“After hearing these words of devotional service from the mouth of his son Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu was extremely angry. His lips trembling, he spoke as follows to Shanda the son of his guru, Shukracharya.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.25)
Intense anger. Uncontrollable rage, bubbling over to the point that you cannot speak. No words emerging from the mouth because there are too many from which to choose. Just one won’t suffice, since you need to properly express the intense emotion.
Hiranyakashipu felt this way one time. There were several people with whom to be upset. Though typically viewed as the worst father in history, and deservedly so, in this world different viewpoints lead to variety in judgments. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to the demoniac father whose deeds were so deplorable that they warranted a visit from Vaikuntha’s chief resident it was actually the son who was torturing him.
1. Replying about devotional service
In his mind things were going smoothly. Hiranyakashipu was on a roll. He succeeded in pleasing the creator, Lord Brahma. This is something like going to the boss of the company and asking for keys to the ship.
“Let me become the leader. By the way, if any of the employees should try to remove me by force, allow me to be so powerful that I can squash the mutiny. I realize that you cannot guarantee my remaining in that post in perpetuity, but provide me with protections that are sufficient to cover every situation I can think of.”
Hiranyakashipu then proceeded to take over the world. He was not satisfied to remain in the earthly realm. He physically travelled to the heavenly planetary system and asserted his authority over the king of the demigods, Indra. Hiranyakashipu did not wait for the typical route of travelling to a different body after death, where ascension occurs due to meritorious credits, sukriti.
There were sons to the king, and Prahlada was considered the best. The perfect record ended when once Prahlada spoke of the science of self-realization while in the presence of the father. If the father had a hint of spiritual culture in him, he would not have been so taken aback. One who knows pain and suffering is better equipped to tolerate a change in fortune. The one who is driven by the senses and not used to controlling them cannot handle simple words of wisdom coming from a five year old boy.
Upset that any person in his kingdom would favor the eternal enemy, the Supreme Lord, Hiranyakashipu ordered the royal teachers to get the boy’s mind right. These were sons to the guru of the asuras, Shukracharya. The name is significant, because he was an acharya in title only. He obtained the post through seminal relation, not necessarily by qualification. Therefore, the advice his students received was flawed.
The teachers tried their best to turn Prahlada’s interests towards dharma, artha and kama. Formal religion, and economic development for the ultimate purpose of sense gratification. When they brought the boy to the father again sometime later, Hiranyakashipu was in tears. The affection was so strong, as if nothing had happened previously.
The anger quickly returned once Prahlada started speaking about devotional service. The child explained the nine processes of bhakti-yoga, essentially going above and beyond the generic teachings on material life he presented before. This was torture to Hiranyakashipu because of the lack of success in such an important area. Obviously, the teachers were not effective. The king had failed in something that should have been simple.
2. Surviving the attacks
No other recourse but to apply brute force. Kill the child. Get rid of the problem. No more hearing such words if the person speaking them is no longer around. Hiranyakashipu again employed deputies to handle the horrible deed.
Yet the tables turned. While throwing a kid off a cliff, putting him in fire, feeding him to snakes and giving him poison would be considered the worst kind of torture, it was Hiranyakashipu who suffered. He could not believe that Prahlada survived. There had to be a secret. Maybe the child knew some mystic art that was unknown to the father.
3. Describing the source of strength
Hiranyakashipu finally inquired:
“Prahlada, what is the source of your strength? How are you able to withstand these attacks?
The reply was again like torture to the father. Prahlada explained that the source of his strength is the same as it is for every person. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita by Shri Krishna.
रसो ऽहम् अप्सु कौन्तेय
शब्दः खे पौरुषं नृषु
raso ‘ham apsu kaunteya
śabdaḥ khe pauruṣaṁ nṛṣu
“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)
The torture finally came to an end. Prahlada was not agitated by the antagonism from the crown, but Hiranyakashipu could tolerate no more. The same person that Prahlada worshiped without fail arrived on the scene in the amazing form known as Narasimha. Unlike the attacks on the innocent and helpless boy, this would succeed. Despite every boon he had going for him, Hiranyakashipu did not stand a chance. The origin of Prahlada’s strength chose the side of devotion, proving that the asura mindset never wins in the long run.
Bad guy from boons becoming strong,
But to lose in the story long.
Because Vishnu the other side choosing,
Not those with personal motives using.
The material energy, illusion’s force,
Prahlada staying bhakti’s course.
Such that to father torture feeling,
Failed despite to violence appealing.