In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna focuses the entire tenth chapter to explain his vibhutis, glories. Where ever we see magnificence we can see a ray of divinity. For an untrained mind, seeing these divine expressions is evidence of divinity. Krishna says amongst Daityas, HE is Prahlada. What more credibility can be attributed to Prahlada.
प्रह्लादश्चास्मि दैत्यानां prahlādaś cāsmi daityānāḿ (BG 10.30)
Among Daityas I am Prahlada.
Hiranyakashipu, the younger brother of Hiranyaksha, was enraged at his brother’s death at the hands of Varaha Avatar. (A bereaved Hiranyakashipu gives a wonderful lecture on the ephemeral nature of body and the permanence of soul to console his mom, Diti and his sister-in-law, Rushabhanu. This gives an insight into the level of wisdom he carried and is not like an idiotic demon as portrayed commonly)
As he carried his rule, he got overpowered by the desire to be immortal, ageless, all powerful ruler. He performed extreme Tapas (austerity) which had repercussions throughout the universe. Brahma, pleased with his tapas, restores his emaciated body. Having conquered Brahma’s heart, he pleads for the following boon:
“None of Brahma’s creations can overpower or kill him. He must not die at home or outside, neither during day or night, any weapons ever created, nor on the ground or in the sky. He should not die at the hands of devas or asuras or nagas or any other entity. He should have no rivals, reign supreme in battles, rule all lokas with glory equal to Brahma and never lose his yogic powers gained.”
Having thus gained an incomparable boon, he let loose a reign of terror and garnered all the prosperities of the lokas. Having wrongly reasoned that Vishnu gains his energies from the sacrifices of his devotees, Hiranyakashipu declared that he was the supreme self. All denizens must worship him and no one else. Anyone suspected of praying to the Supreme Self, Narayana, were tortured or executed. His ego was the only thing bigger than his terror and stature.
He fathered four sons, but Prahlada, unlike his asura origin was filled with divine qualities. He transcended the bodily cage and was always immersed in divine thoughts and singing praises of Sriman Narayana. As a prince of the only King of the Universe, he was sent to the tutelage of Shanda and Amarka, sons of Asura Guru Sukracharya. One day, Hiranyakashipu picked Prahlada, aged five and sat him on his lap and asked what would do the best to make him happy? Prahlada, whose name stands for the Joy of Understanding, said, every atma is worrying due to the attractions of the material world, chasing them due to body consciousness. The best one can do is stay alone and seek the feet of the Lord.
Hiranyakashipu instructed the boy’s teachers to provide proper guidance. The shocked Brahmin priests who inquired the child were in store for a bigger shock as Prahlada gives a graphic description of Hari, Hirankashipu’s sworn enemy and an insight into his deep devotion. The teachers subjected Prahlada to strong punishments and he was strictly taught only the three purusharthas – Dharma-Artha-Kama. They deliberately left Moksha out of the syllabus taught, so that Prahlada’s natural devotion will not grow.
After intense tutoring, one day Prahlada was produced to showcase his knowledge to Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada said,”To listen, to sing, to remember Vishnu, to attend to the feet, to offer worship and prayers, to become a servant, to be a friend and to surrender one's heart and soul. These are the nine characteristics of the devotional service to Vishnu delivered by the devotee. To reach the feet of this Supreme Purusha is the aim and purpose of life and that is what he considered the best purpose of learning”.
An enraged Hiranyakashipu is besought by pleading teachers who claim not to be the source of his words. Prahlada’s words add more fuel to the burning wrath. Hiranyakashipu thunders his demon servants to put an end to Prahlada. When he discovered that weapons had no effect on Prahlada. He schemed different ways to kill his own son. He let loose mad elephants to trample, poisonous snakes to bite, throw him from great heights, administer poison and so forth. All attempts could not even hurt the hair of Prahlada, due to the grace of Vishnu.
Every failure only grew the fear and anger of Hiranyakashipu. Shanda and Amarka again proposed to weaken Prahlada’s spirit by persuasive teaching. They intensified teaching him that his dad was the real master of the universe and not Hari.
One day, when the teachers were gone, the boys tried to probe Prahlada. Prahlada gave a glimpse of his wisdom that enraptured the kids. He explained how we humans waste our childhood in ignorance, during adulthood in vain pursuit of frivolous objects of sensory pleasure and oldage we find ourselves unable to focus on anything important. Having thrown away our precious lives, we repeat this cycle of birth and death and buried in this Samsara. Hence the mind must be trained to dwell upon the only reality, the feet of Supreme Lord. The easiest path is that of devotion, Bhagavata dharma. Prahlada declared to have received it from Sage Narada.
The boys wondered in disbelief, how the Sage could have even established contact when even air was regulated. Prahlada took them back to his conception time. When Hiranyakashipu was away, doing his penances in Mandarachala, Indra attacked the asuras and took the pregnant wife of Hiranyakashipu, Kayadhu, with the intention of killing the child. Narada rescued her from Indra and took her to his ashram. Out of love, he not only took care of their bodily needs, but also instructed both of them with the highest spiritual knowledge. So we have a case preceding Abhimanyu of an unborn child learning from his mother’s womb.
Prahlada claimed his mother did not grasp and retain this divine grace, but he was blessed to not only retain, but also grow it in the recesses of his heart. He advised the boys to discard the impermanent by saying Neti, Neti – not this, not this and thus divert the mind and attention to the only permanent Divine Grace. The force of Prahlada’s knowledge was so great that even the asura kids gave up their other interests and were absorbed in the thoughts of Vishnu.
A thoroughly shaken Shanda and Amarka, seeing their logic being no match to the wisdom the boys had acquired from Prahlada, went and appealed to the King. Hiranyakashipu wondered aloud about the source of his power. Prahlada said that “Not only is Supreme Vishnu is the source of his strength, but also that of Hiranyakashipu”. He suggested that his dad give up his asuric paths and turn his mind to the feet of Hari. Hiranyakashipu bubbling in wrath challenged where that Hari wass to protect Prahlada from his seething rage. As he drew a sword and menacingly approached Prahlada with a barrage of abuses, he struck the nearby pillar with his fist, taunting if Hari was hiding in that pillar.
With a huge sound, the pillar cracked and out of it came the most fearsome form of something that looked like a giant lion head with a human form – Narasimha. The awe inspiring form had sharp teeth and claws gave a swipe from its paw that parted Hiranyakashipu from Prahlada. Narasimha completely overpowered Hiranyakashipu like a mouse being overpowered by a hawk. Narasimha took the wretched Hiranyakashipu to the entrance of the palace, which was neither inside nor outside, laid him hanging on his lap, which was neither above nor below and tore this gut with his claws, which was not a weapon during dusk, which was neither morning nor evening. As Narasimha was not Brahma’s creation, Lord Narayana took extreme care to honor every boon given by Brahma. What Hiranyakashipu thought of a backdoor to immortality essentially turned out to be his own death warrant.
Though Hiranyakashipu was dead, Narasimha was still trembling in anger and was fearsome. Brahma, Shiva and devas assembled along with Lakshmi and could not dare to face the fearsome countenance of Narasimha even to worship. Brahma, Shiva, Devas paid their respects but were still trembling. They requested Prahlada to approach HIM on their behalf. Prahlada endeared the Lord Narasimha with his prayers. When Narasimha’s anger cooled a tad, he asked Prahlada to seek any benediction. Prahlada pleaded not to be allured with any worldly distractions. He wanted only the lotus feet of the Lord. An even pleased Narasimha blessed him to rule justly and come to HIS abode when it was time for him to shed his body.
Prahlada wondered about the state of his father and sought pardon on his behalf. Smiling Narasimha said that Prahlada’s birth had purified all his fore-fathers because of his saintly birth. He performed last rites to his father and assumed throne to spread the wisdom of living under Lord Vishnu’s grace for long times to come.
- Age is not factor for wisdom or spiritual progress. One can turn their mind to the Supreme Self, at any age.
- Prahlada, defied not only his father, but the greatest power ruling the universe, as his mind was enveloped in thoughts of divinity. Divinity will outshine any materialistic splendor. To do the right thing is always right, under any circumstance.
- A Guru’s Grace will even bless an unborn. Guru’s Grace in the form of Sage Narada was able to liberate even an asura child. The seeds of Self-Realisation will work in parallel to the outward events, if it is deep-rooted.
- The events in our life – good or bad should act as a constant reminder to remember HIS presence behind every aspect of our life. Do not let the trials and tribulations of life nor do its successes distract our primary goal.
- The Lord protects all those who remember HIM. HE protects Prahlada during the numerous attempts made on his life.
- When Brahma appears, Hiranyakashipu seeks blessings based on his vasanas. Prahlada when blessed by Narasimha wants his mind not to be cluttered by vasanas, more materialistic distractions through possessions. He wants nothing but the Lord’s feet. This difference in outlook is fundamental. We get to make this choice too, every second of our life. The vasana expression or their exhaustion will determine our direction, not even face contact with divinity.
- The Lord blessed even Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu who were living their entire lives with only HATRED for the Supreme Divinity. Constant rememberance of the Lord, be it in faith(Prahlada), fear(Kamsa) or hatred(Hiranyakashipu) is a sure way to reach his lotus feet. But with our bhakti being Vyabhacharini type, like that of a prostitute, according to Krishna, we are not able to hold our attention by constantly being distracted by worldly pleasures.
- Vishnu was tolerant to the abuses heaped on HIM by Hiranyakashipu, but when someone was bent on hurting his devotee, HIS anger knew no limits. God's Grace for his true devotees knows no limits.
- Prahlada lives a life of an exemplary devotee, right from his birth and during his reign. An outstanding Bhagavata. Krishna in Bhagavad Gita informs the highest glories in Chapter 10.
यज्ञानां जपयज्ञोऽस्मि yajñānām japa-yajño 'smi (BG 10.25)
Amongst different Yajnas, I am the best, Japa Yajna
Krishna says the best of Yajna, sacrifice, is the constant rememberance of the Lord. Today most religions including Hinduism are centered around this Dharma, as that is the nature of Kali Yuga. Prahlada not only is the example given for the best Daityas, he is also the best example for one who practices the highest Yajna, Japa Yajna.
May we all strive to acquire the great characteristic traits of Prahlada. May our steps be measured and guided in the grace of the Lord Narayana. May HIS Grace and Blessings continue to inspire through such great exemplars.
Om Tat Sat