Episode 5 - Bhasmasura

Episode 5 - Bhasmasura

Hello listeners. This is Krishna with HinduLit, a podcast where I narrate to YOU, the listener, stories from Indian literature including legends, mythologies, and history.

Today's story is the about the Rakshasa Bhasmasura. This rakshasa curries the favor of Lord Shiva to receive a boon that would allow him to destroy anything he placed his hand on.

[short pause]

Bhasmasura was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Despite being a devotee, he was not of noble intentions. He wanted to rule over people, and he sought to receive the blessing of Shiva. After ardent meditation, Bhasmasura was able to successfully curry the favor of Lord Shiva.

Shiva, pleased by his devotion to him, appeared before him. Bhasmasura prostrated before Shiva. Shiva told Bhasmasura that he would grant him boon and asked him to make a request.

Bhasmasura, as I said earlier, was a Rakshasa. And like other Rakshasas, was guided by his baser impulses. He wanted to conquer and terrorize people, and he knew the devas and other gods could prove a threat to him. So, he asked Shiva to grant him a boon that if he placed his hand on someone's head, they would immediately turn to ash.

A literary note, bhasma means ash. And Bhasmasura is a combination of bhasma and asura.

Shiva realized that granting the boon to Bhasmasura would lead to misuse and could be used to terrorize the good people of all the lokas. However, Bhasmasura was his devotee, and he decided to grant him the boon nevertheless.

Dear listener, you might wonder why Shiva would grant such a boon. As god a who is omniscient and can therefore foresee the ill that could be wrought by Bhasmasura, why did Shiva grant the boon nevertheless?

The gods rarely grant a boon that is all powerful and can be used for ill. As creators, protectors, and destroyers of all things in the universe, even the Rakshasas are their creation and therefore their children. Much like a good parent might still dote on a naughty or obnoxious child and grant this child’s wants and needs, this same parent will do so within certain limits. The gods grant destructive boons to their children, in this case the rakshasas,

knowing that they may wield it for ill, but often hope that their child or creation will use their will in an appropriate manner. Nevertheless, given that such powers can be used for ill, they do leave room for a potential exploit.

The Indian gods rarely, if ever, require, command, demand, or dictate how their creations live their life or make use of their power (natural or supernatural powers). Their creations have the freedom to make their own choices and decisions and equally to succeed or fail because of them. Having said that, they do oversee the universe and try to guide it towards a universal good.

Shiva grants Bhasmasura his boon and return to his abode. Bhasmasura then uses his power to terrorize the sages and other good people on earth. The sages rush to Vishnu and pray for his protection. Vishnu agrees to assist.

Vishnu takes the form of Mohini, a beautiful damsel, dancer, and enchantress. She approaches Bhasmasura dancing in a sensual manner. Bhasmasura was stricken by Mohini's beauty and approaches her. Mohini, continues to dance and Bhasmasura watches her, salivating. After a while, she invites him to join her. Bhasmasura joins and dances along with her. Mohini motions to imitate her postures and dance movements. Bhasmasura does so and is elated to have the attention of this beautiful damsel. Mohini continues to encourage Bhasmasura to imitate her, the posture of her face, the rotation of her eyes, how she moved her hips, how she postured her hands and legs. Bhasmasura does his best to imitate her posture himself. Finally, Mohini ends with placing her hand on her head. Bhasmasura too places his hand over his and turns to ash immediately.

Thus, ended the tyranny of Bhasmasura.

[Long pause]

There are some variations to this story. One version has Bhasmasura, after receiving the boon from Shiva, desirous to test, trying to place his hand on Shiva's head. A humorous version of this story has Shiva running and hiding in a cave and Mohini coming to Shiva's rescue much like the original story. However, this is merely a humorous retelling of the original story. Shiva never actually ran from Bhasmasura and could not be harmed by the boon he granted.

You might wonder, why didn’t Vishnu just nullify the boon granted by Shiva? Vishnu certain could do that if he chose to, however, such an action would directly cancel and challenge a boon granted by Shiva. If the gods chose to constantly cancel the boons or actions by the other gods, it would render the extreme efforts needed to receive the boon meaningless. The boon may also have some other purpose to serve in the universe, and they need to complete their course before it can be withdrawn.

I like taking the analogy of the parent, who grants his naughty or obnoxious child their wants. If one parent gives in to this child's wants and the other parent immediately dismisses it, it can lead to a potential conflict between the parents as it undermines the autonomy and decision-making enterprise of the other parent. This parent might pursue a course of action that limits this child abuse in a more creative way that does not directly undermine the other parent yet achieves the purpose of curtailing the inappropriate actions.

[Long pause]

That's it for today's podcast. I hope you enjoyed this story from Indian literature. Join us again next time for another story.



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