In Hinduism, Narasimha ("man-lion"), also known as Narasingh, is one of the avatars of Vishnu.

In the form of his previous avatar, Varaha, Vishnu killed the demon Hiranyaksha. Hiranyaksha's brother Hiranyakashipu, greatly angered by this, starts to abhor Lord Vishnu and his followers. Further, he decides to put an end to Vishnu by gaining magical powers by performing a penance for Brahma. Brahma, pleased with his tough penance, appears before him and agrees to grant a boon. Hiranyakashipu asks for a tricky boon from Brahma: that he would not die on earth or in space, nor in fire or water, neither during the day nor at night, neither inside a building nor outside, not by the hand of a human, god, animal, nor by any animate or inanimate being. This virtually no-death boon to Hiranyakashipu makes him arrogant enough that he conquers the entire world, not caring that it means severe trouble and torture for common people, munis and followers of Vishnu.

Missing image
Artist's impression of "Narasimha breaking out from the pillar"

Meanwhile, while Hiranyakashipu is away for the penance, divine sage Narada preaches about the sweetness of reciting Vishnu's name to Hiranyakashipu's son, Prahlada, while he is still in his mother's womb. Thus, Prahlada is born a very devoted follower of Vishnu, the youngest ardent devotee of Vishnu.

Hiranyakashipu fails in convincing his son to join him against Vishnu, and therefore tries to kill him in many ways, but each time Prahlada is protected by Vishnu himself. When asked, Prahlada refuses to acknowledge his father as the supreme lord of the universe and claims that Vishnu is omnipresent. Once Hiranyakashipu points to a particular pillar and asks if Vishnu is in it; Prahlada answers, "He was, He is and He will be". Hiranyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashes the pillar, and Vishnu in the form of Narasimha comes from it.

In order to kill Hiranyakashipu, who cannot be killed by human, god or animal, Narasimha is partly all three: a god incarnate as a part-human, part-animal. He comes upon Hiranyakashipu at twilight (when it is neither day nor night) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out), and puts the demon on his lap (neither earth nor space). Using his nails (neither animate nor inanimate) as weapons, he disembowels and kills the demon.

Even after killing Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha cannot control his fury. He is finally pacified by Prahlada singing praises of Vishnu at the request of the divine sage Narada. Some believe that Prahlada was able to pacify Narasimha, but according to the Shiva purana, Narasimha's fury was still not under control and Shiva appeared as Sharaba and trampled Narasimha to becalm him.


  • Narasimha indicates God's omnipresence and the lesson is that God is everywhere.
  • Prahlada's devotion indicates that pure devotion is not one of birthright but of character. Prahlada, although born an asura, demonstrated greatest bhakti to God.

Hinduism | Dashavatara
Matsya | Kurma | Varaha | Narasimha | Vamana | Parashurama | Rama | Krishna | Balarama/Buddha | Kalki

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