Shiva Purana mentions the Sharabha Avatara. In a conversation between Nandishvara and Sanatkumara, Nandishvara describes the several Avatara of Lord Shiva. He tells the story of how Shiva became a mystical creature to pacify Vishnu’s Narsingh (man-lion) Avatara.
When the king of the Daitya, Hiranyakashipu hated his own son Prahalada, Vishnu became his enemy. Vishnu then came out from a pillar in the hall, at dusk in the body of a man-lion, with great fury. Narsingh was very terrible in every respect. He blazed frighteningly and terrified the Daitya. Although the Daitya were killed in a trice by Narsingh, Hiranyakashipu fought a terrible battle. Narsingh dragged the Daitya to the threshold, as the gods were watching in the sky. He placed the Daitya on his lap and immediately tore open his stomach with his claws and killed him.
Though the lord of Daitya was killed, yet the gods did not derive any pleasure. The fiery fury of Narsingh did not subside. The entire universe was again excited by that fiery splendor. The gods were miserable. Saying "What will happen now?'' they kept themselves at a safe distance from fear. Lord Brahma and others were excited by the fury of Narsingh. They sent Prahalada near Vishnu in order to subside his anger. Prahalada approached Narsingh. Narsingh, the storehouse of mercy, embraced him. The heart became cool, still, the flame of fury did not subside.
Then, the afflicted and miserable gods sought refuge in Shiva. Going there, Brahma, other gods, and the sages eulogized Shiva for the happiness of all the worlds. Thus, implored by the gods, Lord Shiva, the abode of mercy, decided to quell that great fiery fury of Narsingh. Thereafter Rudra remembered the powerful Virabhadra, the cause of dissolution and addressed Bhairava, his own form.
Virabhadra’s confrontation with Narsingh
At Virabhadra’s arrival, Shiva said - An untimely, terrible fear has cropped up for the gods. The fire of Narsingh is blazing. You shall quell this inaccessible one. At the outset, convince him in a consoling manner. If he does not subside thereby, show my great terrible form. 0 Virabhadra! At my behest, bring me his head and hide after quelling his subtle fury with your subtle one and his gross splendor with your gross one.”
Urged thus, the leader of the Gana, Virabhadra assumed a calm body and features and hastened to the place where Narsingh was sitting. Then Virabhadra, the destroyer addressed Vishnu. He, then spoke to him as a father speaks to his own son.
Shiva consoled Vishnu in every way possible, reminded him of his beneficent acts and Avatar, praised him for his valor and forgiveness. But even after consoling for a very long time, Narsingh did not calm down. He threatened Shiva to kill him and the other Gods and annihilate the universe as was. At his threat, Shiva felt no fear, laughed and said contemptuously with throbbing lips that whether Narsingh remembered Pinaki, the annihilator. Virabhadra threatened Narsingh that if he did not calm down instantly, he would have to face imminent death by the hands of Shiva. Threatened by Shiva, Narsingh became even more furious and a battle started between them. The rest of the story as in Shiva Purana follows.
Nandishvara said - Thus admonished by Virabhadra, Narsingh became furious. He roared and began to seize him with force. In the meantime, the splendor of Shiva rose up unbearably enveloping the sky all around. It was terrible and cause for imminent fear. Then in a trice, the form of Virabhadra became invisible. The splendor of Lord Shiva was neither golden nor fiery, neither lunar nor solar. It resembled neither the lightning nor the moon. It was beyond comparison. The forms of brilliance were merged in Shiva. That great splendor was not of the sky too. Thereafter its middle became clearly manifested in the form characteristic of Rudra of deformed shape. As all the gods stood watching with the auspicious shouts of victory, Lord Shiva became manifest in the form of the Annihilator. He had a thousand hands and wore matted hair. His head was adorned by the crescent moon. He appeared like a bird with wings and beak. His body was fierce and fully developed. His fangs were very sharp. Adamantine claws were his weapons. His neck was black in color. He had huge arms and four legs. He was blazing like fire. His voice was resonant and terrible like the rumbling sound of the clouds, that gather at the end of a Yuga. His three eyes were as wide and blazing as the fire of the evil spirit of great fury. His fangs and lips were clearly visible. He was producing a hissing sound of Hunkara. Shiva of such a form appeared in sight.
At his very vision, Vishnu lost his strength and exploit. He assumed a luster of the flickering glow-worm beneath the sun. Fluttering with his wings, and tearing the navel and legs, Sharabha bound the legs of the Man-lion with his tail and his hands with his own hands. He struck his chest and caught hold of Vishnu with the help of the gods and the sages present. Like a vulture seizing a serpent, he fearlessly caught hold of Vishnu, lifted him up and fell him to the ground. At the time of flight, Narsingh was excessively oppressed, being hit with the wings. Then Lord Sharabha took Vishnu and flew up. All the gods followed him eulogizing him with the words of obeisance. Brahma and other sages bowed to him with reverence and love. Being led thus, Vishnu was helpless. His face was pallid and sorrowful. With palms joined in reverence, he eulogized Lord Shiva with prayers of simple words. After eulogizing Mrida with the hundred and eight names of the lord, Narsingh requested lord Sharabha again. "0 great Lord! Whenever my ignorant mind becomes defiled by arrogance, it shall be removed by you alone."
Thus, saying with love to Shiva, Narsingh turned submissive and bowed to him. Vishnu was utterly defeated and came to the end of his life. Within a trice, Virabhadra made his powerful body powerless and dead. Then Brahma and other gods eulogized lord Shiva who had assumed the form of Sharabha and who was the sole benefactor of all the worlds.
The gods said
0 lord Shiva! Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, the Moon, the gods, the sages, and the Daitya are born of you. 0 lord of all! You alone create and protect Brahma, Vishnu and Indra, the sun and others, the gods and Asuras and you alone devour them. Since you annihilate the world, you are called Hara by the learned. Since Vishnu was curbed and caught hold of by you, you are called Hara by the learned. Since you support and hold everything by dividing your body into eight, 0 lord! protect us, the gods, by means of the desired gifts. You are the great Purusha, Shiva, Lord of all, leader of the gods, the soul of the indigent, of a mind without aberrations. You are the great Brahman, the goal of the good. You are the kinsman of the distressed, the ocean of mercy, of wonderful sports, the vision of the great soul, the intelligent, the Immense Cosmic Being, the all-pervasive, the truth, the Existence, knowledge, and bliss as your characteristics.
Nandishvara said - On hearing these words of the gods, Shiva, the great God, spoke to the gods and the great ancient sages.
Shiva said - Just as water poured into water, or milk poured into milk, or ghee poured into ghee becomes one with those things, so also Vishnu is merged into Shiva, not otherwise. It was Vishnu alone in the form of Narsingh, haughty and strong, engaged in the activity of annihilating the universe. He shall be prayed and bowed by my devotees aspiring achievements. He is the foremost of my devotees and the granter of boons.
Nandishvara said - After saying this, Sharabha, the lordly king of birds of great strength, vanished there itself even as all the gods were watching. Lord Virabhadra, the leader of the Gana, of great strength, peeled off the hide of the Man-lion and went to the mountain taking it with him. From that time Shiva began to wear the hide of Man-lion. His head was the leading bead in his necklace of skulls.