Epigraphic Evidence of Narasingha Avatara
BY: BHARATI PAL
May 13, 2012 BHUBANESWAR, ORISSA (SUN) The illustration of Dasavatara Tattwa in Geeta Govinda by Poet Shree Jayadeva is an epoch making creation. The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu have worldwide acclamations. Our Oddisi dance and music is enriched in this theme of Dasa Avatara. Among these ten incarnations, Narasingha Avatara is a significant contribution of Kavi Shri Jayadeva. The description of Narasingha incarnation is found widely starting from stone, bronze, inscriptions, Pattachitra and also in palmleaf painting.
The Narasingha Avatara or the Man-lion form of Vishnu, in which Hari destroyed the infidel king Hiranyakasipu, who threatened his own son Prahlada with death because of his devotion to Hari, Hiranyakasipu had been given a boon of invulnerability by day or night by god, man or beast, inside or outside his palace, and to overcome it the God appears at twilight as a man-lion form (Narasingha Avatara) inside a pillar, and reaches out to destroy the king. The literary and epigraphic sources throw considerable light on this Narasingha Avatara of Vishnu.
The earliest epigraphic evidence on Narasingha Avatara is found from the Sripura Stone Inscription  of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna of Panduvamsis, of 8th century A.D. The inscription begins with an invocation to Purusottama. Then the next three verses are elevated to the praise of Narasingha Avatara of Vishnu. The inscription describes that
"Narasingha protect you, who looking with eagerness at his own nails, for the enemy Hiranyakasipu who had not been secured for being torn with these (claws) happened to see him hiding through fear in the cavern-like cavity in the interior of the deep hollow of those (nails) with a laugh (at his foolishness in taking shelter in the place where he could easily crushed out) joy at finding him out he spilt the demon at once with the point of the other claw and threw him away with wrath like dirt that had collected there."
The Gaya Inscription  which belongs to about the 7th decade of 9th century A.D. begins with an invocation to Purushottama, and then immediately proceeds to describe and praise him "who conquers as Jagatinatha ........ who appears as Narasingha, spreading His mane, who has destructed by his nails the king of the demons, that glorious Lokai Kanatha,
Jagannatha and Lokai Kanatha are general epithets which may be used for any god. However the fact remains that this inscription constitutes a close connection between Narasingha and Purushottama Jagannatha.
An identity between the names Purushottama and Narasingha may have been intended by an inscription in Khajuraho  dated 953 A.D., who coins a new word Purushasimha. Here, Vasudeva is addressed as the one who incarnates in the form of boar and Purushasimha. Purusha may, of course, be used here in the form of man and Simha is lion, or literarly means man-lion incarnation.
The Harsolm copper plate  grants of the Paramara king Siyuka open with an invocation of Lord Vishnu in his Narasingha incarnation.
The Ajmer stone inscription of the king Vigraharaja of the Chauhan dynasty  refers the ten incarnation or Dasa Avatara: (1) Kurma, (2) Mina, (3) Varaha, (4) Nrusingha, (5) Vamana, (6) Jamadagnya (Parasurama), (7) Dasayanta Krit or (Dasarathi-Rama), (8) Krushna, (9) Buddha and (10) Kalki. It also states that how Lord Vishnu in his Narasingha Avatara killed the demon king Hiranyakasipu.
The Chatesvara Temple inscription of Anangabhima compares Chodagangadeva with the Narasimha incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The Yewar stones  inscription written in old Kararese language refers to how Lord Vishnu in his Narasingha Avatara tore the chest of the demon king Hiranyakasipu.
The Narasingha stone inscription  of king Vijala Deva engraved on a black stone has been attached on the western wall of the Jagamohana of the temple of Nrusimhanath. The epigraph begins with an invocation to Lord Narasimha, then it states that Vijalacleva, son of Vatsa Rajadeva, having his residence in the town of Patna, built this temple of Virala Nirasimhanatha Svami, on the Gandhamardana hill for being blessed with a son through propitiation of the God. He also presented a necklace of precious stones along with 100 cows to Lord Nirsimhadeva.
1. EI, Vol XI-184-202ff
2. Ibid-Vol XXXV-p247ff
Bharati Pal, Epigraphist, Assistant Curator, Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar.
Source: Orissa Review
Edited slightly for readability.