The incarnation of Nrsimha happened on Vaishakha Shukla Chaturdasi, in Swati Nakshatra.
Nrsimha in the evolution theory of avatars
Nrsimha was the 4th incarnation, Avatar of Divinity Vishnu.
In India, the concept of evolution has been discussed in the sequence of Dasavatara of Vishnu, starting from the fish and evolving all the way to the intellectual human.
These avatars are Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Nrsimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.
The beast like Nrsimha form is symbolic of man living like a savage.
King Hiranyakashipu was a mighty Asura king who was blinded by ego and greed for power. He was a tyrant king, who had a son called Prahlada, who was pure at heart, a believer in good and the Divine.
Prahlada believed in Narayana, the ultimate source of the entire Creation and hence earned the wrath of his father Hiranyakashipu for not regarding him as the ultimate master. Hiranyakashipu therefore tried various means to kill Prahlada, his own son, but Prahlada always emerged unscathed.
Finally, Hiranyakashipu challenges Prahlada to prove that Narayana is indeed real, supreme and resides in everything including the inanimate. He then breaks a pillar in his palace with his mace to disprove Prahlada.
Lo and behold, the pillar splits and from within, emerges a ferocious being, of half man-half lion, the 4th avatara, incarnation of Vishnu, who lays Hiranyakashipu on His lap and slays him. This form was Nrsimha meaning half man, half lion – Nara, “man” and Simha, “lion”.
Why did Narayana have to manifest in this peculiar form?
Hirayanyakasipu had won a boon from Lord Brahma, that He shouldn’t be killed by a man or an animal or God, neither during day or night, neither indoors or outdoors, neither on earth or sky, or by any weapons.
Thus the Lord comes in the form of Nrsimha, and slays him during the dawn, by placing him on His lap, on the steps of the palace, and piercing the Asura with His claws.
Where exactly did this slaying of Hiranyakasipu take place?
This is at Ahobilam in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The Ahobilam Hills in Kurnool district of present day Andhra Pradesh, are the Avatara Kshetram, place of the incarnation of this Nrsimha avatar. It is no wond therefore that all over Andhra, there is affinity towards Lord Nrsimha, be it in Simhachalam near Visakhapatnam, in Mangalagiri near Vijayawada as Panakalu Nrsimha Swamy or in Yadagiri Gutta near Hyderabad.
Monolithic stone sculpture of Lord Narasimha emerging from pillar, carved on a stone pillar at Ahobilam, Andhra Pradesh
When Lord Nrsimha, after the Vadham, the slaying of the Asura Hiranyakashipu, was still very angry and visibly ferocious, it is one of the young tribal girls of the local Chenchu tribe, by name Chenchu Lakshmi who manages to calm down Lord Nrsimha from His wrathful state, marries him and makes him shower His blessings on the people of that region.
This incident tells us that Lord listens and can be calmed even by a young loving and affectionate girl. For the Lord, there is no Jaathi or Varna as He married this local, tribal girl. This legend also tells us that, to the Lord, all people are one and the same.
In commemoration of this event, even to this day, the Chenchu tribes through the ages, to this generation, are the custodians of the Ahobila Kshetram and the Ahobilam Hills.
After Hiranyakashipu was slayed by Nrsimha, Prahlada, the son of Hiranyakashipu, continued to live here and ruled a large part of this land from Ahobilam. We should remember that even though Prahlada was born to Hiranyakashipu of the asura kula, he was still accepted as the prime devotee of Vishnu and an embodiment of knowledge and humility, again going to show that irrespective of one’s birth, all areequal when it comes to acquiring true knowledge and divine love.
Prahlada ruling from Ahobilam – an artistic impression
More on this in our book, Telugu Talli – Her Unknown Side.
Multan – The Seat of Lord Nrsimha
There is also an an interesting footprint of Nrsimha at Multan in Pakistan.
The word Multan is synonymous with Multani mitti, a clay like substance known in English as Fuller’s Earth and used as a mud pack for treating acne, oily skin etc. For ancient India, Multan was also synonymous with Nrsimha, a divine incarnation of the divinity Vishnu in the form of a Half Man, Half Lion. Nara means man and Simha, lion.
It has been widely held from millennia that it was at Multan that this King Hiranyakashipu met his end at the hands and on the lap of Nrsimha. Multan has thus been revered as the place of incarnation of Lord Nrsimha. Sculptures showing a pillar splitting into 2 have been identified from here as also the ruins of the temple here called Prahladapuri in honour of Prahlada for whom the Lord incarnated.
The present day ruins of Prahladapuri temple are believed to stand where Prahlada had built a temple originally to Lord Nrsimha. Successive generations have ensured the presence of a temple here through the flow of time.
Multan was known as Kashyapapura in ancient times. The name Multan is a shortened form of “Mula Sthan” meaning the “place of origin”.
More on this in our book, Breaking the Myths – About Identity, in the Autobiography of India Series.
Symbolic Meaning of Nrsimha Story
There is a symbolic message relevant for our present times, from the legend of Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada.
The name Hiranyakashipu means, “one who has a golden bed”. Hiranya means gold or golden hued and Kashipu denotes a bed. Hiranyakashipu was a King who rolled in absolute wealth, wealth that led to ego and arrogance, which in turn demanded submission and recognition as he being the supreme power.
Hiranyakashipu symbolises the greed for wealth, power and recognition in the society today which has eventually now led us to a corrupt society.
Prahlada means, “one who naturally evokes a feeling of happiness and peace”. It comes from the word “ahlada” which means, “reviving, refreshing, cheerfulness, joy, delight, gladness”. It denotes the gladness that leads to peace and happiness which can arise only from the possession of true knowledge. Pra means “special”, “natural”. It is akin to how the vision of a full moon inherently gives rise to a feeling of peace, comfort and happiness.
The slaying of Hiranyakashipu by Nrsimha is a moral lesson on how one should not cultivate ego, not be blinded by uncontrolled greed and desire for power, as it can finally lead to unprincipled ways of living and a violent end.