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Narasimha kills Hiranyakashipu. Pahari in Kangra kalam, circa 1820-40. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli. 24.5 x 12.8cm
Narasimha, the man-lion 4th avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu is seen here killing Hiranyakashipu. He does so to protect his faithful devotee Prahlada (the human figure to our left) from his father after Brahma had promised him that he could never die by the hand of god, demon, man or beast; by day or night, inside or outside any house, nor by any weapon. This boon goes to Hiranyakashipu's head making him forbid Vishnu worship, in which matter his son Prahlada defies him. Eventually Vishnu is forced to act: in his man-lion form he side-steps the conditions of the boon. First he waits for dusk (neither night nor day) to emerge from the pillar of a verandah (neither inside nor outside a house) and grabbing him, disembowels him with without use of weapons with only his claws.
Most often the iconography in painting for this mythical episode features Narasimha andHiranyakashipu with just the devoted Prahalada, but occasionally also Prahlada's mother - as here on our right. Here however we also see the devoted devas - male gods - to our left represented by Indra, Brahma, Shiva and Krishna and to our right are three, each with different coloured skin but who are not yet identified. Two have an importance indicated by a nimbus which none of the others have. Perhaps this demonstrates they are the two gods - one of the family and one personal - of the patron of the painting. Family and individual deities are commonly worshipped by Hindus and need not be any of those seen here to our left.
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Above: gilt detail reflecting light
Images and text © Peter Blohm