Sharabha is an avatar of Lord Shiva which is not commonly known. This is considered as the most powerful appearance taken by Shiva to protect the universe. His manifestation as Sharabeshwara was to dominate over the fierce embodiment of Lord Vishnu as Narasimha which was the combination of half human and half lion. The objective of Vishnu’s incarnation was to save his favorite devotee prince Prahalada from the demon king Hiranyakashipu who was his father too. After killing him, Narasimha seemed to be very furious in nature. He created an awful situation in the Universe by roaring dreadfully and continuously. By foreseeing the negative outcome of this, other Gods and sub-gods sought help from Mahadeva who then decided to take the Sharaba form to pacify the angry Narasimha and convert him to normal Vishnu.

The Sharaba form of Shiva was the structural blend of human, animal and bird with gigantic as well as blistering look. It had so many hands, claws and legs, and almost resembled a huge dragon. The entangled tresses in the body highlighted the ferocity of the structure to a greater extend. In the head there was a massive crest which looked like a dome. There were well spread wings on the back side of the body with a long tail. The extremely sharp incisors in the mouth and inflexible claws were its main weapons. Its thunder like voice created echo in the environments and was horrible to hear. It had three eyes which were glowing like fire balls. Its teeth and lips were well formed and can be seen properly. It produced awful hissing sounds throughout.

Narasimha is often visualized as having a human torso and lower body, with a lion face and claws. This image is widely worshiped in deity form by a significant number of Vaishnava groups. Vishnu assumed this form on top of Himvat Mountain (Harivamsa). He is known primarily as the ‘Great Protector’ who specifically defends and protects his devotees in times of need. Vishnu is believed to have taken the avatar to destroy the demon king Hiranyakashipu.

The Puranas describe Lord Narasimha deva’s pastime of killing the demon, saying that the Lord consumed every drop of Hiranyakasipu’s blood, then wore the demon’s mangled body as a garland to make sure that none of the demon’s physical remains made contact with the universe.

 

How Did Lord Narasimha Die?

Sharabha - Shiva Avtar Who Liberated Lord Narasimha
Sharabha Avatar of Lord Shiva

After the destruction, Prahlada, Laksmi and various demigods attempted to soothe the Lord’s anger, but without success. At first Lord Shiva took the form of Veerabhadra and asked Narasimha to cool down. But Narasimha ignored this appeal. So he himself transformed to colossal Sharabha which outclassed Narasimha both in structure and power. Then Sharabha lifted Narasimha with its long tail and was about to throw him. Narasimha realized this and prayed Sharabha to forgive him. This made Lord Shiva ensure the recovery of Lord Vishnu from his ferocious nature and hence did not hurt him. As a mark of respect to Lord Shiva, Narasimha removed the skin of lion from his body and presented to Sharabeshwaramurti. Thus the incarnation as Sharabha by Lord Shiva pacified the Narasimha manifestation of Lord Vishnu. This embodiment of Shiva is referred as Sarabeswara. In Shiva temples idols of two Sharabheswara are found at the entrance of sanctum sanctorum. He embraced Sri Narasimha, cooled Him down and made Him accessible to all beings. This Sri Sharabhesvara is Lord Shiva’s universal Omkara form.

While numerous temple deities, painted images and sastric references are found to Lord Shiva’s Sharabha form, the major Puranas like Srimad Bhagavatam do not mention the Sharabha form of Lord Shiva. Likewise, no mention appears to have been made in the Upa Puranas like the Narasimha Purana, or other Upanishads associated with Sri Narasimha dev. Rather, they stop at the point in the lila pastime with the destruction of Hiranyakasipu and the pacification of the Lord’s anger by Bhakta Prahlad and the demigods and goddesses.

Ashtamukha Gandaberunda - Sharabha Shiva Avatar - Lord Narasimha
Ashtamukha Gandaberunda

Although the post-destruction pastimes are not mentioned in the primary shastra, there are many references found to Shiva Sharabha and to Lord Narasimha deva’s own Sharabha Form – Gandaberunda. Included amongst them are references to Sri Narasimha’s Form as Gandaberunda, a rare two-headed bird incarnation worshipped in South India, as well as to versions of a pastime wherein Shiva Sharabha actually fought with and killed Lord Narasimha dev. Some have concluded that this incarnation of Shiva was simply created by a group of South Indian Shaivites as a means to position Shiva as being greater than Vishnu, and that question seems left to the discussions of academics and pandits.

In the Atharva Veda, the tenth of thirty-one Upanishads is the Sharabha Upanishad, which glorifies Lord Shiva in his fierce Sharabha manifestation. Verse 3 of this Upanishad states that Maheswarah took the form of Sharabha and killed Narasimha.

 

Sharabha Upanishad

Om! O Devas, may we hear with our ears what is auspicious;
May we see with our eyes what is auspicious, O ye worthy of worship!
May we enjoy the term of life allotted by the Devas,
Praising them with our body and limbs steady!
May the glorious Indra bless us!
May the all-knowing Sun bless us!
May Garuda, the thunderbolt for evil, bless us!
May Brihaspati grant us well-being!
Om! Let there be Peace in me!
Let there be Peace in my environment!
Let there be Peace in the forces that act on me!

I am saluting that primeval God who is the Lord, who is the best, who is the father of the world, who is the greatest among gods, who has created Brahma, who gave all Vedas to Brahma in the beginning, who is the father of Vishnu and other devas, who merits praise, and who at the time of deluge destroys the world. He is the only one who is greater than everybody, who is the best and who rules over others.

That very strong Maheswarah took the horrifying form of Sharabha and killed Narasimha who was destroying the world. (Sharabha is the avatar of Shiva which is a combination of eagle, lion and man.)

Sharabha - Shiva Avtar Who Liberated Lord NarasimhaThat god with his sharp claws tore, Vishnu who took the form of Narasimha. He who was wearing the hide became Veerabhadra.

For every one desiring to get all occult powers, he is the one who should be meditated. Salutations to that Rudra who tore away the fifth head of Brahma.

Salutations to that Rudra who kicked Kala the God of death and made him fall and also him who drank the burning Halahala poison.

Salutations to that Rudra whose feet were worshipped by the flower of Vishnu’s eyes and who being pleased gave him the holy wheel (Chakra).

The one, who has crossed sorrows, sees that God, who is atom within an atom, gross among the gross, who as Atma hidden in the heart of beings and who is beyond physical action, clearly because of these reasons.

Salutations to that Rudra who is the greatest god, who holds the Soola (spear) in his hand, who has a big swallowing mouth, who is the Maheswarah and whose blessing has good effects.

“Chara”, indicates beings which move and because Brahmam shines in the half of their body as Hari, it is called Sarabham. Hey great sage, that can grant salvation directly.

Any twice born who reads this, which is called “the great Sastra of Paippalada” or makes others read it, would get rid of births and deaths and attain salvation. The Upanishad tells that he will become similar to Brahma.

Om! O Devas, may we hear with our ears what is auspicious;
May we see with our eyes what is auspicious, O ye worthy of worship!
May we enjoy the term of life allotted by the Devas,
Praising them with our body and limbs steady!
May the glorious Indra bless us!
May the all-knowing Sun bless us!
May Garuda, the thunderbolt for evil, bless us!
May Brihaspati grant us well-being!
Om! Let there be Peace in me!
Let there be Peace in my environment!
Let there be Peace in the forces that act on me!

Here ends the Sarabhopanishad, as contained in the Atharva-Veda.

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