What Is Mahalaya?

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

Mahalaya is the day that marks the end of Pitru Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha. It is believed that during Pitru Paksha, our ancestors come from Pitru Loka (a realm between heaven and earth) and stay with us. They are offered food and prayers, and their blessings are invoked by the present generation and their children. There is an interesting story associated with the Mahabharata that looks at the origins of this festival.

After Karna’s death in the Mahabharata war, when his soul reached heaven, he was offered gold and jewels as food. Surprised, Karna asked Indra why he was not being given real food to eat. Indra relied that this was because, during his lifetime, although Karna had donated a lot of wealth to other people, he had never offered food and water to his own ancestors. Karna justified his actions, saying that this was because he never knew who his ancestors were. Karna was then allowed to return to earth for a period of 15 days, during which he performed the shraadha of his ancestors and donated food and water in their memory. It is this period which we now know as pitru paksha.

Five Asuras That Krishna Defeated

By Mrinalini Manda

Krishna is the eighth avatar of Vishnu, appearing on earth to restore peace to a disturbed world. In this mortal avatar, he started out as a compassionate yet mischievous cowherd, eventually overthrowing the evil Kamsa and reinstating Kamsa’s father and his grandfather Ugrasena on the throne of Mathura. Krishna then went on to befriend his cousins, the Pandavas, and played a key role in the Mahabharata, and disclosing the secrets of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield.

Krishna started serving his life’s purpose of restoring the balance between good and evil, right from the day he was born. During his time here, there were many demonic enemies he had to take on. Here’s a list of five such powerful beings who faced their end at the hands of the flute-playing divinity.   

The Witch 
Illustration: Dilip Kadam

Putana was a powerful witch who took great joy in killing children. One day, Putana entered Krishna’s house in Gokula as a beautiful damsel. She was so pretty that no one questioned her when she entered the house. Upon entering, she found baby Krishna lying on a small bed. She picked Krishna up, placed him on her lap and began to suckle him. She hoped Krishna would die sucking on the poison she has applied on her breasts. However, Krishna bit her so hard that he sucked the life out of her. Putana fell on the ground and started shrieking in pain, soon reverting to her original avatar. The vibrations created from Putana’s screaming made people think that thunderbolts were falling from Putana’s fallen body. The gopis saw Krishna and immediately handed him over to his mother, Yashoda. The news of Krishna’s trick soon spread like wildfire. 

The Hurricane 
Illustration: Dilip Kadam

On his first birthday, baby Krishna’s kick destroyed Shakatasura who had disguised himself as a cart. A few days later, Trinavarta, a servant of Kamsa, appeared in the form of a hurricane. He picked up Krishna, placed him on his shoulders and raised a storm all over Gokul. The storm made people shut their eyes, thus, no one could see what was happening. Yashoda couldn’t see her baby Krishna and started crying bitterly. In the meantime, Trinavarta had flown very high with Krishna perched on his back. Suddenly, to the demon’s surprise, Krishna started becoming very heavy, so much that Trinavarta could no longer bear the weight. He felt like he was carrying a mountain on his shoulders. Then, the infant Krishna caught Trinavarta by the neck and killed him, his eyes popping out as he fell to his death.  

The Calf 
Illustration: Dilip Kadam

One day, Krishna, Balarama, and a few of their friends were herding their cattle on the banks of the Yamuna. A demon named Vatsasura took the form of a calf and mingled with the other calves. Upon noticing the additional calf, Krishna slowly approached it, caught Vatsasura by his hind legs and spun him round and round. The sheer speed at which Krishna spun the calf demon ended up killing Vatsasura. Krishna then threw the dead calf on top of a wood-apple tree. Eventually, the demon took his original form, crushing a number of trees under his weight. 

The Crane
Illustration: Dilip Kadam

As Krishna and his friends grew older, they were allowed to take the older cattle to the forest to graze. On one such day, while they were by a lake, they saw an animal which looked like a huge crane who had a very sharp beak. This animal was none other than Bakasura, Kamsa’s friend in disguise. Bakasura immediately attacked Krishna with his sharp beak and swallowed him. On seeing this, his friends became breathless and fainted. However, almost immediately after swallowing Krishna, Bakasura felt a burning sensation in his throat and he threw up. As soon as Krishna came out, Bakasura tried to kill Krishna by pinching his beak together, but Krishna forced Bakasura’s beak open, breaking it at the jaw without breaking a sweat. 

The Snake  
Illustration: Dilip Kadam

Aghasura, brother of Bakasura and Putana, was so powerful that even the devas feared him. In a bid to avenge his dead siblings, he transformed himself into a humongous serpent determined to kill Krishna and his clan. 

He stretched himself wide and sat on the path on which Krishna and his friends played on, and opened his mouth wide, resembling a cave in a mountain, his eyes gleaming like fire. Unaware of the dangers that lay ahead and trusting Krishna’s powers, the Yadava clan and the cattle entered Aghasura’s mouth. He kept his mouth open until Krishna entered, then he swallowed them all. 

That’s when Krishna started playing his tricks. Once inside, Krishna began to grow in size, choking the demon’s throat. Suffocated, Aghasura’s eyes started to bulge and soon his enormous body became lifeless. Eventually, Krishna, the cowherds, and the cattle stepped out of the dead demon’s mouth, unscratched. 

Read more adventures of Krishna from Amar Chitra Katha’s catalogue, now available on the ACK Comics app, as well as Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.

Mani

Illustration: Mala Narwani

The word ‘Mani’ has multiple references in the Puranas. Here are some of them.

  1. One of the two attendants given to Kartikeya by the moon god, Chandra. The other attendant was called Sumani.
  2. A sage who was a member of the Brahmasabha.
  3. A serpent born of the Dhritarashtra family, burnt to death in the Sarpa Satra, a snake sacrifice yagya, performed by Janamejaya who was the great-grandson of Arjuna.

Baby Krishna’s Kick

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

According to Bhagavata Purana, on Krishna’s first birthday, his foster parents Yashoda and Nanda gave a grand feast. Every resident of Vrindavan was invited to join in the celebrations. As Yashoda got busy with the preparations of the feast, she placed Krishna in a cool, quiet spot under a cart when he was sleepy. The cart was actually the demon Shakatasura in disguise, sent by Kamsa to kill Krishna.

Before Shakatasura could do any damage, Krishna woke up because he was hungry. He started crying and kicking both his legs. One of his legs hit the cart and it shattered into several pieces. Everyone was amazed, they shook their heads in disbelief at the infant’s strength. Little did they realise that the divine child had destroyed more than just a cart!

Legends Behind Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan is observed to acknowledge the sublime bond between siblings. Brothers promise to protect their sisters while sisters wish for their brothers’ immortality while tying a sacred thread ‘rakhi’ around the wrist of their brothers. The festival is celebrated on the day of the full moon in the month of Shravana, according to the Hindu calendar, which usually falls in August. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting stories around Raksha Bandhan in Indian mythology. 

Krishna and Draupadi 
Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

Amongst the better-known legends around the origin of Raksha Bandhan is the story of Krishna and Draupadi. According to one version of the Mahabharata, Krishna slit his index finger in battle, while hurling his divine weapon, the Sudarshan Chakra, at his nephew, Shishupala. Another version says he cut his finger while reaping sugarcane from the fields. Both stories conclude with Draupadi tearing a piece of her saree and wrapping it around his finger to stop the bleeding. Pleased by this loving gesture from Draupadi, Krishna took a divine oath to protect Draupadi’s honour in the future. This is also believed to be the reason why he came to her rescue during the infamous disrobing by the Kauravas. 

Did you know?

Illustration: ACK Design Team
King Bali and Goddess Lakshmi 
Images: Wikimedia   Illustration: ACK Design Team

Another legend about the festival revolves around the story of Goddess Lakshmi and King Bali. 

When Bali selflessly gave everything that Vishnu had asked for disguised as Vamana, Vishnu became very impressed by Bali’s devotion. He blessed Bali to be equal in status to Indra for as long as he lived. He also promised to protect Bali and his homestead and disguised himself as a gatekeeper guarding Bali’s palace. However, Vishnu’s wife, goddess Lakshmi, missed her husband in Vaikunth. Unable to bear her husband’s absence, she disguised herself as a poor Brahmin lady and went to Bali, and told him that she wanted a place to stay until her husband returned from the task he had set out to accomplish. Bali wholeheartedly welcomed her and protected her just like an elder brother.     

With the arrival of the goddess, Bali’s palace was filled with happiness and wealth. On the day of Shravana Purnima, the poor Brahmin lady tied a coloured cotton thread around his wrist. Overwhelmed by the gesture, Bali granted her a wish. The Brahmin lady pointed at the gatekeeper and asked for her husband to be set free. In an instant, Vishnu and Lakshmi then returned to their true form. King Bali was touched by the love and care they had shown him and requested Vishnu to go back to his abode with Lakshmi. However, he requested Vishnu to visit him at least once every year. It is believed that lord Vishnu visits King Bali for four months every monsoon. 

Krishna’s Friendships

This Friendship Day, we revisit the many friendships of our adorably mischievous Kanha. Krishna made many, many friends in his time on earth, many of them lifelong relationships that he treasured more than life itself.

Illustration: Ram Waerkar

Little Krishna performed a lot of tricks on people with his Yadava friends. He always shared the butter he stole with them, albeit keeping a little extra for himself.

Illustration: Saboo Achu

Many versions of Mahabharata say that Krishna referred to Draupadi as ‘sakhi’, which means friend. He was always there to guide and protect her.

Illsutration: V.B. Khalap

Krishna’s bond with Arjun is depicted at the turn of every course in the Mahabharata. The lord himself became Arjuna’s charioteer at Kurukshetra.

Illustration: Prabhakar Khanulkar

Krishna’s connection with his childhood friend Sudama was ethereal. He understood his pain and sufferings without Sudama uttering a word. His love for him was beyond even Sudama’s comprehension.

We all have a Krishna in our life who always looks out for us, no matter what! Make sure to thank them for always choosing to be by our side. Happy Friendship Day!

The Legend of Bhringi

According to the Indian epics, Bhringi was an ancient sage and ardent devotee of Shiva. Every devotee of Shiva also bowed down to Parvati but Bhringi defied the norm. Every day after his prayers, he would circumambulate Shiva but not Parvati. Noticing this, one day, Parvati sat close to Shiva. Adamant, Bhringi transformed himself into a snake (some versions mention it as a rat) and went in between them.

Shiva and Parvati are two halves of the same whole. Wanting to make Bhringi aware of this, Shiva took half of Parvati’s form into his own as Ardhanarishwara. Unrelenting, Bhringi turned himself into a beetle (some versions mention it as a black bee). He bore his way through, encircling only Shiva’s head! Enraged, Parvati cursed him,

“O Bhringi, you are too adamant. We tried to explain to you that we are two halves of the whole but you refused to understand. May you lose all parts of your body received from your mother.”

Thus, Bhringi lost all his flesh and blood. According to traditional beliefs, a human receives bones and nerves from the father and the flesh and blood from the mother. While modern genetics says otherwise, this belief highlights the importance of the contribution from both parents in the physical characteristics of the child.

As just a skeletal frame within, Bhringi collapsed to the ground. Shiva, feeling sorry for his devotee, gave him a third leg that he could support his body, similar to a tripod. Bhringi realised his folly and bowed down to both Shiva and Parvati, realizing that they both were indeed two halves of the same truth.

Read the second part of our latest title, ‘Mahadeva – Stories from the Shiva Purana’ to learn more about the divine union of Shiva and Shakti, now available on the ACK Comics app. 

The Seven Dwipas

According to the Bhagavata Purana, Aditya, the sun god, went around Mount Sumeru sending his rays to the Loka-Aloka range, illuminating half the earth while the other half remained dark.

Illustration: Aditya Prabhu

Once, Priyavrata, the son-in-law of Vishwakarma decided to illuminate the dark regions so that there would be perpetual daylight. Getting onto his chariot, he began to follow the sun-god. After seven rounds, Brahma stopped him and said,

“Stop, Priyavrata. This isn’t your assigned duty in the universe.”

Since Priyavrata has already gone around Sumeru, there were grooves formed on the ground by his chariot wheels. These grooves formed the seven oceans which then gave rise to the seven dvipas or islands.

Illustration: Aditya Prabhu

  • Jambu
  • Plaksha
  • Salmali
  • Kusa
  • Krauncha
  • Saka
  • Pushkara

Each one was twice as large as the preceding one. Most of them were named after a sacred tree of the same name, that was said to grow there.

The Martial Art of Angampora

Illustration: Adarsh Achari

Angampora is a Sri Lankan martial art that is a mix of hand-to-hand fighting techniques and the use of indigenous weapons such as knives and swords. Did you know that Ravana is said to have been a master in all forms of this martial art and is the most feared Angam warrior of all time?

One of Angampora’s unique features is paralysing opponents by attacking certain pressure points on their bodies. There are several medical writings credited to Ravana the scholar, that make references to these points and healing through them. To this day, Angam gurus light a lamp in his honour before training commences.

Vishnu’s Kaumodaki Gada

Vishnu is often depicted holding a mace in his lower right hand. This divine weapon is known as the Kaumodaki gada.

Origin

The name Kaumodaki is derived from the word ‘Kumuda‘ meaning ‘water lily’. The mace has always been associated with Vishnu. In the Mahabharata, Varuna, the god of the sky, is said to have given this mace to Krishna, before the burning of the Khandava forest.

Power and design 

Its body is sometimes depicted with etchings of flutes and peacock feathers on it. The Kaumodaki has a thunder-like roar and the ability to kill all the Daityas, a clan of Asura along with the Danavas. The mace represents the power of knowledge, time and intellect.

Other information 

The mace is sometimes personified as a goddess called Gadadevi or Gadanari. In this form, the mace is held by the goddess with Vishnu blessing her.