“The literal meaning of Hiranyakashipu is one who is after gold and soft bedding, the ultimate aim of all materialistic men. Such demonic men, who have no relationship with God, gradually become puffed up by material acquisitions and begin to challenge the authority of the Supreme Lord and torture those who are devotees of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.14 Purport)
Not your rewriting of history, where you try to reinterpret the story. Not making a martyr out of him. Not putting the spotlight on his perseverance in struggling against the person who is might personified. Not making him out to be something that he never was. Excluding those angles of vision, there is still plenty of room for study of the historical personality known as Hiranyakashipu.
Vedic literature is so comprehensive and in-depth that there is as much to learn from the failures as there is from the successful. In the story of King Hiranyakashipu there is the obvious hero in the five-year old boy named Prahlada. The initially beloved son of the king, he soon became the target of wrath. The victim of intense hatred of a specific personality, Prahlada did not change his disposition. The behavior of the father throughout the ordeal is equally as important to understand.
1. The name
Hiranyakashipu’s name is a combination of two Sanskrit terms. There is gold. Who wouldn’t want that? The futures market fluctuates. There is speculation galore. The stock market is up recently, but at any time it can crash. A person is considered wealthy since they possess a certain amount of paper currency in the bank, but the value of that paper can change at any moment. It might become worthless in a matter of days through what is known as inflation.
Gold stands the test of time. It is a precious metal. In American history there is something known as the gold rush. San Francisco as a major city was founded on the pursuit of this valuable commodity. Have enough gold and you won’t have any problems paying for things.
The second term means “soft cushion.” The king was interested in these two things. Accumulate enough material wealth and then enjoy by lying down on a soft surface. The same desire is prominent to this day, as there is an entire industry based on increasing the comfort of sleep. There are the mattresses that have customizable firmness settings. In more recent times mattresses can come delivered to the home in a small shape, expanding once opened. The foam inside promises to give a cloud-like resting experience.
2. Demigod worship
Hiranyakashipu wasn’t invincible to start. He could chase after gold and material comforts on his own, but the outcome is not guaranteed. Even if you are a great fighter, the numbers might work against you. One man can only fight so many other people at a single time.
For meeting his desires, Hiranyakashipu chose the wise step of worshiping the demigods. To get what he wanted required severe austerity and penance. Not every person could endure what he did, so that made him special to begin with. Eventually, Lord Brahma arrived. The creator was pleased by the worship and so he was ready to give Hiranyakashipu whatever he wanted.
3. Wanting to stay king forever
Hiranyakashipu wanted immortality. Never to die. Never to succumb to time. Never to exit the temporary body by force. As Brahma isn’t immortal himself, he couldn’t very well offer it to anyone else, no matter how much they pleased him.
Hiranyakashipu did not give up. He schemed, thinking he could work around the mortality issue through specific benedictions. Let me get immunity from weapons. Let not any man or beast kill me. Let me not die at night or in the day. Neither on land nor in the air. Let not any weapon be the instrument of death.
Every request was granted, so as to ensure that he remained king forever. An interesting thing occurred, though. Despite being feared throughout the world and having everyone submit to his authority, the king was not happy. His senses were not under control, though they had been during the time of seeking Brahma’s favor. Since he got what he wanted, that spirit of renunciation left along with Brahma.
4. Hating Lord Vishnu
The ruler had everything and he still wasn’t at peace. He had this intense hatred for Vishnu, who is the personal side of God. In the back of his mind Hiranyakashipu knew that Vishnu wasn’t ordinary. That is to say despite being a staunch atheist who wanted to punish the demigods working in favor of Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu had an idea that there was someone superior to him.
The hatred was so strong that devotion to Vishnu was not tolerated anywhere in the kingdom, even in the home. The king’s son was devoted to God from birth, and Hiranyakashipu’s patience did not last long. He eventually went the route of trying to kill his son, but the boy was protected because of that devotion.
5. Seeking immunity from death
As mentioned above, Hiranyakashipu tried to get around the mortality issue. The same spirit exists today, as scientists claim to one day be able to eliminate death through advancement in health. The focus is on progress, which is supposedly the way of the future, despite the future bearing one noticeable similarity to the past: guaranteed death.
Hiranyakashipu was clever, more so than anyone from modern times. He received iron-clad boons from Brahma himself. They were valid and truthful, and yet they would not serve the seeker’s purpose. Just one percent vulnerability is enough for all-devouring time to successfully attack. In this special case the person who is time itself arrived on the scene in an amazing form. A half-man/half-lion, he killed Hiranyakashipu. That was the deserved punishment for the crimes committed. The lethal force did not violate any of the protections the king had. In the end the gold and soft cushion were not enough to save him. They did not bring peace while living, and they sure did nothing to protect him while dying.
Despite on soft cushion lying,
No protection while dying.
All that gold accumulated,
By time’s hands annihilated.
Hating always Vishnu inside,
From pillar now the outside.
With fierce nails stomach tearing,
Punishment’s garland now wearing.
Categories: the five