“Hiranyakashipu planned a campaign to kill Prahlada Maharaja. He would kill his son by administering poison to him while he was eating, by making him sit in boiling oil, or by throwing him under the feet of an elephant while he was lying down. Thus Hiranyakashipu decided to kill his innocent child, who was only five years old, simply because the boy had become a devotee of the Lord. This is the attitude of nondevotees toward devotees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.38 Purport)
The anger was at such a high level that the father did not want to take a chance with waiting for an opportune moment. Interestingly, the comparison was made to a muni dealing with uncontrolled senses. Hiranyakashipu said that Prahlada was such an enemy to the community.
It was, in fact, the father who could not control his senses. At the same time, there was no interest in spiritual advancement the way the muni tries. The wise person studies Vedanta philosophy and then makes an effort to implement the principles. Teaching others is not enough. Receiving honorary titles based on a system of credentialed institutions is insufficient for actually advancing the consciousness.
In that sense Hiranyakashipu was degraded. He could not see clearly, and he was ready to attack the five-year old son while in any position.
1. While eating
Who actually prefers to be bothered while eating? There is the physical issue with responding to questions. If there is food in the mouth, how will a person be able to speak properly? Moreover, laughing, crying and other emotions during the important time of swallowing and digesting food can cause major problems.
Hiranyakashipu attacked Prahlada during this moment by feeding him poison. It should have been an easy task. There should not have been a question of success. The child was ready to eat, after all. The innocent Prahlada would not suspect anything. He would continue to consume whatever was served to him.
2. While sitting
A powerful and capable warrior like Hiranyakashipu should have at least known the rules of combat. The ethical thing to do is engage an enemy face-to-face. There should be weapons on both sides. If the combatant loses their chariot and has to move on foot, then the other side is supposed to follow the same. A chivalrous fighter prefers to win in an even match.
Yet Hiranyakashipu attacked Prahlada while the son was sitting. He placed the innocent child in a pit of boiling oil. Who would be able to watch such a thing? This was like a composed scene from a superhero comic book, except the victim was the five-year old son of the perpetrator.
3. While lying down
This position is associated with rest. If you are lying down, you are not really a threat to anyone. Perhaps in the modern day someone could be speaking on the phone or working on a tablet computer while resting in bed, but during Prahlada’s time there was no threat.
While in that harmless position, some elephants came to trample the child. The size mismatch is drastic. Who would be able to survive such an attack? What five-year old son would be worthy of such punishment from the father?
No matter how hard he tried, Hiranyakashipu kept failing. Prahlada’s survival is symbolic of the all-pervading nature of Vishnu, who is the person the father really hated. A person may remain staunch in their denial of an all-powerful figure who is the origin of everything. They may continue to deny that a higher authority exists and is managing every aspect of the creation.
Despite their denials, Vishnu will remain in every time and every space. Hiranyakashipu attacked the son while he was in different positions, but in each case Vishnu was there to protect. The Supreme Lord would soon emerge from a most unexpected place to show the true potency of God.
Destined for meeting on the verge,
From most unexpected to emerge.
In that column already there,
But Hiranyakashipu unaware.
Reason for attacking repeated,
Against Prahlada innocently seated.
And too during meal-giving time,
But Daitya only failure to find.