A brief note on prahlAda, hiraNyakashipu and an early nArasiMhAkhyAna

The daitya-s prahrAda/prahlAda and virochana are known in the veda itself. The killing of prahlAda and his clan by indra in a battle in the high heavens is alluded to in more than one post-RV vaidika text. This great battle between indra and prahrAda is also alluded to in the epics on multiple occasions:
jigIShator yudhAnyonyam indra-prahlAdayor iva | (mahAbharata 3.270.12cd)

prAhrAda is among the daitya-s killed by indra in the epics consistent with the vaidika account:
rathenAnena maghavA jitavA~n shambaraM yudhi |
namuchiM vala-vR^itrau cha prahlAda-narakAv api ||
bahUni cha sahasrANi prayutAny arbudAni cha |
rathenAnena daityAnAM jitavAn maghavAn yudhi || mahAbharata 3.165.18-19 (“critical”)

Seated on this car indra conquered shambara in battle. Seated on this chariot maghavAn conquered namuchi, vala, vR^itra, prahlAda and naraka along with thousands, millions and tens of millions of daitya-s.

In the taittirIya brAhmaNa 1.5.9-10 the daitya prahrAda kAyAdhava is said to hide his son virochana in a crater (termed a pradara) in the ground so that the deva-s might not kill him. Hence, the brAhmaNa in its characteristic style states that one must not drink water from a crater – implying that it might be poisoned by the presence of the daitya virochana.

prahrAda was an enemy of the deva-s in all early aitihAsika and paurANika narratives consistent with the vaidika account. One paurANika narrative that is aligned with vaidika allusions is the sR^iShTikANDa of the padmapurANa 13.186, which mentions indra slaying prahlAda during the churning of the world ocean. The battle between the gods and prahlAda is described in detail the archaic skandapurANa account of the same incident, but there viShNu is said to defeat prahlAda. In the kurma-purANa he is described as fighting viShNu during his attack on hiraNyakashipu and is defeated by a puruSha emanated by viShNu. Later he attacks nR^isiMha and flees to save himself after being struck by him. In the harivaMsha he attacks the deva-s along with his grandson bali and is eventually subjugated by viShNu. In the shantiparvan the arrogant prahlAda is defeated by kArttikeya. Only later the zealous vaiShNava-s in their drive to elevate viShNu over indra made him a positive figure and an ideal devotee of viShNu. In fact, this is in contrast with the view of the early vaiShNava-s who mention his defeat along with that of other daitya-s and dAnava-s as an act of viShNu, evidently alluding to the famous dAnava-conquering strides of viShNu already known in the veda:

AsurIM shriyam AhR^itya trIMl lokAn sa janArdanaH |
saputradArAn asurAn pAtAle vinyapAtayat ||
namuchiH shambarash chaiva prahlAdash cha mahAmanAH |
pAda-pAtAbhi-nirdhUtAH pAtAle vinipAtitAH || (an old vaiShNAva AkhyAna found in certain recensions of the bhArata)

He janArdana having seized the wealth of the asura-s and the three worlds pushed the asura-s along with their sons and wives down to the netherworld. The mighty namuchi, shambhara and prahlAda were trampled underfoot and pushed down into the netherworld [by viShNu].

However, the famous father of prahrAda, hiraNyakashipu, is not mentioned in the shruti. Nevertheless, there are hints that he existed in the ancient Indo-Aryan tradition:
1) The early vaMsha-s invariably mention him as a daitya the father of prahrAda. E.g. the ancient daitya-sR^iShTi in the mahAbhArata states-

eka eva diteH putro hiraNyakashipuH smR^itaH |
nAmnA khyAtAs tu tasyeme putrAH pa~ncha mahAtmanaH ||
prahrAdaH pUrvajas teShAM saMhrAdas tadanantaram |
anuhrAdas tR^itIyo .abhUt tasmAch cha shibi-bAShkalau ||
prahrAdasya trayaH putrAH khyAtAH sarvatra bhArata |
virochanash cha kumbhash cha nikumbhash cheti vishrutAH ||
virochanasya putro .abhUd balir ekaH pratApavAn |
balesh cha prathitaH putro bANo nAma mahAsuraH || mahAbharata 1.59.17-20 (“critical”)

diti bore one son who was known as hiraNyakashipu. The names of his five sons are narrated thus: prahrAda was the first, followed by saMhrAda thereafter; the third was anuhrAda followed by shibhi and bAShkala. prahrAda’s three sons O bhArata are said to be virochana, kumbha and nikumbha. virochana’s had one son the valiant bali. bali’s son was known by the name of bANa, the great demon.

Thus, as in the veda the eldest son of prahrAda is described as virochana. Further the mahAbharata has the AkhyAna of sunda and upasunda, the sons of nikumbha, who are mentioned as being born in the clan of hiraNyakashipu (mahAsurasyaanvavAye hiraNyakashipoH purA |).

2) In the rAmAyaNa there is an allusion the tale of indra capturing the wife of hiraNyakashipu. The paurAnika narratives (e.g., bhAgavata 4.18.12) indicate that she, kayAdhu (consistent with the vaidika form of prahrAda’s matronym) was the daughter of the dAnava jambha who was killed by indra. Other paurANika narratives suggest that indra abducted kayAdhu to preclude the birth of her dreadful and mighty son prahrAda, but subsequently released her (in some accounts upon nArada’s suggestion).

3) In the bhArata there are multiple mentions of the slaying of hiraNyakashipu by viShNu-
The vanaparvan has an account of the killing of the dAnava-s called the kAlakeya-s with draining of the “ocean” by Canopus (agastya, i.e., Alpha Carinae; cognate of Iranian Satvas). Into which the early vaiShNava-s have inserted a stuti of viShNu (the abhaya stuti), which describes his chief exploits as the lifting of the submerged “earth”; killing of the first of the daitya-s hiraNyakashipu as nR^isiMha, the trampling of bali as vAmana, and the felling of the yaj~na-destroying archer jambha (it is not clear if viShNu is regarded as having killed him; because this exploit is largely attributed to indra). It is clear it is an early stuti because the list stops at jambha and does not have the structure of the later avatAra lists.
The vaiShNavAbhaya-stuti goes thus:
tvaM naH sraShTA cha pAtA cha bhartA cha jagataH prabho |
tvayA sR^iShTam idaM sarvaM yach che~NgaM yach cha ne~Ngati ||
O lord, you are the emitter, the sustainer, and the destroyer of ourselves and the rest of the universe. It is you who has emitted this universe with all that is living and nonliving.

tvayA bhUmiH purA naShTA samudrAt puShkarekShaNa |
vArAhaM rUpam AsthAya jagad-arthe samuddhR^itA ||
O lotus-eyed one, it was you who had formerly for the benefit of the world raised from the sea the lost earth, having assumed the form of a boar

Adi-daityo mahAvIryo hiraNyakashipus tvayA |
nArasiMhaM vapuH kR^itvA sUditaH puruShottama ||
O foremost puruSha, assuming the form of the man-lion, you had slain hiraNyakashipu of mighty valor, the first of the daitya-s.

avadhyaH sarvabhUtAnAM balish chApi mahAsuraH |
vAmanaM vapur Ashritya trailokyAd bhraMshitas tvayA ||
The great asura bali was indeed incapable of being slain by any one. Taking the form of a dwarf, you banished him from the triple-world.

asurash cha maheShvAso jambha ity abhivishrutaH |
yaj~nakShobhakaraH krUras tvayaiva vinipAtitaH ||
The asura jambha, was renowned as a great archer. This fierce disturber of rituals was indeed felled by you.

evam AdIni karmANi yeShAM saMkhyA na vidyate
asmAkaM bhaya-bhItAnAM tvaM gatir madhusUdana || Mbh 3.100.18-23 (“Critical”)
Former achievements of yours such as these cannot be counted. O slayer of madhu, you are the refuge for us afflicted by fear.

In the droNa parvan, the pA~nchAla hero dR^iShTadyumna advancing against droNa is described thus:
tasya rUpaM babhau rAjan bhAradvAjaM jighAMsataH |
yathA rUpaM paraM viShNor hiraNyakashipor vadhe || Mbh 7.164.146 (“Critical”)
The form, O king (dhr^itarAShTra), of his ( dR^iShTadyumna) when he sought to slay the bharadvAja hero was like the ancient form of viShNu during the killing of hiraNyakashipu.

Again dR^iShTadyumna is compared to nR^isiMha in course of a fiery speech to arjuna when the latter was expressing deep concern over fighting ashvathAman:
tataH pA~nchAlarAjasya putraH pArtham athAbravIt |
saMkruddham iva nardantaM hiraNyakashipuM hariH || Mbh 7.168.21 (“Critical”)
Then the son of the pA~nchala king, said to arjuna the following, like the lion (i.e. viShNu) to the furious and enraged hiraNyakashipu.

kR^iShNa tells yudhiShThira that he should kill duryodhana with the appropriate plots or clever plans. As an example he says hiraNyAkSha and hiraNyakashipu were both killed by plots or plans:
kriyAbhy upAyaiH pUrvaM hi hiraNyAkSho mahAsuraH |
hiraNyakashipush chaiva kriyayaiva niShUditau || Mbh 9.30.9 (“Critical”)
The great asura hiraNyAkSha, as also hiraNyakashipu, were both slain by plots and clever plans.

In the early pA~ncharAtrika account in the shAntiparvan we see:
nArasiMhaM vapuH kR^itvA hiraNyakashipuM punaH |
surakArye haniShyAmi yaj~naghnaM diti-nandanam || Mbh 12.326.73 (“Critical”)
viShNu said: Again having taken the form of the man-lion I will slay for the sake of the gods the yaj~na-destroying hiraNyakashipu.

Further, in the shAntiparvan, in the account of skanda defeating prahlAda he is clearly mentioned as hiraNyakashipu’s son. Again, in the shAntiparvan there is a remarkable prose section composed by the early nArAyaNIya pA~ncharAtrika-s in a form resembling the vaidika brAhmaNa texts with the express purpose of presenting viShNu as supreme and down-sizing indra and rudra. This text mentions that hiraNyakashipu originally had vasiShTha as his hotR^i. He dismissed vasiShTha and appointed his nephew trishiras tvAShTra as his hotR^i. Furious vasiShTha cursed him:
hairaNyagarbhAch cha vasiShThAd dhiraNyakashipuH shApaM prAptavAn | yasmAt tvayAnyo vR^ito hotA tasmAd asamApta yaj~nas tvam apUrvAt sattvajAtAd vadhaM prApsyasIti | tach ChApadAnAd dhiraNyakashipuH prAptavAn vadham | (Mbh 12,329.19-20)
hirANyakashipu received a curse from vasiShTha the son of hiraNyagarbha. Since another person was chose as the hotR^i by you, your ritual will be incomplete, and you will attain death at the from being the like of which has never existed before. And by that apparition hiraNyakashipu attained death. [Subsequently, indra kills trishiras tvAShTra who was taking away the soma from the deva-s as in the vaidika account.]

This early pA~ncharAtrika account is remarkable in more than one way: it seems like it was actually adopted from a real brAhmaNa text and reworked to establish the primacy of viShNu-nArAyaNa. It contains an unusual form of the legend, which is seen nowhere else in the later texts, i.e., the connection of hiraNyakashipu with trishiras and him being killed as a result of a curse of vasiShTha who was formerly is purohita. His killing is however attributed to an unprecedented being. This being while not being explicitly named as nR^isiMha or viShNu, there is sufficient hint that it was none other than nR^isiMha. This indeed appears to be one of the earliest versions of the nR^isiMha legend.

In conclusion, we may infer the following: In the rAmAyaNa while the tale of nR^isiMha is not mentioned, the daitya hiraNyakashipu is mentioned. In the mahAbharata, there are multiple clear mentions of hiraNyakashipu and his killing by viShNu in an unusual form namely that of a man-lion or lion. The leonine nature of viShNu per say has ancient roots, but it is not unique to him as several other deities are also attributed leonine forms in the veda. Thus, it appears that the daitya hiraNyakashipu had an early presence (predating the epics) as a major daitya, but his importance was relatively lower than that of other daitya-s like prahlAda, virochana, and bali who despite being his successors are more important in the early layer. While the nR^isiMha legend was connected to the killing of hiraNyakashipu from the beginning it appears that this legend grew in importance only later with the manifestations of viShNu as varAha, vAmana-trivikrama and hayagrIva being more important in the early period.

In this context we may make note of the following. Hindu tradition records two kinds of demons, namely dAnava-s and daitya-s, who were later collectively called asura-s (after the mutual Indo-Iranian polarization of the terms deva and asura). The dAnava-s are the sons of dAnu and daitya-s those of diti, as is emphasized in the paurANika vaMsha-s. In the oldest layer of Hindu tradition (i.e., the RV) only dAnu and dAnava-s are mentioned. Consistent with the old vaMsha preserved in the Mbh, we see that all the major antagonists of the deva-s who are killed by indra assisted by other deva-s in the RV are dAnava-s and not daitya-s. Following are the major dAnava-s mentioned in the RV:
dAnu: mother of the dAnava-s killed by indra.
vR^itra: killed by indra assisted by marut-s sons of rudra, vAyu and viShNu
vala: killed by indra assisted by bR^ihaspati
namuchi: killed by indra assisted by ashvin-s and sarasvatI.
shambara: killed by indra assisted by viShNu and agni.
shuShNa: killed by indra assisted by marut-s sons of rudra.
pipru, kuyava, aurNavAbha: killed by indra.
To this the epics add:
naraka: slain by indra.
jambha: slain by indra probably assisted by viShNu.
viprachitti: killed by indra.
tAraka: killed by kumAra.
krau~ncha: killed by kumAra.
tripura-s (sons of tAraka): killed by rudra (already mentioned in YV).

In contrast, diti is mentioned only 3 times in the RV and the term daitya is wholly missing. Similarly, diti is mentioned a few times in the AV vulgate and paippalAda saMhitA-s but not term daitya. However, the daitya virochana is mentioned as the son of prahrAda in both AV saMhitA-s. Another daitya andhaka (or in the form ardhaka) is also mentioned in the AV (and a lost kaTha text; probably its brAhmaNa). As mentioned earlier, the daitya-s receive little more mention in the brAhmaNa texts. Importantly, among the daitya-s fewer appear to be slain by indra (primarily the ones mentioned in earlier text) and mostly appear in later texts:
hiraNyAkSha: killed by viShNu as varAha.
hiraNyakashipu: killed by viShNu as nR^isiMha.
prahrAda/prahlAda: killed by indra.
virochana: killed by indra.
balin: crushed by viShNu as trivikrama.
andhaka (son of hiraNyAksa): killed by rudra.
sunda and upasunda (grandsons of prahlAda): deva-s tricked them with the help of apsaras tilottamA to kill themselves.
mahiSha (grandson of diti via daughter): killed by kumAra.
bANa (son of balin): killed by kumAra (later partially appropriated by the vaiShNava-s for kR^iShNa vAsudeva).

Thus, it appears that the daitya cycle was a later one developed after the original dAnava cycle and viShNu had a place of prominence as the great deva warrior this cycle. It was within this context that his legend of nR^isiMha arose.

While we have nothing else left of the enigmatic prose nArAyaNIya account mentioned above, do we have any other early account of the nR^isiMha legend? Indeed, there appears to be one which is found in some recensions of the mahAbharata that never made it into the vulgate or the “Critical i.e. the Pune neo-recension”. This is a standalone section that appears in the vanaparvan and describes the exploits of viShNu in a succinct manner. Its archaic nature is suggested by the fact that it recognizes only three manifestations of viShNu namely varAha (incipiently present in the veda), nR^isiMha and vAmana-trivikrama (already present in the veda). It also sets those manifestations in a distinctive context from the usual accounts:

It first describes the end of the universe after the completion of 1000 * 4 yuga cycles; it is first burnt by the saMvartAgni and the stars and planets are said to be completely destroyed. Then all there is a still fluid which is now called the ekArNava (the one ocean). In this ocean the thousand-headed, thousand-limbed nArAyaNa sleeps on the coils of the great serpent sheSha. This is the night of the god when the manifest universe ceases to exist. The text then gives the etymology of nArAyaNa; nArAs is said to be the body of fluid, i.e., that of the ekArNava. This fluid was sent into motion (ayana) by him who is called nArAyaNa for the origination of the universe. Thus, from his nave arose a lotus. From the lotus brahmA was emitted and from him all of existence. Then viShNu assumed the form of a gigantic boar 100 yojana-s in length and brought up from the ekArNava the land for the living beings to live. [Note that in this context varAha is not described as fighting hiraNyAkSha and is placed in the context of a primal origin myth in line with the vaidika allusions to this myth.] Then he is said to assume the of nR^isiMha and slay hiraNyakashipu. Then assuming the form of a dwarf he tricks bali into giving him the three paces of land; Growing gigantic he covers the whole universe and conquers it on behalf of indra.

The nR^isiMha narrative of this text goes thus:
narasya kR^itvArdha-tanuM siMhasyArdha-tanuM prabhuH |
daityendrasya sabhAM gatvA pANiM saMspR^ishya pANinA ||
daityAnAm Adi-puruShaH surArir diti-nandanaH |
dR^iShTvA chApUrva-vapuShaM krodhAt saMrakta-lochanaH ||
shUlodyata-karaH sragvI hiraNyakashipus tadA |
megha-stanita-nirghoSho nIlAbhra-chaya-saMnibhaH ||
devArir ditijo vIro nR^isiMhaM samupAdravat |
samupetya tatas tIkShNair mR^igendreNa balIyasA ||
nArasiMhena vapuShA dAritaH karajair bhR^isham |
evaM nihatya bhagavAn daityendraM ripu-ghAtinam ||

Having assumed a body of half man and half lion the lord [viShNu] having gone to the assembly hall of the the lord of the daitya-s touched one palm with another. The foremost person among the daitya-s, the enemy of the gods, the son of diti, having seen this unprecedented being, who full of anger with blood-shot eyes, with a raised trident in the hand, wearing a garland, thundering like a rain-cloud, gloomy as a black cloud, the enemy of the gods the son of diti, the valiant hiraNyakashipu assailed nR^isiMha. Having seized him with his powerful, sharp claws of the chief of the animals, with the body of a man-lion, he [viShNu] tore him apart violently with his claws. Thus, the lord slew the chief of the daitya, who was the killer of his enemies.

While this account is rather short it still conveys the chief points of the myth: 1) The sudden appearance of nR^isiMha in the sabhA of the demon. 2) The gesture of touching his palms seems to indicate that he would not kill him with his palms, or a weapon held by his palms. 3) It is emphasized that the form was something unprecedented, suggesting that hiraNyakashipu had immunity against regular forms. 4) He is described as holding a trident in his hand – even in this early version of the narrative the convergence between rudra and nR^isiMha had already emerged.

OM nArasiMha-vapuShe shrImate namaH ||

This entry was posted in Heathen thought and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.