Prahlada, son of the wicked king Hiranyakashipu, was a pious boy devoted to Vishnu. His father tried to discourage his pious inclinations and inflicted on him cruel punishments. Eventually the king decided to kill the child, who was ever lost in contemplation. But first several forms of torture were tried without effect, the boy being always miraculously protected.
Hiranyakashipu was himself invulnerable. A boon he had received from Brahma stated that he could not be killed by day or by night, by god, man or beast, inside or outside his palace. To save Prahlada and destroy the evil king, Vishnu appeared at twilight (neither day or night) as a lion-headed man (neither man nor beast) within a pillar (neither inside nor outside the palace). Then with his claws he tore out the entrails of the genie.
Here the two-armed Narasimha is shown with a wrathful expression on his face, tearing out the entrails of the evil king, lying on his lap.
Being a combination of man (the most powerful and excellent among higher creatures) and lion (the most powerful and excellent among lower creatures), Narasimha represents the best of creation. He is especially the embodiment of valor which is a divine attribute and hence worshipped by rulers and warriors.
Danielou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India: Vermont, Inner Traditions International, 1991.
Garrett, John. A Classical Dictionary of India: Delhi, Low Price Publications, 1996.
Harshananda, Swami. Hindu Gods and Goddesses: Madras, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1987.
Mitchell, A.G. Hindu Gods and Goddesses: New Delhi, UBS Publishers, 1998, Eleventh Edition.
Other Paintings of this Series: