The lion is the king of the jungle. Of all the animals living in the wilderness, the lion is best at protecting itself and its family members. Other animals live in fear of the lion and thus offer respects to it through their behavior. In a similar manner, God offers complete protection to all His devotees. Since the Lord is all-powerful, it is not surprising to see that one of His eternally existing forms is that of a half-man/half-lion, Narasimhadeva. The beauty of Lord Narasimhadeva lies in the fact that He offers mankind the simplest formula for protection in life. Take shelter of this transcendental lion and all your fears will go away. The Lord will take charge of your protection and ensure that no one else will be able to harm you.
How can God be a half-man/half-lion? The real question should be how could He not be a half-man/half-lion? There is only one God, the Almighty creator who is the father of all mankind. Instead of just worshiping an impersonal spirit or an old man who lives somewhere up in the sky, the Vedas tell us that we should take to worshiping God in His original form or one of His innumerable expansions. Veda means knowledge, so when applied to the arena of spirituality, this wisdom is intended to provide the king of all knowledge, that pertaining to the soul and its relationship with the Supreme Lord. Vedic information states that God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, who is more accurately described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since God is the representation of all that is good in this world, He naturally will be the most attractive person, possessing every auspicious feature known to man. God is the most beautiful and the most attractive, thus He is the only person truly worthy of the name Krishna.
Krishna is a Sanskrit word that can mean blackish. In this respect, many great historical personalities have been named Krishna. God’s literary incarnation, Vyasadeva, was also known as Krishna because of His bodily complexion. Draupadi, the wife of the famous Pandava brothers, was also commonly referred to as Krishna for the same reason. But when we take the word Krishna to mean the most attractive, someone who captures the hearts and minds of all living entities, then it can only apply to the Supreme Absolute Truth, the creator who has a body full of bliss and knowledge. Though Krishna is the most attractive, He doesn’t limit Himself to only one form. Rather, He takes innumerable expansions which reside on various spiritual planets. These expansions inherit the property of eternality, thus they are no different from God Himself.
One of Krishna’s most well-known expansions is Lord Narayana, who is commonly referred to as Vishnu. Those who may have a basic understanding of what is today known as Hinduism understand the concept of the three rulers of creation: Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesha. In this context, Vishnu is known as the maintainer, while Brahma is taken as the creator, and Mahesha [Shiva] as the destroyer. Of the three, only Vishnu is a direct expansion of the original form of Godhead, thus He is worshipable as the Supreme Lord. Vishnu is known as Narayana because He is the source of all naras, or men.
Original Vedic wisdom was passed down in the Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit script is known as Devanagari, which means the language of the demigods. This language is quite beautiful and apropo when describing God’s glories. All the names for God that are given in the great Vedic texts have specific meanings. The forms of Godhead weren’t just created on a whim, for there is intelligence behind them. Lord Narayana’s expansions which appear on earth are known as avataras. An avatara is one who descends, meaning that the term refers to an incarnation of God which comes down from the spiritual world. Though it may seem that an avatara appears and disappears, thus going through birth and death, the avatara has an eternal body and form. This means that an avatara is the same as God in that respect; undying and unborn.
Narayana’s avataras are famous for the activities They perform and the unique forms which They assume. Lord Narasimhadeva is one of Narayana’s most celebrated incarnations. The most authoritative Vedic text, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, gives us the list of God’s primary incarnations. This book also tells us that the complete list of incarnations is impossible to compile, therefore only the most famous avataras are known to mankind. The word Narasimha has meaning behind it. Nara means “man” and simha means “lion”, thus Narasimhadeva is the half-man/half-lion form of the Lord.
Why would God appear in this strange form? There are many reasons, all of which combine and join forces to cause the Lord’s appearance at just the right time and place. According to Vedic information, the world we live in goes through cycles of creation and destruction. The time period of creation is known as a kalpa. The Lord’s avataras appear on earth in each kalpa, so we can’t really say that someone like Lord Narasimhadeva appeared only in the past. According to the timeline of this current creation, Narasimhadeva appeared on earth many millions of years ago, however, He will surely appear again in a future creation. One of the causes for His unique form was the Lord’s desire to keep Lord Brahma’s boons intact. God is the original proprietor of everything, but to allow the living entities to pursue their material objectives, the Lord deputes elevated living entities to dole out rewards. The seekers of material perfections worship the demigods and are duly rewarded, even though none of these gifts can be bestowed without Krishna’s mercy.
Lord Brahma, being the self-create and thus the oldest person in the world, is one of the more famous demigods. He is well-respected even by the demon class. One famous demon named Hiranyakashipu pleased Lord Brahma enough to the point where he was granted several extraordinary boons. The first thing Hiranyakashipu asked from Brahma was immortality. Since Lord Brahma himself is not immortal, this was not something he could give out. To try to get around this fact, Hiranyakashipu then asked for several other boons which gave him immunity from the attacks of human beings, celestials, weapons, air, land, sea, day, night, etc. Hiranyakashipu thought he had all his bases covered, feeling that he had essentially tricked Brahma into giving him immortality anyway.
The first question one may ask is why would Lord Krishna sanction such rewards for a demon like this? The answer is that when the Lord gives authority to the demigods, this authority must be absolute. Basically, God can’t say that someone is capable of doing something and then take that power away based on the nature of the activities. In this respect, Lord Brahma is given absolute authority to hand out whatever boons he feels his devotees are worthy of, up to the point of mukti, or liberation. The Lord has so much love and respect for Lord Brahma that He doesn’t want to make him appear to be a liar.
So does this mean that everyone should take to worshiping Brahma in lieu of Krishna? Just because the demigods can hand out great material rewards, it doesn’t mean that they are the highest authority figures. With the case of Hiranyakashipu, Narayana found a way to thwart the demon’s reign of terror by coming to earth in the form of a half-man/half-lion. This form was beautiful because it showed respect to Lord Brahma, while at the same time giving protection to Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada. Prahlada was a great devotee of Vishnu, and he prayed regularly to Him for protection from the attacks of his demon father. Narasimhadeva finally came to earth and killed Hiranyakashipu, while keeping all of Lord Brahma’s boons intact. The demon wasn’t killed by a human being, celestial, animal, ordinary weapon, on land, at sea, during the day, or at night.
The appearance and activities of Lord Narasimhadeva are documented in many Vedic texts, including several Puranas. This specific form of God is celebrated throughout the world along with Prahlada. More importantly, however, is the promise that Lord Narasimhadeva offers His devotees. He asks sincere souls to simply surrender unto Him and thus be guaranteed of full protection. Normally when we hear of such a thing, it seems like a pipe dream, an empty promise. After all, life is full of trouble and misery. Death is always lurking around the corner in the form of oil spills, diseases, natural disasters, criminals, etc. Surrendering unto God seems like too simplistic a formula, something that won’t work.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
In addition to the aforementioned circumstances, it was also to dispel these doubts that Narasimhadeva chose to appear on earth. His protection is not a fairy tale, for Prahlada Maharaja can attest to its validity. As we all know, there are so many dharmas, or religious systems, that are out there. Lord Narasimhadeva’s prescription represents the simplest dharma, the easiest religious system to follow. All we have to do is surrender and have everything taken care of for us. Why would anyone choose any other avenue towards salvation?