Taking a break from family politics – today’s Lord Nṛsiṁha’s appearance day and this particular form of Kṛṣṇa is very important to our movement. We sing His prayers twice a day, no other form of the Lord, save for Gaurāṅga or Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, get this. We might have more deities of Lord Jagannātha in our movement but we often remember them only on the days of Ratha Yātrā. Prayers to Lord Nṛsiṁha, however, are obligatory part of our ritual. In some communities every time devotees get in a car, van, or on the bus they pray to Lord Nṛsiṁha for a safe journey. I haven’t developed this custom myself but I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Having an actual Nṛsiṁha deity, however, is extremely rare. I’m not sure we have another one apart from Māyāpura (not counting Bangalore because they are not ISKCON per se). Every temple, however, has a picture of Māyāpura Nṛsiṁha on the altar, which is just as potent, never mind it’s on paper and hasn’t been actually installed.
I’m not a specialist on deities, to me the name alone is more than enough, and so if Lord Nṛsiṁha manifested Himself in our Māyāpura temple it means every other ISKCON community falls under His protection. If they have their own deity they would be protected by their particular form, obviously, too. This brings up the question – does the Lord appear as a deity to provide security or to accept service?
On one hand security was the first and foremost consideration when the decision to install Lord Nṛsiṁha in Māyāpura was made, on the other hand expecting something from the Lord goes against principles of pure devotion. I don’t know how this dilemma is resolved exactly, I see two potential ways.
First is that we are all dependent on the Lord and we all have material desires as well. Begging Him for this or that is unavoidable, so if He does appear as a deity dealing with our requests would be a part of the deal. In Lord Nṛsiṁha’s case we have to make sure that our pūjārīs are absolutely free from sexual desire, that should be enough for the Lord to look mercifully on the rest of our congregation. It’s a kind of sacrifice we need to make to keep the deity happy – offer Him a naiṣṭhika brahmacārī. He won’t eat him, no need to worry about that, but He won’t accept service from anyone else.
Another idea is that the Lord doesn’t provide security services per se but that demoniac activity in His presence is simply impossible and doesn’t happen, our safety in this case becomes only a side effect. It would mean that we still have to worry about security and protection not only of our devotees but of the deity itself as well, we do not outsource it to the Lord and lay all responsibility on Him.
There have been several attacks on our temples and our deities in our short history and the fact is that sometimes we can’t protect them and they don’t seem to protect themselves either. Deity form, after all, exists for accepting service, not for providing it. Of course we can say that no one can attack the deity without Lord’s permission (as the Supersoul in every living entity’s heart) and somehow absolve ourselves from all responsibility but that would be wrong, I believe. Providing security is one of our many services to the deity and devotees before us occasionally failed and occasionally fled with the deity to places of safety. In short, we can’t outsource security to the Lord Himself and therefore I tend to go with the second idea – it’s not the deity of Lord Nṛsiṁha that protects us but that in His presence demoniac activities become impossible.
We need to acknowledge here that our Nṛsiṁha is not an ordinary deity but the only one such form in the world. There are plenty of Lakṣmī-Nṛsiṁha deities elsewhere but ours is Ugra-Nṛsiṁha, the fiercest form possible. Lord Nṛsiṁha here is depicted just as He emerged from the pillar to instill the fear of God in the heart of Hiraṇyakaśipu. He is the anger personified, the entire universe has never seen anything like it and it has quite a few scary characters around.
Approaching the Lord when He was in this mood was impossible. Demigods had to wait for a while until Lord’s anger subsided and even then they were still too afraid to offer Him prayers themselves and they sent forward little Prahlāda. Who are we to worship Him with such ease? Nobodies. So why do we do it?
Because of the purity of our paramparā. Our ācāryas are not ordinary people, they are not ordinary souls either. By material measurement they might have appeared insignificant comparing to the demigods and even to Lord Brahmā himself but spiritually they have absolutely no flaws and therefore can guide us to worshiping this absolutely fierce form of the Lord. Śrīla Prabhupāda might not have been present when we installed the deity of Lord Nṛsiṁha but it became possible only due to his mercy. We should not take away anything from the purity of ISKCON leaders at that time, too, even if by present estimates it was our “dark ages”, right in the middle of zonal ācārya period. Whatever criticism we deserved for that, it didn’t stop Lord Nṛsiṁha from appearing and accepting our worship and we should always remember that. Let the Lord be the judge of our actions, not our critics.
The story of the deity’s appearance is special, too. Our leaders thought it would be just like any other “business transaction” – find a master, buy the suitable piece of rock, and pay him to carve the deity. It was all expected to be over in a few months, I believe. Instead the entire affair dragged for about two years (don’t quote me on that, find the exact account on the internet yourself). It took several months for the master and his guru simply to agree to carve such a ferocious form – it’s the only one the world, remember? Then it took several months to find a suitable slab of marble. It had to be “live” and there were tests to check it. Then it took six months to carve the deity itself. The entire process was one of the deity slowly manifesting itself out of an idea and the human participants were only a help, like midwives during a birth of a baby. I should also mention that the guru who finally realized that sculptor have Lord’s permission to agree to carving the deity was a head of an advaita Maṭha – a “māyāvādī” in line of Saṅkarācārya himself! We are not that different from genuine followers of Śaṅkara after all.
Today is not the anniversary of deity appearance, though, but I thought that contemplating on this story would still be beneficial.