Nagas are one of the most prominent mythological beings mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. They are supernatural serpents in Hindu mythology and are depicted as either complete serpents, complete humans with multiple snake hoods emerging from their back, beings with half-snake and half-human body, and some having the ability to shapeshift between these forms. They are said to live in Patal Lok, an aquatic realm under the surface of the earth that is filled with treasures, unimaginable to humankind, and anthills are often considered as holy portals to this semi-divine underworld. Apart from that underworld, Nagas also dwell in other water bodies like lakes, rivers and oceans. These divine creatures with mystical powers are synonymous with nature spirits and are a symbol of rebirth, death, fertility, immortality, medicine, health and wealth. Due to this, snake worship has been a practice in India since ancient times. An iconic festival dedicated to snakes is Nag Panchmi. People all over the country offer their prayers to these nature spirits as a part of the celebrations.
According to Mahabharata, rishi Kashyap and Kadru, daughter of Daksh, are the parents of all nagas. Out of them, Shesha was the eldest, and then came Vasuki, Manasa, and many others. Kashyapa had another wife, who was also Kadru’s sister, Vinata. She gave birth to Vishnu’s vahana, Garuda, an eagle-human hybrid and he became the arch-nemesis of the nagas since eagles consume snakes. In the Ramayana, Indrajit used the Nagapasha astra on Rama and Lakshmana, which hurled venomous snakes over them. The two fell unconscious and Garuda came to their rescue. He got rid of the venomous snakes. There are various stories of enmity between Garuda and nagas in the scriptures, which depict the aggressive nature of the nagas. But on the contrary, there are also some nagas that are mentioned in the scriptures for their good deeds, in both Vaishnavism and Shaivism.
The Sudarshan Chakra is the divine weapon of Lord Vishnu, the god of preservation. The holy discus consists of two discs rotating in opposite directions with each disc having more than a million sharp spikes on its edges.
According to the Linga Purana, Lord Shiva gave Vishnu his weapon. The devas had been defeated by the armies of asuras, who had the power to heal their battle wounds, and so Vishnu decided to face the asuras himself. The god fought the countless asuras for an eternity, but then realised his efforts were futile. Vishnu visited mount Kailasha, for Shiva’s help. But Shiva was deep in meditation, and Vishnu knew disturbing Shiva during his tapasya would result in chaos. So he decided to wake him up through devotional means. Vishnu collected a thousand petals of lotus as an offering to the God of destruction. After collecting the perfect petals to please the god, Vishnu realised that he had one less petal. Vishnu, the god who is also called Kamalnayani, meaning ‘the one with lotus-shaped eyes’, sacrificed his eye to complete a thousand petals. Shiva immediately woke up from his tapasya and praised Vishnu for his sheer devotion. To help the god win the fight against the asuras, Shiva gifted him the Sudarshan Chakra with the power to slice one’s opponent into two.
Since then, Vishnu has used the divine discus in various stories. After Shiva’s wife Sati, immolated herself, the grieving Shiva, roamed the universe with the incinerated body of his departed wife. Vishnu, unable to see the suffering of the other God, used his chakra to destroy the body of the goddess. The various parts fell on the different locations on the Earth. These places came to be known as Shakti Peeth.
During the Samudra Manthan, Vishnu in his Mohini avatar used her discus to behead Rahu. The asura had disguised himself amongst the devas to consume the nectar of invincibility. Mohini saw through the disguise and attacked him but the asura had gulped the nectar. Due to the divine properties of the nectar, the beheaded body became a separate living entity called Ketu, and the head came to be known as Rahu.
Read more stories of Vishnu from our title Tales of Vishnu, now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers.
Long ago, there lived a kind and just king named Sharyaati, who had many daughters. Though he showered all of them with a lot of love and affection, he was particularly fond of Princess Sukanya. Apart from being as beautiful as her sisters, Sukanya was also wise and well-mannered.
One day, all the princesses went to the forest to see the lake. There was a huge anthill near the lake with two lights glowing through two holes on it. A strange sight indeed! Princess Sukanya was so intrigued. She thought the lights were two flies or glow worms and decided to catch them. She poked her fingers through the holes. At once there was a loud cry and then blood started oozing from there. The princess was horrified and ran away in fear.
She hurriedly made her way back to her father’s court but when she reached there, Sukanya was startled to see that most of the courtiers were suddenly suffering from severe pain in the eyes. She guessed that there must be a connection between the strange event she had witnessed in the forest and what was happening in the court. She quickly narrated the entire incident to her father.
King Sharyaati immediately rushed to the forest. The anthill was, as the princess had described it, only there he also saw a sage within it. The lights had been his glowing eyes, and now they were oozing blood. The King realised that his beloved child had unintentionally blinded a meditating hermit. He immediately fell at the feet of the sage, beseeching him to take back the curse on his courtiers and to forgive his daughter.
The sage was none other than the famed Chyavana Rishi and he replied that he had not cursed anyone. The courtiers were just reaping the fruits of his daughter’s actions. The king proposed to look after him. The sage declined and said that he would need only the service of his daughter.
Sharyaati was in a dilemma. He could not let his citizens suffer for a mistake the princess had committed. At the same time, how could he let his young daughter come and live in the forest with the sage!
Sukanya intervened and solved his problem. She wanted to take the responsibility for her actions. She proclaimed that she would marry Chyavana Rishi and remain by his side. Immediately the courtiers were relieved from the pain in their eyes. The young princess married the blind sage as per her vow.
Sukanya lived with the sage with utmost kindness and sincerity. One day, the young and handsome celestial twins, the Ashwini Kumaras spotted young Sukanya. They were charmed by her youth and beauty and asked her to live with them instead of that blind and old ascetic. Sukanya was furious with the twins and angrily replied that she was a loyal wife and would never dream of leaving her husband.
The Ashwini Kumaras were chastised and offered to restore the vision and youth of her husband. Sukanya was ecstatic hearing those words. But the twins added one tricky condition to their offer of rejuvenation. They said they would take a dip in the river along with Chyavana Rishi and all three of them would emerge from the waters looking identical. If Sukanya identified her husband, his youth and vitality would stay with him forever. Sukanya agreed to their condition and informed her husband about this proposal.
So Chyavana Rishi and Sukanya went with the Ashwini Kumaras to the river. Then two young celestial twins and one aged man entered the water. When they emerged they were all young, handsome and identical. All the three claimed to be the real Chyavana. Sukanya looked from one to the other and could see no difference whatsoever.
She closed her eyes and prayed to Goddess Durga to help her identify her husband. The Goddess told her that celestial beings never blink. With a smile, Sukanya opened her eyes and observed the three young men in front of her. Only one young man blinked. Sukanya easily recognised her husband now.
The Ashwini Kumaras blessed the happy couple and returned to their abode.
Read the complete story in our title Sukanya. Now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.
Vaikuntha is the abode of the mighty Vishnu. Vaikuntha is said to be a paradise like no other, regarded as the highest spiritual realm that one could attain, according to Hindu mythology. The name itself means ‘the abode of eternal bliss’. The entrance to this magnificent realm is guarded by the twin deities, Jaya and Vijaya.
One day, four Kumaras, named Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana, and Sanatkumara, arrived at the entrance of Vaikuntha. By virtue of their tapas or austerities, they appeared to be children but, in reality, they were very old and spiritually advanced. Tempted by the world inside, they walked towards the gates. As they were about to enter the spiritual realm, they were stopped by Jaya and Vijaya, the dwarapalakas or gatekeepers of Vaikuntha. Considering them children, Jaya and Vijaya arrogantly declared that they could not be allowed inside the abode of Vishnu. They inform the Kumaras that Vishnu could not be disturbed as he was resting. The duo was unaware that these four Kumaras happened to be the mind-born sons or manasaputras of Brahma.
The Kumaras challenged Jaya and Vijaya’s words by saying that they were devotees, and Vishnu is always available for his devotees. Enraged by the slight, they cursed the twin gatekeepers to lose their divinity and take birth in the material world. On being cursed, Jaya and Vijaya let go of their arrogance and pleaded with the Kumaras to revoke the curse. Hearing the commotion, Vishnu enquired. Learning about this incident, Vishnu left his abode to sort out the issue. All present at the gate bowed as Vishnu appeared at the entrance.
Vishnu turned to his gatekeepers and told them that the curse of a Kumara could not be revoked. Instead, he could modify the curse. He gave them two options; either they could be born seven times as devotees of Vishnu, or three times as enemies of Vishnu. Either way, Vishnu would be a part of their mortal lives. Jaya and Vijaya could not stand the thought of being away from their master for seven lives, so they agreed to be born thrice as his enemies. After fulfilling the curse, they could return to their immortal forms as his gatekeepers.
In the Satya Yuga, Jaya and Vijaya were born as the asuras Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyaksha was slain by the Varaha avatar of Vishnu, and Hiranyakashipu was slain Vishnu’s Narasimha avatar. In the Treta Yuga, they were born as the brothers Ravana and Kumbarkarna. They were both destroyed by Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu. In the Dwapara Yuga, they took birth as Shishupala and Dantavakra. They were both defeated by Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu.
The depiction of Jaya and Vijaya guarding the gates of Vaikuntha loka is a common feature of most Vishnu temples, showing how inseparable they are from their lord.
A japamala, referred to as a rosary in English, is a string of beads used to keep the mind focused and clear while reciting the divine name. The word comes from two separate words; japa meaning recitation (of the divine name) and mala meaning garland. A japamala is used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and many other traditions for the spiritual practice referred to as japa. The use of a japamala while praying is a widespread practice since ancient times and it is not known exactly when this started.
Japamalas are made using a variety of materials depending on the tenets of the faith of the practitioner, the kind of prayers and also the geographical availability of materials.
Shaivas, the devotees of Shiva use the seeds of the Rudraksha tree and Vaishanavas, the devotees of Vishnu use the beads from the wood of the Tulsi plant in their japamalas. These plants are especially dear to the deities they revere. Buddhists prefer seeds or wood from various species of the Bodhi Tree as it represents the place of Siddhartha Gautham’s enlightenment.
Japamala in Hinduism
In Hindu mythology, 108 is an auspicious number, so you are most likely to find that many beads in the mala used by the devotees. Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, Brahma, the god of creation and Dattatreya, the god of yoga are all seen with a japamala in their hands representing the power of meditation and spirituality.
Japamala in Buddhism
Japamala is a conventional meditation and prayer tool in Buddhism, and it is especially common among Tibetan Buddhists. Similar to the practice in Hinduism, the japamala contains 108 beads and that represents the mortal desires of humans. The beads are commonly used to count the recitation of mantras and for meditative breathing. The prayer beads maybe painted in specific colours and can be made of bodhi wood, sandalwood, metal, shells, seeds, or other materials to support the main focus of the meditation.
Japamala in Christianity
In Christianity, the practice of using the rosary or chaplet for prayer was adopted somewhere around the third century by the Eastern Christian monks. ‘Rosary’ is derived from the Latin word rosarium, which means ‘a crown of flowers’.The beads of the chaplet may be arranged in five decades (sets of 10), each decade separated from the subsequent by a bigger bead. The 2 ends of the chaplet are joined by a little string holding a crucifix, two large beads and three small beads. In Roman Catholicism, the rosary is a well-liked method of public and personal prayer. The prayers may be dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ or a specific saint like Saint Michael.
Japamala in Islam
In Islam, the rosary consists of three groups of beads whose total is a hundred. Each bead represents one of the names of God and helps to count these names. It is also carried by pilgrims.
Japamala in Sikhism
Sikhs also use the japamala for prayers. The devout use it to repeat the Gur Mantar or Mool Mantar, which are specific chants. They have a selected number of small beads and one large bead to mark the completion of one count of the rosary. Again, the number hundred and eight is popular as it is considered to represent infinity. There is no ritual attached to the number of beads on any mala in Sikhism. It is only meant to encourage remembrance of the divine through the practice of prayer and meditation.
The japamala cuts across various faiths and brings together all spiritual practitioners in their journey to that one ultimate truth that they all are seeking.
The pure white, seven-headed horse, Uchhaisravas, was among the gifts that emerged when the devas and asuras churned the Ocean of Milk. This beautiful horse was immediately taken by Indra and became one of his vahanas or carriers.
Once King Revanta, Surya’s son, wanted to visit Vishnu and Lakshmi. Being a friend of Indra’s, he borrowed Uchhaisravas to travel to Vaikuntha. Lakshmi was so excited to see her brother Uchhaisravas (both were born from the Ocean of Milk) that she was distracted and did not hear something Vishnu said. Annoyed, Vishnu cursed Lakshmi to be born as a mare. Lakshmi tearfully apologised and Vishnu softened. He said that she would return to Vaikuntha after giving birth to a son as glorious as Vishnu himself.
As a mare on earth, Lakshmi prayed to Shiva for a thousand years to find out who the father of this glorious son would be. Finally, Shiva and Parvati appeared and assured her that they would find a solution. Shiva then sent Vishnu down to earth as a horse to be with Lakshmi. A baby boy was born after which Lakshmi and Vishnu returned to Vaikuntha. The boy was adopted by King Satajit and named Ekavira. He was also called Hehaya, meaning ‘born from a horse’, and became one of the founders of the Ilehaya dynasty.
Read more about other celestial beings of mythology in our title ‘Divine Beings‘. Now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers.
According to the Shanti Parva and Vishnu Parva, one day when Shiva’s father-in-law, Daksha was performing a yagya, he invited all the gods except Shiva. It is believed that Daksha disliked Shiva and thought he was not worthy of his daughter. Sati noticed all the gods heading out and questioned Shiva. He informed her about the event and explained the situation. Sati felt very sorry and was deeply hurt by her father’s act. Unable to bear his wife’s grief, Shiva grew uneasy. A drop of sweat emerged from his third eye.
This drop of sweat took the form of a fearful monster. The Vishnu Parva describes the asura as ‘…as fierce as Yama the god of death and fearful like a thousand clouds with a thunderbolt, gaping and sighing, with a tight body and horrible face, rendered so by many eyes.’ As soon as he was created, he dashed into all gods giving them a terrible fever. The gods became uneasy and turned to Shiva for help. Hearing their plea, Shiva took the fever off their bodies. However, the energy radiating from the asura was so intense that no one being or place could handle it in the intact form. Thus, Shiva divided the asura into several pieces.
He named the demon Jvarasura because, in many Indian languages, Jvara means fever and Asura, means demon. Thus, Jvarasura became a fever-inducing demon. Shiva took the parts of Jvarasura and gave it to other living beings. Doing so everybody understood that Shiva is the highest power and should be respected by all beings. Since then, it is believed that Jvarasura causes:
Headache for elephants
Sore throat for horses
Hoof-rot for cows
Sore-eyes for cuckoo
Weariness for tigers
Hiccups for parrots
Fever for humans
Algae on water
According to Skanda Purana, when Jvarasura spread diseases on the earth, Shitala, an incarnation of Katyayani, got rid of all the diseases. Shitala means the ‘one who cools’. Thus, she is the goddess who cures diseases and cools the body of the fever heat. Some texts say that since then, Jvarasura became Shitala’s servant while many other texts depict Jvarasura and Shitala as companions.
Kama, the god of love, once distracted Shiva during his meditation. Enraged by this, Shiva opened his third eye and burnt him to ashes, much to the horror of Kama’s wife, Rati. The distraught Rati lit a pyre and was about to enter it when a heavenly proclamation stopped her. It told her that her husband was still alive and she would be reunited with him on the day of Shiva’s marriage. If she wished to meet him, she was to seek work in the kitchen of the asura, Shambara. Rati disguised herself as a maid and called herself Mayavati. The head cook of Shambara’s palace kitchen accepted her and she began to work there.
Meanwhile, Dwaraka was celebrating the birth of Krishna and Rukmini’s son, Pradyumna. He was the reincarnation of Kama. A week after Pradyumna’s birth, Shambara had a dream. Through this dream, he came to know that he would meet his end at the hands of Pradyumna. Unperturbed, Shambara decided to kill Pradyumna before he was old enough to be a threat. He made himself invisible and flew to Krishna’s palace in Dwarka. There, Shambara stole baby Pradyumna from his sleeping mother’s side and flew with him to the ocean. He then threw Pradyumna into the ocean and presumed that the threat was over.
However, unknown to Shambara, Pradyumna did not die but was instead swallowed by a large fish. By a turn of events, the fish was caught and ended up in the kitchen at Shambara’s palace! On cutting the fish, the cooks found baby Pradyumna and entrusted him into Mayavati’s care.
A befuddled Mayavati wondered about the child’s parents when the sage, Narada, appeared before her. He explained to her that the baby was none other than her husband, Kama. On being burnt, Kama had begged to be reborn as Krishna’s son. Narada also told Mayavati that Pradyumna, the son of Krishna and Rukmini, was fated to end the wicked Shambara’s life. He also detailed how Shambara, wanting to prevent this, threw baby Pradyumna into the ocean, which resulted in the baby being swallowed by a large fish and ending up in Shambara’s kitchen. After instructing her to raise Pradyumna with care and revealing to him his identity when he came of age, Narada disappeared.
As he grew up, Pradyumna displayed his father Krishna’s traits, such as his love for butter and the look of injured innocence when caught red-handed. Soon, he grew into a handsome young man, favoured by all the young maids in the kitchen.
An anxious Mayavati decided that it was time for Pradyumna to learn the truth. She revealed to him his lineage and the events that had occurred after his birth. She also told him how his mother still believed him to be dead and wept for him. On hearing this, Pradyumna flew into a rage and determined to kill Shambara. Rati calmed him down and told him that he would have to learn spells to counter Shambara’s magical powers before engaging him in combat. She then began to teach him the skills that he would require to defeat Shambara, including a spell to counter the invisibility magic possessed by Shambara. Once Pradyumna was ready, Rati used her magical powers to arm him with the resources necessary to defeat the asura.
Pradyumna then reached Shambara’s palace gates and loudly taunt him about how Shambara had taken him from his mother’s side and thrown him into the ocean. An enraged Shambara, wondering who could have disclosed his secret, rushed out of his palace. A mighty battle ensued between Shambara and Pradyumna. Finally, resorting to magic, Shambara turned invisible. Pradyumna immediately cast the spell taught by Mayavati to break Shambara’s invisibility. He then cut off the asura’s head with his sword and returned to Mayavati to give her the news of his success. Mayavati then took Pradyumna and flew with him to Dwarka.
Meanwhile, Shiva was getting married to Parvati. Once the ceremony ended, the gods went up to him and begged him to restore Kama to Mayavati. Shiva immediately agreed since he too was now a slave of Kama or love.
At that moment, Mayavati and Pradyumna entered the inner sanctum of Krishna’s palace in Dwarka. All the ladies assumed that Pradyumna was Krishna and wondered who the beautiful woman with him was. On the other hand, Rukmini, who knew that this youth was not Krishna, wondered who he was and wished for him to be her son, Pradyumna. Before she could question him, Narada and Krishna entered. Narada proclaimed that her son had finally returned to her and revealed the true identities of both Pradyumna and Mayavati. A surprised Pradyumna embraced his wife and the couple took the blessings of Krishna, Rukmini and Narada. On hearing that their long-lost prince had returned with a wife, all of Dwaraka celebrated this momentous occasion.
Read the story of Kama in our title ‘Pradyumna‘ available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.
The Vajra or the thunderbolt is the mighty weapon in the possession of Indra, the god of rain, storms and lightning, who is also the king of all devas. The mighty god first used his weapon on an asura called Vritra, who is an embodiment of the drought in the Rig Veda. This makes him the natural enemy of Indra, who is responsible for rains that end droughts. In the Vedas, Indra slew the serpent asura and freed the rivers that the asura had kept captive in his fortress.
But according to Bhagavata Purana, Vritra was the son of Twashta, the carpenter of gods. In a fit of rage, Indra had killed Vishwarupa, the sage, who was Twashta’s elder son. To avenge his son’s death, Twashta performed a yagna to ask for a son who would slay Indra. But he mispronounced a syllable in the mantra, and ended up getting a son who would get killed by Indra, instead of killing Indra. This son, Vritra, also had a boon, that he could not be killed by any weapon made of stone, metal, or wood. The defeated devas asked Lord Vishnu for his help, who advised them to make a weapon out of sage Dadhichi’s bones. The devas approached the sage, whose bones were stronger than any weapon because of the Narayana Kawach he possessed. The sage sacrificed his life and Vishwakarma, the divine architect, created the Vajra out of the sage’s spine. Indra, with his newly acquired weapon, faced the asura again and defeated him successfully. Since then, Indra has become synonymous with his signature weapon, which is feared to be one of the strongest weapons to exist.
Indra once used the weapon against Hanuman. A very young Hanuman once thought the rising sun was a fruit. So, the naïve child flew towards the celestial body to consume it. Indra, on hearing about the incident, attacked Hanuman with his powerful thunderbolt. The blow of the weapon made him unconscious and he fell on to the ground. This left a permanent scar on the young monkey god’s jaw, and his name Hanuman, which means disfigured jaw, came to be due to this reason. The god of wind, Vayu, who was the father of Hanuman was furious and stopped the flow of air, and because of this, all life forms started dying. Indra apologised to the wind God and blessed Hanuman with the power to be never harmed by his weapon and gave him the boon to become even stronger than the Vajra.
Read more stories of the thunder god in our title ‘Tales of Indra’ now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.
Kaliya was a ferocious naga that lived on the Ramanaka Dwipa of the Yamuna River but left the island in fear of the Garuda, a celestial being possessing human and eagle features. Since eagles feed on snakes, Garuda was Kaliya’s nemesis. The multi-headed naga came to Vrindavan as Garuda was cursed and could not enter the village. The venom that seeped out of its multiple mouths boiled the water around him and killed any living being that came in contact with the contaminated water. He, unlike the other nagas, does not have an origin in the scriptures.
Once Krishna and his friends were playing near the river with a ball. While playing their ball fell into the river, and Krishna went jumped in to fetch it. In the river, he was attacked by the violent snake. The snake tried to crush Krishna by coiling around him but Krishna escaped effortlessly. Krishna dragged the snake onto the surface of the river, jumped on one of its heads, and started performing his cosmic dance. He had assumed the weight of the entire universe in his tiny feet and almost crushed the naga to death. But Krishna stopped after hearing the prayers of Kaliya’s wives. The humiliated and defeated snake asked for forgiveness from Krishna and Krishna commanded him to return back to his island of Ramanaka and blessed him that his vahana, Garuda, would never attack him.
The story of Krishna and Kaliya is also available in our ACK Junior Collection, now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.