“Hiranyakashipu said: My dear Prahlada, my dear son, O long—lived one, for so much time you have heard many things from your teachers. Now please repeat to me whatever you think is the best of that knowledge.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.22)
Poor Hiranyakashipu. He thought he had it made. He thought he knew it all. The suras, the people Hiranyakashipu’s ancestors had been quarreling with since before anyone could remember, were now under control. Fear was more like it. They were so afraid of the now powerful king that some of them took disguises and hid in different parts of the universe. They instituted their own sort of witness protection program.
Hiranyakashipu had boons giving him strength, fighting ability, and most importantly, immunity from death in so many situations. The flaw is that it only takes one situation to qualify as mortal. Who knew that the end would be instigated from within his own home, by his own son?
Prahlada was noble from the beginning, and this goodness in the son revealed itself on many occasions. Specifically, there were questions that Hiranyakashipu asked that in retrospect he probably wish he hadn’t.
1. What is the best subject you have learned about?
Ultimately, school is for training. Today it is practically a must, as without literacy it is difficult to find work that pays a decent wage. In ancient times the kings would train their children in statecraft. Not that they would grow up like trust fund babies and not have to work a day in their lives due to the tremendous wealth, people like Prahlada were expected to become expert in running a kingdom.
To that end the father sent the child to school. One day he asked Prahlada what was the best subject learned about. It was an innocent question. Perhaps the boy liked fighting. Maybe he was interested in how to manipulate hostile enemies using the divide and conquer strategy. The father was interested to know just how much Prahlada had learned.
The boy replied with something that wasn’t specifically taught in school. Prahlada wasn’t interested in material advancement. He thought taking birth with such a mentality was an embarrassment. Better to head to the vana, the forest, and focus on self-realization.
2. What is the best of knowledge heard from the teachers?
Hiranyakashipu was not happy. Why was his son talking about spiritual matters? The teachers went back to work. They would get the boy’s mind right. Brought for another interview with the father sometime later, this time the question was about the best knowledge heard during the subsequent round of instruction.
The answer the first time around was bad enough, but now Prahlada really dug the knife in. He explained the nine processes of bhakti-yoga, devotional service. This reply really hurt because Hiranyakashipu considered Vishnu, the personal form of God, to be his mortal enemy.
Here was the son dedicated to that enemy. This occurred under the father’s watch. What Hiranyakashipu didn’t know was that Prahlada received instruction from within the womb. Narada Muni, the celebrated traveler of the three worlds, visited the mother and instructed her on devotional service. In a special circumstance, though born in the race of Daitya demons, Prahlada was a devotee of Vishnu from birth.
3. What is the source of your strength?
No more instruction. The teachers obviously weren’t effective. Better to just kill the child. Get rid of the enemy within. Hiranyakashipu was so afraid of God that he couldn’t tolerate any kind of worship within the household. Though Prahlada was not known to worship externally, in front of others, just thinking of Vishnu in a positive way was a crime that deserved the death sentence.
As he soon found out, Hiranyakashipu ran into a problem. Prahlada couldn’t be killed. Every kind of deadly force was applied, and nothing worked. Frustrated to no end, he finally asked Prahlada what was going on. What was the boy’s secret? Perhaps he had worshiped the demigods like Hiranyakashipu had. Maybe there was a special way of meditating that the father could imitate and thereby use to increase his own strength.
4. Is God in this nearby pillar?
The response from Prahlada was that the source of strength is the same in everyone. Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, expands as the Supersoul and rests within the heart of every single person. It is from Him that a person has knowledge and forgetfulness, strength and sometimes the lack of it. As explained in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna is the ability in man.
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)
Prahlada’s words led the father to ask one last question. It was delivered in a sarcastic way, and it was the question he really wish he hadn’t asked. Hiranyakashipu mocked the son, asking if this God that was supposed to be everywhere was also in the nearby pillar.
Then Hiranyakashipu started striking that pillar, which led to the appearance of the avatara known as Narasimha. This is the same Vishnu that Prahlada worshiped in his mind. It is the same Krishna who spoke the Bhagavad-gita. It is the same Supersoul who is the source of every person’s strength.
Emerging from the pillar, Narasimhadeva made quick work of the offending father. The reign of terror was over, and Prahlada would indeed succeed on the throne, with the notable difference in character.
Not pleased with reply from question to ask,
To set boy’s mind right now the task.
Teachers again before father bringing,
This time praises of bhakti-yoga singing.
Prahlada alive despite every attack,
From where strength that others to lack?
Sarcastically is God in this pillar found,
Answer soon enough after terrible sound.
Categories: the four