The story of Lord Nrsimha
Hiranyakashipu Terrorizes the Universe
Prahlada, the Innocent Son
The Appearance of Lord Nrsimha
Purport: Lord Nrsimha Incarnates to Stop Child Abuse
The Demon's History
The Demon's Woman
Nrsimha and Krishna in ISKCON Culture
Hiranyakashipu Terrorizes the Universe
Millions of years ago, King Hiranyakashipu, the king of the underworld, wanted to rule the whole universe. He went to the Mandara Mountains to petition the demigods, where he fasted from food, water and sleep, and stood on his toes, raising his arms in the air for many years. He wanted to attain all the yogic perfections and be regarded as a great religious man, even though he hated Lord Vishnu for killing his brother, Hiranyaksha. The truth of these brothers was that they had been cursed to take three births as demons in the material world. Their lives as Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha were their first incarnation.
In his deep meditation of anger, a fire sprang from Hiranyakashipu's head and a vile smoke filled the universe, choking people, causing climatic changes and natural disasters. Rivers and oceans turned stormy, the earth shook and stars fell from the sky. Planets were thrown from their courses and natural disturbances were seen everywhere. The demigods, unable to bear these sudden changes approached Lord Brahma for help.
To appease the demigods, and to bless the poor demon, Lord Brahma traveled to the valley of Mandara Hill. At first he couldn't locate Hiranyakashipu because white ants had eaten his flesh. Brahma found some bones among the bushes, and sprinkled them with holy water from his kamandalu (water pot). Suddenly the ascetic king had a healthy body again and he asked for the benedictions that he could not be killed in the day or night; by animal or man; inside or outside, on the land or in the sky, or by any weapon. He further requested, "I shall not have any enemy equal to me in strength. I shall be the sole monarch of all the three worlds. I shall remain as glorious as yourself. I shall maintain a spotless reputation, despite my evil disposition." Feeling compassion, Brahma granted all of the king's requests and went back to his heavenly planet.
Receiving these benedictions, Hiranyakashipu felt invincible. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita: "He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination." (16.23) The scriptures plainly condemn demons like Hiranyakashipu. It is foolish to admire men simply because they attain worldly power, because miserly acts put them on the path to hell.
After achieving the blessings of Lord Brahma, Hiranyakashipu conquered the demigods and planets. He plundered their temples, homes and places of business, robbing their wealth and happiness. He forced all beings to worship him on the level of Lord Shiva and made laws against worshiping Vishnu, saying Vishnu's names, or even thinking of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu moved into the jeweled palace of Lord Indra, the king of heaven, and made it his headquarters. In that palace he carried out a bizarre display of drunken arrogance, giving darshan (audience) to the demigods and other great personalities, who were forced to chant prayers recounting his austerities and rise to power. In truth, the denizens of heaven were afraid of this underworld king, who had cruelly stripped them of all personal freedoms. The natural order continued out of fear of him. Hiranyakashipu thought he was immortal and wanted to believe he was God.
Everyone in the universe was distressed due to Hiranyakashipu's leadership. Although they were forbidden to pray to Lord Vishnu, they offered prayers to "the direction where Lord Vishnu is situated in peace." Soon a transcendental voice, grave as an approaching storm, answered their prayers. The blessed Lord said: "Be free from fear. Let there be all good fortune. I am aware of Hiranyakashipu and will dispense with him soon. Please be patient. His final transgression will be raising the sword against his own son, the great devotee Prahlada, who is peaceful and sober and who has no enemy. At that time I shall kill Hiranyakashipu immediately, without contradicting the benedictions of Brahma." This brought the demigods hope.
Prahlada, the Innocent Son of Hiranyakashipu
Prahlada was a sophisticated child of good character, who was kind to every living being and was the best friend of everyone. Although born into wealth, he was free from the qualities of pride and envy. Prahlada had unalloyed devotion to the Supreme Lord Vishnu due to previous devotional service. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita: "After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (7.19) Prahlada was such a great soul, who would return to God's kingdom at the end of his lifetime.
From the beginning of childhood, Prahlada was only interested in serving the Lord. He didn't care for toys or childish playthings. Instead of playing, he remained in meditation all the time. He performed his daily duties, such as going to school, bathing, eating and sleeping, automatically, while thinking the Lord. Because of his spiritual meditation he sometimes laughed, cried or sang out in joy. When he felt distress, he called to the Lord in anxiety, and when the Lord answer his prayers, he danced in ecstasy. Sometimes he acted out the pastimes of Lord Krishna, playing games with the monkeys in the Vrindavana forest. Sometimes his hair stood on end and and tears glided down his cheeks. Just by seeing Prahlada, unfortunate people became rich with love of Godhead.
According to a Vedic custom, Hiranyakashipu sent his son to the school of the guru, gurukula, at the age of five. Prahlada's teachers Sanda and Amarka were the cruel sons of Hiranyakashipu's guru, Sukracharya, and while they tried to instruct Prahlada in the materialistic sciences, the boy was constantly lost in his own world chanting Lord Vishnu's names. As the years passed, Prahlada remained a gentle, God-loving soul. This frustrated Hiranyakashipu to no end.
Once King Hiranyakashipu took his boy on his lap and inquired, "What is the best thing you have learned?" Prahlada said, "I bow down to Lord Maha-Vishnu, the root cause of all things seen and unseen, the protector of the devotee, who is without beginning, middle or end, and who is the origin and the root of this world." After hearing these words of rebellion from his son, Hiranyakashipu became extremely angry. He called the gurukula teacher Sanda and said, "O unqualified, most heinous son of a brahmana, you have disobeyed my order because this boy has learned nothing from you."
Sanda replied, "Oh King! I did not teach him this, nor did anyone else. This spontaneous love of Vishnu has naturally developed in him. Therefore, please don't get mad at me, for it is not good to insult the son of your guru."
Hiranyakashipu then threw Prahlada from his lap and instructed the teachers to turn the boy into a demon. They teachers told the king, "We can only mend Prahlada by punishment." Thus, over the next year the king, the teachers, and the teacher's assistants conspired to torture Prahlada.
Hiranyakashipu ordered soldiers to pierce his son with spears, but Prahlada saw Vishnu within the weapons, so they couldn't hurt him. Next, Hiranyakashipu sent thousands of poisonous serpents, but their fangs fell out and the decorative jewels dropped from their heads. The snakes lamented what they had done to hurt this young devotee. Next, the demonic king sent the astadiggajas, the eight elephants who bear the burden of the earth in eight directions. The maddened elephants charged Prahlada, but their tusks crumbled to bits. Next the demons threw Prahlada into a pit of fire, but Prahlada lay in the fire pit meditating on Lord Krishna, and thus felt he was lying on a bed of lotuses. Next the royal demonic priests invoked a devil that attacked Prahlada with a spike. The spike broke into pieces and the devil turned and killed the priests who had made him. A magician named Sambara tried many psychic attacks, but Sudarsana-chakra, Lord Vishnu's weapon, chased Sambara away. The king threw Prahlada from the top of a mountain, but the goddess of earth caught him in her gentle hands. Next, Hiranyakashipu ordered the wind god to enter Prahlada and destroy him, but Lord Vishnu inhaled the wind.
Hiranyakashipu hated his son and resolved to kill him, thus he tied Prahlada hand and foot and threw him in the ocean, then declared to the demons, "Fire does not kill this boy; he is not hurt by any of our weapons; even our greatest demons couldn't kill him. So let him remain in the ocean for thousands of years and then he will die. Drop heavy mountains around the shore to create a natural barrier to keep Prahlada from getting out." The demons did this, however Prahlada easily got free and went directly to his father to bow down before him in submission.
The old king suddenly realized that he could not harm his son, who was completely sinless. He admitted to himself that Prahlada's strength must be unlimited. Hiranyakashipu then became fearful of his own death, thinking he could be cursed for his enmity toward this invincible being. Overcome in awe, Hiranyakashipu embraced his son with fatherly affection. He decided to send Prahlada back to the gurukula, in hopes that the sons of Sukracharya could reform him. To pacify their master, the teachers took Prahlada back to school, promising to break his independent spirit. Thereafter, Sanda and Amarka systematically and unceasingly disciplined and taught Prahlada, who was submissive and humble.
Things seemed to go well, but the teachers didn't realize that when they were gone Prahlada would instruct his classmates in devotion to Vishnu. The other students were affectionate and respectful to Prahlada, and because of their tender age they were able to listen to his transcendental teachings. Prahlada desired their welfare, thus he instructed them about the futility of materialistic life. Giving up their playthings, the children sat down to hear, and he told them, "My dear friends, O sons of the demons, you cannot please the Supreme Personality of Godhead by becoming perfect brahmanas, following all the rules and regulations of the scriptures, or by becoming perfectly good in etiquette or Vedic learning. None of these qualifications can awaken the pleasure of the Lord. Not by charity, austerity, sacrifice, cleanliness or vows of poverty can one satisfy the Lord. The Lord is pleased only if one has unflinching, unalloyed devotion to Him. Without sincere devotion, ritual is simply a facade."
Confused, the boys said, "We know only Sanda and Amarka as our teachers. Where have you learned this other knowledge? Please explain."
Prahlada replied, "Once when my father went away to the Mandara Mountains, the demigods attacked our palace. At that time Indra and his soldiers carried away my mother, who was pregnant with me. Along the way, they met the great sage Narada Muni, who knew that the son of Hiranyakashipu would be a devotee. Indra let the sage take my mother to his hermitage, where he taught her jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga, knowledge and devotion to God. What I heard in the womb at that time I still remember, and true knowledge and devotion will be rooted in your hearts too if you have heard my words." Thus, Prahlada concluded his teachings to his classmates.
Prahlada's mother Kayadhu was considered the property of her husband. To please Hiranyakashipu, she had given up jnana- and bhakti-yoga when she returned to the palace to give birth to Prahlada. However, her child was born remembering everything.
The Appearance of Lord Nrsimha
All the students in the school of the demons appreciated the transcendental instructions of Prahlada and rejected the materialistic instructions and abuses of their teachers. When Hiranyakashipu found out what was going on, he trembled with anger and renewed his resolve to kill his son. Being cruel by nature, and feeling insulted, he hissed like a snake. He called for Prahlada and spoke the following words: "O most impudent, most unintelligent disrupter of the family, O lowest of mankind, you have violated my power to rule you, and therefore you are an obstinate fool. Today I shall send you to Yamaraja, the Lord of Death, for your judgment day. I am all powerful. When I am angry, all the planets in the three worlds tremble, along with their chief rulers. By whose authority has a boy like you become so impudent?"
Prahlada replied: "My strength comes from the same source as yours, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for He is the origin of all strength. He is everywhere, including the hearts of all living beings. My dear father, please be at peace. Try to see beyond the duality of friend and enemy. The uncontrolled mind is our only enemy in this world."
Hiranyakashipu replied, "I can see by your foolish words that you are ready to die. O most unfortunate Prahlada, you have always worshiped a supreme being other than me, but where is He? If He is everywhere, then why is he not present before me in this pillar? You are a liar and you deserve to die by my sword. Let me see your God come to protect you." Hiranyakashipu rose from the throne and struck the marble pillar with his fist, then he pulled out his sword to kill his son.
At that moment there was a fearful sound, so loud that it sounded like thousands of earthquakes. The demons looked around, but no one could find the origin of the sound. Suddenly the pillar cracked open and Lord Vishnu appeared with a lion's head. He had angry, fearsome gold eyes, a shining mane, and razor-sharp fangs that looked like two crescent moons. His jaws parted fearfully as He lunged toward Hiranyakashipu. His hair reflecting white like the rays of the moon. Hundreds of arms spread in all directions wielding Vishnu's natural weapons.
Considering himself superior to God, Hiranyakashipu thought he could defeat this manifestation of Vishnu. He raised his club and attacked the Lord. After fighting for some time, when dusk fell, the Lord captured the great demon, placed him on His lap, and in the doorway of the assembly hall, killed him with his sharp nails. Thus, Lord Nrsimha, incarnating as neither man nor animal, killed the demon when it was neither day nor night, neither on the ground or in the air, inside or outside, and without using any weapon. The Lord paradoxically killed Hiranyakashipu without contradicting the benedictions of Brahma.
Lord Nrsimha's mouth and mane were sprinkled with drops of blood, and His fierce, angry eyes glowed with a eerie light. He wore a garland of intestines taken from Hiranyakashipu's abdomen. The Lord, who had many arms, pulled out Hiranyakashipu's heart and then threw him aside, then he turned to the demon's faithful soldiers who had come by the thousands. Lord Nrsimha killed all who resisted, merely with the ends of His nails. The hair on Nrsimha's head scattered the clouds and threw the demigods' airplanes into outer space. His glance stole the effulgence of the luminaries in the sky, and his breathing created turbulence in the oceans. All the elephants in the world cried in fear at hearing his roar. Because of the pressure of the Lord's lotus feet, the earth appeared to slip from its position; all the hills and mountains sprang up due to His intolerable force. The Lord's effulgence seemed to diminished the illumination of the sun.
Various demigods and great personalities tried to pacify the Lord by offering prayers, but the Lord remained angry until the pure child Prahlada stepped forward, and prayed: "My Lord Nrsimha, please cease Your anger now that my father, the great demon Hiranyakashipu, has been killed. All the good people of the world are satisfied, hearing of the death of this demon. Now they are confident of their happiness and will always remember Your auspicious incarnation in order to be free from fear. My Lord, I am never afraid of You, even in Your form that frightens the elephants. O Supreme, no one can conquer You. As for me, however, I am being crushed by the wheel of time and therefore I surrender fully unto You. Now kindly look upon us in compassion, deliver and maintain us; not only me and my family, but also all others who are suffering."
Satisfied, the Lord crowned the child king and benedicted him with a long and prosperous life, then departed in a flowered airplane.
Purport: Lord Nrsimha Incarnates to Stop Child Abuse
The advent of Lord Nrsimha, recorded in the Seventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, tells many stories. The Lion-god represents the fearsome side of God, as well as bravery and justice personified. Hiranyakashipu is the archetypical cruel and unfit father, who fails to recognize the dignity of his own son. Prahlada, the innocent child, witnesses the fearsome Other destroy his evil father. He retains his innocence and succeeds where his father failed. At the end of the story Lord Nrsimha crowns him king and blesses him to lives a peaceful, long and prosperous life before returning to God's kingdom.
The story also presents educational archetypes, with Sanda and Amarka representing Manihara, Murlaivadaka and other abusive teachers in ISKCON. Sukracharya, the head of the gurukula, could serve as a metaphor for Jagadhisa, the ISKCON Minister of Education (dismissed in 1988), who employed cruel men to discipline children. Narada Muni represents the good side of education. He instructed Hiranyakashipu's wife Kayadhu (and Prahlada in her womb). Prahlada passes that knowledge along to his classmates, personifying goodness. The story implies that God favors the good teachers Narada Muni and Prahlada. He takes the form of a Lion to vanquish the others. The image of Lord Nrsimha ripping open the demon's belly is a strong personal symbol for anyone abused as a child, even if they were never in the Hare Krishna schools. God's violent reaction assures the child that the father's abuse was wrong. Another analogy is that Nrsimha personifies Freud's image of the Superego, or Supersoul that guides Prhalada (the ego, or embodied spirit) and conquers Hiranyakashipu (the uncontrolled passion of the psyche, or id).
In Krishna's story the perpetrator is King Kamsa. Both stories carry the same message: God takes note of every offense against a child. The punishment of killing the demons may happen in a literal sense, or metaphorically. God works in His own way, on His own timetable. Lord Nrsimha could have killed Hiranyakashipu any time, but he waited until the moment when Hiranyakashipu pulled his sword to kill Prahlada. Emerging from the marble pillar, Nrsimha toyed with Hiranyakashipu as a cat toys with a mouse. This may have been in retribution for the way Hiranyakashipu toyed with his son. "Every action has an equal reaction" is a law of physics and karma. Nrsimha waited for dusk, when He could kill Hiranyakashipu without contradicting the benedictions of Brahma.
In the story of Krishna, Kamsa continued to persecute innocent people until Lord Krishna was ready to enter into His adult role as a king and leader of the Yadus. Although we humans would have everything happen instantly, the meaning of lila is that it's God's divine play. Everything happens according to His timing and His desire, in order to enact certain pastimes. The implication is that God has His ways of doing things, so the scriptures ask us to find solace in the stories and believe that everything is acting according to God's will, and that God does protect innocent souls who have faith in Him. This is certainly Prahlada's message.
The Demon's History
The Vedic scriptures nearly always give a deeper perspective on most characters by explaining their past-life circumstances. In a past life, Hiranyakashipu and his brother, Hiranyaksha, had been Jaya and Vijaya, gatekeepers of Vishnu. Once when the sage Sanaka came to visit Vishnu, Jaya and Vijaya stopped him from entering. Sanaka became angry and cursed the gatekeepers to take three births in the material world as demons to be killed by Vishnu. In their first birth they were Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha (killed by Nrsimha and Varaha, incarnations of Vishnu); in their second birth they were Ravana and Kumbhakarna (killed by Rama), and in their third birth they were Sisupala and Dantavakra (killed by Krishna). Thus Prahlada's father was a mythic character, a devotee cursed to forget he was a devotee. Prahlada never faulted his father for being wicked, but even after Lord Nrsimha killed him, prayed for his father's soul. Accordingly, after three incarnations on earth, Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha returned to heaven (Vaikuntha) and resumed their positions as Vishnu's gatekeepers.
In the story of Krishna, Kamsa is a mundane demon. He was not a fallen gatekeeper. He was not even the real son of Ugrasena, the king. He was conceived when a gandharva (angel) named Dramila disguised himself and raped Ugrasena's wife. This is one of many scriptural examples of rape, and as a result, a demon incarnated. Ugrasena's wife cursed the gandharva, and cursed her son Kamsa to be killed by someone from Ugrasena's dynasty. The scriptures explain that Kamsa behaved badly toward Krishna and Ugrasena because he was aware of his status as an unwanted child. Kamsa was simply an angry, unloved man who treated others badly.
Hiranyakashipu attained liberation after two more births as a demon; Kamsa attained impersonal liberation when Krishna killed him. An incorrect interpretation (subtly promoted in ISKCON) is that the bad guys are really good guys because they could be fallen gatekeepers, or next in line to attain liberation. Therefore, the logic follows, be careful indicting bad ISKCON leaders because they might really be great souls. However, this is a twisting of scripture. The real message is that Krishna vanquishes the demons, therefore the devotees should never work for demons, cover for them, or try to help them in any way. Bhagavad-gita says that God will protect the faithful and punish the evil-doers, regardless of their past-life origins. The demons' fate is sealed and their greatest blessing will be their demise.
The Demon's Woman
The only female character in the story of Nrsimha is Hiranyakashipu's wife, Prahlada's mother Kayadhu. She is a silent, repressed goddess; an innocent woman who supports a bad man. In Hiranyakashipu's kingdom, women were considered the property of their husbands, and thus it was against social custom for them to have their own opinions. During time of war, she was taken away to the hermitage of Narada Muni and learned Vedic knowledge. For Kayadhu it was only customary that she forget the teachings of Narada Muni, and thereby go along with her husband on everything. She did nothing when Hiranyakashipu tortured her son. This was also the case in ISKCON, because many of the women repressed their fears and maternal instincts in order to please husbands or male authority figures in ISKCON who demanded submission. For example, Professor Burke Rochford quotes an ISKCON mother who said, "Everyone just thought that you send [the boys] away to the gurukula and when they came back they were going to be like Prahlada Maharaja. They were going to be chanting japa. They were going to be shaved-up. They were going to be distributing books." The woman hoped the kids would turn out well despite enduring abuse like Prahlada.
In a metaphorical way, every innocent devotee in ISKCON played the part of Kamsa's woman. We all ignored what was going on while gurus like Bhavananda and Kirtanananda (the modern-day Hiranyaksa and Hiranyakashipu) ravished and abused children. In the P.R. office, we bent over backwards to promote Kirtanananda (especially the Palace of Gold in West Virginia) and Bhavananda (with his temples and restaurants in Australia). In effect, ISKCON's decadent kings, with the help of conspirators in the P.R. office and other branches of the organization, abused all ISKCON devotees. Hiranyakashipu abused all the demigods and other great souls in the court of Indra. The demigods were forced to sing the glories of Hiranyakashipu, just as Srila Prabhupada's disciples were forced to sing for the eleven gurus, including Bhavananda and Kirtanananda. Their conspirators and codependents are like Kayadhu.
Nrsimha and Krishna in ISKCON Culture
Lord Nrsimha and Lord Krishna are prominent cultural symbols in ISKCON that take on mythic proportions in retrospect of the child abuse that took place. The perpetrators stripped children of their faith through torture, while quoting from scripture that Prahlada happily gave up his toys. This is another example of using scripture to justify the abusers' selfishness and neglect. Perhaps teachers were so unable to comprehend the scriptures, that they read the story of Prahlada and thought that taking away children's toys was a perquisite for spiritual attainment. Prahlada gave up interest in toys because he was absorbed in the highest levels of devotional ecstasy; a state that even great yogis rarely attain after many births. In truth, ISKCON children sorely missed having toys and received violent beatings if teachers found a toy or comic book in their personal belongings. They felt helpless and abandoned, anything but spiritual. Some even gave up believing that God would protect them.
For about ten years, a former gurukula student has run her own business selling homemade Krishna dolls. Her work, which insures that even the most rigid ISKCON followers can find acceptable toys for their children, takes on numinous significance.
Every year the temples hold big festivals for the advent of Krishna (midnight on the eighth day of the moon in August-September) and the appearance of Lord Nrsimha (dusk on the fourteenth night of the waxing moon in May). On these appearance days, devotees fast, recite the stories, and sing traditional songs about the pastimes. In the case of Lord Krishna, the month of Damodara (August-September) is set aside for remembrance of Krishna's childhood pastimes. There are many other observances to remember Krishna's nature as a loving and compassionate God, such as the worship of Govardhana Hill.
In the daily ceremonies in every ISKCON temple, devotees sing the following prayers to Lord Nrsimha (Sanskrit with English translations):
I offer my obeisances to Lord Nrsimha, who is always giving bliss to His devotees like Prahlada Maharaja and chiseling at the hearts of demons like Hiranyakashipu.
yato yato yami tato nrsimhah
bahir nrsimho hrdaye nrsimho
nrsimham adim saranam prapadye
Lord Nrsimha is here and also there. Wherever I go Lord Nrsimha is there. He is in the heart and is outside as well. I surrender to Lord Nrsimha, the origin of all things and the supreme refuge.
kesava dhrta-narahari-rupa jaya jagadisa hare
Devotees recite these verses whenever they feel they're in danger. It is also sung to bid farewell to the departed. Devotees may also wear talismans or rings with Lord Nrsimha's image, and in times of greater distress, there's a long prayer to Lord Nrsimha called the Nrsimha-kavacha that some devotees turn to for comfort. Children growing up in gurukula drew pictures of Lord Nrsimha, acted in plays based on the story, and chanted the prayers daily.
In a grave twisting of the tradition, one teacher in Vrindavana used to punch children using a heavy silver Nrsimha ring like brass knuckles. This robs the children of a compassionate image of God, and makes the teachers into killers of the soul, as well as abusers of the body.
For those who feel alienated from the religious symbols of their parents' religion there is always the possibility of finding a new spiritual path to follow. Sometimes these quests take a negative route. One child of ISKCON, frustrated with his parents' religious images, turned to LSD as a spiritual reference point. The numinous insights and feelings from the drug masked the pain he felt being raised in gurukula, Catholic school, and finally a reform school in Utah. At the age of eighteen, he committed suicide while under the influence. Drugs and suicide are severe answers to meaningful questions. Why did these children deserve to be treated like this? is one question I would ask. What does it do to a person? Is it also possible to express the dilemma in a positive way?
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