Once Narada’s meditation could not be disturbed even by Kamadeva (the God of Lust) who was instructed by the king of gods Indra to break Narada's penance. At this victory, Narada got overwhelmed by a feeling of immense pride, unbecoming to a seer. He went to Lord Shiva and told him that he was not the only conqueror of this invincible god Kama. The all-knowing Shiva said that he was glad he had company, but also warned Narada not to brag about this, especially to Vishnu.
Narada left Mount Kailash and thought, "Shiva must surely be jealous of me. Why should I not tell Vishnu, he who loves me so dearly? Surely he will be proud of me". So the seer went straight to Vaikunth and talked about how he conquered Kamadeva.
Vishnu smiled, and said he was pleased with Narada, but also decided in his mind to teach him a lesson by humbling his pride. He asked his consort Lakshmi to re-incarnate herself as the beautiful daughter of Ambarisha * (the then ruler of Ayodhya), by the name of Srimati - a most beautiful and desirable woman, and an embodiment of all good qualities.
Narada had left Vaikunth and was back on the Earth. While traveling, he reached the kingdom of Ayodhya, and on seeing the beautiful princess Srimati, fell in love with her, being attracted by her beauty and wanted to marry her. He secretly disclosed to King Ambarisha his heart's desire.
Ambarisha was in a fix. How could he disobey the great sage Narada-Muni? So he said to him:
"O revered sage, you desire the hand of my daughter. How am I to decide? Well, I shall arrange a Swayamvara (selection of bridegroom). Whomsoever Srimati selects, shall be her husband."
So Narada went to Vaikunth to consult Vishnu. He narrated to him all that had happened and implored to him: "O Lord, let my face resemble Hari's at the time of the Swayamvara". The Lord smilingly assented, but gave the face of a monkey to Narada - since the word 'Hari' also means a monkey in Sanskrit.
Not knowing what had happened to his face, Narada reached the Palace where the marriage ceremony was to take place. King Ambarisha led his beautiful daughter Srimati to the dais of the Swayamvara.
Srimati blushingly stood before all the prospective suitors with garland in her hand. But she was taken aback when she saw in Narada's place a monkey. Her hand trembled, and she passed by.
Narada could not resist. He stood up and said with great pride, "You must be looking for me, beautiful one". The crowd brust into laughter and said -- "For you? ... monkey face, a very handsome one, indeed, but a monkey nevertheless!"
Srimati said to king Ambarish: "Father, you said a rishi wants to marry me. I can see no Rishi here. Instead I find a man, with a monkey's face ... But, who is that? ... Just beside him, I find an attractive, handsome man with a lovely smile. He has stretched his right hand as if to beckon me."
She garlanded the handsome man standing beside Narada and all at once, they both - Vishnu and Lakshmi - vanished. The handsome man was none other than Lord Vishnu.
Narada was astonished and dismayed. He discovered his monkey-face in the reflection of a pool of water and became enraged. In a fit of rage, he cursed Vishnu then and there, proclaiming that Vishnu, in one of his earthly re-incarnations would have to bear the pangs of his wife’s imposed separation from him and only a monkey would be able to relieve him of his sufferings. Thus, when Vishnu was born as Rama, Hanuman helped him to free Sita from the clutches of Ravana.
But wisdom also dawned on Narada and he realized that Lord Vishnu had taught him a lesson for his conceit and pride. He felt ashamed that he should have even thought of marriage.
--- Brahma smiled and gave a deep sigh, after Narada narreted this incident to him. He knew about the incident, and secretly enjoyed every bit of Narada's discomfort in narrating the story.
"Is your monkey face - is that why you are so popular with the children?" He asked after a pause.
"No really, but I do love to teach them more than elders. I have even taught an unborn child. I will now tell you about some of my best students", Narada said.
(to be continued ...)
* - In some books, instead of Ambarish, it is said that the name of the king was Sheelanidhi.
05 March 2009