Tomorrow is the celebration of Nrsimha Caturdasi, the Holy Appearance of Lord Nrsimhadeva, the half-man/half-lion form of the Lord.  I have many wonderful memories of Lord Nrsimhadeva’s mercy and protection.  

Yesterday we had a wonderful programme at the Vedic City Project in Johannesburg, South Africa.  It was, in one sense, a celebration of Lord Nrsimhadeva’s Appearance.  The programme was attended by students from the University of Johannesburg and devotees associated with the project.  Rasika Sekhara prabhu led the devotees in sweet kirtan – which was, basically, the focus of the programme.

I remember celebrating Nrsimha Caturdasi in the back of the Sankirtan van in a caravan park in Kimberley in May 1998.  May is Autumn in South Africa.   Our VW Combi was so cold there was condensation on the roof.  We distributed books in the town during and cooked in the late afternoon.  I can’t remember what we prepared for Lord Nrsimhadeva, but I seem to remember that we made sweets.  Lord Nrsimhadeva is fond of sweets.  There was a picture of Ugra Nrsimha on the wall.  Patita Pavan, Nevil and I chanted Nrsimhadeva prayers in the Sankirtan vehicle.  Looking back now, it seems ecstatic.

Another poignant memory of Lord Nrsimhadeva’s mercy was on Sankirtan in Hatfield, Pretoria.  It was our habit to sometimes distribute books in the Hatfield Mall, which is near ISKCON Pretoria.  Devotees are not allowed to sell books in the Mall, but do anyway.  In fact, there has been a history of conflict between book distributors and Centre Security in the Mall.  I had been selling books in the Mall until I noticed a lady from a hair salon speaking to a security guard in the distance.  She was pointing to me.  I turned around and slowly walked around the corner.  When I was out of sight, I quickly ran out of the mall.   I crossed the road, and waited for about half an hour.  I read a random section of one of Prabhupada’s books, then started selling books to students at the main entrance of the Mall.  A few minutes passed.  Next thing a security guard approached me and, in a mild manner, asked me to follow him to the Management Centre to fill in a form.  I decided to co-operate with him.

His calm manner, however, was a deception.  Instead of leading me to the Centre Management, he took me to the security guards’ locker-room, situated in the underground parking.  Knowing the South African Law, I knew it was not within his jurisdiction as a security guard to take me there.  I questioned this action and asked him to take me to the management office. By this time his mood had changed.  He had begun to address me in an abrupt manner.  I was now surrounded by several guards.  The only thing I could thingk of doing was to reason with them.

I asked him if I could call my Temple President.  I thought that might help.  But he refused.  I was now in the basement locker-room.  The room was flanked with lockers and there was a single wooden bench in the middle of the room.  I found myself surrounded by five large security guards.  The guard who had led me into the room began to taunt me, asking me what was in my bag.  I showed him the books, but he was not really interested in them.  He accused me of trespassing and hawking and mentioned that I could get into trouble for that.  I told him that he was not allowed to arrest me, but this only made him angry.  So I thought it was better not to be too challenging lest I unnecessarily anger the guards.

He took out some handcuffs and asked me to give him my wrist so that he could cuff me to the bench.  Realizing that I would be trapped in the basement if they cuffed me, I began to try to reason with the guards.  ‘I am a fundisa [the Zulu word for ‘priest’]’, I said.  This didn’t seem to make a difference.  I showed him pictures of our Food For Life programme on my camera.  They seemed unfazed.  ‘Please can I call my Temple President.  This all seems to be a big mistake’.  Deadpan looks.  The main guard took a can of pepper spray from his locker and held it a few inches from my eyes.  ‘I am going to spray your eyes with pepper spray’, he snarled.  My heart started to beat fast.  I began to fear the worst.  I looked left and right at the guards around me.  I tried a rugby manouever, dodged two guards, and reached the door.  The last two guards grabbed my wrist.  I let out a shrill scream.  I did not want to scream loudly because I felt no-one would help me anyway.  This would surely anger my assailants.  He forced me to sit on the bench and cuffed my right wrist.  I was very scared.  I did not want to chant aloud, as I feared they would react badly to the name of Krishna.  This was the first time I feared for my life.  The room became very small.  The main guard pressed his face close to mine.  His face twitched with uncontrolled anger.  What would happen to me if they cuffed me to the bench?  I was trying, in terms of my own strength, to get out of this situation.  I figured the best thing to do was to remain calm.

The guard seemed to be really disturbed.  He said, ‘You could crack your head on the floor or leave here without an an eye.  What are you going to tell your fundisa friends?’  The hairs of my back bristled.  I had the stark realization that I was really in danger.

The guard snatched a business card from out of my bag.  Aside from unconsciously glimpsing the maha-mantra, he would have seen some of my credentials.  He said, ‘How do I know if this is true?’  He then asked if I had any money in my pockets.  I had R250 from my collection in my pockets.  I handed the Laxmi (money) to him.  He took it.  He then searched through my bags and took out my dog-eared copy of the Nrsimhadeva Kavaca (Protective Prayers Of Lord Nrsimhadeva).  He looked at the cover and said, ‘What is this?’  I said, ‘It is a scripture’.  He put it back in the bag.  After that he mellowed out.  The other guards also mellowed out.  The tension seemed to dissipate.  The guard handed me my book bag, and escorted me out of the basement and then out of the Mall.  I never thought of it at the time, but Lord Nrsimhadeva had protected me…in a very tangible way.

Lord Nrsimhadeva is the Protector of the Devotees.  Aside from physical protection, He protects the devotees’ spiritual lives.  When Prabhupada introduced the chanting of the Nrsimhadeva prayers in ISKCON – which is now an ISKCON standard – he introduced them with the intention to protect his society.  He was invoking spiritual protection from Lord Nrsimhadeva.  Lord Nrsimhadeva saved the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja from his abusive father, Hiranyakasipu. And, by the grace of Prabhupada, he helped me…even though I did not directly invoke his protection.

All glories to Lord Nrsimhadeva!  All glories to Prahlada Maharaja!  And all glories to Srila Prabhupada!