Nrsimha in His peaceful aspect.
Today I gave the Narasimha Caturdasi class in our London temple. It was the first time I’d given class before a large audience since I’d had my operation, and I was doubtful that I would be able to deliver a talk of suitable quality for such an important festival. The devotees had also asked me to lead the kirtan for Srila Prabhupada’s guru puja. Normally such invitations would not give me any concern. I’m quite comfortable singing and speaking in public, especially when the public are appreciative Vaishnavas.
But I have not led kirtan in a temple for some months, and as the kirtans in London are usually very lively, I was apprehensive, and thought that perhaps I would sing for a few minutes and then politely pass the microphone on to someone else. I could not somehow see myself energetically dancing and singing with the young brahmacaries on this particular occasion.
Perhaps it was the grace of Narasimha on His day, or maybe I am just so pleased to be healthy again, but I led the kirtan for an hour, and then gave class for just under four hours. The devotees were all so happy and enthusiastic, and the Deities and temple flower decorations so attractive, the entire atmosphere was spiritually uplifting.
We began by chanting some powerful verses about the half-man, half-lion form of Vishnu. These old mantras, some from the scriptures and some from the acaryas, are poetic and there is great spiritual strength to be had from chanting them. I had prepared my class the day before by studying the seventh canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. The story of Prahlada and Narasimha is told between the second chapter and the ninth.
I began by eradicating a notion, generated by particular Gaudiya Vaishnavas, that the worship of Lord Nrsimha is unimportant or unnecessary for the development of love of Radha Krishna. I mentioned that Sridhara Swami, the foremost mediaeval commentator on the Bhagavatam, worshipped Nrsimha as his deity; that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu declared his identity with Nrsimha; that Bhaktivinode Thakur installed Lakshsmi Nrsimha in the Yoga-pith as Bhakti-vigna-vinasana: the remover of obstacles on the path of Bhakti; that his son Bhaktisiddhanta gave Nrsimha mantras to his sanyasis disciples when they came to London to preach; and of course, that Srila Prabhupada asked us to chant the prayers to Nrsimha after every arati in the temple, indicating that it was for: ‘the health of the spiritual master and the protection of his mission.’
I then spoke about the personal nature of Godhead and the practise of image worship within Vaishnavism, and how it stands in stark contrast to the conceptions of the faiths originating in the middle-east. Many of us devotees who came from Judaic, Christian or Islamic backgrounds have had to make huge intellectual adjustments to accommodate the ideas of incarnation and deity worship. The form of half-man, half-lion which God took to outwit a great blasphemer would be a great challenge for most raised in an Abrahamic tradion. And yet the sons and daughters of Abraham are still coming and becoming Vaishnavas.
During the remainder of the class we discussed the nature of the demonic mind; the attempts to outwit God by Hiranyakshipu the father of Prahlada; the teachings of Prahlada to his school friends; the cruelty his father subjected him to; and the final result of such offenses to a great child devotee. The Lord’s form in this incarnation was discussed and I handed out my picture book of Nrsimha deities which proved popular. I also passed around a copper-bronze statue of Nrsimha from south India so that everyone could see the way Krishna is worshipped in this form in that part of the world. We concluded with a hearty kirtan.
The Nrsimha Appearance Day procession through London has become a regular annual event now, and I joined with hundreds of others as they made their way down Oxford Street and Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus. At that point I left the party and travelled a few stops on the underground to South Kensington where I had an appointment with an expert in Indian bronzes at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I thought that this day would be an appropriate time for getting an opinion on the age of my Nrsimha statue.
I travelled home, as I had travelled out that morning, with Karuna Sindhu das from East Germany. He is very interested in travelling to visit our many sangha groups around the country and helping to spread the teachings to the growing Vaishnava community.