Narasimha in Kamba Ramayana

  • By Sunitha Madhavan
  • May 18, 2022
Kamban sang in Tamil the great story of Rama.
  • Excerpt from Kamba Ramayana in which Vibhishana tells Ravana the story of Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada.

Kamban sang in Tamil the great story of Rama for the people of his region and in his own style. Kamba Ramayana was not a literal translation of Valmiki Ramayana, but a free adaptation of the original concept. The ancient Tamil country to which Kamban belonged abounds in Narasimha Kshethrams.


The poet introduced the Man-Lion Avatar in the most appropriate context as the perfect fit for highlighting the glory of Vishnu whose incarnation is Rama. He subtitled it as Hiranyakasipu Vadhai Padalam i.e., annihilation of the demon king. It is presented through the Bhagavatha character Vibhishana, at the beginning of Yudha Kandam. When Rama and the Vanaras had landed in Lanka, a war council was convened by Ravana.


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


Vibhishana used the opportunity and tried to direct his brother on the Dharmic path. Earlier when Hanuman was to be put to the sword it had worked. But this time Ravana was in no mood to yield. He mocked Vibhishana for considering Rama as Divine.


Vibhishana now attempted to cure Ravana of his pride and lust through another route. He prayed to his brother that he listen to the story of Hiranyakashipu, whose demonic traits like physical prowess and atrocities were sure to interest him. Vibhishana began with the description of the colossal figure of the Danava. All the waters of the oceans would only wash his feet. He ripped open the rain clouds to have a shower! He had the audacity to place his throne on Mount Meru from where he rained terror over all the Universe. His strength earned by strenuous penance, far surpassed that of Ravana. To such an Asura was born Prahlada, who was a staunch Vishnu bhakta. Constant shravanam of Narayana’s glory sung by Narada for Lilavati, imbibed by Prahlada in her womb made him a staunch devotee of the Lord. 


At the age of five, Prahlada was entrusted to the Royal guru for ‘enlightenment’. If administrators dabble at reforming the religious beliefs and the educational system, pandemonium will prevail. The child could not bear the blasphemy of uttering Hiranyakashipu’s name, though it be his father’s, before the commencement of his Vedic studies. The inept guru alarmed, lest he be mistaken for seditious activities, brought the little prince to the King for effecting the necessary correction. Delighted to see his child, Hiranyakashipu was eager to know of his progress. When questioned, Prahlada gave a sermon on Ashtakshari Manthra and emphatically pronounced Om Namo Narayana. The Asura who hated Vishnu for having killed his brother, Hiranyaksharan in the previous incarnation as a Boar, now burst out in indignation. What follows is only too familiar to us.


Kamban was petrified by the religious persecutions and conversions rampant in the country. Thirunavukkarasar, the Saiva saint suffered multiple times as early as the seventh century, when the Jainas threw him into a boiling lime cauldron, fastened him to a rock and flung him into the sea. He like Prahlada came out of these ordeals unscathed by Nama Mahimai, uttering God’s name. Both persisted in their respective beliefs. Little Prahlada’s unshaken faith in the primordial personality of the godhead, despite all tortures which he miraculously escaped, exasperated Hiranyakashipu. He roared in rage: 


Show Him to me inside this pillar here, Who, thou declar’st and rebel gods believe, Pervades this universe: if you fail I’ll fall on thee as on the elephant does The lion, and tearing thee to pieces, drink Thy blood and eat thy flesh!’’ 


How very true that one should be careful in thought and words that determine action! Blinded by wrath, Hiranyakashipu had petitioned his own end to the Lord.


Wisdom and intelligence are not sui generis. The solid column he pointed at, was the coalescence of the light of wisdom derived from intelligence. This illumination of the intellect comes from the Atman, Indwelling Spirit. Hiranyakashipu’s distrust, forfeited this essential human quality in him. Hence it is that when he struck his sword against the massive column, wisdom and intelligence were torn apart, and the Supreme Cosmic principle, Atman materialised Himself in the form of a combination of man and lion to kill the atheist.


Rumbling came the laugh of the Man-Lion, fierce, tremendous and ominous! Boy Prahlada danced with joy, his eyes filled with tears, and chanted aloud His holy name. The global vault burst, the Lion stood self-revealed. He grew and filled this universe and his countless arms annihilated the entire asura force in all the three worlds. Left behind were the bewildered demon king with his jubilant son. As the Lion advanced towards them, Prahlada sensed the opportune moment and in all filial piety said:

Of the Lord Supreme, O father, why would thou not The truth perceive? Even now thou can submit To Him: and when thou fallest at His feet, He would forgive thy evil deeds of old.’’ 


This poetical presentation before the emerging primordial being from the pillar is unique in Kamba Ramayanam, for in Shuka’s exposition of Bhagavatam, Prahlada does not speak to his father after the Avatar appeared. Unfortunately impelled by ego, Hiranyakashipu was not for Saranagadhi. Instead he frowned in defiance:


Listen ingrate! In sight of thee I will Cut down the Man-Lion’s branching arms and feet. And then I will give my sword thy blood to drink!” 

Lakshmi Narasimha is the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Hampi.

That was to be the last straw. Bhagavatha apacharam is beyond atonement. The Man-Lion took hold of Hiranyakashipu’s feet and whirled him round and round, shattering to pieces his crown and jewels including his kundalams that rolled over to hit the quarters. At the time of twilight, Man-Lion sat at the threshold of the palace gate, laid him on His thighs, and disembowelled the demon king, removing his entrails with His spear like claws. 


Brahma, in exhilaration, prayed to the self-manifested Narasimha. Appeased, He gave His blessings to the Devas. At that ecstatic moment Lakshmi arrived and united with Her peerless Lord.


Lakshmi Narasimha’s eyes that once spit sparks of fire, now showered compassion to bestow boons. Prahlada knew that all boons are obstacles in the practice of pure devotion to the Lord. Yet, one request he did make. He sought that his father be pardoned and purified from sins. The Lord addressed Prahlada as ‘the effulgent one’, and conferred manifold benedictions on him. The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman himself. The effulgence in his face is reflective of the splendour of the Lord Himself. At the command of Lakshmi Narasimha, Prahlada’s coronation was arranged by Devas. The Paramabagavatha was crowned by Singa Perumal as the Emperor of all three worlds.


By this narration, Vibhishana wanted to remind and impress upon Ravana, the prowess of Vishnu. Once Ravana had visited Mahabali. The astute King of the Netherworld, gifting one of his ancestor’s fallen dazzling diamond ear kundalams requested Ravana to take it. But the King of Lanka could barely even move it a bit with his twenty hands! Now on hearing the Mighty Lord having lifted Hiranyakashipu with both the kundalams as well as all other ornaments, and torn him apart ought to make sense dawn on the ignorant, arrogant sibling.


Far from it, Ravana after hearing the full episode from Vibhishana was seething with anger. Since his doomsday was near, it had no impact. On the contrary, he taunted his noble brother for praising Prahlada who watched his father being clawed to death. He accused Vibhishana of scheming to occupy the throne of Lanka and ordered him to leave at once. The propitious time had arrived for Vibhishana Saranagadhi.


The legend goes that when Kamban recited the above portion from his Ramayana within the precincts of Srirangam Temple, peals of thunderous applause emanated from Mettu Narasimhar’s Sannidhi, approving of its inclusion. 


It is interesting to note that the name ‘Kamban’ implies pillar. Rightly so did the advent of Narasimha spring up in his Ramavathar. One of the names in Narasimha Ashtothram is “Om Sthambajaaya Namaha!”


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 15 May 2022 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


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