The temple of Asvakranta (also spelt as Ashvakranta),
situated in North Gawahati, is an
important Vaishnava shrine. Asvakranta means 'ascended by horses'. It is
here that Sri Krishna camped with his army before he defeated and killed
According to the Naraka legend, Lord Vishnu placed him as the King of Pragjyotisa. At first Naraka was pious and ruled his country righteously. But soon he became friendly with Bana, King of Sonitpur, a Shaivite king who had become all powerful by propitiating Lord Shiva.
This friendship between the two resulted in King Naraka becoming irreligious and presumptuous. Possessed by demonic ideas ("Asuram Bhavamwadya"), Naraka began to harass the Brahmanas and even neglected the Goddess Kamakhya, who was greatly favoured by Lord Vishnu.
To add to his misfortune, the sage Vashistha visited Kamarupa and wished to worship the Goddess Kamakhya. Naraka refused permit to Vashistha to go to Kamakhya temple whereupon the sage cursed Naraka saying that he would be slain by his father Vishnu and that Goddess Kamakhya would remain hidden during the short duration of his life.
It was at this juncture he sent for Bana for a friendly guidance. Bana's study showed that Indra was a jealous god and he did not tolerate the prosperity and well-being of any one be a man, a 'Raksasa' (demon), a 'Kinnara', or a 'Daitya'. By crooked means and with the help of other gods he was sure to encompass Naraka's downfall.
Bana said that Vishnu was the tutelary god of Indra and Vishnu would not let anybody do any sort of harm to Indra. Whoever worshipped Vishnu for a boon potent against Indra, would be granted one coupled with fatal defects. Though Vishnu was his protector, he had no natural compassion for anybody. He was propitiated by his (Naraka's) mother and so he granted a conditional boon that all would be well with Naraka unless and until he offended the twice born.
Bana also said that Vashistha (also spelt as Vasistha & Basistha) should not be found with fault. So Naraka should try to propitiate Brahma or Shiva. Naraka was convinced by the arguments of Bana and he chose to worship Shiva because he was lying concealed in his own kingdom.
But Naraka's rule became unbearable and at last Vishnu in the person of Krishna came to invade Pragjyotisa. He is said to have halted his army and stabled his horses on the rock opposite to Gawahati, on the north banks of the Brahmaputra River. He killed Naraka and installed his son Bhagadatta or Bhagirath as called by the Muslim writers on the throne.
The Asvakranta temple contains the image of Anantasayin Vishnu, a reclining statue of wonderful workmanship. As laid down in the texts, a tortoise, a frog, and a piece of waterweed is shown supporting Ananta, upon which Vishnu is seen reclining. Of his four arms, the lower left is thrown on the body of the serpent, while the lower right is stretched along the right thigh.
The four - faced Brahma is depicted as sitting on the lotus which has sprung out from the navel of Vishnu. Devi or 'Maha Maya' and the two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha, are standing at one corner. Two rows of 'Naga Kanyas', one on the space between the coil of the serpent, are seen kneeling down at his feet with folded hands. The scene is surrounded by an arch type "Prabhamandala", and the entire carvings appear to be sculptures of high artistic excellence.
A Blessed Place
Asvakranta is considered to be the greatest teertha. According to the "Yogini Tantra", this is a place for gift, recitation of 'Mantras', 'Homa', 'Pinda', meditation and study. There is a popular belief among the devotees that sin as great as a mountain is worn off by a visit to Asvakranta. At the touch of a speck of dust of this place, the most hardened sinner is able to attain salvation.
The salvation that the residents of Asvakranta attain is not to be attained even by residence at Ganga and Pushkarana. Even a slayer of a Brahmana, is absolved of his sin if he practises yoga there; what is gained with great gifts in other teerthas is gained here at Asvakranta with a mere day's fast. The temple is situated just opposite to Gawahati and a visitor can go there by motorboats that are available at Suklesvar Ghat in Gawahati.