Sanatana Dharma (literally meaning "eternal way of life") extols a unique way of interaction between the Creator and the Creation. While Vedas declare in their every breath the presence of Creator in the every blade of Creation, Puranas (literally meaning "ancient historical accounts as fresh as today's news") portray vividly multitudes of occasions when the Creator of Universe called Param Brahaman in Vedas, intervened in the functioning of His Creation. And that He does by taking special forms and in special ways. Those special forms of the Param Brahaman are called Avatars. Avatars of Bhagvan in Sanatana Dharma are numerous. And the Avatars of the Lord are not just in the human form, they are in fish, animal, and even in mixed human-animal forms as well!
Avatar literally means one who descends. So, an Avatar is Param Brahaman, Bhagvan, or the Lord descending upon earth in special forms and ways. Each Avatar descends for a particular purpose, to solve a particular inexplicable mess created by we the humans or even devas, the denizens of heavens. In each Avatar, the Param Brahaman decides how long He wants to stay on the mortal planet-sometimes just for few hours while in others He is supercentenarian!
While accomplishing this, Bhagvan also enthuses His very nature of Aananda or Pure Joy in those with whom He interacts on this planet, even His dead-set enemies. So, an Avatar enlivens the Creation once again with Joy, so much so that even the reading of accounts of such interactions from Puranas millenniums later would bring joy to humanity.
But how could a mess-salvaging operation be joyous, giving joy even to those who read it ages later? Simply because the Param Brahaman performs it through a leela, an elegant style that is a rich tapestry of characters and pageant. This leela, unique to each Avatar, is what makes this history so vivid, so enlivening that its mere reading or a narration uplifts its reader's mind to an ecstatic state, in dire contrast to the mundane world that we all experience day in and day out!
Shri Narshimha Chaturdashi is one such major occasion of joy. It celebrates the descent of the primeval Lord Shri Vishnu to restore the turmoil created by a rakshasha, Hiranyakashayap. Contrary to popular beliefs, a rakshasa is not necessarily a bizarre being with multiple heads and limbs. Rakshasha simply means someone who induces fear in others so much so that they run for shelter. Hiranyakashayap was one such rakshasha. To seek revenge from the slayer of his brother is what he wanted. Since the slayer was the almighty Bhagvan Vishnu Himself, Hiranyakashayap obtained powerful boons from the Chaturmukhi Shri Brahma, the architect-in-chief of the universe, by pleasing him with his severe tapas, austerities. Those boons virtually eliminated any possibility of his death during a warfare with Vishnu:
यदि त्वं वरदानाय प्रवर्तो भगवन्मम l
यद् यद् व्रणोमय्हं ब्रहमम्स्तत्तन्मे दातुमर्हसि ll ५
न शुष्केण न चार्द्रेण न जलेन न वहनिना l
न काष्ठेन न कीटेन पाषाणेन न वायुना ll ६
न युधेन न शूलेन न शैलेन न मानुषै: l
न सुरैरसुरैर्वापि न गन्धर्वैनं राक्षसै: ll ७
न किंनैरर्न यक्षैस्तु विद्याधरभुजंगमैः l
न वानरैर्म्रगैवाम्पि नैव मात्रगणैरपि ll ८
नाभ्यन्त्रे न बाह्यो तु नान्यैर्मरणहेतुभिः l
न दिने न च नक्तं मे तवत्प्रसादद भवेन्म्रतिः ll ९
इति वै देवदेवेशं वरं त्वत्तो व्रणोमय्हम् l
Narshimha Purana, Ch. 40.5-9
"Bhagvan, if you are so inclined to bless me with benedictions, please bless me with these that I ask of you. May I be not killed with a thing that is dry or wet, water or fire, wood, insect, rock or air. May I be not killed with any weapon, spear, or mountain. Nor by a man, devata, asura, rakshasha, or gandharva. Nor by kinnar, yaksha, vidhyadhar, or bhujang. Nor by a monkey, deer and other animals, or Durga or other similar divine mothers. Neither outside or inside the house, during the day or during the night, nor by any other means of death. (all Sanskrit to English translations are by the author).
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