[May 25, 2021 is the appearance day of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the same tithi on May 13, 2014 and May 9, 2017. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content. ]
[Śrīla Mahārāja began the class by reciting this prayer from Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa, also quoted in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya, 16.52-53.]
namas te nara-siṁhāya
ito nṛsiṁhaḥ parato nṛsiṁho
yato yato yāmi tato nṛsiṁhaḥ
bahir nṛsiṁho hṛdaye nṛsiṁhaḥ
nṛsiṁham ādiṁ śaraṇaṁ prapadye
Today is the appearance day of Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva. It is a very special day.
ALL FORMS OF BHAGAVĀN ARE AUSPICIOUS
Bhagavān appears in many forms such as Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Nṛsiṁha, Vāmana and so on. Generally, a boar or a pig is considered an abominable species. In India, there is a popular abuse - 'suvar kā bacchā!’ which literally means ‘You son of a pig!’
However, when Bhagavān accepts the form of a boar, Varāha-rūpa, does that make His form abominable as well? No. All the appearances and activities of Bhagavān are supremely transcendental – ‘janma-karma ca me divyam evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ’. Even in the prayers of Gajendra, it is mentioned – ‘na nāma-rūpe guṇa-doṣa eva vā – the Supreme Personality of Godhead has no material birth, activities, name, form, qualities or faults’.
When Bhagavān appeared as a boar, He lifted the earth on His tusks. In His tortoise incarnation, He effortlessly carried the Mandara Mountain upon His back, a task which all the demigods and demons combined could not accomplish. On the contrary, taking the Mandara Mountain upon His back was a relaxing experience for Him, not burdensome in the least. That is why Bhagavān says, “My birth and activities are transcendental.” Thus, all the forms of Bhagavān like Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha and Nṛsiṁha are nirguṇa (transcendental) and sarva-śaktimān (omnipotent). This is Bhagavān’s divinity.
Bhagavān simultaneously appeared as the son of Vasudeva and Devakī, and the son of Nanda and Yaśodā; moreover, Devakīnandana Kṛṣṇa and Yaśodā-nandana Kṛṣṇa merged into one. Is such a thing possible? Then another question may arise: Can Bhagavān ever take birth? If so, who are the parents of Nṛsiṁhadeva? The pillar from which He appeared?
Just as the pillar is not His mother or father, so also Vasudeva and Devakī or Nanda and Yaśodā are not His parents. If it were so, then how could Bhagavān be 'anādir ādir govindaḥ’? But Bhagavān ‘accepts’ them as His parents. Hence His activities are called pastimes, līlās. Brahmā says in Śrī Brahma-saṁhitā (5.1):
īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ
anādir ādir govindaḥ
[Kṛṣṇa who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.]
He is the prime cause of all causes, so who will become His cause? We can never comprehend such matters with our material mind and intelligence. Such transcendental topics can only be understood in sādhu-saṅga [hearing about the topics of Bhagavān in the association of His pure devotees], without which they will remain incomprehensible.
An actor may play a certain role, but does he become that personality he is portraying? No. So if an ordinary actor can enchant and mesmerize his audience then is there anything surprising about such a great personality as Bhagavān, who is full with sixty four qualities, enchanting everyone by enacting His pastimes? It is not easy to comprehend this.
WHO DOES BHAGAVĀN APPEAR FOR?
By the benediction of Brahmā, who is the ādi-kālika devatā, original and foremost amongst demigods, Hiraṇyakaśipu attained enormous strength. This was only possible because Bhagavān had empowered Brahmā. Brahmā had awarded the benediction that Hiraṇyakaśipu would die neither during the day nor the night; neither outside nor inside; neither in the sky nor on the ground; neither by astra (a weapon released from one’s hand e.g. arrow) nor śastra (a weapon kept in one’s hand e.g. sword) and so on. Thus Hiraṇyakaśipu was convinced that he couldn’t die under any circumstances. ‘Although Brahmā did not give me the boon to become immortal, I have outwitted him into giving me the boon of eternal life.’ On the strength of this benediction, he began to harass all the demigods including Brahmā, Śiva and others. What could be done then?
Faced with Hiraṇyakaśipu’s atrocities, even Brahmā, who could no longer protect himself, began to pray to Bhagavān. What to speak of Brahmā; even Śiva, Indra and all other (demigods) began to pray for Hiraṇyakaśipu to be vanquished. But did Bhagavān appear to slay Hiraṇyakaśipu at that time? No!
Why then does He say in the Bhagavad-gītā 'paritrāṇaya sādhūnāṁ'? Actually, Bhagavān did not consider any of them in the category of sādhus [because they never serve or worship the Lord for His pleasure but only for their own wellbeing] Who is a sādhu? A sādhu is one whose eyes and heart are always turned towards Bhagavān, the Absolute Truth.
Are Brahmā and others [demigods] not devotees? No. Their activities indicate that they are karmīs (fruitive workers). That is why Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in the Śaraṇāgati kīrtana sang,
'ṣaḍ-aṇga śaraṇāgati hoibe jāhāra
tāhāra prārthanā śune śrī-nanda-kumāra'
One who is not completely surrendered, his prayers will not be heard by the Lord. [Endnote 1]
THE INTELLIGENT TAKE SHELTER OF BHAGAVĀN
Bhagavān has no limitations. He is omnipotent (sarva-śaktimān). He is never harmed in anyway. He never fails [to award protection]. This is why an intelligent person takes shelter of Him. Because Bhagavān can appear in any form to protect; one who has taken shelter of Bhagavān will not face any calamity.
Prahlāda did not plead for protection from Bhagavān; nonetheless, could Hiraṇyakaśipu cause any harm to Prahlāda? Hiraṇyakaśipu meted out all types of atrocities to kill Prahlāda – like attempting to, administer him poison, bury him underground, burn him alive, sink him in the ocean by tying a stone around his neck and so on. For a long time, Bhagavān was protecting him incognito. He did not manifest Himself directly. When nothing seemed to work, Hiraṇyakaśipu thought, ‘Now I shall have to kill him myself, as nobody else is able to accomplish this task.’
That is when Bhagavān appeared from the pillar in the form of Nṛsiṁhadeva to save His devotee Prahlāda. Was Nṛsiṁhadeva in that pillar? He is everywhere, but who has this vision? Only His devotee has this vision, and thus he is fearless. The devotee believes, “My Lord is everywhere, so where and whom should I fear?”
BHAGAVĀN MAKES THE WORDS OF HIS DEVOTEES COME TRUE
When Hiraṇyakaśipu resolved to kill Prahlāda, he asked him, “All the demigods hide in fear of me. No one dares to speak with me as an equal. But you are doing so and that too, without any trace of fear. Where do you get this strength from?” Prahlāda replied, “The same source from where you derive your strength. Only Bhagavān is the source of all strength. To the degree Bhagavān provides, to that degree any individual possesses strength.” Hiraṇyakaśipu asked, “Where is He?” Prahlāda replied, “He is omnipresent.” Hiraṇyakaśipu demanded, “If He is everywhere, why am I not seeing Him?” Prahlāda persisted, “But I can see Him.” Hiraṇyakaśipu fumed, “So, is He in this pillar?” Prahlāda confirmed, “Certainly.”
Then Hiraṇyakaśipu hit the pillar hard [with his club] and Nṛsiṁhadeva appeared from there. 'satyaṁ vidhātuṁ nija-bhṛtya-bhāṣitaṁ' - this is Bhagavān’s principle. To uphold the words of His devotee, Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva appeared from the pillar accepting a form which was neither human nor animal, but half-man and half-lion.
NṚSIṀHADEVA IS A PERSONIFICATION OF VĀTSALYA
Nṛsiṁhadeva epitomizes vātsalya (parental affection) for His devotees. Be they humans or animals, as parents they spontaneously attack any aggressor of their offspring even at the cost of their own lives.
Even a mother, who may be peaceful by nature, becomes triggered when her child is harassed. I remember, in one of our maṭhas, we had a very peaceful cow. She used to be leashed inside [the maṭha]. When it was time to feed her calf, milk would automatically flow from her udders and she would affectionately lick her calf. But later, when she gave birth to a new calf, she became aggressive and would not allow anyone to come in her proximity. Her aggression instigated fear in the hearts of those who visited the maṭha. One devotee even suggested, “To have such an ill-tempered cow within the premises of the maṭha is inappropriate. It is better to adopt a peaceful cow.” I replied, “She has become aggressive externally, only to protect her calf. Otherwise, I have never seen any cow as friendly as her. This is only out of her affection for her offspring.”
So similarly for Prahlāda, Bhagavān appeared as Nṛsiṁhadeva to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu. Such was Nṛsiṁhadeva’s affection for Prahlāda.
BHAGAVĀN MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
Bhagavān is addressed as, ‘kartum akartum anyathā karite samartha’ – He is able to act freely and can do and undo whatever He likes. (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya 9.44) In other words, Bhagavān is one who can do and undo as He pleases, for whom everything is possible. The intelligence of Bhagavān is far superior to anyone’s material intelligence.
Hiraṇyakaśipu falsely concluded, ‘No entity in Brahmā’s creation can kill me and so I am immortal! Other than Brahmā, which other creator could there be?’ However, is Nṛsiṁhadeva a creation of Brahmā? Certainly not. Only Bhagavān was able to slay Hiraṇyakaśipu, while fulfilling all the clauses of the benediction awarded by Brahmā.
Initially, Nṛsiṁhadeva toyed with Hiraṇyakaśipu by first catching him and then releasing him. When Hiraṇyakaśipu was out of His grip, he thought, “O! Now, He has understood my strength!” Then Hiraṇyakaśipu wielded his club to fight again. But at last, when Nṛsiṁhadeva caught him, he could not escape.
Subsequently, He placed Hiraṇyakaśipu on His lap and tore him apart with His fingernails. Bhagavān killed him on the threshold, neither inside nor outside. Neither during the day nor the night, but at sandhyā (dusk). Hiraṇyakaśipu’s skin was so tough that not even Indra's thunderbolt weapon could produce so much as a mark on it, yet Nṛsiṁhadeva tore it apart. Hence it is said, ‘There is absolutely nothing He cannot do’.
Everyone was ecstatic, from wherever they had witnessed the killing of Hiraṇyakaśipu – the devatās showered flowers from the sky; Apsarās danced and sang; Gandharvas sang, and all celebrated by singing the glories of Nṛsiṁhadeva with utterances of ‘Jaya! Jaya!’ Such was the scene.
A DEVOTEE IS BEYOND GIVE-AND-TAKE DEALINGS
After slaying Hiraṇyakaśipu, Nṛsiṁhadeva desired to offer Prahlāda a boon. But Prahlāda said, “One who accepts boons from Bhagavān in exchange for his service to Him is a karmī. I am a devotee beyond designations (nirupādhika), hence I am not interested in these give-and-take dealings.” Nṛsiṁhadeva said, “If you do not accept any boon from Me, I will be defamed.” Prahlāda prayed, “Grant me such a boon that the desire to seek boons will never arise in my heart.” Nṛsiṁhadeva replied, “When you already do not have such a desire, what is the need to give such a boon?” Finally Prahlāda consented, “My father raised his arms against You and fought with You, let there be no inauspiciousness for him.” Just see how glorious a devotee is!
Then Nṛsiṁhadeva chose to take that opportunity to glorify the position of His devotee. Bhagavān only has one engagement, i.e. to sing the glories of His devotees, and His devotees too, only engage in singing the glories of Bhagavān. This is the reciprocation of love. Nṛsiṁhadeva did not say, “There will be auspiciousness for Hiraṇyakaśipu.” Instead He affirmed, 'triḥ-saptabhiḥ pitā pūtaḥ pitṛbhiḥ saha te ’nagha’ [Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, 7.10.18] – O Anagha, O sinless Prahlāda, your parents from the previous twenty-one lifetimes have been delivered by the virtue of you having appeared in their lineage.
An intermediate devotee (madhyama) will deliver his parents from the previous fourteen lifetimes, and a neophyte devotee (kaniṣṭha) will deliver his parents from the previous seven lifetimes.
A DEVOTEE NEVER PRAYS FOR HIS OWN DELIVERANCE
In the Bhagavad-gītā (4.8) Bhagavān said –
paritrāṇaya sādhūnāṁ vināśaya ca duṣkṛtām dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge
[In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re-establish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.]
This is Bhagavān’s activity - 'sādhu paritrāṇa' i.e. to deliver the pious. Deliverance is of many types. The devotees never desire for protection from enemies. [A pure devotee of Bhagavān is ajāta-śatru, someone whose enemy is yet to be born, because he never considers anyone as his enemy.] Prahlāda never prayed to Nṛsiṁhadeva saying, 'O Prabhu! Please protect me from Hiraṇyakaśipu'. For one who never asks for anything, does the question of his deliverance arise? A sādhu never desires, but Bhagavān appears for a sādhu, to uphold His promise, 'paritrāṇaya sādhūnāṁ'.
So, did Prahlāda ask for anything? Yes he asked for the deliverance of his father. Devotees do not ask anything for themselves, but if they ask for anything, they do so only to manifest the glories of Bhagavān.
BHAGAVĀN RECIPROCATES AS PER THE DEVOTEES’ DESIRES
Some say Nṛsiṁhadeva is in Navadvīpa, Devapallī, others say He is on the mountain, Vana-nṛsiṁha. At the place where Nṛsiṁhadeva protected Prahlāda when he was thrown from the top of the mountain into the ocean with a stone tied to his neck, He is famous as Jiyaḍa-nṛsiṁha. At the place where stones were accumulated to kill Prahlāda, He is famous as Ahobila-nṛsiṁha. And at the place where Prahlāda was forced to drink poison which turned into nectar, He is known as Pānā-nṛsiṁha. There, Nṛsiṁhadeva Himself drank the poison given in Shikanji (spiced lemonade) to spare Prahlāda. Nothing happened to Prahlāda.
Bhagavān appears to the devotees as per their devotion unto Him. Accordingly, Nṛsiṁhadeva provides and protects them. Thus Bhagavān’s pastimes are divine. Whatever conviction a devotee possesses; Bhagavān accordingly grants him fearlessness (abhaya) in that conviction.
Today is His appearance day and it is our great fortune that we are all observing this day.
Black & White Line drawings Courtesy: Drdha Vrata Gorrick
ṣaḍ-aṇga śaraṇāgati hoibe jāhāra
tāhāra prārthanā śune śrī-nanda-kumāra
The six ways of surrender through śaraṇāgati are humility, dedication of the self, acceptance of the Lord as one's maintainer, the consciousness that Kṛṣṇa will surely protect one, execution of only those acts favorable to pure devotion, and renunciation of conduct adverse to pure devotion.
The pure devotees of the Lord are distinguished from others due to their following the six intrinsic principles of exclusive surrender to the Supreme Lord mentioned above by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and which are also found in the Vaiṣṇava-tantra as follows:
ānukūlyasya-saṅkalpaḥ, prātikūlyasya-varjjanam rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāso, goptṛtve varaṇaṁ tathā ātma-nikṣepa-kārpaṇye, ṣaḍ-vidhā śaraṇāgatiḥ
"Acceptance of the favorable, rejection of the unfavorable, the faith that 'He will surely protect me,' embracing the Lord's guardianship, complete dependence on Him, and the perception of one's utter helplessness without Him, these six are the essential limbs of exclusive surrender unto the Lord." (Śrī Śrī Prapana-jīvanāmṛtam 2.32)