Viṣṇu Purāṇa | Book 1 - Chapter 17

Chapter XVII

 Legend of Prahlāda. Hiraṇyakaśipu, the sovereign of the universe: the gods dispersed or in servitude to him: Prahlāda, his son, remains devoted to Viṣṇu: questioned by his father, he praises Viṣṇu: Hiraṇyakaśipu orders him to be put to death, but in vain: his repeated deliverance: he teaches his companions to adore Viṣṇu.


Listen, Maitreya, to the story of the wise and magnanimous Prahlāda, whose adventures are ever interesting and instructive.

Hiraṇyakaśipu, the son of Diti, had formerly brought the three worlds under his authority, confiding in a boon bestowed upon him by Brahmā.

He had usurped the sovereignty of Indra, and exercised of himself the functions of the sun, of air, of the lord of waters, of fire, and of the moon.

He himself was the god of riches; he was the judge of the dead; and he appropriated to himself, without reserve, all that was offered in sacrifice to the gods.

The deities therefore, flying from their seats in heaven, wandered, through fear of the Daitya, upon the earth, disguised in mortal shapes.

Having conquered the three worlds, he was inflated with pride, and, eulogized by the Gandharvas, enjoyed whatever he desired.

The Gandharvas, the Siddhas, and the snake-gods all attended upon the mighty Hiraṇyakaśipu, as he sat at the banquet.

The Siddhas delighted stood before him, some playing on musical instruments, some singing songs in his praise, and others shouting cries of victory; whilst the nymphs of heaven danced gracefully in the crystal palace, where the Asura with pleasure quaffed the inebriating cup.

The illustrious son of the Daitya king, Prahlāda, being yet a boy, resided in the dwelling of his preceptor, where he read such writings as are studied in early years.

On one occasion he came, accompanied by his teacher, to the court of his father, and bowed before his feet as he was drinking.

Hiraṇyakaśipu desired his prostrate son to rise, and said to him: "Repeat, boy, in substance, and agreeably, what during the period of your studies you have acquired."

"Hear, sire," replied Prahlāda, "what in obedience to your commands I will repeat, the substance of all I have learned: listen attentively to that which wholly occupies my thoughts.

I have learned to adore him who is without beginning, middle, or end, increase or diminution; the imperishable lord of the world, the universal cause of causes."

On hearing these words, the sovereign of the Daityas, his eyes red with wrath, and lip swollen with indignation, turned to the preceptor of his son, and said:

"Vile Brahman, what is this preposterous commendation of my foe, that, in disrespect to me, you have taught this boy to utter?"

"King of the Daityas," replied the Guru, "it is not worthy of you to give way to passion: that which your son has uttered, he has not been taught by me."

"By whom then," said Hiraṇyakaśipu to the lad, "by whom has this lesson, boy, been taught you? Your teacher denies that it proceeds from him."

"Viṣṇu, father," answered Prahlāda, "is the instructor of the whole world: what else should any one teach or learn, save him the supreme spirit?"

"Blockhead," exclaimed the king, "who is this Viṣṇu, whose name you thus reiterate so impertinently before me, who am the sovereign of the three worlds?"

"The glory of Viṣṇu," replied Prahlāda, "is to be meditated upon by the devout; it cannot be described: he is the supreme lord, who is all things, and from whom all things proceed."

To this the king re-joined: "Are you desirous of death, fool, that you give the title of supreme lord to any one whilst I survive?"

"Viṣṇu, who is Brahma," said Prahlāda, "is the creator and protector, not of me alone, but of all human beings, and even, father, of you: he is the supreme lord of all. Why should you, sire, be offended?"

Hiraṇyakaśipu then exclaimed: "What evil spirit has entered into the breast of this silly boy, that thus, like one possessed, he utters such profanity?"

"Not into my heart alone," said Prahlāda, "has Viṣṇu entered, but he pervades all the regions of the universe, and by his omnipresence influences the conduct of all beings, mine, fattier, and thine."

"Away with the wretch!" cried the king; "take him to his preceptor's mansion. By whom could he have been instigated to repeat the lying praises of my foe?"

According to the commands of his father, Prahlāda was conducted by the Daityas back to the house of his Guru; where, assiduous in attendance on his preceptor, he constantly improved in wisdom.

After a considerable time had elapsed, the sovereign of the Asuras sent for him again; and on his arrival in his presence, desired him to recite some poetical composition.

Prahlāda immediately began:

"May he from whom matter and soul originates, from whom all that moves or is unconscious proceeds, he who is the cause of all this creation, Viṣṇu, be favourable unto us!"

On hearing which, Hiraṇyakaśipu exclaimed: "Kill the wretch! he is not fit to live, who is a traitor to his friends, a burning brand to his own race!" and his attendants, obedient to his orders, snatched up their weapons, and rushed in crowds upon Prahlāda, to destroy him.

The prince calmly looked upon them, and said:

"Daityas, as truly as Viṣṇu is present in your weapons and in my body, so truly shall those weapons fail to harm me:" and accordingly, although struck heavily and repeatedly by hundreds of the Daityas, the prince felt not the least pain, and his strength was ever renewed.

His father then endeavoured to persuade him to refrain from glorifying his enemy, and promised him immunity if he would not be so foolish as to persevere

but Prahlāda replied, that he felt no fear as long as his immortal guardian against all dangers was present in his mind, the recollection of whom was alone sufficient to dissipate all the perils consequent upon birth or human infirmities.

Hiraṇyakaśipu, highly exasperated, commanded the serpents to fall upon his disobedient and insane son, and bite him to death with their envenomed fangs:

and thereupon the great snakes Kuhaka, Takṣaka, and Andhaka, charged with fatal poison, bit the prince in every part of his body; but he, with thoughts immovably fixed on Kṛṣṇa, felt no pain from their wounds, being immersed in rapturous recollections of that divinity.

Then the snakes cried to the king, and said:

"Our fangs are broken; our jewelled crests are burst; there is fever in our, hoods, and fear in our hearts; but the skin of the youth is still unscathed: have recourse, monarch of the Daityas, to some other expedient."

"Ho, elephants of the skies!" exclaimed the demon; "unite your tusks, and destroy this deserter from his father, and conspirer with my foes. It is thus that often our progeny are our destruction, as fire consumes the wood from which it springs."

The young prince was then assailed by the elephants of the skies, as vast as mountain peaks; cast down upon the earth, and trampled on, and gored by their tusks: but he continued to call to mind Govinda, and the tusks of the elephants were blunted against his breast.

"Behold," he said to his father, "the tusks of the elephants, as hard as adamant, are blunted; but this is not by any strength of mine: calling upon Janārdana is my defence against such fearful affliction."

Then said the king to his attendants: "Dismiss the elephants, and let fire consume him; and do thou, deity of the winds, blow up the fire, that this wicked wretch may be consumed."

And the Dānavas piled a mighty heap of wood around the prince, and kindled a fire, to burn him, as their master had commanded.

But Prahlāda cried, "Father, this fire, though blown up by the winds, burns me not; and all around I behold the face of the skies, cool and fragrant, with beds of lotus flowers."

Then the Brahmans who were the sons of Bhārgava, illustrious priests, and reciters of the Sāma-Veda, said to the king of the Daityas:

"Sire, restrain your wrath against your own son. How should anger succeed in finding a place in heavenly mansions?

As for this lad, we will be his instructors, and teach him obediently to labour for the destruction of your foes. Youth is the season, king, of many errors; and you should not therefore be relentlessly offended with a child.

If he will not listen to us, and abandon the cause of Hari, we will adopt infallible measures to work his death."

The king of the Daityas, thus solicited by the priests, commanded the prince to be liberated from the midst of the flames.

Again established in the dwelling of his preceptor, Prahlāda gave lessons himself to the sons of the demons, in the intervals of his leisure:

"Sons of the offspring of Diti," he was accustomed to say to them, "hear from me the supreme truth: nothing else is fit to be regarded; nothing, else here is an object to be coveted:

Birth, infancy, and youth are the portion of all creatures; and then succeed gradual and inevitable decay, terminating with all beings, children of the Daityas, in death: this is manifestly visible to all; to you as it is to me.

That the dead are born again, and that it cannot be otherwise, the sacred texts are warrant:

but production cannot be without a material cause; and as long as conception and parturition are the material causes of repeated birth, so long, be sure, is pain inseparable from every period of existence.

The simpleton, in his inexperience, fancies that the alleviation of hunger, thirst, cold, and the like is pleasure; but of a truth it is pain; for suffering gives delight to those whose vision is darkened by delusion, as fatigue would be enjoyment to limbs that are incapable of motion.

This vile body is a compound of phlegm and other humours. Where is its beauty, grace, fragrance, or other estimable qualities?

The fool that is fond of a body composed of flesh, blood, matter, ordure, urine, membrane, marrow, and bones, will be enamoured of hell.

The agreeableness of fire is caused by cold; of water, by thirst; of food, by hunger: by other circumstances their contraries are equally agreeable.

The child of the Daitya who takes to himself a wife introduces only so much misery into his bosom; for as many as are the cherished affections of a living creature, so many are the thorns of anxiety implanted in his heart;

and he who has large possessions in his house is haunted, wherever he goes, with the apprehension that they may be lost or burnt or stolen.

Thus there is great pain in being born: for the dying man there are the tortures of the judge of the deceased, and of passing again into the womb. If you conclude that there is little enjoyment in the embryo state, you must then admit that the world is made up of pain.

Verily I say unto you, that in this ocean of the world, this sea of many sorrows, Viṣṇu is your only hope.

If ye say, you know nothing of this; 'we are children; embodied spirit in bodies is eternal; birth, youth, decay, are the properties of the body, not of the soul.'

But it is in this way that we deceive ourselves. I am yet a child; but it is my purpose to exert myself when I am a youth. I am yet a youth; but when I become old I will do what is needful for the good of my soul. I am now old, and all my duties are to be fulfilled.

How shall I, now when my faculties fail me, do what was left undone when my strength was unimpaired?'

In this manner do men, whilst their minds are distracted by sensual pleasures, ever propose, and never attain final beatitude: they die thirsting.

Devoted in childhood to play, and in youth to pleasure, ignorant and impotent they find that old age has come upon them.

Therefore even in childhood let the embodied soul acquire discriminative wisdom, and, independent of the conditions of infancy, youth, or age, strive incessantly to be freed.

This, then, is what I declare unto you; and since you know that it is not untrue, do you, out of regard to me, call to your minds Viṣṇu, the liberator from all bondage.

What difficulty is there in thinking upon him, who, when remembered, bestows prosperity; and by recalling whom to memory, day and night, all sin is cleansed away?

Let all your thoughts and affections be fixed on him, who is present in all beings, and you shall laugh at every care.

The whole world is suffering under a triple affliction. 'What wise man would feel hatred towards beings who are objects of compassion?

If fortune be propitious to them, and I am unable to partake of the like enjoyments, yet wherefore should I cherish malignity towards those who are more prosperous than myself:

I should rather sympathise with their happiness; for the suppression of malignant feelings is of itself a reward.

If beings are hostile, and indulge in hatred, they are objects of pity to the wise, as encompassed by profound delusion. These are the reasons for repressing hate, which are adapted to the capacities of those who see the deity distinct from his creatures.

Hear, briefly, what influences those who have approached the truth:

This whole world is but a manifestation of Viṣṇu, who is identical with all things; and it is therefore to be regarded by the wise as not differing from, but as the same with themselves.

Let us therefore lay aside the angry passions of our race, and so strive that we obtain that perfect, pure, and eternal happiness, which shall be beyond the power of the elements or their deities, of fire, of the sun, of the moon, of wind, of Indra, of the regent of the sea;

which shall be unmolested by spirits of air or earth; by Yakṣas, Daityas, or their chiefs; by the serpent-gods or monstrous demigods of Swarga;

which shall be uninterrupted by men or beasts, or by the infirmities of human nature; by bodily sickness and disease, or hatred, envy, malice, passion, or desire; which nothing shall molest, and which everyone who fixes his whole heart on Keśava shall enjoy.

Verily I say unto you, that you shall have no satisfaction in various revolutions through this treacherous world, but that you will obtain placidity forever by propitiating Viṣṇu, whose adoration is perfect calm.

What here is difficult of attainment, when he is pleased?

Wealth, pleasure, virtue, are things of little moment. Precious is the fruit that you shall gather, be assured, from the exhaustless store of the tree of true wisdom."