“Hiranyakashipu could not kill his son by throwing him beneath the feet of big elephants, throwing him among huge, fearful snakes, employing destructive spells, hurling him from the top of a hill, conjuring up illusory tricks, administering poison, starving him, exposing him to severe cold, winds, fire and water, or throwing heavy stones to crush him. When Hiranyakashipu found that he could not in any way harm Prahlada, who was completely sinless, he was in great anxiety about what to do next.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.43-44)
मायाभिः सन्निरोधैश् च
न शशाक यदा हन्तुम्
अपापम् असुरः सुतम्
चिन्तां दीर्घतमां प्राप्तस्
māyābhiḥ sannirodhaiś ca
na śaśāka yadā hantum
apāpam asuraḥ sutam
cintāṁ dīrghatamāṁ prāptas
The father was determined; of that there is no doubt. Once the decision was made to terminate the existence of the obstinate son, who refused to abandon worship of Vishnu despite every warning of the impending consequences to such action, Hiranyakashipu would go to any length to see success. On the occasion of Narasimha Chaturdashi, we celebrate his colossal failure, which was not due to a lack of effort.
Those acquainted with Vedic culture have likely heard the story. There is the annual celebration of Holi, known for its many colors tossed here and there amongst friends and family. The origin is an incident involving Prahlada Maharaja, who withstood an attack from the father. He survived being placed in fire, while the father’s sister, who was thought to be immune, perished and left behind ashes of different colors.
It was a triumph of good over evil, similar to Dussehra, but with additional significance. The exercise of devotion receives protection from the mighty arm of the Supreme Lord. Even when sufficient physical strength appears to be lacking, when the antagonist has the weight of force and manpower supporting them, the exercise is allowed to continue. In Prahlada’s case it flourished.
Hiranyakashipu went to unspeakable lengths. This is symbolic of the mentality of the asura. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, they continue in their opposition to God. They would rather stamp out every mention of His name than pause for a moment to ponder the thought of His existence and supremacy.
From a single verse in the Shrimad Bhagavatam we get a sampling of the efforts made against the innocent son. Prahlada’s only crime was showing allegiance to the origin of everything. Vishnu is the source of strength, including the ability employed by the father and his attendants.
1. Thrown beneath elephants
This should have been sufficient. How could a five-year-old boy tolerate such a massive weight placed on his body? This defies the laws of physics.
2. Throwing among snakes
Poison acts quickly. Just one snake is enough, but for Prahlada there were many. The king had no problem seeing his son in such a dangerous situation.
3. Employing destructive spells
In the modern day someone with such an ability might mistakenly be identified as God. In truth, destructive spells have been around since before anyone can remember. It is a kind of art form, and sometimes the bad people, the asuras, use them to further their plans of destruction.
4. Hurling from the top of a hill
A struggling parent may have this urge every now and then when dealing with a child who won’t stop crying, but only a crazy person carries through. Hiranyakashipu had every intent from the beginning. It was a premeditated attack, and also one that failed.
5. Conjuring up illusory tricks
From the Ramayana we learn of incidents where Rakshasas showed false visions on the battlefield. This is a way to dispirit the enemy. Something like a psychological operations campaign, make the other side think that there is no hope. The Supreme Lord dispelled those illusions by releasing arrows, and for the devotees He does the same through the torchlight of knowledge.
6. Administering poison
If the snakes can’t succeed, then feed directly. Mix poison into the food. Perhaps have the child drink it. Regardless, no need to mess around.
7. Starving him
Improper food not having an effect? Go in the reverse direction. Simply withhold food or drink. Make Prahlada starve. That didn’t work, either, though. The son of the Daitya king showed amazing resilience.
8. Exposing to severe cold, winds, rain and fire
It is common to complain about the situation during the winter.
“I swear, I am never tolerating this again. I have had enough. Who wants to live in a freezer for three months out of the year? This is too much to take. I would prefer anywhere else.”
Then when the summer rolls around, the complaints go in the opposite direction.
“This is unbearable. Not even the air conditioner is helping. I must say, this is much worse than the winter. I will take the cold and snow over this any day.”
Mother nature is one of the primary sources of misery in a material existence. The elements each have their role to play, but in severe form they can cause great distress. Hiranyakashipu used this to his advantage, though none was forthcoming. Prahlada continued to meditate on Vishnu.
9. Throwing heavy stones
Crush Prahlada with weight. Though elephants didn’t work, maybe there wasn’t a direct strike. See firsthand how Prahlada handles the drastic difference in weight.
From the broad spectrum of weapons employed we see that Hiranyakashipu left no stone unturned (no pun intended). Amazingly, it would take just the nails on a lion-like figure to do away with the father. The same strength that was protecting Prahlada the entire time manifest in an amazing half-man/half-lion creature. This was the same Vishnu worshiped by the son and hated by the father.
To kill Prahlada to try,
With lethal force to apply.
Underneath elephants to trample,
Or fed with poison ample.
Off of cliff to hurl,
Snakes around him to curl.
The son every time to survive,
Until finally Vishnu to arrive.