The stories of the Asuras and Devas have long been capturing the cause of unrest. While most of the Goods fight against rulers and kings there is one such instance in Hindu Dharma where a father was set on destroying his own child for being a devotee of Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu, and Prahlad.
Such was Prahlad’s belief and faith in the Lord that despite his father’s outrageous boons, Lord Vishnu reincarnated in his Narasimha Avatar to save him and destroy his father.
It is said that during the Satya Yuga, Sage Kashyap and one of his wife Diti had two sons – Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu. Hiranyaksha troubled the humans and the Devas alike. The humans and the Devas unable to take it any more prayed to Lord Vishnu to protect them. Lord Vishnu being the Preserver incarnated as a Boar to protect the humans and the Devas. This avatar is called as Varaha Avatar.
After the death of Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakasipu furious with the humans and the Devas, lead his army of asuras to attack them. However, the Devas fought Hiranyakasipu and his men. Hiranyakasipu came to know that every time, Lord Vishnu helped the Devas to fight him back. Thus he got an idea so as to please Lord Brahma through penance and gain an upper hand over the Gods. Hiranyakasipu started his meditation and soon forgot all about himself and his kingdom.
Meanwhile, Lord Indra the King of the Devas came to know that Hiranyakasipu was not leading his men. Realizing that if he acted now, he would be able to destroy the Asuras such that they would never be able to attack him again he attacked the Asuras. The Asuras lost. High on his win, he decided to take away Hiranyakashyapu’s wife – Kayadhu. The devoted wife was saved by Narada Rishi. To protect her honor and save her unborn child, he took her to his ashram.
Sage Narada found Kayadu to be extremely intelligent and with a quick grasp. In the evenings, Sage Narada would relax and tell Kayadu stories of Lord Vishnu. Hearing all this, Kayadhu developed a profound sense of attachment towards Lord Vishnu. In her womb, the young unborn baby also heard these stories and thus began his deep reverence towards Lord Vishnu.
Meanwhile, the air of the heavens was becoming hotter and hotter and the Devas were finding it difficult to breathe. Wondering what had happened, the Devas searched and found that Hiranyakasipu’s penance was becoming so powerful that the air of the heavens was burning up. Thus, Lord Brahma agreed to meet Hiranyakasipu and went to Earth to meet the Asura.
What he saw there stumped Lord Brahma. Hiranyakasipu was so deep in his prayer that creepers had grown on him. Touched with the devotion of Hiranyakasipu, he took some water from his Kamandalu and threw it on Hiranyakasipu. The Asura king came to his senses and found Brahma in front of him and was granted a boon. Hiranyakashyapu immediately asked for immortality but was denied since it interfered with the law of Nature. The clever king instead asked for the following boon – ‘Lord I wish that I cannot be killed by any man, God or animal or any other creature created by you. Nobody should be able to kill me at day or night, in heavens or in the earth, in the day or the night either inside the house or outside the house, or with any weapons.’
Knowing this boon would spell more trouble Lord Brahma reluctantly granted him the boon. After securing such a boon Hiranyakashipu wasted no time in conquering both Earth & Heaven. He found his wife Kayadhu but refused to listen to her to change his ways of violence. Devas approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu said,” Devtas have patience, Hiranyakashipu’ s son Prahlad is a devotee of me. When Hiranyakashipu seeks to kill my devotee I will slay him.”
After becoming master of the world Hiranyakashipu proclaimed, “None should ever worship Vishnu because no one is greater than me not even Vishnu!”
Birth of Prahlad
It was at this time that Kayadu gave birth to a baby boy – he was named Prahlad.
As Prahlad was growing up, Hiranyakasipu became more and more powerful and he started committing more and more atrocities. However, Prahlad was quite different from his father. Unlike his father, Prahlad never hurt another living being. He was a strong devotee of Lord Vishnu and liked praying to the Dark Lord. Prahlad was kind gentle and firm to all people around him. While everyone was scared of Hiranyakasipu, all the people loved Prahlad.
Hiranyakasipu once asked Prahlad to come and sit on his lap. He lovingly stroked Prahlad’s hair, ‘Son! What a fine son you are! Tell me, son, how is the thing going in your school?’
‘Father!’ Prahlad looked at his father lovingly, ‘I have learned that Vishnu – the Dark Lord is the Ruler of the Three worlds and that if we are devoted to him, he will always be there for us…’
Hiranyakashipu who wanted everyone to worship him was greatly disappointed by hearing his own son chanting the names of Vishnu. To change the mind of Prahlad the King sent his son to the Ashramam of Shukracharya’s sons Shaku and Amarka. However, they were also unsuccessful in breaking the solid devotion of Prahlad.
All the efforts of Hiranyakashipu in changing the mind of Prahlad were in vain. At last, he got angry with his son and decided to kill him. But each time Hiranyakashipu tries to kill Prahlad Lord Vishnu’s magical hands were there to protect him.
The King’s soldiers tried to kill Prahlad by poisoning him, drowning him in water, and throwing him down from the mountain. But Lord Vishnu saved him from all these attempts.
“Take this boy away. Carry him to the peak of the mountain and throw him down from there!” Servants took him out. They tied Prahlad’s body with ropes, carried him to the top of the mountain and threw him down from here. But Prahlad rolled down the mountain softly. During his fall he chanted the name of Lord Vishnu and he walked away unhurt.
The demon king sent a mad elephant but the elephant lifted Prahlad in his trunk and placed him on its back. As the demon king failed, his fury increased and he thought of even more rigorous punishments for Prahlad.
The King then created a bonfire and asked his sister Holika to sit with Prahlad on her lap inside it. As Holika was granted a boon by Agni that she would be immune to fire, he thought that his son would be killed. However, Hiranyakasipu had not calculated the power of devotion. Prahlad gave no sign of even knowing what was going on around him. However, Holika, the one who was immune from the fire started burning. The fire of her sins burnt her. When the fire finally burned out, Prahlad was sitting in the middle of a charred place not a hair out of place, whereas Holika was nowhere to be seen.
Furious at the loss of his sister which left his son unharmed, he got an iron pillar heated and asked Prahlad, “Do you think your God Vishnu dwells even in this red-hot iron pillar?”
Prahlad did not hesitate even for a moment but rushed towards the pillar and embraced it. The heated iron did not burn him.
Hiranyakashipu got up from his throne in fury and hit the pillar with his mace. And to his surprise! The pillar cracked with a thundering sound and Vishnu appeared there in the form of Narasimha. One half of his body was of a lion and the other half of a man. He had matted hair on his head, large mustaches on his face, and terrible teeth in his mouth. His paws had terrible nails on them.
Hiranyakashipu remembered his first death wish, “To be killed by someone who is neither human nor beast.” It was also the twilight hour, neither day nor night, the second death wish. Hiranyakashipu hit Narasimha with his mace but Narasimha brushed it aside swiftly. Narsimha caught hold of Hiranyakashipu and placed him on his thighs. He sat on the threshold of the court-room and pierced his nails into the body of Hiranyakashipu. The demon was killed on the spot. The place was neither inside nor outside. This was Hiranyakashipu’s third death wish.
But, even after killing Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha was not satiated and he went on a rampage killing anyone in his sight.
Seeing this, all gods reached Lord Shiva’s abode, asking him to intervene and stop the massacre. Lord Shiva sent Veerbhadra and Bhadrakali to stop Narasimha. But, Narasimha pounced on them; unable to retaliate knowing he was Lord Vishnu, both Veerbhadra and Bhadrakali, surrendered.
As Narasimha was about to kill them both, Lord Shiva appeared in his most devastating form, Sharabha, a giant, frightening, form of huge cannibal bird with thousands of hands. Sharabha scratched Narashima with his wings making him unconscious and then carried him off into the distance.
Realizing his mistake, Narasimha surrendered to Lord Shiva, who then later added the skull of Narashima to the garland of skulls he wore around his neck.
Narasimha is a significant iconic symbol of creative resistance, hope against odds, victory over persecution, and destruction of evil. He is the destructor of not only external evil, but also one’s own inner evil of “body, speech, and mind.
In South Indian art – sculptures, bronzes, and paintings – Viṣṇu’s incarnation as Narasiṃha is one of the most chosen themes and amongst Avatāras perhaps next only to Rāma and Kṛṣṇa in popularity.
Narasimha is worshipped across Telangana and the Andhra Pradesh States in numerous forms. Although it is common that each of the temples contains depictions of Narasimha in more than one form, Ahobilam contains nine temples of Narasimha dedicated to the nine forms of Narasimha. It is also notable that the central aspect of Narasimha incarnation is killing the demon Hiranyakasipu, but that image of Narasimha is not commonly worshipped in temples, although it is depicted.