Categories: Hindu God and Goddess

Nara-Narayana:The Dual Incarnation of Vishnu

The term “Nara-Narayana” originates from Sanskrit and consists of two components: “Nara” meaning ‘male being’ and “Narayana,” the name of Lord Vishnu. According to ancient texts, Nara-Narayana were twin sages who descended to Earth with the mission of upholding righteousness and eliminating wrongdoing, thus restoring balance and virtue.


In depictions of Nara-Narayana, they can be shown either together or individually. In separate portrayals, Nara is often depicted with two hands and adorned in deer skin attire. On the right side, Narayana takes the form of Vishnu. Nara is typically depicted with a fair complexion, while Narayana’s portrayal leans towards a darker complexion.

Birth of Nara-Narayana


The birth of Nara-Narayana is attributed to the god Dharma, with the duo emerging as sages. They played a pivotal role in vanquishing demons during the Samudra Manthan (Churning of the Milky Ocean). Nara received the elixir from Indra for safekeeping. According to the Vamana Purana, the twins were born to Dharma, the offspring of Brahma, and his spouse Murti (Daksha‘s daughter or Ahimsa). They resided in Badrinath for a millennium.

Stories of Nara-Narayana

Birth of Urvashi


As per the Bhagavata Purana, Urvashi’s birth originates from the meditation of sages Nara-Narayana. Once, while these sages meditated in the sacred Badrinath shrine in the Himalayas, their profound penance caught the notice of the devas. Indra, the leader of devas, dispatched Kamadeva, Rati, Vasanta (spring), and several apsaras (nymphs) like Menaka and Rambha to disrupt their devotion with desires of passion. Sage Narayana placed a flower on his thigh, giving rise to an extraordinarily beautiful nymph. She outshone the apsaras, leaving them embarrassed and disheartened as they returned to heaven. Narayana sent this nymph named Urvashi back with them to Indra. As she was born from the sage’s thigh (Uru in Sanskrit), she was named Urvashi. Following the apsaras’ departure, the divine sages resumed their meditation.

Lord Shiva and Nara-Narayana

According to the Mahabharata, Lord Shiva‘s trishula, having devastated Daksha’s yajna, ventured to Badarikasrama. There, it pierced Narayana’s chest as he meditated. Narayana’s resounding ‘Hum’ expelled the trident from his breast, returning it to Shiva. Determined to punish sages, Shiva broke Nara’s grass-turned-axe. In Shaiva tradition, Sage Narayana’s intense penance at Badarikasrama pleased Shiva, rendering him invincible.

Badrikashram (Badrinath)


The Bhagavata Purana states that in Badrikashram (Badrinath), the Divine Vishnu incarnated as the sages Nara and Narayana. These sages engaged in profound penance for the eternal benefit of all living beings. The Mahabharata and Puranas also tell of Nara-Narayana’s rigorous austerities on Mount Gandhamadana in the Badrinath region.

Nara-Narayana and Karna

During the Treta Yuga, King Dambhodabhava turned to evil and sought ultimate power by undergoing rigorous penance for thousands of years to please Surya , the sun god. As a reward, he received a thousand armors attached to his body, granting him invulnerability. To defeat him, one had to endure a thousand years of penance for each armor, and when an armor was destroyed, the person perished.

With this immense power, he unleashed destruction upon the world. In response, Nara-Narayana confronted him. Nara engaged with Sahasrakavacha, while Narayana meditated for a thousand years. They took turns battling Sahasrakavacha and meditating.

Ultimately, Sahasrakavacha was left with only one armor. To evade his impending demise, Sahasrakavacha sought the aid of Surya Deva, who promised protection.

Nara-Narayana and Prahlada

Prahlada, the asura king, ventured to the sacred Naimisa forest with his army, aiming to witness Vishnu’s vision. While hunting along the Sarasvati river, he encountered two matted-haired ascetics, armed with bows. Curious about their weapons during penance, Prahlada questioned them. The ascetics explained that those in power should be righteous. A challenge arose, and Prahlada fought them. Despite using powerful arrows and divine weapons, he realized his defeat. Seeking Vishnu’s help, he learned that the ascetics were Nara-Narayana, sons of Yama, invincible through devotion. Prahlada conceded, left his rule to Andhaka, and built an ashrama to apologize and worship Nara-Narayana.

Nara-Narayana in Mahabharata

The Mahabharata presents Lord Krishna as the supreme deity and Arjuna as Nara, the companion of Narayana. Chandra Deva, the moon god, prophesied that in the Dwapar Yuga, sage Nara would be born as Indra’s son, whose offspring would include the mighty Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son. Sage Veda Vyasa further confirmed in the Bhagavata Purana that Arjuna and Krishna were incarnations of Nara Narayana in the Dwapar Yuga.

In the Vana Parva (Book of the Forest), Lord Krishna shared this revelation with Arjuna:

We share an unbreakable bond. What is mine is yours, and vice versa. Those who harbor ill will toward you do so toward me as well. You are Nara, and I am Narayana. We, the twin sages, descended to this earth with a significant purpose. Ultimately, I originated from you, and you from me. Hence, there exists no distinction between you and me.

Even Lord Shiva revealed to Arjuna his past life, which he had forgotten. Consequently, in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna personally conveyed the same knowledge to Arjuna.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4, Verse 5

Shree Bhagavaan uvaacha:
bahooni me vyateetaani janmaani tava chaarjuna;
taanyaham veda sarvaani na tvam vettha parantapa.

Meaning: The Supreme Lord said: Many births of Mine and yours have passed, O Arjuna. I know them all, but you do not know, O scorcher of foes (Arjuna).


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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