The Legend of Narasimha
Narasimha, the fourth incarnation
of God Vishnu, is half-human half-lion and provides a very
fascinating study of the Lord's incarnation in order to
alleviate the sufferings of his devotees. Sage Kashyap had four
wives, Diti, Aditi, Vinita and Kudroo. Diti gave birth to demons
and from Aditi were born gods, while from Vinita was born Garud,
the carrier of Vishnu and the last one Kudroo created the
hydras. Dithi gave birth to Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu.
Vishnu killed Hiranyaksha as he oppressed the devas. At the
death of Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashipu was overpowered with grief.
His mother Dithi was heart-broken. Hiranyakashipu also was
filled with sorrow and it burnt his own heart like fire. He
hated Vishnu and Vishnu's very name was like poison to him. His
blood was boiling with the hatred of Vishnu.
Hiranyakashipu, King of the
Rakshasas, retired to the mountain Mandara and began tapas - the
severe order of penance. Brahma was pleased with his devotion.
He appeared to Hiranyakashipu and said, 'Hiranyakashipu, arise.
I am pleased with your devotion. I have never seen such a severe
meditation before. Ask for whatever you desire.' Hiranyakashipu
replied, "Great Lord, if you will grant my prayer, this is
what I seek: Let not death come to me from any creature created
by you; let me not meet with death either in the house or
outside it; let not my death occur either during the day or at
night; no weapon should cause my death; I should not die either
on land or in the sky."
After this blessing the demon
crossed all bounds in oppression and dethroned Indra, the king
of heavens. The very gods were filled with fear. Indra, along
with the other gods, appeared before Brahma and prayed for
deliverance. Brahma was very much worried and replied that the
demon had become powerful due to the blessings bestowed by him
and he could not destroy him. He also advised Indra to go to
Vishnu, which they did. The gods went to Vishnu and retold their
story of sufferings and said that due to boons given by Brahma
the demon had been indulging in all sorts of oppression. Vishnu
promised to destroy him in due course of time.
Hiranyakashipu had a son named
Prahalad. Right from his very childhood Prahalad was attracted
towards Vishnu and the other gods. Prahalad had not obeyed the
orders of his father not to worship Vishnu. His father tried to
destroy his son in a fit of anger; tying a stone to Prahalad's
body, he was thrown into the river but Vishnu himself stopped
him from drowning. Hiranyakashipu later tried to get Prahalad
trampled under the feet of an elephant but the elephant lifted
Prahalad lovingly by the help of his trunk and put him on its
back. He then built a house and put Prahalad into it and set the
same to fire; even this could not harm Prahalad. The father even
tried to poison the son, but to no avail.
At last the king thundered at the
boy, "You, curse of the family! Have you not yet given up
your evil thoughts? The three worlds tremble at my glance. But
you, my son, how do you dare to disobey me? You are very young;
some one must have misled you and encouraged you. Otherwise you
would not have had such evil ideas and such courage. Tell me who
has shown you such an evil path." The earth shook as the
king roared at the boy. But Prahalad calmly replied, "Dear
father, it was Hari who gave me this courage. He is stronger
than anyone else. You and I, the universe, even Brahma are
nothing before his strength. He is the real Lord of the
All the gods were under the thumb
of the mighty Hiranyakashipu; and here was a mere boy of five
giving him advice. The king of the Rakshasas was mad with anger.
He shouted in rage: "Unlucky fool, your death is near. I am
the Lord of all the worlds, the only master. Is there another?
Where is he? Show him to me." "He is everywhere,"
young Prahlad's answer came without a moment's delay. The king
could no longer control himself through anger. He hit a pillar
with his mace. "Wicked fellow, is he everywhere? You mad
boy, why should he not appear to me in this pillar? I am going
to kill you this very moment. You have been praising Hari as the
Lord of the Universe. Let him come to your help if he can."
So saying he drew out his sword and pounced upon the little boy.
There was a terrible deafening noise as if the universe itself
split into two. Even the very brave Hiranyakashipu stared from
his place at the terrible noise. The courtiers shook with fear
and stood like statues of stone. As the stunned men watched, the
pillar split into two.
There was Sri Hari, in the form
of Narasimha. He had the head of a lion and the body of a man.
(Nara = Man : Simham = Lion). The eyes of this terrible figure
were dazzling and they looked like molten gold. The hair on the
head and the moustache and the beard stood straight and erect.
The sharp and pointed jaws chattered harshly; the tongue
quivered like a sword and was sharp as a dagger. His eyebrows
were close knit. The ears were raised and stood erect. The mouth
gaped like a mountain cave. The two nostrils looked like wells
turned upside down. The body was huge and mountain-like. It
seemed to touch the skies and to stop the very clouds. It had
countless arms. The body was covered with a white substance like
silver. The very sight of the sharp claws made one tremble.
This terrible form split the
pillar and came out. Hiranyakashipu's courtiers had crowded the
hall; but not one dared to look at him, not to speak of ever
approaching him. Narasimha caught Hiranyakashipu with a loud
roar and carried him to the threshold of the hall. He sat on the
threshold with the Rakshasa in his lap. Then he dug his nails
deep into his body and tore it open. He took out the entrails
and wore them round his neck. Thus the wicked asura was finally
killed at the hands of the man-lion, Vishnu. All the asura
bodyguards who fell on Narasimha in fierce rage were crushed
into a lump of flesh in the winking of an eye. After the enemies
were destroyed, Narahari (Vishnu) sat on the throne of the
Rakshasa King, glaring at those around him. The gods showered
flowers from heaven. The Gandharva sang divine music and the
Apsaras, the dancers of heaven, danced in joy. The entire earth
gods praised Vishnu's ways. "Hiranyakashipu got boons from
Lord Brahma; and Narasimha has respected all the promises. For
it is now twilight, which is neither day nor night; the place is
neither outside the house nor inside it, it is the threshold.
Again he was killed neither on land nor in the sky, but on the
lap of the god; he was killed neither by weapons nor by missiles
but torn by nails; no one created by Brahma has killed him nor
was he born in the wombs by ordinary course; it is Vishnu, in
the form of Narasimha, who slew him. O wonder of wonders!"
so they sang the praise of the Lord. But the terrible anger of
Narasimha did not diminish. Even Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu's
wife, was afraid to go near him.
Lord Shiva assumed the form of a
Sarabam, characterised by both an animal and human form with
four hands, eight legs, two wings, a beak of that of a falcon
and fierce flaming eyes, to mollify the angry Narasimha. The two
wings were Kali and Durga. Shiva embraced Narasimha in a tight
hold and cooled his temper by fanning his two wings till
Narasimha gradually calmed down and assumed the yoga posture.
Thus Narasimha became Yoga Narasimhar and Lord Shiva as Sarabam
is wordshipped as Sarabeswarar. The little boy Prahalad touched
the feet of Narasimha with his head in deep devotion. At the
tender touch of Prahalad the Lord was pleased. He grew calm and
anger gave way to kindness. Vishnu gave his blessings to
Prahalad - the true devotee.