Thursday, March 3, 2011

Badrinath Stories - Ghantakarna the door keeper

Ghantakarna’s statue is on the right side of the gate at Badrinarayan temple. He is the door-keeper. Ghanta means bell and karna means ear. He is also know as Ghantyaal or Ghantawala.  Ghantakarna was a ferocious devil who used to wear bells on his ears so that he does not have to hear the name of Vishnu. This guy caused death and destruction wherever he went. Although he hated Vishnu, he was a devout follower of Shiva and spent thousands of years in worshipping and meditating on him.

As is the case in these situations, the god being prayed to, in this case Lord Shiva got pleased with Ghantakarna and asked him to beg a boon, or as we say these days - make a wish. Ghantakarna turned out to be quite an experienced hand at this and instead of asking for something very trivial or worldly asked to be liberated from life, give me moksha, he said. He said something like - ‘Oh Lord of Lords, if you are happy with me, then please liberate me from life’. This is the ultimate goal of living beings in eastern religions - to get liberated from the cycle of birth so that you don’t have to go through the pleasures and miseries of life over and over again.

Now, this is a big deal, and you can’t give these kind of boons so easily, after all sages and munis spend many lifetimes striving for this ultimate goal, and here was this man eating, ferocious demon asking for this boon. More important, people who have hatred in their heart cannot be liberated, Ghantakarna loved Shiva but hated Lord Narayan. Lord Shiva tried to offer him a compromise solution - he said, ‘Son, you can ask for money, property, or anything else and I will grant it to you, but I can’t give you liberation’. And then he added a kicker, and said, ‘if you really want to be liberated, Lord Mannarayan can liberate you, go under his shelter’.

This is not the response Ghantakarna wanted, but instead of getting mad he felt remorse. He was sad, because he saw no option but failure, how could Lord Narayan, the object of his hatred ever forgive him, let alone liberate him. Thinking about this he started crying loudly, like a child. Shiva said to him, ‘Son, don’t lose hope and don’t be afraid, Lord Mannarayan loves his devotees. He will forgive all your sins if you go to him with a pure heart. He is at Dwarka now as Krishna, go there and ask for his shelter’. Ghantakarna, with tears in his eyes and chant of the lord on his lips set off for Dwarka. On reaching Dwarka he learnt that Sri Krishna had left for Kailash to pray to Lord Shiva for a son. This was quite perplexing, Shiva had asked him to come to Krishna and Krishna had gone to pray to Shiva. Anyway, instead of trying to figure out the meaning of it all, he started back for Kailash.

On his way back to Kailash, he reached Badrikashram and found many saints offering their prayer to Lord Narayan. Ghantakarna, joined them and started chanted Narayan’s name loudly. Lord Krishna was also at Badrikashram at the time, meditating (it is all about right time, right place!). When Lord Krishna heard Ghantakarna loudly chanting his name, he opened his eyes and asked him who he was and what he was doing in this place. (Sometimes you wonder why these exchanges take place, because the lord is supposed to know everything. This ploy is similar to actors in plays and movies saying out their thoughts loud, so the audience or reader gets the full picture). Ghantakarna did not know that he was talking to Krishna and gave him the whole story and also expressed his doubt about getting any favors back from Krishna. He then started meditating deeply and lost sense of his body and went into samadhi. Sri Krishna was very pleased to see such devotion and appeared to him in his divine form and told him, ‘Ghantakarna, from today you will stop all your violent activities and enjoy the luxuries of heaven’. Ghantakarna was very pleased to get the lords darshan. From that day he stayed at Badrikashram as the Lords door keeper, and after his death went to heaven.

Ghantakarna in Nepal

There is a different story of Ghantakarna in Nepal. On the14th day of waning half of Hindu month of Sravana people commemorate the death of Ghanta Karna. In Hindu mythology he caused death and destruction wherever he went, until a god in the form of a frog persuaded him to leap into a well, after which the people clubbed him to death and dragged his body to the river to be cremated.

This festival is also known as the Festival of Boys because young boys play a primary role in the celebration of Ghanta Karna's death. This day is observed in Nepal by erecting effigies at various crossroads and making passers-by pay a toll. After they've spent the day collecting tolls and preparing for the Ghanta Karna funeral, the boys tie up the effigy with a rope and throw it in the river. Sometimes the effigy is set on fire before being thrown in the water. Young girls hang tiny dolls on the effigy of Ghanta Karna to protect themselves from the monster.

Children sell iron rings on this day and use the money to buy candy. It is believed that those who have iron nails in the lintels of their homes or are wearing an iron ring will be protected from evil spirits in the coming year.


  1. Thank you for posting the story so succinctly and beautifully. Had heard this story before and was searching for a complete version of the same. I have linked this story in part two of my Bardinath blog -

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