The Narasimha Avatar: Optimisation Gone Astray

“The Avatar is necessary when a special work is to be done and in crises of the evolution.”

~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 28, p. 485.

Photo by Suhas Taken at North-East India Festival, Sri Aurobindo Auditorium, Auroville, TN
Photo by Suhas
Taken at North-East India Festival, Sri Aurobindo Auditorium, Auroville,

The story goes like this:

The demon-king Hiraṇyakaśipu wanted revenge on Lord Viṣṇu and his followers. He undertook many years of austere penance to fulfill his desire. Lord Brahma was happy with his austerities and offered the demon-kind a boon. Hiraṇyakaśipu asked for immortality. The Lord told him that this was not possible, but that he could bind the death. Hiraṇyakaśipu thought over it and decided to create a set of optimal conditions so that he would never be dead. The Lord in His compassion granted him the boon. The demon-king’s optimised conditions were as follows:

  • That he will not meet death from any of the living or non-living entities created by Lord Brahma, the Creator.
  • That he will not die within or outside any residence, during the day or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky.
  • That his death will not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.
  • That he will not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets.

Over the period of time, Hiraṇyakaśipu, the demon that he was, committed many atrocities, including several attempts to kill his son Prahālada who was an ardent devotee of Lord Viṣṇu. The world needed to be rid of this menace called Hiraṇyakaśipu.

In order to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu and not upset the boon given by Lord Brahma, the form of Narasiṁha (part human and part lion) was chosen by Lord Viṣṇu. Since Hiraṇyakaśipu could not be killed by human, deva or animal, Narasiṁha is neither of these. He was a form of Viṣṇu, incarnate as a part-human, part-animal. He came upon Hiraṇyakaśipu at twilight (when it is neither day nor night) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor outdoors), and puts 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.

Moral of the story:

Best laid out optimisation conditions always have a point of failure.

“Avatarhood would have little meaning if it were not connected with the evolution. The Hindu procession of the ten Avatars is itself, as it were, a parable of evolution. First the Fish Avatar, then the amphibious animal between land and water, then the land animal, then the Man-Lion Avatar, bridging man and animal, then man as dwarf, small and undeveloped and physical but containing in himself the godhead and taking possession of existence, then the rajasic, sattwic, nirguna Avatars, leading the human development from the vital rajasic to the sattwic mental man and again the overmental superman. Krishna, Buddha and Kalki depict the last three stages, the stages of the spiritual development—Krishna opens the possibility of Overmind, Buddha tries to shoot beyond to the supreme liberation but that liberation is still negative, not returning upon earth to complete positively the evolution; Kalki is to correct this by bringing the Kingdom of the Divine upon earth, destroying the opposing Asura forces. The progression is striking and unmistakable.”

~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 28, p. 487

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