Lessons from Narasimha Avatara
According to me, no other avataras of Maha Vishnu is as powerful and captivating as the Narasimha Avatara. As a child, this story of little Prahlada being hounded by Hiranyakashipu was my favourite. The entire story is so dramatic and mesmerising. Even today, when I imagine the scene where the Lord appears from the pillar in a thunderous roar, I get goosebumps.
All through childhood, this was another story demonstrating the power of Good over Evil. Today, as I contemplate on the story, I realize the wonderful demonstration of the laws of karma and maya.
One might say today we are all surrounded by Hiranyakashipus. I disagree. Today, we are surrounded by the basest forms of humans. Even the lower-most asura had a code of honour. Hiranyakashipu was scholarly, disciplined and learned ruler. After all, it takes tremendous sadhana to have Brahma Himself grant the most improbable boons. Yet, through his single-minded perseverance, Hiryanyakashipu managed to extract a boon that for all practical purposes, granted him immortality. But, the biggest lesson I learnt from him – all the intelligence in the world is useless if it is tainted with arrogance; if the goal is egoistic. Imagine if Hiranyakashipu had asked for boons for the greater good of his people. But that was not to be. Another big lesson from Hiranyakashipu – and I believe this is a very important lesson for all you cruel despots out there – the end can come from the least expected, weakest quarters. Here is my message to you fools – fear and tremble in front of those who are pure of heart and soul. For all his power and intelligence, Hiranyakashipu’s arrogance and ego were his worst undoing; and his end came because of a child.
Many times, usually during tough times, I’ve been clouded by helpless anger and self-doubts. Indeed, how many of us have not ranted, ‘Is there a God?’ That debate is eternal. Personally for me, the devotion and faith of little Prahlada is very inspiring. It is extremely difficult to have that level of unwavering faith, even while facing the worst possible mortal dangers. Torn between the love for his father, and his bhakti towards Maha Vishnu, the child never relinquishes his beliefs. How often we have faced these situations in life? How often have we been forced to compromise on our own beliefs, our own principles for the sake of an amicable solution? If we stick to our beliefs, then the immediate consequences will no doubt be bitter. But such compromised solutions are invariably just band-aids. The more we compromise the real problems never go away. They come back disguised in some other form. In Prahlada’s mind, the truth is very clear. No amount of raving and ranting by his father, no dreadful punishment can change his mind. Is he scared? Yes – he is, after all a child. But can the truth change? No. The truth is an unshakeable fact; like the sun rising in the east; like the moon revolving around the earth; like the tides; like the seasons – the fact being Maha Vishnu is the Supreme Being of the universe. Indeed, Prahlada’s story is an important illustration of faith. The path of faith is not easy. Obstacles will be great, and dangerous even. But when the truth has illuminated your mind, it will always set you free. Even the mighty and powerful cannot win a battle against you. It’s easier said than done. But in this day and age, if we are able to have even 1% of this child’s faith; and when confronted by a tough situation, we do what is RIGHT, even if it means getting punished for doing what is right; I believe our blessings will be boundless.
Why was Prahlada, the most celebrated devotee of our puranas, a child? I think it is a wonderful illustration – that God answers to every prayer; there is no such thing as an ‘insignificant’ prayer. There is no segregation of prayers based on WHO is praying. A president’s prayer (if any) gets answered; and so does a beggar’s (in this case, many). A ripe old sanyasi’s prayer gets answered, and so does the innocent prayer of a child. Where you pray and how you pray does not matter – all that matters is the truth and conviction in your prayers.
Also take note that Hiranyakashipu’s gruesome end came not because he hurled insults at Maha Vishnu directly; but he dared to harm an innocent child, a devotee at that. There have been many times in my life where I’ve been wronged. And as we have all seen, not all of us can go charging with guns blazing against those who wronged us. Many times, our hands are tied, and all we can do is simmer and shed hot tears of helplessness. But I can tell you this with conviction. Those who seek to hurt innocent people wilfully will suffer a million-fold. It may not be an instant consequence. As the victim, you may not even witness the retribution, which can come after decades. But there is NO ESCAPE for the wrong-doers.
Look at Hiranyakashipu again. His conditions in the boon that was granted to him – he should not die in the hands of a human or a beast, he should not die because of an animate or inanimate object, he should not die inside or outside his dwelling, he should not die during the day or during the night, he should not die on earth or in the sky. Like I said, granting this boon was indeed granting him immortality.
When the arrogant asura rages ‘Is your Vishnu present in this stone pillar’ – he was in for a surprise. Even in a regular zoo, when you hear the full-throated roar of a lion, it vibrates against your ribcage. Imagine when the Lord Himself took on the form of half-lion, half man and roared into existence! I guess that was the first clue for Hiranyakashipu that his end was near. The form the Lord had taken was neither man, nor beast. Even at that moment, had he sought forgiveness, had he surrendered unconditionally, he would have been spared. But his soul was poisoned by his pride. The Lord then carried the asura and sat on the doorstep – what we call as ‘umara’ in Tamil, or ‘hosilu’ in Kannada; neither indoors, nor outdoors. And this is one of the reasons why our ‘hosilu’ is usually adorned by flowers and rangoli, and it is considered ill-manners to step on it. Hiranyakashipu was splayed on the Lord’s lap – neither on earth, nor in the sky. And he met his end when the Lord used His lion claws to disembowel him – they are neither animate, nor inanimate weapons. The time of his death was twilight – neither day, nor night. So you see this is the most important lesson. As a sinner, there is no such thing as ‘covering all bases’. Make no mistake, your ass will be kicked one way or the other.
And finally, the logical question. If Hiranyakashipu was so evil, surely an all-knowing God would have ended him earlier on? Here, we learn the important concept of Right Time. Nothing can move forward unless the time is right. In our own lives we’ve been a witness to this ‘phenomenon’. We plan and plan and nothing seems to fit. Then suddenly, all events come together; you find yourself in the right place at the right time. It’s important to persevere. It is more important to let go. It is absolutely critical to know when to let go, and when to put in hard work!
Today, we celebrate Narasimha Jayanthi. The puja is held in the evening, at twilight. And I pray that may His grace and protection be on you and your loved ones always.
© Sumana Khan - 2011