Nemiraj Shetty / Usha-Aniruddha: Myth and Depiction

The myth of Usha-Aniruddha, one of the most enticing love stories has figured in most of the Puranas with minor variations in each. The earliest account of this myth is found in the Vishnu Purana. This legend is always been a source of inspiration for the writers and poets in different languages of not only our country but also the nations of south-east Asia. It is said that this legend reached Indonesia in the 6th century AD. The ‘Tep Pranam’ inscription of Yashovarman datable to 889-900 AD refers to this of the bas-reliefs of the famous Angkor Wat temple in Kampuchea depicting this story is the earliest sculptural representation (dated to the 12th century AD) available.

This legend forms the subject of elegant miniature paintings, of which an abundant collection is found in the Pahari ones. One such series of 18th century drawings in the style of Kangra kalam, is housed in the Kasturibhai Lalbhai Museum, Ahmedabad. Further, a series of eight paintings of Kangra School (1830 AD) is possessed by the Baroda Museum. Quite a few unfinished paintings and drawings on this theme are reproduced in the Boston Museum Catalogue. The reputed art historian, Karl J Khandalawala noticed another series from Chamba (c 1850AD)painted by Ramlal. A few paintings in the early Kangra style painted by Ram Sahai (1770-75 AD) can be in Bhuri Singh Museum, Chamba. Raja Kelkar Museum  of Pune preserves  a set of folk paintings called Paithan Chitrakathas of the 19th century. The Jaipur museum owns a few earliest illustrations of this story which is found in Razm Nama of the Mughal period dated to 1585 AD.

The myth narrates as below:

The Dashama Skanda of the Bhagawata Purana, a comparatively later text speaks of Lord Krishna having 16,108 wives. Rukmini, one of the eight principal queens has a son Pradyumna – the eldest among nine others who marries Rukmavati, the princess of Rukmi.

Aniruddha, son of Pradyumna and Rukmavati, marries Usha, daughter of Banasura, the king of Sonitapura and a devotee of Shiva. On the occasion of Usha’s marriage with Aniruddha a terrible combat took place between Hari and Hara in which Banasura lost his thousand arms.

Banasura was the eldest of the hundred sons of Bali, a descendent of Brahma. He was generous, intelligent, true of word and firm in observance of vows and pleased his God playing on musical instruments while Shiva performed the tandava nritya. By pleasing Shiva he wanted to acquire all the three worlds. Shiva found it stupid and cursed him: “when your flag staff (with peacock ensign) shall be broken down automatically, a combat with someone equal to me will take place and it will humiliate your pride”.

Usha, a virgin who was in her early teens, having seen Parvati sporting with Shiva wished for a similar dalliance. The beautiful Gauri knowing Usha’s intention said to Usha “he who shall appear to you, in a dream in the twelfth lunation of the light half of Vaisakha will be your husband.”  In the Shiva Purana, Usha intends to assume the form of Parvati to sport with Shiva. Visually, the Chamba artists give a clear picture of these events.

As said by Gauri on the twelfth day of the bright half of Visakha, a young man, whoUsha had never seen or heard of enjoyed sexual pleasure with her in her dream. As described in the Shiva Purana, Aniruddha was sent to the palace of Bana by Parvati while Usha was fast asleep. After an intercourse with Usha, he was forcibly carried back to Dwaraka, the capital city of Lord Krishna by the attendants of Parvati by means of their power.

In Brahmavairavata Purana Parvati caused Aniruddha to crave for Usha by sending her a dream vision. Chitralekha, Usha’s sakhi was the daughter of Kubanda, a minister of Bana. In the episode Usha suddenly woke up from her dream world bewildered and murmurs: “where are you my beloved lord?” and Chitralekha questions her knowing that she did not have any suitors till that day. Then Usha narrates her dream to her trustful sakhi that she has seen an unknown man of dark complexion, lotus-eyed, endowed with long arms wearing a yellow garment, captivating the hearts of women. She continued that she had been seeking the man who had thrown her to the sea of misery.                                                                                                                                               

By the help of the description of Usha Chitralekha being an artist and endowed with yogic power drew the portraits of gods, celestial beings and princes. Out of them she drew vrishnis: Ugrasena, Vasudeva, Balarama and Krishna. When Usha came across the picture of Krishna, she was delighted. When she saw the face of Pradyumna she felt embarrassed and at last when she found the portrait of Aniruddha she exclaimed with great enthusiasm that he was the man of her dream.

In the process of hunting for Aniruddha, Chitralekha described the difficulties I reaching Dwaraka. By the time   Usha refers to the magical powers of her friend, Pradyumna mentioned that Chtralekha was Mayavati who went to Dwaravati where she met Narada and by the help of Narada she bore sleeping Aniruddha and brought him to Sonitapura as a present to her beloved friend.

Usha lost her virginity. Bana was informed by his servants that Usha had cast a stain on his family. In Brhmavaivarta Purana, the guards of the hero inform about Usha’s pregnancy. But in Shiva Purana,  Bana himself goes to the palace of Usha to meet her where he finds Aniruddha playing dice with his beloved daughter.

In the Laotian verstion of the myth, Usha-Aniruddha, Prince of Pa Rot (Aniruddha) was transported asleep to the palace of Usha by the guardian deities of the forest and after having lived for seven days he is carried back by the gods to the tree under which he was found  sleeping. Here, the Laotian version agrees with the Shiva Purana according to which Parvati’s attendants carry him back to Dwaraka.

He Laotin myth says that having observed certain changes in Usha’s body the guards of the palace suspect that she is pregnant. This event is parallel to the one in the Bhagawata Purana. And according to Vishnu Purana and Harivamsa Purana, the presence of a young man in Usha’s chamber was reported to the demon king by the guards of the spies of palace.

On seeing pretty daughter chatting with a stranger, Bana became arrogant. He sent his soldiers to beat him up. Seeing the fierce looking soldiers and angry Bana, Aniruddha could not hold his emotions. He attacked them with an iron-bat. When the powerful Bana himself could not control Aniruddha he bound him down with nagapasha or serpent noose and kept in cage.

The Sabhaparvan of Mahabharat  with details similar to Harivamsa Purana  refers to Bana, the votary of Shiva who oppressed all the gods. Aniruddha became unconscious because of the torture in prison.

In Harivamsa Purana, Bana spared the life of Aniruddha on the advice of Kubhanda; whereas in Shiva Purana as a result of Aniruddha’s prayer goddess Kali broke the cage with blows form her fists and reduced the serpenting arrows as ashes. Thereby, Aniruddha gained access to the palace of his beloved.

The Padma Purana  says that Aniruddha killed the soldiers with pillar of the palace which he had uprooted in his defence. One late 18th century Chamba painting agrees with Padma Purana description. But in this painting Aniruddha holds a spear instead of a pillar while Usha watched the fight from a window of her palace.

After four months of the incident Krishna learnt from the reports of Narada about Aniruddha’s valorous fight and imprisonment.

Krishna marched against Sonitapura with his army on his vahana, Garuda. Balarama and Pradhymna followed him armed with their exclusive weapons. Narada played a mediators role in showing the way to Krishna’s army.

Bana resisted against an equally strong army. Shiva also appeared there surrounded by pramathas and accompanied by his son Skanda riding his big bull and fought against Balarama and Krishna for the sake of his devotee. The combat that raged between Pradyumna and Kartikeya was tumultuous, astounding and horrifying. There was an encounter between Balarama with Kubhanda and Kupakarna and duel between Saamba and the son of Bana and between Bana and Satyaki. The Gods and the celestial beings came in their aerial car to witness the wonderful battle. Shiva discharged various kinds of missiles against Krishna and Krishna neutralised each. At last Krishna stupefied Shiva by making Sankara yawn and lethargic with Jrumbhanastra and slaughtered Bana’s army. Skanda being pierced by all sides lay enraged, by the streams of arrows discharged by Pradyumna, bleeding in every part of the body retreats from the battle on the back of his peacock. Noticing his army shattered and scattered, Bana became extremely enraged, left his combatant Satyaki and attacked Krishna. Krishna simultaneously snapped all Bana’s bows killed his charioteer and blew the victory conch.

The Razm Nama illustrates the war between Banasura and Krishna in which Banasura is carried in  chariot puled by horses. A similar scene is depicted in the early Kangra miniature.

Bana’s deity Kotara with desire to protect the life of her son, appears completely naked in front of Krishna with locks of her hair dishevelled. Unable to look at her, Krishna turns his face. Meanwhile Bana’s chariot is broken and depleted. When the chariot of Bana broke all the army of bhutas of Bana flew away. The mighty jvara (fever) of Shiva having three heads and three feet appeard in the battle front before Krishna. On seeing the jvara of Shiva, Krishna let loose his own jvara. Both the Shaivite jvara and Vaishnavite jvara fought with each other. The Shaivite jvara lost himself and sought refuge with Krishna.

Bana continued the fight. While Bana discharged his missiles, Krishna amputated Baa with the Sudhrshan Chakra. The arms of Bana, except two fell like the branches of the tree.

Shiva liberated himself from the influence of jrumbhanastra, approached Krishna having accepted his own defeat and requested him to protect Bana just as Vishnu did in the case of Prahlada. To curb Bana’s arrogance Krishna chopped his hand leaving only four and the army was annihilated because it was a burden to the earth.

In the Shiva Purana due to the Shaivite orientation in the war between Hari and Hara, Krishna was defeated in the battle along with his fever. After his defeat Krishna bowed to Shiva saying: “O, Lord it is your bidding that I have come here to cut off the hands of Bana. This haughty Bana is cursed by you…” then, on the suggestion of Shiva, Krishna overpowered Shiva by using the jrumbhanastra where he cut all the arms of Bana except four.

The Brahmavaivarta Purana describes the final march of Bana with Skanda, Ganesha and others; attempts of Shiva-Parvati to dissuade Bana; arrival of Bali, the votary of Vishnu to request Krishna to spare the life of Bana.

In Harivamsa Purana, there is a description of battles of Krishna and Bana which is similar to Vishnu Purana and Bhagawata Purana. Two additional details given in this are Garuda’s fights with Mayura, the vahana of Bana but in this fight Mayura is defeated by Garuda. It can be seen in a Chamba painting. According the some versions of Harivamsa Krishna  made Bana two armed.

The Padma Purana gives a fight between tapa-jwara of Shiva and sita-jwara of Krishna. Instead of the yawning weapon, Krishna used mohanastra against Shiva. After cutting the thousand arms Krishna spared his life on the request of Shiva an Parvati.

After the war ended as described in the Bhagawata Purana, Bana brings Aniruddha along with bride Usha out of nagapasha. In the Vishnu Purana Krishna meets Aniruddha where he is confined. The snakes that bound were destroyed by the breath of Garuda. Then Krishna placed Aniruddha along with Usha upon the celestial bird and returned to Dwaraka with all his men.

The citizens of Dwaraka received them warm heartedly. In the conclusion of the legend, the Shiva Purana mentions several boons granted by Shiva to Bana.

The Agni Purana giving a brief account of this legend, mentions that Bana became a son of Shiva by his penance and the story is similar to Harivamsa Purana. And some of the versions of Harvamsa state that Krishna offered the kingdom of Banasura to Kubhanda and performed the wedding of Usha and Aniruddha at Sonitapura.

In general, the Puranas do not mention any successor of Bana. But the Shiva Purana refers to the son of his daughter as his successor. In a Kangra painting of 1830 they are at the end of their journey to Dwaraja. Usha, Chitralekha and the other paricharikas of Usha are carried by Mayura and Aniruddha with Krishna, and Balarama following them mounted on Garuda. The ladies of the place including Rukmini and Satyabhama received them while the Gods and celestial beings watched from heaven.

In the Laotian version of the myth, the whole genealogy is altogether different. A 16th century text, Brah Kuttd Brah Ban or the story of Banasraoffers us a new source material for the study of diffusion and transformation of the Brahminical culture in Laos.

In the version, there is no mention of Shiva and Krishna’s fight, instead, Krishna or Ku’td Naray kills the eight-headed Bana. Here, Indra and Sujata take birth as Aniruddha and Usha on the earth and play their respective roles in the destruction of the wicked Bana, who committed adultery with Sujata.

This myth is also seen in the literary works of other parts of South-East Asia. The   19th century Hindi poet Jivanla Nagar provides a new background to the birth of Usha. In his view Usha was the daughter of Parvati who was born out of the dirt of her left limb and Ganesha as her brother came out of the dirt of right limb. There Usha was the adopted child of Bana who created havoc.

Generally in the Vaishnavite text, Krishna is the winner and if it is a Shaivaite text, Shiva the winner. But the artists took their own freedom while narrating the story and built up the environments which they had visualised. It is also obvious that from the Razm Nama  onwards, in all the miniature paintings, artists portrayed the people of Bana as beasts with their teeth coming out or sometimes with horns. Somehow this story has often affected the people trying to create the supremacy according to their own inclination towards the particular cult.

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