“The four arms of Lord Vishnu have different purposes. The hands holding a lotus flower and conchshell are meant for the devotees, whereas the other two hands, holding a disc and mace, or club, are meant for the demons. Actually all of the Lord’s arms are auspicious, whether they are holding conchshells and flowers or clubs and discs.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.24.45-46 Purport)
Friend1: You ever run into people who are frightened by the picture of Narasimhadeva?
Friend2: Which picture?
Friend1: You know. Where He is bifurcating Hiranyakashipu.
Friend2: Yes, definitely. Who wouldn’t be a little taken aback? You’re in a temple. Everyone is supposed to be peaceful. It’s kind of a serious atmosphere. There is an altar, which is a designated place of worship. Amongst the items placed on top is this picture of a half-man/half-lion tearing apart some guy on his lap.
Friend1: With blood and guts spilling out. The lion-figure looks pretty upset, too.
Friend2: And if you look carefully enough, on the side is this diminutive figure. It’s a small boy offering a garland. You come to find out later that the boy is the son of the guy whose guts are spilling out.
Friend1: The garland is being offered to the killer, too.
Friend2: It’s amazing, if you think about it. So much to ponder from a single image. This is a good starter today. I must give you credit.
Friend1: I would think the first aspect to study is the initial reaction. Well, more specifically the dichotomy in reactions.
Friend2: One side is terrified, taken aback, frightened, what have you. The other side thinks the image is so beautiful that it needs to be worshiped on an altar.
Friend1: What is the explanation?
Friend2: To the side that is frightened?
Friend2: Immerse yourself in bhakti-yoga. Then you will understand.
Friend1: Come on. We can do better than that, no?
Friend2: It’s sort of like the initial response when people see the death penalty about to be applied. They don’t see the initial violence. There is no video of that. The images of the crime scene aren’t repeatedly shown on television.
Friend1: The impending punishment is the only thing on the mind, not the original crime.
Friend2: Yeah, and so look at this case in the same way. You don’t see the images of the heinous crimes committed by Hiranyakashipu. You don’t see him throwing Prahlada off a cliff or into a pit of snakes. You don’t see Prahlada being attacked.
Friend1: I guess that’s because the boy survived. No blood and guts.
Friend2: Because they didn’t spill. Bhagavan protected Prahlada. That’s the reason for the anger in that lion form. Hiranyakashipu deserved to be bifurcated and more. Prahlada offered the garland because he knew who was protecting him. The same person could have protected the father, were he on the side of piety.
Friend1: Okay, so that explains the justification for the act. I have a better understanding of the story leading to the incident depicted in the picture. Still, why should it be worshiped? Why not focus on something peaceful, like a lotus flower or a conchshell? The two items in Lord Vishnu’s hands.
Friend2: Vishnu has four hands. He is the same Narasimhadeva, the person worshiped by Prahlada. Vishnu holds items in His other two hands, also.
Friend1: The disc and the club.
Friend2: Yes, and are those not beautiful?
Friend1: Some would say they imply violence.
Friend2: But they are worshiped all the same. Just see. To the devotee both sides are equally beautiful. Narasimhadeva killing is just as fit for worship as the image of child Krishna with His hand in a pot of butter.
Friend1: Okay, but why?
Friend2: Because the sides of peace and punishment are equally as auspicious. I’m sure you meet some people who are into guns.
Friend1: Like owning them or shooting them?
Friend2: Either. They aren’t necessarily violent people. They understand the purpose of the gun in that context. It is beautiful to them because it protects against bad guys. Protection is required for a society to remain peaceful.
Friend1: So the disc and the club are like the gun? They are weapons meant to maintain order.
Friend2: To annihilate the miscreants. Vishnu doesn’t attack innocent people. He normally doesn’t intervene at all. This is because karma delivers justice fairly, properly, and at the appropriate time. Vishnu enters the picture for special cases. He protects the devotion of the devotees, which was the reason for the Narasimha appearance.
Attendees into temple room filling,
See gruesome photo of guts spilling.
Lion-figure from torso apart tearing,
Victim’s son giving garland for wearing.
Like Vishnu two hands for each,
Peace and lesson for demons to teach.
For devotees all auspicious the same,
Fitting entire picture into frame.