The unique rendition of Narsing Lila in Braj

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The motifs of ‘Narsing Lila’ have been eternally impressed upon the prolific oral traditions of Braj.

Narasimha Jayanti, the day when Lord Vishnu incarnated as the half-man, half lion avatara is celebrated on Vaishakha Shukla Chaturdashi as per the Hindu calendar. This year the auspicious appearance of the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu was celebrated on May 17.

Like all other festivals, Narsing Chaturdashi celebrations in Braj-Vrindavan have a distinct flavour that is rooted in the place’s unique culture and tradition. The famed ‘Narsing Lila’ which is etched on people’s mindscapes is indicative of Braj’s rich artistic and devotional legacy. Going beyond festivity, it takes the form of ‘Upasana’ (worship) and ‘Anushthana’ (austerities and vows), that is enthused by the community spirit and devotional fervour of Brajwasis.

It is for reason that no one, irrespective of age and status, requires an invitation or advertisement to take part in this vibrant thespian heritage for which the alleyways of Braj render themselves as dynamic podiums. Exquisitely embellished forms of Lord Narasimha, Varah, Ganesha, Hanuman and Makardhwaj meander past these lanes while enacting divine pastimes (Hiranyakashipu Vadh, Hamuman-Makardhwaj Yuddha) through an eclectic mix of literary, performing, visual and martial arts.

Valour Decides

Braj’s Narsing Lila is a spectacle of art and valour. Physical strength is as important a factor in selecting participants as is their theatrical talent. Artists must cultivate the ability and resilience needed to don the bulky look and costumes in which they have to perform for hours.

Heavy spigots that are tied to their chin and foreheads in order to hold the mask in place curtail head and jaw movements making it difficult for them to breathe and speak. This is why breath control is a critical component of their training. Once the elaborate mask is put on, the actors struggle to get a clear view of what’s ahead or around them.

The ancient Indian martial art form known as ‘Mallavidya’ is one of the main highlights of Braj’s ‘Narsing Lila’. ‘Mallavidya’ is a type of combat wrestling that was well preserved in the ‘Akhada Tradition’ of Braj until five decades ago.

During the ‘Narsing Lila’, opponents engage with one another displaying techniques such as ‘dand baithak’, ‘chakra danda’ and ‘yuddhak kala’ among others. Hiranyakashipu negotiates the streets spreading fear and panic all around. In doing so, his intention is to provoke Lord Narasimha into a duel. The stunts and high drama keep the enthusiasm going.

An Unbroken Tradition

The motifs of ‘Narsing Lila’ have been eternally impressed upon the prolific oral traditions of Braj. Minute details regarding the unique renditions of Lilas, martial art techniques, costumes, jewellery and even the dietary recommendations for artists have been faithfully preserved in folklore. Every year, the spectacle unfolds itself in all its glory, and with every generation another link is added to this unbroken chain of tradition.

The faith and gusto that the ancestors infused in the staging of Lord Narasimha’s divine play has not diminished to this day. The ‘Narsing Lilas’ of Mathura’s Satghada, Chaubaccha Mohalla, and Dwarkadhish Temple, and Vrindavan’s Narasimha Temple (Athkhamba, Keshighat) continue to aspire the youth even today. 

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