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Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 59

Narasimha bursts out of pillar and attacks Hiranyakashipu Pahari, Nainsukh family workshop, c.1775–90

Folio from a series depicting the Bhagavata Purana (see cat. no. 51) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold and silver metallic paints on paper with wide painted margins | 30.5 × 38.3 cm (folio); 23.7 × 31.7 cm (image) | RCIN 925239

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In this painting we reach the climax of the narrative as Vishnu in his Narasimha, half-man half-lion, incarnation with his characteristic four blue arms (see cat. no. 48) bursts out of the wooden pillar. The demons have fled the scene in fear as the avatar attacks Hiranyakashipu with his great claws. To the right, the terrified Prahlada makes a speedy exit but looks back, suggesting he recognises the ferocious beast as his lord, Vishnu. Narasimha has taken Hiranyakashipu’s crown and drags him backwards by the hair. In the next painting of the series (not shown here), Hiranyakashipu is killed on the palace threshold (neither indoors nor outdoors) as the sun is setting (neither day nor night), with Narasimha’s claws (neither weapon nor animal) on the avatar’s lap (neither on earth nor in the sky) – thus fulfilling the demon king’s death wish (see cat. no. 51).