Boons and Curses in Hinduism

Boons and Curses in Hinduism

Hinduism is a wonderful religion. Here even the Gods and saints have to obey the rules. It is very interesting to study how boons and curses work in Hinduism. Equally interesting is how they are showered upon by people and gods. Though we hear about the curses in other mythologies.

Greek and Roman there is a logical pattern in Hinduism. Her truthfulness is the basis for the curses and boons. Let us take the curses first. If a sage or god or a Deva/semi-god curses someone, it can’t be taken back even by the person who spelled it. It is like a bullet from the rifle or an arrow from the bow. But every curse has an antidote or atonement. We can call it an escape route or exit strategy.

Following things are obvious in the episodes of cursing:

1. Water is used to curse a person. Water has got magical powers or it is used as a medium to transfer those powers.

2. A person curses another for the wrongdoing. Arrogance and bad deeds invariably attract a curse

3. When the person begs for pardon or mercy, the curser gives an antidote which is usually an escape route but comes after a long time. Here is the beauty of Hinduism. No one can escape Karma. If someone does something wrong that person must undergo punishment. But it is not eternal condemnation. Any sinner can become a saint.

4. Kings (Dasaratha, Ravana, Vali), Devas (Indra, Rambha), Gods(Brahma), and mortals (Ahalya, Sakunthala) are famous examples of victims.

5. A person who curses spends enormous energy to do it. This energy comes from the penance he or she does. Actually, it is like wasting their energy. But most of the curses come out of rage/extreme anger.

6. It shows that one’s words have got magical powers to turn anyone into a stone or animal etc.

7. Though we hear about curses in the Vedas, particularly Atharva Veda, they are of the general category. We don’t know the victims. But in mythology, we know the victims.

8. There are more episodes of curses in Puranas than in epics.

9. In Rama’s time, we hear about curses more than in Krishna’s time. Mahabharata characters are more human.

10. In modern times we don’t hear about curses at all. But there are a lot of Sthala Puranas where we hear about it. But most of them have no basis. Just to enhance the prestige of the place a lot of things are said.

11. Truth is the basis for all the curses. That is why even the person cursed could not withdraw it. If the person withdraws it, he will lose power. His words won’t come true anymore. One can’t go back on his words.

12. Anyone can curse. If you have a good case-honesty and truth- you can do it. Most of the curses are from men-not from women.

13. Curses are there in all the cultures in India from the northern Himalayas to the southernmost point Kanyakumari. We hear it in the Tamil epics Silappathikaram, Kundalakesi, etc. The earliest Tamil poems ‘Purananuru’ also hint at it.

14. Durvasa, a short-tempered sage is the holder of the highest number of curses. He deserves a place in the Guinness Book of Records!!

15. The curses – most of them are on one basis. But there are episodes where even thousands of people were made victims.

16. The curse is directly proportional to the bad acts done by a person. The severe the crime, severe is the curse.

17. Boons become curses in the case of bad people/asuras. Asura’s boons are taken literally. Words carry more weight than the spirit behind the words.

Famous curse episodes are Ahalya, Sakunthala, Rambha, Dasaratha, Ravana, Vali, Indra, Brahma.

Science behind curses

  • Modern science is yet to discover the power of words and water. But a day will come when they will appreciate the ancient Hindu discovery of these powers. Hindus believe that a word can be transformed into energy. A medium like water can be used to transfer it to the victims. Penance power is the ‘powerhouse’ that supplies energy to this process. We see it in the launching of missiles (Astras) in the Mahabharata and Ramayana wars.

  • Strange are the ways of the boons!! Boons also require enough power from the powerhouse of one’s penance. Vishwamitra spent most of his power by helping the unwanted. Once he tried to send king Trisanku to heaven in the human body. But he had not got enough power to push him through. So Trisanku got stuck up in the middle.

  • Boons are quite opposite of curses. Someone, mostly, sages or gods, become happy because of the penance or good deeds of their devotees and give the boons. When boons are given Gods don’t discriminate between goodies (Devas) and the baddies (Asuras). Equal Opportunity Policy is followed! Sometimes even Gods got scared because of their own boons(Eg. Story of Pasmasura, Shiva was rescued by Vishnu!).

  • As a result or reward for the penance, a God, usually, one from the Trinity, would appear and grant a Boon. This was usually in the form of some power in the form of protection against certain creatures, or unlimited power or immortality, etc.

  • Anybody can perform a penance. During the penance, the person usually meditates on the deity being propitiated and often chants the Mantras (incantations) extolling the glory of that God. A penance ends when the deity appears in person and grants the boon sought by the person.

  • Boons may also be granted for particularly meritorious deeds. Nearly all deities can grant boons, as can the sages. Sometimes even mortal men of merit can grant a boon.

  • Kalidasa and Tenali Rama became great poets and comedians/jester respectively by the boons given by Goddess Kali.

  • Even animals were subject to curses and boons!

  • The crow lost one of its eyes because of Rama’s curse. When Kakasura in the form of a crow attacked Sita, Rama cursed it.

  • The squirrel was given three lines/patches on it back by Rama. When it helped Rama to build a bridge between India and Sri Lanka to bring Sita back from captivity Rama became so happy and stroked the squirrel on its back and it got its three lines!

  • In all the Asura ( bad people/demons) stories we see one string going all along. Their boons themselves became curses for them because of their bad intentions! Gods play tricks on bad people and make them go for the wrong boons.

  • Pasmasura tried to test the boon given by Lord Siva on Siva’s head itself. Had he succeeded in it, Siva would have been burnt to ashes. Siva had to run for his life and at last, be saved by Vishnu. But the working of boons also is strange. Gods can’t withdraw it. But ‘’Truth alone triumphs’’(Satyameva Jayate—Mundakopanishad) is a maxim in Hinduism. So God triumphs at the end. Many times the Asuras/demons were fooled. They wanted one thing but got quite the opposite. This is because of their bad intentions.

  • Ravana’s brother Kumbakarna wanted immortality. But he was tricked and got never-ending sleep. This was due to a minute change in the Sanskrit words. Kumbakarna intended to ask for ‘nithyathva’ (permanence) instead asked for ‘nidhrathva’ (slumber forever). The Lord without a moment’s delay granted the boon and disappeared. Kumbakarna had to pursue his penance once again to get an amendment to the boon – to reduce the length of sleep to half the year!

  • Another demon wanted one strong son to kill Indra. But he got one son Vrutrasura who was killed by Indra. This was due to a minute change in the accent of Vedic mantras. Tvasta mispronounced the word ‘indrasatru’ and got a son Vrtra who became the victim of Indra instead of the slayer of Indra.

  • Vritrasura also got a boon not to be killed by any weapon made of wood or metal or stone. But Indra killed him with foam.

  • Hiranyakasipu was the king of Daityas. He performed tapas/penance and got a boon from Brahma: he could not be slain by man or beast. He became arrogant with the boon. He thought he was so powerful that he could terrorize all three worlds. But God appeared as a man-lion (Narasimha avatar) and killed him

  • Dasaratha gave two boons to Kaikeyi because she drove his chariot to victory on the battlefield. In those days even women went to the battlefield. But Kaikeyi used both the boons against Dasaratha. King Shantanu gave Bishma a boon to choose his own time for death.

Tamil’s belief of Black Tongue

Tamils believe that certain people have got ‘black tongue’ (Karu Naakku) and whatever they say will come true. Tamil word for ‘black’ and ‘curse’ is almost similar-‘Karu’ and ‘Karuvu’ respectively. Probably this gave credence to the belief of ‘black tongue’(Karu Nakku). People fear even to see such people because they always say something negative and it comes true.

The lesson we learn from this is always think positive, say something positive. The minute we curse someone, we lose our energy—particularly the spiritual energy.

Santanam Swaminathan

Santanam Swaminathan

Santanam Swaminathan was born in Kilvalur near Nagappattinam in Tamil Nadu in 1948. He is married with two children. He has been living in London from 1987. He has two master degrees to his credit in History and literature in addition to his B.Sc in biology and chemistry. He worked as a part time tutor at the University of London and a part time Health Advocate in a London hospital. Before joining BBC World Service in London he worked as Senior Sub Editor of Dinamani News Paper in Madurai until 1986. He held President/ Secretary posts in four organisations in London. He hails from a journalist family. His father Santanam was the News Editor of Dinamani in Madurai. He translated Anna Karenina of Leo Tolstoy in 1940s which runs to 1500 pages. It was considered a great achievement at that time. Late Sri Santanam was a freedom fighter who was imprisoned with K. Kamaraj and other leaders during the struggle for independence.