The story of Bhasmasura is to be found in ancient books called the Puranas, which are a storehouse of old, traditional tales. These tales were popularized by the oral tradition of story telling by old people and professional storytellers. However around the 8th century AD these were penned down.
Bhasmasura was a cunning and wicked demon. He had only one aim in life-to become the most powerful being on earth. He wished everyone else to be afraid of him and to acknowledge him as the king.
However he had neither the courage nor the strength to fight and conquer and become a king. For a long time Bhasmasura thought over it. At last he hit upon a plan. He decided to become a devotee of Lord Shiva. Once Lord Shiva was pleased with him, it would be simple to ask for a boon. And by way of a boon Bhasmasura would ask for magical powers. He would ask for something that would straightaway make him the most powerful person on earth.
Having made this plan, Bhasmasura went away to a dense forest. He sat down under a tree and began to pray to Lord Shiva. Bhasmasura prayed for a long time. Some say that he prayed for years on end. At length Lord Shiva appeared before him and said that any boon he asked for will be granted. The crafty Bhasmasura fell at the feet of the omnipotent Lord Shiva. He addressed the lord and said that if Shiva blesses him he does not need anything else. However the lord said that he still owes a boon and it shall definitely be granted.
For a moment Bhasmasura seemed lost in thought. Then he said in all humility that Bhasmasura must be granted to power to destroy his enemies. He desired for a unique power by which he will be able to turn people into ashes by simply placing his hand on their head. Although the lord found the wish to be strange but he granted the wish.
Bhasmasura's head suddenly jerked up. There was a wicked gleam in his eyes. He suggested that he must test his power on the lord himself but before he could experiment with his newfound power the lord vanished.
Bhasmasura now started his reign of terror on earth. He always walked with his right hand outstretched and destroyed people right and left. Enemies, friends, kings and commoners-they were all reduced to ashes. And each time this happened Bhasmasura laughed his hoarse and wicked laugh while declaring his prowess to all.
Not content with destroying people, Bhasmasura turned his attention to the gods in heaven. Climbing snow clad peaks and leaping over rivers was child's play for him. Soon he was in heaven and the lesser gods ran to Lord Shiva who lived on Mount Kailash. They begged him to take back his boon. But so great was the power of the boon granted by Lord Shiva that he himself could not take it back. He could have destroyed Bhasmasura but did not wish to do so since the demon had once been his devotee.
The lesser gods ran to Vishnu. They narrated the whole story and entreated him to help them. Lord Vishnu thought about it for a minute and said that it was not possible for him to take back Lord Shiva's boon. But unable to turn down their request, Lord Vishnu decided to help them. One last bow and the gods went away.
Meanwhile Bhasmasura was charging up the main road of heaven. He looked right and left, trying to find someone whom he could reduce to ashes. But heaven was empty. The palaces and gardens stood silent, without a trace of life. All the gods and goddesses had gone into hiding. Bhasmasura roared on seeing the place empty. He was interrupted at this moment by a voice, sweet as the tinkling of a silver bell.
Bhasmasura turned in the direction of the sound and stood rooted to the spot. There, right in front of him, stood the most beautiful young woman that he had ever seen. She was tall and slender and her face seemed to glow through the veil that fell over her forehead. Bhasmasura stared at her for a long time. At last he managed to find his voice and asked about his identity.
The woman replied that she was Mohini and lived with her parents in the forest nearby. The she took a close look at him and said that he Bhasmasura looked exhausted. He can rest for a while at her home which was not really far away. She talked and he listened. And as she moved away, he followed as in a dream. Mohini seemed to float over the ground. After a while they came to an open meadow and Mohini sat down to rest on a rock. Bhasmasura was waiting for just such an opportunity. He went down on his knees before her, folded his hands and begged her to marry him.
Mohini laughed outright. Her laugh was even sweeter than her smile. At the very sound of it, Bhasmasura fell even more deeply in love with her. She refused to marry him as she thought he was already married. At this Bhasmasura protested and said that he was still the most eligible bachelor around.
Mohini looked him up and down. Then she turned up her nose again and expressed her doubt that there is no assurance that he will not marry someone after her. Quite desperate by now, Bhasmasura declared that of he married her then he will never take a second wife.
Mohini was still doubtful and then she asked him to take an oath properly. She instructed him to turn straight to the rising sun, stand straight and then close his eyes. As Bhasmasura closed his eyes Mohini asked him to place her right hand on his head. The moment he did this he was turned into ashes.
That very minute Mohini also changed her shape. In place of a beautiful young woman stood a smiling Lord Vishnu. From all four corners of heaven, the lesser gods began to pour in to thank him for saving their lives.