By V. Krishnaswami Aiyar
Takshaka and other venomous serpents sprang at the boy and injected their poison into every pore of his body. But Prahlada´s mind was fixed on his God. He had no consciousness of his body. He was lost in the ecstasy of his contemplation.
The serpents cried out: “Our fangs are broken, our hoods tremble in exhaustion. There is an unspeakable dread in our hearts. We have not been able to puncture even a bit of this boy´s skin. Pray, Your Majesty, let us withdraw from this.”
Hiranyakasipu then ordered his mighty tuskers to trample on his son and destroy him. “Though born of my loins,” said he, “he will bring about my undoing, even as the spark of a fire produced by the friction of the arani sticks consumes its source.”
Then there came out the diggajas, tall as mountain peaks and of exceeding might. They threw Prahlada on the ground and struck at him with their mighty tusks.
Prahlada closed his eyes and thought of Govinda. The tusks broke into a thousand pieces and the huge creatures lumbered away, trumpeting in pain and fear.
“Withdraw the elephants,” commanded Hiranyakasipu, “Make a great fire. Let the wind blow on it and into the raging flame throw this disobedient son!”
The attendants piled logs of wood, set fire to them and pushed Prahlada into the raging flames.
Standing in the midst of the flames, he said: “Father, though enveloped by this fire which rages so fiercely aided by the wind, see, I am still absolutely untouched. It is cool all around and I feel as if I am sitting on lovely lotuses.”
The asura gurus approached Hiranyakasipu and said: “Your Majesty, restrain your anger. We shall take him back and teach him to hate your enemies. After all, he is a child and uninformed. That is why he speaks as he does. If we fail to wean him away from his adoration of Vishnu, then we shall find other means to punish him.”
Hiranyakasipu bit his lips: but there was no alternative he could think of. The gurus took Prahlada back and began to teach him as their King desired. The boy listened to them in patience. When they had finished, he spoke thus to them and to his fellow-pupils:
“Listen to my words: birth, childhood, youth and old age-these come to us all in inevitable succession. At the end, we die. Birth follows death. Our entire life is one of continuous sorrow, from birth to death. Fools delight in little pleasures of the moment, like eating to appease hunger, or warming oneself to resist the cold. Blinded by lust, others yield to the allurements of the flesh and lose themselves in those transient delights.
“They subject themselves to every privation mistaking it for a source of happiness. What is a human body but skin and bone, nerve and muscle, blood and mucus, the foulest of refuse, all packed and dressed up to beguile the unwary and the ignorant? The world is a vale of tears. In this sea of sorrow, sin and suffering, the only refuge for us all is the Supreme Lord, Narayana Himself.
“Remember, time is fleeting; our days are numbered. Do not say: ´I am still young; I shall enjoy life now. I shall strive for God when I become old´. For, when old age comes, you will not have the strength of body or of will to think of what is good for you. Childhood is lost in play, youth in the pleasures of the body, old age leaves one helpless and careworn. Therefore, take heed betimes. It is even when you are young that you must give thought to what will be for your lasting good.
“Vishnu is our sure bandhu. He alone can shower us with salvation. Just think of Him for a while; that is all what you need to do. Remember, He hastens to you to save you. Meditate on Him day and night: all your sins will be washed off. Think of Him who resides in everything in the world, and all your sorrows will vanish.”
“The whole universe is a manifestation of the Lord. So, look on everything as God Himself. Give up your demoniac nature; strive like me to obtain His grace. Surely you will attain abiding peace.
“Turn your hearts from the enticements of the world. Look upon all things with an equal eye. Worship of Achyuta alone makes for such samatva. When He is pleased, what is there which you cannot acquire? But these worldly goods, dharma, artha and kama are trifling before the final and supreme good of liberation from samskara. Devotion to Hari is the only way to achieve it.”
The teachers were faced with a dreadful dilemma. Obviously they could not wean Prahlada from his devotion to his God and if they did not, they would have to face the wrath of the demoniac Hiranyakasipu. But they had no choice now and so they led the boy to the palace and told the King that all their efforts had failed.
Hiranyakasipu flew into a rage as they had feared. He called his servants and said: “Here is my son who preaches against me. Kill him this instant. Do not tarry. Mix the most deadly poison with his food and make him eat it. Do not show him any mercy.”
They did as they were bidden and gave the poisoned food to Prahlada. He received it from their hands with great composure. He pronounced the name of Ananta and sanctified the food and ate it. His countenance showed no change. Nothing untoward happened to him.
replied: “The only teacher of the entire world, Father, is Lord Vishnu and He resides in the heart of every one. Who else can teach anybody?”
Hiranyakasipu: “Who is this Vishnu of whom you speak so highly again and again? Who can be the Lord of the universe when I am here?”
Prahlada: “He whom words cannot describe, Who can be known only by the yogis, He from Whom this universe is born, the Supreme Lord that is Lord Vishnu, Father.”
Hiranyakasipu: “Surely you wish to die at my hands; else, you would not dare to speak of your Vishnu as the Lord of all and that too in my presence!”
Prahlada: “Father, He is the Lord not only to myself, He is the Lord of all men; why, He is your Lord too. He it is that ordains and sustains everything in the universe.”
Hiranyakasipu: “Evidently some evil spirit has entered your mind, you fool. That is why you speak as you should not speak.”
Prahlada: “That spirit Father, is Lord Vishnu Himself. It is not only in my body that He resides. He has got into the innermost being of every particle of the entire universe. Father, it is He that makes me, you and everybody else act; for, He is everywhere and in everything.”
Hiranyakasipu could stand his son´s talk no longer. “Take him away,” he growled, “and see to it that he is taught properly.”
Prahlada was taken back to the guru´s place. Like a true pupil, he served his teacher according to rule.
Some days passed and Hiranyakasipu sent for his son again. “Child,” said he, “tell me now what you have learnt.”
Prahlada replied: “He from whom the Prakriti and the Purusha have emanated, He who is the source of all that moves and does not move, the cause of all the world, may that Lord Vishnu protect us.”
“You wretch! What did you say?” shouted Hiranyakasipu, trembling with rage, “You are a renegade to my enemy´s side. You have brought infamy to my race. You deserve to die.”
He called his men-at-arms and commanded them to kill the boy with their weapons. Up sprang the soldiers with mighty weapons and began to attack the tender boy with sword and lance.
“Lord Vishnu resides,” exclaimed Prahlada, “in these weapons, in you and in me. By that faith I know that these weapons can do me no harm.”
Though hit by a hundred weapons, Prahlada stood undaunted and not a hair of his body was hurt.
Hiranyakasipu relented: “Fool!” he urged, “give up this praise of my enemy and I promise I shall pardon you.”
Prahlada: “Father, even a momentary thought of Lord Vishnu is enough to remove the fear of life, old age and death. When He resides in my heart, what fear can dwell in me?”
Hiranyakasipu could scarcely contain his rage. Furious, he summoned the most deadly serpents and bade them plunge their fangs into Prahlada´s body and despatch him quickly to the place of Death.