Narada: myth or symbol?

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Narada: myth or symbol?

Sunday, 06 May 2018 | ASHA GOSWAMI

The character of Narada in Indian mythology symbolises the importance of intuition and perseverance, and throws light on the right approach to devotion, writes Asha Goswami

Indian Tradition recalls Narada as a mythic sage who appeared in both the epics — Ramayana and The Mahabharata. He is also delineated playing multiple roles in Krishna saga. In the Ramayana, he is said to appear before Valmiki while he was busy performing severe penance of chanting the holy name Rama incessantly, and implore upon him to compose an epic in glorification of Rama and which will later on be known as chronicle of Ram’s life or the Ramayana. As compared to scarce mentioning of Narada in the Ramayana he is many a-times referred to in Krishna narratives in the Mahabharata and the Puranas. He is mentioned in many colours and forms, which are very interesting and fascinating. Whereas, the Indian tradition mostly knows him as a deva-rishi or a deified sage who not only composed vedic mantras but acted also as a Purohita at the sacrifice performed by the King Harishchandra; and also as a disciple of Brihaspati and of another sage named Sanatkumar , from whom he also is said to have learnt the knowledge of worldly sciences. Gathered from the Indian oral Tradition and the scriptural references to Narada will be also taken into account. Ramayana 1.1.6 refers to Narada as “best of sages; messenger of gods; best of the learned; equipped with the knowledge of the three worlds”. While in the Mahabharata narrative , he is present at the time of Arjuna’s birth and also at the same time of Draupadi’s swayamvara. However, in the Krishna saga, he mostly plays the role of strife-maker. He is said to instigate Kamsa to kill all the children of Vasudeva and Devaki; to have sided with the sages who had flung a curse on Krishna’s son Samba which brought about complete destruction of Krishna’s clan.

On the contrary, Narada is also depicted as a great admirer and ardent devotee of Krishna who is shown seeking his advice from time to time in order to solve the intrigues of his family affairs. Narada, as a bard or suta is also stated to have recited the whole of the epic Mahabharata to the assembly of gods and is also said to have participated in Janamijaya’s snake sacrifice [sarpasatra] as a member or sadasya. later on, he is also treated as the Vibhava incarnation of God Vishnu; and also author of many works e.g., Rigvedic Mantra; Naradagita; Narada Tantra; Narada Vachana; Narada Vilasa; Narada Samhita; Narada stotra; Narada smriti; Narada purana and Narada sutras in four parts which deal with the path of devotion. Besides, there is a sacred bathing place in India which is known by the name Narada-Teerth.

To know the symbolic implication of this mythical and legendary Personae of the Indian Tradition called Narada, let us delve the scriptural references to Narada as available from the Vedas onwards. In the Rigveda apart from reference to Narada who composed mantra, he is also mentioned along with another sage named Parvata. Next, in the Mahabharata too, besides being mentioned as accompanied with other sage named Parvata, he is also depicted as a son of the sage named Parvata. He is also depicted as a son of the sage Vishvamitra and also as a Gandharva class sage who is always accompanied with another sage Parvata. Next, in the Puranas, Narada is referred to variedly. Sometimes, his name is affixed with a Purana [Naradapurana]. Other times, his name is added with a mountain which is known as Naradaparvata. He is also referred to as the chief of the sages who were born from the neck or the forehead of the God Brahma. While in Buddhist mythology, Narada is included among the 24 mythic Buddhas as well the Mahabhramas. From these references of Indian scriptures relating to Narada it becomes apparent that there were different Naradas in different ages that of the Vedas and the epics and the Puranas.

The narrators did not consider it necessary to identify such persons named Naradas separately by giving their lineage or history. Thus completely agreeing with the opinion that there were different persons named Narada who appeared in different Yugas of Sata or Treta or Dvapara with different roles to play. Narada was in reality an appellative name or epithet which was conferred upon certain distinguished persons who were endowed with some requisite qualities which are implied in the Sanskrit root from which the word Narada is commonly derived.

The roots da or do meaning to grant and destroy are suggested to give rise to the word Narada which denotes one who grants to people mystical knowledge of Paramatma or the one who creates quarrel[Kalah] among persons. Accordingly at first Narada turns to be an Instructor of the people, hence a great sage and secondly as an prankster and strife maker one who created strife among people. But, as a gandharva class sage he is symbolic representative of generative quality and nature which sets his connection with water and then Narada be understood as the giver of water and hence a cloud.

This makes clear why in Indian Mythology Narada is often depicted wandering in the space like a cloud or seated on the cloud. Interestingly, the accompanying sage of Narada, named Parvata also implies the sense of cloud[megha]. Narada as giver of water, is endowed with a transparent Personality which is a symbolic representation of cloud which later on in the myths although became shadowy but still as a great sage he is always shown mounted on a cloud. However, according to the sabhaparva of Mahabharata, Narada be known that Person who is equipped with knowledge of the four Vedas; all the Puranas; skilled in logic, and moral sciences and politics; is eloquent, resolute, intelligent and who possesses powerful memory; is proficient in music and can play the role of a strife maker.

Thus, the ancient mythic figure Narada be treated as a dynamic symbol of the nature and activity of mind; or the flashing intellect of intelligent persons when they seriously and devotedly consider an intricate situation or problem and become successful finding solution of that problem as intuitively perceived by them.

This symbolic meaning of Narada myth very precisely be compared with its traditional and etymological meanings though hypothetical these may sound.

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