Dr. A K Chatterjee is a seasoned writer with more than 330 blogs in English and Bengali and 10 books mostly on travel, trekking and temples.
Nrisingha (Narasingha/Narasimha) Deva is the 4th Avatar of Lord Vishnu. He is half-man half-lion (Nara = man; Singha/Simha = lion). His head and upper limbs are of a lion, the torso and lower part of the body is human.
As per Hindu scriptures, Lord Vishnu appeared in 9 different ages in 9 different Avatars or reincarnations/manifestations, and the 10th one (Kalki Avatar) is still not manifested.
These 9 Avatars of Lord Vishnu who had already appeared are as follows maintaining the appearance order :
Meena or Matsya (Fish), Kurma (Tortoise), Varaha (Boar), Nrisingha (Half-man half-lion), Vamana (The dwarf), Parasurama or Bhargava Rama, Lord Rama or Dasharathi Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Buddha.
Of these, the first 4 (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and Nrisingha) appered in the Satya Yuga, next 3 (Vamana, Parasurama amd Lord Rama) appered in Treta Yaga and next 2 (Balarama and Krishna) appeared in Dwapara Yuga. The 10th Avatar Kalki will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga.
Though this the standard list of the 10 Avataras (Dashavatara) of Lord Vishnu, there are some controversies. Though it is generally accepted that Lord Krishna is the 9th Avatara of Lord Vishnu, some believe that Lord Krishna was Lord Vishnu Himself and not one of His Avataras. They include Lord Jagannath as the 9th Avatara of Lord Vishnu. Yet another school gives this place to Lord Buddha.
There are innumerable Vishnu (or Krishna) temples not only in India, but in almost every country where Hindus live. In most of these and other temples dedicated to different deities, either there are smaller shrines housing the 10 Avatars of Lord Vishnu, or the Avataras are depicted in temple decorations.
It is an interesting fact that separate temples for these Avataras are not very common (except those dedicated to Lord Krishna and Jagannatha), and temples dedicated to Nrisingha Deva, the 4th Avatar is rather rare.
There are only few temples dedicated to Nrisingha Deva in India, a list of which is given in the Appendix II.
Nrisingha Deva connection to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nrisingha Deva temples in West Bengal
Nrisingha Deva is often called "Narahari" (meaning Man-Hari or Man-Vishnu, "Hari" being the other name of Lord Vishnu) in Bengal. There is an anecdotal connection between Lord Narahari and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the 16th century great Vaishnava saint. It is said that while Sri Chaitanya was propagating the chanting of the names of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna among the masses by taking out processions (called "Sankirtana"), the traditional Hindu Brahmins were agitated and they complained to the local Muslim ruler Chand Kazi to stop this "Sankirtana". Chand Kazi initially issued an official order to stop this, but after having a dream in which Lord Narahari appeared before him and asked to withdraw the order or face dire consequences, he was only too eager to reverse his order.
Nrisingha Deva temples in West Bengal
There are only a few temples dedicated to Nrisingha Deva in West Bengal. These include :
1. Nrisinghadeva temple, Nrisinhapalli, Navadwip, Nadia district.
2. Nrisinghadeva temple, Gokarna, Murshidabad district.
3. Narasingha temple, Talbagan South, Hanapara, Kestopur, Kolkata.
4. Ugra Narasingha temple, Mayapur, Nadia district.
Nrisingha Deva in temple decorations in West Bengal
Though the temples of Nrisingha Deva are rare in West Bengal, the presence of Nrisingha Deva in the decorations of temples in West Bengal is aplenty. In many temples, the 10 Avatars of Lord Vishnu is depicted in panels called "Dashavatar Panel". This are mostly of terracotta bas-relief, but works in other media like stucco, stone, metal engravings, wood carving and paintings (murals/frescos) are also seen.
Here we'll have a brief study of the topic.
Materials and methods
The author has visited and photographed about 80 temples in 31 places in different districts of West Bengal.
Among these, 25 temples have Nrisingha Deva in their decorations (a list of these temples is given in Appendix I).
These photographs were diligently checked, and photos of Nrisingha Deva in different forms selected. These are then analyzed as per some characteristics.
In 23 temples we get 25 pictures of Nrisingha Deva, all as a part of the "Dashavatar Panel".
Of these 25 pictures, 18 (72%) are of terracotta bas-relief, 3 (12%) of stucco (Bhavanishwar temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad; Ekteshwar temple of Bankura and Nandishwar temple of Sahachak, Paschim Medinipur), 2 (8%) are of stone work (Jagannath temple , Khidirpur and Gokulchand temple of Gokulnagar, Bankura); 1 (4%) of wood carving (from a temple of Jaipur, district Bankura) and 1 (4%) of a painting (mural/fresco) (from Kalleshwar temple of Kalleshwar, district Birbhum).
Nrisingha Deva in the iconography of Bengal temple decoration
Classically, Nrisingha Deva is depicted as half-lion half-man form, with the head and forearms of a lion and the torso and lower limbs of a man. He is 4 armed, with upper right hand holding the "Chakra" and the upper left arm the "Shankha" (Conch), two "Ayudha"-s of Lord Vishnu.
Narasingha Deva is seen in the sitting posture holding the evil anti-Vishnu demon Hiranyakashipu on His knees and killing the demon by opening up his abdomen by His sharp claws.
Nrisingha Deva is often seen accompanied by Prahlada, the son of Hiranyakashipu and an ardent Vishnu devotee.
Now let us see what we get in the decorations of temples in West Bengal.
Number of arms of Nrisingha Deva
In our series of 25 pictures of Nrisingha Deva, we get 15 (60%) 4-armed and 10 (40%) 2-armed Nrisingha Deva. This is a little strange, because the fact that Nrisingha Deva is 4-armed is well known. Why the temple artists created the 2-armed version, and in such a high ratio, is not clear.
"Ayudha" or weapons of Nrisingha Deva
Of the 15 4-armed Nrisingha Deva, only 3 have Chakra (in upper right hand) and Shankha (Conch) in upper left hand. The other 11 4-armed Nrisingha Deva are not carrying any "Ayudha". In all these 15 cases, Nrisingha Deva is seen using His lower two hands to kill Hiranyakashipu.
Of the 10 2-armed Nrisngha Deva, 2 cases are a little different from the other 8. In these two pictures (from Jorbangla Kali temple and Pancharatna Shiva temple of Itanda village, district Birbhum), Nrisingha Deva is seen carrying Prahlada in His lap and Hiranyakashipu is nowhere seen. Probably these two scenes represent the stage when Nrisingha Deva has lifted Prahlada in His lap after killing Hiranyakashipu.
In other 8 2-armed Nrisingha deva is seen using both the arms to kill Hiranyakashipu.
Presence of Prahlada with Nrisingha Deva
i) In 5 cases out of the total 25, Prahalada is present in the scene.
ii) Of these, 2 are already described (where only Prahlada is present with Nrisingh Deva).
iii) In the remaining 3 cases, Prahlada is seen standing at one side while Nrisingha deva is killing Hiranyakashipu. These are from Jagannath Temple of Khidirpur, Kolkata; Madanmohan temple of Vishnupur, district Bankura and Kalleshwar temple of kalleshwar, district Birbhum (the last is a painting).
Presence of Nrisingha Deva in Bengal temple decorations is an interesting observation. The present study is on a small series, so it can be marked as a Pilot Study. If some researchers work with larger series, more facts may come forward.
All photos : by the author.
References : Different internet sites.
List of temples from where the pictures of Nrisingha Deva are collected for this study :
1. Radha Vinod temple - Joydev-Kenduli - District Birbhum - Year of construction 1683 AD.
2. Radha Damodar temple - Hadal-Narayanpur - District Bankura - 19th century
3. Ratneswar temple - Bhattabati - district Murshidabad - Early 18th century
4. Bhavaniswar temple - Baronagar - district Murshidabad - 1755 AD
5. Dubrajpur temples - Dubrajpur - district Birbhum - 19th century
6. Girigiovardhan temple - Kotulpur - district Bankura - 19th century
7. Kali (Hadkata) Jorbangla - Itanda - district Birbhum - 19th century
8. Shiva Pancharatna - Itanda - district Birbhum - 1828 AD
9. Joypur temples - Joypur - district Bankura - 19th century
10. Lakshmi-Janardan temple - Ghurisa - district Birbhum - 1739 AD
11. Madanmohan temple - Vishnupur - district Bankura - 1695 AD
12. Kalleshwar Shiva temple - Kalleshwar - district Birbhum - 17-18th century
13. Nandeshwar temple - Sahachak, Kharagpur - disrtict Paschim Medinipur - 1719-20 AD
14. Nabaratna Shiva temple - Panchthupi - district Murshidabad - mid-18th century
15. Raghabeswar temple - Dignagar - district Nadia - 1669 AD
16. Sridhar temple - Kotulpur - district Bankura - 1833 AD.
17. Gokulchand - Gokulnagar - district Bankura - 17th century
18. Ekteshwar temple - Bankura - district Bankura - 18th century or earlier
19. Shiva Temple - Ajodhya - district Paschim Bardhaman - 18-19th century
20. Jagannath temple - Khidirpur - Kolkata - 1975 AD
21. Charbangla temple (eastern) - Baronagar - district Murshidabad - 1760 AD.
List of important Nrisingha Deva temples in India :
Here is a list of important temples dedicated to Lord Narasimha / Nrisingha (source : Wikipidia), but there may be more.
1. Narasimha Swamy Temple, Ahobilam, Andhra Pradesh (In Ahobilam there are 9 Narasingha temples, and Ahobilam is considered the most important site for Nrisingha worship)
2. Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Mangalagiri, Andhra Pradesh
3. Vedadri Narasimha Temple, Vedadri, Andhra Pradesh.
4. Prahlad Ghat, Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh
5. Narsing Thakur Temple, Imphal, Manipur
6. Shri Laxmi Narsimha Temple, Maharashtra
7. Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Simhachalam, Andhra Pradesh
8. Iskcon (Hare Krishna) Golden Temple, Telangana
9. Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Yadadri, Telangana
10. Narasimha Temple, Puri, Odisha
11. Narasimha Temple, Bhubaneswar, Odisha
12. Guru Narasimha Temple, Saligrama, Karnataka
13. Narasingam Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple, Tamil Nadu
14. Narasimhaswamy Temple, Namakkal, Tamil Nadu
15. Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Thalassery, Kerala
16. Narsinghji Temple, Rajasthan
17. Nrisingha Temple, Nadia, West Bengal.
18. Narsingha temple, Narsinghpur, Madhya Pradesh.
19. Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple - Nallagondla Village, Vinjamur Taluk, Nellore District, Andhra Pradesh.,
20. Shree Narsingh Dham Mandir, Ghagwal, Samba district, J&K.
21. Narasingha Jharna Cave Temple Bidar Karnataka
22. Ugra Narasingha temple, Mayapur, Nadia, West Bengal.
© 2022 Dr A K Chatterjee