Hiranyakasipu and Hiranyaksha were asuras born to Diti and Kashyap. Hiranyayaksha and Hiranyakasipu hated Lord Vishnu and wanted to make sure nobody ever worshiped the Lord. Hiranyaksha went so far as to even throw the earth off its axis, so that none of the people on earth would ever worship the Dark Lord. Lord Vishnu incarnated as Varaha [the boar] to protect the earth and killed Hiranyaksha.
After the death of Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakasipu was so furious with Lord Vishnu that he went on a rampage destroying all the people on the earth. However Hiranyakasipu was stopped by the Devas led by Indra.
Determined to defeat Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakasipu performed severe penance and obtained a boon from Lord Brahma which almost made him invincible. After Hiranyakasipu obtained the boon, the Devas were unable to stop him and Hiranyakasipu went on another reign of terror.
Hiranyakasipu and his wife Kayadu had a son named Prahlada. Prahlada was the perfect antithesis to his father. Where his father hurt people, Prahlada believed in loving and respecting his people. Prahlada was also a very staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. His devotion irked his father very much. In a fit of anger, Hiranyaksipu ordered the death of his son. The asura guards tried different methods to kill Prahlada, but every time Prahlada escaped without any harm.
Finally out of utter desperation and anger, Hiranyaksipu himself tried to kill Prahlada. Lord Vishnu incarnated as Narasimha and killed Hiranyaksipu to protect Prahlada.
After the death of Hiranyakasipu, Prahlada was made the king of the asuras, in the netherworld. Prahlada led his people well and the asuras soon were able to ignore their natural fighting tendencies and were able to focus their mind of devotion and be happy.
Later Prahlada extended his rule over the earth. His rule was a golden rule where peace and prosperity reigned. The people on earth were satisfied, happy and virtuous. The Devas in the heavens saw the earth in such peace and prosperity that Indra, the king of the Devas began to have jitters. Indra realized that no matter what he did, he could not match up to the statesmanship of Prahlada. Feeling inadequate, Indra himself relinquished his throne in favour of Prahlada.
Prahlada now ruled over the heavens, earth and the nether world and as usual peace and prosperity followed him in all the three regions.
Indra was however ashamed. He could not accept the fact that an asura was such a brilliant ruler and had made him feel so inconsequential. Wondering why he was not a good leader like Prahlada, Indra approached his teacher Brihaspati.
‘Sir! I…’ Indra sobbed. ‘I cannot believe it that that son of Hiranyakasipu overthrew me from my throne so easily!’
Brihaspati looked at him kindly, ‘Did he overthrow you, my son?’
Indra looked at Brihaspati sadly as he shook his head. ‘But….but…what could I do? He…he looked so powerful…he looked so…much…so much in control of himself. Just looking at him I knew, I could never stand up to him…So I gave my throne up to him!’
Brihaspati smiled. Indra was beginning to understand. ‘Yes! He has something inside him. He has something inside him, which you don’t. Think about what it is. Probably that will help you become as powerful as him.’
Indra looked at Brihaspati and did not speak for a long time. He knew his teacher had spoken the truth. He finally asked Brihaspati, ‘Sir! Tell me what it is that he has. Please!’
Brihaspati smiled again and shook his head. ‘I have taught you everything that I know.’ Indra’s shoulder slumped, when Brihaspati continued, ‘But, what don’t you go and ask Shukracharya? He is the teacher of all asuras and also the teacher of Prahlada. Probably he may be able to each you things that I could not!’
Indra went to Shukracharya and bowed before him, ‘Sir! There must be something really special about you! You have taught Prahlada something, which has made him even more powerful than me! Please tell me, what it is! I wish to practice the same and attain peace of mind!’
Shukracharya smiled. Though Indra and he had always been on opposite sides, he admired the fact that Indra had come to him and in all humility asked him about this. Besides he was teacher. He just could not turn away someone who had come to him seeking knowledge. He decided that he would impart the knowledge to Indra, whether Indra actually followed and practiced it, was Indra’s wish.
Shukracharya spoke, ‘It is his virtue! That is the reason, he is more powerful than you! He knows what virtue is and practices it daily, that is the reason he is more powerful than you! Though you know of it too, you have forgotten it!’
Indra frowned, ‘What is the nature of virtue?’
Shukracharya explained some more, but Indra still could not understand. Shukracharya said finally, ‘Indra! Why don’t you go to Prahlada himself? He knows this path well and will be able to guide you much better than I ever will!’
Indra was stunned. How would one go and ask one’s enemy the source of their power? ‘Sir! Why would Prahlada even tell me, how he is more powerful than me?’
Shukracharya smiled mysteriously, ‘That is his character! He will!’ Shukracharya said it with such a belief that Indra was stunned. As he bowed and walked out of the ashrama, however Indra was filled with doubts. Prahlada may not teach me, if I go to him as Indra….Probably if I go disguised as someone, he may be more open and I may learn more about his power….
Indra disguised himself as a rishi and went to his kingdom, Amarvathi which was now ruled by Prahlada.
Prahlada was busy with the administration of the three worlds, when a rishi walked inside his court. Prahlada was surprised. Though the man looked like a rishi, Prahlada could feel that the man was not what he seemed. Politely he asked the rishi whom he was.
‘I am a rishi, sir!’ The man said bowing low to him, ‘I have heard that you practice dharma and follow your virtues perfectly. I wish to know the nature of virtue, so that I may also be able to follow it!’
Prahlada looked at the rishi and his strange request. He thought for a while, ‘I am ruling the three worlds, sir! I am extremely busy and what you have asked me is no simple thing. I probably cannot devote too much time to teaching you.’
The rishi came forward with a desperate look on his face. ‘Please sir! I will stay with you and look after you! I will do everything you want me to do, but please teach me…Teach me whenever you have time. I will learn it. I will be a good student sir!’
Prahalda finally agreed and Indra became Prahlada’s student.
Slowly Indra won the favour of Prahlada. Prahlada started trusting Indra. Finally he explained to him the source of his power and prosperity. ‘It is my character, rishi! I have full control over my senses and my body and maintain my good behaviour under any and all circumstances. I never boast to others about how great I am. I obey my teachers and elders with my whole heart. It is my character, with which I won the three worlds!’
Suddenly listening to Prahlada, Indra felt like somebody had flicked a light in his head. He understood what Brihaspati and Shukracharya was trying to tell him. Character…character was all that mattered. When a man had a strong character and never went against it, he would…he would become exactly like Prahlada…
As Prahlada was talking he realized that the rishi had understood. He nodded pleased. ‘I am very happy with you rishi! You have learnt a difficult lesson in good time and have served me well, during this period! For this I wish to grant you a boon! Any boon that you seek!’
The rishi smiled at Prahlada and said quietly, ‘Give me your character, my king! That is the only boon I seek!’
Prahlada was aghast. The rishi was asking him the very thing which had made him. But he also realized that he was bound by his promise. He could not go back on it. He nodded his head. ‘Very well rishi, whoever you are, I gift you my character!’
The rishi bowed to Prahlada and walked away from there.
Prahlada was sitting alone and unhappy, brooding. He knew he had given away something which could never be measured, something very precious….As he sat, he felt a strong force leaving him. The light emanating from it was almost blinding. Prahlada asked the force as it was leaving him, ‘Who are you?’
A voice of a man with strong voice came back to him, ‘I am your character, your virtue! You gave me away to the rishi! So am I leaving you to go to him!’
Prahlada felt his heart racing and tried to shout and beg the force not to leave him. But before he could talk, the force disappeared from there.
As Prahlada lay weakly on the throne, he felt another powerful force leave him. ‘Who are you?’ He asked slowly.
‘I am good conduct! I used to live in your body for all these years, but I am bound by character. Where ever character goes, I have no choice, but to follow it. When character left you, I too will have to leave you!’
Prahlada was sweating badly when he felt another force move out of him. The force spoke to him even before he asked. ‘I am Piousness. I am afraid I cannot live where there is no character and good conduct. By giving them away, you have given me up too!’
‘No wait!’ Prahlada said weakly, but before anything else could be done the force vanished from there.
Another force emerged from Prahlada. Listlessly he asked it, ‘Who are you?’
‘I am Truth!’ came a strong voice. ‘I am afraid I cannot live without character, good conduct or piousness. ‘I too will leave you!’
Narayana, what have I done? Prahlada felt drained as he lay on the throne unable to move. Prahlada felt his energy drain out of him, when he saw another force emerge from him.
‘I am Strength!' The strong voice proclaimed. 'But I am afraid I will have to leave you. I can reside only when Truth is there. I will follow truth.’ Prahlada watched with despair as the force disappeared from there.
Finally a beautiful woman emerged from Prahlada’s body. She looked so beautiful that Prahlada’s heart ached for a second. The woman looked at him sadly. Prahalda crocked. ‘Who are you?’
‘I am Shree, the goddess of fortune! I give peace and prosperity in anyone’s body I inhabit. Unfortunately I can stay only where, Character, Truth and Strength stay! As they have left you, I am afraid I too will have to leave you!
When Shree left his body, Prahlada felt utterly drained. He knew that everything that he ever wanted to have in his life was now gone....He could now nothing more than an empty shell....
He realized that character was the basis for everything. Without it, a human was nothing.
As he lay brokenhearted, he heard a strong voice inside him. My Prahlada! All your powers, need not inhabit in you anymore. You have ruled enough and taken good care of your subjects. Now it is the time, to rise and come with me …come to Vaikunta and become one with me…Prahlada knew it was the voice of the Dark Lord and felt peace spread inside him. He knew his purpose here was done and left to be one with his beloved Lord….
- From the Mahabharatha