I’m booked in to go to the 2009 Narasimha Caturdasi Festival in Germany. I went last year and it was so good for me I just had to go again.
Much about the German temple and the annual festival that takes place there is refreshingly different from many other spiritual gatherings I’ve been to. The temple sits atop a hill and the festival is filled with daily ceremonies and events that express and focus one’s devotion to Nrsimhadeva, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu. And it goes on for a few days.
Whilst in India there are many temples (especially in the state of Andhra Pradesh) that exclusively worship Laxmi-Nrsimhadeva, this ISKCON temple worships Prahlada-Nrsimhadeva and hence directs the mind to the relationship between Bhakta and Bhakta-Pala, the devotee and the Protector of the devotee. In attempting to meditate on, and better understand that relationship, there are many lessons for those of us who wish to more fully enter into our own personal relationship with God.
For an onlooker the form of Nrsimhadeva does not seem to be the image of grace, beauty and loving kindness one would expect of any manifestation of God. But appearances – even those of a loving God – must be understood through the Veda; not with a mind grasping vainly for comprehension.
That, of course, is one aspect underlying the avatara of Narasimha: that His startling lionesque appearance was entirely new; that neither man nor demigod had set eyes upon such a form before. The hate-filled antagonists at the heart of the lila didn’t know what to make of Him. And when he roared, even the battle-hardened trembled.
The persecutor of the Lord’s child devotee, a king named Hiranyakashipu, had experienced and conquered all phenomena within the world and was determined to safeguard his ongoing enjoyment from any situation or circumstance that threatened it. Yet he met his end at the hands of a curiously bewildering half-man, half-lion form that he had never been encountered before. God had outwitted him.
Yet the very form that perplexed and confounded Hiranyakashipu is the very source of delight and blessed reassurance for the devotees. Years ago in Mayapura I sat before Srila Prabhupada as he described the paradoxical nature of the Lord in this fierce form. He described His hands, that the Lord’s fingernails are as sharp as steel chisels, yet the palms of His hands are as soft as lotus flowers. Our only choice in this world is which part of the Lord we experience.
Just as a lioness is a loving mother to her cubs, but sure death to her prey, so Lord Narasimha is the protector of His beloved devotees, despite His fierce appearance.