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