The Story of Naimisharanya

Illustration: Ketan Pal

It’s believed that the ancient forest of Naimisharanya, in present-day Uttar Pradesh, was once the home of 88,000 rishis. They meditated together here, making it one of the holiest places in India.
The Chakratirtha in Naimisharanya is a circular pond filled with clear water. According to legend, an imminent Kaliyug made the rishis seek refuge in Brahma. Brahma let his chakra or wheel roll across the Earth and told the rishis to settle down at the place where it stopped. The wheel came to a halt at Chakratirtha, where water gushed out of the ground in full force. On Brahma’s request, goddess Lalita Devi stopped the chakra and controlled the flow. This water formed a sacred pond.

Today, holy spots like the Dashashwamedha Ghat, Hanuman Garhi, Dadichi Kund, Pandav Kila, and Vyas Gaddi dot the Chakratirtha in Naimisharanya.

Vaijayanta

Illustration: Srishti Tiwari.

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

  1. Vaijayanta was the capital city of the asura king, Sambara, who fought a legendary battle against Rama’s father, Dasharatha.
  2. The name of Indra’s flag is Vaijayanta, which means ‘the bestower of victory’.
  3. Vaijayanta is the name of the mountain that stands in the middle of the ocean of milk. Brahma comes here every day to meditate.

Drona Vs Drupada

By Nitya Menon

Illustration: P.B. Kavadi

The Mahabharata, the timeless epic of dharma, is filled with stories of treachery, deceit, and revenge. One such story of revenge was between the guru Dronacharya and king Drupada, father to Draupadi. Their story not only shows the vicious cycle of revenge, but also portraits the extent a vengeful soul can go to achieve its motive. Interestingly, this story of revenge started with a deep bond of friendship. 

Childhood buddies 
Illustration: P.B. Kavadi | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

Drona’s father, Bharadwaja, was a sage whereas Drupada’s father, Prishata, was the king of Panchala. The two were dear friends. When Drona and Drupada grew up, they began their studies under the guidance of Bharadwaj. The two boys followed their fathers’ footsteps, a strong friendship blossoming between them. Later, they started studying the science of arms from Rishi Agnivesha. Over the years, they helped each other with their studies and daily routines. Their friendship grew stronger. So deep was their bond that Drupada promised Drona that once he becomes the king, his palace will be Drona’s home and the two will be together forever. Drona felt blessed to have a friend like Drupada and more than his promise, he appreciated his generosity. After their studies, they both parted ways and moved on to have families of their own. 

The seed of revenge
Illustration: P.B. Kavadi | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

Drona got married and had a son whom he named Ashwathama. He cared deeply about his wife and son. So attached he was to them that he would do anything for their wellbeing. Even though he did not have any materialistic urges, he tried to acquire wealth for them. It was then that he learned about Parashurama, a brahman warrior who was also the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, distributing his wealth among the brahmans. Unfortunately, by the time Drona arrived, Parashurama had already given away all his wealth and was to retire to the forest. Yet Parashurama did not want Drona to go back empty-handed. He offered him the choice of his body and his divine weapons, the only things left with him. Drona opted for the weapons along with the mantras to use them. He was extremely happy and felt blessed to receive it from the great Parashurama himself. Unfortunately, this did not help his financial condition. 

Around the same time, Drupada had ascended the throne and was now the king of Panchala. On recalling the bond that Drupada and he had shared, Drona approached him for help with great confidence in his friend’s generosity. He assumed that Drupada would welcome his family and be willing to share his newfound wealth. When Drona reached the kingdom of Panchala, things had completely changed. It seemed power and pride had gone to Drupada’s head, who feigned ignorance at their childhood friendship. “How can there ever be a friendship between a king and a wandering beggar? Leave at once.” Hearing these harsh words Drona was heartbroken. He vowed revenge on Drupada and left the palace in anger. 

Drona gets his revenge

Drona’s vow had made him determined to earn fame and fortune and use his skills to prove his worth to the world. He cultivated a tremendous longing to acquire wealth and prove himself to Drupada. Soon, on the bases of his knowledge and fame, Drona became the guru of the cousin clans, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, but only on the condition that his students would avenge his insult as his fee. 

Illustration: P.B. Kavadi | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

Years passed by. It was soon time for his students to make good on their promise to him. Both the clans attacked the Panchala kingdom, but the Kauravas fled the battlefield fearing the powers of the Panchala army. Meanwhile, the Pandavas fought the army fearlessly, with the Pandava prince Arjuna managing to capture Drupada for his guru with his Gandiva. This was the moment Drona had been waiting for all his life. He said,

“Drupada, you broke your promise and insulted me. Look, my students captured you fulfilling my revenge. Now your entire kingdom belongs to me. I do not wish to live in enmity. Let’s revive our friendship. I will return you half of your kingdom. You need not be ashamed to owe me now because I am a king too.”

Hearing this, Drupada smiled and folded his hands in gratitude. He thanked his friend for being so kind and forgiving. 

Little did Drona know that Drupada’s smile was a mask, one he wore to cover his vindictive motives. In the same breath he ‘thanked’ his erstwhile classmate, he vowed to himself that he would avenge Drona’s affront.

Drupada Retaliates 

Drupada desired a son whose sole purpose in life would be to slay Drona. He sought the blessings of a sage who advised him to perform a Yagya, a sacrificial ritual in front of a sacred fire. Out of the flames rose a young boy followed by a young girl. The brahmans named them Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi, also revered as Draupada and Panchali, respectively. 

Illustration: P.B. Kavadi | Script: Kamala Chandrakant

In the great war of Mahabharata, which was fought for eighteen days, Drona fought for the Kauravas and Drupada and Dhrishtadyumna fought for the Pandavas. On the fourteenth day, Drona killed Drupada. Grief-stricken by his father’s death, Dhristadyumna pledged to kill Drona at the earliest, eventually slaying the mighty guru while he was meditating, something that was technically against the established rules of war at the time. Unfortunately for Dhristadyumna, Drona’s son, Ashwathama, felt the same way about his father’s death, tracking down Dhristadyumna on the 18th night of the great war, and slaying him, showing no mercy. Thus ended the blood feud between Drona and Drupada, a bloody cycle of violence because of one man’s haughtiness and another man’s pride.

Choose from many stories of the Mahabharata in Amar Chitra Katha’s wide range of mythology titles, now available on the ACK Comics app, as well as Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Ganesha’s Vaahana

Illustration: Vidhulaa Nagendran

According to Hindu rituals, any offering made to the divinities have to first begin with Ganesha. The elephant-headed god is always accompanied by a tiny mouse or a mooshak. Although in some of his avatars he does trade his mouse for another vaahana, his traditional form always has a mooshak by his side. Here are some interesting facts about Ganesha’s rodent friend.

  • According to the Ganesha Purana, the gandharva Krauncha was cursed by a sage to turn into a rat, who then went on to serve Ganesha as his vaahana.
  • According to another Puranic legend, Gajamukha the demon defeated by Ganesha in battle. He was then turned into a mooshak by Ganesha.
  • The mooshak is worshipped on the eleventh day of Ganesh Chaturthi.
  • The mooshak symbolises the ego that can nibble away all virtues and must be subdued.
  • The mooshak is also a symbol of the minute details of a subject.
  • The mooshak represents wisdom, talent and intelligence that Ganesha presides over.

The Search for Sita

When Rama was in need of help to carry out a search mission for Sita, it was the king of Kishkindha, Sugriva, who heard his call. Sugriva, along with his trusted minister, Hanuman, got crores of vanaras ready to comb the lands for Sita’s location. He divided his humongous army and allocated team leads for each group, pointing each of them in different directions. The valiant Shatabali and his army of one lakh vanaras, as well as the sons of Yama, who were Shatabali’s counsellors, headed to the Northern Quarter.

While the search was tedious, the monkey army got to witness some of the most magical places on their journey. Each direction had unique yet equally charming locations. Here’s how Sugriva described these magical places in the Ramayana’s Kishkindha Kand.

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

“Search the land of the Mlecchas, the Pulindas and the lands of the Kurus. Go to towns of the Yavanas and Sakas, and the land of the Daradas.”

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

“Search the Himalayas. Go to Sage Soma’s ashram and from there to the huge Kala mountain where the gold mines lie. Beyond that is the mountain Sudarshana and after that the mountain Devasakha.”

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

“Devasakha is the refuge of birds where all types of trees grow. Look for Sita and Ravana in the forests, near the waterfalls and in the caves.”

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

“Then quickly cross the barren land beyond, devoid of all life, and reach the white Kailasha mountain. Here stands the palace of Kubera, the lord of wealth, like a white cloud with gold decorations. It also has a pond filled with lotus and lilies and crowded with swans.”

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

“Next, you will reach the Krauncha mountain where you must search in the caves before going to the e barren but wish-fulfilling peak, Manasa. Beyond Krauncha is Mount Mainaka, the abode of Mayasura. Passing beyond you will come to an ashram where Vaikhanasa and Valakhilya live. Ask them about Sita. Beyond this flows the Sailoda river on the banks of which grow hollow bamboos that make a whistling sound as the wind passes through.”

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

“Thereafter stretches the Northern Sea with the gold mountain, Somagiri, rising from its middle. Here dwell Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. You must not venture north of the Uttara Kurus. The moment you see Somagiri, you must hastily turn back.”

“Rama is the best of men, and has helped us greatly. When this task is done and Rama is pleased, our purpose will be accomplished and we will be released from our debt. Using all your intelligence and abilities, explore these inaccessible places and return to me. I will reward you greatly.”

Find out the other magical places mentioned in the Kishkindha Kand in our six-volume Valmiki’s Ramayana box-set, now available on the ACK Comic app, as well as Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.  

Arjuna’s Gandiva

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazrah

The Pandava prince Arjuna, highly revered as the greatest archer of all time, owned the celestial bow called the Gandiva. The bow was so powerful that even the gods feared it. In the legendary battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna destroyed a number of great warriors and gods with the Gandiva.

The bow was created by Brahma himself, decreeing at the time that this powerful bow would punish the unjust and the wicked. It was such a mighty weapon that it could be used to fight one lakh enemies at the same time!

Illustration: C.M. Vitankar

The bow passed through many hands before making its way to the Pandava prince. Brahma used the bow for a 1000 years, followed by Indra for 3585 years and then by Chandra for 500 years. Varuna then came into its possession and used it for 100 years before giving it to Arjuna!

According to Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharata, at the end of Dwarapa Yuga when the Pandavas retired, Arjun returned the bow to its previous owner, Varuna.

Valmiki – The First Poet

By Sandeep Mishra

Valmiki is the author of one of the two greatest Indian epics, the Ramayana. Valmiki is also known as Adi Kavi, which means the first poet. He is widely credited for being a pioneer of Sanskrit literature,  defining the shape and form of Sanskrit poetry. 

One day, Devamuni Narada was conversing with sage Valmiki and happened to tell him the story of Maryada Purushottam Rama, describing Rama’s many qualities, including truthfulness, bravery, self-competence, and wisdom.

After Narada left, Valmiki went to the Tamasa river for his mid-day baths, where he spotted two crane birds calling to each other and mating. Valmiki was filled with joy seeing the happy birds. Suddenly, an arrow pierced the body of the male bird, killing him immediately. Filled with sorrow, his mate died of shock. Upon seeing this, the enraged rishi could not control himself and cursed the hunter.

Illustration: Zoheb Akbar | Script: Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan

“Maa Nishad Pratishtha Twamgamah Shashwatih Samah,
Yatkraunchamithunadekam Avadhih Kamamohitham”

“You will find no rest for the long years of eternity,
for you killed a pair of birds in love and unsuspecting.”

Although he was grief-stricken and in a lot of pain over the death of the innocent creatures, he couldn’t help but notice that the curse he uttered came out in a musical form that could be recited or sung. He narrated the entire incident to his disciple Bhardwaja, who memorised the couplet uttered by the sage while in grief. This then became the first-ever shloka in Sanskrit literature. 

The sage continued to brood over the incident, until, one day, Brahma appeared before him and asked him to get over his grief. He inspired the guru to compose the story of Rama in the same poetic meter in which he had cursed the hunter.

Illustration: Zoheb Akbar

To do this, Brahma bestowed on him the divine power to see all that happened, even the thoughts of the characters. With these divine powers, he was able to see the entire life of Rama, the past, the present, and the future. Thus, Valmiki composed one of the longest works of literature the world has ever known, the epic that came to be called the Ramayana, comprising 24,000 verses across seven kandas, divided into 500 saragas.

Illustration: Zoheb Akbar | Script: Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan

Traditionally, the story of Rama was passed down from generation to generation orally, and was taught to only a selected few, for the fear of being corrupted. Luv and Kush, the sons of Rama, were the first students who ever heard the complete version of the Ramayana. Today, there are over 300 different versions of the epic across the world, which you can read more about here.

Read Amar Chitra Katha’s retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana, now available on the ACK Comics app, as well as Kindle and other major e-tailers.

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.