The Courage of a Lion

Narasimhadeva“O vile one, you entered that ashrama only when those two brothers, lions among men, were absent from having gone out to the forest. Only then did you take me away.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.30-31)

aśramam tu tayoḥ śūnyaṃ praviśya narasimhayoḥ ||
gocaraṃ gatayorrbhātrorapanītā tvayādhama |

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Here Sita Devi continues to paint a wonderful contrast between the fiendish king of Lanka and her dear husband. Not accidentally, she also again makes reference to one of her husband’s other forms, namely that of Narasimhadeva. Her husband is the Supreme Lord, the origin of all matter and spirit. He appears whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice or whenever it is necessary to protect the pious and annihilate the miscreants.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.7“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

NarasimhadevaHe famously appeared as Narasimhadeva to do away with the terrible king named Hiranyakashipu. This person was so puffed up with pride and so devoid of righteousness that he repeatedly tried to kill his own son of five years of age. The son’s only crime was his devotion to God; which is in fact what protected him from harm. The subtle protection came first in the inability of Hiranyakashipu to kill his son, and the gross protection manifested in the Lord’s form of a half-man/half-lion, which finally did away with the king of demoniac tendencies.

The story of that incident is described in great detail in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. It’s a historical incident that occurs in every creation. The world we live in goes through cycles of manifestation and dissolution. In each go round, the Supreme Lord appears at certain intervals to give the pious souls a chance to have His association. The divine appearances, whether in the original form or in avataras [incarnations], serve many other purposes at the same time.

Narasimhadeva was specific to Hiranyakashipu, who was previously safeguarded from injury through various boons. No animal could kill him. No human being either. He couldn’t be killed on land or in the air. He couldn’t be killed in the daytime or at night. There’s always a loophole, though. Material conditions are never absolute. The Supreme Lord came as both a man and a lion, so He wasn’t a beast or a human being. He killed Hiranyakashipu by taking him on His lap; thus the death did not occur on land or in the air. The demon was killed at dusk, so it wasn’t during the daytime or at night.

The lion was also a perfect symbol of the Supreme Lord’s courage. God is not afraid of anyone. On the other side of things, the whole world was afraid of Hiranyakashipu. No one dared mess with him, lest they risk losing their life. As the Supreme Lord is not fearful at all, when He appears on earth it would make sense that He would have lion-like behavior. He goes head to head with the demons when He sees fit, and as Ajita, He is never conquered.

“I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is a lion among men [nrisimham], has a broad chest and powerful arms, who treads the earth like a lion and who is like a lion in prowess.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.35)

Shri Rama is the same Narasimhadeva. He is a lion among men, as pointed out by His wife Sita on several occasions. The demon Maricha even noted Rama’s fearlessness during an incident at Vishvamitra’s ashrama. Vishvamitra was a peaceful sage living in the wilderness. He had no means to defend himself. He required protection since Maricha and his ilk were keen on destroying the religious observances of the priestly class. Maricha was a demon like Hiranyakashipu, and he worked for Ravana, the king of demons in Lanka. These fiends were Rakshasas by species, which means that they loved to eat human flesh.

“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra’s ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)

Lord RamaRama, who was the Supreme Lord appearing in a human form to eventually do away with Ravana, was barely a teenager at the time of Maricha’s attack on Vishvamitra. And yet as the demon himself notes, Rama readied His bow without hesitation. He was not fearful at all. Maricha had tremendous power as well. He was not a fluff competitor. As a lion among men, Rama courageously roared with the swift flight of the arrow released from His bow. This weapon protected the ashrama and hurled Maricha away some eight hundred miles.

While Rama was a lion among men, Ravana was cowardly. Sita reminds him of this fact. Ravana one time took Sita away from Rama, but in a backhanded way. The same Maricha created a diversion, whereby Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana left the hermitage and went out into the woods. Ravana then arrived in disguise and forcibly took Sita back to his kingdom of Lanka.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita refers to both Rama and Lakshmana as lion among men. Ravana, on the other hand, is a coward. He couldn’t face the roar of the lion, so he had to sneak around to get what he wanted. While the clever burglar may take such words to be complimentary, for a king who boasts of his fighting prowess such words are very insulting.

That was Sita’s objective, after all. Helping matters was the fact that her statement was truthful. Nowhere did she exaggerate. She merely pointed to a factual incident from the past, and in so doing she extolled the virtues of her husband and His younger brother. She also exposed the king of Lanka for the coward that he was. There is a famous saying from C.S. Lewis that “Above all else, the devil cannot stand to be mocked.” This means that fiends have no sense of humor at all about themselves, for they inherently understand their inferiority. In being made fun of, their vulnerability in the ego is exposed.

Sita and RamaRavana deserved this, as he had done a horrible thing. Those same lions among men would eventually come to rescue Sita, in the same way that Narasimhadeva saved Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada. The same way that Rama protected Vishvamitra’s religious observance, He would protect Sita’s vow of chastity. And today, the same Rama protects the ability of the devoted souls to remain true to their lifelong vow of always chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

Rama and Lakshmana, lions among men,

Coward Ravana afraid of their den.


Only came when ruse to stage,

Took Sita when in guise of sage.


Devil cannot be mocked else above all,

For this reason the incident Sita to recall.


Like with Prahlada and his devotion strong,

Rama eventually to make Lanka’s journey long.

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