On Diwali day, as most celebrated the festival with lit diyas and crackers, students of two State universities in Telangana held festivities of a different sort. Amidst fireworks, they mourned the death of Narakasura, whom they held in the esteem of a Dravidian king and nature lover.
In a reversal of traditional Diwali beliefs, students held that Naraka, the Asura killed on Diwali day, was not demonic as portrayed in the popular myth. According to an alternate lore, Narakasura was a Dravidian emperor who had ruled a massive kingdom that was destroyed in Aryan invasion.
Naraka, according to this interpretation is also believed to be of Dalit lineage thereby making mourning ceremonies of his death, the apt celebration on Diwali, at least for a section.
While the origin of the lore is not dated, a section of Adivasies and Dalits in Karimnagar and Khammam districts worship Narakasura, students who held the commemoration pointed out. As a reflection of this belief, in Osmania University (OU), Hyderabad and Kakatiya University (KU), Warangal, close to fifty students erected idols of Narakasura even as they sang songs to praise the king’s greatness.
Quoting the lore which is based on a re-reading of the popular Diwali myth, students held that Naraka was in fact a scholar who had held several scholastic sessions from time to time in his palace. “He was a nature lover, a son of the soil. His death has to be mourned and his life should be commemorated,” said Naliganti Sharath, a student who participated in commemorating the Asura’s death on OU campus. “My family always narrated stories of Narakasura as a celestial power which had saved children from deadly diseases. We do not celebrate Diwali,” said Rajesh, a student of Kakatiya University.
Interestingly, the students who held alternate Diwali celebrations under the banner of Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi Students Union of OU and KU had also held similar commemorations during Dasara. “Students have been commemorating Ravana during Dasara celebrations. These alternate festivities are meant to re-read popular histories and myths. Asuras are not considered evil by everyone as it is possible to read them as representatives of Dravida and Dalit culture,” said Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, former faculty member of Osmania University who participated in the festivities.
Most such readings are based on scholarship of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who had written extensively on re-reading history. While Osmania University has been witnessing alternate Narakasura commemoration day, for the past four years, it was the first time that Kakatiya University held such festivities.