The Migrant Maharshi

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

“Narayana! Narayana!”

When you hear these hallowed names of the Lord, uttered twice in quick succession in a sing-song voice, who comes to your mind instantly?

No marks for guessing– it is Sri Narada Maharshi, of course! Even people unacquainted with our glorious scripture cannot be unaware of this venerable sage, for he is an extremely popular character with our movie makers and authors of television serials. The way he is depicted in these media may leave much to be desired and is indicative of the authors’ ignorance of his true stature, but the fact remains that of all Puranic characters, he is the most popular and easily-recognised, with his hair done up in a braid and sporting the Veena in his hand, the Lord’s names always on his lips. Though he is picturised as being frequently the cause of “kalaham” or mischief, a study of his true traits would definitely make our heads bow to him automatically, as can be seen from the following.

Whenever and wherever the magnificent and mesmerising tales of the Lord are recounted, you can be sure that Sri Narada is there, in the capacity of either the enthralled narrator or rapturous listener. We find thus that in both the Epics, Srimad Ramayanam and Sri Mahabharatam, mention of this peripatetic preceptor is frequent and with reverence, especially in the context of regaling audiences with a gripping account of Bhagavat Katha.

The importance of this sage in the dissemination of spiritual wisdom is crystal clear, when we find him to be the real author of Srimad Ramayanam, having given Sri Valmiki the basic plot of the divine tale. It all begins when Sri Narada visits Valmiki’s ashramam, in his eternal quest for Satsangham. When Valmiki queries the Sage as to whether an ideal person existed in the world, endowed with 16 impossibly divine qualities, Sri Narada, as if waiting for the opportunity, bursts forth into an enthusiastic narration of Sri Rama’s innumerable auspicious traits, followed by a short but sweet account (known as the Samkshepa Ramayanam) of His glorious sojourn in the mortal world. It is this basic narration which is expanded by Sri Valmiki later, into an enthralling and elaborate epic of 24000 couplets.

Thus, if we have anyone to thank for the priceless treasure of Srimad Ramayanam which serves mankind till date as a glorious guide book, it is Sri Narada. Our respect and veneration for him multiplies manifold, when we find the Epic beginning with a generous tribute to this Narada Maharshi. The very first verse of Ramayana is in praise of this unassuming ascetic, who is adulated as being the embodiment of penance, a repository of Vedic wisdom in all its immaculateness, one who is well versed in the art of speech and a glittering gem among men of God-

“Tapa: Svaadhyaaya niratam tapasvee vaagvidaam varam
Naradam paripapraccha Valmiki: munipungavam”

Anyone else would have been floored by Sri Valmiki’s query, listing out 16 magnificent traits, which are impossible to find together in any man. However, Sri Narada, who has knowledge of all the three worlds (“Trilokagya:”), with his constant travel, immediately identifies the Model Man sought by Valmiki and begins narrating His outstanding attributes, with élan and enthrallment (“prahrishto vaakyam abraveet”). And in response to the mere 16 traits sought by Valmiki, Sri Narada lists nearly 60 glorious gunas that he finds in Sri Rama, and would have perhaps gone on and on, but for Valmiki’s eagerness to hear the Rama Katha.

And what a narrative it was! Anyone who studies the first chapter of Srimad Ramayanam would agree that the scintillating story of Sri Rama has been told by Narada succinctly, with none of the important details omitted in his summarised version and without the elaborate information that would come later from Valmiki. It was a narrative to kindle the curiosity of the eager seeker after Sri Rama, whetting his appetite for Bhagavat guna anubhavam.

Sri Narada’s role as a preceptor is not limited to Srimad Ramayanam. Even in the other great Epic, Sri Mahabharatam, we find frequent mention of him, enlightening people on matters religious and spiritual. It is he who spreads the Epic in the Devalokam. It is he who recounts to Dharmaputra the instructive history of Harishchandra Maharaja, who would rather undergo untold trials and tribulations, than utter an untruth. It is he who tells Yudhishttira of the glories of the royal and divine courts on earth and in the worlds above.

Naradha imparting Dwadakshari to Dhruva

It is Sri Narada again who imparts the magnificent mantra of twelve letters-the Dvaadasa Akshari-to Dhruva, who, denied the privilege of sitting on his father’s lap, leaves for the forests to meditate on the Ultimate. Sri Narada imparts a focus to Dhruva’s penance by eliminating the boy’s negative emotions, which were prompted principally by anger and hurt, and channels his youthful energies into spiritually productive channels. Sri Narada enthrals Dhruva with an enticing description of Empruman, exhorting him to meditate on the glorious form of the Paramapurusha, with his lips uttering the Dvaadasaakshara Mantram. It is Narada who instructs the boy in the ways of worship, transforming him from an ordinary infant who had left home in a huff, into one eminently qualified for spiritual saadhana.

We are heartened when we hear of the sort of penance that Dhruva undertook. With his heart riveted on Sri Hari, Dhruva ate wood apples and the like once in three days during the first month of his tapas. During his second month of penance, the child lived on dry grass and fallen leaves, taken once in six days; during the third month, his intake consisted of only sips of water, imbibed once in nine days. The fourth month passed with the gritty child living actually on air, inhaled but once in twelve days, having won absolute control over his breath. And from the fifth month onwards, Dhruva stopped breathing, standing statue-like on one foot, his mind and other senses totally withdrawn from all external and internal stimuli, his mind filled with the splendorous form of Sri MahaVishnu.

(All this may appear to us to be gross exaggeration, given our own fickle minds, weak flesh and weaker spirits. What we have to keep in mind is that we should not judge others by our own standards and that true devotion can work wonders. And once we make the initial moves towards God-realisation, the Lord endows us with the capability for achieving even the impossible. If we just take one halting step towards Him, He comes running to us with a hundred giant steps of His own).

We are filled with wonder and our heart goes out to the infant, when we hear of Dhruva’s determination, courage and the impossible penance which he performed at such a tender age, when other children would be content with playing with dolls. And when we compare Dhruva’s inimitable effort with our own halting, half-hearted and insincere steps towards abstinence and self-restraint, a wave of shame engulfs us.

Coming back to the point, it was Sri Narada who provided the requisite inspiration and impetus to the infant, preparing him for the arduous task he had undertaken.

We saw as to how Sri Narada ignited the spark within Valmiki, for composing Srimad Ramayanam. We are hence not at all surprised, when we come to learn that it was this Migrant Maharshi again, who was behind the composition of the glorious Bhaagavata Purana, which narrates absorbing tales of the Lord and His devotees. Despite having composed the monumental Mahabharata, the Brahma Sutras and other Puranas, Sage Vyasa still had a feeling of a job left half done. He lacked the fulfilment and satisfaction of a Maharshi who had devoted his entire life to the cause of Vedas and in composing various works espousing Dharma.

Naradha advising Vyasa to pen the Glories of Lord

Providentially, Sri Narada dropped in on Sage Vyasa and, learning the reason for his despondency, pointed out that despite all the weighty works he had authored, Vyasa could reach fulfilment only if he composed a work based solely on the glory of the Lord and His devotees. Acting on Narada’s instructions, Krishna Dvypaayana set his heart to the pleasurable task and his prolific pen authored the Bhaagavata Puranam. Upon its completion, Vyasa felt at peace with himself, a sense of satisfaction pervading every fibre of his lean body.

Though Mahabharata contains many a tribute to this Maharshi, one from an exalted source is worth mention. Sri Krishna pays the best possible encomium to this sage, when He says, “Asvatta: sarva vrikshaanaam, Devarsheenaam Narada:”. Cataloguing the best among the various species and categories of beings, the Lord says that they are verily His aspects only. And when talking about Deva Rishis, Sri Krishna indicates that Narada is the best among them. The glory of Sri Narada is amply evident from this certification from the highest source possible.

What we learn about Sri Narada’s previous birth makes us wonder whether he was a prototype of Dhruva. Narada was born the son of a lowly servant maid, who served her saintly masters with devotion. Brought up in such an ambience, it is no wonder that Narada too took up serving these great souls with sincerity, despite his tender age. These Mahatmas, pleased with the child’s ministrations and devotion, treated him with kindness and sowed the seeds of Bhakti in him, by recounting to him numerous tales of the Lord and His devotees. Orphaned at the tender age of five due to the passing away of his mother, Narada moved north, walking on till he was past all human habitation, entered a great jungle, sat down underneath a Peepal tree, with his mind fixed on the Lord’s lotus feet, focussing his thoughts on the details of the glorious form as taught to him by his Yogic masters. Pleased by the intense devotion exhibited by the infant, the Lord spoke to him as a voice from the wilderness, blessing him with boundless Bhakti which would never diminish, even when he took other births. Exhilarated over this divine acceptance, Narada grew up with the Lord’s form and glory firmly fixed in his heart, mind free from all mundane desires, leading a long and blissful life of divine contemplation. And at the end of the Kalpa, when it was time for the Cosmic Deluge, Narada slipped into the life breath of Brahma and was born during the next creative process as the venerated four-headed God’s son.

True to the Lord’s boon, in his later exalted birth too, Narada remained intensely devout, observing the unbroken vow of celibacy, touring the three worlds and beyond, his movements absolutely unimpeded, the Lord’s praises constantly on his lips, accompanied by the blissful notes of the finely-tuned divine Veena. Hari naama smaranam and keertanam became the sole purpose of his existence and during his constant travels, he met and encouraged several sages like Sri Valmiki, Sri Vyasa, Sri Dhruva and others, serving as a source of inspiration for them to contemplate the glories of the Lord and to chronicle His doings.

Not only is Narada the moving spirit behind the composition of Srimad Ramayanam and Srimad Bhagavatam, he himself is the distinguished author of the renowned Narada Bhakti Sutras. These Sutras are unparalleled aphorisms, short and sweet, indicating in a capsule form the definition and various dimensions of Bhakti, the code of conduct for the Lord’s devotees, the boundless bliss that follows sincere devotion and so on. Even a casual perusal of these Bhakti Sutras would indicate their being the product of a masterly mind, brimming over with immeasurable love for the Lord.

There is an interesting and enlightening story behind how Sri Narada became a wandering minstrel, without a home, hearth or Ashramam of his own.

As we all know, the process of Creation is initiated periodically by the Lord through the four-headed Brahma. During one such process, Brahma created four sons from his heart-Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanaatana and Sanatkumaara. It was his hope that these four sons would in turn beget progeny of their own, laying the foundation for the elaborate creative process. However, blessed as they were at birth with the purifying glance of Sri Hari, they had little desire to engage in mundane pursuits, preferring contemplation of the divine as their whole time occupation.

Disappointed with the four sons who did little to further the cause of Creation, Brahma brought forth another ten sons from his various limbs, known as Prajaapatis and charged them with the task of starting dynasties of their own. Though Sri Narada was the tenth son, due to the Lord’s blessings obtained in his previous birth, he shunned worldly life and engaged himself in singing the Lord’s praises. Another of these sons, Daksha Prajapati, was more amenable to his father Brahma’s wishes and gave birth to a thousand children named Haryasvas, for furthering the process of creation. However, Sri Narada, finding these children naturally inclined to devotion, turned them away from worldly ways through wise counsel, which resulted in their adopting the life of ascetics. The frustrated Daksha begot another thousand children, whom he hoped would carry on the line of succession. These children too, under the tutelage of Narada (who could not bear to see good souls being wasted for furthering Samsaaric bondage) renounced worldly life and took to the divine path. The enraged Daksha, all of whose efforts at populating the world were brought to a nought by Narada, cursed the latter to live a perpetually peripatetic life, wandering always without a home to call his own.

Sri Narada, who turned the curse into a boon, started travelling all over the three worlds, in search of souls to save and redeem from the sludge of Samsara. The list of beneficiaries from Sri Narada’s upadesam stretches long–Dhruva, Yudhishttira, Emperor Chitraketu, Vyasa, Paraasara, Praacheena Barhis, the sons of Prachetas, Prahlada (when he was still in his mother’s womb) and so on and on.

Naradha taught to Prahladha the greatness of Sri Hari when t he later was in womb

The greatness of Sri Narada is such that he is reverentially addressed as “Narada Bhagavaan”. A perusal of the two Epics and Puranas reveals the high place he occupies in the Lord’s scheme of things-both as a devotee beyond compare and as a Peerless Preceptor who has been responsible for the enlightenment and emancipation of countless souls. He is a standing example of the maxim that only a great learner can make a great teacher. It is his quest for the ultimate wisdom that has given us treasure houses of knowledge like the Hayagreeva Upanishad (which consists of Brahma’s reply to Sri Narada’s pointed questions on Brahma Vidya), Kali Santaarana Upanishad, Narada Parivraajaka Upanishad, etc., which are counted among the principal 108 Upanishads.

It is indeed sad that our children, who learn their religion and culture mostly from the visual media, are fed with absolute tripe about Narada and his nature, portraying him as a divine comedian always at mischief, carrying tales and causing estrangement among Deities or people. Popular lore too abounds with tales about Narada–some true, some half-true and some blatantly false–. depicting him as goading Lakshmi, Parvati and Sarasvati into a battle royal for supremacy, misleading Kumbhakarna about the nature of boons he should seek, causing misunderstanding among Trimurthis, rendering incorrect advice to Ravana and so on. Though these episodes have an auspicious conclusion (“Naradar kalaham nanmayil mudiyum”), they hardly do justice to this great Devarshi and his mission of spreading wisdom and devotion.

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayna Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

This Article is written by Shri Sadagopan of Coimbatore

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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