“The demons [Rakshasas], the servants of Hiranyakashipu, thus began striking the tender parts of Prahlada Maharaja’s body with their tridents. The demons all had fearful faces, sharp teeth and reddish, coppery beards and hair, and they appeared extremely threatening. Making a tumultuous sound, shouting, “Chop him up! Pierce him!” they began striking Prahlada Maharaja, who sat silently, meditating upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.39-40)
nairṛtās te samādiṣṭā
bhartrā vai śūla-pāṇayaḥ
nadanto bhairavaṁ nādaṁ
chindhi bhindhīti vādinaḥ
āsīnaṁ cāhanañ śūlaiḥ
Meditation is powerful. It can do more than merely calm the mind. A long time ago, it enabled an otherwise helpless young boy to persevere through wicked attacks instigated by of all people, his own father. The key is to match the mind with the proper recipient for its dedicated thoughts. The occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi reminds us of that boy’s meditation and how it was fixed on someone who is always with form, though of the kind impossible for us to fully understand.
The boy was named Prahlada and his meditation, or dhyana, was in the category of bhakti-yoga. This is union with the Divine through love and devotion. I can meditate on water. I can meditate on pizza. It doesn’t mean that I will get either water or pizza. They may come afterwards, but the result is not due to the meditation.
In bhakti-yoga, things are a little different. If you are pure enough in mind, the thoughts alone bring the association of the Supreme Lord. He already rests within the heart as the Supersoul, which is one though apparently divided amongst every being. Just as a telephone line allows people separated by distance to speak to and hear each other, the instructions of the spiritual master enable communication with the Supersoul, which is close by, adjacent to the individual spirit within the heart.
Prahlada received the necessary instructions from Narada Muni. He heard them while within the womb, and he remembered them after birth. Prahlada’s was a special circumstance, and he made sure to never forget the words of Narada. The father, Hiranyakashipu, was against devotional life, to the point that he could not tolerate it when he saw it in his own son. Prahlada’s devotion had to be stopped. Hiranyakashipu tortured his son in different ways in order to put a halt to bhakti-yoga in his kingdom, but the boy would not be denied. Here are some of the attacks Prahlada survived.
1. Weapons from the attendants
Hiranyakashipu ordered the royal attendants to take their weapons and pierce the boy with them. Hiranyakashipu was essentially the king of the world. Whatever he asked for was done, without hesitation. This was a simple command. Take weapons that you are already holding, point them in a specific direction, and charge.
“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)
Prahlada understood that God is with a spiritual form, and so He has many different names. One of them is Vishnu, which means “all-pervading.” Prahlada declared that just as Vishnu was in his heart as the Supersoul, so the Supreme Lord was also in those weapons. With this higher understanding, coupled with his meditation, the weapons were unable to harm him. Prahlada felt no pain.
2. Serpents that bit him
Rare it is to find a person who is not afraid of snakes. One bite, administered quickly and without prior warning, can end a life. Hiranyakashipu gave prior warning. He ordered special snakes he had in his kingdom to bite Prahlada. One bite from one snake should have done the job, but this was overwhelming force administered because failure was not an option. Once again Prahlada’s dhyana saved him. The key to these weapons is the pain they inflict. Without pain, without damaging the body, they are no different than the touch of a soft pillow.
3. Elephant tusks
Perhaps the weapons did not have enough force behind them. Maybe the fangs in the snakes were defective. Surely elephants wouldn’t fail. The king ordered the best elephants to charge at the boy. Their tusks should have done the job, but of course they didn’t. Once again Prahlada felt no pain. He was one with the Supersoul, which is the overseer and the permitter.
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 we think we are the doer in terms of effecting the results to action, the sanction of the Supersoul is required first. He can make an area free of gravity if He so chooses. He can make elephant tusks applied with great force by mad elephants as limp as a piece of uprooted grass. Prahlada understood this, and his father did not.
The boy was helpless. Though he was at home, everyone was against him. He could not cook for himself. He had to eat whatever was offered to him. Taking advantage of this, Hiranyakashipu ordered that Prahlada be served poison. The boy did not refuse. That would have been a viable option. Instead, he took the name of Vishnu first. Then he drank the poison.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna, who is the same Vishnu, who is identical to the Supersoul, says that if a person makes an offering of simple food or water with love and devotion, He will accept it. In this case the offering was poison. Still, the effect was there; the offered item was returned as the Lord’s mercy, prasadam. Prahlada had no other choice, and he wasn’t going to eat without first remembering Vishnu.
5. Thrown off a cliff
Hiranyakashipu lived on top of a mountain, high in the sky. The area where these amazing pastimes took place can be reached and visited to this day in India. The king thought that maybe he could use elevation to his advantage. He ordered that Prahlada be thrown off the mountain peak, after which he would certainly be dashed to pieces by the rocks on which he would fall.
Of course, the boy survived again. These were all material elements set to go against him, but Prahlada had the favor of the origin of the material creation. That origin can make the elements within that creation behave in any way He chooses.
Eventually Vishnu Himself arrived on the scene in the beautiful and terrifying form known as Narasimhadeva. While Hiranyakashipu’s attacks were without effect, the Supreme Lord required just nails and His lap to defeat the previously undefeated king. Hiranyakashipu couldn’t understand who the Supersoul was, even though Prahlada had explained everything nicely. The king didn’t believe in God the person, so the Supreme Lord arrived in a form that he would understand: death. On the occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi we remember the benevolent lion/man incarnation, Narahari, who is the protector of Prahlada and the object of meditation for the courageous and unflinching devotees.
Prahlada untold obstacles faced,
Like when snakes in front of him placed.
Off top of mountain thrown,
Rushing elephant tusks shown.
In each instance feeling no pain,
Since meditating on Lord of Vishnu the name.
Narahari, source of the protection,
Finally arrived for king’s destruction.