HIRANYAKASIPU AND PRAHLÂDA Story — From the Bhâgavata Purâna

Hari Om


(From the Bhâgavata Purâna)

Upon the death of Hiranyâksha, Hiranyakasipu collected his companions and told them that Vishnu was no longer keeping that neutrality and impartiality which he had observed of yore. On the contrary, he had taken the side of the Devas, under the pretence of Upâsanâ.

He then consoled his nephew and his brother’s wife by words of wisdom explaining to them the transitory character of the world and the permanence of Âtmâ. He also told them several stories to illustrate the point.

Hiranyakasipu vowed enmity to Vishnu. He prayed hard for immortality and supremacy over the Trilokî. Brahmâ became pleased with his asceticism and enquired what boon he wanted. Said Hiranyakasipu: — “Let me have no death from any one created by Thee. Let not those that are not created by Thee kill me inside or outside, by day or by night, with any weapon, either on the earth or in the air. Let no man or animal, with or without life (asu) Deva, Daitya or serpent kill me. As thou art without a rival in battle, the one glorious lord of all beings and all Lokapâlas, so let me be too. Let me possess all the Siddhis, (Anima &c.)” Brahmâ said, Amen.

Hiranyakasipu then ruled the Universe. He took the place of Indra. All the Devas worshipped him.

Brâhmanas and other Grihasthâs performed Yajna in his honor and gave offerings to him. The earth yielded plenty even without much effort. There was prosperity all around. The Shastras were however not duly respected. (All this is a description of the material period, the reign of Materiality). A long, long time passed on in this way. At last the Lokapâlas could bear it no longer. They prayed to Vishnu for relief. The Devas heard a voice from heaven “Wait ye all. The time has not yet come for the fall of Hiranyakasipu. He shall be the enemy of his own son. I kill him then.” — Assured by these words, the Devas went to their own place.



Hiranyakasipu had 4 sons. Of these Prahlâda was great in his virtues. He was respectful, well-behaved, truthful, self-controlled, friendly to all beings, and great in his devotion. Even in his infancy, he gave up play and constantly meditated on Vâsudeva. The things of the world had no relish for him. In the exuberance of devotional feelings, he sometimes laughed, sometimes wept, sometimes sang and sometimes danced. At times when the feelings were profound, he remained quiet with hair standing on end while tears flowed down his cheeks.

Shanda and Amarka, sons of Shukra, had charge of the education of Prahlâda. He heard and learned whatever they had to say, but he inwardly did not like the teachings about mine and thine and about the transitory things of the world.

Once Hiranyakasipu placed Prahlâda on his lap and asked him — “What do you consider to be righteous (Sâdhu)?”

Prahlâda replied: — “Human souls enshrined in bodies are always distracted on account of false perceptions. O great Asura, I therefore consider it righteous to leave the house, which like a dark well causes the downfall of Âtmâ, in order to go to the forest and take the shelter of Vishnu.”

Hiranyakasipu smiled and said: — “It is thus that boys are spoiled by others. Take him back to the house of his teachers and let them see that Vaishnavas in disguise may not confound his Buddhi.”

The teachers brought him to their house and asked him in gentle and sweet words: — “Child, do not conceal any thing from us. We are your teachers. Tell us whether this perversity is spontaneous in you or whether it is acquired from others.” Said Prahlâda: — “I and others, this is mere false perception caused by the Mâyâ of Bhagavân. So salutations to Him. When Bhagavân becomes kind, it is then only that the difference-making perception of men disappears. As the iron moves of itself in the presence of a magnet, so the distraction in my Budhi, if you like to call it so, rises of itself in the presence of Vishnu.”

“Get the cane,” said one of the teachers, “This wicked boy will put us all to shame. He is a disgrace to his family. It is but meet to punish him. The Daityas are sandal trees and this boy is a thorn plant amongst them. Vishnu is the one for the extirpation of the sandal forest, and this boy is his handle.”

They threatened Prahlâda in various ways and taught him Dharma, Artha and Kâma, and the different devices to subdue one’s enemies. At last they thought Prahlâda had been well trained. So they took him to the king.

The king embraced the child and said “Prahlâda, my boy, you have been so long with your teachers. Tell me what you have learned, as the best of all.”

Prahlâda replied: — “Hearing of Vishnu, recital of His glory, constant remembrance of Him, attendance on Hari, His worship, adoration, service, and friendship, and offering oneself entirely to Him this is ninefold Bhakti. This Bhakti is to be offered to Vishnu and acted upon. This I deem to be the best teaching.”

Hiranyakasipu reproved the teachers in anger. They told him, it was neither from themselves nor from any one else that Prahlâda had these teachings, but that they were spontaneous with him. The Asura king then addressing his son said: — “If you have not learned these things from your teachings, whence could you have such a vicious inclination.”

Prahlâda replied: — “Inclination for Vishnu does not come to the Grihasthâ either from himself or from any other. One blind man cannot lead another. It is the company of Mahâtmâs alone that can give such an inclination.”

Hiranyakasipu could bear it no longer. He threw down the child from his embrace, and asked the Asuras to kill him at once or expel him. They cried out “kill him, kill him,” and struck the five year old child with their spears. But Prahlâda was deeply concentrated in Bhagavân, so he felt not the spears at all. This put Hiranyakasipu in fear, and he devised means to kill the boy.

He tried big elephants, venomous serpents, Tântric practices, throwing down the child from the hills, enclosing him in cavities, poisoning, starvation, cold, air, fire, water, but failed to kill his innocent son. He then thought his end was near at hand and became melancholy. Shanda and Amarka told him not to entertain fears, but to wait till Shukra came. The king asked them to take charge of the boy once more. They again commenced to teach him their sciences. One day the teachers left the house on business. The boys were all engaged in play, and they invited Prahlâda into their midst. Prahlâda took the opportunity to instruct the boys. He explained to them in eloquent terms the transitoriness of all joys and sorrows and the vanity of all worldly attachments. He taught them the imperishable character of Âtmâ, and dilated on its relation to the body and the universe. He then preached in glowing words friendliness to all beings and devotion to Bhagavân. He then told the boys that he had learned these things himself from Nârada.

The boys expressed wonder, for they knew Prahlâda to have been always under the tuition of Shanda and Amarka.

Prahlâda informed them that when Hiranyakasipu had gone to the Mandâra mountain for prayer, the Devas attacked his kingdom, and Indra carried away his wife. Prahlâda was then in her womb. Nârada kept Hiranyakasipu’s wife in his own Ashrama till he had taught to her, more for the child in the womb than for the mother, the whole of Âtmâ Vidya.

Prahlâda again continued the discourse and impressed on his companions in the most eloquent words, full of wisdom, the utility and nature of devotion. (The original discourse will repay perusal).

The teachers returned and found the contagion of Vaishnavism had also spread amongst other boys. They instantly reported the matter to Hiranyakasipu. The king became all wrath and angry. He sent for Prahlâda. Prahlâda approached him with all respect and humility. The king thundered forth thus: — “What makes thee so often disobey me, thou vile enemy of thy own race? Dost thou not know that I will instantly put thee to death? All Trilokî dreads me and trembles when I am enraged. But thou dost break my words without the least fear in thy mind.”

“Father,” said Prahlâda, “Bhagavân is my only strength. He is not only my strength, but also yours and that of the whole world. Look upon all as your own self, father.”

“Unfortunate that thou art”, said Hiranyakasipu, “Tell me, who else is there besides myself whom thou callest Bhagavân or Íshvara. Where is he?” Said Prahlâda, “He is everywhere.”

“Why not then in this pillar?”

“Yes, I see him there.”

“Well, let me sever your head from your body and see how your Hari can preserve you.”

So saying, Hiranyakasipu took sword in hand and violently struck the pillar with his fist. A great noise was heard at the time, and the fearful Nrisinha came out of the pillar, half man, half lion. Hiranyakasipu with wonder saw He was neither man nor animal. Nrisinha placed the Asura king on his thighs and tore him with His nails to death. (For a description of Nrisinha and of the fight refer to the original).

The Devas all collected and prayed to Him one after the other. But Nrisinha was still in a rage and they dared not approach Him. Brahmâ at last sent Prahlâda to pacify Him.

Prahlâda approached Him slowly and prostrated himself at His feet; Nrisinha became full of tenderness and placed his hand on the head of Prahlâda. That divine touch removed all evil from Prahlâda and illumined his mind with Brahmâ Vidya. He then broke forth into a prayer, (perhaps the most sublime in the Bhâgavata Purâna).



“Brahmâ and other Devas, Rishis and wise men, full of Satva, have failed to adore Thee in suitable words. How can this Asura boy please Thee, O Hari: But I think, it is not wealth, good birth, beauty, asceticism, learning, power, intellect, or even Yoga that is so much suited for the worship of Parama Purusha as Bhakti. It is by Bhakti that the elephant king pleased Bhagavân. Even a Chandâla, (an outcaste) is much superior to a Brâhmana, who has all the 12 virtues, but has no devotion to Vishuu. For the Chandâla who offers his Manas, his words, his Karma, his wealth and even his Prâna to Vishnu, purifies not only himself, but his whole line, while, the proud Brâhmana does not even purify himself.” (Without devotion, the virtues only serve to increase pride. They do not purify the mind. Śridhara.)

(The Almighty Vishnu does not want any offering from the ignorant for himself. He is possessed of all things. But the man who gives offerings to Him can alone keep them to himself, for verily the paintings on the real face are to be seen in the image. The self in man is only a reflection of Âtmâ or Manas. Therefore if a man does any thing that affects his Manas only, it does not concern his real self. If an offering is made to Íshvara, that reaches his real self).

“Therefore though of low birth, I have no hesitation in reciting thy glory as much as I can, for such a recital is sure to purify a man.

“Withdraw, O Lord! this terrible form, and be cooled. Look! the world trembles at Thee.

“I am not afraid, however, even of this form, as I am afraid of the wheel of births. Give shelter at thy feet, that I may gain Moksha.

“I have been scorched by the fire of misery in all births. The only remedy is devotion to Thy service. For Thy servant by Thy favor gets the company of Mahâtmâs. By their company, he gets rid of all worldly attachments and sings the glory of Bhagavân. Then the miseries of life cannot overpower him.

“The parents are not the protectors of the child; medicine is not the remedy for the diseased; the boat is not a shelter for the drowning; for they cannot save from a recurrence of evils. And even the little that others do is promoted by the Prompter of all.

“When Purusha wishes, Mâyâ disturbed by Kâla creates the Sûkshma Sharira, headed by Manas. That Manas is drawn into a world of recurring births, characterised by the transformations of Mâyâ”: (5 Jnanendriyas, 5 Karmendriyas, 5 Bhûtas and Manas). “I am being squeezed in this wheel, like the sugar-cane in the mill.

“Draw me unto Thee, O Lord! or I am lost in the whirl.”

(Some platitudes and a short account of the part taken by Vishnu in the creation follow).

“Thou dost incarnate as man, animal, Rishi and Deva in order to guard all beings, to destroy the enemies of the world and preserve Dharma, according to the requirements of every Yuga. But in Kali Yuga, Thou concealest Thyself. Hence (from manifestating only in three Yugas), Thou art called Triyuga.

“Lord of Vaikuntha, this mind does not take pleasure in discourses about Thee, as it is vitiated, prone towards the outside, unmanageable, passionate and affected by the three promptings — joy, sorrow and fear. How can I with such a mind think of Thee?

“I am drawn on all sides by the Indriyas, and I am as miserable as a man with many wives.

“I am not the only sufferer. Look! all men remain fallen by their own karma in the Vaitarani (River at the gate of Yâma) of recurring births. They are afraid of births and deaths and of danger from each other. They are mutually both friends and enemies. Take pity on these bewildered creatures, O Thou that art on the other side of the river, and preserve them this very day by taking them across the Vaitarani (i.e. the relativity’s of Trilokî existence).

“O guide of the Universe! what is thy difficulty in saving all men? For Thou art the cause of the creation, preservation and destruction of the Universe. Thou hast much kindness for the ignorant. Thou art the friend of the afflicted. What then by saving us only who serve thy favorite men the Mahâtmâs (for, those who serve the Mahâtmâs are already saved).

“O Thou Supreme, I am not the least anxious for myself about the Vaitarani (Trilokî existence), however difficult to cross it may be, for my mind is plunged in the nectar ocean of singing thy glory. But I mourn for the ignorant, those that care only for the gratification of the senses and for the means of such gratification while they remain estranged from Thee.

“Generally, O Deva! the Munis are desirous of their own Moksha, they hold their tongue, and roam in solitude without caring for the good of others. But I do not like to be liberated alone, leaving behind me the afflicted round me; I find no other shelter for these misguided people, besides Thee.

“They are not happy, O Lord, in the enjoyment of the objects of the senses. For like itching, it is not a pleasure by itself but seems to be so, as long as Thou art not known.

“It is said that holding the tongue (mouna) vowed observance (Vrata), sacred knowledge (Sruta), austerity (Tapas), reading (Adhyayana), the observance of rules pertaining to one’s caste (Sva Dharma), exposition of Shastras (Vyâkhyâ), living in solitude (Rahas), recital of Mantra (Japa), and Samâdhi also lead to Moksha. But generally it is seen that these are only means of livelihood for those that have no control over their senses. And for proud people they are sometimes the means of livelihood and sometimes not. But pride in itself is not a good thing.

“Thou art not separate from the Universe. Both cause and effect are thy forms. It is not by avoiding the ways of Universe but by seeing Thee everywhere by means of Bhakti, that the right course is followed. It is by striking one stone against another that fire comes out, and not otherwise.”

[Let the words of the Asura boy resound from one end of India to the other. Let the sublime words of compassion and universal love be written in characters of gold, and let them be engraven in the hearts of all Indians]. Prahlâda was made the king of the Asuras.

Nârada related the story of Prahlâda to King Yudhisthira at the Rajasûya sacrifice. That story revealed the highest devotion that was possible for a Jiva to attain with the idea of separate existence. (Excerpts from “A Study of the Bhâgavata Purâna”)

GF’ Blessings.