The Bhagavata Purana has it that the two demons, Hiranyaksha and his brother Hiranyakashipuwere Vishnu’s gatekeepers –Jaya and Vijaya. The two received a curse from the Four Kumaras. Later, they were born on earth as the demonic brothers. The Hiranyas were born to Diti, daughter of Daksha Prajapathi, and sage Kashyapa.
Several years ago, Vishnu had descended to earth in the avatar of Varaha (boar) the third incarnation and killed Hiranyaksha to save the earth from his captivity. Hiranyakashipu, the elder brother of Hiranyaksha, wanted to avenge the death of his brother and take revenge on the devotees of Vishnu, more so Vishnu himself. He wanted to rule the three worlds – Heaven, Earth, and Pathala.
Story of Hiranyakashipu
Hiranyakashipu went to the Himalayas and started performing the most severe of penances. After he performed penance for several years, Brahma pleased with his devotion, appeared before him, and asked him to seek a boon.
Hiranyakashipu wanted to make the most of the opportunity and asked for a boon that nearly made him immortal, a being who could never be conquered. He asked Brahma that death should never come to him, neither in the form of man or beast or devil, neither at night nor day. He could not be conquered by steel or stone or wood, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither on earth nor in the sky. He wanted this boon so that he could become the unchallenged owner of the world.
Hiranyakashipu became more intolerant, cruel, and extremely egotistical. He wanted it to be known that he should be worshipped as God, and everyone should pay him obeisance. In his pursuit to conquer the three worlds, Hiranyakashipu started his reign of terror, hunting down and killing everyone on earth.
While Hiranyakashipu was performing the penance on earth to obtain the boon, Indra, King of the Gods, and the other Devas had conquered his home. Indra even captured his expectant wife,Kayadhu, and the unborn baby. Narada, the divine sage, intervened to protect Kayadhu and the unborn baby. Under his guidance, the unborn baby came under the influence of Narada’s supernatural instructions even when he was in the womb.
Devotion of Prahlada
The child, Prahlada, became an ardent devotee of Vishnu, much to the anger and frustration of his father, Hiranyakashipu. It came to a point where the demon king wanted his son killed. The demons tried using their powers on Prahlada but to no avail. Hiranyakashipu tried everything in his ability to turn young Prahlada against Vishnu, but no amount of effort could deter the child. He arranged to have his son killed. Once an elephant tried to trample Prahlada but he escaped. The child was so devoted to Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu then ordered Prahlada to be thrown down a steep hillside, but he landed gently on the ground beneath.
An enraged Hiranyakashipu tried several tactics, including poison, burning, starvation, throwing Prahladainside a well, casting spells on him, but to no avail. Nothing worked on Prahlada. Ina final effort to kill his son, the demon king, summoned his sister Holika, who had a cloak that prevented her from getting burnt by fire. A huge bonfire was lit, and Hiranyakashipu asked Holika to sit on the bonfire with Prahlada on her lap. This way, he thought the child would die as he would be charred to death, and Holika would escape, unscathed. Prahlada showed no fear and started chanting Vishnu mantras. A strong breeze approached and removed the cloak from Holika and covered Prahlada. Holika burnt to death. Even today, people light a bonfire and celebrate the night as Holika Dahan.
Hiranyakashipu was furious and upset, and he went to Prahlada, as the latter refused to acknowledge his father as the Supreme Power. Prahlada said that God was omnipresent and everywhere. An enraged Hiranyakashipu hit a nearby pillar with his mace forcibly and asked Prahlada if Vishnu was in it. To his surprise and horror, the pillar split into two with a thunderous sound.
Vishnu appeared in the form of Narasimha, a fearful image of a half-man with the head of a lion. He presented a terrifying vision with long claws and teeth. He emitted an angry roar that shook the place. Hiranyakashipu tried to escape, but Narasimha caught him and dragged him to the threshold. Placing the demon king on his thighs, he tore his stomach apart with his claws. Even after the killing, Narasimha could not be appeased, even by Shiva or Brahma. They called his consort Lakshmi, but even she was unable to calm him down. Finally, Brahma requested Prahlada to be presented before Narasimha. When the devoted child touched his feet, Narasimha calmed down and asked him to seek a boon. Prahlada sought a boon that no desire could be awakened in him. He also prayed for his father.
Narasimha made Prahlada the king and bade him to be dutiful and bear good conduct. He then vanished. The Narasimha avatar is Vishnu’s fourth incarnation and perhaps the fiercest of them all.