While the tenets and underlying significance of Hinduism continue to astound many scholars, we merrily pursue our simple pursuit to explain sculptures. Not wanting to repeat the purpose of this controversial sculpture series, would request readers to read the first part prior.
I had wanted to do this post for many years now, but kept putting it away, being unsure of how some readers might opine. But then, when Gaman asked me what is this, after visiting Darasuram, felt that its is duty to atleast explain the iconography. I would request all readers to be patient and read till the end before voicing their concerns/comments.
That this sculpture of Sarabeshwarar is present in Darasuram, the pinnacle of Chola artistic expression in stone, is no excuse for the religious one-upmanship of the emergence of this iconography. Whilst the origins of the particular form is lost in the wormhole of times long past - we are talking of Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th C CE here, that the divide has reached such an extreme expression is sad.
Keeping the narrative to the minimum, as most of the versions are indeed inflammatory, the story of Narasimhar is very well know. To rid the world of the evil demon Hiranyakasipu, who had secured a virtually perpetual existence via a boon from Brahma..
O my lord, O best of the givers of benediction, if you will kindly grant me the benediction I desire, please let me not meet death from any of the living entities created by you. Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal. Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving created by you. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. Since no one can kill you in the battlefield, you have no competitor. Therefore, grant me the benediction that I too may have no rival. Give me sole lordship over all the living entities and presiding deities, and give me all the glories obtained by that position. Furthermore, give me all the mystic powers attained by long austerities and the practice of yoga, for these cannot be lost at any time”
Courtesy : wiki
He goes the usual route upon receiving the boon. His son Prahalad is the epitome of devotion to Narayana ( Vishnu) and refuses to equate his father to God. In anger he asks where is this God you talk of, for which the boy replies that he is omnipresent - in this pillar , in this spec of dust. Angered by it, Hiranyakasipu brings out his mace and proceed to break the pillar to see if this God is there ?
To view a clipping of a Cinema ( telugu language) enactment of the scene
Now the form that Vishnu takes is very interesting: to circumvent the rules ( a la 3 G spectrum allocation !) he takes the form of a part lion part human, bursts out of a pillar ( not born or created !), disembowels him with his claws ( no weapon clause !), puts him on his lap ( not on earth not in heaven !), chooses dusk ( neither day nor night !) - etc. He is such a fiery form as you can see from the depictions and is a powerful deity in the Hindu pantheon. Ideally the story must have ended there - ok, he is cooled down by the melodious voice of Prahalada singing his praise.
But, an educated guess is that, the Shivaite Vashnavite divide had grown so much, that a sequel was added. Seems the anger of Narasimha would not subside, and even Laxmi couldn’t come near her beloved. The whole world trembled at the consequences of the wrath of an angry form that they request Shiva to help. He first sends Veerabadra but he is not match for Narasimhar. In order to match up with the dual form of Narasimhar, Shiva takes up one more aspect - he forms a composite man+lion+bird and becomes Sarabeshwarar.
What happens next is left to many interpretations, but he is supposed to have alternatively embraced, restrained Narsimhar and liberated Vishnu from inside that.
The entire story is depicted in the Madurai Meenakshi amman temple in three simple scenes.
Now, back to the Darasuram sculpture.
Thankfully Gaman has got us another shot of the entire sculpture.
The depiction of Narasimhar being liberated and a small figure beneath him - could be Prahalada. The devas are shown above, happy at the turn of events.
If you notice, there are no visible marks or attributes to identify the forms unlike the later version from Madurai.
The second question from Gaman was about the legs. Iconographically he is said to have a pair of wings and four pairs of legs.
Some versions also have a multitude of hands as well. check this version from a Muneeshwaran temple in Srilanka ( courtesy wiki)
Why i say, i was sad at this depiction is that in recent years there are multitude of interpretations including the ones of Pratyankadevi and people flock those shrines to rid them of various “ailments”. Its time for people to understand that Hinduism is definitely not a mono theistic religion, and its not a question of My God over your God, or even the very existence of God but the maturity that of allowing even a quest to find out if there is indeed God.
To see the greatness of Sri Rajaraja who has wonderfully depicted the confluence of the plurality of Hinduism in such a grand manner in this Harihara sculpture in the Tanjore Big temple,
Am reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s famous address “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. “
Why then this one-upmanship?