Lord Narasimha, which means “Man-lion” in Sanskrit, is an avatar of the Lord Vishnu. He is often depicted as half-man/half-lion: lion head and human torso.
Certain Veera-Vaishnavites like the Hare Krsnas, who are averse and inimical to the Sri Sampradayat, would assert that not only Lord Narasimha but also Lord Vishnu have descended from Lord Krishna.
The history of Lord Narasimha can be found in Srimad Bhagavatam (Canto 7, Chap. 8)
According to the puranic literature, especially Srimad Bhagavatam, after Lord Vishnu had killed the rakshasa, Hiranyaksha, his brother, Hiranyakashipu, had been nourishing the evil intentions to avenge his death.
Mindful of the Lord’s invincibility and prowess, the rakshasa performed stellar austerities to impress Lord Brahma, out of whom he cunningly wheedled boons that he thought would prove potent against his arch enemy, Lord Vishnu:
- That he shall not die within or without any residence
- That he shall not die at dawn or dusk
- That he shall not die on the ground or in the sky.
- That no weapon, nor by any human being or animal shall cause him death.
- That he shall not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving created by Lord Brahma.
- That he shall not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets.
- That he shall not have any rivals.
- That he be the Lord of Lords, having unbridled supremacy over all living entities and presiding deities.
- That he shall enjoy all the glories accrued by this exalted position.
- That he shall have all the mystic powers.
Lord Brahma granted him all that he had asked for.
After this, he was re-united with his wife and son, Prahlada. Trouble and sorrow in the form his only son visited Hiranyakasipu.
Prahlada, though born in the long tradition of demons, had from his conception been deeply devoted to the Lord of the Universe, Lord Vishnu. His devotional fervor stood in opposition to Hiranyakashipu. Scuppered by all his efforts to smother his young son’s love for the Lord, Hiranyakashipu resorted to even murdering his son.
In his final bid to do so, the rakshasa father died at the hands of Lord Vishnu, who came in the form of Lord Narasimha. In answer to the exhaustive, carefully-crafted boons, the Lord took pains to circumvent the conditions laid down in the boons; finally vanquished the demon:
- Hiranyakashipu could not be killed by human, deva or animal. Lord Narasimha was none of these as he was a form of Vishnu incarnated as a part-human, part-animal.
- He killed Hiranyakashipu at twilight (when it was neither day nor night); at the threshold of a courtyard (which neither indoors nor out),
- He killed placing the demon on his thighs (which was neither earth nor space).
- He used his sharp fingernails (which were neither animate nor inanimate) as weapons,
- He disemboweled and killed the demon.
Besides Srimad Bhagavatam, this momentous incident has also been described in the Kurma Purana and Matshya Purana. According to Srimad Bhagavatam, no one, not even Lord Shiva or Lord Vishnu’s divine consort could pacify the Lord in that form. Prahlad, Srimad Bhagavatam says, was the only personality who could get near the ferocious form of the Lord. The story does not end here.
Lord Sharabha Responded to Lord Narasimha
It continues in Shiva Purana, which describes the manifestation of Sharabha (aka Sharabheswar), who is none other than Lord Shiva, who took that avatar in response to the implacable Lord Narashimha, whose ferocity was wrecking havoc in all the three worlds.
Shiva Purana describes Sharabha as one who has thousand arms, with a face of a lion, with matted hair, wings and eight feet. Sharabha Upanishad, however, depicts Sharabha with two heads, two wings, eight legs of the lion with sharp claws and a long tail.
Kalika Purana says Sharabha is black, has four normal feet, and another uplifted four feet; has an enormous body. It also has a long face and nose, nails, eight legs, eight tusks, a cluster of manes, and a long tail. It jumps high repeatedly making a loud cry .
The Shiva Purana recounts that after slaying Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha’s wrath was not appeased. The world trembled, fearing what he might do. When everything else failed, Lord Shiva manifested as the human-lion-bird Sharabha. The purana says that He immobilised Narasimha. Similar accounts can be found in the Linga Purana and Sharabha Upanishad.
In Skanda Purana, we get the impression that there was a fear that Lord Vishnu, who incarnated as Lord Narasimha, might permanently remain in that fierce form — this would be detrimental to His role of doing good deeds.
Hence, the purpose of Lord Shiva assuming the form of Sharabha was to ensure that the lion body of Vishnu was discarded and he got united with his original divine form.
Of course, Veera-Vaishnava would be quick to refute this account of Lord Narasimha and Sharabha.
There is a reference to Sharabha in the Vishnu sahasranama, the 1000 names of Vishnu, and the literal meaning seems to suggest the praise of Sharabha (the lion-killing animal).
Prathyangira Ends the Saga Started by Lord Narasimha
This story, then, dovetails nicely with the history of Prathyangira, who is sometimes referred to as Narasimhi. According to Markandeya Purana, the form of Prathyangiri was manifested to subdue Sharabha. This Devi was born from Sharabha’s (who turn into Bharava) third eye. Prathyangira subdued Sharabha.