“Narada Muni continued: Lord Brahma was very much satisfied by Hiranyakashipu’s austerities, which were difficult to perform. Therefore, when solicited for benedictions, he indeed granted them, although they were rarely to be achieved.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.4.1)
एवं वृतः शत-धृतिर्
प्रादात् तत्-तपसा प्रीतो
वरांस् तस्य सुदुर्लभान्
evaṁ vṛtaḥ śata-dhṛtir
prādāt tat-tapasā prīto
varāṁs tasya sudurlabhān
Man is fallible, after all. The Vedas list four primary defects. One of them is the tendency to commit mistakes. Another is the inclination towards cheating. I know that what I am doing is wrong, but somehow I continue down that path regardless. As if some superior force has control over me, the situation goes from optional to compulsory.
Then there are the cases where I am just oblivious. For instance, let’s say that I am constantly late in arriving at work. I am slow to complete my assignments. These are chronic issues, a pattern established over many years at the firm.
Then one day I start complaining about another colleague. I don’t like how they take too long to work on requests. Their work ethic is suspect, to say the least. The irony doesn’t dawn on me; only other people at the company notice it. Here I am complaining about someone who is just like me.
A long time ago, a king named Hiranyakashipu was similarly unable to notice the ironies to his situation, of which there were many.
1. He didn’t believe in a higher power, and yet he had worshiped one
As leader of the Daitya class, Hiranyakashipu wanted world domination. He desired to be the most powerful person in the world, to wield that influence for his benefit only. Let others cower in fear; let them not dare to question authority or even think of raising a mounted opposition.
At the foundation of this desire was a strong envy and hatred of the Supreme Lord. Hiranyakashipu knew Him as Vishnu, who was the person who killed the brother named Hiranyaksha in a previous time period. The brother in both mentality and family relation, Hiranyakashipu wanted to get revenge. He hated Vishnu and he more importantly didn’t believe Vishnu to be God.
There was no God in the Daitya’s eyes, but the irony was that previously there was worship of a higher authority. Hiranyakashipu had a benefactor; he did not reach the lofty position solely on his effort. Lord Brahma, the creator, provided significant assistance. Hiranyakashipu knew how to worship properly, and yet subsequent to receiving the important boons he cast aside any further interest in worship.
2. Proud of his might, but couldn’t kill a defenseless five-year old child
As if completely forgetting the interaction with Brahma, Hiranyakashipu was incredibly proud of his might and influence. There was immunity from death in ninety-nine percent of situations, so there was little reason to fear anyone.
At the same time, this formidable king was unsuccessful in eliminating a five-year old nuisance from the kingdom. Prahlada happened to be the king’s son, and he became worthy of punishment through professing allegiance to Vishnu. The child perceived Vishnu to be everywhere, and he knew that Vishnu was the source of strength in each person.
The one who was protected through Brahma’s help could do nothing to harm Prahlada. Hiranyakashipu sure did try, but every attempt had the same result: failure. The king put in extraordinary effort to reach the height of power in the world, and here an innocent child was able to defeat him.
3. Confident that God was nowhere, but He appeared from a pillar
Ironic it was that Hiranyakashipu couldn’t see what his son saw. God is indeed everywhere. This is always the case. A wise person doesn’t require an extraordinary show. Something like the virata-rupa revealed to Arjuna is not needed.
Prahlada tried his best to explain, but the father would not hear it. Hiranyakashipu mocked the concept of an all-pervading spirit, not realizing that Vishnu was inside of him, as well. The idea seemed so silly to him that he jokingly asked if the one giving strength to Prahlada was in a nearby pillar.
Vishnu most certainly was, and he gave the visual evidence that the less intelligent are always insisting upon. The avatara of Narasimha was immediately terrorizing to Hiranyakashipu, while auspicious to Prahlada. The harsh realization arrived too late for the king, though he was blessed to have such a saintly son.
Proud of his might,
Not an adversary in sight.
Worship of devas prohibited,
But previously himself exhibited.
Now that in king’s position setting,
Boons from Brahma forgetting.
God nowhere to exist confidently saying,
Then Narasimha from pillar displaying.
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