“Hiranyakashipu planned a campaign to kill Prahlada Maharaja. He would kill his son by administering poison to him while he was eating, by making him sit in boiling oil, or by throwing him under the feet of an elephant while he was lying down. Thus Hiranyakashipu decided to kill his innocent child, who was only five years old, simply because the boy had become a devotee of the Lord. This is the attitude of nondevotees toward devotees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.38 Purport)
Down on your luck? Things not going your way? Have you tried everything, put in the best effort, and still keep failing? Such are the outcomes when under the control of the material nature; nothing is ever fixed. The same action yields the same reaction for one hundred consecutive times, but then one time the reaction is not there. Who can explain it? Who can understand it? In devotional service, even seemingly insurmountable odds are overcome, all through the favor of the Supreme Lord Himself. On the occasion of Holi we remember one particular hero who did the unthinkable, who escaped from a fire unscathed, baffling his attackers.
The aggressors were on the side of the material nature. Sort of like crossing over a border line, where with a single step you can go from one country to another, these fiends had the direct vision of someone completely fixed in the transcendental consciousness. Despite the good fortune of this vision, they were in a different world. The most basic truth could not be understood by them, though it was presented very eloquently by the victim in this case.
A five-year old son of a king was asked what he had learned in school. He responded to his father by speaking of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. He spoke of the uselessness of material pursuits, how one ends up continuously doing the same thing, hoping to find a better result. The boy likened the cycle to chewing the chewed. Taking a fruit that has already been eaten, one tries to taste it again, hoping for a different result.
The father did not like to hear this from his son. He first accused the boy’s teachers. “What have you been doing? You are traitors. You act like you have my best interests at heart, but you obviously don’t.” The teachers pled innocence. They had not instructed the child in this way. So the father, whose name was Hiranyakashipu, decided to kill the son. He ordered his attendants to get the job done. This was material life, so the outcome was never guaranteed, though the father thought otherwise. If I want to speak, my mind gives the command and my body obliges. It seems like a sure thing. “Talk,” I tell myself. But it doesn’t always happen. For some people, the ability to talk is not there. Some stutter, some have speech impediments, some have stage fright, and some have a disease preventing them from speaking.
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
In the Bhagavad-gita, it is explained that the living entity is not the doer. They choose how to act, but the results come from material nature. Hiranyakashipu’s sister would learn this the hard way. The different attempts of the father to kill his son did not work. Every one was baffled except the boy. In one of the attempts, the father, Hiranyakashipu, decided to enlist the help of his sister. She had this ability, supposedly, to enter a fire and come out unscathed. So it was decided that the recalcitrant boy, Prahlada, would sit on the sister’s lap while she went in a fire.
Her name was Holika, and when she entered the fire, she perished. Prahlada survived. That miracle is remembered through the annual celebration of Holi. The father met only frustration in his attacks on the devotee son. The son, meanwhile, met only with victory, which he neither worked for nor requested. During all times he simply remembered the lotus feet of Vishnu, who is the Supreme Lord in one of His opulent forms. Vishnu is a personality, so He can hear, even though He doesn’t have ears in the way that we understand them.
He heard Prahlada’s prayers, and so He intervened personally. The material nature operates under Vishnu’s purview. Therefore if He likes, Vishnu can nullify the result to an action. Hiranyakashipu and his men could not understand this, so they continued their attacks on the innocent Prahlada. Finally, Vishnu Himself came to deliver the boy, removing Hiranyakashipu in the process.
Prahlada is the hero for all righteous souls. The path towards transcendence has many thorns. Many of these are placed there intentionally by nondevotees of the likes of Hiranyakashipu. It may seem like things aren’t going our way, even if we are always chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” It may seem like it is too difficult to maintain a job, a family, and a routine of devotional activities. It may seem like the gossip and idle talk even within devotional social circles is too much to bear. It may seem like quitting is the best option.
During such difficult times, Prahlada Maharaja and his triumph that gave rise to the festival of Holi are a beacon of light. He faced the most difficult circumstances, as he was helpless in the attacks against him. He was the much weaker party, and he was attacked from within. His own father turned on him, and only because of Prahlada’s devotion. Prahlada emerged from the fire, showing that in devotion one can triumph over even the raging flames of the material nature.
To help in attacks the sister to hire,
But she perished, boy emerged from fire.
Though having father of qualities bad,
Favor of the Supreme Lord Prahlada had.
What of material nature to speak,
Tough even when transcendence to seek.
Remember Prahlada on Holi’s festival,
And his protector Narahari most beautiful.