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God of Protection, Destruction, Yoga and Kala (Time); The Destroyer of Evil and Fear
Avatar of Vishnu
Member of Dashavatara
Sculpture of Narasimha in Tirumala, India
Sanskrit transliterationNarasimha
AffiliationVaishnavism, Kala-Mahakala, Manyu[1]
AbodeVaikuntha, Kshira Sagara
WeaponSudarshana Chakra
FestivalsNarasimha Jayanti, Holi
ConsortLakshmi as Pratyangira[2]
Dashavatara Sequence

Narasimha (Sanskrit: नरसिंह, lit.'man-lion', IAST: Narasiṃha), sometimes rendered Narasingha, is the fourth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.[3] He is believed to have incarnated in the form of a part-lion, part-man being to kill Hiranyakashipu, to end religious persecution and calamity on earth, thereby restoring dharma.[1][4] Narasimha is often depicted with three eyes, and is described in Vaishnavism to be the God of Destruction; he who destroys the entire universe at the time of the great dissolution (Mahapralaya). Hence, he is known as Kala (time) or Mahakala (great-time), or Parakala (beyond time) in his epithets. There exists a matha (monastery) dedicated to him by the name of Parakala Matha at Mysuru in the Sri Vaishnava tradition.[5] Narasimha is also described as the God of Yoga, in the form of Yoga-Narasimha.[6][7]

Narasimha iconography shows him with a human torso and lower body, with a leonine face and claws, typically with the asura Hiranyakashipu being disemboweled and killed by him in his lap. The asura king was the powerful elder brother of the evil Hiranyaksha, who had been previously killed by Vishnu as Varaha, and thus hated the latter.[8] Hiranyakashipu gained a boon from Brahma due to which he could not be killed during the day or night, inside or outside the house; neither in the sky nor on land nor in Svarga nor in Patala, by any weapon, nor by humans, deities, demons, or animals.[9] Endowed with this boon, he began to wreak chaos and havoc, persecuting all the devotees of Vishnu, including his own son Prahlada.[1][9][10] Vishnu, cognisant of the asura's boon, creatively assumed a hybrid form that was neither human nor animal as a lion in the name of Narasimha, and Narashima disemboweled and killed Hiranyakashipu and at the junction of day and night, at the threshold of his palace, which was neither inside nor the outside, upon his lap, and with his claws.[1] Narasimha is known primarily as the 'Great Protector' who specifically defends and protects his devotees from evil.[11] The most popular Narasimha myth is the legend of his protection of his devotee Prahlada, and the killing of Prahlada's wicked father and demon Hiranyakashipu.[12]

Narasimha is one of the major deities in Vaishnavism, and his legends are revered in Vaikhanasas, Sri Vaishnavism, Sadha Vaishnavism,[13] and various other Vaishnava traditions of Hinduism. He is celebrated in many regional Hindu temples, texts, performance arts, and festivals such as the Hindu festival of colours of the spring, called Holi.[9][14][page needed]

One of the earliest representation of Narasimha, dating back to the 4th-century CE, is from Kondamotu in Coastal Andhra.[15][16] 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 the 2nd and the 4th century CE.[17]


Vishnu and his avataras (Vaikuntha Chaturmurti): Vishnu present as Krishna as a human , Narasimha as a lion, Varaha as a boar. Art of Mathura, mid-5th century CE. Boston Museum.[18]

In Sanskrit, the word Narasimha consists of two words "nara" which means man, and "simha" which means lion, referring to a man-lion avatar of Vishnu.[1][9] Additionally, the word "Singha" is often used in place of "Simha" which also means lion in Sanskrit and other Indian languages.

He is known as Nrisimha, Nrisingha, Narasingha, Narasingh, Narsingh, Narasimba and Narasinghar in derivative languages. His other names are Agnilochana (अग्निलोचन) – the one who has fiery eyes, Bhairavadambara (भैरवडम्बर) – the one who causes terror by roaring, Karala (कराल) – the one who has a wide mouth and projecting teeth, Hiranyakashipudvamsa (हिरण्यकशिपुध्वंस) – the one who killed Hiranyakashipu, Nakhastra (नखास्त्र) – the one for whom nails are his weapons, Sinhavadana (सिंहवदन) – the whose face is of lion and Mrigendra (मृगेन्द्र) – king of animals (lion).[19]


Narasimha, 5th century, Ramtek Kevala Narasimha temple.



The Vishnu hymn 1.154 of the Rigveda (1700-1200 BCE) contains a verse with allusions to a "wild beast, dread, prowling, mountain-roaming",[20] which has been interpreted by some to be the Narasiṃha legend. Another hymn 8.14 alludes to the Namuci legend with "waters' foam you tore off, Indra, the head of Namuci, subduing all contending hosts", but the hymns does not present details.[21]

A more complete version of the Namuci legend is found in Shatapatha Brahmana (7th - 6th century BCE) of the Yajurveda in chapter 12.7.3.v Other references to Narasimha are found in the Vedic texts Vajaseneyi Samhita 10.34, Pancavimsa Brahmana 12.6.8 and Taittiriya Brahmana[21]

The Indra-Namuci legend


Narasimha likely has roots in the metaphor-filled Indra-Namuci legend in the Vedas.[21][22] Indra is the dharmic leader of the Devas who commands lightning, thunder, rain and rivers, while Namuci is a deceptive demigod Asura in competition for power. Namuci suggests peace to Indra, which the latter accepts. He demands Indra to promise that he will neither try to slay him with his "palm of the hand nor with the fist", neither in day nor in night, neither with "anything that is dry" nor with "anything that is moist". Indra agrees.[21][23]

After the deal is done, Namuci carries away all that nourishes the Devas: the Soma drink, the essence of food and the strength of Indra. The leader of the gods finds himself conflicted and feels bound by his promise. Indra then meets Saraswati (goddess of knowledge) and the Ashvins.[21] They reply they will deal with Namuci, get it all back, if Indra agrees to share his powers, the essence of food and the Soma drink with them. Indra agrees. The gods and the goddess then come up with a creative plan. They pour out "foam of water" as a thunderbolt, which is neither dry nor moist, and the evil Asura Namuci is attacked and killed when it is neither day nor night.[21]

After Namuci is killed, the gods get all the powers back, but discover that Namuci had drunk the Soma already. The good was thus now mixed with his badness of his blood, which they did not want to drink. So, they extract the good out from the bad. Thus, good returns to the Devas, the bad is discarded.[21]

According to Deborah Soifer, the Vedic legend has many parallels with the Narasimha legend, it has the same plot, the same "neither-nor" constraints, and the same creative spirit that allows the good to vanquish the evil. Further, the Sanskrit words and phrasing such as "neither palm nor fist" and "neither day nor night" in the later Hindu texts is the same as in the Vedic texts. This suggests a link and continuity between the Vedic Namuci legend and the later Narasimha legend in the Puranas.[21] According to Walter Ruben, both versions along with several other legends in ancient and medieval texts reflect the Indian tradition against despots and tyrants who abuse power.[24]



There are references to Narasiṃha in a variety of Purāṇas, with 17 different versions of the main narrative.[25] The Valmiki Ramayana (7.24), Harivaṃśa (41 & 3.41-47), Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.16-20), Bhagavata Purāṇa (Canto 7),[26] Agni Purāṇa (4.2-3), Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa(2.5.3-29), Vayu Purāṇa (67.61-66), Brahma-Purāṇa (213.44-79), Viṣṇudharmottara Purāṇa(1.54), Kūrma Purāṇa (1.15.18-72), Matsya Purāṇa(161-163), Padma Purāṇa(Uttara-khaṇḍa 5.42), Śiva Purāṇa (2.5.43 & 3.10-12), Linga Purana (1.95-96) and Skanda Purāṇa 7 (2.18.60-130) all contain depictions of the Narasiṃha Avatāra.[27][28] In all these Puranas, Narasimha is described as the God of Destruction, who does destruction at the time of Pralaya or Yuganta and described as Kala.[6] Narasimha is also described as having three eyes just like Shiva and does destruction with fire coming from his third eye.[7]

Sangam literature


The Paripatal (Dated between 300 BCE to 300 CE) (Tamil: பரிபாடல், meaning the paripatal-metre anthology) is a classical Tamil poetic work and traditionally the fifth of the Eight Anthologies (Ettutokai) in Sangam literature.[29] Kamil Zvelebil states that the hymns dedicated to Vishnu and Murugan has branded the Paripatal as a Sanskrit plagiat within the so-called Sangam texts.[30]

Legend of Narasimha according to Paripāṭal

O Lord with faultless red eyes! With
burning hatred in his heart and drying up the
sandal paste on his chest, Hiranyan the evil king
tortured his son Prahalathan for singing your
praises, inflicting on him great sorrow. The young
man was not disrespectful to his father who deserved
disrespect. You embraced Prahalathan’s fine chest
because of your love for him. You attacked and ruined
Hiranyan with great strength, leaping upon his
mountain-like chest as drums roared like thunder.
You tore him apart with your split claws and scattered
his flesh, along with broken pieces of pillar which you
split and came out, in your Narasimhan form.

Paripāṭal, poem 4, Verses 10 - 21[31]

Other texts


Narasimha is also found in and is the focus of Nrisimha Tapaniya Upanishad.[32][33]



Prahlada legend

Narasimha Disemboweling Hiranyakashipu, manuscript folio from a Bhagavata Purana, 1760-1770.

The Bhagavata Puraṇa describes that Vishnu, in his previous avatar as Varaha, killed the evil asura Hiranyaksha. The elder brother of Hiranyaksha, demon king Hiranyakashipu, hated Vishnu and wanted revenge.[8] He undertook many years of austere penance to gain special powers. Thereafter, Brahma offered Hiranyakashipu a boon. Hiranyakashipu 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 Hiranyakashipu gained these powers.[9]

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

Hiranyakashipu pointed to a nearby pillar and asked if 'his Vishṇu' is in it and said to his son Prahlada, "O most unfortunate Prahlada, 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."[34]

Narasimha emerging from a pillar and disemboweling Hiranyakashipu (detail), manuscript folio from a Bhagavata Purana, 1760-1770.

In an alternate version of the story, Prahlada answered,

He is in pillars, and he is in the smallest twig.

Hiraṇyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashed the pillar with his mace, and following a tumultuous sound, Vishṇu in the form of Narasimha appeared from it and moved to attack Hiraṇyakashipu in defense of Prahlāda. In order to kill Hiraṇyakashipu and not upset the boon given by Brahma, the form of Narasimha was chosen. Hiraṇyakashipu could not be killed by human, deva or animal. Narasimha was none of these, as he is a form of Vishnu incarnate as a part-human, part-animal. He came upon Hiraṇyakashipu 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.[34]

Narasimha was in rage and seeing this, Brahma sent Prahlada to pacify him. Prahlada sang hymns and the 'Ugra' Narasimha now became peaceful 'Soumya' Narasimha.[35][36][37]

The Kurma Puraṇa describes the preceding battle between the Purusha and demonic forces in which he escapes a powerful weapon called Pashupatastra. According to Soifer, it describes how Prahlada'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".[38] The same episode occurs in the Matsya Purāṇa 179, several chapters after its version of the Narasimha advent.[14][page needed]

Vaishnava and Shaiva stories


In a story of this incident, the Vaishnava and Shaiva scriptures say that gods Vishnu and Shiva assumed the avataras of Gandaberunda as Narasimha and Sharabha to destroy the chaos that happened in the universe. After disemboweling and killing Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha's power was wrongly thought to threaten the world by the deities. At the behest of the gods and goddesses, Shiva sent his form of Virabhadra to defeat Narasimha. When Narasimha defeated and drove Virabhadra away, Vishnu and Shiva manifested as Gandaberunda as Narasimha and Sharabha. Narasimha as Gandabherunda and Sharabha fought for 18 days. Narasimha as Gandaberunda disemboweled and killed Sharabha on the 18th day, after which Gandaberunda as Narasimha and Sharabha took their true forms of Vishnu and Shiva and went to their respective heavens of Vaikuntha and Kailasha respectively.


Yoga Narasimha, bronze, ca. 1250.

Narasimha is always shown with a lion face with clawed fingers fused with a human body. Sometimes he is coming out of a pillar signifying that he is everywhere, in everything, in everyone. Some temples such as at Ahobilam, Andhra Pradesh, the iconography is more extensive, and includes nine other icons of Narasimha:[9]

  • Prahladavarada: blessing Prahlada
  • Yogānanda-narasiṃha: serene, peaceful Narasimha teaching yoga
  • Guha-narasiṃha: concealed Narasimha
  • Krodha or ugra narasiṃha: angry Narasimha
  • Vira-narasimha: warrior Narasimha
  • Malola-narasiṃha or Lakshmi-Narasimha: with Lakshmi, his wife
  • Jvala-narasiṃha: Narasimha emitting flames of wrath
  • Sarvatomukha-narasimha: many-faced Narasimha
  • Bhishana-narasimha: ferocious Narasimha
  • Bhadra-narasimha: another fierce aspect of Narasimha
  • Mrityormrityu-narasimha: defeater of death aspect of Narasimha

The earliest known iconography of Narasimha is variously dated to between the 2nd and the 4th-century CE, and these have been found in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.[17] Most images and temples of Narasimha are found in the peninsular region of India, but important ancient and medieval archeological sites containing Narasimha icons are also found as Vaikuntha Chaturmurti in Kashmir and Khajuraho temples,[39] while single face versions are found in Garhwa and Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) and in Ellora Caves (Maharashtra).[9] Other major temples with notable icons of Narasimha are found in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and the Vijayanagara Empire ruins in Karnataka.[9] Some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples, such as those found in Tigawa and Eran (Madhya Pradesh), dated to early 5th-century, include Narasimha along with other avatars of Vishnu.[17] The Thuravoor Temple is the most important shrine to Narasimha in Kerala; the form of Narasimha there is known as Vaṭakanappan.


Narasimha, Chola period, 12th -13th century, Tamil Nadu. from LACMA Museum.

Narasimha is a significant iconic symbol of creative resistance, hope against odds, victory over persecution, and destruction of evil. He is the destructor of not only external evil, but also one's own inner evil of "body, speech, and mind" states Pratapaditya Pal.[40]

In South Indian art – sculptures, bronzes and paintings – Viṣṇu's incarnation as Narasiṃha is one of the most chosen themes and amongst Avatāras perhaps next only to Rāma and Kṛṣṇa in popularity.

Narasimha is worshipped across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States in numerous forms.[41] Although, it is common that each of the temples contain depictions of Narasimha in more than one form, Ahobilam contains nine temples of Narasimha dedicated to the nine forms of Narasimha. It is also notable that the central aspect of Narasimha incarnation is killing the demon Hiranyakasipu, but that image of Narasimha is not commonly worshipped in temples, although it is depicted.

Coins, inscriptions and terracotta


The Narasimha legend was influential by the 5th-century, when various Gupta Empire kings minted coins with his images or sponsored inscriptions that associated the ethos of Narasimha with their own. The kings thus legitimized their rule as someone like Narasimha who fights evil and persecution.[42] Some of the coins of the Kushan era show Narasimha-like images, suggesting possible influence.[43]

Some of the oldest Narasimha terracotta artworks have been dated to about the 2nd century CE, such as those discovered in Kausambi.[44] A nearly complete, exquisitely carved standing Narasimha statue, wearing a pancha, with personified attributes near him has been found at the Mathura archeological site and is dated to the 6th century.[45]

Narasimha slays Hiranyakashipu, attributed to Mahesh of Chamba court, c. 1725-50.

Performance arts


The Narasimha legends have been a part of various Indian classical dance repertoire. For example, Kathakali theatre has included the Narasimha-Hiranyakasipu battle storyline, and adaptations of Prahlada Caritam with Narasimha has been one of the popular performances in Kerala.[46] Similarly, the Bhagavata Mela dance-drama performance arts of Tamil Nadu traditionally celebrate the annual Narasimha jayanti festival by performing the story within regional Narasimha temples.[47]



A number of prayers have been written in dedication to Narasiṃha avatāra. These include:[48]

  • The Narasiṃha Mahā-Mantra
  • Narasiṃha Praṇāma Prayer
  • Daśāvatāra Stotra by Jayadeva
  • Kāmaśikha Aṣṭakam by Vedānta Deśika
  • Divya Prabandham 2954[49]
  • Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Karavalamba Stotram by Adi Shankaracharya[50]

Early images

Narasiṃha statue

In Andhra Pradesh, a panel dating to third-fourth century CE shows a full theriomorphic squatting lion with two extra human arms behind his shoulders holding Vaiṣṇava emblems. This lion, flanked by five heroes (vīra), often has been identified as an early depiction of Narasiṃha.[51] Standing cult images of Narasiṃha from the early Gupta period, survive from temples at Tigowa and Eran.[52] These sculptures are two-armed, long maned, frontal, wearing only a lower garment, and with no demon-figure of Hiraṇyakaśipu. Images representing the narrative of Narasiṃha slaying the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu survive from slightly later Gupta-period temples: one at Madhia and one from a temple-doorway now set into the Kūrma-maṭha at Nachna, both dated to the late fifth or early sixth century CE[53]

An image of Narasiṃha supposedly dating to second-third century CE sculpted at Mathura was acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1987. It was described by Stella Kramrisch, the former Philadelphia Museum of Art's Indian curator, as "perhaps the earliest image of Narasiṃha as yet known".[53] This figure depicts a furled brow, fangs, and lolling tongue similar to later images of Narasiṃha, but the idol's robe, simplicity, and stance set it apart. On Narasiṃha's chest under his upper garment appears the suggestion of an amulet, which Stella Kramrisch associated with Visnu's cognizance, the Kaustubha jewel. This upper garment flows over both shoulders; but below Hiranyakasipu, the demon-figure placed horizontally across Narasiṃha's body, a twisted waist-band suggests a separate garment covering the legs. The demon's hair streams behind him, cushioning his head against the man-lion's right knee. He wears a simple single strand of beads. His body seems relaxed, even pliant. His face is calm, with a slight suggestion of a smile. His eyes stare adoringly up at the face of Viṣṇu. There is little tension in this figure's legs or feet, even as Narasiṃha gently disembowels him. His innards spill along his right side. As the Matsya purana describes it, Narasiṃha ripped "apart the mighty Daitya chief as a plaiter of straw mats shreds his reeds".[53] Based on the Gandhara-style of robe worn by the idol, Michael Meiste altered the date of the image to fourth century CE.[53]

An image of Narasiṃha, dating to the 9th century, was found on the northern slope of Mount Ijo, at Prambanan, Indonesia.[54] Images of Trivikrama and Varāha avatāras were also found at Prambanan, Indonesia. Viṣṇu and His avatāra images follow iconographic peculiarities characteristic of the art of central Java. This includes physiognomy of central Java, an exaggerated volume of garment, and some elaboration of the jewelry. This decorative scheme once formulated became, with very little modification, an accepted norm for sculptures throughout the Central Javanese period (circa 730–930 CE). Despite the iconographic peculiarities, the stylistic antecedents of the Java sculptures can be traced back to Indian carvings as the Chalukya and Pallava images of the 6th–7th centuries CE.[55]

Notable temples




Andhra Pradesh












Tamil Nadu




Uttar Pradesh


West Bengal


See also



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  2. ^ Mallik, Anupama; Chaudhury, Santanu; Chandru, Vijay; Srinivasan, Sharada (31 March 2018). Digital Hampi: Preserving Indian Cultural Heritage. Springer. p. 183. ISBN 978-981-10-5738-0.
  3. ^ Blurton, T. Richard (1993). Hindu art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-674-39188-8. OCLC 25833896.
  4. ^ Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
  5. ^ Rangachar Vasantha (1991). The Nārāyaṇasvāmi Temple at Mēlkōṭe: An Archaeological and Historical Study. Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. p. 9. The layout of this matha is almost like that of the Parakāla - matha above described. Here too in the central shrine are kept a few bronze images, including that of Lakshmi Narasimha, the presiding deity of that matha.
  6. ^ a b Soifer 1991, p. 102.
  7. ^ a b Soifer 1991, p. 92.
  8. ^ a b Roshen Dalal (2010). The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths. Penguin Books. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-14-341517-6.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Roshen Dalal (2010). The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths. Penguin Books. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-14-341517-6.
  10. ^ Nanditha Krishna (2009). The Book of Vishnu. Penguin Books. pp. 50–53. ISBN 978-0-14-306762-7.
  11. ^ Steven J. Rosen, Narasiṁha Avatar, The Half-Man/Half-Lion Incarnation, p5
  12. ^ Dalal, Roshen (2010). The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths. Penguin Books India. ISBN 978-0-14-341517-6.
  13. ^ Farley P. Richmond; Darius L. Swann; Phillip B. Zarrilli (1993). Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 127 with footnote 1. ISBN 978-81-208-0981-9.
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  20. ^ The Rigveda Mandala 1 Hymn 154, Ralph T.H. Griffith, Wikisource
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  23. ^ Fowler, Murray (1942). "The Role of Surā in the Myth of Namuci". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 62 (1). American Oriental Society: 36–40. doi:10.2307/594098. JSTOR 594098.
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