“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
An interesting juxtaposition. The before and after. The Daitya side against the saintly side, though in fact the competitor was from the same family. He was Daitya by ancestry due to the link to the woman named Diti, but he had qualities from the daivi side since birth. This is similar to the great bow-warrior named Arjuna, who received assurance of his nature from the judge with the most discerning eye, Shri Krishna.
दैवी सम्पद् विमोक्षाय
मा शुचः सम्पदं दैवीम्
अभिजातो ऽसि पाण्डव
daivī sampad vimokṣāya
mā śucaḥ sampadaṁ daivīm
abhijāto ‘si pāṇḍava
“The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demonic qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Pandu, for you are born with the divine qualities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.5)
One could hardly blame Hiranyakashipu for choosing the route that he did. In many respects, it is no different than modern-day life. Work hard. Earn sufficient money. Advance your material condition. Have associated physical evidence of the achievements, such as a large property, an expensive car, trophies, and children growing up on the path to becoming doctors or lawyers.
Yet on the other side, there was barely any effort. There was no intention of starting conflict, either. They were something like innocent bystanders who would normally become collateral damage in the path of destruction of the powerful atheist. Not in this instance, though.
1. A five-year old son
Hiranyakashipu’s intense effort was directed at immortality. He wanted to stay in his body forever, which is not possible. For starters, eternity involves the past, as well. Easy to overlook, but if you want to become immortal, you had to have been that way prior to birth. If you were compelled to appear in this world from the womb of a mother, it means that in the past there was an exit from a body. The same process will repeat moving forward.
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्
ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च
तस्माद् अपरिहार्ये ऽर्थे
न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye ‘rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
Blinded by his hatred of Vishnu and his ignorance of the real purpose of an existence, Hiranyakashipu went through severe austerities, voluntarily imposed, for winning the favor of Lord Brahma, the creator. There was success, to the point of receiving immunity from death in so many situations.
If you know that no animal or man can kill you and that no weapon will be able to cause harm, why not take advantage and terrorize all the powerful leaders of the world? Hiranyakashipu did just that, and he quickly rose to the heights of influence and enjoyment.
The streak of success broke when the son named Prahlada appeared in the family. He was neither sent by Brahma nor looking to take down anyone within the family. Prahlada simply had a natural affinity towards Divine life. Though he was born in the class of atheists, his nature was entirely different.
Hiranyakashipu’s first defeats were mental. The struggle to reprogram the mind of Prahlada was too much to bear. The father could not succeed, no matter how much force he applied. Then he chose lethal punishment, but that didn’t work, either. All that austerity and penance that provided so much strength, and still unable to take down a defenseless son.
2. Nails on the hands of a half-man/half-lion
Vishnu could have cheated, in a sense. He could have nullified the boons Brahma gave. But then what purpose would that serve? It would only diminish the creator’s stature, and it would lead to less people associating with someone who is directly in link with the Supreme Lord.
Instead, Bhagavan chose to show Hiranyakashipu what true potency is. Real immortality is having the same ability and existence pervading throughout time and space. In any form, Vishnu retains His amazing and inconceivable potency.
Hiranyakashipu had protection against weapons, but not nails on the hands of a half-man/half-lion figure. In one sense the Daitya leader should have felt honored. His carefully crafted boons led to the appearance of one of the most amazing avataras of the Supreme Lord.
The nails ripped Prahlada’s father apart at the stomach. The punishment was justified, as the demigods had been seeking relief for too long. Prahlada did not mind either way, though he felt compassion for the father who had turned the wrong way in life. The child’s saintly nature guaranteed liberation for the departed father, who had the great fortune of seeing Vishnu at the time of death.
Working hard for boons to get,
That close to immortality set.
But easily later defeat to find,
Unsteady in purpose and mind.
Since son Prahlada wanting to kill,
Unsuccessful but persisted still.
Until Narasimha with pointed nail,
Proving immortality quest to fail.
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