(Episode of Bhakta Prahlada being tortured in many ways Kedareshwara temple, Halebidu, Karnataka)
The key thinking of the Upanishads is to find the unity behind the diversity and changes in this apparent life- the thought on the other side of the linear equations involving the two variables-staticity and oneness. This has always remained the core of every subject nurtured in India. All the time, this has been the consideration and aims of every experience of life for the Indians. Initially, this oneness and staticity seem to be extraneous to our brain. We naturally live in the axiom that there is nothing that can be claimed not to be agile or ever-changing. We ratiocinate that there is nothing that has any opposite, replica or perfectly-designed and factitious, and everything is changing and re-constructing itself from their relative place and circle. Nevertheless, one thing was figured out by the Hindus that the overall aggregation of these living and non-living elements itself is static and made up of the same element. For them, if this is not true, then nothing is fixed and static and there is no certainty of existence. The overall shelter still there in the deep web is One, and death is not the ultimate event, but an indication for further change as always claimed by the ancient race.
Once, there was a king of Asuras named Hiranyakashipu. The Asuras were brothers of the Suras by relation. The Devas or Suras lived in heaven, from where they were frequently banished by the Asuras through muscle power. Vishnu was the sustainer of the world. Whenever the Devas were in trouble, they used to complain to Vishnu, and Vishnu used to hear their appeal and drive away from the Asuras from heaven. Once again, the Devas used to live in heaven peacefully and happily. One day, Hiranyakashipu expelled all the Asuras and declared himself the lord of the three worlds- Swarga, Martya and Patala!
“I am greater than Vishnu!!!”
– this was the new slogan by him. He announced to abide by him by beating the drum about himself, “I will not allow the worship of Vishnu and he is not the Lord. Now, it is me the ultimate ruler of the world!!”.
He had a little son named Prahlada from his wife Kayadhu. He was never like his dad. He was an ardent devotee of Vishnu and Vishnu was his adorable master. From his very childhood, he used to say,
“Vishnu is my best friend and I love Vishnu!”.
As Hiranyakashipu came to know about the facts about his son getting out of the hand, he sent him to a couple of Asura teachers. They used to assure that nowhere in the textbooks, is any knowledge mentioned about Vishnu. One day they noticed, Prahlada is busy teaching his classmates about Vishnu under their nose. Though repeated prohibition, Prahlada did not listen to them in turning off his life from Vishnu. As a result, the teachers complained to Hiranyakashipu. After long contention, the boy also did not listen to his father. Then, getting irked, Hiranyakashipu ordered his guards to kill Prahlada. However, the spears of the guards seemed to be of no power to pinch Prahlada skin. Hiranyakashipu got enraged. He shouted and charged his men to throw his son in front of a mad elephant. Nevertheless, this time the elephant could not smash Prahlada. It was like his body is made up of iron.
Further, many attempts were taken like throwing Prahlada from the top of a mountain, injecting poison forcefully, putting into the fire, throwing in a deep well, deviating his mind by hypnotizing through magicians. In all the attempts they were unable to perform any minimum harm to Prahlada. In every situation Prahlada was out of the woods counting on and chanting, “Vishnu is within me and so nothing can harm me”.
In the last attempt, Hiranyakashipu ordered his men to tie up his son with the huge snakes from patalaloka (place under the earth surface/under-world/world of crime and sin). “Now”, boomed Hiranyakashipu, “Throw the black sheep of the family into the sea, and impose the big rock on him. This time the cards are stacked against him. If he does not die soon, in due time he will surely give up his breath. This is definite”.
As Prahlada was been embroiled with the fierce serpents and cast into the sea, he was only reminding Vishnu with one focus. He was repeatedly whispering- “Oh Lord of the Three worlds- all loving Vishnu, I welcome you!” Constantly envisioning Vishnu and praying to him, Prahlada realized that Vishnu was near and already with him.
While drowning with the pressure of the rock in the uncharted waters and sinking more and more, in the hell of a time he realized that “Ah!! Vishnu is always with me. Then why must I get frightened? Whatever might happen to me, I know Vishnu is always with me. O Lord of the universe, I bow down to you!”.
The guy gradually realized that Vishnu is not only near him but also inside his body. Next, he realized that Vishnu has united with him, and he himself is Vishnu. “I am not different than Vishnu. I and Vishnu are the same. I am the Vishnu”, Prahlada muttered in mind, “I am everywhere, in every place and inside every element”. As soon as Prahlada concluded this, all his tight bindings got loosened. The entire knot fell off. Suddenly, the burden over his head broke into pieces and float away into the sea. Then the water of the sea filled out taking Prahlada, placing him on the tip of the wave, sending the lad towards the shore.
Standing there, at a glance Prahlada forgot that he is an Asura. He forgot that he is a child. He forgot that he is Prahlada. He started to think that is the all-mighty. He started to understand that he is the origin of the universe. Nothing has the force to wound or hurt him. He is the ruler of the universe. One after the other, various astonishing and never-known-before ideas came into his mind and thus he spent many hours with those ideas. He was still standing at that place. Then, gradually his though diminished winding up that he is a child and he has a body and his name is Prahlada. Now he became a new Prahlada as he realized that Vishnu is within him and surrounding him. Everything ended up to him as the “Vishnu”.
The imagination of the Hindu mind during the early phase of its attempt came to its conclusion with lots of complementarity with blind search and errors. The visible world seems to possess staticity and balance after lots of changes in mind. This was searched by the Aryans in the oneness of nature or individual personality. Now the question was, whether the power or existence could be encrypted through intelligence or not? Whether it was God or Nature itself? With full doubt, the Rigveda declared- “he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not”. Nevertheless, they came to the conclusion that the constant factor behind all the motions of the world or life, as a simplification-is the ever existing factor that has its reflection and indication on the visible elements around us. Since it was beyond the world and neutral in nature- hence it is Nitya or eternal, neither changing nor can be factorized and beyond any deviation. And looking at this factor beyond imagination, they saw that the aim to which they were trying to reach through pure logic and arguments- is the same factor of oneness. Through Yoga or thorough concentration, it was as the first realization- Nityahanityanam or the monomial behind numerous motions. Again, they also came to the conclusion that the consciousness of that oneness is the same consciousness within every living being. This is blazingly self-expressed. Here, this second anthropic principle for the ancient Hindus was known as Chetanaschetananam– or the one consciousness lying like the ripple factor beyond every consciousness.
Now comes, the third important perception of the Rishis or the seers for the Indians. The one who knows himself knows the whole world. This is because the self factor or I-ness is totally indistinguishably the same as that of the wholeness. Thus, the one who is beyond knowledge is now our entanglement. These truths are stored with care in the two terms of Vedanta.
Sohham– He is me
Aham Brahmasmi– I am the Brahman, eternal.
Prahlada has not died. The news was not delayed to reach the ears of Hiranyakashipu. He was found to be standing alive in the seashore like a shag on a rock. “What shall I do now????”, the king made a dry face after all his attempts to move the heaven and earth. He, at his wit’s end, summoned Prahlada near him. In his court, he tried to convince politely by telling, “Listen, my dear son, I am the king of Asuras and you are my son. One day you will grow and become the king of the demons. For now, don’t jump the ship and learn how to become king. I have already told you that I am greater than Vishnu. So you will follow me, not that Vishnu!!!”.
“You are not superior to Vishnu”, answered Prahlada. “Wake up, there is no one greater than him”.
“You what? You are still a silly”, said the father, “You have not reached the suitable age to understand all these. Think a wee bit, you are just crying for the moon as a stupid child”.
Prahlada calmly added insult to injury, “Cool it father, I know I am not demanding the moon. I know Vishnu loves me, he is there everywhere and till the date he wishes, you will remain as the king. Come out of the Fool’s paradise!!”.
Hiranyakashipu burst out. After many arguments, explanations and taking suitable measures, as Prahlada was at his daggers drawn being firm in his thought, Hiranyakashipu shouted at the innocent.
“Listen, you are the archenemy to me. No love lost between. What did you say? Vishnu is everywhere right???”, said the kind. Then pointing to a pillar in his court he further said, “Look at that pillar. If he is everywhere, then he might be within that pillar, no??? I’m dying. What a fool you are!!!!”
“Mark my word, if he is there, then he might protect you, and if not I will chop you with my sword, will be very glad to see the back of”. Then he rushes to the pillar and strikes the pillar with his weapon. At a glance, a voice of thunder came out of that bricked post. The next scene provided goosebumps, as out of the blue, chipping off the strong construction, came out a fierce form, making the blood run cold- a human shape with the head and limbs of the lion, the Narasimha or half-animal and half-human incarnation of Vishnu, inducing a sudden abrupt attack on the unprepared Ausra kingdom!
The haphazard made all the men standing behind the king terrorized and in no time they made a quick exit in fear of life. In a flash, a strong fight took place between the king and the protector of Devas. Narasimhadeva pulled the body of the demon ruler on his lap, and like a savage tore apart the chest of the demon gutted through his claws till the king could breathe his last.
Meanwhile, all the Devas came out and started praising Vishnu. In the heat of the moment, Prahlada himself surrendered in his Lord’s feet. This made Narasimha gradually diminish his anger.
Standing in front of his master, Prahlada was chuffed and thrilled with rage. He spoke with full emotions, “I have seen your face, I have nothing more to wish. I don’t want any blessing, neither materialistic nor spiritual”.
“Then wish anything else”, Vishnu said.
“As you please, and then promise me that I can always love you. Ensure that as you are on the hook there should not be any gap in my devotion for you”, the devotee solicited.
The God was blown away by the response. He declared,
“Can say that again, this is true- that those who love me they never want anything else more. Hence, I am declaring, from now till death, my blessings will look after you, Oh the apple of my eye! Resting assured on me, continue doing your duties. After your death, you will definitely reach me”.
There is a mild indication of the transition of the region of the Indian subcontinent from Chalcolithic to Iron Age in the story- in the mentioning of the claws of the sustainer who came down to earth, to be the time of using iron weapons. Some scholars have also claimed that the above narration shows finding the use for higher intellect or assassinate with cunningness( instead of muscle power that was used by Vishnu, in taking the life of Hiranayksha, the elder brother of Hiranyakashipu) by the Indians to throw away the brutal outdated political oppressors of that time and establish peace and further prosperity- like pay Hiranyakashipu for his deeds in neither during day nor night, neither outside the home nor inside, neither through weapons that are dry nor wet, neither in the land nor sky and neither by human or animal. Moreover, there is a popular notion among various scholars that the episode also relates to the recalling of ancient mind in the fact that when life sustained through half-men and half animal manifesto… and the extraordinary incarnation denotes a specific stage of gradual and natural course of in the path of human evolution.
Rabindranath Tagorementioned that we claim those pieces of literature to be the greatest that makes sentiments of the readers unputdownable in front of its own emotions shaped by the words and structure. The art of language, ending up the truth in front of its readers- is at many times also unknown by its creator. Here, the poet points to the character of Prahlada. Tagore further writes that the people and community who have shaped the character of Prahlada denote the fact that they themselves have never surrendered their self-thinking, independence of soul to oppression. These outrages are happening every day, everywhere and at many times with us. Nonetheless, they have not measured this while judging the ultimate truth of human beings. What that must be true for the advanced human personality, has remained the ultimate reality for them not that is happening always- which was just a mere appearance or shadow for them. The time when this literature was composed, the value of heroic perseverance have reached to what extent- can be easily identified from the story!
The events definitely make no sense in the story if measured from scientific and rational point of view. These are based totally on emotion and devotion of the mind shaping the ultimate morals. Nevertheless, the aforementioned four terms at the back-end in constructing the ideals of these stories have helped Indians, along with its mind and philosophies to progress further- reflecting the thinking in every aspects of Hindu way of life- from spiritual to societal, political, literary, and cultural till revolutionary level at every age!
1. Upanishadabali (Bengali): By Sri Aurobindo
2. Stories for Children: Swami Vivekananda, Retold by Irene R. Ray
3. Banglavashaparichay (Bengali): by Rabindranath Tagore
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