“Hiranyakashipu naturally became increasingly angry that his son Prahlada was being influenced by the camp of the enemies. He therefore asked that saintly persons like Narada not be allowed within the residential quarters of his son, for otherwise Prahlada would be further spoiled by Vaishnava instructions.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.6 Purport)
It was an innocent enough question. The father was pleased that the critical stage of life had begun for his son. Prahlada would now go to school. Whatever play occurred before is nice and endearing, likely fondly remembered, but without an education the adulthood will be spoiled. What kind of father would Hiranyakashipu be if his son turned out to be illiterate in the ways of statecraft, of maintaining the kingdom won after so much effort?
The father asked the son what was the best subject learned in school. This is something like the common setting of a family dinner table, with everyone gathered together:
“Son, what did you learn in school today? And don’t tell me, ‘Nothing.’ I know that our tax dollars are going to the teachers for a reason. They must have taught something. Even if you spent the entire day focused on playing video games once you reached home, there had to be a moment or two that sparked your interest. What was the subject matter? What were your initial thoughts? You know, I was once a student, too. Maybe I can provide insights into any areas where there isn’t full comprehension.”
Prahlada was not shy. He did not hold back. Yet the reply shocked the father. He was taken aback, and there were several likely causes for the son to reveal such an unorthodox preference in terms of subject matter.
1. He is just a child
Prahlada was five years old, after all. Children are known to say silly things. Parents run into difficulty when their child accidentally overhears a swear word. They then repeat that word again and again, not knowing what it means. They don’t understand the inappropriate nature, but the parents are in a bind. If they make too big a deal of the offense, the child might be encouraged to continue using that word.
Maybe Prahlada was messing with the father. The boy had to know that the kingdom was everything to Hiranyakashipu. Why, then, would he discuss the embarrassment of accepting a material body and the superiority of taking to the vanaprastha stage of life, which is something like semi-retirement? What interest would Hiranyakashipu have in going to the forest to live when there was the amazing kingdom under his control?
2. The enemy penetrated within
The Shrimad Bhagavatam describes that Prahlada had two primary teachers: Shanda and Amarka. They were sons to Shukracharya, who is the spiritual master of the Daityas. This is like the race of bad guys. Everyone appearing in that line has bad qualities from birth. Selfishness, lack of control over the senses, envy of God and those devoted to Him – Hiranyakashipu was quintessential Daitya.
Maybe one of the suras, the good guys, penetrated the school environment and poisoned Prahlada’s mind. Perhaps the intruder was so expert that no one else noticed his presence. After all, kids are known to pick up bad habits like smoking from one or two classmates in school. The smoking isn’t done out in the open, which means that a meeting in a secluded setting can have such a negative impact.
3. Narada Muni or someone similar got to Prahlada
This is actually what occurred. What Hiranyakashipu didn’t know was that the meeting occurred while Prahlada was within the womb. Who would believe that a child could learn anything at that time, especially the advanced topics within the science of self-realization?
Yet Prahlada remembered everything. The retention was so perfect that the boy had no problem describing the principles to the father, during an impromptu question and answer session. The father could make every excuse he wanted, but there was no changing the situation. Not even the application of lethal force could remove the dedication in devotion to God found in Prahlada, the saintly prince born in the Daitya line.
Of logic and wisdom sound,
In Daitya family found.
Surprising father with reply,
Wondering the initial cause why.
Perhaps a sura kingdom infiltrated,
And teachings of bhakti proliferated.
Too late to do anything now,
Through Narada’s work how.