Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, used to live on Mount Kailash. They meditated there and also they used to bless their devotees. They led a very happy and fruitful life.
One day Parvati made a special request to her consort, Shiva, to take her to a grove named Nandankanan.
“Definitely I will take you there,” promised Shiva. So they went together to that particular grove. All the trees in that grove were so beautiful. Parvati was extremely moved by their beauty. She asked her Lord, “Please tell me if there is any tree that is more special than the rest. When I look at them, they all seem equally beautiful. But please tell me if there is one particular tree that is most special, or in some way different from the others.”
While she was saying these words, Parvati happened to be standing at the foot of one of the trees. Shiva said to her, “The tree that you are now leaning against has something very special to offer.”
“What is that special thing?” asked Parvati.
“This particular tree is called Kalpataru,” said Shiva. ‘Kalpa’ means ‘whatever you desire’ and ‘taru’ means ‘tree.’ “Whatever you wish for, you will immediately get from this tree.”
“My Lord, are you telling me the truth, or is this a fib?” asked Parvati.
“If you do not believe me, just ask the tree for something,” answered Shiva.
Parvati meditated for a few moments and then said, “O tree, I want to have a most beautiful girl from you.” Immediately, a most beautiful young girl emerged from the tree. Parvati was so pleased and happy. She named the girl Ashokasundari.
Ashokasundari said to the goddess Parvati, “You have brought me into this world. Please tell me what I should do.”
Parvati looked at her lovingly and said, “You do not have to do anything for the time being. In a few years, however, I would like you to marry a particular prince named Nahusha. He has not yet been born. He is still in Heaven. But he will take incarnation and, in the course of time, I would like you to marry him. I will make arrangements for you.”
Ashokasundari was very happy to hear this news. Lord Shiva and Parvati left her there in that beautiful grove, Nandankanan, and they returned to Mount Kailash.
Now, near Nandankanan there lived a demon named Hunda. He used to claim that Nandankanan was the capital of his land. One day after entering the main grove at Nandankanan, Hunda caught sight of this most beautiful girl and immediately fell in love with her.
The demon approached Ashokasundari and said, “You have to marry me, you have to marry me!”
“No, I will not marry you!” said Ashokasundari. “My future husband is Nahusha. I will marry him and nobody else. Go away from this place!”
Unfortunately, demons have a special magic power. They can take any form. After being insulted by Ashokasundari, the demon left the grove. A few days later, he took the form of a most beautiful woman and once more entered the grove where Ashokasundari lived. The beautiful woman behaved as though she was very sad and depressed.
“Why are you so sad?” asked Ashokasundari. “You seem to be quite beautiful. What is bothering you?” “Yes, I am beautiful,” said the strange woman, “but I am so unhappy.”
“What is the reason for your unhappiness?” enquired Ashokasundari kindly.
In a pitiful voice, the woman said, “I am a widow. My husband was such a good man, but he was killed by the demon Hunda. Now I am so lonely. Would you like to come to my cottage and stay for a few days? It is a very simple cottage, but I keep it very clean.”
“Yes, I shall come with you,” said Ashokasundari.
“Please be my guest for two or three days,” said the woman. “It will make me so happy.”
Ashokasundari followed this woman and they left the grove. When they came to the widow’s cottage, the widow immediately changed herself back into a demon and grabbed Ashokasundari. Ashokasundari was so furious that she cursed the demon: “Definitely my husband, Nahusha, will kill you!” Then she managed to break free from the demon’s hold and ran away.
Now the demon was cursed. He knew that he was to be killed, and he knew that Nahusha would be the one to slay him. He started searching high and low for Nahusha so that he could kill Nahusha and nullify the curse. Naturally his search proved fruitless, because at that time Nahusha had not yet been born.
In a neighbouring kingdom there lived a very good and pious king. He and his wife prayed to God for many, many years and, finally, his wife was blessed with a child. They decided to name him Nahusha.
When the demon Hunda came to learn that Nahusha had taken birth, he entered the king’s palace and kidnapped the child. Nahusha was only one year old. The demon brought him home and asked his cook to kill the boy and cook him. The demon commanded his cook to serve him a most delicious meal made from the meat of the child. The demon thought that if he ate Nahusha, then there would be no possibility that Nahusha would kill him when he grew up.
“Definitely I will kill him,” said the cook. “You are my master.”
Now, the cook liked the little boy so much that he did not have the heart to kill him. Instead he took the child to Vashishtha’s ashram and left him there. On the way back, he killed a deer. This deer he cooked and served to his master in place of Nahusha.
The demon, Hunda, was so happy. “Ah,” he said, “now I know for certain that Nahusha is dead! I have eaten him.”
Nahusha grew up in the ashram of the saint Vashishtha. Vashishtha gave him spiritual lessons. He also taught Nahusha archery and other skills. From his inner vision, he knew that Nahusha was a prince and that it was Parvati’s wish for him to marry Ashokasundari.
A few years passed by and Nahusha did marry Ashokasundari. The two were very happy together. Because Hunda believed that Nahusha was dead, Nahusha was easily able to kill the demon and fulfil his wife’s curse.
The story does not end with the death of Hunda. Unfortunately, he had a son by the name of Bihunda. When Hunda was killed, his son felt miserable. He decided to kill Nahusha to avenge his father’s death. So he started practising very strict tapasya, or spiritual disciplines. He was praying and praying to the cosmic gods to grant him the power to kill Nahusha once and for all.
When the cosmic gods saw what kind of tapasya Bihunda was doing, they became afraid that his desire would be fulfilled and that he would kill Nahusha. They appealed to Lord Vishnu to help them.
Lord Vishnu took the form of a most beautiful woman and appeared before Bihunda. Bihunda fell in love with her at first sight and asked her to become his wife. The beautiful woman responded, “I shall marry you on one condition. I wish you to bring me a particular flower. The name of this flower is ‘kamoda.’ You must gather ten million of these flowers and worship Lord Shiva with them. After worshipping Lord Shiva, if you can make a garland of these flowers and place it at my feet, then I shall marry you and you will have the capacity to kill Nahusha. I am making this request to you as your future wife.”
Bihunda ran to look for the special tree which bore the flower kamoda. He went here and there asking people, “Do you know what the kamoda flower looks like? Do you know where I can find the tree?”
But nobody knew where to find the tree or what the flower looked like. In desperation, Bihunda went to Shukracharya, the Guru of the demons. Brihaspati is the Guru of the cosmic gods and Shukracharya is his counterpart for the demons. Bihunda told Shukracharya what had happened and asked him where he could find the kamoda flower.
Shukracharya explained, “This woman has not made it clear to you at all. The kamoda flower does not grow on a tree. This particular flower comes out of the mouth of a woman. She is so enchanting! When she laughs, these flowers come out of her mouth. The colour of the flowers is yellow and they are full of fragrance. If you worship Lord Shiva with these fragrant yellow flowers, he will definitely grant you the boon of being able to kill Nahusha. But, if the woman is crying instead of laughing, you will see that the flowers which she brings out of her mouth are red in colour and without any fragrance. Be careful! Those flowers you must not touch, or there will be some serious calamity or misfortune in your life. You must gather only the yellow flowers that drop from her mouth when she laughs.”
“Where can I find her?” asked Bihunda eagerly.
Shukracharya said, “She lives on the banks of the river Ganga. In the evening you will see her walking along by the side of the river.”
The cosmic gods were watching from Heaven. They saw what was happening and once again they became very worried. They asked Narada, the celestial musician, to come to their rescue. Narada always took the side of the gods. They informed Narada, “If Bihunda obtains these ten million flowers, then he will definitely be able to kill King Nahusha. You must help us!”
Narada agreed to help them. He went to Bihunda and said to the demon, “You are so great! How is it that you have to go personally to this woman to get the flowers; I will ask her to send the flowers to you. You do not have to go and get them yourself. I will ask her to put the flowers in the Ganga and the water will bring them right to your palace. It is beneath your dignity to go and beg for them. This much I can do for you. Since it is I who am asking, she will definitely do it.” Bihunda’s pride came forward and he said to Narada, “You are right. Why should I have to go myself? I will wait for the water to bring the flowers to me.”
Narada went to the banks of the river Ganga and found the woman who was the source of the kamoda flowers. After she had greeted him with great respect, he said to her, “Now I would like you to cry and bring out of your mouth the flowers that are red in colour and without fragrance. I wish you to place them in the river and let the water carry them away.”
She gladly obeyed Narada and began to cry. From her mouth there came thousands and thousands of red flowers, and she placed them all in the water. The river flowed past Bihunda’s palace, where he had been waiting and waiting for the flowers to appear. When he saw them coming, he became so excited that he did not observe their colour and he did not notice that they had no fragrance. Seeing thousands and thousands of flowers floating down the river, he was filled with joy. “Narada was right!” he shouted. “The flowers have come to me, just as he said.”
Bihunda was so thrilled and excited that he forgot his Guru’s warning. He did not pay any attention to the colour and he did not try to see if the flowers had any fragrance. In his imagination, the flowers were all yellow and fragrant. His joy had transported him to another world.
He gathered all the flowers and started worshipping Lord Shiva. Now, Parvati saw that on earth somebody was worshipping Lord Shiva with flowers that had no fragrance. And the flowers themselves were not charming at all. She said, “This is not the flower that Lord Shiva likes. Who can be so disrespectful to my husband?”
Parvati descended to earth and, with her third eye, she killed the demon Bihunda. She did not need any weapon at that time.
We began our story with Parvati. It was she who asked the Kalpataru tree to give her a young girl. Then this girl’s curse brought about the deaths of the demon Hunda and his son Bihunda, who were mercilessly torturing innocent human beings.