Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar
“Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The story of Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar is perhaps well-known, but is worth recapping. Hiranyakashipu is an Asura (demon) king. His elder brother is killed by Vishnu in one of his previous avatars. This angers Hiranyakashipu who undertakes penance and gets a boon from Brahma that made him almost invincible – he could not be killed during the day or night, inside or outside, neither on earth nor in the sky, by any weapon, and by man or animal. True to the Asura operating procedure, he goes on a rampage. Among those affected is Prahlad, his own son, who is a devotee of Vishnu – much to Hiranyakashipu’s frustrations. Multiple attempts are made to kill Prahlad, but he survives them all.
TemplePurohit’s website takes up the story: “[Hiranyakashipu] dragged Prahlad and asked him if his Lord Vishnu was present in the room with them. Prahlad told him that the Lord was everywhere, and in frustration Hiranyakashipu mocked Prahlad and asked him if his Lord was present in a pillar next to them. Prahlad told him that he was. In rage, Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar, and out came a ferocious being who was half man and half lion.”
Vishnu then comes to rescue the world in the Narasimha Avatar to kill Hiranyakashipu – in twilight (neither day nor night), on the threshold of a courtyard (neither inside nor outside), with his own hands (no weapons used), in his lap (neither earth nor sky), and in the form of a creature who is half-man and half-lion (neither man nor animal).
What fascinated me as a young kid was the creativity demonstrated by Vishnu to get around the boon given by Brahma to Hiranyakashipu. It reinforced the idea that no one is invincible. I have used the Narasimha avatar metaphor many times in business to demonstrate the point that out-of-the-box thinking can be used to defeat a strong incumbent, however unlikely that may seem. (Of course, Vishnu’s Narasimha was no ordinary startup!)
The other key theme that resonated with me was that good triumphs over evil. What Dashavatar demonstrated was that whenever things seemed lost, Vishnu would come to the rescue of the world.
Similar thoughts came into my mind in the past few months as I started thinking about India’s future. 1.3 billion people living in one of the world’s oldest, and yet cursed to live without freedom for the past millennium. It started with the invaders from Afghanistan, followed by the rule of the Mughals and then the British. We thought we had become free in 1947, but then our very own politicians enslaved us. This has been the hardest – because we all think we are free, little realising that all we have is the illusion of freedom. Our political parties and their leaders are the modern day Asuras.
The question that I started thinking: what would Vishnu do seeing the plight of his people – denied freedom by their own leaders, distanced from prosperity, and cornered by an expansionist neighbour? If ever there was a time for Vishnu’s next avatar, this was it.
Tomorrow: Part 6