This statue depicts the legend of Sharabha, the bird form of Virabhadra that Shiva created by infusing into it his own lustre for subduing Narsimha, the fourth of Vishnu’s ten incarnations. Under one interpretation of the text Sharabha appears to be Shiva’s own incarnate form, while under the other, that of Virabhadra. As commanded, Sharabha not only destroyed Narsimha’s vain ego but also his form and wore his skin on his body winning for him the epithet Narsimhakrittivasana.
The legend of Sharabha appears in the Shiva Maha Purana in Tratiya Shata Rudra Samhita, in Chapters 11 and 12. As the text has it, Sharabha looked like a huge bird covering the sky with his breadth, as also like a massive beast having attributes of a human being. In this representation Sharabha’s iconography and anatomy are almost identical to this image of the divinity.
As is the legend in the Shiva Maha Purana, Narsimha, Vishnu’s half lion-half man incarnation, had a limited objective of killing Hiranyakashipu, the demon chief and the father of the known Vishnu’s devotee Prahlad. As scheduled, Narsimha killed Hiranyakashipu but the energy that burst in his body while killing Hiranyakashipu did not cool down and he inclined to kill many more. First he made other demons his target but his passion to kill only increased. He then targeted also the common masses and even gods who approached Shiva for redeeming them from the atrocities of Narsimha. Shiva summoned Virabhadra and instructed him to go to Narsimha and persuade him first with politeness and then with force not to torment innocent. Virabhadra tried to convince Narsimha by both methods but instead of, the arrogant Narsimha attacked Virabhadra. For a moment Virabhadra disappeared and in his place burst a dazzling lustre and out of it emerged a form, a blend of the forms of bird, animal and human being, with a massive size covering the entire space from the earth to the sky. The text named it Sharabha. In a moment it overpowered Narsimha who, subdued and defeated, prayed for mercy.