“Indignant and angry, his reddish eyes like molten copper, Hiranyakashipu said to his servants: O demons, take this boy away from me! He deserves to be killed. Kill him as soon as possible!” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.34)
What to do when there is no recourse? What to do when everyone you should trust has turned their back on you? What should your course of action be if even your own father hates you more than any other person in the world? A young child a long time ago faced such a predicament, and since his motives were pure, since he had knowledge on his side, he did not fear. And from that resolve, he remained safe, while others around him died of their own immorality. On the occasion of Holi we celebrate his triumph.
Who doesn’t like to have friends? Perhaps we like to have some alone time after a hard day at work. When we get home, we just want to change our clothes, lie on the couch, and do absolutely nothing. No sound, no visuals, no conversation; just nothing, the absence of activity. This brings peace for a while, but more often than not we like to have our friends and family around.
The family’s association is unique. We may not even speak with them much, but there is an unspoken love. For instance, I may not have daily conversations with my mother and father, but as long as they are around, I feel good. I know that they have my back if I get into trouble. I know that I will die for them if I have to. They feel the same way towards me. Therefore how can any other association compare?
If you have a falling out with one or more of your parents, it can have a strong adverse effect. Indeed, the modern day science of psychology focuses on childhood experiences, a time when the influence of the parents is great. So much of the diagnoses dwell on apparently traumatic events from a person’s early years and how those events shaped future mental growth. While the perceived impact may be overstated due to a lack of knowledge of how the mind, intelligence and ego cover the spirit soul, it is undoubtedly true that the association of the parents is important.
In one boy’s case, not only did his father abandon his affection for him, but he turned into a full-fledged enemy. Forget making it into adulthood so that a psychologist could blame the father for all of the child’s problems, this boy really had no chance of living much longer. The father did not just starve the boy to death. He didn’t just turn his back and then leave the boy to fend for himself. The father, named Hiranyakashipu, tried his best to kill the boy.
This should have been an easy task. Hiranyakashipu was a king who was feared around the world. He acquired his strength through austerity, a mystery to those who don’t know about the Vedas, but a fact fully revealed to those who are fortunate enough to hear its teachings from an authorized source. Even Hiranyakashipu’s understanding of the Vedas was tainted, for he knew of tapasya but not of its true purpose. Through austerity we gain tremendous strength, and the ability to practice tapasya, which is voluntary austerity, is exclusive to the human species. The animals don’t know about diets and exercise regimens. They don’t know about the concept of “less is more.” They are forced to act on their sense impulses, wherever they may lead.
Hiranyakashipu did severe austerities and as a result was offered any material benediction of his choosing. He asked for tremendous strength which would make him immune from enemy attack. Fair enough, as who would want to be vulnerable to the lurking danger of envious rivals? Hiranyakashipu took it one step further by using his immunity to terrorize the innocent. He was the dictator’s dictator. Everyone feared him. No king on earth could defeat him.
Therefore, getting rid of a helpless five-year old boy should have been a piece of cake, no? It proved to be impossible. Everyone around him had turned their back on Prahlada except for the person he worshiped. That person is the original Personality of Godhead. He is known as Vishnu because He is all-pervading. He is known as Krishna because He is all-attractive. He is also known as Narasimha because of the unique form He eventually took to deliver Prahlada from the attacks of his father.
“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)
The occasion of Holi celebrates Prahlada’s resolve in the face of the greatest adversity. Hiranyakashipu required multiple attacks on Prahlada because none of them succeeded. Basic attack with deadly weapons had no effect. Just as Vishnu was in his heart, so Vishnu was in those weapons. This is what Prahlada remarked when the king’s attendants tried to attack him. Vishnu saved the boy because the child was an innocent devotee. He did not want material wealth. He actually didn’t even want protection. The mere thought of Vishnu, with the only motivation of remaining connected with Him, was enough to provide protection. This is the ultimate occupation of the spirit soul, and it is known as bhakti-yoga, which can translate to devotional service, divine love, the sweet taste of devotion, and other similar terms.
One of the attempts on Prahlada’s life came from Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika. She had this boon that allowed her to remain alive while in contact with fire. The king thought that if his sister took the innocent boy into a pit of fire, the boy would die and the sister would live. Vishnu, or God, is the original controller of all elements, including fire. He created its properties, and He can thus influence how it reacts with external objects. In this case, it was Prahlada who lived and Holika who died. The colors festively thrown on Holi represent her ashes.
It seems odd to throw around colors that represent ashes, but the victory of a pure devotee of the Lord, especially one so innocent as Prahlada, is always something to celebrate. He was the ostracized member of the kingdom, though he should have been the most respected leader. He remained firm in his practice of devotional service, and in the end it was he who triumphed. His father lost everything, but since he had such a wonderful son, he was given salvation by the Supreme Lord Himself. Thus the greatness of the devotee knows no limits, and on Holi we remember one of the greatest, Prahlada Maharaja.
By father for his devotion chastised,
In glorious kingdom became the ostracized.
When away from you all others have turned,
When by own father you have been spurned.
Stay true to path even in trouble’s face,
Find protection by His Divine Grace.
King thought he could kill his young and innocent son,
But Holika died, to Prahlada no harm was done.
His triumph Lord Vishnu secured,
Holi reminds us how Prahlada endured.