Sunday, November 15, 2020

Deepawali: Symbolism of Naraka Chaturdashi

Author: Mohan Raghavan

Respond to (

In this part, we explore the deep symbolism and the inner experience behind the observances of  Naraka Chaturdashi and Lakshmi Puja (on Amavasya).

Victory over Narakasura

Narakasura is an embodiment of naraka or the result of immense paapa karma. He is the son of Prithvi - who yields bountiful riches. However he raided and stole the ornaments of Aditi, the mother of the devas of the heavens. We may recall that acquisitions and enjoyment of material riches represented by Prithvi must never create troubles in our inner journey to the abode of light - Divi or the heavens. Narakasura's actions represent a clear violation of the principle of Dharma and this kind of violation leads us astray and to Naraka. Thus, he is a personification of wanton and irresponsible material enjoyment and lust; nay a personification of Naraka himself. His capital is Pragjyotishapura - literally the city of easterly lights. As per standard Bharatiya cultural conventions, east, the direction of the rising sun, represents the day, evolution and by extension our external worldly activities. West, in contrast represents the night, cessation of external activities, involution and our journey inwards to our source - the state of Samadhi.  Thus the city of easterly lights clearly points to immersion in the myriad lights of the world of senses. In contrast the Pratyak Atma Jyoti is the light of Atman that shines within us. Naraka's lieutenant is Mura, a five-headed demon. His capital is ensconced within walls, moats of water, fire, air and a noose. All of these clearly point to Naraka's preoccupation with the world of five bhutas or the elements that make up this material world. Naraka, the son of Bhoodevi is killed by Krishna and Satyabhama. Satyabhama is bhoodevi herself, but along with Lord Narayana in the form of Sri Krishna. Pure material mindedness is rectified by infusing with it, the sacred presence of Yogeshvara SriKrishna. On killing Narakasura, SriKrishna married the sixteen thousand damsels kept in Naraka's captivity, an allegory to the opening up of the inward nadi mukhas required for Yogic progression.      

Observance of Naraka Chaturdashi and Lakshmi puja

In keeping with the spirit of this story, the morning of Naraka chaturdashi is commenced with the remembrance and meditation of the Lord and a ritual oil bath. Shastras describe its purpose as warding off the yamaloka and to keep away alakshmi. Sriranga Mahaguru had extolled the practice of Abhyanga-snaanam or the ritual oil bath as a very scientific act capable of bestowing health and long life while nullifying the impediments to inward Yogic progression posed due to our past paapa karmas or other such acts. He had on numerous occasions practically demonstrated the right techniques and nuances of this practice to his disciples. The ritual bath in the wee hours of this day brings about an elevated state of mind, hence it is also called Ganga snanam.

Those of the ancestors who may have descended to the inferior worlds or are looking for ways to attain moksha are shown the way towards the exalted realms by means of lighting of fire torches held aloft at dusk. This aspect is a very critical factor contributing to the nomenclature as Naraka chaturdashi. In fact the shastras say that the ancestors who come down to earth to partake of offerings (presumably during the pitr paksha and Mahalaya a month earlier), are shown the way onwards by means of fire torches held aloft. Crackers that emit such skyward streaks of light in the sky satisfy this description as well. 

Amavasya too is heralded with the ritual oil bath as mentioned earlier and worship of goddess Lakshmi is the predominant ritual. The auspicious occasion of Lakshmi puja in the evening heralds the beginning of a new financial year for merchants and traders. Kubera, the god of wealth too is worshipped. The auspicious night is usually spent in prayers and incessant worship.

------ Footnotes

1. पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत्स्वयम्भूस्तस्मात्पराङ्पश्यति नान्तरात्मन् ।

कश्चिद्धीरः प्रत्यगात्मानमैक्षदावृत्तचक्षुरमृतत्वमिच्छन् ॥ १ ॥ कठ उप्   2-1-1

2. तैले लक्ष्मीर्जले गंगा दीपावल्याश्चतुर्दशीम्

  प्रात:काले तु य: कुर्यात् यमलोकं न पश्यति (पद्म पुराण 4-1224)

   अलक्ष्मीपरिहारार्थं अभ्यंगस्नानमाचरेत (नारद संहिता)  

3. यमलोकं परित्यज्य आगतो ये महापथे 

   उज्ज्वल ज्योतिषा मार्गं प्रपश्यन्तु व्रजन्तु ते || (नरकचतुर्दशी, स्मृति कौस्तुभ)