“Hiranyakashipu had been exactly like a fever of meningitis in the head of the three worlds. Thus when the wives of the demigods in the heavenly planets saw that the great demon had been killed by the personal hands of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, their faces blossomed in great joy. The wives of the demigods again and again showered flowers from heaven upon Lord Narasimhadeva like rain.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.35)
Imagine if it were a crime to love. The crime applied at the most basic level; loving in thought was enough to qualify. No other action would be needed to break the law. Then imagine that the punishment for the crime was death, by any means. Whatever it would take to end the life of the culprit would be sanctioned by the government. Imagine, then, that the government made this the top priority, the one crime more than any other that needed to be prosecuted. Such a circumstance seems unthinkable, but it most certainly existed a long time ago in the kingdom ruled by Hiranyakashipu. On the occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi, we celebrate the time when the Supreme Lord descended to earth to prove to one and all that loving Him is never punishable. Rather, the one who tries to stop such a love from being practiced becomes worthy of the harshest punishment handed down in the fiercest manner.
If you look at the popular causes taken up by celebrities and the philanthropically inclined, they all somehow involve love. If there is a specific disease that results from people having sexual relations, which is deemed the only kind of love by those who are unaware of the spiritual science, then all efforts are taken to eradicate that disease. No thought is given to abstinence or refraining from that particular activity. Why would you want to do that, as love is the reason for living?
Then, if there is any kind of obstacle made in the profession of love, the same activism is there. Never mind that nature’s law dictates something else with respect to relationships. Also, never mind that the piece of paper from the government doesn’t interfere with the relationship in any way. It also doesn’t make the relationship. I may be very good friends with someone else, but do I need the government to acknowledge that friendship? The prohibition in this case has no bearing on the relationship, and so my activism to get the government to change their mind is really pointless.
Real love is known as prema in Sanskrit. It can only be directed at God because God is the only person who can accept an unending amount of love offered under any circumstance. I can’t love my cat when I am hundreds of miles away from it. While I am at work, and my cat is at home, there is nothing I can do to offer love. My thinking of the cat isn’t as good as being with it. Watching my cat on webcams installed in the home also isn’t as good as being there. The same holds true for any relationship.
In dealings with a paramour, if I say “I love you” too quickly, I could ruin the relationship. If I offer too many flowers, write too many notes, or make too many spontaneous gestures, the corresponding party could leave me for someone else. Thus there is a game that must be played, where the love is withheld to some degree. The fact that the other party can voluntarily opt out of the relationship proves that the love I offer is not supreme. It has conditions.
In love for God, there are no conditions. Not even the most powerful person in the world pitted against the least powerful can do anything to stop the love. Narasimhadeva appeared on this earth to confirm this fact. His devotee, Prahlada Maharaja, was only five years old at the time. Due to the good fortune of his mother having met Narada Muni when she was pregnant with child, Prahlada was born a devotee. He didn’t want to chase after illusory happiness. He didn’t want to just play the day away. Rather, he knew that loving God is the real business of the spirit soul, the essence of identity. He was so infused with devotional feelings that he couldn’t speak of anything else. Whether in recess with his fellow classmates or sitting on the lap of his father discussing the day at school, Prahlada could only praise Vishnu, which is a name for God given in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India.
Hiranyakashipu was the king. He was a fierce ruler too. Everyone in the world was afraid of him. Even the worst dictators have a soft spot for their family members. Such was the case with Hiranyakashipu, at least in the beginning. He was affectionate towards his son. He wanted Prahlada to follow in his footsteps. “Let my child grow up to be a great ruler, to be feared around the world like I am. Let him learn from the spiritual guides of the royal court the art of ruling. Let him learn the different methods of diplomacy and how to rule over subjects.”
Unfortunately for the king, Prahlada was only interested in Vishnu. The spiritual guides were dumbfounded by this. They hadn’t taught Prahlada anything about Vishnu. Though the Supreme Lord is the origin of matter and spirit, the strength of the strong, the giver of religious principles and the system of right and wrong, these teachers tried their best to keep Vishnu out of their teachings. Prahlada didn’t need them, though. He remembered what he heard while in the womb of his mother. Just a moment’s association with someone who loves God can thus do so much. Narada Muni gave Prahlada all the information he needed.
An outside observer can say that Prahlada was sort of a “bible thumper” or “religious zealot.” “He was a little too religious for such a young age.” In actuality, he was simply loving someone else. He didn’t ask for sanction from his father. He didn’t ask anyone else to support his relationship. He simply loved God and didn’t hold back in talking about it. This was the number one crime in the community. In the present day there are so many laws on the books that nobody knows all of them. A nation can pass a piece of legislation that is intended to overhaul the healthcare system, and no one in the country, including the lawmakers, knows what’s in the bill. In this way so many laws get ignored, by both the citizens and the administrators. The violators also don’t get punished, especially if they belong to an ethnic group that can be bought off for votes in future elections.
Unfortunately in that kingdom, Prahlada’s crime was too egregious to be ignored. Hiranyakashipu made sure of it. He tried to kill his son in so many ways. Killing a child within the womb is a little easier in modern times because no one really sees what happens. Meat eating is very commonplace for the same reason; no one really sees the violence. In Prahlada’s case, everyone could see what was going on. The father had his attendants attack the boy with deadly weapons. That didn’t work. He had the boy thrown off of a high cliff. That didn’t work. He had the boy put into a raging fire. That didn’t work. He had the boy thrown into a pit of snakes. That didn’t work.
“My son Prahlada, you rascal, you know that when I am angry all the planets of the three worlds tremble, along with their chief rulers. By whose power has a rascal like you become so impudent that you appear fearless and overstep my power to rule you?” (Hiranyakashipu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.6)
Nothing worked, and so the father tried to have the teachers get the boy’s mind right. When that didn’t work, Hiranyakashipu was set on killing the boy himself, but he first wanted some information. He wanted to know the source of his son’s amazing strength. Hiranyakashipu received his strength from worshiping various demigods. This is worship in the mode of passion, and so it is somewhat religious but not really. The intent was bad all along, indicated by the king’s great contempt for the Supreme Lord. The source of Prahlada’s strength was the same as it is in anyone else. The boy informed his father of this. The father then sarcastically asked if God was in the pillar next to them, as he was unable to see any higher power. Rising up in anger, Hiranyakashipu struck the pillar with his fist.
The Supreme Lord then appeared out of the pillar. He was in a ferocious form, one fit for the occasion. Hiranyakashipu had previously been granted so many benedictions that made him immune from different kinds of attack. He was also safe in certain areas and time periods during the day. Narasimhadeva, a half man/half lion, killed the king in such a way that none of the previous boons were violated.
Prahlada’s crime indeed wasn’t one. Hiranyakashipu’s trying to stop Prahlada’s devotion in any possible way was actually the worst crime, one that the Supreme Lord Himself wanted to punish. He always comes to the rescue of those who are devoted to Him. Therefore the wise souls always chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
In a kingdom from a long ago time,
To love God in just thought was a crime.
Devotion was in child a precious gift,
But father to offer punishment swift.
Though of flesh and blood of his own,
With snakes, in fire, off high cliff son was thrown.
Finally, to Prahlada’s rescue the Lord came,
Half-man/half-lion, of Narasimha the name.