What does Lord Nrsimhadeva, whose appearance day Vaishnavas around the world will be celebrating this week, have in common with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the fourteenth century founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism?
In Vaishnava theology, Nrsimhadeva is one of the ten main incarnations of Lord Krishna who, as is explained in the Bhagavad-gita, descends to this world to annihilate the miscreants and please His devotees. Lord Chaitanya, however, does not fit into this categorization, although he is Krishna himself, because he comes disguised as a devotee.
What’s more, Nrsimhadeva is without a doubt the most ferocious incarnation of Krishna; appearing as a half-man half-lion and ripping apart the demon Hiranyakashipu for torturing his devotee son Prahlada. Lord Chaitanya, on the other hand, is the most munificent form, killing no demons and giving love of God freely to all.
It may be hard to see any similarity between the two forms of the Lord, yet a study of the Chaitanya-Charitamrita, the most comprehensive account of Chaitanya’s life, reveals that the form of God that Chaitanya identified most with, after Lord Jagannatha and Krishna Himself, was Lord Nrsimhadeva.
Since he appeared as a devotee of God, Chaitanya often worshiped Lord Nrsimhadeva with much devotion and absorption. During His extensive South Indian tour, he visited nine famous Nrsimha temples there, although the Chaitanya-Charitamrita pays special attention to only three of these. One is of course the famous Ahovala-Nrsimha, while another is Pana-Nrsimha in the Mangalagiri hills, about seven miles from the city of Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh). Chaitanya reportedly climbed the six hundred steps to reach the temple, and with great love, offered obeisances and prayers unto Lord Nrsimha.
The third and perhaps most detailed account in the Chaitanya-Charitamrita is Mahaprabhu’s visit to the Jiyada-Nrsimha temple, situated atop a hill five miles from Visakhapatnam. “Upon seeing the Deity of Lord Nrsimha in the temple, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu offered his respectful obeisances by falling flat,” author Krishna Dasa Kaviraj writes. “Then, in ecstatic love, he performed various dances, chanted, and offered prayers.”
Lord Chaitanya’s beautiful prayers offer an enchanting insight into the personality of Nrsimha: “Although very ferocious, the lioness is very kind to her cubs. Similarly, although very ferocious to non-devotees like Hiranyakashipu, Lord Nrsimhadeva is very, very soft and kind to devotees like Prahlada Maharaja.”
There is also a Nrsimha deity on the southern side of the Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa, where Lord Chaitanya spent much of his life on this earth. Mahaprabhu would often visit this deity as he ascended the twenty-two steps to the temple, and recite these verses from the Nrsimha Purana while offering obeisances again and again:
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto You, Lord Nrsimhadeva. You are the giver of pleasure to Maharaja Prahlada, and Your nails cut the chest of Hiranyakashipu like a chisel cutting stone.
“Lord Nrsimhadeva is here, and He is also there on the opposite side. Wherever I go, there I see Lord Nrsimhadeva. He is outside and within my heart. Therefore I take shelter of Lord Nrsimhadeva, the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Nrsimhadeva are One and the Same
Although Chaitanya, in the guise of a devotee, worshiped Nrsimhadeva, the two are in fact one, being both forms of God. The ancient text Nrsimha Purana acknowledges this fact, while prophesizing Lord Chaitanya’s arrival: “The Supreme Personality of Godhead who in the Satya-yuga appeared as a half-man, half-lion to cure a terrible disease that had ravaged the demigods, and who in the Treta-yuga appeared as Lord Ramachandra, who defeated the ten-headed demon Ravana, and who in the Dvapara-yuga removed the earth’s burden, and protected the cowherd people of Vraja-pura, will appear again in the Kali-yuga. His form will be golden, He will delight in chanting the Lord’s holy names, and His name will be Chaitanya.”
While on this earth in the 1500s, Chaitanya Himself confirmed several times that he was none other than Lord Nrsimhadeva.
Once was to Srivasa Thakura, one of his four closest associates, who was worshiping Lord Nrsimhadeva behind closed doors. Lord Chaitanya came and knocked at the door, calling out, “Who are you worshiping? Whom are you meditating on? The person whom you are worshiping is here!”
Another time, the same Srivasa Thakura was reading the Brihat-sahasra-nama, or thousand names of Lord Visnu, to Lord Chaitanya. The Chaitanya-Mangala describes that when he reached the holy name of Lord Nrsimha, Lord Chaitanya became absorbed in thought, and then suddenly became angry just like Nrsimhadeva. His eyes became red, the hairs on his body stood on end, and he trembled, making a ferocious roaring sound. When he took up a wooden club, the other devotees in the room were terrified, thinking, “What kind of offense have we committed?” But Mahaprabhu soon adjusted his thoughts and relaxed, once again taking his seat.
Perhaps the most famous—and scary—story illustrating the connection between Chaitanya and Nrsimhadeva is of the Chand Kazi, a Muslim magistrate, who had been violently forbidding the street chanting of Lord Chaitanya’s associates. Breaking a mridanga drum, he threatened the devotees that if they continued he would confiscate all their property and force them to convert to Islam.
One day, however, he suddenly stopped his antagonistic actions. When Lord Chaitanya asked him why, he replied:
“The night after I forbade the performance of congregational chanting, in my dreams I saw a greatly fearful lion, roaring very loudly, his body like a human being’s and his face like a lion’s. While I was asleep, the lion jumped on my chest, laughing fiercely and gnashing His teeth. Placing its nails on my chest, the lion said in a grave voice, ‘I shall immediately bifurcate your chest as you broke the mridanga drum! You have forbidden the performance of my congregational chanting. Therefore I must destroy you!’
“Being very much afraid of him, I closed my eyes and trembled. Seeing me so afraid, the lion said, ‘I have defeated you just to teach you a lesson, but I must be merciful to you. On that day you did not create a very great disturbance. Therefore I have excused you and not taken your life. But if you perform such activities again, I shall not be tolerant.’ After saying this, the lion left.”
The Kazi then showed Lord Chaitanya his chest, which still had the marks of Nrsimhadeva’s nails on it, and promised: “To as many descendants as take birth in my dynasty in the future, I give this grave admonition: No one should check the sankirtana (chanting of God’s name) movement.”
The Kazi’s injuction holds even until the present day—descendants of his family have not opposed the sankirtana movement under any circumstances, even during the historical Hindu-Muslim riots of 1947 and beyond.
On yet another occasion, Lord Chaitanya revealed his identity to Pradyumna Brahmacari, who he called Nrsimhananda, because of his devotion to Lord Nrsimhadeva. One day Nrsimhananda prepared many varieties of food, including vegetables, cakes, sweet rice and more, and made three separate offerings to Jagannatha, Chaitanya, and his worshipable deity, Lord Nrsimhadeva. He then began to meditate upon the Lord. In his meditation, he saw Chaitanya quickly come, sit down, and eat all three offerings, leaving no remnants behind.
Although Nrsimhananda was delighted to see Chaitanya come and eat, he was also dismayed. “Alas, alas! My dear Lord, what are You doing?” he cried. “You are eating everyone's food! My Lord, You are one with Jagannatha; therefore I have no objection to Your eating His offering. But why are You touching the offering for Lord Nrsimhadeva? I think that Nrsimhadeva could not eat anything today, and therefore He is fasting. If the master fasts, how can the servant live?”
Impressed by Nrsimhananda’s devotion to his deity, Lord Chaitanya then revealed to him by practical demonstration that he was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that there was no difference between him, Lord Jagannatha and Lord Nrsimhadeva.
On the auspicious occasion of Lord Nrsimhadeva’s appearance, this is a wonderful meditation for members of ISKCON, as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, to have.