“Everyone, including the rulers of the various planets, was extremely distressed because of the severe punishment inflicted upon them by Hiranyakashipu. Fearful and disturbed, unable to find any other shelter, they at last surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.4.21)
sarve lokāḥ sapālakāḥ
śaraṇaṁ yayur acyutam
Question: “I recently heard an interesting point of view. It says that Hiranyakashipu actually glorified God more than his son, the famous Prahlada. How can that be, considering that Prahlada was such a great devotee of the Lord?”
The demigods and the demons. The good guys and the bad guys. The pious matched up against the sinners. This struggle has been going on since before anyone can remember. The Sanskrit words for the two parties are sura and asura. Based on the definitions, we see that the latter is merely the negation of the former.
In simpler terms, the suras are the good guys. Their defining characteristic is acknowledgement of, and at the very least, appreciation for the Divine. A modern day equivalent would be the concept of a “God-fearing” person. The sura does not think that everything in this world came into existence through randomness. They do not think that through enough scientific research man can prolong the temporary life indefinitely into the future. They know there is a higher power in charge of things, and that relatively speaking the living entity has very little control, struggling a lot in a material existence.
The asura is the complete opposite of the sura. All bad qualities arise from the single turn in direction away from the life of the sura. As soon as the individual forgets God, thinking that the post of supreme controller is somehow up for grabs, they become open to doing anything. Stealing, lying and cheating are all rooted in ignorance of the existence of an all-pervading witness, the Supreme Lord who rests within every heart as the Supersoul.
bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ
paramātmeti cāpy ukto
dehe ‘smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ
“Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.23)
Though God has no ears as we know them, He hears everything. Though He has no eyes that are prone to defects such as dryness, redness, and degradation of function with time, He still sees everything. The asura fails to realize this, and so they become further entrenched in rebirth through sinful activities. One of the most famous among the asuras is Hiranyakashipu. He appeared in the species of Daitya, which is a specific kind of asura descending from a woman known as Diti. The original suras of this world descend from her sister Aditi.
The one redeeming quality of Hiranyakashipu was that he had a pure devotee for a son. Prahlada had the qualities of a sura, but he went beyond that designation. Suras can sometimes have mixed devotion, wherein they seek temporary gains, renunciation, or mystic perfection. Prahlada was a shudda-bhakta; pure in every way. He wanted only to remain devoted to Vishnu, which is one name for God the person.
Prahlada glorified Vishnu both through explicit prayers and devotional acts. He faced obstacles that were insurmountable and unimaginable to the people of the world. Hiranyakashipu was so against Vishnu that he tried to kill Prahlada for showing devotion. Prahlada survived attacks involving fire, poison and snakes. Somehow he couldn’t be killed. Despite his many attempts, Hiranyakashipu could not succeed. In the end Vishnu Himself would arrive on the scene to kill the father and personally protect the son.
Is it not insanity to say that Hiranyakashipu actually glorified God? After all, the king’s words were to the contrary. At every step he tried to deny Vishnu’s existence. It would be even crazier to say that Hiranyakashipu glorified Vishnu more than Prahlada. Delving into the matter further, we can see the validity to such claims.
Bhakti-yoga is love and devotion to God the person. It is known as bhagavata-dharma, or the highestreligion. It is the one system of behavior that unifies all parties, from all backgrounds. Every person should love God. It doesn’t matter what their professed religion is. It doesn’t matter what they know or don’t about spiritual matters. They should offer as a sacrifice the fruits of their work for the pleasure of the Divine.
Conversely, any activity that is not connected to the Supreme Lord is harmful. This is difficult to believe due to the illusion that pervades the material world. Hiranyakashipu was the greatest non-believer. He provided the example of the extreme in the opposite direction. Namely, he succeeded as far as a person can in material life. He was very wealthy, totally in control, and feared by practically everyone. He accomplished all of this on the strength of his atheism.
Hiranyakashipu’s accomplishments came as close to perfection as is humanly possible. Due to boons received from Lord Brahma, he was immune from death in so many situations. Hiranyakashipu’s standing was so high and inconceivable that the less intelligent relegate his story to mythology, a work of fiction.
Even if that is the line of thinking, at the very least his example makes for a valuable theoretical exercise. What if you could be as successful as possible in material life? What if you were so strong that nobody could defeat you in battle? What if the entire world listened to every command you gave? Hiranyakashipu had this lofty position, and it still wasn’t enough. He was brought down by the devotion of his son. The son’s strength was directly sourced in the Supreme Lord Vishnu.
Hiranyakashipu paid the highest compliment to God by showing that the height of material opulence is no match for the will of the Divine. Taking the spiritual form known as Narasimhadeva, Vishnu exploited the slightest weakness in Hiranyakashipu’s armor of boons. Hiranyakashipu had ninety-nine percent security, but God only needs one percent to get His work done. By persecuting Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu paid homage to the unmatched strength of devotional service. In this way he will always be linked to the Supreme Lord and His devotees.
That he glorified strange to think,
But always to Vishnu a link.
For Hiranyakashipu the king,
Who in enjoyment not lacking a thing.
To stop Prahlada’s devotion he tried,
On his own great strength he relied.
But succeed against devotion he would not,
Vision of Divine incarnate he got.