This morning, on the occasion of Naraka Chaturdashi, I was telling my daughter the story of how Krishna killed Narakasura in an aerial battle. The story, for those who are interested, has been articulated extremely well by V Vinay here:
0. Today is Naraka Chaturdashi, the day Narakasura was killed.
— V Vinay (@ainvvy) November 10, 2015
So while I was narrating the story, I realised how similar the plotlines of so many Hindu myth stories are. The plot goes like this:
- There’s this guy who does a lot of tapas (meditation, not Spanish small eats) and prayers, and manages to impress some gods
- The said gods, impressed with our guy, grant him some boon that he asks for
- Usually this boon offers some kind of immortality. Rather, it guarantees that certain methods of death won’t work on our anti-hero
- Now that he’s received the boon, he becomes arrogant, and soon starts misusing this boon
- The world comes to despair, and one set of gods take a delegation to another set of gods, asking for help
- The other set of gods (usually a subset of those that had granted our anti-hero the boon in the first place) realise their blunder, but a boon once granted can’t be taken away
- They figure that the only way to defeat the superpower they’ve already granted is to create a superior power, which will be granted to one of the gods themselves (just so that it won’t get misused. So our gods had trust issues it seems)
- And so this god takes this superior power, and then confronts the anti-hero with the superpower, and since the superior power defeats the superpower (like how paper covers rock, or rock breaks scissors), annihilates the hero. The hero usually dies in this process (the concept of “resignation” isn’t there in Hindu myth).
- In order to commemorate the occasion of the annihilation of evil, which was created by gods in the first place (by the grant of the boon), a festival is celebrated.
And so we have Naraka Chaturdashi on the day Narakasura was killed. Onam on the day Bali was sent to the netherlands (no, not Holland Netherlands). Dasara on the day Durgi outwitted Mahishasura, and so forth.
I’m usually a big fan of Hindu myth, and am proud of our heritage for having created such a rich set of stories. After having identified this pattern, though, I’m not so sure. The only creativity comes in the different powers that the anti-hero is granted, and the superior powers that are created to defeat this.
I wonder why we ended up creating so many stories that are so similar, or rather why so many similar stories (memes) survived while the other memes fell by the wayside in our cultural evolution.