Narada, the celestial sage was restless. It has been ages that he had done any "kalaha" in devaloka. I don't think that there is any better word than "kalaham" to describe Narada's acts. The closest I can come to translate is "mischief" though that word carries more connotations to it than just "mischief". If you know of any such word in English, let me know. But I bet there isn't.
Sage Narada is a composer and singer. Just as Lord Kartikeya got a favorite raga Shanmukhapriya, just as Goddess Lakshmi has a favorite raga Ramapriya, just as Nandi has a favorite raga Rishabhapriya, just as Lord Shiva has a favorite raga Rudrapriya, and Vishnu has a favorite raga Shri, Narada too has a favorite raga - "Kalahapriya". I dont know its arohana or avarohana - but I can take a guess to say that it has too much of vakra sancharas in it. He probably is the creator of this raga and therefore he is sometimes called as "Kalahapriya Narada".
When was the last kalaham he did? He couldnt even remember it. It was probably in Thiruvilayadal. But now he was determined. But the most difficult part is: "Where shall I start?".
"Ah! By the way Indra is throwing a party tonight. They had won a cricket match against the Asuras. In Krita yuga, devas and asuras fought over each other by churning the milky way. Now that those galaxies are already much dispersed and left with reduced density, there is nothing much to churn. As far as Kali yuga is concerned, a simple one day match could decide who won. Yugas have really changed. Whoa! That was a really exciting and gripping match. The Asuras fought really well, I should admit. Their coach Kripacharya is really shrewd one. And their tail-end is really good. The last pair of tail-enders, Rahu and Ketu batted out the final five overs. For the Devas, Agni was the best pick of the bowlers. His fiery first few overs stands a class apart. And Varuna's spell is worth mentioning.
"The devas chase really interesting. The physiotherapist Danvantri was around to heal the wounds if any caused by asura bowling. Anyway the devas have won and have a reason to celebrate. It would only be proper to imagine that they are all getting drunk over the victory". Thinking thus Narada reached the hermit of Tumburu.
Tumburu wasn't home. What happened to this guy? Has he gone to party out? He too has changed a lot in recent yugas. Earlier he used to be a lonely singer roaming in Himalayas. Now he has got a band! Imagine the nerve of him to form a band! It has a funny name too - "The Band Harvas".
The sound from the Indrasabha hall was loud and garrulous. Chanting the mantra "Narayana! Narayana!!" Narada reached the party. He stood in a corner and started observing the dancing devas and devis. Thumburu was on a podium with his Thambura, joined with a couple of Gandharvas from Chitrakoota. One had a veena attached with a strap hanging around his shoulders. Another was carrying a dholak on one hand, a WinZipped version of dumru on the other hand and some flute like instrument was in front of his mouth. Don't ask me how he was holding it. It is a gandharva magic. Chitrakoota, the capital of Gandharvas has now got a new sobriquet - "The Gandharva Motown". The people born there are prenatally skilled in music. When the citizens rise in music, take bath in music, go to bed in music and give birth in music, it is no surprise that everyone is skilled in music. "The Band Harvas" were singing a song that was hardly legible. Is the song really in Sanskrita? wondered Narada.
The devis were dancing in the center of the hall. Fresh faces were seen apart from the traditional Ramba, Urvasi and Thilothama. The Devas were also dancing scattered around the hall, some with devis and some alone. There in the corner is Indra, seated in a table, all alone. He had a large pitcher in his hand and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the soma rasa. Well, his enjoyment is going to be short-lived, as Narada approached him.
"Narayana, Narayana, Congratulations on your win O Indra", Narada began in his inimitable style.
"Oh! Is it Sage Narada I see? Pranam O venerable sage! What is a sage doing in a party for Devas?" Indra too wasn't less political in his reply.
"Just checking on you, in case I have anything to report to Shiva, the God of Gods". Narada said in his inimitable sarcastic tone. Indra now realized that he was talking to Narada, the unbeatable in creating kalaham-s and is a favorite of Lord Vishnu. He thought to himself "If this guy reports to Lord Vishnu about the fun the other devas are having in this party, I could be in trouble. I better not mess with him". What he didn't realize was he had already fell for the sage's plot.
"What can I do for O veritable Sage" asked Indra.
"Nothing Indra, I just came to congratulate you. Your captain's knock helped the team win the trophy! I could not have imagined what would happen if the Asuras had won..."
"You are right! It is because of your support we won..."
Narada hadnt yet finished his previous sentence: "...especially when the stakes are high !"
Indra willing to change subject said: "Victory is all that matters! O Narada"
"You are right O Indra! But aren't you getting a little selfish?"
"Wh... what .. what? Can you explain me O Celestial Singer?" Indra stumbled a bit.
"Your bhaktas in Bharatavarsha are getting humiliated with defeats. The weakest teams, when they meet the Indian team on the field, emerge the strongest with greater self-confidence. Is it enough if you win against the Asuras? Should you not help the Indian Cricket team? They pray you and Agni for helping them. They even pray Varuna to bring rains when they are on the edge of defeat! But nothing seems to happen. If I may say so, Lord Vishnu is a bit upset that bhaktas are ignored..."
Indra was frightened. He remembered how Vishnu protects his bhaktas at anybodys cost. If this guy complains to Vishnu that he is ignoring the bhaktas and partying out, he may find himself in trouble. He quickly wanted to amend for that.
"O Narada, the giver of generous boons! It is due to my ignorance that I am in such an ignorance. Could you please advice me on what can I do?"
"I don't really know O the best among Devas! But I think its time for Indian cricket team to have some person who can really win matches. May be you can think something along those lines..."
Indra became cautious. What is this guy getting at? If I send some deva to play in the Indian team and if the team still loses, because of other 10 members, he would yet be blamed. If he didn't send any deva to join the team he would be blamed again for not taking care of bhaktas. A catch 22 situation. This Narada is very clever. But wait a minute, here is an idea...
"O Sage Narada! The Indian team loses consecutively and the commentators are heard saying that 'only Bhagavan can help them'. Why dont we ask Lord Vishnu to take an avataar to play for Indian team?"
Narada was smarter than Indra on any account. "O Indra! That is a fantastic idea! But dharma hasn't really been defeated yet. Vishnu is scheduled to take the Kalki avataar only at the end of the Kali Yuga. Measured in bhuloka-years there are about 427000 years left... But if you along with other devas can convince Vishnu to take a temporary avataar for the protection of his bhaktas, he may concede to your request. After all he is the all merciful Paramatma..."
Indra got the hint. The next morning he summoned all the devas and briefed them about the mission. The devas hadn't recovered from hang-over and so didn't have much to object. And so they all marched to "Kshirasagara" chanting the thousand names of Vishnu.
The dvArapAlakA-s were surprised to see the devas' sudden visit. Indra approached them and offered salutations "Pranam to dvArapAlakA-s"
"Pranam O Indra" they said in unision. "And congratulations on winning the trophy!"
"Why thank you" replied Indra. "I have come to offer my prayers to Lord Vishnu and talk to him about a burning issue."
The dvArapAlakA-s said "You are very welcome O King of the Devas"
Indra followed by other devas reached the sanctum sanctorum. "Namo Narayana" said the devas in unision.
"Welcome O Indra and Devas! I congratulate you on winning the trophy..."
"Its all your mercy O Lord! Without you can a ball swing or reverse-swing? Without you can a bat be wielded? Without you can a wicket be taken? Without you can the umpire raise his finger? Without you can a fielder catch a catch? Salutations to you whom the ball cannot beat, whom the bat cannot miss, for whom there are no boundaries. Salutations to you the effulgent one, who is neither the game played nor the game not played nor both, neither the victory nor the loss nor both! Salutations to you O Existence-Knowledge-Bliss!"
Lord Vishnu smiled and said "What brings you here O Indra?"
Indra said "O Lord! It is said that the wise ones should not lose their head on their victory. Even though we won against the asuras we still are not rejoicing. We are worried very much about how our bhaktas are being defeated day-in and day-out against all the opposition teams. We have come here to request you to help our bhaktas in re-strengthening the team and instilling confidence in them. We would like you to take an avataar to play for Indian cricket team"
Lord Vishnu smiled again and said politely "O Best among Devas! I take avataar only on purpose of defeating adharma and not because of the defeat of Indian cricket team. The Indian team doesn't win because they don't bat well, bowl well or field well. They are paying for their own karma. It is nothing that I can do about!"
Indra didn't relent "But is it not in your realms to take care of the suffering and the anguish of the bhaktas? If not for the Indian team you should at least take an avataar for the cricket fans. It is aching to see the fans spend money and cheer up for the team, but return back from the stadium disappointed. Is it fair? Even poor Indian families buy new TV sets to watch their team play, yet they are disappointed by their team due to lack of application? Is it not disheartening? At least for the sake of the fans you should take an avataar and play in Indian team! Only you can take an avataar so that not only will the Indian fans relish your game, but every cricket fan in the world would love to watch your game. It is possible only by you, O Lord of Lords, O Purushottama, not by us, mere devas!"
The All-merciful Paramatma was moved by the pleading of Indra and other devas. "Your wish will be granted O Indra! Even though I am scheduled to take Kalki avataar only by the end of the Kali Yuga, for the protection of the Indian cricket, and the defeat of other teams, and to establish the Cricket Dharma, I concede to take an avataar".
The Devas were pleased. They showered flowers on the Lord. They chanted mantras to please Lord Vishnu and shouted "Om Peace be with all Om".
As always, Narada's kalaham has ended in a good note. For Vishnu now has a job to do. For the Indians the Lord himself has arrived to save Indian Cricket.
And for the rest of the audience in the world - well, they simply have to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat.
(Note: I wrote this article almost 12 years ago when Sachin made a superlative century against Australia in Sharjah. I think the article still holds true and is a tribute to him for his 200 in ODI).