Lord Vishnu holds the title of being one of the three titular Gods in Hinduism. A third of the Holy Trinity, Lord Vishnu is the preserver and nurturer of the universe.
Lord Vishnu, the preserver, and sustainer in Hindu mythology, manifested in ten divine incarnations known as the Dashavatar. These incarnations are meant to restore balance, destroy evil forces, and guide humanity towards righteousness, ensuring peace and prosperity prevailed across the earth.
Out of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, the avatar of Narasimha is often considered to be the most furious of them all.
Why Did Lord Vishnu Take Narasimha Avatar?
With ten avatars taken in different forms to quell various evils, Lord Vishnu is believed to have taken the Narasimha avatar as his fourth avatar. The form is portrayed as a half-lion, half-human, to confront the demon king Hiranyakashipu.
The demon king Hiranyakashipu, known for his tyranny and arrogance, had acquired a remarkable boon from one of the powerful deities, Lord Brahma. Through an extended and intense period of penance, Hiranyakashipu had become virtually invincible. This bestowed power made him a formidable force, allowing him to torment and oppress both humans and gods alike.
Due to the nature of his boon, no one was able to defeat him in conventional forms. Therefore, Lord Vishnu manifested as Narasimha to uphold righteousness, protect his devotee Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu's son, and ultimately vanquish the evil king, restoring order and establishing justice.
The Story Of Narasimha Avatar of Lord Vishnu
Origin And Significance Of Narasimha Avatar Of Vishnu
There are several stories on how Lord Narasimha, one of the sacred avatars of Lord Vishnu had come to be. While some scholars hold onto their belief of the Narasimha avatar originated in the Vedas, there are other instances that could prove otherwise.
1. Vishnu Hymn in the Rigveda (1.154):
“For this, his mighty deed Visnu lauded, like some wild beast, dread, prowling, mountain−roaming; He within whose three wide−extended paces all living creatures have their habitation.”
2. Indra-Namuchi Legend in the Shatpatha Brahmana of the Yajurveda (12.7.3):
“By means of the Surâ-liquor Namuchi, the Asura, carried off Indra’s (source of) strength, the essence of food, the Soma drink. He (Indra) hasted up to the Asvins and Sarasvatî, crying, ‘I have sworn to Namuchi, saying, “I will slay thee neither by day nor by night, neither with staff nor with a bow, neither with the palm of my hand nor with the fist, neither with the dry nor with the moist!” and yet has he taken these things from me: seek ye to bring me back these things!”
It has been suggested that the Narasimha form was influenced by the above-mentioned Rigveda line, as well as Asura Hiranyakashipu and his gift from the Yajurveda passage.
Tale of Narasimha Avatar of Lord Vishnu
The fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu is the Narasimha avatar, which is considered to take the form of a half-man half-lion to protect his devotee Prahalad.
Legend has it that Sage Kashyap and his wife Diti had two sons named Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu in the Satya Yuga. Both were notorious for wreaking havoc on both humans and angels. In response to the prayers of the distressed gods and humans, Lord Vishnu decided to intervene.
Assuming his third incarnation as a boar, known as the Varaha avatar, Lord Vishnu took his form to eliminate Hiranyaksha. The story goes that Hiranyaksha hides the earth, posing as Bhudevi, in the deep ocean.
Undeterred by the challenge, the Varaha avatar tirelessly searched for the hidden Earth and eventually confronted Hiranyaksha. In a fierce battle, Lord Vishnu, in the form of the boar, defeated the demon and rescued Bhudevi, restoring balance and order to the world.
The Varaha avatar of Lord Vishnu exemplifies his unwavering commitment to protecting his devotees and preserving cosmic harmony.
Battle of the Avatars: Varaha vs. Hiranyaksha
The conflict between the boar avatar and Hiranyaksha was so violent that it rocked the entire universe. Finally, the boar avatar of Lord Vishnu used his tusks to slay Hiranyaksha, and then he used them to lift Earth into the proper orbit around the sun, restoring harmony to the cosmos.
Although a joyous occasion celebrated by both the gods and humanity, their joy was short-lived as Hiranyaksha's brother Hiranyakshipu vowed revenge on Lord Vishnu for killing his brother.
He attempted to destroy the planet with an army of Asuras, but the devas were too powerful. He learned that the devas get their power from Lord Vishnu, and vowed that he would be the one to bring about the deity's destruction.
He set out towards the woods, to pray to Lord Brahma for the gift of eternal life. He was in deep penance for several years.
Lord Narada’s Role
With Hiranyakashipu in deep penance, Lord Indra plotted that the asuras were left without their leader, Hiranyakashipu. Recognizing this as an opportune moment, Indra decided to launch a full-scale attack on the Asuras, hoping to emerge victorious in the war between the gods and demons.
With great might and determination, Indra led his forces into battle, swiftly overpowering the Asuras and causing significant damage to their capital city. When he entered Hiranyakshipu’s palace, he encountered Kayadhu, the wife of the demon king, who was pregnant.
Thinking that capturing her as a hostage could prove to be powerful against Hiranyakashipu, Indra decided to take her prisoner. However, Narada Muni appeared before Indra and did not allow for the same, reminding Lord Indra that Kayadhu was an innocent and defenseless woman, who had no part in the war between the gods and demons.
He implored Indra to release her immediately, as her capture served no purpose other than causing harm to an innocent soul.
Lord Indra heeded his advice. He released Kayadhu, who in her gratitude requested to stay with Narada and serve him as his daughter.
Touched by her plea, Narada compassionately accepted her into his humble abode. There, he shared tales of Lord Vishnu's divine exploits with Kayadhu, instilling within her a deep sense of devotion to the Supreme Lord. These tales were being listened to even by her unborn child, Prahaladha who was destined to become one of the most devoted followers of Lord Vishnu in the future.
The Offering of Boon From Lord Brahma
After many years of intense penance, Hiranyakashipu pleased Lord Brahma, who appeared before him. Lord Brahma offered him a boon, allowing him to ask for anything he desired.
Hiranyakashipu finally opened his eyes and requested the gift of immortality, but Lord Brahma explained that such a boon was not possible. Undeterred, Hiranyakashipu was left to ask for something else. Instead of immortality, he asked for death to elude him in the form of any human, animal, or deity.
He further asked to be immune to all weapons, whether living or inanimate and to not be killed at any time–day or night, any place–indoors or outdoors, in the sky or on the ground. Lord Brahma granted Hiranyakashipu's wishes, bestowing upon him these extraordinary powers.
Hiranyakashipu became unconquerable after being awarded the boon from Lord Brahma. This allowed him to defeat Lord Indra, the king of Gods, making Hiranyakashipu the ruler of all three worlds. Hiranyakashipu then forced everyone to renounce their deities and proclaimed himself as a God. Worshipers of Lord Vishnu were tortured and killed.
Story Of Prahlada
Prahlada, the son of Hiranyakashipu, emerged as a devoted follower of Lord Vishnu. When Hiranyakashipu discovered his son's unwavering devotion, he grew furious. Hiranyakashipu tried to assert his own supremacy over Lord Vishnu, urging Prahlada to abandon his worship. However, Prahlada remained steadfast in his devotion to Lord Vishnu, refusing to yield to his father's demands.
Enraged by his son's defiance, Hiranyakashipu ordered his soldiers to execute Prahlada as a punishment. The soldiers attempted to harm him with their swords, but mysteriously, the blades could not touch him. They resorted to using elephants to trample him, but even the mighty beasts refused to harm Prahlada. In a desperate attempt, they plunged him into a cauldron of boiling oil, yet Prahlada remained unscathed.
Unable to comprehend Prahlada's invulnerability, Hiranyakashipu devised a plan involving his sister, Holika, who possessed immunity to fire. He commanded Holika to sit on a pyre, holding Prahlada on her lap. However, to Hiranyakashipu's astonishment, it was Holika who succumbed to the flames, reduced to ashes, while Prahlada emerged unharmed once again.
In a fit of anger, Hiranyakashipu seized Prahlada and demanded to know if his beloved Lord Vishnu was present in their immediate surroundings. Prahlada, in response, said that the Lord resided everywhere, including the very space they occupied. Frustrated by Prahlada's unwavering faith, Hiranyakashipu taunted him, questioning if Vishnu resided within a nearby pillar.
Unfazed, Prahlada boldly proclaimed that indeed Lord Vishnu was present within the pillar. Consumed by rage and disbelief, Hiranyakashipu lashed out at the pillar, delivering a forceful kick. To his astonishment, the pillar shattered, revealing a manifestation that embodied both the power of a lion and the form of a man. The ferocious and mighty Narasimha, ready to confront and defeat the Hiranyakashipu.
In the twilight hour, in a place neither indoors nor outdoors, but on his lap, by neither a man nor a beast, neither in the skies nor on the ground, Narasimha tore open Hiranyakashipu with his bare hands.
Symbolism And Teachings Of Narasimha Avatar
The half-lion, half-man form symbolizes the union of divine and human qualities, representing the ultimate balance between power and compassion. It teaches us that the divine can manifest in unexpected ways to protect righteousness and defeat evil.
Narsimha's emergence from a pillar signifies that the divine presence is omnipresent and can arise even from the most unexpected sources. The avatar teaches us the importance of fearlessness in the face of adversity and the ultimate victory of good over evil through unwavering devotion to righteousness.
What Happened To Narasimha Avatar Of Lord Vishnu After He Killed Hiranyakashipu?
The aftermath of the manifestation of the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu, Narasimha usually follows two narratives. In one of the stories, it is believed that after killing Hiranyakashipu, Lord Narasimha went to Vaikuntha, often referred to as the abode of Lord Vishnu, and united with him.
The other story has a more violent take to it. Legends have it that even after killing Hiranyakashipu, the wrath that Lord Narasimha had did not subside, and fearing the annihilation of the whole world, the devas went and preached to Lord Shiva for help. The scriptures then follow Lord Shiva taking the form of Sharabha and killing Lord Narasimha.
A well-known story of one of the most popular avatars of Lord Vishnu, the avatar of Lord Vishnu called Narasimha stands as a warning that come what may, evil will always perish in the face of righteousness.