“The Personality of Godhead assumed the incarnation of Narasimhadeva in order to vanquish the great fears of the demigods. He killed the king of the demons [Hiranyakashipu], who challenged the Lord with a club in his hand, by placing the demon on His thighs and piercing him with His nails, rolling His eyebrows in anger and showing His fearful teeth and mouth.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.14)
Man does not have full control over the outcomes to actions. Sure, he thinks that he does. He has been led to believe this through the folly of illusion from the eyes. In the past so many times he has turned the ignition in the automobile, which then led to the starting of the engine. From this cause and effect, the natural conclusion is that the human being’s hand, which turned the key, started the car. But in fact that hand relies on so many other factors for the desired outcome to manifest. All other parts must work in harmony, and the past action of construction at the assembly plant must also cooperate. Thus fate is always placed in the hands of one or many others, and so the wise choice is to ultimately take shelter of flawless hands. These only belong to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who one time showed just what His hands could do, ripping apart an evil king and protecting an innocent child.
A long time ago there was a king named Hiranyakashipu. This Sanskrit name is a compound word, consisting of terms that mean “golden” and “soft cushion.” Who wouldn’t want these? In the comfort of the soft cushion all worries vanish. The glitter of gold reminds one of their opulence. But in fact both are an illusion to the mind that doesn’t understand the difference between matter and spirit. Both are simply a collection of gross material elements. Those elements are earth, water, fire, air and ether. When you add in mind, intelligence and ego, you get living entities. But it is in fact the soul which is the only eternal object amongst all of these. The gold will not remain forever, and neither will the cushion. The person enjoying these, however, will stay the same, though not in their specific form. They will remain as spirit soul, destined to take birth in another body based on their karma.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
A king enjoying gold and a soft bed will eventually have to die. This is true of the man who has costume jewelry and a straw matt set on the floor also. Thus both are destined for the same fate; it is their karma which determines what type of body they receive next. Indeed, the present body is always changing. One day there is a full head of hair and another everyone is remarking on how the hair is vanishing. One moment all the clothes fit fine and the next the pants are impossible to put on. Thus karma operates constantly, making every ability and opulence relative.
Hiranyakashipu reached a relative position of strength, fame, opulence and dominion. Everyone feared him, and rightfully so. No one could defeat him in battle. Not simply a bodybuilder who suddenly became stronger than everyone else, Hiranyakashipu couldn’t be defeated in a battle no matter what weapons were used. In modern terms he would be known as the “Invincible Man.” Nothing could defeat him.
He put his fate into his own hands, hands which were feared throughout the world. His young son, however, put his fate into the hands of the Supreme Lord. Now doesn’t everyone do this, at least indirectly? The difference is that the direct hands are more powerful than the indirect. They can override whatever outcomes are slated to arrive through the indirect. Hiranyakashipu did not understand this. He thought he was the final authority on all matters. He thought that his hands controlled all. They didn’t.
The first glimpse of this came when he tried to kill his son. The child, named Prahlada, had committed only one offense: love of God. The boy did not force his father to worship Vishnu, which is the name for God that references His personal form having four hands and pervading the entire universe. Prahlada did not insist that his father abandon his atheistic attitude in favor of worship. Sure, the boy spoke of the glories of devotional service. He could not suppress his love for the author of all things in this world. He spoke of the futility of material pursuits to his classmates in school. He spoke the truth when his father asked him about the most important things he had learned.
Hiranyakashipu was so insecure about his position that he could not tolerate even hearing about Vishnu. Eventually he was so fed up with Prahlada’s obstinacy in this area that he ordered the boy be killed. Hiranyakashipu did not act directly with his hands, but rather through the proxy of his loyal subjects. They had powerful weapons on them. They had other means as well. Nothing worked. Prahlada survived being thrown off the cliff of a mountain. He was not killed by elephants stomping over him. He even escaped a burning fire, though the same couldn’t be said of Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika. Her death and Prahlada’s escape gave birth to the annual holiday of Holi.
Prahlada’s devotion was so strong that he is actually responsible for two important holidays of the Vedic tradition. The second came when the wonderful hands of the Supreme Lord manifested in an odd, but beautiful looking form. This was a half-man/half-lion named Narasimha. It was God Himself, though not of the exact same appearance as Vishnu. This form had sharp nails on the hands, and those nails were used to rip apart the body of the powerful Hiranyakashipu. The king put his fate into his own hands, but the hands of Narahari prevailed. Vishnu’s hands acted with intelligence, to specifically protect the devoted boy named Prahlada. On the occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi, we remember Prahlada and the faith he put into the hands of the Supreme Lord, who never fails to deliver for the surrendered souls.
Reign of terror to the world he brought,
His fate in his own control he thought.
Despite ruling for time long,
In the end to be proved wrong.
Son Prahlada put fate in hands of Vishnu,
Who came with nails of lion for Hiranyakashipu.
Thus hands of God to win in the end,
Always His surrendered souls to defend.