Perhaps legend will always describe how the great King Hiranyakashipu was slain by Lord Narasimha, and brutally so. Myth continues to affirm the prowess of this avatara (earthly incarnation) of Lord Vishnu with tales and images of Naramsimha putting an end to Hiranyakashipu. Deeper observation reveals, however, that the death of the King is not merely a tale of triumph and defeat: it is a lesson in the power of the overarching asmita (ego) which was the fault of an otherwise fine King.
The watercolour that you see on this page depicts the King of the Asuras moments before meeting his death in the hands of Lord Narasimha. The latter, who is part-man (‘nara’) and part-lion (‘simha’), drags him all the way to the threshold of his quarters. The pale, almost colourless skies of the background betray the time of day, which is twilight. All of these are of great significance because destiny had it that Hiranyakashipu is to be slain by neither man nor beast, neither within His territory nor without, neither by day nor by night. And the fact that He was vanquished nevertheless is proof of destiny’s trickery.
In the foreground, a stately pillar breaks into two from the twin momentum of their bodies. The little Prahlada, son of Hiranyakashipu, epitome of the dharma of the devas, scurries ahead of them. Note the implements in the human-shaped arms of Narasimha - from the discus to the conch and the lotus, all of these are elements of the iconography of Vishnu.
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