Sachi R

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Narasimha or Man-lion God

Posted by rsachi on September 8, 2009

Man-lion God

( First photo: Mural in Melkote.
  Second photo: Nrityagram’s spectacular Dashavatara dance showing Narasimha)

This happened when I was seven. I lived till I was twelve opposite a temple. Therefore I spent a lot of time exploring the temple precincts and playing under the large peepul tree there. That day there was no school and I was happily playing alone that morning as usual in the shade of the peepul tree there.

Just then a classmate came running and told me that our teacher Mr. Sharma had sent for me. Apparently there was a recitation competition that morning in the school and Mr Sharma wanted me to participate. I had never been in recitation competitions. But afraid to upset the teacher, I rushed to the school which was not too far away.

There, in the classroom, sitting on wooden planks were some 20 children. Mr Sharma directed me to stand up in front of the class and recite something. The only thing that came to my mind was a long prayer my nanny had taught me, ‘Srilola Manohaara’. It was a prayer to the Man-lion God Narasimha. It seems I did such a good job that morning that I won the first prize. Mr Sharma was actually so moved he lifted me on his shoulders and did a small processional dance!

Later that evening when my mother came back home after work from the college where she taught, I could not convince her that I had won a big prize. She went the next day to the school to confirm it. My name was on the notice board announced as the winner and I later got a nice (real) silver cup as the prize.

The story of the Man-lion God is my favourite. It epitomizes the Hindu concept of surrender and God’s unfailing help to the true devotee. Later in my childhood my father told me our family deity was Narasimha and even taught me a sacred mantra. Movies, harikathas, classical operas galore tell the ancient scriptural story of how Narasimha protected Prahlada, a very young prince, against the fury of his demonic father who was drunk with his own power over the three worlds and his apparent immortality. You all know this story. But please let me tell it my way.

The father had earlier done a severe penance and won a boon that no man or animal or god could kill him with any weapon and he could also not be killed during day or night or inside his home or outside. Armed with such a boon, the demon had proclaimed that he was the ultimate ruler of all and everyone should worship him as the ultimate god. Unfortunately, his young son was defiant and said that he believed in the true god of eternal compassion and grace,

Narayana. After giving the demonic father many chances to understand the power of young Prahlada’s unswerving faith and belief, finally Narayana appeared as a man-lion, at twilight, and tore down the demon with his claws on the threshold of his palace. The boon had held good but still could not save the demon against this strange set of exceptions that overcame those conditions of invincibility. The moral: whatever boon you may get, you cannot go against the ultimate power of good and piety. What fascinates me in this mythical story is the utter helplessness and hopelessness in a worldly sense of the boy Prahlada. He is a prince And adored by his mother. He is intelligent and charming.

Normally a child feels totally safe and protected by his parents and has therefore no real fear. He gleefully declares, ‘My father strongest!’ In Prahlada’s case it works against the boy! Simply because he adamantly opposes his all powerful demonic father, even when threatened with death. The father is the monarch of all he surveys and is given to violent rage when opposed. He has declared himself as god and does not hesitate to put his son to death. He tries drowning, pushing him off a precipice, trampling him under a wild elephant, even burning him. And the son is equally tough! He worships Narayana, his father’s ancient enemy. The boy is utterly convinced that Narayana takes care of everything.

Can I have such faith? It is possible only if I do not have an agenda or a desire to achieve something or acquire wealth. Name or fame. If I truly surrender all my ego and desire, then only do I really give the full power of attorney irrevocably to God. Then only grace kicks in. Otherwise not. By virtue of my convictions that my desire or ambition or agenda is righteous, God does not come to my succour. On the other hand, if I truly surrender all ego and choice, then And only then do I have nothing to fear, even if I am a young boy under the total physical control of my father who may be the most powerful demon and hell-bent on killing me!

That is why I do not appreciate stories of people like Bhattatiri who keeps on pleading to God to rid him of disease. True devotees like Ramana and Ramakrishna did not pray for a cure even when they suffered the worst cancers and died. How can you present your agenda of physical well-being or immortality or freedom from poverty or infamy when you also say God knows best, is all powerful and does no wrong so whatever happens is for the best?

The world at large is either perplexed or amused that we Hindus worship animals and birds. Cow, bull, monkey, elephant, eagle, snake, lion, boar, fish, turtle, horse and so on. In the eyes of Muslims and Christians and far eastern Asians, all creatures are there to be hunted, put to work and eaten. In fact these people have greatly developed animal husbandry and veterinary sciences to yield more succulent meat and more tasty fish and fowl. The recent diseases like bird flu, mad cow disease, SARS and swine flu should give them pause to think but they are convinced of their ways as never before. They think poorly of the Hindu beliefs of non-killing and ridicule the Hindus about all the cows and dogs wandering in Indian streets. They think it is a joke against the ridiculous Hindu concept of animal worship. People like Guenther Grass who have won the Nobel Prize and Margaret Mead and so on have written tomes on this Hindu ‘stupidity’.

But all these people miss the true metaphor of Hindu animal worship, especially Man-lion god. The story basically shows that however powerful you may be, there is an overarching truth. Call it God or Existence or Nature. And the combination of man-lion shows that man alone is not the sole inheritor of this creation. Unless he recognizes the role of animals in existence, he will remain alienated. And sometime or other, Nature will humble man in unimaginable ways. Like the Australian bush fires or Chinese earthquakes or the hurricanes that flattened New Orleans.

There is no defence against a Tsunami. But if you realize your vulnerability, as long as you live, you live with a profound respect for all creation. That instills the true faith of a devotee. There is no religion that confers immortality. But true faith brings a balance, harmony, beauty and peace in life that makes every moment immortal in its joy.

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