Conflict of Devotion and Cruelty

As soon as Prahlada Rajaru saw Hiranyakashipu, the king of demons and his father, he respectfully bowed down with folded hands. Seeing this, Hiranyakashipu was overjoyed, caressed his son lovingly, embraced him, blessed him with happiness, and said, 'My child, your teachers must have taught you many things during this time. Tell me, Prahlada, what is the best thing you have learned?'

Prahlada, following his father's command and with joy, began to speak.

Prahlada: 'Hearing about Lord Vishnu's glories, singing the names and virtues of Sri Hari, contemplating them, serving Lord Vishnu and His devotees, worshipping the Supreme Being with Tulsi leaves and flowers, repeatedly bowing down to Sri Hari or reciting stotras, feeling oneself as a servant of Sri Hari, devotion to Him with utmost trust, believing that the Lord is the controller within us and the liberated souls - this nine-fold devotion, which arises from the study of scriptures, is the best form of learning and the true path to knowledge.'

Hearing Prahlada's words, Hiranyakashipu became extremely angry. Trembling with rage, he glared at Acharya Shanda and scolded him harshly, 'You lowly Brahman! My son has taken refuge in the enemy Vishnu's side because of your teachings. You have disregarded my orders and taught my son worthless things! I used to respect you as a guru's son, but now I see you are but a disguised enemy. Like a disease that arises from past sins, the treachery of enemies becomes evident in time. You, who act arrogantly without discernment of right and wrong, deserve punishment!'

Shanda Acharya, undisturbed by the king's harsh words, replied, 'O great demon king, it's not my teachings that have corrupted your son's mind. This is his natural inclination. Your anger is misplaced. If I were a disguised enemy, could I be a knower of Brahman? Do not be angry and blame me unjustly.'

Then Hiranyakashipu looked at Prahlada and asked, "Prahlada! It seems from the words of your teachers that your intelligence has not been corrupted by their teachings. Then, how did you come to possess such misguided thoughts?"

Prahlada replied, "Father, my intellect is not corrupted; it is your intellect that is wicked. One does not need self or external efforts to revel in the mind of Hari, the Lord. How is it possible for devotees of the demon clan, like you, who are always immersed in sensual pleasures and who are proud of ruling over their family including wives and children, to develop devotion to Sri Krishna? To achieve eternal happiness, one must serve the righteous, including wise men, householders with a sense of detachment, ascetics, and devotees of the Lord. Without this, it is impossible to attain Moksha, the ultimate goal of life, from the grace of Sri Hari, the Supreme Being.

Hiranyakashipu summoned his loyal demons, including Karala and Durmukha, and ordered, "O warriors of the demon clan, this wicked boy has become a devotee of Hari, the enemy of our race. He must not live. Use this serpent rope to bind him and throw him into the sea."

The extremely cruel demon Karala bound Prahlada with the serpent rope, carried him to the seashore, and threw him into the roaring sea before returning to the capital.

Then a miraculous event occurred! As Prahlada was falling into the sea, Varuna, the god of the waters, swiftly rose from the ocean and caught Prahlada in his arms, laying him gently on the sandy shore to tend to him. At the same time, Garuda, illuminated by the sky, appeared and removed the serpent rope binding Prahlada, saying, "O noble devotee! I have freed you from this serpent rope, as protecting the beloved of my Lord is my duty. Your courage and devotion to Hari, even as a child, are commendable. May you be blessed, Kumar! Victory to Sri Hari!" Garuda then disappeared. Varuna returned with priceless gems and revived Prahlada from his meditation.

Startled, Prahlada asked, "Where am I? Who are you, sir?" seeing Varuna.

Varuna, the god of the sea, replied, "O jewel among devotees, I am Varuna. Karala, the demon, placed you in my domain bound by the serpent rope. I brought you here, and Garuda has freed you. O Child, these gems I offer are rare even for your father. Your touch has purified me."

Prahlada, filled with wonder and joy, said, "I am blessed by your presence, O worthy one! Ah, my Lord rests in you! You are so fortunate! God, by being in your constant presence, my Lord has sanctified you, making my life meaningful. Please accept the salutations of a child and bless me.

Varuna embraced Prahlada and said, "Kumar! May your devotion to Hari remain steadfast! Prahlada, may you be blessed," and then he disappeared.

Overwhelmed with joy, Prahlada exclaimed, "O Lord, Supreme Being of the ancient texts! Is there any limit to Your mercy that saved me from the jaws of death?" He then praised the Lord, singing in the Hindustani Bhairavi rag, Adi taal: "Govardhan Giridhari Murari, the one who lifts mountains and is the enemy of Mura. Adorned with makara earrings, garlands, and crowns, bearing a conch, disc, and yellow garments."

Even after being thrown into the sea and escaping death and snake bonds, Prahlada's miraculous survival astounded and angered Hiranyakashipu. The demon king again ordered Karala and Durmukha to execute Prahalada by snake bite. They took Prahalada to a deserted place for the deed, but suddenly a Garuda bird swooped down, seized a snake, and flew away, thwarting their plan. They returned Prahalada to the palace, where he continued praising the Lord.

How can Prahlada, a devout devotee in solitude, think of you as the supreme ruler of the world? Your belief that you can protect the demon clan by destroying Prahlada, a boy with a corrupted mind, is like cutting off a body part to save the rest of the body from its disease. It's no wonder that all attempts by the demons to harm Prahlada, who was immersed in meditation on the lotus feet of the invisible, virtuous, supreme Sri Hari, were futile. The grace of Sri Hari, the protector of the entire world, rendered the demons' efforts useless.

Seeing that the demons' attempt to kill Prahlada as per his command was in vain, Hiranyakashipu became fearful. He thought that if Prahlada was not eliminated immediately, he might pose a danger in the future. Determined to find any means to destroy Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu became even more eager to end the conflict of devotion and cruelty.

In the inner chambers, Queen Kayadhu was anxious. Hiranyakashipu recounted Prahlada's defiance, his disregard for the king's orders, his devotion to Hari, the punishments he had meted out, and how Prahalada miraculously survived them all. Worried about the conflict between father and son, Kayadhu pleaded, "Lord, Prahlada is just a child. It's natural for children to be stubborn. I will correct him, please be at ease."

Hiranyakashipu laughed, "Queen, there's no need to worry now. That traitor has been sent to be pushed off a cliff by Ashtavakra. By now, that bane of the demon race should be dead, and I eagerly await that joyful news."

Hearing this, Kayadhu became terrified and fainted, crying, "My dear son Prahlada! Did I bear you just to see you die an untimely death? How will I live without you?" She was consoled by Hiranyakashipu, who reminded her of a saying: "For the good of the clan, one must forsake even a son who could be harmful." He had sacrificed Prahlada for the betterment of their race.

Reviving, Kayadhu cried, "How can I live without my son? I feel a ray of hope in my heart. A mother's intuition can't be false. Oh Supreme Being, save my dear Prahlada!" She prayed while chanting Sri Hari's name, and at that moment, Prahlada returned with Ashtavakra.

Seeing her son Prahlada, Kayadhu rushed towards him with overwhelming joy and embraced him, saying, "My child, Prahlada! Are you well?" Overcome with emotion, Prahlada hugged his mother and said, "Mother, by your blessings and Sri Hari's grace, I am well."

Hiranyakashipu, witnessing Prahlada alive, stood dumbfounded, thinking in astonishment and anger, "What a surprise, he has come back to life again! Despite my triumph over the three worlds, I can't defeat this child." Fuming, he scorned, "Oh traitor! You're still alive?" Glaring at Ashtavakra, he demanded, "You traitor to your master! How did Prahlada survive? Didn't you obey my command?"

Trembling with fear, Ashtavakra replied, "O great lord, forgive this servant. O provider, as per your command, I pushed the prince off the high cliff. Prahlada fell while meditating on Hari. Curious about what happened, I went to the bottom of the hill. To my astonishment, Prahlada was joyfully singing and dancing! I couldn't believe my eyes and came back with him to report."

Hiranyakashipu, puzzled, watched the mother and son embrace each other with love, his eyes widening in disbelief.

Kayadhu, touching her son with affection, said, "Ah, my son is alive! Prahlada, you fell from the great mountain peak and are unharmed?"

Prahlada responded, "Mother, how can anything happen to me when the Lord Jagadish is protecting me?"

Kayadhu, filled with joy, said, "True, my child! The Lord is always protecting you. I now remember the blessing given by the great Narada Maharshi at his ashram. You're fortunate, my son! How did you survive?"

Prahlada recounted, "Mother, while meditating on Sri Hari, Ashtavakra pushed me off the cliff. As I fell, a radiant and beautifully adorned goddess caught me in her lap, gently placed me on the ground, touched my head, and said, 'Child Prahlada, I am Bhudevi! I will always protect you, the beloved of my husband. Be blessed.' She then vanished! Oh, that moment, mother, I thought of you and rushed back."

Tears of joy welled up in Kayadhu's eyes. Embracing her son tightly, she was overwhelmed with emotion. Hearing Prahlada mention 'Bhudevi,' Hiranyakashipu gritted his teeth, furious that the very deity responsible for his brother's death had saved his son.

Prahlada explained, "Yes, father, that compassionate Bhudevi was my savior. Don't call that noble being a sinner."

Hiranyakashipu, in mixed astonishment and sorrow, exclaimed, "Incredible! Prahlada, Bhudevi, the cause of my brother's death, saved you and defeated me! Alas, everything is turning upside down!"

Kayadhu, folding her hands, said, "Ah, Bhudevi! Your name 'Kshama' (forgiveness) truly became meaningful today. A mother understands another mother's heart. Divine Mother Earth, I bow to you for saving my son."

Prahlada added, "Father, as mother said, Bhudevi, known for her forgiveness, never harbors hatred. People suffering the consequences of their actions, good or bad, must endure them - 'Avasyam anubhoktavyam kritam karma shubhashubham.' Father, can't you now recognize the glory of Sri Hari and let go of your hatred towards him?

Hiranyakashipu, in disgust and frustration, thought to himself, "Alas, what a cruel fate to have brought such a dilemma upon me! Why did I sow the seeds of devotion to Hari in the pure and tender heart of this dear boy, causing him to be madly devoted to God, and bring a wildfire into our sweet family life in the Nandanavana? How can I endure this torment? Should I forsake the welfare of the demon race to love this son of mine, or should I reject this wicked boy who has become an admirer and chanter of our enemy's praises for the benefit of our race? What should I do now?" With these thoughts, he left for the royal assembly.

Day by day, Prahlada's devotion to the Supreme Lord grew, increasing Hiranyakashipu's anxiety. Despite trying all methods - conciliation, bribery, sowing discord, and punishment - to bring Prahlada back to their ways, he failed. His hatred for Prahlada, for being a devotee of Hari, intensified. He tried repeatedly to force Prahlada to follow the ways of the demon race, but Prahlada remained firm in his devotion, intent on enlightening his father.

Enraged, Hiranyakashipu began to inflict various tortures on his son. When he released wild elephants to trample Prahlada, they lifted their trunks in salutation and fled. Attempts with other infuriated elephants resulted in their tusks breaking as they too ran away in terror. Then, the demons threw Prahlada into a burning fire, which turned cool and soothing like a fragrant bath for him. Weapons used to harm him broke themselves. The demon warriors dropped huge rocks and boulders on him, which turned into a shower of flowers upon touching Prahlada. Hiranyakashipu then bound Prahlada's hands and feet and cast him into a dark pit without food or water. Would the Lord, who provides sustenance to all beings at all times, neglect the welfare of His devoted Prahlada? Prahlada felt hunger.

Prahlada felt as if he had eaten a sumptuous meal, despite only having water to drink. His satisfaction was granted by divine grace.

All attempts by the demon king to kill Prahlada were futile. Prahlada remained joyous and radiant as ever. "What worries could the conqueror of the three worlds possibly have? Children's minds are fickle and will change in time," thought Shanda and Amarka, who approached King Hiranyakashipu privately. They advised, "O King of Demons, it's alright. Children lack judgment at this age. Over time, with the right strategies, his mindset could change. For now, keep him under confinement until the revered Sage Shukracharya arrives. Let him be taught by the sage, and he will eventually follow our path."

Agreeing with the counsel of Shanda and Amarka, Hiranyakashipu said, "Honorable ones, let it be so. Keep Prahlada confined and teach him about kingship, household duties, and our ancestral traditions." Accordingly, they taught Prahlada about dharma (duty), artha (wealth), and kama (desire) - things that aid in worldly life but tend to increase attachment and aversion. Knowing this, Prahlada ignored these teachings.