Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Narasimha - The Man-lion


We saw in the previous story how Hiranyaksha was killed by the Varaha incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyaksha's brother Hiranyakashipu succeeded his brother to the throne. His realm covered the entire earth. If people had rejoiced at the death of the tyrant Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashipu quickly dispersed their hopes of better conditions with his own reign of terror. If anything, he was more of a tyrant than his elder brother. He never forgot that Vishnu killed his brother, so he forbade everyone in his realm from worshiping Vishnu. The penalty for praying to Vishnu was death.

His son Prahalada was a great devotee of Vishnu. It pained him to see his father abusing Vishnu's name at every opportunity. However, he contented himself with praying to Vishnu. His teachers, with great trepidation, brought this matter to the attention of his father. Hiranyakashipu was aghast. He summoned his son and said, "O Prahalada, do you not know that Vishnu is the sworn enemy of our clan? He always sides with the Devas in their battle against us Asuras. How can you worship that coward, who killed your uncle Hiranyaksha? Do you not know that no tactic is too low to be used by that chandala (outcast) against our kinsmen? Many people pray to him out of fear, are you one of them? Know that he is powerless against me. One day or the other, I shall destroy him and bring the ultimate victory to our clan!".

Prahalada replied, "Dear father, it pains me to hear you speak so unbecomingly about the Lord of the universe. He is Janardhana (lord of the world), he is without beginning, without end. He always was, and always will be. He is the source from which all life sprang, he is peerless. He killed my uncle to save the world from a tyrant. It is not too late for you. Give up your unreasonable hatred, and turn your thoughts to his devotion. You may yet achieve salvation, if you spend the rest of your days in prayer to he whose glory cannot be measured."

Naturally, these words of Prahalada inflamed the anger of the Asura King. He tried to reason with his son, to turn him from his devotion to Vishnu, but to no avail. This made him so angry, that he ordered his son to be put to death. According to the custom of those times, Prahalada was buried neck-deep in the sand and an elephant was brought in to decapitate him. Prahalada was deep in meditation, unwavering in his devotion, even in the face of death. Lo! and a miracle happened. The elephant that was brought to kill him, instead knelt in front of him in a mark of respect. When this was conveyed to Hiranyakashipu, he then ordered that his son be killed by throwing him off a cliff. Vishnu saved his devotee from this death also.

In desperation, Hiranyakashipu decided that it was time that he took matters in his own hands. Verily, if you want a thing to be done right, you ought to do it yourself was his motto. It was natural that Hiranyakashipu hated Vishnu, but it must seem odd that he was not afraid of Vishnu, despite the example of his elder brother's death. There was a reason behind it. When Hiranyakashipu heard of Hiranyaksha's death, he decided that he must obtain powerful boons to ward off death. Accordingly, he performed penance towards Lord Brahma. When the Lord appeared before him, he asked for the boon of immortality. Upon being told that it was not possible, he then asked for the following boon, "May I not die either during the day or the night. Let me not be killed either by Man or Beast or the immortals. Let death not approach me on the earth, or in the sky or in water. I should not die either inside a house or outside it. I should not be harmed by any weapon." Brahma had granted him this boon, and Hiranyakashipu was therefore sure that he had become immortal.

He tried one last time to persuade his son. He reminded him of his lineage, the illustrious Asuras who had been done to death by Vishnu. It was of no use, Prahalada was steadfast in his devotion. Incensed, Hiranyakashipu taunted his son saying, "I am going to kill you now. Do you really believe that Vishnu will come here to save you? I almost wish that coward would put in an appearance, for that will give me an opportunity to avenge my brother's death. Where is that chandala hiding? Is he lurking behind this pillar? Is he watching this scene?"

Prahalada said, "The Lord is everywhere. He pervades this earth. He is there in this pillar, he is in the soil, he is all around us. He is omniscient and omnipotent!"

Hiranyakashipu further taunted him by saying, "If Vishnu is really in this pillar, I shall kick this pillar and scare him out of hiding. Watch!". With this taunt, he kicked the nearby pillar. The pillar split into two. From inside it, emerged a strange creature. It had the face of a lion and the body of a man. It let out a mighty roar, that shook the very foundation of the palace. This was none other than Vishnu, in his Narasimha (man-lion) avatar. In one jump, he reached the place where Hiranyakashipu was standing and then lifting him effortlessly, carried him to the doorway of the palace. There he placed him on his thigh, raised the thigh in the air and tore his body with his sharp claws. The time was evening, (which is neither night nor day). Hiranyakashipu was killed right there at the doorway (that is neither inside nor outside a house), by the claws of Narasimha (not a weapon), by a creature that was neither man nor a beast, and on the thigh, which was neither on earth nor in the sky. Thus, the cruel Asura, who thought that he had found a foolproof way to immortality, paid the price for his sins with his life.

Even after killing Hiranyakashipu, the anger of Narasimha was not appeased. He turned upon the other Asuras and would have killed them all, if not for Prahalada. Prahalada chanted the holy names of Vishnu and chanted praises of the Lord. The wrath of the Lord was appeased. He spared the lives of Prahalada's kinsmen. He blessed his devotee and told him to rule the kingdom following the path of truth. After this Narasimha vanished.

Prahalada ruled for a long time before he attained salvation after his death. His was the progenitor of a line of great kings, among whom his grandson Bali is the most famous.

Prev | Next

Last Modified At: Tue Oct 19 20:15:41 2004