Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Prahlada included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Prahlāda

General information.

Son of a rākṣasa King who saw Mahāviṣṇu by means of his devotion in the form of Narasiṃha (man-lion). His father was Hiraṇyakaśipu and mother Kayādhū.


Descending in order from ViṣṇuBrahmāMarīciKaśyapa—Hiraṇyakaśipu—Prahlāda.


Kaśyapaprajāpati got of his wife Diti two sons named Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu and a daughter named Siṃhikā. Of these two, Hiraṇyākṣa got boons from Brahmā and roamed about as a very valiant hero destroying everything on earth and finally pulling down the earth to the depths of the ocean. Mahāviṣṇu then incarnated as Varāha and after killing Hiraṇyākṣa lifted the earth from the ocean and put it in its original position.

Hiraṇyakaśipu became very angry at Mahāviṣṇu for killing his brother and with a view to wreaking vengeance on him performed penance to propitiate Brahmā. When the emperor of the demons, Hiraṇyakaśipu, thus went to the forests for performing penance the Devas attacked the land of the demons. A great fight ensued in which the devas were defeated. While fleeing away thus Indra took away Kayādhū wife of Hiraṇyakaśipu by force. Nārada who heard the moanings of the poor woman under the clutches of Indra got her released from Indra’s hold. For some time she stayed in the āśrama of Nārada worshipping him. Kayādhū was pregnant then. Nārada taught the child in Kayādhū’s womb lessons in Vedas, moral philosophy, duty and spiritual knowledge. When Hiraṇyakaśipu returned after his penance Kayādhū joined him and very soon gave birth to a son. That boy was Prahlāda.

Hiraṇyakaśipu begot of Kayādhū five sons, Prahlāda, Saṃhlāda, Anuhlāda, Śibi and Bāṣkala. Prahlāda got three sons named Virocana, Kumbha and Nikumbha. The celebrated emperor Mahābali was the son of Virocana. Bāṇa was the son of Mahābali. Uṣā, daughter of Bāṇa, was married to Aniruddha, son of Pradyumna and grandson of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. (Chapter 65, Ādi Parva; Chapter 19, Agni Purāṇa; Chapter 15, Aṃśa 1, Viṣṇu Purāṇa and 7th Skandha, Bhāgavata).

Boyhood and education.

Hiraṇyakaśipu decided to make Prahlāda an instrument to wreak vengeance on Mahāviṣṇu. Entrusting the education of his son to able preceptors he instructed that the boy should never mutter 'Nārāyaṇāya namaḥ' but should on the other hand mutter 'Hiraṇyāya namaḥ' only. Not only that, he wiped out the name of Nārāyaṇa from the land altogether. Prahlāda stayed in the house of the preceptor and studied his lessons. One day Prahlāda went to see his father along with his preceptor. Hiraṇyakaśipu was drunk then. Prahlāda went and prostrated before his father and Hiraṇyakaśipu lifting the boy up from the ground asked him with affection to repeat to him all the good things he had learned so far and Prahlāda quickly repeated thus:—"I bow down to Mahāviṣṇu, the root cause of all things seen and unseen, the protector of this visible universe, who is without beginning, centre and end and who is without origin, growth and decay."

The words of Prahlāda struck his father like a thunderbolt. With his lips trembling with anger Hiraṇyakaśipu stared with his blood-red eyes at the preceptor. The frightened Guru again and again submitted that he had never taught him any of the kind the boy had repeated before his father. Then who must have taught him those things? the emperor enquired. Then Prahlāda said that all those things were put into his mind by Mahāviṣṇu himself. A hot discussion then took place between Prahlāda and his father and in the end Hiraṇyakaśīpu ordered the preceptor to take away Prahlāda and make another earnest attempt to correct him and bring him round to the emperor’s liking. Prahlāda stayed for another period with the Guru serving him with devotion and studying well. After a long time Prahlāda was again taken before his father and the latter as before asked him to repeat what he had studied so far. To the shocking disappointment of Hiraṇyakaśipu Prahlāda again repeated verses in praise of Mahāviṣṇu. The emperor’s rage knew no bounds and he ordered his men to kill his son. (Chapter 17, Aṃśa 1, Viṣṇu Purāṇa).

Torturing Prahlāda.

On hearing the order of Hiraṇyakaśipu many armed soldiers surrounded Prahlāda. Prahlāda addressed them thus: "Oh daityas, Mahāviṣṇu resides in your weapons, in you all and in me also. Since that is the real truth your weapons will not injure me." The daityas struck him hard with their weapons but Prahlāda did not feel pain at all.

Hiraṇyakaśipu then sent thousands of poisonous serpents led by great ones like Takṣaka. When they started thrusting their venomous fangs into his body, Prahlāda stood cheerfully meditating on Mahāviṣṇu and he did not even feel the bitings. On the other hand the fangs of the serpents dropped out from their mouths and the gems on the heads of the big ones burst out and all the snakes felt sorry for their action.

Hiraṇyakaśipu then sent the aṣṭadiggajas (the eight elephants who bear the burden of this earth) to kill Prahlāda. The huge animals bigger than the biggest of mountains threw the boy to the ground and struck him with their long and pointed tusks. Prahlāda lay meditating on Mahāviṣṇu and the tusks that hit the body of Prahlāda were broken to bits. Prahlāda was then thrown into a pit of fire. But the wind-blown ferocious fire was not able to burn him and as he lay in the firepit meditating on Mahāviṣṇu he felt he was lying on a bed of lotuses.

When things progressed so far the astonished priests of the palace advised the emperor to put a stop to torturing Prahlāda. Their consoling words alleviated his rage and he sent Prahlāda again to his Guru for another term of study. He stayed with his Guru and continued his studies. Whenever he got leisure he taught the other inmates of the āśrama lessons in Viṣṇumārga. Hiraṇyakaśipu was informed of this and obeying orders from him the asuras gave poison to Prahlāda. That too was of no avail. The royal priests got angry and they created a devil as ferocious as the flames of fire. The devil with mighty thumpings on earth dashed towards Prahlāda and hit him on his breast with its spike. The spike broke into pieces and the devil turning back cursed the priests. Then the daityarāja took him to the top of a mountain twentyfour miles high and pushed him down from there. The boy fell down meditating on Mahāviṣṇu and the goddess of earth received him with extended hands and prevented a painful impact with the ground. The father became furious and sent Śambarāsura to kill his son. Śambara tried many magical attacks. Prahlāda without any ill-feeling towards Śambara sat meditating on Mahāviṣṇu and then Viṣṇu sent his Sudarśana wheel against the demon and he was forced to retreat. Then by orders from Hiraṇyakaśipu the wind god entered the body of Prahlāda. Prahlāda knew it and he sat meditating on Viṣṇu and the latter entering the body of Prahlāda drank the wind inside him. When Hiraṇyakaśipu was defeated in all his attempts to kill Prahlāda he sent his son again to his Guru. Then the preceptor taught him everything that was needed for a king and also the science of justice written by Śukrācārya. When Prahlāda completed his education and the Guru felt the boy had become humble he took him back to Hiraṇyakaśipu.

Once again Hiraṇyakaśipu entered into a discussion on god with his son and dissatisfied with his continued devotion to Viṣṇu decided again to kill his son. He was thrown into the ocean bound hand and foot. With every movement of Prahlāda the ocean became turbulent and water rose on all sides. There was a deluge on earth. Hiraṇyakaśipu called the daityas to his side and said: "Oh daityas, bring all the mountains on earth and create a barrier round the ocean so that my wicked son cannot get outside the ocean. Fire does not kill this boy; he is not wounded by any of the weapons; wind, poison, devils, magic, falls from heights and even the diggajas could not kill him. So let him remain in water for thousands of years together and then he will die."

The daityas and dānavas brought mountains and dropped them over Prahlāda lying inside the ocean. The mountains lay spread over thousands of miles. Lying thus in the ocean the pious boy prayed to Mahāviṣṇu and the latter appeared before him and granted him boons. Escaping from the ocean Prahlāda went to his father and prostrated before him. Hiraṇyakaśipu was astounded to see him alive and taking him in his arms embraced him and with tears rolling down his cheeks for having tortured him so far asked him "My son, you are still alive, are you not?" After that he started treating him as his son. (Chapter 20, Aṃśa 1, Viṣṇu Purāṇa).

The incarnation of Narasiṃha.

But as days went by Hiraṇyakaśipu got wild again. He could not bear his son’s increasing devotion to Viṣṇu. He hated to hear Prahlāda’s chantings of Viṣṇu’s name and so one dar while Prahlāda was repeating his chantings of Viṣṇu’s name Hiraṇyakaśipu {??}umped up from his seat with sword in his hand and asked Prahlāda where his Viṣṇu was. Prahlāda very calmly replied that Viṣṇu was present everywhere even in stones, trees or the pillars of the palace. Hiraṇyakaśipu in uncontrollable rage struck the nearest pillar with his sword. Then to the shocking surprise of Hiraṇyakaśipu Mahāviṣṇu in the form of a fierce man-lion (Narasiṃha) jumped out from the pillar. The figure was terrifying to look at. It had fiery eyes, a dagger-like tongue with blood oozing from it, shaggy neck with trembling eyebrows, two teeth one on each side curved like the crescent moon, a black face inside a cave-like heap of manes, hairs strong and pointed like diamond needles, nails white and cup-like and a body as bright and brilliant as a thousand crores of suns. Only Prahlāda could stand before the figure and look at it.

The man-lion jumped on the body of Hiraṇyakaśipu and tearing open the belly of Hiraṇyakaśipu took the bloody intestines out and wearing it round its neck performed a naked dance. Everything happened in no time and the Narasiṃha changing into the form of Mahāviṣṇu blessed Prahlāda and then disappeared. (7th Skandha, Bhāgavata).

Prahlāda and Naranārāyaṇas.

When Hiraṇyakaśipu was killed Prahlāda was crowned as emperor of the demons in Pātāla. At that time, once Cyavana the best of the Bhṛgus, went to Nāgakuleśvaratīrtha to bathe in the Narmadā. He saw Mahādeva there. When he entered the waters of the river a serpent Kekaralohita by name bit him and took him to Pātāla. Cyavana meditated on Viṣṇu when he was bitten by the serpent and so he was not affected by the poison of the serpent. He therefore, roamed about in Pātāla accepting the hospitality of the serpent maidens. Travelling thus he reached the land of the dānavas. He was worshipped by the daityas there and Prahlāda finding an ascetic of great saintliness honoured and worshipped by his people received him with respect and worshipped him and enquired about him. Cyavana said: "I came today to see Nāgakuleśvara and bathe in the Narmadā river. But as soon as I entered the river I was caught by a serpent and was brought to Pātāla. I was thus able to see you." Hearing the words of Cyavana the lord of the daityas said: "Oh, Bhagavan, which are all the sacred tīrthas of the earth, which are in the heavens and which all in Pātāla? Please do enlighten us." Cyavana replied; "Mighty king, Naimiṣa is the best of all tīrthas on earth, Puṣkara in the heavens and Cakratīrtha in Pātāla."

The daitya emperor turned to the dānavas and said "Make all preparations immediately. We must go to earth to bathe in the holy tīrtha, Naimiṣa. We can then see Puṇḍarīkākṣa (lotus-eyed) Viṣṇu sitting there as Pītāmbara (robed in yellow)." Hearing this dānavas with heavy equipments started from Pātāla with their king to the earth.

All the mighty dānavas reached the forest of Naimiṣa and after bathing in the holy pond there went for hunting. During their wanderings they found the river Sarasvatī, flowing with crystal-like water. On the shore of the same they saw a pine tree covered with arrows. The arrows were sticking to it one above another. The arrows looked like serpents and the gruesome sight roused Prahlāda’s anger. Near that tree sat two ascetics wearing the hide of Kṛṣṇa deer and matted hair on thei heads. By their side were two divine bows, Śārṅga and Ajagava with two never-empty quivers. Prahlāda mistook them for two fake sannyāsins and therefore questioned them thus: "Why are you thus falsely trading on virtuousness? What connection is there between matted hair and penance and weapons of such supreme quality?" Then one of the ṛṣis, Nararṣi, said "King of daityas, why do you think like that? If one is powerful whatever one does will be right." Prahlāda jeered and said "When I, who have fixed limits for virtue and righteousness, am here what power can you wield?" Nara replied "Oh king, our ability is really supreme. There is nobody in the three worlds to conquer us in a fight." Prahlāda got furious on hearing the boasting of the ṛṣi and took a vow thus immediately: "I will fight and win against Naranārāyaṇas." Then the great Prahlāda keeping aside his army in the forest took his bow and made a thundering noise with it.

At once Nara took his Ajagava bow and showered arrows on Prahlāda with it. But Prahlāda broke them all with his gold-plated matchless arrows. Nara got angry when he found all his arrows broken to pieces so easily by Prahlāda and he sent different kinds of arrows in quick succession. But the daitya king replied with astonishing rapidity. For one arrow of Nara the daitya sent two and the fight became grim. Nara covered the whole world above with arrows and the daitya emperor smashed them all to pieces by his gold-plated ones.

The fight then turned to one with divine weapons. The asura chief took the divine Brahmāstra and then Nara took the fierce Nārāyaṇāstra. They met in the air and fell down powerless. When his Brahmāstra got fused Prahlāda got wild with anger and taking a mace jumped out of his chariot and rushed at Nara. When Nārāyaṇa saw the daitya chief rushing towards Nara with his mace he asked Nara to step aside and faced the demon himself. Prahlāda then attacked Nārāyaṇa and hit him with the mace. But the mace broke into a hundred pieces and Prahlāda was forced to use other weapons. The fight became ghastly and even devas assembled above to witness the fight. When Prahlāda found it was getting more and more difficult for him to defeat the Naranārāyaṇas he prayed to Mahāviṣṇu for help. Viṣṇu appeared before him and when Prahlāda asked him the reason why he could not defeat Naranārāyaṇas, Viṣṇu replied that they were the sons of Dharmadeva who were invincible by weapons. They could be won over only by devotion.

Hearing that Prahlāda returned to Pātāla and entrusting the administration of his kingdom to his cousin Andhaka, son of Hiraṇyākṣa, Prahlāda returned to Badarikāśrama and erecting an āśrama there started a penance to propitiate Naranārāyaṇas. When Naranārāyaṇas appeared before him Prahlāda requested to be pardoned for fighting against them. They pardoned him and blessed him and Prahlāda returned to Pātāla. Even after his return Prahlāda did not take back the administration from Andhaka. He constructed an āśrama away from the palace and lived there performing penance. He spent many years there as an advisor to the asura Kings. (Chapters 7 and 8, Vāmana Purāṇa).

Blessings of Śukra.

Andhaka, son of Hiraṇyākṣa, ruled over the empire only for a short time. At that time there was a fight between the asuras and the devas in which the asuras were defeated. After a truce with the devas Bali, son of Virocana, and grandson of Prahlāda was crowned the emperor of the asuras. Prahlāda then went to the mountain Gandhamādana and started doing penance to increase his personal power. Bali ruled as an antagonist of the devas and so very soon a grisly battle ensued between the devas and the asuras and Mahāviṣṇu defeated them. They fled from their land and took refuge under their preceptor Śukrācārya. Śukra then told them thus: "You remain here without fear. I shall protect you by my power of mantra and medicines. I shall devote my cogent brilliance to your advantage. It is enough if you remain here with full confidence in me."

The devas understood all these plans of the daityas through spies and they met in conference to consider their future plans. They knew that Śukrācārya was very powerful and if the daityas attacked them with the help of Śukrācārya the defeat of the devas was sure. They feared that they might even be compelled to flee from Svargaloka. How could the daityas under the shield of the mighty Sukra be destroyed? That was the worrrying thought of the devas.

They were thus worrying about this when Śukrācārya went to do penance for attaining more power. The daityas awaited the return of their ācārya. In the meantime they sent Prahlāda who was, though a daitya, a friend of the devas to talk peace terms with the devas. The mission was successful and the devas agreed to a no-war treaty. Prahlāda returned triumphant.

Śukra did severe penance to propitiate Śiva and Śiva appeared before Śukrācārya and when he knew that the purpose of Śukra was to defeat the devas he was a bit embarrassed. So he told him thus: "Oh sage Śukra, you take a vow and do penance with your head downwards over smoky incense for a thousand years. You will then attain power and happiness as you desire." In fact Śiva thought Śukra might not be able to complete the penance and so not succeed in his plan of destroying the devas. But Śukra started the penance in right earnest.

The devas were frightened when they knew the deceit of the daityas and the strategy of their preceptor. They decided to go to war with the daityas immediately. The daityas were in a fix. They knew that if they fought without the help of their guru defeat to them was sure. So they ran to the mother of Śukra and sought her help. The devas rebelled against Śukra’s mother and she invoked the goddess of sleep and put all the devas into deep slumber. Mahāviṣṇu stealthily carried away Indra lying asleep. Indra persuaded Mahāviṣṇu. to kill Śukra’s mother and he cut off the head of Śukra’s mother by the divine discus, Sudarśana.

Bhṛgumaharṣi, father of Śukra, was angry at that arrogant and cruel deed of Mahāviṣṇu and cursed him saying that he would be born on earth several times as man. After that he brought to life by sprinkling water his wife lying dead with her head severed from her body. Knowing well the havoc that would be created when Śukra came back after his penance Indra sent his daughter Jayantī to destroy the penance of Śukra. She went in the guise of a demon girl to serve Śukrācārya. In the meantime at the request of Indra Bṛhaspati took the form of Śukrācārya and presented himself before the daityas. The daityas believed him to be their real guru Śukra and were pleased.

Ten years went by and one day Śukrācārya remembering the old events left Jayantī and went to his court in the demon land. Bṛhaspati had by that time returned to devaloka fully satisfied with his mission. The devas not knowing that Śukra had returned started for a war with the daityas. Śukra when he came back went wild when he knew that his people had been worshipping Bṛhaspati for ten years. The angered preceptor was not to be pacified by any amount of arguments and so they sent Prahlāda to Śukrācārya and Prahlāda pleaded for controlling his anger and Śukra did so.

Śukra then saw with his divine vision the maneuverings in mind of the devas and was convinced that a war with the devas at that juncture would be an utter failure. So he advised the daityas to desist from war and assured them that during the period of Sāvarṇi Manu to come, emperor Bali would become all-powerful and he would then fight and win the devas. Prahlāda returned and told the asuras the message of Śukrācārya. But the daityas were not satisfied and compelled Prahlāda to go to war with the devas. At last Prahlāda was forced to agree and a fierce devāsura battle ensued. Prahlāda met Indra in a single combat and it prolonged for a hundred years. In the end Prahlāda won. Indra prayed to the goddess and fearing that she might destroy the demon world, Prahlāda also prayed to her. The devī was pleased with both of them and she pacified them both and each went back to his own place. (4th Skandha, Devī Bhāgavata).

Other details.

(i) Once there was a fight between Prahlāda and Kāla. (Bhaviṣya Parva, Chapter 59).

(ii) Bali who was trampled down to Pātāla built a Viṣṇu temple and worshipped Viṣṇu following the advice of Prahlāda. (See under Bali).

(iii) Once Prahlāda taught Indra the rules of good conduct. (Śloka 28, Chapter 124 Śānti Parva).

(iv) Once Uśanas sang in honour of Prahlāda. (Śloka 50, Chapter 139, Śānti Parva).

(v) Once Prahlāda learnt the importance of Ājagaravṛtti from a sage. (Chapter 179, Śānti Parva).

(vi) During the reign of emperor Pṛthu when the goddess of earth (Bhūmidevī) was milked, the asuras used Prahlāda as the calf to milk madya (wine) from her. (4th Skandha, Bhāgavata).

(vii) Prahlāda sits in the court of Varuṇa and worships him. (Śloka 12, Chapter 9, Sabhā Parva).

(viii) Prahlāda once went to the court of Brahmā to worship him. (Śloka 19, Chapter 11, Sabhā Parva).

(ix) Prahlāda acted as mediator in the controversy between Virocana and Sudhanvā. (See under Sudhanvā). (For knowing more details about Prahlāda please see under Virocana and Bali.)

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