Significance of Narasimha Avatar
Out of the several avatars of Lord Vishnu, ten important incarnations are classified as Dasaavataras. Among them Nrusimha avatar has attained a rare significance and importance. All His avatars are generally of a single form(apart from Varaha). But Nrusimha avatar is of a dual form, Nara + Simha. Nara means man and Lion is an animal. Narasimha means a combined form of a Lion and a Man. This was the 4th avatar among the Dasaavatars and it was a Sathya Yuga Avatar said to have taken place in Chakshuva Manvantar. It is said that in reference to Lord Narasimha is found in as many as 15 Puranas, and a separate Purana (Upa Purana) itself has been scripted in his name called Nrusimha Purana.
It was an instant avatar, called as Aavesa avatar (no prior preparations were made) where the Lord Narasimha appears in a very ferocious and fascinating form. Narasimha Avatar is referred to as a very powerful, precious avatar and the Lord Narasimha is depicted as a great protector at the time of need. He is the God of Gods. He is Mrithyu for the Mrithyu (one who eliminates the death cycles)
Sri Vishnu Sahasra Nama describes Lord Vishnu as “NaarasimhaVapu Sreeman Kesavah Purushothama” meaning He is the one who has taken a rare and unique form of a man and a lion whose worship will eradicate the ignorance, possessor of the Goddess of wealth Sri Maha Lakshmi,who always dwells in his chest, one who has beautiful and charming hair, the giver of knowledge to Gods, greatest among all Purushas, the Supreme Soul, who is omnipotent and omniscient.
Legend behind the Avatar (Story of Prahlada)
The legend behind this goes back to the days of Sathya Yuga when two demon brothers Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipa were creating lots of trouble to the mankind and devatas. The elder brother Hiranyaksha was killed by Lord Maha Vishnu in his Varaha Avathara. In order to take a revenge on Lord Vishnu, the demon Hiranyakasipa started doing a severe penance. When Lord Brahma appeared before him as a result of the penance Hiranyakasipa asks for a rare boon. The boon was that he (Hiranyakasipa) should not get killed by any deity or demi-God or demon, by a man or a beast, should not get killed with five elements (Pancha Bhootha), either in the day or night, either indoors or outdoors, by any kind of weapon and accordingly the boon was granted by Lord Brahma.
In the mean time Hiranyakasipa’s wife Vedavathi who was pregnant before he left for the penance delivered a male child Prahlada who went on to become an ardent devotee of Lord Sri ManNarayana for whose sake and cause the Lord had to take the Narasimha Avathara. While he was in his Mother’s womb Prahlada was listening and responding to divine stories. Seeing this sage Narada preached (upadesa) Prahlada the Narayana, Ashtakshari Mantra and the child started reciting this mantra while he was in his mother’s womb itself.
As Prahlada started growing he started learning Narayana Tatva and started influencing his friends also with his preachings’ which his father Hiranyakasipa did not like. Since Prahlada was not listening to his father’s words in this context and not stopping the recitation of Narayana Mantra, several attempts were made to change the mind of Prahlada and lots of restrictions were also imposed on him. But they were of no use and Prahlada was showing exemplary courage every time. In the process, he had to meet with severe punishments also in the hands of his demon father Hiranyakasipa but every time getting saved by the kind Grace of Lord Sriman Narayana.
Hiranyakasipa was fed up with his son’s attitude and wanted to finish him once for all. In the immediate next confrontation with his son Prahlada on the issue of Lord Sriman Narayana’s omnipresence, Hiranyakasipa emotionally asks his son Prahlada to show the Lord in a pillar in his palace and hits the pillar with his mace. All pervading Lord Sriman Narayana in order to prove the truth in his devotee’s words instantly appears and comes out of the pillar in a rare and ferocious form as Narasimha. Keeping in mind the boon Hiranyakasipa had on his death, Lord Narasimha pounces upon the demon, drags him to the threshold of the palace door, keeps him on his thighs and kills him with his fingernails (Nakha) at a time when it was Pradosha (neither day nor night) thus fulfilling the conditions of his death.
After killing the demon Hiranyakasipa, the fearful and ferocious form of Lord Narasimha did not calm down and it was roaring, creating a greater scare among the devatas. To make him cool down Devathas had to request Prahlada to pray him and it is said that they had to even invoke Goddess Lakshmi also to come down to pacify him. Finally, with the prayers from Prahlada and with the presence of his consort Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Narasimha got cooled down. Prahlada was crowned as the emperor of the kingdom which he ruled for several thousands of years.
Purpose of Narasimha avatar :
The specific purpose of this avatar was for protection of his devotee Prahlada from his demon father Hiranyakasipa, to prove a point and to make true the words of his devotee that God is in existence everywhere. Prahlada’s episode proves that God will always come to the rescue of his devotees who Prays him with sincere devotion.
Why this rare form?
Because of the rare boon Hiranyakasipa had the Lord had to take this rare form which was neither man nor animal. In using the Lion Head, the message was that Lion, the King of animals, hunts its target and kills it only when it is hungry and no one else and doesn’t store its food unlike other animals. Similarly, in his Narasimha Avathara the purpose was only to kill the demon Hiranyakasipa to save his devotee and nothing else and there was no need to kill anybody else. The avatar also ended with the killing of Hiranyakasipa. He is the lion among the Gods and the people.
He killed him with his nails which is not a weapon and the timing was neither day time nor night, it was Pradosha time. He killed him on his thighs to fulfill the condition of not getting killed in Pancha Bhoothas. It is said that the Dasaavatharas of Lord Vishnu have a link to the concept of evolution starting with Mastyaavathara (Pisces) transformed into a full fledged human being in Ramaavathara and Krishnaavathara. Narasimha avatar is the beginning of transformation from animal to man (half animal and half man).
Nrusimha Mantra Rajam
Ugram Veeram Maha Vishnum Jwalantham Sarvathomukham!
Nrusimham Bheeshanam Bhadram Mruthyu Mruthyum Namaamyaham!!
I surrender and bow to Lord Narasimha “who is ferocious and heroic, who is Maha Vishnu, radiant and glowing from all sides, who is omnipresent, who is terrific, who is adorable, who bestows auspiciousness and who is the death of death personified."
Above sloka is called as Sri Nrusimha MantraRajam, a very powerful mantra when recited with sincere devotion, will come to the rescue of the person in times of need, sudden aberrations and obstacles in life.
Forms of Narasimha
There are several forms of Narasimha, but nine main ones collectively known as Navanarasimha:
In Ahobila, Andhra Pradesh, the nine forms are as follows:
Chhatra-vata-narasimha (seated under a banyan tree)
Yoganand-narasimha (who blessed Lord Brahma)
Malola-narasimha (With Laksmi on His lap)
Jvala-narasimha (an eight armed form rushing out of the pillar)
Pavana-narasimha (who blessed the sage Bharadvaja)
Forms from Prahlad story:
Stambha-narasimha (coming out of the pillar)
Svayam-narasimha (manifesting on His own)
Grahana-narasimha (catching hold of the demon)
Vidarana-narasimha (ripping open of the belly of the demon)
Samhara-narasimha (killing the demon)
The following three refer to His ferocious aspect:
........... Om Namo Narayana ...........