiva.  Shiva retreated to the Himalayas as he had lost Sati and engaged himself in severe penance.

Parvathi was born  to Meena devi and Himavantha. She served Shiva with all devotion so that he would marry her. When he declined, Manmatha was sent to make him fall in love. Shiva was so enraged that his penance had been disturbed that he burnt Manmatha  to ashes. In spite of the devas begging him to marry Parvathi, Shiva didn’t relent. So she gave up all her royal finery and continued to serve him through severe tapas. She recognized Shiva when he came to her disguised as a Brahmin after which they got married.  A divine child, Kumaraswamy, was born to them in course of time. Devendra vested Kumaraswamy with the responsibility of getting the world rid of Tarakasura.

Kathyayini was born of a divine light due to the yogic power of Sage Kathyayana. The purpose of her birth was to destroy the rakshasas as Mahishasura had wrested power over heaven from the devas. She laid a condition to Mahishasura when he desired to marry her – that he must defeat her in battle. A terrible battle ensued in which Kathyayini crushed the marauding Mahishasura with her tender feet.

SHIVA

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‘Shiva’ means ‘auspicious’ and everything about  Lord Shiva is auspicious. A great personality, he is delineated in the Vedas, Agamas and the Puranas. He is all powerful, an embodiment of austerity, penance and renunciation. During the churning of the mighty ocean, he is said to have consumed the deadliest of poisons, ‘haalaahala’, in order to save the world. When Shiva tried to kill Andhakasura who was his own creation, the demon turned into the Lord’s devotee as the touch of the Lord’s trident destroyed the ignorance that had pervaded his being. Shiva  took his son  Ganesha’s help to bring the Tripura demons together as Brahma had decreed that their end would come only if they were brought together. Equipping himself with all possible divine force, Shiva wrecked havoc on the three cities of Tripura.  In the end, however, due to the devotion of Banasura, the city of Suvarna was saved.

Shiva relented in one of the fiercest battles that he faced with Gajasura and in the end, wore the demon’s skin , blessed the asura such that a linga would come out of the earth and be consecrated as Krithivaseshwara. Just as Lord Narayana took ten incarnations, Lord Sankara manifested himself as a Linga in twelve places.

BALI

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Bali, the king of Asuras, was Bhakta Prahlada’s grandson and Virochana’s son.  Devendra took away all his wealth and killed him but Shukracharya brought him back to life with the help of Sanjeevani Vidya. Thus, Bali became Sukracharya’s disciple and offered all his wealth to his preceptor.

Bali  wanted to make heaven a part of his kingdom and hence, performed a yaga and entered Amaravathi, Devendra’s capital. All the devas left swargaloka  on the advice of Brihaspathi as none could face the valour of Bali. Bali now ruled over his vast kingdom of the three worlds. The devas approached Lord Vishnu, who was born as Vamana,  and asked him to bring round Bali and return to them all that they had lost. Vamana came to Bali as a young brahmin and impressed the king with his knowledge so much that Bali offered him all that he had. Vamana, who had gone there with a purpose, declined the offer saying that he was interested in establishing a yagashala in memory of his preceptor for which he needed  land measuring just three footsteps. Sukracharya warned the king not to give the young Brahmin anything as he was none other than Lord Vishnu in disguise. Instead of taking his preceptor’s advice, Bali spoke at length about how he had taken yagnadeeksha which meant that he couldn’t refuse anything to someone who had asked for something. Thus Vamana took his famous three steps and in an instant, deprived Bali of all that he had. Bali’s followers were so enraged that they waged a bloody battle in which thousands were killed. Bali, on the other hand, advised them to stop fighting and become good. Only then could they hope to get back all that they had lost. The Lord  was impressed and made Bali the king of the nether world. Bali thus stood tall by not buckling down to any pressure, be it giving up truth, listening to others’ advice or even to his preceptor’s curse or advice.

YAAJNAVALKYA

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Yaajnavalkya, son of Sage Brahmaratha and Sunanda, was a rare brahmajnani. It is said that the Lord initiated him into the Vedas even as he  was in his mother’s womb. He was born with the blessings of the Sun God. He had the privilege of studying all the four Vedas from the four respective gurus- Paila, Vaishampayana, Jaimini and Sumanthu. He mastered the Karmakanda(which describes the performance of yajnas) and the Jnanakanda( which describes the Godhead). In trying to single handedly help one of his gurus (Vaishampayana)  to free him from the sin of killing a brahmin which the  guru had earned, Yaajnavalkya ended up inviting the guru’s wrath. The guru thought that the sage had been arrogant by suggesting that he  was capable of handling the situation alone. This was when he had to give up all the knowledge that he had earned. But, he did it with grace and left the gurukula. The knowledge that he gave up was received by the rishis and this came to be known as Thaithariya, a branch of Yajurveda. Lord Suryadeva initiated him into newer aspects of Yajurveda that hadn’t been revealed to anyone till then. This came to be known as Shukla Yajurveda. Yaajnavalkya taught this to Kanva, Madhyandina and to his other disciples. Thus his preceptor’s curse turned out to be a blessing.

Yaajnavalkya got married to Kathyayini. King Janaka was on the lookout for a brahmajnani whom he could accept as his preceptor. In the conference of mighty scholars that the king had organized for the purpose, Yaajnavalkya shone  as he was accepted to be the greatest of brahmajnanis. The sage accepted Maithreyi as his spiritual partner as no woman other than the wife was allowed to stay on the ashram premises. In course of time, the sage wished to free himself of all worldly attachments and aim for salvation. The Ishavasya Upanishad, which is the smallest Upanishad, represents Yaajnavalkya’s philosophy. It contains in a nutshell the ideas of knowledge, devotion and action. In other words, it teaches us the art of living and gives us supreme knowledge of Atma and Paramatma. Yaajnavalkya’s greatness was acknowledged by Sri Shankaracharya and other great religious leaders.

SAVITHRI

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The mention of Savithri’s name reminds one and all that she was first and foremost  one of the greatest pathivrathas. Goddess Savithri is worshipped for begetting progeny. King Aswapathi was one such who received the boon of progeny from the goddess and very rightly, named the child Savithri. She grew up to be beautiful by the day. Princes who came seeking her hand in marriage turned away voluntarily as they thought they were undeserving. Her father thus got anxious and asked her to look for a husband for herself.  Roaming far and wide , she settled on Satyavan. Unfortunately, Narada came to know of it and said that though  Satyavan was of exemplary character, he was destined to live for just one more year. Even Dhyumatsena, Satyavan’s father, was hesitant to accept this divine beauty as his daughter-in-law as he was away from the comforts of the palace and living in a forest. But, Savithri’s resolve could not be broken by anyone or anything. As the day of Satyavan's death approached, she undertook a vratha for three days. On the day of Satyavan's death, she accompanied him to the forest. When Yama pulled out Satyavan’s atman and started pulling it towards south, Savithri followed him. She did not heed to Yama’s advice of going back but  in fact, pleased Yama with her utter devotion. Yama relented and gave her back not only her husband but blessings for her to bear a hundred sons.

DHRUVA

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Dhruva, a bright star right in the middle of  a large constellation ( Dhruva mandala), was a great devotee of Lord Narayana at the tender age of five. Son of King Uttanapada and Queen Suneethi, he left home and went to the forest in search of the Lord after his step-mother forbade him from sitting on his father’s lap and told him to make himself worthy of his father’s love. Narada met him on the way and tried to persuade the child to return home but Dhruva was bent upon achieving what his father and grandfather had not. He performed very severe penance and meditated on the Dwadashakshara  manthra into which Narada had initiated him. The young devotee not only got the Lord’s darshan but also experienced His presence within himself. After this, the Lord granted him immortal status but not until he had performed his duties  to his kingdom and his people. Dhruva went on to becoming the emperor after his father became too old for state duties. He avenged the death of his brother at the hands of a Yaksha by killing thousands of yakshas. Only his grandfather, Swayambhu Manu, was able to convince him to stop the bloodshed. This pleased Kubera as Dhruva had renounced anger and hatred. By and by,Dhruva handed over the reins of his kingdom to his son and sat in deep meditation of Lord SriHari.

PRAHLADA

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Prahlada, son of the demon Hiranyakashipu who was the Lord’s worst enemy, was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Narayana. Wanting to avenge the death of his brother, Hiranyaksha, the demon king performed such severe tapas that even Brahma melted  and granted him a boon rendering him all powerful and ruling supreme over the three worlds. The demon king was so arrogant that he had forbidden everyone from even uttering Lord Vishnu’s name. It was an irony that his own son, Prahlada,  constantly prayed to the Lord and sang his praises.. His teachers Skanda and Amaraka,  who were Shukracharya’s sons, were surprised at the boy’s unshakeable devotion. The king got to know of it and asked one of his servants to take the boy to the forest and kill him. He got him tortured, tied him with the varunapasha and threw him into prison. Gradually, the father was forced to accept defeat. The father and son entered into a duel  as a challenge during which Lord Vishnu emerged out of a pillar in Narasimha avatara   and killed the king. Vishnu’s anger and fury came down only after he saw  his devotee, Prahlada’s loving countenance. Prahlada  begged Him to release his father from all his sins and the Lord readily granted his devotee’s wish. In fact, he went further and sent the demon king to heaven. Lord Vishnu blessed Prahlada and said that he would be the emperor of the vast world and be his devotee forever.

HARISHCHANDRA

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Popularly known as Satya Harishchandra,  he is truth and honesty incarnate. This is the story of Harishchandra as found in the Markandeya Purana. He belonged to the Ikshawaku clan , the same clan as Sri Rama’s. He was righteous, truthful and a model to others. On a hunting expedition, he once got possessed by Vigneshwara and spoke so harshly that Sage Vishwamitra’s concentration was disturbed. As dakshina, he agreed to give away  all that he possessed except his own dharmas, his wife and son. Unable to pay the sage  the dakshina for conducting the Rajasuya yajna, he sold his son and wife to a Brahmin who used them as his slaves. Later, out of desperation, he himself became a chandala’s slave. Gradually, he became a chandala himself  and worked in a crematorium, grabbing the shrouds from dead bodies and eating whatever was available to him. A year passed this way with him experiencing untold suffering . He couldn’t recognize his wife who had brought their son for cremation as he had been bitten by a snake and was dead.  His sorrow knew no bounds when he realized that it was  his son who was no more. After lighting his son’s pyre, he sat in meditation of Lord SriKrishna. Yama appeared before him and said that the Lord had staged all this drama to prove to the world what an exemplary king Harishchandra was. The Gods approached the burning pyre and rained nectar on it. Out came Rohitashwa. With Devendra’s blessings, Harishchandra went to Ayodhya  where he received sage Vishwamithra’s blessings as well. He requested Devendra to bless all his subjects as he wanted to share it with them. He was truly a model king, one who went to the extent of taking his subjects to heaven, something no king had ever done!

SRINIVASA

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Srinivasa, also known as  Venkateshwara, Venkataramana, Venkatesha, etc. is the reigning deity in Tirupathi, a holy place in Andhra Pradesh. The Tirumala hills comprises seven hills and Lord Venkateshwara is atop the last hill. It is believed that a person who worships the Lord here gets cleansed of all sins as it happened in the case of Madhava. Madhava had committed several sins  but  he got free of them  and in another birth he came to be known as Akasharaya and got Lakshmi as his daughter. Sage Bhrigu was in search of a recipient of  a yajna’s benefit and thus visited the Trinity. His anger had grown by the time he reached Narayana as he had not been welcomed by either Brahma or Sankara. So when  Lord Narayana also didn’t pay heed to him , he kicked him on his chest which is the region where Lakshmi dwelt. Though the Lord  regretted it and paid due respects to the sage, Lakshmi felt sad and left Vaikunta  to dwell at Kolhapur.  Unable to stay without his consort, Narayana also descended on earth and reached Venkatachala. He stayed inside an anthill engaging himself in severe tapas. Brahmadeva came to know of it  and came disguised as a cow to serve the Lord.  As this was a special cow, the queen of the Chola king who reigned there wanted to feed her children with its milk. But, the cow was emptying its udders on the anthill. The cowherd was taken to task and when he found out the truth, he tried to hit the cow with his axe. Narayana tried to protect Brahmadeva and took the blow on himself.  The king came in person to see things for himself when Narayana revealed himself. He also told the king that a great king called Akashraya would be born in his line  and that   his daughter Padmavathi would become Narayana’s consort.

 

Narayana then met  Varahaswamy with whose help he got a place to stay in Venkatachala. Bakula Devi was sent to serve the Lord. Out on a hunting expedition, Srinivasa saw Padmavathi and both fell in love, but she drove him away from there. Bakula Devi went to approach Akashraya and his queen while Srinivasa himself came to meet them disguised as a female soothsayer. The soothsayer advised the queen to get her daughter married to the person with whom she had fallen in love . Acharya Brihaspathi came to the palace and sent for Sage Shuka . Everyone was happy with the divine alliance. Viswakarma built exquisite buildings to house the guests, Kubera financed Srinivasa’s marriage and Sage Vasishta was the royal priest. The marriage was conducted in all splendor. From then on Padmavathi resided close to Narayana.  

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