God of big things

The history of the evolution of the 330 million deities in the Hindu pantheon will always interest readers, tied up as they are with race memory and the evolution of different strands of belief on the subcontinent.

books Updated: Sep 02, 2013 12:33 IST
Manjula Narayan
Manjula Narayan
Hindustan Times

A scholarly study of Kubera, the god of wealth.

Kubera: God of Many Hues
Madhurika K Maheshwari
Iirns Publications
Rs. 3500 pp 304

The history of the evolution of the 330 million deities in the Hindu pantheon will always interest readers, tied up as they are with race memory and the evolution of different strands of belief on the subcontinent. Madhurika K Maheshwari’s erudite study of Kubera, who continues to have a presence in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, goes beyond the simple narration of his abilities.

Drawing from a range of sources, and supported by excellent pictures of temple statuary from across India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Cambodia and Indonesia, murals on monastery walls in China (where Kubera is also known as Tamonten) and even ganjifa cards (pictured below), the author presents a compelling portrait of a pre-Vedic deity who has endured. A fascinating book for those interested in the history of belief and its influence on culture.

Book extract: The legend of Kubera

Kubera’s life story or legend is told in some detail for the first time in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The story in theMahabharata goes like this (Vana Parva, VS2060:274:11-17):
In Anarta on the banks of the river Narmada (Gujarat), a son was born to Pulstya and his consort Gau, Pulstya being Lord Brahma’s son. The child, named Vaishravana, was greeted with great joy.

But, as it turned out, Vaishravana neglected his father, preferring to revere and serve grandfather Brahma instead. Pulstya, angry with the negligence and disrespect shown by Vaishravana, created a second son from half of his own body, and named him Vaishrava. Vishrava was always on the lookout for opportunities to fight brother Vaishravana…

Lord Brahma, highly pleased with his eldest grandson, assigned him to be Lord of the Yakshas with the title of Rajraja, God of Wealth, Regent of the Direction of the North, and King of Lanka.


As Lord of Lanka, Vaishravana moved around in the Pushpaka vimana, an aerial chariot which was huge enough to accommodate a whole city. On land, Vaishravana’s assigned vahana was a nara, that is, a man. He is also said to ride an elephant named Sarvabhaum.

When Vaishravana realized that Pulstya was enraged with him, he sent three beautiful women to appease his father. Their names were Pushpotakata (also known as Kaikaisi), Raka and Malini and all three were gifted dancers and musicians. In this way he reconciled with his father. Subsequently, Pushpotakata gave birth ot Ravana and Kumbhkarna, Raka to Khara and Surpanakha, and Malini, to Vibhishana.

The sight of the splendidly-clad Vaishravana sitting by the side of their father aroused the envy of Ravana and his stepbrothers. So as to equal him in glory they undertook penance to propitiate Lord Brahma, and worshipped him for thousands of years. Ravana even sacrificed all his ten heads. Immensely pleased by this offering, Brahma not only restored all of Ravana’s heads but granted him the boon of being eternally indestructible — except by human beings. Thus empowered, Ravana attacked Kubera, drove him out of Lanka and took over his Puspaka vimana. The aggrieved Kubera cursed Ravana that he would be destroyed (Mahabharata, Vana Parva, VS 2060:275:1-40) for having attacked his elder brother.

...The Mahabharata described the Kubera Sabha... in great detail. It floated in the air-space near the Kailasha mountain, and was lit by the energy of the moon. According to legend, the court... was surrounded by sweet-smelling flowered trees.

Marutdeva himself carried fragrance from the kalpavriksha for Kubera’s pleasure. Three rivers called the Mandakini, Nanda and Alkavati flowed through the court. Apsaras and gandharvas... entertained him with dance and music... Throughout the Ramayana, there are references... to the beauty of Kubera’s palaces and gardens. His garden is described as... a place to enjoy natural beauty, to relax and be happy. Swans swam in the ponds which were adorned with lotuses in full bloom. In Kubera’s sabha all were equal. There was no grief or anxiety, sickness or sorrow.

First Published: Aug 31, 2013 00:59 IST