M anagement gurus teach us that “if the hammer is the only tool you have, then every problem begins to look like a nail.” Nepali iconography can give us a good insight as to how we may wish to understand complicated problems or the ‘enemy’ one faces. At the entrance to the three Malla period palaces of the Kathmandu valley (also inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list), one can see the statues of Narasimha. Nara means human and Simha is lion (remember Simha from Lion King - the movie?). Its location makes it quite obvious that they were very important to the Malla rulers.
Narasimha is depicted in stone as a half lion and half man ripping apart the demon Hiranya Kashipu. Narasimha holds two of the four symbols of VISHNU – mace (scepter) and discus (weapon)and with the other two, he is killing the enemy.
As the story goes, Hiranya Kashipu had acquired many boons over the years. He could not be killed by either a human or an animal. He could not be killed during the day or at night, neither could he be killed with any weapon. He could not be killed indoors or outdoors and he could not die in the sky or on earth.
If one whishes to rule and govern a country and a diverse set of people, the “enemies” are symbolically represented by Hiranya Kashipu. As the “maintainer” of world order, Vishnu therefore takes the form of a half lion and half human, places the enemy between the sky and the earth, under a doorway; and just as the sun is setting, rips him apart with his claws. The present and future rulers of Nepal may do well to learn from our rich iconographic heritage.