“Hiranyakashipu, the father of Prahlada Maharaja, was simply interested in gold and sense enjoyment. The word hiranya means ‘gold,’ and kashipu refers to soft cushions and bedding on which people enjoy sense gratification. The word prahlada, however, refers to one who is always joyful in understanding Brahman (brahma-bhutah prasannatma [Bg. 18.54]). Prahlada means prasannatma, always joyful.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.18 Purport)
The accounts described in Vedic literature are mostly factual. There are allegorical stories sprinkled in here and there, such as with Puranjana in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, but more or less the conversations involve eyewitness testimony. Much like stories have been transmitted since the beginning of time, someone sees, documents the events either in writing or memory, and then shares with others.
Since there is an initial link to the Divine, there are so many layers to the events and the characters incorporated in Vedic literature. Case in point Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada. Both historical personalities appearing in this world during an ancient time period, the respective names are not accidental. They have significance beyond basic identification; they symbolize two opposing natures.
The name Hiranyakashipu is a compound Sanskrit word. The first part, hiranya, refers to gold. The price of a stock can change overnight. Day trading is a profession for a reason. There can be wild fluctuations over the course of a few hours.
Commodities have some value during a particular time period, but maybe not so later on. Take paper, for instance. When newspapers were at their peak in popularity, paper was a valuable commodity. With the dawn of technology, paper isn’t relied upon as much. Those in that business have to find ways to survive.
Gold, however, is always valuable. In any time period, in any land, amidst any kind of economic situation, gold can translate to wealth. It is no wonder that people will rush towards areas where they can find it, like those labeled 49ers flocking to California in the nineteenth century.
2. Soft cushions and bedding
An unlikely pair, what would soft cushions have to do with gold? Everything ties together through the purpose. The bedding is needed for sense enjoyment. Have enough gold so that you don’t have to worry about money. Everything is accounted for, and so the rest of the time can be spent enjoying the senses.
The soft cushions are good for taking rest and also for mixing it up with members of the opposite sex. This was Hiranyakashipu’s mentality; thus the name was befitting. He only wanted wealth and comfort. Religion here and there, but only for the purpose of satisfying the senses later on.
3. One who is always joyful in understanding Brahman
This is one way to translate the name of Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada. Notice that the presence of gold and soft cushions does not necessarily equate to joyfulness. In fact, Hiranyakashipu was perpetually miserable. The senses were not under control, and therefore anxiety remained. Think of it like having a soda to drink and a few minutes later wondering when or if to have another.
Prahlada’s joy was from understanding Brahman. This is the spiritual energy that pervades the entire creation. Another way to understand the same truth is to know that everything rests on the Supreme Lord, like pearls placed on a thread.
मत्तः परतरं नान्यत्
किञ्चिद् अस्ति धनञ्जय
मयि सर्वम् इदं प्रोतं
सूत्रे मणि-गणा इव
mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat
kiñcid asti dhanañjaya
mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ
sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva
“O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)
As God is the Supreme Pure, by knowing that everything is connected to Him, the purity extends to the vision. Prahlada saw only good. He did not draw lines between friend and foe, ally and enemy. The father did not like this. To rule a kingdom is to make boundaries, to establish jurisdiction and to be prepared to take on aggressors.
The always joyful Prahlada had to go up against the forever agitated father. Hiranyakashipu did not like the devotion to Vishnu exhibited by the boy. Something had to be done, but another person with a significant name, Narasimha, would step in to remedy the situation.
Names with meanings intentional,
With purpose opposing directional.
Gold and soft cushion chasing,
But sense demands not erasing.
Always in agitation landing,
But son joyful from understanding.
That Brahman everywhere extending,
Even to Narasimha the one defending.