Nara and Narayana are twin sages who are the incarnated avatars of Lord Vishnu. Nara means human, and Narayana refers to the supreme Lord. Their purpose of the incarnation was to maintain Dharma on earth. Ancient texts mentioned them as the twin sages who came to earth to eradicate evils and establish virtue and righteousness.
They were widely known as Krishna and Arjuna in Mahabharata, who fought against evils to protect Dharma on earth. Bhagavata Purana mentions Nara-Narayana as the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu on earth.
Various Hindu texts state the sages were the sons of the Dharma (one of the mind-born sons of Lord Brahma) and Murti (daughter of Daksha).
Since their childhood, these twins have been inseparable. Nara and Narayana went to Badrinath, where they spent their lifetime performing deep austerities for the welfare of humankind. To test them, even Lord Shiva threw his most destructive divine weapon, Pashupatastra, at them. However, the weapon lost its power as it reached near them because of their intense penance and devotion. Lord Shiva realized that they were at the highest level of Samadhi.
Stories of Nara and Narayana
There are stories about Nara and Narayana in Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata, here are a few such stories about these beautiful twin sages.
Urvashi is a heavenly nymph well-known as the most beautiful apsara (nymph) with excellent dancing skills. The Bhagavat Purana describes her birth story.
Once Lord Nara and Narayana were doing austerity in the Badrinath. Their energy was so intense that it scared the Lord of heaven, Indra. So, to interrupt the twin sages from their penance, Lord Indra sent Kamadeva (the god of love and lust) and celestial nymphs (Apsaras).
Apsaras tried their best efforts to disturb Nara and Narayana but failed. Instead, Lord Narayana placed a flower on his thigh from which a beautiful apsara emerged. Her beauty and charm were so overpowering, making even the heavenly apsaras and Kamadeva return to heaven in shame. Since the apsara originated from the thigh (Uru) of Narayana sage, she was named Urvashi.
Knowing the intention of Kamadeva, Basanta (spring), and apsaras, Nara-Narayana was not angry with them. Instead, they requested to take Urvashi with them to heaven.
According to Bhagavata Purana, the Badrinath region or Badrikashram is the sacred place where the twin avatar of Lord Vishnu, Nara-Narayana, are still meditating since ancient times for the well-being of living beings. Nearby the Badrinath temple, there are statues dedicated to the great Nara-Narayana.
The epic Mahabharata mentioned Lord Krishna as the supreme Lord and Arjuna as Nara, the companion of Narayana. Chandra Deva (the moon god) said to all Devas that in Dwapar Yuga, sage Nara would be born as Indra’s son, and his son would be Arjuna’s mighty son Abhimanyu. Even the sage Veda Vyasa validated in Bhagavata Purana that Arjuna and Krishna as the incarnation of Nara Narayana in Dwapar Yuga.
In Vana Parva (the book of the forest), Lord Krishna also talks about this to Arjuna.
You belong to me and I belong to you. Everything mine is yours and yours is mine. Those who dislike you, dislike me too. You are Nara and I am Narayana. We are the twin sages who came to this earth with a great purpose. Finally, I came from you and you came from me. So, there is no one that can distinguish you and me.Shri Krishna
Even Lord Shiva told Arjuna about his previous life, which he failed to remember. Therefore, In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna himself told Arjuna, “Oh dear Arjuna! we both took numerous births which you have no memories of, but I remember everything.”
In Treta Yuga, King Dambhodabhava turned evil to become the supreme being in the universe. So, he performed severe penance for thousands of years to please the Surya Deva. Pleased with the king, the Sun-god offered him a thousand pieces of armor attached to his body. To kill him, one has to do penance for a thousand years, and each time one armor got destroyed, that person died.
With such immense power, he started creating destruction all over the world. So, to eradicate him, Nara-Narayana challenged him to a fight. Nara fought with Sahasrakavacha while Narayana meditated for a thousand years. Both of them alternatively took turns to fight against Sahasrakavacha and meditate.
Finally, leaving Sahasrakavacha with the last armor. To avoid his death, Sahasrakavacha asked the sun god for assistance. The sun god promised Sahasrakavacha for protection.
At the same time, there was Yuga change which provided Sahasrakavacha with an opportunity to escape death. The very moment Narayana declared both he and Nara would reincarnate as Krishna and Arjuna to eliminate Karna (Sahasrakavacha) in the Dwapar Yuga.
During the Mahabharata war, Lord Indra took the form of a brahmin and asked for his armor which Karna donated easily. Without protection from the last armor, Arjuna was able to kill Karna.
The son of Asura King Hiranyakashipu, Prahlad was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. Once, he asked the Chyavan rishi, “which is the most sacred place on earth for pilgrimage?”. The sage replied that Naimisharanya was the one. So Prahlad went with his followers, and there they saw the twin sages meditating under a tree pierced by arrows. Prahlad asked the sages about the weapons, and in their response, the sages replied those who work as per their abilities earn respect. Such responses angered Prahlad, and they all started fighting for thousands of years.
At last, Prahlad got defeated and went to Vaikuntha (resident of Lord Vishnu) and asked Lord Vishnu about his defeat. The Lord said one of the sages, Narayana, was himself. Knowing the facts, Prahlad went to Nara and Narayana and apologized for his mistake.