Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Narasimha Effect

The western world has recently woken up to an old story that India has grown up on. They call it the Medici Effect. I would rather call it the Narasimha Effect.

Here is the Indian version (I've copied the story from some source on the Internet which I cannot seem to locate now):

The king of demons(asuras), Hiranyakasyapa, wanted to become immortal and wanted to remain young forever. To this end, he meditated for Lord Brahma and because of his severe penance, the gods were frightened and asked Brahma to pacify the king. Brahma was impressed by his austerity and granted him a wish. HiranyaKasyapa wished that he be neither killed by a man or beast, nor in daylight or at night and neither inside or outside a building. Having obtained the wish he considered himself the supreme God and frobade all worship of gods by anyone. But his son Prahlada, was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. This enraged Hiranyakasyapa very much. He ordered numerous ways to kill Prahlada including asking his sister Holika to sit with Prahlada in the fire. But everytime Prahlada escaped unhurt. Enraged, once he asked Prahlad to show him the Lord Vishnu. Prahlad said, "He is everywhere". Further enraged, Hiranyakasyapa knocked down a pillar, and asked if Lord was present there.

In the NARASIMHA Avatar, Lord Vishnu can incarnate himself as a semi-man,semi-lion in this world. Possibly Hiranyakasyapa did not know that.

Lord Vishnu then emerged as a half lion, half man from the pillar which was neither inside the house nor outside, and the time was evening, neither night nor day. He then killed Hiranyakasyapa thus saving the life of his devotee Prahlada.

A more detailed version is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narasimha

Traditionally, Indian culture has believed in a more holistic (synthesis based) approach to solving problems than a divide an conquer approach (analysis based) I have seen people from other countries get quite confused when talking to Indians. For e.g. When discussing a particular topic, Indians are often found to perplexingly drift onto something else. That is because Indians tend to establish connections from one area to the other quite easily. (Of course, sometimes those connections are quite suspect...but sometimes it can throw up some interesting possibilities) The story of Narasimha says that by trying to "compartmentalize" things inside clear-cut boundaries will not make you immortal. The real way to solve problems is to find out what happens AT the boundaries.

The recent Western interest in what is called "The Medici Effect" is in a book that is freely available here:  http://www.themedicieffect.com/downloads/MediciEffect.pdf

It is called "The Medici Effect" because of the influential Medici family during the renaissance, who promoted the cross-feed of various domains. 

The recent terrorist attack in Mumbai has spun off a large set of people trying to solve it using very clear cut divisions (E.g. "Surgical" strikes into Pakistan, etc.) Probably, Indian culture has the real answer