Lord Nrisimha’s Exalted Devotee
Whenever we celebrate the appearance day of the Lord as one of His incarnations, such as Lord Nrisimha, whose appearance coincides with this issue of BTG, we naturally honor the Lord’s devotees connected to that incarnation. In the case of Nrisimha, the Lord’s half-man, half-lion avatar, the most special devotee is Prahlada Maharaja.
The history of Lord Nrisimha is told in various places in the Vedic literature. Many of us are familiar with the story as related by Sri Narada in the Seventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and we may know of relevant citations from other sources, such as the Narasimha Purana and the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya.
Sri Narada’s telling of the story, which begins in the second chapter of the Bhagavatam’s Seventh Canto, contains much more information about Prahlada Maharaja and his demonic father, Hiranyakashipu, than about Lord Nrisimha, who makes His dramatic appearance in the eighth chapter. By then we’ve heard about Prahlada’s exalted devotional character. Although only five years old, he was so mature in his pure devotion for the Lord that he was often unaware of his surroundings, his consciousness being fixed in transcendence.
The Bhagavatam (7.4.39) says, “Because of advancement in Krishna consciousness, he sometimes cried, sometimes laughed, sometimes expressed jubilation and sometimes sang loudly.”
We hear praise of Prahlada’s elevated spiritual status in Srila Sanatana Goswami’s Sri Brihad-Bhagavatamrita. In part one of that book, Narada is traveling throughout the universe, searching for “the greatest recipient of Krishna’s mercy,” which means Krishna’s greatest devotee. At one point, Lord Shiva directs Narada to Prahlada Maharaja, who is living on a lower planet called Sutala.
Lord Shiva says, “There is a greater recipient of Krishna’s mercy than your father [Brahma], me, and other servants like Garuda, and even than the goddess of fortune. His name is Prahlada. He is famous throughout the world as the dearmost devotee of Krishna.”
When meeting Prahlada in Sutala, Narada mentions that, after killing Hiranyakashipu to protect Prahlada, Lord Nrisimha could not be pacified. All the demigods and other celestial beings who had arrived on the scene, including Lakshmi Devi, the Lord’s consort, were afraid to even go near Him.
Narada said to Prahlada, “Brahma, terrified, begged you to approach Sri Nrisimha. And when you fell at the Lord’s divine lotus feet, the Lord stood up and raised you from the ground. He put His lotus hand upon your head and began to lick your entire body.”
Prahlada offered many wonderful prayers to the Lord, related in Canto Seven, chapter 9, of the Bhagavatam. Srila Prabhupada lectured daily on this chapter during ISKCON’s 1976 Mayapur-Vrindvan Festival. He remarked how amazing it was that a five-year-old boy was offering such meaningful prayers, filled with knowledge and devotion.
When Prahlada finished His prayers, Lord Nrisimha asked him to request anything from Him, including liberation. Prahlada replied that he only wanted devotion to the Lord. He said that his service to the Lord was inspired by his being the Lord’s eternal servant and that receiving a reward for his service would be unbefitting.
Pressed by Lord Nrisimha, Prahlada finally asked that his demonic father be delivered from the horrible results of his sinful life. The Lord assured him that not only was Hiranyakashipu already delivered from material existence, but twenty-one generations of his forebears were as well (which would include ancestors from Prahlada’s previous birth).
Prahlada is an example of how the Lord’s devotee delivers the Lord to us. It is because of Prahlada’s pure devotion that the history of Lord Nrisimha has been retold for millennia for the benefit of all who hear it.
– Nagaraja Dasa