Stories You Need To Know # 6
This form of Lord Shiva appeared to calm Lord Narasimha after the latter killed the demon Hiranyakashipu. The Sharabha avatar is one of its kind. The Lord appeared as a being that partly looked like a lion and bird. In some texts, the Sharabha avatar is said to have eight legs.
Sarabha is a part-lion and part-bird beast in Hindu and Sanskrit literature, and is eight-legged and more powerful than a lion or an elephant, possessing the ability to clear a valley in one jump. In later literature, Sharabha is described as an eight-legged deer.
The Shaiva scriptures narrate that god Shiva assumed the form of Sharabha to pacify Narasimha – the fierce man-lion avatar of Vishnu worshipped by the Vaishnava sect. This form is popularly known as Sharabeshwara (“Lord Sharabha”) or Sharabeshwaramurti. The Vaishnavas refute the portrayal of Narasimha as being destroyed by Shiva-Sharabha and regard Sharabha as the name of Vishnu.
The Vimathgira Purana, Vathistabhaana Purana, Bhalukka Purana, and other Puranas narrate that Vishnu assumed the form of the ferocious Gandabherunda bird-animal to combat Sharabha.
In Buddhism, Sharabha appears in Jataka Tales as a previous birth of the Buddha. It also appears in Tibetan Buddhist art, symbolizing the perfection of effort. As a figure of power and majesty, Sharabha has appeared in numerous emblems, such as those of the State government of the Indian state of Karnataka, the University of Mysore, and Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited.
The legend of Sharabha as an incarnation of Shiva is narrated in many Hindu scriptures and each presents a different version to suit one’s religious beliefs. But one common refrain in all these depictions is that Sharabha is a combination of a huge animal-bird beast with enormous strength manifested with the purpose of pacifying similar ferocious avatar of Vishnu such as Narasimha (man-lion).
The Narasimha-Sharabha legend is linked to gods assuming mythical animal forms to slay or subdue as the case may be. First, Vishnu assumed the form of Narasimha to slay Hiranyakashipu, an asura (demon) king, who was terrorizing the universe and devotee of Shiva.
The Shiva Purana mentions: After slaying Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha’s wrath threatened the world. At the behest of the gods, Shiva sent Virabhadra to tackle Narasimha. When that failed, Shiva manifested as Sharabha.
The Shiva Purana and some Puranas mention Sharabha attacking Narasimha and immobilizing him. He thus quelled Narasimha’s terrifying rage. It is also said that Sharabha then decapitated and de-skinned Narasimha so Shiva could wear the hide and lion head as a garment.
The Linga Purana and the Sharabha Upanishad also mention the mutilation and murder of Narasimha. After the mutilation, Vishnu assumed his normal form and retired to his abode, after duly praising Shiva. It was from here on that Shiva came to be known as “Sharabeshamurti” or “Simhagnamurti”.
Om Namah Shivaya