“’Call our family guru immediately to come and touch the child’s head with his hands.’ Hearing this, the rishi came, and taking some kusha grass to drive away evil spirits, he recited the Narasimha mantra, on hearing which even fear becomes afraid.” (Gitavali, 1.12.3)
begi boli kulagura, cuau māthe hātha amīke |
sunata ā’i ṛṣi kuśa hare narasiṃha mantra paḍhe, jo
sumirata bhaya bhīke ||
Mother Kausalya was worried. Her first son, her beloved Raghunandanda, the jewel of the Raghu race, was on this particular day unsteady in His behavior. He was crying and couldn’t be pacified by any means. Kausalya tried to feed Him milk, but that wasn’t working. A good mother is expert in caring for her beloved child, knowing the proper course of action in many different situations. Since this was no ordinary young boy, the fears of Mother Kausalya increased even more. She tried every remedy she knew, such as worshiping the demigods, the forefathers and the rulers of the different planets, and even giving in charity ghee that was equal in weight to the child; but nothing seemed to work. Finally, she called for the family priest to come and touch her son’s head. Hearing of the situation, the rishi quickly arrived on the scene and recited the Narasimha mantra to the child as a way to give Him protection. On the occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi, we remember and honor the Person addressed in that mantra. His guarantee of protection always applies to the devotees and especially to those who find themselves in helpless conditions, where they seemingly have no recourse but to suffer the wrath inflicted upon them by the wicked.
This particular incident involving Mother Kausalya and her beloved son Rama occurred many thousands of years ago, and the events pertaining to Lord Narasimhadeva, the divine figure whom the mantra chanted by the priest was named after, took place even many millions of years before that. A long time ago, a famous ruler named Hiranyakashipu was wreaking havoc throughout the world. For a king to be considered powerful and well-respected, his authority and capability to rule must extend across a large region. Even the ordinary individual is the king, or ishvara, of his body, but this kind of control is not very much celebrated or noted. However, if a materially driven individual can put a large subsection of the earth under his control, he will feel like he has real power, that he is really something special.
Hiranyakashipu, through worshiping the self-create, the progenitor of all life on earth, Lord Brahma, received amazing boons that gave him terrific powers. The king at first had asked for immortality, but since even Lord Brahma must take birth and thus eventually die, he is incapable of granting eternal life within the same form of body to anyone. The soul, the essence of life and the basis of individuality, actually lives forever. Never was there a time that the soul did not exist nor will there be a time in the future that it ceases to be. What does go through changes, though, is the outer covering the soul adopts. When someone wants immortality, it is the non-perishability of this covering that they seek. But since the soul is covered by matter, which is an inferior energy, an embodied living being cannot remain in the same state without changing at some point in time.
To get around the inability to receive blanket immortality, Hiranyakashipu figured he would just ask for every other type of boon to cover himself. This behavior is similar to trying to get every grade of protection on your automobile to prevent it from being damaged in a collision or accident. Permanently avoiding accidents on the road is impossible, as the behavior of other drivers is wholly unpredictable. What a car owner can do is try to lower the chances of collision and also the severity of them. Therefore a driver will take many precautions like buying a car that is highly crash resistant, that has enhanced braking systems, and that can safely protect the passengers inside even after impact with another vehicle.
“Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought by any being other than those created by you, nor by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.” (Hiranyakashipu praying to Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.3.36)
The name Hiranyakashipu means a soft bed or cushion made of gold. The demoniac king wanted to protect his comfortable lifestyle at all costs, and he figured the best way to do that would be to become unbeatable in battle. Therefore he asked Lord Brahma that no living being, large or small, be able to kill him. In addition, he asked that he could not be killed on land or in the sky, in the daytime or at night, nor by any weapon. The demon figured he had every angle covered, but of course no one can outwit the Supreme Lord. When Hiranyakashipu’s evil influence would become too strong, as would indeed happen, Vishnu Himself, the Personality of Godhead who has four hands and remains eternally situated in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha, would come down to earth and show the king just how worthless his boons were.
But first things first; Hiranyakashipu had to enjoy his new powers. He used them to terrorize the world. He was so feared that the demigods, the celestials in charge of different departments of the material creation, descended to earth and took on disguises to keep from being recognized by the king. Hiranyakashipu thought he had everything, for the world was under his control and even the celestials, his greatest enemies, were afraid of him. But as any good ruler will do, he thought about his successor and how his strong arm of control could continue through future generations. Hiranyakashipu wanted his example to be passed down to his children, especially to his first born son, Prahlada.
Though born in the demon race which descended from the womb of Diti, Prahlada took on devotional characteristics from his very birth. While in the womb of his mother, Prahlada heard the instructions offered by Narada Muni, the wonderful saint ant devotee of Lord Vishnu. Narada’s teachings actually sealed Hiranyakashipu’s perilous fate, and they also saved the demigods in the process. For distributing His mercy, the Supreme Lord makes no distinctions on caste, gender or outward features. If He sees that someone is devoted to Him, He becomes their protector forever. With Prahlada’s birth came an internal attack to Hiranyakashipu’s reign of terror, as the demoniac forces are never any match for the power of divine love.
Born with the divine consciousness, Prahlada worshiped Lord Vishnu without deviation. Even when sent to school to learn about material affairs and how to rule over a kingdom, he still kept Vishnu and devotion to Him at the forefront of his consciousness. When Hiranyakashipu learned that his son was worshiping his greatest enemy, the object of worship for the demigods, Shri Vishnu, he became incensed. First he tried to get his teachers to change course, but they pled innocent, as they had not taught Prahlada any of the information he was reciting about Vishnu and devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.
Faced with a dilemma, Hiranyakashipu thought it too risky to turn the reigns of the kingdom over to a Vishnu sympathizer. Rather than send his small child elsewhere to continue his devotional efforts, Hiranyakashipu decided that the boy had to be done away with. Simple enough, no? After all, Hiranyakashipu was a powerful king who was feared across the world, so killing a five year old helpless boy should have been a piece of cake. But the demon could not understand that the level of devotion in his son was unmatched, and that simply remembering the Supreme Lord by chanting His names is enough to gain protection from all dangers.
“Daityas, as truly as Vishnu is present in your weapons and in my body, so truly shall those weapons fail to harm me.” (Prahlada Maharaja speaking to Hiranyakashipu’s attendants, Vishnu Purana)
Hiranyakashipu first had the palace guards attack Prahlada with deadly weapons. But since weapons are empowered by Vishnu, they can never do harm to one who is always protected by Him. Then other methods were attempted, such as throwing Prahlada off of a cliff, putting him in a pit of snakes, dropping him to the surface of the ocean and piling rocks on top of him, and placing him in a raging fire. But none of these attempts were successful. Astonished, Hiranyakashipu finally asked his child wherefrom he was getting his powers. After all, Hiranyakashipu had to perform great austerities and please Lord Brahma to get his strength, so the young boy must have done something similar.
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
Prahlada replied that the source of his strength was the same as that for everyone else, including Hiranyakashipu. Lord Vishnu, as the all-pervading Supersoul, is situated within everyone’s heart, and from Him come remembrance, forgetfulness and strength. Aside from angering him, this statement also amused Hiranyakashipu. How could Vishnu be everywhere, especially in a form that wasn’t visible? Hiranyakashipu could only see gross matter, thus he had no knowledge of the power of spirit, especially that belonging to the origin of all matter and spirit, God. He then jokingly asked Prahlada if Vishnu was in the column standing next to him. Prahlada had stated that the Lord was indeed in everything, and Hiranyakashipu did not like to hear this. He was prepared to kill his son, but before that he wanted to prove that Vishnu was powerless and certainly not in the column. The king then got up and started banging at the adjacent pillar with his fist.
“Being obsessed with anger, Hiranyakashipu, who was very great in bodily strength, thus chastised his exalted devotee-son Prahlada with harsh words. Cursing him again and again, Hiranyakashipu took up his sword, got up from his royal throne, and with great anger struck his fist against the column.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.14)
Little did the demon know that Prahlada was right. As soon as he started punching the column, a terrific figure emerged. It was large and looked like the combination of a man and a lion. This wasn’t Vishnu in His original form, but it was the Supreme Lord nonetheless. The scene was so terrible and awe-inspiring that no one could understand what was going on. Thinking that maybe Vishnu had come to kill him in this form of a strange creature, Hiranyakashipu started to attack. But the demon’s powers were insignificant compared to the strength of the form of Vishnu known as Narasimhadeva. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, after fighting for a while, finally took the king on His lap and bifurcated him. After Hiranyakashipu was killed, many of the palace soldiers tried to attack Narasimhadeva, but they too were easily killed.
In this way, through his simple and pure devotion to God, Prahlada was saved from all dangers and eventually put on the throne personally by the Supreme Lord. Hiranyakashipu, fear personified, was no match for the most fearful form of Vishnu, Narasimhadeva. Prahlada Maharaja then offered wonderful prayers to his beloved Vishnu, who now stood before him in a wonderful form. Hiranyakashipu’s boons all worked as advertised, as Vishnu had not violated any of Brahma’s promises. The demon was killed at dusk, so he didn’t die during the day or at night. Since he was killed on Narasimhadeva’s lap, the demon did not die on land or on water. Narasimhadeva’s nails were what killed him, so Hiranyakashipu did not succumb to any weapons.
Prahlada was very touched by Vishnu’s personal protection, so he continued his devotion for the rest of his life. In fact, the young child authored a wonderful set of prayers known as the Narasimha-kavacha-stotram, which protects anyone who recites it from danger. There are also other nice prayers calling out to Narasimhadeva found in the Narasimha Purana. Devotees around the world chant and sing these mantras on a daily basis even today. From the time of Hiranyakashipu’s slaying, parents following Vedic traditions have protected their young children from evil spirits and the influences of the demoniac by reciting the Narasimha mantra, which immediately calls out to the wonderful figure that protected Prahlada from the wicked forces of his father.
On that wonderful day many millions of years later, the guru of the Raghu dynasty, Vashishta, was called in by Mother Kausalya to protect her child. It was a peculiar day, as the young Rama was crying and not accepting milk. Obviously something must have been wrong; so who better to protect her son than Lord Narasimhadeva. When the guru came to see young Rama, he first took a piece of kusha grass to ward off evil spirits, and then he read the Narasimha mantra. As soon as the child heard this wonderful formula, He giggled slightly, which caused the guru’s hair to stand on end. You see this was no ordinary child. Rama was the very same Narasimhadeva, Lord Vishnu, appearing on earth in the form of a prince destined to slay the wicked king ruling Lanka at the time, Ravana.
Former United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously coined the phrase, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, during his first inaugural address in 1932. The country was suffering tremendously from the pangs of the Great Depression, so everyone was uncertain about the future. By stating that the only thing worth fearing was the emotion of fear itself, the president hoped to bring some calm and confidence to the citizens of the country. This phrase has since been invoked quite regularly as a rallying cry for those who find themselves in difficult situations and need upliftment.
But some four hundred years prior, Goswami Tulsidas authored an even better phrase, one that references the Supreme Person and His ability to remove anyone’s fears. In fact, one of Vishnu’s many names is Hari, which means one who removes distresses. When describing the events of that particular day in the kingdom of Ayodhya, Tulsidas says that the guru Vashishta came to protect Rama by reciting the Narasimha mantra, which is so powerful that it even makes fear afraid. Saying that the Narasimha mantra instills fear into fear is a wonderful way to describe the awesome power of the Supreme Lord. Hiranyakashipu was the most feared person on the planet during his time, but he was still no match for Narasimhadeva. Witnessing the gruesome killing of the evil Daitya king who had terrorized the innocent, including his son Prahlada, fear personified learned a great lesson. Fear runs away whenever the name of Narasimhadeva is recited even once.
Lord Rama, as a young child, couldn’t help but giggle after He heard the guru recite this glorious mantra. Narasimhadeva’s name is so wonderful that even Shri Rama loves to hear it. God takes great joy and delight in seeing His devotees try to protect Him and offer Him service. The name is non-different from the Lord, so anyone who has the good fortune of reciting the name of the Person who saved Prahlada Maharaja will be able to receive the same protections. On Narasimha Chaturdashi, we remember the savior addressed in that wonderful mantra so kindly recited to the young Shri Rama. May we never forget Narasimhadeva, and may He always protect us as we continue our service to Him.
namas te narasiṁhāya
ito nṛsiṁhaḥ parato nṛsiṁho
yato yato yāmi tato nṛsiṁhaḥ
bahir nṛsiṁho hṛdaye nṛsiṁho
nṛsiṁham ādiṁ śaraṇaṁ prapadye
tava kara-kamala-vare nakham adbhuta-śṛṅgaṁ
keśava dhṛta-narahari-rūpa jaya jagadīśa hare
jaya jagadīśa hare, jaya jagadīśa hare