Belur Chennakeshava Temple: Vishnu’s incarnation Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu

Belur Chennakeshava Temple - Story of Narasimhavatara - Vishnu's incarnation Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu

Narasimhavatara – Vishnu’s incarnation Narasimha slaying Hiranyakashipu

Narasimhavatara – Slaying of Hiranyakashipu
The Narasimhavatara relief is carved into a pillar attached to the exterior wall surrounding the garbhagriha of the Chennakeshava Temple at Belur in Karnataka, India. This pillar is located near the two-storied shrine on the south side.

Narasimhavatara is the fourth avatar of Vishnu. In Sanskrit, Nara means man and Simha means lion. In this avatar, Vishnu has a man’s torso with a lion’s face and claws. He adopted this body to kill an asura named Hiranyakashipu, who wanted to take revenge on Vishnu for killing his brother Hiranyaksha in his previous avatar, i.e., Varahavatara, the third avatar of Vishnu.

Check the page describing the Dashavatara painting on the Hampi Virupaksha Temple Murals for a list and description of all the ten avatars of Vishnu.

Here is the story of Narasimhavatara in brief:
To exact revenge for his brother’s death, Hiranyakashipu performed an intense tapasu (austerity and meditation) to please Brahma, from whom he expected to receive a vara (boon) that would give him special powers and make him immortal.

Pleased with Hiranyakashipu, Brahma asked him for his wish. When Brahma realized Hiranyakashipu’s desire was to become immortal, Brahma refused his request but suggested he could ask for other varas. Still wanting to be immortal, Hiranyakashipu cleverly changed his request and asked Brahma that he must not be killed by a man or animal, or by any weapons.

Brahma acceded to this request and endowed him with the vara. With the superpowers he gained from the vara, Hiranyakashipu assumed a godly status and started tormenting Vishnu’s devotees to worship him instead of Vishnu. Everyone in his kingdom then started worshiping Hiranyakashipu out of fear, except his son Prahlada, who had become an ardent devotee of Vishnu.

Because of Prahlada’s unflinching devotion to Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu decided to kill his own son. He used a variety of means to kill him, but each time Vishnu saved him.

Frustrated by Prahlada’s devotion to Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu started questioning his son about the existence of Vishnu. He pointed to a pillar and asked Prahlada whether Vishnu was in that pillar. When Prahlada said yes without hesitation, Hiranyakashipu became angry and started hitting that pillar with a mace. At that moment, Vishnu transformed himself into Narasimha (lion-man) and suddenly emerged out of that pillar, and killed Hiranyakashipu by ripping off his entrails with his bare claws, thereby abiding by all the conditions of Brahma’s vara.

The relief depicts Vishnu with the lion head and human torso having multiple hands with claws. With the body of Hiranyakashipu lying on his lap, Vishnu is seen ripping the entrails of Hiranyakashipu with his claws.

Related Images
Dashavatara (Ten Incarnations of Vishnu) painted on the ceiling of Hampi Virupaksha Temple
Lakshmi – Narasimha sculptural relief in Somanathapura Chennakeshava Temple
Narasimhavatara sculpture in Cave – 3 of the rock-cut caves of Badami
Ugra Narasimha carved on the lintel of the south garbhagriha door in the Kappe Chennigaraya Temple
Prahlada Story – Slaying of Hiranyakashipu carved into a frieze on the outer wall of the Halebidu Hoysaleswara Temple

Shilābālikes – Bracket figures mounted below the eaves
Darpana Sundari, Sukha Bhashini, Nātya Sundari, Gāna Sundari, Kesha Sundari, Tribhangi, Nagna Sundari, Kapāla Durga, Koravanji, Nātya Mohini, Betegārthi

Male Bracket Figures
Flute playing male musician
Narthaka – Davane playing male dancer
Davane playing male musician

Related Pages
Hoysala Temples
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Bracket Figures
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Navaranga
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Garbhagriha Outer Wall
Kappe Chennigaraya Shrine
Somanathapura Keshava Temple
Badami Chalukya Temples
Badami, Cave – 1, Cave – 2, Cave – 3, Cave – 4
Durga Temple at Aihole

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