Once upon a time there was an evil king named Hiranyakasipu whose little brother, Hiranyaksha, was killed by Varaha, the boar avatar of Lord Krsna. Hiranyakasipu hated Krsna, so he set his heart upon revenge. He retreated to the Himalayas for many years where he meditated every day and underwent severe austerities in order to appease Brahma and thus gain a special boon from him–”With this boon,” thought the wicked demon, “I will gain mystical powers like nothing the world has ever seen and then I will kill Krsna.”
Hiranyakasipu continued practicing meditation and undergoing harsh austerities for years until finally Brahma appeared before him and offered the demon whatever he desired.
“O my lord, creator of all living beings in the universe, I ask that you make me immortal so that I will never die,” said Hiranyakasipu.
“I was born just like you, and one day I will die. I cannot save myself or anyone else from death, so I cannot grant your request,” replied Brahma.
Hiranyakasipu thought carefully for a moment, then the wily demon cleverly asked for something else: “O granter of kind benedictions, please let me not be slain by any living entity created by you.
“Grant me that I may not die indoors or outdoors, neither at day or night, nor on the ground, the sky, or the seas. Grant me that I may not die by any creature created by you, nor by any weapon, nor by any man or animal.
“Grant me that I may not die by any being, living or nonliving. Grant me that I may not be killed by any demon or demigod or by any great snake from the lower worlds. Furthermore, I ask that you grant me lordship over all living entities and presiding deities, and all the power and wealth that may bring.”
It was by this boon that Hiranyakasipu was sure he could become immortal and destroy Lord Krsna. Brahma agreed and granted Hiranyakasipu the exact boon he requested. The powers Hiranyakasipu thus acquired led him to become more prideful and domineering than ever before, and so he began his quest to conquer the three worlds, killing anyone who stood in the way of his goals.
Before achieving this boon, however, during the time that he spent in the Himalayas performing penances, Hiranyakasipu’s abode was attacked by Indra and other demigods, who all knew about the corrupt schemes of the demon king. The sage Narada however intervened to protect Hiranyakasipu’s pregnant wife Kayadhu, who was without sin even in spite of her wicked husband. Narada took Kayadhu under his wing and instructed her in many transcendental subjects, meanwhile her unborn child was blessed simply through indirectly associating with a pure devotee of Krsna. The child was eventually born and given the name Prahlada, which means “overflowing with joy”.
As Prahlada grew into a young child, he began to show signs of the transcendental instructions and association of Narada he enjoyed while still in the womb, and gradually he became recognized by everyone as a great devotee of Lord Krsna.
This made Hiranyakasipu furious, who considered Krsna to be his mortal enemy for killing his little brother. In his arrogance and delusion, he decided that he must kill his own son for worshipping Krsna. He did many cruel things things to his son in an attempt to break his spirit and turn him away from God. He sent demons after Prahlada to hurt him, but their powers all dried up before the holy child. He attempted to have Prahlada trampled by elephants, but they could do no harm to him. He even had the child thrown from a building, but he gently fell to the ground just like a feather. Hiranyakasipu did everything he could to harm Prahlada–burning, poisoning, starving, witchcraft, and so on–but nothing would work. And throughout all of this, Prahlada still had faith in Lord Krsna and loved Him dearly.
Eventually Hiranyakasipu approached his son and demanded that he acknowledge him as the only true god, but Prahlada refused and said that only Krsna, who knows all things and is everywhere at once, is God.
Hiranyakasipu, enraged, pointed to a pillar and says, “If your God is everywhere, then surely He is right here in this pillar?” He then got up from his throne and swung at the pillar with his mace.
At that moment, the pillar cracked with a roar like thunder and there appeared Krsna in the form of Nrsimhadeva, the man-lion avatar. Hiranyakasipu, terrified, tried to run away in vain, but Nrsimha quickly caught him and dragged the demon toward the threshold of the castle. Nrsimha put the demon king on His lap and tore his body open with His terrifying razor-like claws, then placed his intestines around His neck and wore them like a garland.
In this instance of transcendental cleverness, Krsna in the form of Nrsimha defeated the boon and killed Hiranyakasipu: he was not killed by any living entity created by Brahma, but by Lord Krsna, the cause of all causes, Who created Brahma; he was not killed by any man or animal, but by God in His form as a man-lion; he was not killed indoors or outdoors, but right at the threshold of the castle; he was not killed at day or at night, but at twilight; he was not killed on land, in the sky, or in the sea, but on the very lap of Nrsimha, the cause of all causes; he was not killed by any weapon, but by Nrsimha’s razor-sharp claws; and he was not killed by any demon or demigod, but by the God of gods, Lord Krsna, Who surpasses all others in glory and power.
Even after punishing the evil king who had attempted to kill his pure devotee son, Nrsimha was still enraged, and none of the demigods–not Shiva, not Brahma, not even Lakshmi–could calm His fury. Finally Prahlada went before Nrsimha and touched His lotus feet, which immediately soothed the Lion-God. Nrsimha promised Prahlada that He would grant him any boon he desired, to which Prahlada replied, “You are my true Lord. If You are to grant me anything, kindly bless me that I might not desire anything except to serve You.” He also mercifully prayed for his demon father.
Having recognized the outstanding character of His devotee, Nrsimha made Prahlada the king of the world and told him to fulfill his duties and to do good deeds. With this, Lord Nrsimha disappeared.
1) What is the specific relationship between Krsna and Hiranyakasipu?
2) How is it that Prahlada could have been so profoundly affected by Narada having taught Kayadhu before he had even been born?
3) Why was Hiranyakasipu unable to kill Prahlada?
4) Did Nrsimha appear by the command of Hiranyakasipu? Explain.
5) Why is it that Nrsimha was able to defeat the seemingly air-tight boon achieved by Hiranyakasipu?
6) Why is it that none of the demigods could pacify Nrsimha?
7) What are the differences between the ends achieved by Hiranyakasipu through his own austerities and meditation and that which Prahlada achieved?