The Mystique of the Curse in Hinduism

Durvasa flees, his curse backfires

A curse is hard to escape. Within the tomes of Hindu mythology and its epics, the occurrence of a curse is a frequent certainty. Most ancient civilizations, ancient Greek, Biblical, Egyptian etc., had curse practitioners.

The practitioners were almost always someone wronged. Someone whom the laws of Dharma were to protect but failed to. Instances of cursers include chaste women, short-tempered Rishis and incarnate manifestations of the Divine. The curse was the last resort of the weak and the oppressed. The final card that would play out in time.

The recipient of the curse were just about anybody. Gods yielded in silent submission to law greater than their omnipotence, for they too were subject to the causal laws. Cities were subject to it. Kings. Gods. Nothing was spared.

Framework of Laws

The Hindu conception of laws of life had many layers to it. The individual was said to be governed by the law of Karma, cause and effect to be worked out within this framework of life. The notion of Dharma, or the principle of righteousness, provided for laws the individual and the larger collective had to adhere to. Kaala, or Time, was also seen as a law that governed the lives of men. Above all this, as an inscrutable element, was the notion of Lila, or Divine Play, something mounted for the purpose of the immanent Divine to realize and savor within the scope of Time.

Time-bound Laws Were Mutable

Each of these co-existed, overlapped and even cross wired many a time. Everything was subject to ignorance and error. Even Kaala, or Time, could err. Ensuring the short-term survival of the wicked and the tyrant. But Lila stood far above as the chief arbiter who could correct every wrong. What a short-sighted God yielded as a boon to the Rakshasa would be overcome and negated by the Avatar who would come later.

Idea of Lila, or Divine Play

Lila was above the idea of Karma, or Dharma, or even Kaala. Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata exemplified this idea of Lila. Superficial notions of individual and time based morality were shattered for the wider perception of Dharma. Time bound ideas of Dharma were exceeded in the expression of the supreme Lila.

But the Lila and the certainty of it was only given to the Avatar. Not for common mortals or the lesser gods. Here is where the curse comes handy. How do you compel an unyielding Time or the Supreme Divine to hear your case? When all else fails you curse.

Qualities for a Curser

The curse required some basic qualities if it had to be effective. If you were a Rishi you had to acquire Tapas, the spiritual strength that is born of introspection. A woman had to be chaste – chastity was seen as a shield that even the Gods would fail to conquer. A householder and commoner had to adhere to his Svadharma, the law of his personal evolution. Each of these would ensure there was enough charge for the Curse to work.

Deflection of a Curse

The nullification of curse was almost never managed head on. It always had to be deflected, a workaround had to be sought. This required the knowledge of someone who exceeded the spiritual stature of the curser. If it was a someone who had acquired some spiritual merit then a Rishi could figure out the workaround. If it was a Rishi who cursed then you had to head to a Godhead to redeem yourself. But the key aspect was this – An incarnate Godhead never cursed, never ever cursed. In fact he took on any curse with equanimity, it was the price he would pay..even with his life if need be in sticking to the laws of Time.

And overarching all this was the idea of the Lila, the Divine Play of existence.

Summary

The curse was an instrument of action. It was intent vocalized towards a specific result. The target could be anything as long as the practitioner had the spiritual merit. Laws of existence could be superseded by curses.Β 

What is next?

There is much more to explore on this particular topic especially in comparison to how a curse was perceived in other ancient civilizations and specific instances of how the curse is not what it seems on the surface within Hindu mythology.

Appreciate any feedback, even a curse, for putting you through this! πŸ™‚

Comments

  1. Intirguing post Mahesh! Here are some blog posts that might interest you as well: http://drishtikone.com/?q=blog/was-krishnas-git….. http://drishtikone.com/?q=blog/bhagwad-gita-and….. http://drishtikone.com/?q=blog/why-i-am-hindu cheers, desh

  2. Desh Read your post on Why I am a Hindu. Have never read such an accessible and comprehensive coverage. Am sure there is lots more to be said but I like the fact that you tie everything to action rather than a mental framework, which is where Hinduism, or any religion, is actually supposed to lead. Thanks for sharing. You have earned a fan..for whatever it is worth! Cheers Mahesh

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