Sage Narada was a Maharishi, a renowned teacher, inspirer of poets, counsellor of kings, a divine messenger, and also a notorious ‘mischief-maker’. The word 'Nara' means knowledge useful to mankind and 'Da' means 'a giver'. So 'Narada' means the one who gives knowledge to mankind and imparts right guidance.
Narada with a knotted tuft of hair in the center of an otherwise clean-shaven scalp, usually makes his characteristic entry with a Veena (a stringed musical instrument) in his hand and the name of Lord Narayana on his lips: “Narayana, Narayana”!
According to Mahabharata, Narada was the son of Kashyap and his mother was one of the daughters of Daksha. Narada is shown as a wandering seer going from one place to another, traversing the whole universe.
He is reputed to have invented the Veena, the principal stringed musical instrument of India and is deemed to be the chief of all the celestial musicians (Gandharvas). He always loved to sing songs praising the glory of the almighty Lord Vishnu (Narayana). He used to traverse around the universe, preaching to people, his words of wisdom and narrating stories of ethical value through his devotional songs, in praise of the almighty preserver of the world: Lord Vishnu
Narada as ‘Kalaha-Priya’ or Lover of Quarrels
Narada is so famous as a mischief-maker and a quarrel-monger, that in India, a mischievous person who always delights in backbiting and indulges in spreading rumors, is symbolically chided as ‘Narada’.
Narada had the habit of disclosing to both gods and demons, the secrets about each other. Gods and demons, eventually, detested each other. Narada's deeds often created trouble and friction among gods, demons and men, and such friction often led to a war in the end. Hence Narada, being a notorious mischief-maker, acquired the name, Kalaha-Priya or the lover of quarrels.
How can we call such a person a saint? Was it right that he set people against one another by spreading gossip? But we must remember that rada's intention was to espouse a good cause. It was his constant desire that bad people should be punished for their deeds, that the haughty ones should learn their lesson soon, and that the good should live happily ever after.
Chanting “Narayana, Narayana,” the divine sage Narada went across the three worlds spreading rumors, causing rifts.
In Vaikuntha (Lord Vishnu’s Abode), he would regale the Lord with his merry tales. “I described Ahilya’s beauty to Indra until he began lusting for that married woman…Daksha hates Shiva after I reported how Shiva ridicules him…I made Shreedevi jealous of Bhoodevi…I put the fear of death in Kansa’s mind…I praised the pompous Ravana into believing that he was greater than all Gods…”
“Why do you do this, Narada?” asked Vishnu.
“Cause so much trouble”
“I don’t do anything. I merely test their faith in you. If they were your true devotees, would any of them be lustful, wrathful, greedy, envious, frightened or proud?”
Vishnu burst out laughing and blessed his dearest devotee Narada, who kept chanting, “Narayana, Narayana”.
Curse on Narada: "May You Wander Like A Vagabond”
The children of Dakshabrahma were once instructed by him: "O my children! Observe penance and you will derive strength and spiritual splendor. Later you must get married and lead a contented life." In response to the command of the father, the children went to the Himalayas and commenced a rigorous penance.
Narada happened to go there. "O sons of Dakshabrahma, why at all are you observing such a penance? And get married later? There is no joy in married life. You must develop devotion for the Lord. Your aim must be to escape the sorrows of family life. Must you observe penance only to get trapped in misery? Practice renunciation, aspire for deliverance." Saying thus, Narada went away, advising Daksha’s sons to choose the path of asceticism and not to lead a worldly life.
The advice of Narada made a tremendous impact on the minds of the children of Daksha. They took an oath not to marry. This news upset Daksha. His anger knew no bounds. He said to Narada: "O Narada, it was my heart's desire that my children should marry and lead a happy household life. But you interfered and misled them. Don't you have any other occupation? I am cursing you to remain a vagabond eternally!"
Narada was not upset by the curse. "All the better indeed! I shall spend all my time wandering and preaching the people the best" he determined. Thus, Narada is shown as a wandering seer always on a journey, as he was condemned by Daksha to lead a roaming life, not staying at one place.
Narada as ‘Kapi-Vaktra’ or Monkey-Faced
Narada is also known as Kapi-Vaktra or monkey-faced because once Vishnu changed his face into that of a monkey. This episode makes an interesting study of how God curbs the Ahamkar (Pride) of even the best of seers. It mentions that once Narada’s meditation could not be disturbed even by Kamadeva (the God of Lust). At this victory, Narada was overwhelmed by a feeling of immense pride, unbecoming to a seer.
Vishnu decided to teach him a lesson by humbling his pride. He asked his consort Lakshmi to re-incarnate herself as a beautiful daughter of Ambarisha (the then ruler of Ayodhya), by the name of Srimati. She was an embodiment of all good qualities.
During one of his usual sojourns, Narada 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 for the fear of being cursed by him? 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. Whomsoever Srimati selects, shall be her husband."
Narada approached Lord Shiva to seek his advice as to how to attain the beautiful maiden. Lord Shiva said that he should borrow the same visage as that of Vishnu, which the princess could never resist and would surely garland Narada as her husband.
So Narada went to Vaikuntha to consult Vishnu. He narrated to him all that had happened and implored to him: "O Lord, have mercy on me and do me a favor. At the time of the Swayamvara, please make me look as handsome as you. The Lord smilingly assented but played a trick and gave the face of a monkey to Narada.
The day of the Swayamvara came. 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 Narada. Her hand trembled. She said: "Father, I can see no Rishi here. Instead I find a man, with a monkey's face.” But 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 vanished into oblivion. 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. 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. He took an oath that he would remain a bachelor for life.
Narada: Learning should not be only book-based
Once Narada was sitting in Lord Shiva’s court on Mount Kailasa. It was attended by illustrious sages and brahmarishis. Just then Durvasa entered the assembly carrying a huge bundle of books. Although Durvasa was a great saint, he was highly irascible and quick-tempered. Ignoring the august assembly, he went and sat beside Lord Shiva. Shiva asked him smilingly: "Sir, how are your studies progressing?" The saint proudly displayed his bundle of books and said, "I have thoroughly studied these books and I know them by heart."
Narada stood up and called Durvasa a donkey carrying a burden of books on his back. Durvasa thundered in wrath.
Narada retorted, "There you are! You have not been able to get over your passions in spite of your scholarship. You have ignored the assembly and gone and sat by Lord Shiva. What good is scholarship without respect, patience and forgiveness? These books are nothing but the burden of a donkey."
Durvasa realized his folly, immersed his books into the sea and went for a long penance to seek atonement and self-realization.
The Mystical Maya
In Devi Bhagwata Purana, it is mentioned that once Narada asked Vishnu about the secret nature of Maya (Illusion).
“What is Maya?” asked Narada.
“The world is my Maya. He who accepts this, realizes me,” said Vishnu.
“Before I explain, will you fetch me some water?” requested the Lord pointing to a river.
Narada did as he was told. But on his way back, he saw a beautiful woman. Smitten by her beauty, he begged the woman to marry him. She agreed.
Narada built a house for his wife on the banks of the river. She bore him many children. Loved by his wife, adored by his sons and daughters, Narada forgot all about his mission to fetch water for Vishnu.
In time, Narada’s children had children of their own. Surrounded by his grandchildren, Narada felt happy and secure. Nothing could go wrong.
Suddenly, dark clouds enveloped the sky. There was thunder, lightning, and rain. The river overflowed, broke its banks and washed away Narada’s house, drowning everyone he loved, everything he possessed. Narada himself was swept away by the river.
“Help, help. Somebody please help me,” he cried. Vishnu immediately stretched out his hand and pulled Narada out of the water.
Back in Vaikuntha, Vishnu asked, “Where is my water?”
“How can you be so remorseless? How can you ask me for water when I have lost my entire family?”
Vishnu smiled. “Calm down, Narada. Tell me, where did your family come from? From Me. I am the only reality, the only entity in the cosmos that is eternal and unchanging. Everything else is an illusion – a mirage, constantly slipping out of one’s grasp.”
“You, my greatest devotee, knew that. Yet, enchanted by the pleasures of worldly life, you forgot all about me. You deluded yourself into believing that your world and your life were all that mattered and nothing else was of any consequence. As per your perspective, the material world was infallible, invulnerable, perfect. That is Maya.”
Thus Vishnu dispelled Narada’s illusion, bringing him back to the realm of reality and making him comprehend the power of Maya over man.
Narada: The Noble Seer
Narada figures in Mahabharata and Krishna stories as the seer who foretold the death of Kamsa at the hands of Krishna. A holy personage and celestial musician, always facilitating the good of the world; engaged in aiding the pious in times of challenge and in hastening the retribution of evil-doers.
"Keep your army as well as the weaponry always in readiness...Be kind to your servants in order to win their hearts...Always be prompt in paying the wages of the soldiers and servants. Never spend more than what you earn. Build lakes and canals and provide the farmers with all facilities."
The above words seem like the advice of a modern political pundit to a senior administrator of a state. Army, weaponry, income-expenditure, farmers, lakes and canals - who is it that gave the above counsel?
It was indeed Narada, who addressed the wise words quoted above, to king Yudhishthira, in the epic Mahabharata.
Traversing the three worlds, Narada preached the Path of Devotion to the Lord. Figuring in all major epics like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagwat Purana and in all the three Yugas - Krita, Treta and Dwapara, he led many noble souls to salvation through his religious discourses.