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Tanjore Paintings - Narasimha

Creative Art Gallery

Narasimha - Tanjore / Thanjavur Paintings

Narasimha (Sanskrit: नरसिंह, IAST: Narasiṃha, ISO: Narasiṁha, lit. man-lion) is a fierce avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, one who incarnates in the form of part lion and part man to destroy evil and end religious persecution and calamity on Earth, thereby restoring Dharma.

Narasimha iconography shows him with a human torso and lower body, with a lion face and claws, typically with a demon Hiranyakashipu in his lap whom he is in the process of killing. The demon is powerful brother of evil Hiranyaksha who had been previously killed by Vishnu, who hated Vishnu for killing his brother. Hiranyakashipu gains special powers by which he could not be killed during the day or night, inside or outside the house,any place in the world i.e. neither in sky nor on land nor in heaven nor in pataal lok, by any weapon, and by man,god , asura or animal. Endowed with new powers, Hiranyakashipu creates chaos, persecutes all devotees of Vishnu including his own son. Vishnu understands the demon's power, then creatively adapts into a mixed avatar that is neither man nor animal and kills the demon at the junction of day and night, inside and outside. Narasimha is known primarily as the 'Great Protector' who specifically defends and protects his devotees from evil. The most popular Narasimha mythology is the legend that protects his devotee Prahlada, and creatively destroys Prahlada's demonic father and tyrant Hiranyakashipu.

Narasimha is one of the major deity of Hare Krishna (ISKCON) devotees.[8]Narasimha legends are revered in Vaikhanasas, Sri Vaishnavism, Madhwa Brahmins but he is a popular deity beyond these Vaishnava traditions such as in Shaivism. He is celebrated in many regional Hindu temples, texts, performance arts and festivals such as Holika prior to the Hindu spring festival of colors called Holi. The earliest representation, dating back to the 4th-century CE, of Narasimha is from Kondamotu in Coastal Andhra. Other older known artworks of Narasimha have been found at several sites across Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, such as at the Mathura archaeological site. These have been variously dated between 2nd and 4th-century CE.

The Bhagavata Purāṇa describes that Vishnu, in his previous avatar as Varāha, killed the evil asura Hiraṇayakṣa. The younger brother of Hirṇayakṣa, demon king Hiraṇyakaśipu, hated Vishnu and wanted revenge.He undertook many years of austere penance to gain special powers. Thereafter, Brahma offered Hiraṇyakaśipu a boon. Hiraṇyakaśipu asked, "Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal. Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving created by you. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets." Brahma granted him the boon, and Hiraṇyakaśipu gained these powers.

Hiraṇyakaśipu, once powerful and invincible with the new boon, began to persecute those who were devotees of Vishnu. Hiraṇyakaśipu had a son, Prahlāda, who disagreed and rebelled against his father. Prahlāda became a devotee of Vishnu. This angered Hiraṇyakaśipu, who tried to kill the boy—but with each attempt, Prahlāda was protected by Viṣṇu's mystical power. When asked, Prahlāda refused to acknowledge his father as the supreme lord of the universe and claimed that Viṣṇu is all-pervading and omnipresent.

Hiraṇyakaśipu pointed to a nearby pillar and asked if 'his Viṣṇu' is in it and said to his son Prahlāda, "O most unfortunate Prahlāda, you have always described a supreme being other than me, a supreme being who is above everything, who is the controller of everyone, and who is all-pervading. But where is He? If He is everywhere, then why is He not present before me in this pillar?" Prahlāda then answered, "He was, He is and He will be."

In an alternate version of the story, Prahlāda answered, He is in pillars, and he is in the smallest twig.

Hiraṇyakaśipu, unable to control his anger, smashed the pillar with his mace, and following a tumultuous sound, Viṣṇu in the form of Narasiṃha appeared from it and moved to attack Hiraṇyakaśipu in defense of Prahlāda. In order to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu and not upset the boon given by Brahma, the form of Narasiṃha was chosen. Hiraṇyakaśipu could not be killed by human, deva or animal. Narasiṃha was none of these, as he is a form of Viṣṇu incarnate as a part-human, part-animal. He came upon Hiraṇyakaśipu at twilight (when it is neither day nor night) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out), and put the demon on his thighs (neither earth nor space). Using his sharp fingernails (neither animate nor inanimate) as weapons, he disemboweled and killed the demon king.

Narasimha was in rage and seeing this, Lord Brahma sent Prahlad to pacify him. Prahlad sang hymns and the 'Ugra' Narasimha now became peaceful 'Soumya' or 'Shant' Narasimha.

In an alternate version, the Shaiva scriptures narrate that god Shiva assumed the Avatar (incarnation) of Sharabha to pacify Narasimha afterwards when he started to threaten the world violently.

The Shiva Purana mentions: After slaying Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha's wrath threatened the world. At the behest of the gods, Shiva sent Virabhadra to tackle Narasimha. When that failed, Shiva manifested as Sharabha.

Sharabha then attacked Narasimha and immobilized him. Narasimha then brought forth Gandaberunda. Gandaberunda fought Sharabha for eighteen days, and either killed Sharabha by holding it in his beak or their fight was stopped by Pratyangira.

The Kūrma Purāṇa describes the preceding battle between the Puruṣa and demonic forces in which he escapes a powerful weapon called Paśupāta. According to Soifer, it describes how Prahlāda's brothers headed by Anuhrāda and thousands of other demons "were led to the valley of death (yamalayam) by the lion produced from the body of man-lion". The same episode occurs in the Matsya Purāṇa 179, several chapters after its version of the Narasiṃha advent.

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