Sharabha: An avatar of Shiva:
Sharabha is an incarnation of Shiva. Not many are aware of this avatar, which is the most powerful form ever taken by Shiva to protect the Universe. He took this incarnation to subdue the fierce avatar, Narasimha, taken by Vishnu to protect his devotee, Prahlada, from his evil father, the demon king, Hiranyakashipu. But even after killing him, Narasimha’s fury did not subside. He went on roaring furiously and continued to wreak destruction. It was a dreadful situation that the Universe faced due to his uncontrolled fury. Even his consort Lakshmi could not pacify him. The other gods became alarmed by this and rushed to Shiva and sought his help. Initially, Shiva took the form of Veerabhadra and tried to calm him, but it had no effect. It was then that Shiva decided to take the form of Sharabha as a way of pacifying Narasimha and thereby restoring him to his original form.
The Sharabha avatar of Lord Shiva is a mix of human, bird, and animal. It had many arms, legs, and claws and resembled a fierce and gigantic dragon. The entangled tresses added to the ferocious aspect of the being. On the head was a huge crest that was dome-shaped. On the backside were huge wings that were spread out wide and a long tail. The sharp claws and teeth were like weapons. It had a voice like thunder that made everyone quake in fear and three eyes that glowed like balls of fire. It also kept making hissing sounds like a snake. Both in its structure and might, it was superior to Narasimha, which was half man and half lion.
Sharabha used his long tail to lift Narasimha and throw him to the ground. To prevent this, Narasimha prayed to Sharabha and asked him for forgiveness. He also used beautiful names and epithets, which later came to be called the Ashtothra (108 names) of the victorious deity. Shiva then told all the gods that he had taken the form of Sharabeshwara to pacify Vishnu, who had taken the form of Narasimha to kill the evil demon, Hiranyakashipu. He also added that Vishnu and he were one and the same. They were also inseparable and should be worshipped as one. Shiva, as Sharabeswara, was able to calm Narasimha and restore him to his divine form. To show his respect to Sharaba, Lord Vishnu removed his lion skin and gifted it to Sharaba. Idols of Sharabeswara are often found at the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum in Shiva temples.
Other versions of the myth:
The Shiva Purana says that Shiva, after calming Narasimha, Sharabha decapitated and de-skinned Narasimha and wore the lion's head and skin as a garment.
When Narasimha hit Sharabha with his body, he groaned in pain but not Sharabha, whose body was very strong. Then Vishnu understood that Sharabha was actually Shiva and bowed to him and praised Sharabha. Shiva then blessed Vishnu and granted him a boon to kill demons. In one Purana, the story ends with the gods asking Shiva to abandon his Sharabha form as they were afraid that Sharabha would not be able to control his anger. So Shiva gave up Sharabha's form. He gave away his limbs, and his torso became a Kapalika. In the Vamana Purana, the tale ends with Narasimha becoming calm and assuming Vishnu’s divine form, and Sharabha turning into a lingam, which is Shiva’s symbol.
Another version says that Sharabha took Narasimha high up into the sky and then dropped him onto the ground. With this, Narasimha becomes calm, acknowledges Shiva’s power, and dies. Following this, Sharabha vanishes, and Veerabhadra appears. The latter tears the skin from Narasimha's body and wears it. He also removes Narasimha's head and adds it to the skulls in Shiva's necklace.
In the Shiva Purana, the story ends when Sharabha vanishes after defeating Narasimha. But in some versions, the story gets a twist, with Vishnu assuming the form of Gandaberunda, another fierce creature, a bird-beast with two heads. This beast was mightier than even Sharaba. The battle lasted many days until Goddess Shoolini pacified them.