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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Nārada

There are several men named Nārada which appear at different times in Hindu literature, the first of whom is identified as a Rishi and author of Rg Vedas 8.13, 9.104, and 9.105; the second of whom appears in the Chāndogya Upaniad (7.2) as a knower of the Vedas but not of the Self and who is instructed in the latter by Sanatkumāra; the third of whom is identified in the Mahābhārata and Visnu Purāna as a Devarsi, often associated with the Rishi Parvata, and who is supposed to be a messenger between gods and men; the fourth of whom is referred to as a logician or dialectician and appears in the epic poem Mahābhārata where he is taught devotional religion by Śrī Krishna (he is mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gītā and appears also in the Anugītā as a teacher); the fifth of whom is said in Manu’s Dharma Sastra (1.35) as well as the Matsya Purānas to be a son of Brahmā and is listed among the 10 Prajāpatis; the sixth of whom is the legendary teacher of Vālmīki, reputed author of the epic poem Rāmāyana and whom it is said Nārada converted from an ignorant highway robber into a literate devotee of Rāma; and the seventh of whom is the author of the Bhakti Sūtra. There were also several other authors named Nārada and in the Bhāgavata Purāna it is the name of a mountain as well (as is Parvata). There is even a minor Upaniad named Nārada. So it is a rather common name.

In two extended discussions of Nārada in The Secret Doctrine, Helena P. Blavatsky says, “What Narada really is, cannot be explained in print; nor would the modern generations of the profane gather much from the information” (SD II:48), but hints that the Nārada which appears as son of Brahmā is “the Deva-Rishi of Occultism par excellence” (SD II:83), is, in fact, “a true Mānasaputra” and “the mysterious guiding intelligent power, which gives the impulse to, and regulates the impetus of cycles, Kalpas and universal events” (SD II:48). In exoteric works, she points out, he is given some rather uncomplimentary names, such as “Strife-maker,” “Monkey-faced,” or “spy” because he refuses Brahmā’s order to procreate. For this, he loses his divine status and is born as a man (SD II:82). But he is also “the great teacher of astronomy” and “is credited with having calculated and recorded all the astronomical and cosmic cycles to come” (SD II:49). She further says that “the Occultist who does not ponder, analyse, and study Narada from his seven esoteric facets, will never be able to fathom certain anthropological, chronological, and even Cosmic Mysteries” (SD II:83). She also suggests that he is a kind of prototype of Satan, since he is, in her words, “The first ‘Adversary’ in individual human form that one meets with in old Purānic literature” but is, in fact, “the anthropomorphised Demiurge, the Creator of Heaven and Earth . . . ” (SD I:413). Clearly she must be referring to the fifth person listed above, but it is possible that some of the first five are actually the same mythological figure since, HPB says, he “is found reborn in every cycle (or race)” (SD II:323) because he was “cursed by Brahmā to incessant peripateticism on Earth, i.e., to be constantly reborn” (SD II:585).

The Nārada who appears in the Mahābhārata (the third listed above) travels to the land of Śvetadvipa (i.e., “White Island”) where the inhabitants are all monotheists (ekāntins). It is there that Śrī Krishna instructs him in the Bhāgavata or devotional theistic religion. But the Cāndogya Upaniad also mentions a Nārada who is a monotheist, so the source of the two stories may be the same. In the Mahābhārata Nārada is credited with inventing the vīna (a stringed instrument) so he is now considered a sort of patron of music and is called in poetry a Gandharva or even a Gandharva-rāja (i.e., celestial musician-king). The Gandharvas are a class of devas associated in Hindu mythology with a wide variety of things, among which are the Vedic soma, gambling, astrology, and music.

It is said in the Pañcarātra literature that Nārada — probably referring to the teacher of Vālmīki — was taught directly by Viśnu. Of the Nārada who is the author of the Bhakti Sūtra, little is known except that he was the teacher of Nimbārka, after whom a school of devotional philosophy is named and who probably lived during the last quarter of the 14th and/or first part of the 15th centuries. His teacher is said to have been someone named Kumāra. The work commends the path of devotion (bhakti) as the most appropriate means of self-realization. A rather loose translation of it was published in 1975 by I. K. TAIMNI who also did translations of a number of other Sanskrit works, including Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras.

R.W.B.

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