Listen, and hear
Within the moon the silent flight
While stars ring like bells in a sky of snow.
Did you know
That the moon is hollow
And it chimes?
Now, past clouds of bitter rain,
Sullen in the jagged wind,
At a sharp bend in the long road,
Shines the light of butterfilies beyond the shards of the dark,
Of grace, as yet unimagined,
A hand of tree bark
Offers peace, abhaya mudra: “Fear
Not,” a message,
Seek and ye
Within the call
Of the star, cloaked in a misted shawl.
Soon, between the bones of yesteryear
Rise the rushing waters to the ridge
Of ending times.
There at the top of the narrow stair
Opens the rock-enchanted desert that will echo eternity,
Sing that the shadow
Has gone, though it is not that the shadow
Has gone, but just that the sun is real and the shadow not, after all,
The holy one, unknown, will walk again on the straight path,
Will hold the innocent deer high in his hand
(In the land
Of the gold dragon who gnashes
Her emerald jaw,
Extending her five-toed
There the brave one walks, placing the sun anew,
Engulfing the burning cities of the mind,
And – casting death at last behind,
Cleanses the earth of ashes.
Poem: © Sharon St Joan, 2017
Photo: © Dbpetersen | Dreamstime
By Sharon St Joan
There were no highways then and no paved roads. When the little girl went with her brothers to tend the cattle on top of the hillside, she could see a long way, out over sloping plains dotted with green trees. The sky was blue and the air was clear. When they returned at sunset, the small bricks of which their house was made shined gold in the rays of the setting sun, and there seemed to be magical beings dancing in the air. She watched as her grandmother took newly made, fired, ceramic vases out of the kiln, incised with red and white patterns, sometimes drawn in a row along with the horned head of a bull or a tree with outspread branches.
Nearby, the Saraswathi flowed, a vast, magnificent river, silver in the sunset, so wide that she could not see the other side. Her father had told her that it went all the way to the sea, and that the sea was much, much bigger than the lakes nearby – it was bigger even than the land on which they lived. No one they knew had ever seen the sea, but they had heard about it. On it sailed boats from other lands, and on these other lands, there lived people too. To the south, in the centuries to come, all along the river many other towns would grow up, possibly hundreds, and in the north among the hills, the river narrowed, and it sprang out of great rocks that lived near mountains, covered in snow year-round, that touched the sky, enormous high mountains where no one lived but only the Gods, and the Great God who brought into being – and would some day destroy – all the worlds.
Around seven thousand years passed, and during this immense span of time, the towns along the river, part of the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization, grew into enormous, well-planned metropolises, with great paved roads, two-story houses, indoor plumbing, great public buildings, amazing art work, and writing. Around three thousand BCE, they rivaled the cities of Sumer and may have been the largest, most highly developed, most populated cities in the world.
Over many centuries, the great Saraswathi River narrowed in width, growing thinner and thinner, like a ribbon. Eventually, around 2000 BCE, it went underground, and reappeared only seasonally, with the monsoons, when the water flowed again for a few months at a time; now it is called the Ghaggar. With the going underground of this river, the people were unable to make a living on a land with little water; they moved on, some to the west, and many to the east. A few stayed nearby, living on in the deserts of Rajasthan. The great cities fell into ruin.
Nearly ten thousand years after the little girl used to climb the hill to tend cattle with her brothers, her lost city was known by the name Bhirrana. Her family’s house and her neighbors’ houses were found and dug up out of the sand by archeologists. No one knew her name or even that she had lived there. At first, no one knew how long Bhirrana had lain asleep in the sands. Nearby village people had known that there was an old town there, buried by the winds, but no one knew its history or its age. Archeologists came and dug. The more they excavated, the clearer it became that Bhirrana was not only part of the Indus/Saraswathi civilization, but also that it was at least as old as the great cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Now it appears that it is, in fact, much, much older. Going back to the very beginnings of the Indus/Saraswathi civilization, to around 9,500 years before the present, Bhirrana is now believed to be the oldest city that has been found anywhere in India.
The ceramic ware that the little girl and her grandmother made and fired in their kiln was similar to the ware fired in villages further west in what is today Pakistan and also in the other Indian towns along the Saraswathi River; it is called Hakra ware. Bhirrana represents the earliest phase of what became the great Indus/Saraswathi Civilization.
The true age of this little town was revealed quite recently – by work done in 2015 and 2016. A scientific team examined animal remains found buried in the riverbed, testing the bones and the teeth of Bhirrana’s cattle and goats to determine phosphorous isotopes and date the remains. (Please see the link below.) The dates they found go back to over 9,000 years ago.
Renowned archeologist B.B. Lal, in his 2002 article, The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts (please see the link below) also traces the Neolithic stage in the northwest Indian sub-continent back to 9,000 years ago.
This is far older than anyone had imagined until recently and extends the age of the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization – and the age of Indian civilization — back to nearly 10,000 years. India has some of the earliest cities ever found and, arguably, the oldest continuing civilization in the world.
The life of the little girl is, on one level, imaginary, but not really, because surely there was actually such a little girl among the residents of Bhirrana. The continuity of India as one of the oldest, unbroken, ongoing cultures in the world cannot really be disputed. The threads of the other great early cultures of the world have been strained and broken, some recently, some long ago – ancient Egypt, China, and Sumer. Like many cultures in the Middle East and beyond, India too was invaded by foreign armies, but India survived. Her culture and her traditions were never extinguished by conquering armies, and they live on today.
This though may be just the beginning of all there is to discover about the story of India. On nearly every continent, there are hints, remaining to be followed up – of the profound influence of ancient India on the history of the world.
© Text, Sharon St Joan, 2017
Author: Thorsten Vieth
The Yamuna River, near the Haryana border, as it crosses the Taj Mahal, flows to the east of the Ghaggar River.
Author: Amy Dreher
Red pottery with red and black slip-painted decoration from Harappa , around 2500 BCE.
Author: Saqib Qayyum
A view of Mohenjo-Daro, existing around 2500 BCE.
The Ghaggar River today.
Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization
- Authors: Anindya Sarkar, Arati Deshpande Mukherjee, M. K. Bera, B. Das, Navin Juyal, P.Morthekai, R. D. Deshpande, V. S. Shinde & L. S. Rao
- Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 26555 (2016)
The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts
Author: Prof. B. B. Lal
Publication: Bharatiya Pragna
Date: March 2002
Re-published in Hindu Vivek Kendra
Aryan Invasion Myth: How 21st Century Science Debunks 19th Century Indology
By Sharon St Joan
Inside a stone structure near the temple, langur monkeys played in the rays of the late afternoon sun.
Like nearly all Hindu temples, the Virupaksha Temple at Hampi began as just a small shrine; it is thought to go back to around the seventh century CE.
Virupaksha is the God Shiva, and this is a living temple, which means that people still go there to worship so many centuries later.
Over time many rulers contributed to its growth. Around 1000 CE, the temple was expanded. In 1510 CE, on the occasion of his coronation, King Krishnadevaraya, the iconic emperor of the Vijayanagara Empire, added a complex comprised of the inner eastern entrance, or gopuram, a pillared hall, and many more shrines.
Near the temple entrance are several graceful statues of Nandi, the sacred bull who is the vehicle of Shiva; he gives permission to each devotee to enter the temple. One of the Nandis has three heads. There’s nothing mysterious about this, the sculptor simply gave him three heads, but normally Nandi has only one head.
Quite far away, perhaps a tenth of a mile up high in a structure of pillars built by the side of a mountain, near where the monkeys were playing, the original Nandi looks out towards the temple – a very imposing figure carved out of a giant black boulder.
It is said that it was Nandi who taught Shiva to dance. The dance of Shiva is an important one since Shiva is the God of destruction, and one of his two dances is the tandava, the dance which brings the world to its end. The other is a gentle dance during which the world begins anew.
The destructive aspect of Shiva is not in any way unkind or malevolent. It is essential; without destruction there can be no renewal. It is the essence of how the cosmos works, causing the wheel of life and death to turn. There are many worlds, many levels, both seen and unseen, and many Gods, yet they are all One, the ultimate Brahman.
To be separated and cut off from the truer levels of being is to live in a world of turmoil and unrest. To be in touch with the deeper levels of reality and with the Gods, is to know peace and truth.
Many thousands of years ago, during the time when the Rig Veda, the oldest book in the world, was written, there existed another, earlier, magnificent phase of Indian civilization. The ruins of over a thousand cities which existed along the banks of the Saraswathi River, in India, and spread out encompassing a far wider area, have been found, along with other already well-known ancient cities such as Mohenjo Daro and Harrappa, now in Pakistan, which were all part of the same civilization. The artwork found there shows clear evidence of continuity between the customs and worship of Indian people then and today.
The Rig Veda describes the Saraswathi River as being vast and energetic, a huge, dynamic river. Eventually, the Saraswati River dried up and most of it went underground, which is how it remains today. Archeologists and geologists have noted that the last time the Saraswati River was flowing in full force as a huge beautiful river was around 5,000 BCE. This has led to their being able to date the time when the Rig Veda must have been composed as no later than 5,000 BCE – which means that the history of India goes back at least seven thousand years, and possibly much, much farther. Many more fascinating confirmations of this very ancient antiquity are described in an article in the IndiaFacts newsletter – please see below for the link to this and also for the link to Michel Danino’s book, Land of Seven Rivers.
One of the most intriguing pieces of artwork found in the Indus-Saraswati Civilization is the depiction of a God believed to be Shiva. Portrayed as a yogi, he is surrounded by animals and is shown as the God of the natural world. Shiva is a sacred being, the beginning and the ending of all existence, of the entire cosmos. His living beings — the animals, the plants, the trees, the rivers, the mountains, and all of nature, are sacred too, and they are to be cared for and worshipped.
Within the Virupaksha Temple, in the late afternoon, one can feel an age-old connection with levels beyond; an ancient continuity that is only evident when there is still a link with the past – when we are not lost in a present that is chaotic like a boat cast adrift without moorings. Like the temple trees whose roots provide a grounding strength, the centuries and centuries that go back into the mists are rooted in an ancient truth that is always there, a light shining through the forests of time.
© Sharon St Joan, text and photos, 2017
Photos: Sharon St Joan
Top photo: A part of the Virupaksha Temple that goes back to around 1000 CE.
Second photo: A giant Nandi overlooking the temple.
Four: Nearby boulders.
Five: One of the temple gopurams.
Aryan Invasion Myth How 21st Century Science Debunks 19thCentury Indology – the IndiaFacts newsletter http://indiafacts.org/aryan-invasion-myth-21st-century-science-debunks-19th-century-indology/
Lost River: On the trail of the Sarasvati by Michel Danino https://www.amazon.com/Lost-River-Sarasvati-Michel-Danino/dp/0143068644/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498344116&sr=8-1&keywords=Michel+Danino
By Sharon St Joan
The 27 National Monuments now under review for downsizing are some of the most uniquely beautiful wild lands on the planet earth, with spectacular mountain ranges, enchanting rock formations, magnificent wild birds and animals, essential wildlife corridors, and hundreds of thousands of sacred Native American sites. Nature really is not ours to destroy, and the continued protection offered by National Monument status is needed to prevent opening up these lands to threats – either from coal, oil, fracking and other development, or from further changes in status down the road which could lead to their being sold, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of.
Please send a comment to the U.S. Department of the Interior, asking that the 27 National Monuments and the oceanic Monuments which are also now under review, not be diminished or downsized in any way.
The comment I have sent is given below.
Here is the link where you may send your comment. Sometimes this link doesn’t work. You can also go to www.regulations.gov and continue from there.
The deadline for comments is July 10, 2017. The deadline for comments on the Bears Ears National Monument was May 26, and has already passed.
If you live in southern Utah, or even if you don’t, you may wish to comment specifically on the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which is the largest of the Monuments.
Several criteria are listed which Secretary Zinke will be considering when making his decisions about these Monuments.
If you can submit a comment that relates to these criteria, please, by all means do so. That may be most effective. I’m not suggesting that you write a comment similar to mine below. Sticking to the criteria given may work best.
I confess that I was unable to force my comments into something that could be fitted into the pigeon holes of the criteria. Because we have freedom of speech and freedom of thought, it seems that our comments ought to be considered, whether or not they fall within the stated categories. Also our own sense of justice requires that we speak up clearly on behalf of nature that is in peril.
Among many of us there is a feeling that perhaps the decision has already been made, and the die has already been cast. There have been a great many occasions; however, when public comments have actually been heard and have modified an outcome. In any case, speaking up in defense of wildlife and wild lands is worth doing, regardless of whether or not one is being heard, even if only the clouds and the wind are witnesses.
Also, hearing happens on many levels. We ourselves hear what we have said, and all those who have ears to hear do also hear. This gives strength to the global movement to protect the natural world, and on some level, joins forces with the plants, the wild animals, and the earth itself.
Here is the comment that I sent:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the review of certain National Monuments established since 1996.
I am opposed to this review, and I ask that Secretary Zinke not recommend diminishing any of these Monuments which were designated by former presidents.
In my view, there are no legal grounds and no justification for attempting to undo or downsize any Monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act provides for the establishment of such Monuments by American presidents, but it does not provide for their dismantling by any succeeding president.
The efforts to downsize or diminish any of these Monuments are misguided.
Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon is home to two hundred species of birds, including the endangered Great Grey Owl. Craters of the Moon in Idaho is made up of amazing volcanic landscapes found nowhere else. Giant Sequoia Monument in California has some of the oldest and most spectacular of these beautiful trees. Gold Butte in Nevada protects the threatened Mojave Desert Tortoise, Bighorn Sheep, cougars, and magnificent desert rock formations. Grand Canyon-Parashant includes remote natural wilderness areas near the Grand Canyon.
Grand Staircase Escalante has some of the most beautiful rock formations on earth as well as sacred Native American sites and essential wildlife corridors. The only remaining jaguars within the United States, whose presence is greatly endangered, are to be found in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana is filled with scenic wild lands, still unspoiled since the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through in 1805. The Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona holds 12,000 years of Native American settlements and some of the earth’s most astonishing 3,000 feet high rock formations. For 11,000 thousand years, human beings have lived among the forests and rivers of the Katahdin Woods and Waterways National Monument in Maine. Each of these Monuments has unique and irreplaceable natural wild lands.
The five marine National Monuments also being reviewed, the Marianas Trench, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Pacific Remote Islands, Papahanaumokuakea, and Rose Atoll are the homes of some of earth’s rarest and most endangered sea birds and sea creatures. The preservation of these great ocean expanses is essential to the continuation of life in the sea.
When my ancestors and the ancestors of many Americans first arrived on our shores around five hundred years ago, and began to travel west, they found a continent overflowing with life. From coast to coast, there was such an unimaginable abundance of wild lands and wildlife that it would have been impossible to imagine that today it would be mostly gone. The Native Americans who lived here for 13,000 years used what they need to survive and destroyed nothing else. They left the natural world as they had found it.
A September 9, 2016 article on the online site Science Alert, reports on a study which estimates that today only 23 percent of the world’s wilderness areas remain intact. Very little is left of the natural world. Yet, instead of striving to protect whatever bits of nature are left – every tree, every mountain range, every wild species, the rivers, the oceans, and every blade of grass – instead, we continue to plunder the natural world.
The claim that the natural world “belongs” to us, because our forbears traveled across the prairie displacing the Native Americans who were here for many thousands of years before us – or that wild lands exist solely in order to be gobbled up by coal, oil, fracking, and other industrialization, is absurd. The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This is not a weird or unpopular point of view. The vast majority of the American public supports protecting public lands, including the National Monuments, along with all wild lands and wild species. Americans, like all peoples on the earth, value the intrinsic beauty and worth of the natural world. We are part of nature. We cannot exist without nature, though, irrationally, we are rapidly killing the very source of life on which we depend. When the natural world is gone, we will be gone too. Yet that, in itself, is not the primary reason to protect life on earth. The earth has it’s own existence and its own value, and it is not ours to destroy.
When we destroy our past – the ancient sacred sites that are the legacy of this continent, and when we destroy the great beauty and sacred integrity of the rocks, the rivers, the mountains, the wild animals and birds, and all the life that was put here long before we arrived, that is a mistake that cannot be undone.
I would like to request that the Department of the Interior and Secretary Zinke undertake a review of all the as-yet-unprotected wild lands in the U.S. with the intent of seeing how they can be safeguarded by being designated as National Monuments, National Parks, or other protected lands.
Thank you for your consideration,
Sharon St Joan
© Sharon St Joan, 2017
Fourth photo: Bob Wick, BLM / “This image is a work of a Bureau of Land Management employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain in the United States.” / Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in California.
Fifth photo: Bob Wick, BLM / “This image is a work of a Bureau of Land Management employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain in the United States.” / Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, in Colorado, Painted Hand Pueblo.
By Sharon St Joan
In 1565, invaders poured into the magnificent city of Hampi, one of the largest cities in the world at that time, leveling many of the buildings and much of the artwork, and slaughtering nearly all the city’s residents.
Located in the southern state of Karnataka, in India, the Hazara Rama Temple is one of the most remarkable temples of this ancient city. Inside are black polished stone columns, exquisitely carved. At the city’s final hour, as the marauding armies drew near the city gates, some of the temple devotees were thinking only of protecting the temple’s central icons.
During the destruction of Hampi, many sculptures all over the city, icons that were worshipped and revered, were violently smashed and broken. Some fragments lay on the ground for hundreds of years afterwards, with no way of restoring them.
If one looks closely at the floor of the temple interior of the Hazara Rama Temple, one can see four empty rectangles where today nothing stands, yet clearly sculptures once stood there. Apparently, as the armies approached, some worshippers, with the help of others – no one knows who – were able to spirit away four of the key temple icons – Rama, Laksmana, Sita, and Hanuman – before the invaders broke through the gates. The unknown devotees who, out of love for the Gods they worshipped, moved them in the dark of night, must have buried them in an unknown location, intending to return later to restore them to the temple. It seems they were never able to return. Thanks to their brave act of devotion, the icons, which have never been found, rest in peace and were spared from being broken.
The outside walls of the temple remained intact and are lined with thousands of panels, beautifully sculpted, that tell the story of the Ramayana – one of the two great epic poems of India. The Ramayana is very long – several books, but in a nutshell the story is this: The ancient god-king Rama is looking for his wife, Sita, who has been kidnapped by the demon-king of Lanka (today’s Sri Lanka). Rama is distraught, not knowing what to do or where to look for his beloved Sita. In the forest of Kishkinda, he meets the monkey god, Hanuman – a magical being who becomes known for his undying loyalty and devotion to Rama and Sita. Hanuman brings light and positivity into a desperate situation; he travels with Rama to help find Sita, and time after time against impossible odds, he finds a way to overcome all the obstacles that block their way – building a bridge across the sea, transporting a whole mountain top on which healing herbs are growing, finding and communicating with the missing Sita, and then selflessly allowing Rama himself to rescue her. Hanuman brings the gift of life with his innocence, devotion, and magical abilities.
Just across the river from the ruined city of Hampi, which is now a World Heritage Center, lies the wilderness of rocks and forests where Hanuman was born and where he spent his early life. This whole area was the forest of Kishkinda, many thousands of years before Hampi was built in the fourteenth century.
All around the outside walls of the Hazara Rama Temple run the enchanting panels that depict, with immense charm, the story of Rama’s and Hanuman’s journey to find the lost Sita. While travelers flock to this spectacular late medieval city, it is Hanuman’s story and Hanuman’s presence that provide the backdrop for the city of Hampi.
The wonderfully sculpted panels of the temple portray the events of the story. Hanuman is engaging and clever. He always finds a way where there seems not to be one. When he has no idea at all what he can do, or how he can help, he never gives up, and then an inspiration will come into his head. Sometimes he acts impulsively, without much advance planning. At the moment when he locates the cave where the kidnapped Sita is being kept, it dawns on him that he has never actually met Sita, and that naturally, not knowing who he is, she may be afraid of him. So, with his magical powers, he reduces his height, becoming very small and unthreatening, speaking very gently to her – appearing to be just a little forest monkey who would not harm anyone. Rama has also given Hanuman his signet ring as a token to give to Sita so that she will know that he has been sent by her husband Rama. That helps too.
Hanuman has been sent by Rama to find Sita because, being a magical creature, he can fly through the air – something the human being, Rama, cannot do. Rama cannot traverse the several miles of ocean that lie between India and Sri Lanka. Later, when the bridge has been built across the sea by Hanuman’s friends, the army of monkeys, then Rama also can cross the sea to Sri Lanka.
Hanuman is intensely charming because, in his innocence, he does not recognize his own strength and his own powers. It is only when he is reminded by someone else that he becomes aware that he can do amazing tasks, such as getting his monkey and bear friends to build a bridge across the ocean, that he can fly, or grow smaller or taller, or pick up a mountain and carry it thousands of miles – that he has the powers and the ability to find and restore to Rama, his lost wife Sita.
But there is something else very captivating and charming – and that is the intense devotion to Hanuman of the sculptors and temple builders who created these beautiful evocative images of Hanuman – and the reverence of the many thousands of worshippers who come here to see this re-creation of the life of Hanuman and the story of Rama and Sita.
It is with great love and faithfulness that artists carved the wonderful lifelike images of Hanuman and all the other beings in the story. It is with profound reverence that they brought the images to life.
An uncomprehending eye might say that after all, this is just the story of a flying, talking monkey – something like a child’s story from thousands of years ago – about a forest animal that travels through the air — what could be its relevance today?
But the devotees from all over India and from farther away who visit these beautiful images do not see it that way. Instead they are caught up in the magic of this heroic presence, Hanuman – always faithful, always innocent, ever brave, and endowed with the magical gifts needed to bring light, life, and a happy ending to this ancient tale. It is a story of profound loyalty and a beautiful heroic spirit – a story always relevant to all times and all places.
Thank you to Dr. Nanditha Krishna for her profound insights into the character of Hanuman.
Photos: Sharon St Joan
Top photo: Hanuman on the right, and, above, giving the ring to Sita.
Second photo: The temple interior.
Third photo: More scenes from the Ramayana.
Fourth photo: A winged being.
Fifth photo: A black polished column and a visitor to the temple.
© Sharon St Joan, 2017
By Sharon St Joan
On this planet, as we all know, life began in the sea, with the fish and other sea creatures; then came reptiles like the turtles, as animals began to adapt to life on land. Great sea turtles still swim in the sea, but they lay their eggs on the shore. Then the land animals, like the boar, appeared. And of course, much, much later humanoid beings appeared, including the several species of early humans.
In Hindu tradition, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu is Narasimha, who is half-man, half-lion. Preceding Narasimha are three Vishnu incarnations that have an animal form: Matsya, the fish, Kurma, the turtle, and Varaha, the boar. The incarnations that follow Narasimha are all human in form: Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Ballarama (or in some sources, Buddha) and Kalki.
Interestingly, this progression throughout time corresponds to the theory of evolution: first a fish; then a reptile; then a mammal; then a half-mammal half-human, followed by the human forms.
How did ancient Hindu seers know about the theory of evolution—which was only “discovered” by Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century? Well, they seem to have known quite a lot of things. Ancient Sanskrit writings are filled with scientific treatises on mathematical and scientific topics, especially astronomical knowledge, a lot of which was only “discovered” many centuries later by Europeans, yet this knowledge was there all along, and was written down in very early Sanskrit texts.
We are so used to thinking that only modern humans, within the past few centuries, have possessed any real knowledge about the world, that we remain ignorant of all the thousands of years of human history in which there is evidence that humans knew far more than we give them credit for.
In any case, Narasimha stands on the threshold between the animal and the human forms of Vishnu. He is an intriguing figure.
Many stories in Hinduism and in legends all over the world, portray the great battle that takes place between the self-absorbed forces of darkness and the beings of light who defend the innocent from wrongdoing. Narasimha is a defender against injustice.
Once upon a time, so one of these stories goes, there was a demon named Hiranyakasipu who didn’t like Vishnu very much because in a previous incarnation Vishnu had killed his younger brother. This had happened because one day the brother, Hiranyaksha, had brutally attacked and then tried to drown Mother Earth at the bottom of the sea. In his role as protector of the innocent, Vishnu had saved Mother Earth from the sea, and killed the demon brother.
The demon Hiranyakasipu, who was perhaps afraid because his brother had been killed as a consequence of his evil deeds, feared death and wanted to live forever.
So one day, he approached Brahma to ask for the gift of immortality. Brahma replied that that gift was not within his power to bestow, but, at Hiranyakasipu’s insistence, he agreed to do the next best thing. Brahma granted him a boon – that he would not die either inside or outside, neither during the day nor the night; also that he would not be killed by any weapon, or by any human being or any animal. Hiranyakasipu was quite happy with all this and felt pretty certain that he would now live forever.
A few years passed, and Hiranyakasipu had a son named Prahalada. Unfortunately for Hiranyakasipu, his son became an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. This upset Hiranyakasipu no end because he saw Vishnu as his mortal enemy. One day just as the sun was setting, Hiranyakasipu came upon his son Prahalada, who despite all his father’s objections, was still praying to Vishnu. He even said to his father that Vishnu is all-powerful and is present everywhere. Thoroughly exasperated, his father shouted at him, “Look at that pillar; is your God Vishnu inside that pillar?”
Prahalada replied, “Vishnu is inside every pillar and even every twig.” Losing his temper completely, Hiranyakasipu picked up his heavy mace and smashed the pillar into pieces. Out jumped Narasimha. By this time Hiranyakasipu was swinging his mace wildly, and his son’s life was in danger. To save the boy Prahalada, from the wrath of his father, Narasimha lifted the demon Hiranyakasipu up off his feet and killed him with his bare hands.
As it turned out, Hiranyakasipu was after all subject to death, despite the boon granted by Brahma, because he was killed at twilight – neither in the day or in the night; by Narasimha’s powerful hands, not by any weapon; in the doorway, and therefore neither inside nor out, and he was killed not by any animal or any human, but by Narasimha, who was part man, part lion. Perhaps the lesson is also that no matter what kind of deal one tries to strike with fate or with the Gods, one cannot evade one’s karma.
As an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Narasimha is a fierce and powerful, magical being who protects those who call on him from harm and danger.
The twenty feet high, beautifully carved statue of Narasimha at Hampi, however, was not immune to the violence done by the invading army which destroyed the city in 1565. His legs and hands were cut off, and they lay nearby on the ground for several hundred years until significant restoration work was done in the 1980’s by the Archeological Survey of India. Now he looks down, once again an imposing presence, ready to spring into action to bring about justice and rid the earth of evil.
© Sharon St Joan, 2017.
Top photo: Sharon St Joan. Narasimha at Hampi.
Second photo: An eighteenth century painting of Narasimha. Wikipedia: “This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.”
Third photo: Author: Adityamadhav83 / CC BY-SA 3.0, Narasimha at the Simhachalam Temple in Visakhapatnam.