This story is compiled from original parts of Shreemad Bhagavatam and commentaries of Paramahamsa Vishwananda on this scripture.

Story begins with the curse of four Kumaras, sons of Lord Brahma. These four sons of Brahma had come to visit the Lord in His abode. It is important to remember that they are ever free, and aren’t bound by any limitation; they are free souls. As they were passing by Vaikunta they said, “Let’s go and offer our obeisances to Lord Maha Vishnu.” So with great enthusiasm they walked through all the seven gates leading to Vaikunta.

These sages are the first sons created by Brahma. However, even if they were older than all the other sons of Brahma like Marichi, these four Kumaras always looked like little boys who were only five or six years old. They walked naked towards Maha Vishnu, Narayana.

When they arrived at the gate, before entering Vaikunta, there were two guards by the names of Jaya and Vijaya standing there, guarding the gate. When the gatekeepers saw the four Kumaras trying to enter Vaikunta Loka, they thought they were just ordinary boys, who were not dressed properly. So, they stopped them saying, “Where are you going like this?”

Upon seeing these ‘children’ at the gate of Vaikunta, the gatekeepers Jaya and Vijaya tried to stop them. At that moment, the four sages got offended and became very angry. Here, you see that even if they had been created by Brahma as His first sons, yet they still had their individuality, they still had the mind, they still would see what is ‘good’ and what is ‘not good’. So out of anger they say to the two gatekeepers, “You don’t know who we are! You are foolish due to your passion and ignorance.” Jaya and Vijaya here symbolise these two qualities: passion and ignorance.

The sages continue, “You are proud of yourselves and due to your pride you could not recognise us. So we curse you! You are not fit to stand at the gate of Narayana if you are ignorant, arrogant, and have the quality of passion. What are you doing here? This place is only for souls who are free. With these qualities of pride and arrogance, you should be born in the world, not just as humans, but as demons. As these are the qualities of a demon, so be born as demons!”

So at that moment, Jaya and Vijaya realised their mistake. They were filled with remorse, and fell down at the feet of the sages to seek their forgiveness. Now, the sages say, “We can’t do anything. A curse is a curse. Once it is spoken out, we can’t take back what we have said.”

But upon seeing that they were sincerely regretting, the sages calmed down and said, “Well, let’s see what the Lord wants.” Thus, they all went to Maha Vishnu. The Lord smiled, knowing that His gatekeepers had made a mistake. He says, “Listen, I see that you truly regret what you’ve done, but a curse is a curse. They have already put a curse on you, but they can also give you a blessing. So I will tell you what can be done. I give you a choice: you can be born on Earth as my dearest devotee in a Brahmin family. There, you can pray to Me night and day, sing My glory, but you will have to take ten lives on Earth.” Jaya and Vijaya say immediately, “Ten births on Earth?! That’s a lot!” Then Bhagavan says, “As the sages have cursed you to be born as demons, you can be born three times on Earth as My enemies. But each time you take birth, I will come and kill you. I’ll come on Earth and release you from that birth.”

Here, you see how Bhagavan planned everything! That’s His Master plan. For Him to incarnate, He made the Kumaras come and curse His doorkeepers. It’s wonderful to see how He is fully in charge of everything. He has everything under control. However, here He is even pretending saying, “Okay, fine, you have been cursed. Now, it’s done. So let’s make a deal. Either you are born as My devotees for ten lives…” He knows that a bhakta who is surrendered to Him will never agree to be far away from Him. Who in that position would love to be far away? No one. If you are next to God, you don’t want to lose that position and be far away from Him. It’s easier to have three lives as demons, and have also the Grace that the Lord Himself will come to free you from that birth. It’s amazing! With a heavy heart, Vijaya and Jaya answer, “In that way, it’s better to have three lives as Your enemy than ten lives as Your devotee.” So Jaya and Vijaya descended on Earth.

Jaya and Vijaya were born as Hiranyaksha i Hiranyakashipu. In order to kill them (and liberate), Lord has incarnated in the form of Varaha and Narasimha…

***
We have just heard how Bhagavan Himself gave a blessing to His devotees, who were cursed to incarnate as demons on Earth. In His devotee’s heart, there is a love for Him, there is longing for Him. So how can God be angry with His devotee? He can’t, because under the disguise of a demon there was His devotee. Here you can see clearly that God doesn’t hate anybody. The rest is just a drama, an enactment. He had promised to Jaya and Vijaya, “I shall free you.” The Lord has to act in a certain way, but He doesn’t hate them nor condemn them.

Jaya and Vijaya were born as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyaksha was killed by Varaha Avatar, the boar Avatar. When Hiranyakashipu heard that his brother had been killed by Maha Vishnu, he was furious. His enmity towards Maha Vishnu knew no bounds. He said “How dare He kill my brother?!” So he promised to take revenge on Maha Vishnu.

The story is told of Hiranyakashipu:

“Hiranyakashipu was extremely wounded by the news that Hiranyaksha had been killed by Varaha Avatar. So, he consoled his family members by telling them all about the great philosophy, which deals with the nature of the Self and the Atma. However, despite all his knowledge, he was still seeking revenge. He knew that by his own strength, he would not be able to conquer Narayana with all His power, with all His glory, with all His might. Therefore, he went to Mount Mandara, and there he resolved to do severe penance and intense tapas to win the favour of Lord Brahma. He stood there on one leg, on the tips of his toes, with his hands raised up to the sky and his mind fixed on Brahma.”

Even if Hiranyakashipu was very angry, when he was talking to his assembled family, he was wise. He said, “Don’t cry for Hiranyaksha as his soul is immortal. The body will rot and decay, but this body is not the true reality.” He knew about this knowledge, he was wise, but he was overtaken by grief. One can be very wise, but if one can be offended by just a single word, one forgets all their wisdom. Like I said earlier, if you are sitting here very comfortably listening to the Bhagavatam and somebody just hits you a little bit, or sits a little bit too close to you, what would you do? Or if someone tells you that you are fool, that you are stupid, just one single word, ‘fool’, ‘stupid’, and you automatically would get frustrated or angry saying, “Don’t touch me! Go away!” You would forget very quickly, all the nice words that we are talking about right now, wouldn’t you? All that you have heard about here, it would disappear automatically. In the same way, Hiranyakashipu did know deep inside of him why his brother had died, but nevertheless he was angry, crying, wailing, and screaming. So he took a vow saying, “I will take my revenge on Maha Vishnu.”

“Hiranyakashipu stood there on Mount Mandara, and with great determination fixed his mind on Lord Brahma. And so, years and years passed by. Time moved on. Then, anthills began to grow all over Hiranyakashipu’s body, because he didn’t move from where he stood. He managed to transfer all his pranic energy into his bones, while his flesh was being eaten up by all the worms and insects. Eventually, smoke started pouring from his head out into the atmosphere. As the sheer vibration of his tapas began to shake the Earth, the heavens and all the stars began to dart around in a mad frenzy, and the oceans began to get wild and turbulent. There were earthquakes everywhere. Indra, up in his loka, began to get insecure, as he always does. He began to fear the power of Hiranyakashipu and what he was doing with his tapas. So, Indra and all demigods ran to Lord Brahma and appealed to Him to shake Hiranyakashipu out of his austerities and grant him whatever he wished. But they also cautioned Him saying that if he was looking for immortality, that’s because he wanted to defeat Narayana.

Lord Brahma came to meet Hiranyakashipu and saw him completely covered by the anthills. So He got some water from His kamandalu and threw it over the anthills, which covered the body of Hiranyakashipu. As soon as He did that, Hiranyakashipu emerged fresh, full of luster, and radiance. Hiranyakashipu had tears in his eyes when he saw Lord Brahma. He bowed down before him praising him, glorifying him. Then, Lord Brahma asked him why was he doing such intense tapas. Hiranyakashipu answered immediately saying that he wanted immortality. He wanted to be indestructible, to live forever. However, Brahma reminded him that all creation is subjected to the Will of Narayana, and nothing in this creation is immortal. Only the Lord lives forever. Upon hearing Brahma talking like this, Hiranyakashipu was dejected. Then, Lord Brahma said to him, “But if you name the things that you wish to be immune from, then I can bless you that death does not touch you through those things.”

Hiranyakashipu, thinking very quickly on his feet, said, “Lord Brahma, please grant me that death does not touch me during the day or during the night, by any animal or any man; that I cannot be killed inside or outside; that I cannot be killed on the earth or in the sky; by any weapons or anything created by you.” He also asked Brahma to grant him all power, all wealth, and all sovereignty over all the three worlds.

Lord Brahma without hesitation blessed him with this boon. As soon as Hiranyakashipu had received this boon, he thought of himself as invincible, he thought that he had outwitted Narayana, that there was no chance of Narayana ever destroying him. Thus, he kicked out the devas from heavens, took over the throne of Indra and ruled the entire Cosmos. All the demigods, the Sun-god, Varuna, Agni, everyone was dancing to Hiranyakashipu’s orders. All the rishis, everybody was scared to even worship Narayana. Hiranyakashipu stopped any worship dedicated to Narayana and made everybody worship himself instead. He had temples built and his images were installed there. Everyone was chanting his name and glorifying him.

***

Hiranyakashipu was a great demon, yet his son Prahlad was a great bhakta of the Lord. Why was such a great bhakta born to a great demon? So here again you see both, the ‘good’ one and the ‘bad’ one. However, for Bhagavan both are equal, because both are bhaktas, whether it is Hiranyakashipu or Prahlad, his son. They were both great devotees of Bhagavan. Here, you have to understand that they must be very great devotees of Bhagavan for the Lord Himself to come on Earth for their sake. Like Ajamila, who just by calling one time ‘Narayana’, made Bhagavan send His servants to take his soul to Heaven. Ajamila had been for sure a great devotee of the Lord, otherwise why should He send His servants to come and get the soul of a sinner? So here again you see this duality, ‘good’ and ‘bad’. But, God is above that.

The story is told of Prahlad:


“When Hiranyakashipu was on the mountain performing his penance for years, Indra and all the devas saw this as an opportunity to take hold and destroy the asuras. So, they entered Hiranyakashipu’s palace and began ransacking the whole palace and destroying everything. Then, Indra caught Hiranyakashipu’s wife, Kayadhu, and was about to take her away. At that moment, Sage Narada appeared on a scene and told Indra to leave her alone. Indra appealed to him saying, “She is Hiranyakashipu’s wife and she is bearing a child who will threaten our whole race.” But Narada revealed to him that Hiranyakashipu’s child was not an ordinary child. He was going to be a great devotee of Narayana, who would cause no harm to the devas.
 
Thus, with the blessings of Narada, Indra left Kayadhu alone. Then, Narada took Kayadhu to his ashram. There he took care of her while Hiranyakashipu was performing his severe penance. Every day, Narada would tell Kayadhu the glories of Narayana, the importance of Bhakti Yoga, the idea of surrender. Constantly, every day, he would repeat again and again the glories of Narayana. Meanwhile, the unborn child of Kayadhu was absorbing everything that Narada was saying. All the wisdom, all the devotion that Narada was expounding, entered the mind and heart of Prahlad while he was still in the womb of Kayadhu. As a result of that when Prahlad was born he was naturally surrendered, he was naturally a pure devotee.”

Here, it’s important to note that when a woman is pregnant, the child inside can hear everything. So, the outer qualities of the mother affect the child. For instance, if the mother likes to listen to a certain type of music, when the child is born, the child also likes that kind of music. That’s what the child was filled with while in the mother’s womb, so he or she would grow with that same quality. So when women are pregnant it is very important to stimulate good qualities, to do good things, so that during the pregnancy the child can also develop good qualities.


“As was the custom in those days, Prahlad was sent to the Gurukul, where they would receive the teachings. But of course, the syllabuses were very different when Hiranyakashipu was in charge. Everything was about glorifying him. Everything was about dedication to Hiranyakashipu.
 
Once, after Prahlad had come back from his Gurukul, Hiranyakashipu asked Prahlad to tell him everything that he had learned. Hiranyakashipu was very excited, and filled with anticipation of what his son was going to say to glorify him. However, when Prahlad Maharaj sat on Hiranyakashipu’s lap, instead of talking about Hiranyakashipu, he began telling his father about the uselessness of being attached to the world, and about the stupidity of having this ‘I’ and ‘mine’, believing that one is the doer. He began saying that the only thing that’s really worthwhile is to surrender to the Feet of Narayana and take the feet of his devotees.
 
As soon as Hiranyakashipu heard Prahlad saying such things, he was incensed, filled with fury. But then he reflected on it and thought that Prahlad was just an innocent child, and that he must have been contaminated by some devotees of Narayana, who were wandering around incognito. So, he told the teachers of Prahlad, Shanda and Amarka, to take care of Prahlad, and watch him carefully and brainwash him; to fill him with all the asuric qualities that he loved. So, Prahlad went back to the Gurukul and after some time the same episode happened again. Hiranyakashipu called Prahlad again filled with his high expectations, expecting his son to talk about his glories, his greatness, and his nature full of negative qualities. But instead, Prahlad uttered the only truth that he knew from his own heart, and once more he began to glorify Narayana. Furthermore, he began to talk about the nine forms of Bhakti. Hiranyakashipu looked at the teachers, Shanda and Amarka, but they hung their heads, pleading with him to not destroy them. They denied that they had any responsibility. They didn’t understand why Prahlad had these qualities, and why he was saying what he was saying.
 
At that moment, Hiranyakashipu realised that Prahlad was like a cancer. If he carried on in this way, in the kingdom, unchecked, then eventually other people would start to follow his example. So, Hiranyakashipu decided that his five-year-old son Prahlad had to be destroyed before things got out of hand. So, he ordered his guards to come and kill him right there and then. The guards immediately began trying to kill him. They pierced him with their swords and daggers, but Prahlad was unfazed, calm and peaceful at all times. Hiranyakashipu was astounded by witnessing these miracles. Afterwards, he tried to kill Prahlad in many other ways. He threw him off a cliff, put him in a pit of snakes, and tried to have him trampled by elephants. But each time, Prahlad emerged completely unscathed. Each time, he was not affected even mentally. So, Hiranyakashipu was baffled, but the teachers of Prahlad told him, “Just give us one more chance. We think that if you leave him with us just a little bit longer, we can change him.”
 
Therefore, once again Prahlad went to the Gurukul with Shanda and Amarka. They tried their best again and again and again to break his mind, and infiltrate his mind with the asuric teachings. Then, one day when they had left for just a short time, Prahlad seized the opportunity, and instead of talking about Hiranyakashipu, he began again talking about the glories of Narayana to the other students. They began singing His glories, doing kirtan and dancing around in ecstasy. At this point, Shanda and Amarka returned and they were completely lost. They realised that Prahlad was beyond hope, beyond any opportunity of being brought back to Hiranyakashipu’s way.

Now, Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s sister, also tried to kill Prahlad. She had a shawl that she had received as a blessing from Brahma. Whenever she would wear the shawl, fire couldn’t harm her. This auntie of Prahlad, said to her brother Hiranyakashipu, “Build a fire pyre, and I will take Prahlad into the fire with me. I will wear my shawl so that I won’t get burned, but he will die in the fire.” So Hiranyakashipu accepted. His sister Holika took Prahlad in her lap, put the shawl on her, but poor Prahlad was not covered under the shawl. The fire was lit and as the fire rose, the shawl overturned and covered Prahlad. Then, she started burning and screamed, “Brahma, you have cheated me!” At that moment, Brahma’s voice could be heard saying, “No, I didn’t cheat you. You are bearing the consequences of your mistake. This shawl was given to you to protect yourself, not to harm others. But you decided to use this blessing to harm others. And here it’s even more serious because you are harming a devotee of the Lord.” That’s why Prahlad was protected.

When Hiranyakashipu heard that his sister was also dead, he became even more furious. First, his elder brother was killed, now his sister was burned. So he was determined to kill Prahlad, and demanded that Prahlad be brought in front of him.

“Hiranyakashipu tried again to reason with Prahlad and push him. He told him, “Don’t you understand that I am the ultimate? Don’t you understand that there is nothing higher than me? Can’t you see my power when everybody in the whole world is bowing down to me? Then, how can you, my own son, be praising my arch enemy?” But again, Prahlad was unfazed. He told his father, “Now, you still have a chance to turn your attention to Narayana, even after everything you’ve done.” And of course, this was the worst thing he could have said to Hiranyakashipu. So, Hiranyakashipu asked him where was that Narayana he kept praising. Prahlad said, “He is everywhere.” Then, Hiranyakashipu asked, “Is He in this pillar?” His eyes fell on the pillar. And, of course, Prahlad replied, “He is.”

***

“At that moment, Hiranyakashipu struck the pillar with his fist intensely hard. And as soon as he did this, a huge thunderclap sounded throughout the whole palace and throughout the whole world. The ground began to shake and out of the pillar emerged a terrifying form. The face was that of a lion and the body was that of a man. Here, the Lord had manifested Himself as Narasimha Avatar. He was shining like molten gold, radiant, glowing. He was roaring ferociously, terrifyingly. His teeth were gnashing together and He began shaking His head wildly from side to side.

Despite witnessing the glory of the Lord in the form of Narasimha, Hiranyakashipu wasn’t filled with fear. He collected his thoughts, grabbed his sword and his shield, and then launched an attack on Narasimha. Like that, they began to fight a duel. In no time at all, Lord Narasimha grabbed Hiranyakashipu in a headlock and dragged him to the threshold of the building. In his mind, Hiranyakashipu was remembering all those years he had spent on Mount Mandara, where Brahma had given him that special boon he had asked. He looked at the form of Lord Narasimha and realised that He was neither a man nor a beast. As he was being dragged to the threshold of the building, he realised that it was neither inside nor outside the building. Then, he looked at the sky and noticed that the sky was beginning to darken. At that point, he realised that it was the twilight hour, so neither day nor night. A merciless Lord Narasimha grabbed Hiranyakashipu, slapped him down in His lap and plunged His nails deep into the abdomen of Hiranyakashipu, ripping his body apart. Blood was pouring everywhere. All his entrails were pouring out of Hiranyakashipu’s body, which was completely slaughtered.

By now, all the gods, the celestial beings, the devas, everybody had gathered to witness this amazing form of Lord Narasimha, this unique form of Narayana. But after killing Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha was filled with even more rage. He was roaring wildly. And again Lord Brahma began to get anxious, because the whole cosmos was shaking, and the entire creation was under threat. If this form of Lord continued to be there, then everything would be annihilated. So they began to praise Lord Narasimha, singing His glories, praying to Him, and trying to calm Him down. However, everybody was too scared to approach Him.

Lord Brahma appealed to Maha Lakshmi, Lord Narasimha’s Divine consort, thinking She would surely be able to calm Him down. But even She paled with fright and dared not to go near Him. Then, Lord Brahma looked around and there he saw the small innocent form of the five-year-old Prahlad, who was crying with the joy of having the Darshan of Lord Narasimha. He appealed to Prahlad saying, “The Lord has come for your protection, due to your devotion. You are our only hope. You have to calm Him down! You have to appease Him!” When Prahlad heard Lord Brahma’s request, all the devas, all the celestial beings parted aside and allowed Prahlad a straight line to walk up to the throne where Lord Narasimha was. At that moment, Prahlad began singing hymns and prayers dedicated to Lord Narayana. As he was approaching closer and closer, Lord Narasimha began to calm down. Then, He turned from this awesome terrifying form of Ugra Narasimha to Shanta Narasimha, the peaceful and calm form of Lord Narasimha. Finally, Prahlad Maharaj sat in Lord Narasimha’s lap. All of the chaos and the terrible scene began to calm down, and Lord Narasimha began to bless Prahlad. He began to lick Him and to offer him boons. He blessed Prahlad so that his future lines would be devotees, and would be always blessed with the Grace of Narayana. Upon seeing this scene, eventually Maha Lakshmi approached Lord Narasimha and sat by His side. Then, from Prahlad Narasimha’s form, He became Lakshmi Narasimha. Finally, after blessing everybody with His final Darshan, Lord Narayana in the form of Narasimha Avatar, disappeared. “

Here in this story of Prahlad Maharaj and Narasimha Avatar, you can also see how Bhagavan manifests Himself for the sake of His devotees. First, He manifested Himself for the sake of Hiranyakashipu, in order to free him. And then, He utilised the child of Hiranyakashipu. So what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’? For Bhagavan there is no ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. From ‘bad’ He makes ‘good’, and from ‘good’ He makes ‘bad’. Like this, God is not conditioned by the mind, He is not conditioned by Maya. He utilises Maya and takes a form. But what can attract Him? Only the love and devotion of His devotee.

Here ends the story of Narasimha – Avatar of the Lord.

Additional comments of Paramahamsa Vishwananda on the story of Narasimha

Lord Narasimha will appear terrifying to those who have negative qualities inside of them. But for those who have Love inside of them, He is the sweetest one. Nobody could stop Lord Narasimha apart from Prahlad. Not even Maha Lakshmi. It’s not that Maha Lakshmi doesn’t love Him, but She has a different relationship to Narayana. She is His consort, His wife. And the wife’s bhav towards the husband is different. Whereas the greatness of the bhaktas, of the servants, is that they would do anything to please their Master.

Therefore, Prahlad is a great example of devotion. Here, Bhagavan Himself incarnates as Prahlad to show the power of devotion and the power of surrender. And He shows that if one has this Love, He will eternally be at the mercy of that devotee. But the devotee must be His eternal servant.

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