A fascinating tell of Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada and Narsimha as seen on the walls of ancient Indian temples.
Hiranyakhsa, a demon, who kidnapped the earth, got killed by Varaha, the incarnation of Vishnu. He had a brother named Hiranyakashyapu. After learning about his brother’s death, he went to the jungle and offered penance for thousands of years to Lord Brahma to get revenge. Impressed by his devotion, Lord Brahma appeared in front of him and asked him for a boon.
Hiranyakashyapu exclaimed, Lord Brahma, if you want to give me something, please offer me something I really seek. The cause of my death should not be the thing dry, wet, the water, the fire, the wood, the insect, reptile, the stone, the air, any of the weapon, the mountain, by the men, the gods, monsters, the Gandharvas or the daemons, the dinners, the monkey or any animal in the world. It should not be through any of the Matruganas like Durga, etc. My death should neither occur inside the house nor outside. Nor should it be during the day or night and even more, altogether the means for the death generated by you should not be the cause of my death, o gracious god, I ask the same from you.
After receiving these powers from Brahma, unavoidable things began to happen. The monster, after acquiring mysterious boons, started abusing his powers. Deamon King Hiranyakashipu took over all the three worlds, driving the sages and hermits away from heaven.
Hungry for some more power juice, Hiranyakashipu decided to gain some more boon from Brahma. He went towards mount Kailasa and, under a tree, started worshipping Brahma again. Seeing this, already agitated gods came running to Brahma, requesting him not to grant the Demon any more powers. Son of Brahma, an imp of a sage Narad muni, assured deities that Hiranyakashipu won’t get additional boons from Lord Brahma. He and hermit Parvata got transformed into Birds and flew away towards the tree under which the demon king was worshipping. Both the birds started chanting Om Namo Vasudevay Namah (Salute to the Lord Vasudeva).
Listening to this, Hiranyakashipu got agitated, and his penance was interrupted. Being annoyed, he tried to kill the birds with arrows, but Parvata and Narada flew away. Demon considered this as a bad omen and returned to his Palace. During the night, while romancing with his wife, he told the story of those two birds and why he had to come back without a boon from Brahma. While telling the story, they got intimate, and Demon chanted Om Namo Vasudevay Namah.
While all three worlds were burning under the rule of the demon king, the strangest thing happened. Kadhayu, the queen of Hiranyakashipu, gave birth to a Vishnu devotee named Prahlad due to chanting Vishnu’s name during the coitus.
Days passed by, and the world continued to burn while Prahlad emersed in Vishnu Bhakti more and more. Father got to know about the business of his son, and he got mad. Hiranyakashipu tried all the Sam, Dam, Dand, and Bhed, but he did not manage to shook his son’s faith in his arch-nemesis Vishnu.
Tired of his devotion, Prahlad was sent away for schooling. After completing his education, Prahlad returned to the Palace and met his father, Hiranyakashipu. The next day, as per the traditions, prince Prahlad demonstrated all that he had learned during his studies in full court. Finally, he requested his father to give up his evil ways, stop tormenting good people, and surrender himself to the Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu considers this advice of his son, given in front of his ministers, a great offense.
Tired of his dedicated passion towards Vishnu – the murderer of his brother Hiranyaksh, Demon king decided to end his son’s life. Hiranyakashipu had a sister named Holika, who was was immune to the flames. She held Prahlad and sat in the pire of burning flames. Due to the sheer meditative devotion of Prahlad, Holika burned herself while flames could not even touch Prahlad. That was the beginning of the Holi celebrations in India, one of my favorite festivals of all time.
Raged due to the loss of his sister, Rakshas King tried to stampede Prahlad under the footsteps of drunk elephants. But, as insane elephants approached Prahlad, listening to the chanting of Om Namo Vasudevay Namah, he got pacified and started praising the Prahlad himself.
Now, it was time for Poison. Very poisonous snakes were set free on Prahlad while he was asleep. Nothing happened. His servants tried poisoning his food, but nothing happened. Prahlad just kept chanting his Lord’s name and carried on.
Prahlad and Snakes:
अथ ज्वलद्रुशन कराल दंष्ट्रिण । स्फ़ुटस्फ़ुरद्रुशसहस्त्रभिशणाः ॥
अकर्शका हरिमहि स्वकर्शकः । हरिप्रियम द्रुततरमापतन्तुषा ॥
अलं न ते हरिवपुषं तु केवलं । विदश्यं तं निजदशनैर्विना क्रुता: ॥
The most poisonous snakes, with their terrifying jaws making the hissing sounds, gripped Prahlad at once. But they could not even make a scratch on Prahlad. Instead, their jaws started oozing blood snake charmers reported this back to their Lord Hiranyakashipu.
Wrestlers and Prahlad
अश्योद्धतास्त्रा दैतेयास्तजर्ज्ययंतः प्रगर्जितै:। अच्युतस्य प्रियं भक्तम तं जदधनु पतीनोदीता: ।।
Complying to their Lord, Hiranyakashipu’s soldiers started cursing and slapping Prahlad. Seeing his devotee’s concentration, Lord began to giving him protection. The weapons used by them could not touch Prahlad, and they turned into the soft petals of blue lotus.
Demon wrestlers were set on Prahlad, but their powerful punches were converted to soft blue lotus petals. All the weapons were shattered as those could not even touch Prahlad. After a while, those weapons started coming back to their wielders, and soldiers in the army began getting injured or dead. This created havoc in the demon army. After seeing these attempts futile, King exiled the prince from his Palace. Now, living away, Prahlad started preaching the Vishnu to the everyday citizens of the kingdom of his father. Many started worshipping Vishnu and followed Prahlad.
Prahlad and Sea
जलशायिप्रियम नित्वा जलराशौ निचिक्षिपुः । बलिनस्तेऽचलान दैत्या तस्योपरि निधाय च ॥
शशंसुस्तं प्रियम राज्ञै द्रुतं तान सोप्यमानयत । प्रल्हदं चाब्धिमध्यस्थं तमौर्वाग्नि मिवापरम ॥
Those fool demons tied Prahlad, took him to the seashore, and dropped him into the waves of the ocean. After that, they put gigantic rocks on Prahlad and reported back to their King Hiranyakashipu. Samudra, the Lord of Oceans offered his powerful protection to Prahlada, and escorted him safely to the shores.
Now, that was the last straw he pulled, and thus, Demon called his son again into his court. Upon arriving, he drew his infamous sword Chandrahas and ran towards Prince Prahlad. Holding the prince in his hand, he asked Prahlad, “Stupid kid, where is your Vishnu now? As you claim, he is omnipresent, will he come here right now if I kill you?” Shouting this, he swung his sword, but it missed Prahlad and got stuck into the pillar next to him. It was the loudest crack, as the big pillar blasted open and gigantic dreadful, and the furious figure of Narsimha appeared. His eyes were massive, with vast mouth, large jaws, and long arms. His nails and feet were very long and pointed. His mouth was glowing like the fire of death; his jaws were spread till his ears.
War broke in the Kingdom of Hiranyakashipu. Armies of the three worlds came down, collapsing onto the Narsimha. But, with his strong hands and his formidable mouth, he started ripping them all, one by one. Demon armies tried their best, but they were defeated in front of the wrath of the vicious God one by one. His roar was so frightening, monsters, demons, Rakshasaj started running with fear.
Now, the sun was settling down at the horizon, Hiranyakashipu faced the God who slashed his entire army of million demons alone. Then, the God caught Hiranyakashipu forcibly, suppressing his armory and all his physical powers. He dragged him to the threshold of his Palace and started piercing his body by keeping him on his thighs. The same chest, on which when Airavata attacked, lost his tusk, the same chest on which the ax of Mahadev went blunt, was torn apart by just the nails of this monstrous God. After digging the chest of the demon king, Narsimha ripped his heart out and squeezed it while laughing wicked. Alas, the notorious demon bit the dust. Brahma, Mahadev, and all the rest of the sages started showering Narsimha with divine flowers, which calm him down a bit. That’s the story of Narasimha.
The prevailing fate
यत्राखण्डलदन्तिदन्तमुसलान्याखण्डिताहवे । धारा यत्र पिनाकपाणिपरशोराकुण्ठता मागतम ॥
तन्मे तावदुरो न्रृसिंहकरजैर्व्यादिर्यते साम्प्रतं । दैवि दुर्जनता गते त्रुणमपि प्रायोप्य वज्ञ्यायते ॥
The same chest on which Airavata’s teeth was shattered, Lord Mahadeva’s axe blow went blunt, pierced by Narsimha. They were right when they said that even just a straw is disastrous when you get rejected by destiny.
Narsimha at Chennakeshava Temple, Belur
Chennakeshava Temple, located in Belur, is known for its legendary minute craftsmanship. It’s Grabhagriha, or Sanctorum has the most beautiful fall ceiling you will ever see in your life. The inside roof is made up of 52 huge soapstones with intricate carvings interlocked with each other. Especially the Narsimha Chandelier. Here, the inside of the temple looks something like this. If observed minutely, you will see Narasimha with Hiranyakashipu. Hoysala Narsimha is the ferocious one. Here, you can see the demon king Hiranyakashipu on his lap. Narsimha has sixteen hands holding various weapons. A small armory can be filled with all the weapons he is holding. As being the incarnation of Vishnu, he is holding his beloved Conch, Disc, Mace, and Lotus. Apart from this, he has an arrow, Pash, a bell, along with some more weapons. His eyes are bulging out with extreme anger as he roars. Narsimha is tearing the stomach of Hiranyakashipu, and while doing so, in his long fingers, demon intestines are entangled. Narsimhais is wearing those intestines as garlands. That’s why he is called Ugra Narsimha or fierce Narsimha. He has KirtiMukha, engraved on his crown, but the most gruesome face is that of Narsimha’s. Demon on his lap is holding a shield in his left hand, and he is shouting in agonizing pain, as you can observe from his serpent-like fangs and bulging eyes. You can see Garuda with wings on the right-hand corner, a bit scared, saluting his master Narsimha. Besides him, you can see Prince Prahlad sitting near the Lord’s feet.
Narsimha at Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebeedu
While the sculpture at the Hoysaleshwara temple has been Vandelized by Islamic Invaders, you cannot miss the beauty of whatever remains. Here, on the bottom right corner, you can see Garuda locking a shield with Hiranyakashipu. You can easily identify him with his pointy nose. But, the absolute artistic brilliance of imagination lies in your bottom left corner. Narsimha is trying to rip the face of one of the demons of Hiranyakashipu. While doing so, along with his face skin, his eyes are also plucked out by the sheer brute force of Narsimha, making the demon skull exposed with empty eye sockets.
Everyone knows this story. At least some parts. But, until I visited the Hoysala temples, I did not understand the intensity of it. For the Hoysala dynasty, the home god (Griha Devata), Narsimha, was a symbol. Symbol of power, bravery, Dharma, ferocity, and courage. You can find Narsimha on the entrance, inside the temples, on the pillars, on the walls outside the temples, and even on the roof, right in the middle, surrounded by Ashta Digpalas.
The story of Narasimha and Prahlad teaches us a few things.
There is a time for everything. There is a limit to the suffering of the righteous, and there is a limit to the atrocities of evil. Narsimha could have appeared any time in front of Hiranyakashipu and slain him. But he seemed only when Demon attacked Prahlad by himself with the sword. That’s when he crossed his limits of barbarity.
Your fate is decided by your Karma and not by the family in which you take birth. Lotus can blossom in the muddiest of waters. Born in a demon family, with his virtue, devotion, and Karma, Prahlad is known as one of the greatest devotees on the earth.
Initially, Hiranyakashipu wanted immortality but was denied by Brahma. Thus, he ended up creating a very complex boon for himself, which he thought was failproof. But, fate and nature always find ways to punish the defaulters. Whether it may be a part lion – part human executioner, or it may be an invisible microbe called coronavirus. Fate always prevails.
1. Narsimha Puranam, Sanskrit Text -English Translation and Index of Verses, Chapter 38 to Chapter 42.
2. Mahabharat, Geeta Press Gorakhpur.