Lord Narsimhadev is the half-man, half-lion incarnation of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Narsimhadev appeared in the Satya-yauga, millions of years ago, to protect His devotee Prahalad Maharaja from the atrocities of his demoniac father King Hiranyakasyapu. Sri Krishna at different time appears as a 'yuga avatar' or scheduled incarnation for the yuga (like Lord Ram was in Treta yuga), a 'guna avatar' or a qualitative incarnation (like Vyasadeva, who is a literary incarnation), a 'shaktivesha avatar' or an empowered incarnation (like so many prominent saints in Vedic times). Lord Narsimhadev is considered to be 'lila avatar', or a momentary form the Lord assumes to accomplish His pastimes. This is not to imply that the form of Lord Narsimhadev is transient. In fact Lord Narsimhadev is one of the eternal forms of Sri Krishna in the spiritual world, with His own spiritual planet. What is transient is the appearance of His form in the material universe.
Hiranyakasyapu was born of the great sage Kasyapa Muni and his wife Diti. Since he was conceived at an inappropriate time, without the observance of recommended procedures, he (and his younger brother Hiranyaksh) were born with demoniac mentalities. From this we can understand the importance of following prescribed Vedic procedures, like the 'garbhadana samsakara' when bringing a progeny to this world. Children conceived out of lust, apathy or physical desires, reflect the consciousness of their parents at the time of conception and find it very difficult to lead a regulated, spiritual life. So, the two brothers, even though they were born of such an exalted lineage, were very much infatuated with the modes of material nature. The word Hiranyakasyapu means 'one who likes gold and soft beds'. Hiranyakasyapu spend his life in the pursuit of material wealth, power and sense gratification.
When Hiranyaksh, the younger brother of Hiranyakasyapu was killed by Sri Vishnu in His Varha incarnation, Hiranyakasyapu was furious and vowed to avenge the death of his brother by killing Vishnu Himself. He accused Vishnu of being partial to the demigods, and send his followers to the different planetary systems, to spread chaos and turmoil. These followers of Hiranyakasyapu tormented the saintly people, stopped all kinds of yajnas or sacrifices and spread irreligosity every where. The demigods, deprived of their offerings from the yajnas became weak and ineffective. Meanwhile Hiranyakasyapu went to Mount Mandara to perform severe austerities in order to please Brahma, the creator of the universe.
Taking advantage of the absence of Hiranyakasyapu, Indra, the king of the demigods attacked and drove away the demons. Indra also took captive Queen Kayadhu, the chaste wife of Hiranyakasyapu, who was at that time pregnant. Indra, apprehensive that any child of Hiranyakasyapu could also be a future threat, wanted to kill the child at the time of birth. He was however stopped by Narada Muni, the transcendental sage of the demigods. Narada gave shelter to Queen Kayadhu in his ashram and instructed her on the glories of Sri Krishna. In the womb of Kayadhu, her son, who would later become Prahalad, also heard and absorbed these nectarean instructions. Kayadhu, fearful that Indra may still return to kill her child on birth, requested Narada Muni to give her the benediction that her child will not deliver till Hiranyakasyapu returns. Prahalad thus stayed in the womb of his mother for 100 years of the demigods (36,000 of our years), spiritually associating with a pure devotee, Narada Muni, through speech or 'vani', while his father performed intense austerities.
Over this period, Hiranyakasyapu's body was eaten away be ants and insects. His life air remained trapped in his skeleton by his mystic powers. So intense was the effulgent heat emanating from his head that all the three planetary systems were scorched and the demigods became very fearful of their own existence and entreated Brahma to intercede. After Lord Brahma had restored Hiranyakasyapu's body, pleased by his austerities he granted him the boon that he would not be killed during day or night, in the ground or the air, inside or outside, by man, beast of demigod, by any weapon living or non living. In asking for such a boon, Hiranyakasyapu was attempting to become immortal. His attitude is reflected in that of the materialists today who try to become immortal by wealth, technology and power - little realizing that every thing in this material world is transient, subject to destruction at the infallible hands of time.
Kayadhu on being re-united with Hiranyakasyapu, gave birth to Prahalad. Hiranyakasyapu, empowered with the boons from Brahma soon bought the three worlds under his power. He ruled his kingdom ruthlessly and fiercely, causing enormous miseries to the demigods, humans and the inhabitants of the lower planetary systems. He deprived the demigods of all their powers and assumed all their positions. He accepted all sacrifices for himself without glorifying the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Who is the ultimate receiver of all sacrifices. Miserable under the tyranny of Hiranyakasyapu, the demigods ultimately surrendered to Krishna, praying to Him for protection and deliverance. Pleased by their prayers, Krishna Who always protects His devotees promised to bring an end to Hiranyakasyapu.
Prahalad, although born in a demoniac family was a pure devotee. He exemplifies the power of association with pure devotees. The mercy of a pure devotee of the Lord can reverse all inauspicious circumstances and plant the seed of love for Godhead. Prahalad carefully nurtured this seed, planted in his heart by the nectarean instructions of Narada Muni, even before he was born. Understanding the true position of Vishnu, Prahalad spend his time meditating on the name, form and pastimes of Vishnu. Despite the efforts of his teachers, employed by Hiranyakasyapu, Prahalad refused to accept his father as the supreme being. Being a devotee, he was always kind, gentle and respectful, but firm in his faith. Finally after several ploys, Hiranyakasyapu exasperated with the obstinance of Prahalad ordered him killed.
The cruel guards of Hiranyakasyapu tried very hard to kill Prahalad, but failed. When one is protected by Sri Krishna, it is impossible to harm him. Hiranyakasyapu now grew fearful of his son, and urged his teachers to try harder. The teachers tried with renewed energy to explain the supremacy of Hiranyakasyapu. However when Prahalad was taken back to Hiranyakasyapu, he remained firm in his belief and even counseled his father to give up his envy for Vishnu and become his devotee. Enraged by this Hiranyakasyapu finally decided to kill Prahalad himself and mockingly asked him if his God was there to save him now. When Prahalad explained that Vishnu is omnipresent, Hiranyakasyapu kicked down a column asking him if his Vishnu was present in that pillar.
Lord Narsimhadev emerged from the pillar in a wondrous from that was half man and half lion. He was resplendent in His arms, garments, helmet and weapons. Hiranyakasyapu, confident of the prowress of his boons, fearlessly attacked Lord Narsimhadev and a terrific fight ensued. It is said that Lord Narsimhadev played with Hiranyakasyapu, much like Garuda, the carrier of Lord Vishnu , plays with a snake before killing it. Finally, when it was dusk, neither day nor night, Lord Narsimhadev, Who in that form was neither man nor animal, took Hiranyakasyapu on his lap, which was neither in the ground or the air, took him under the palace gate, which was neither inside nor outside and killed him with his nails, which was not a weapon, living or dead. In this way Lord Narsimhadev honored all the benedictions of Brahma and protected His devotees from irreligious.
The killing of Hiranyakasyapu was greeted with much relief and celebration in all the three worlds. All the demigods, headed by Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva assembled to glorify Lord Narsimhadev. So fearful was the form and anger of Lord Narsimhadev, that no one dared approach Him, and it was finally Prahalad Maharaj, fearless under the protection of his own Lord, who pacified Lord Narsimhadev by offering sweet prayers to Him. Finally when the Lord was pacified, He offered many bendictions to Prahalad Maharaj and was then worshipped by all the demigods assembled there.
Devotees to this day pray to Lord Narsimhadev for protection from material harm. Even though devotees of Krishna are not much concerned about material advancement, the benediction of Lord Narsimhadev is special, since it protects them for material harm so that they can make spiritual advancements, in the mood of Prahalad Maharaja. Thursday, April 29th was the appearance day of Lord Narsimhadev. On this auspicious occasions let us all pray for His mercy to protect disease, injury, accidents and untimely death, so that we may continue to serve the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna.
1. Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 7.