Hiranyakashipu or Hiranyakasipu or Hiranyakashipa (Sanskrit: हिरण्यकशिपु, "clothed in gold"; the name is said to depict one who is very much fond of wealth and sex life: hiranya "gold," kashipu "soft cushion") is an Asura from the Puranic scriptures of Hinduism. His younger brother, Hiranyaksha was slain by Varaha, one of the Avatars of Vishnu. Angered by this, Hiranyakashipu decided to gain magical powers by performing a penance for Lord Brahma. He was subsequently killed by the Narasimha Avatara of Lord Vishnu. His tale depicts the futility of desiring power over others and the strength of God's protection over his fully surrendered devotees (in the case of his son Prahlada).
The story of Hiranyakashipu is in three parts. The first has to do with the curse of the Four Kumaras on the gatekeepers of Vaikuntha, Jaya and Vijaya, which causes them to be born as the asuras Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu. The second part deals with Hiranyakashipu's penance to propitiate Brahma and gain a boon from him. The final part deals with his efforts to kill his son Prahlada (a devotee of Vishnu) and his subsequent death at the hands of Narasimha.
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According to a story from Bhagavata Purana, Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha are Vishnu's gatekeepers Jaya and Vijaya, born on earth as the result of a curse from the Four Kumaras. According to sources, the birthplace of Hiranyakashipu is Moolsthan (present-day Multan).
In Satya Yuga, Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha - together called the Hiranyas - were born to Diti (daughter of Daksha Prajapathi) and the sage Kashyapa. It is said that asuras were born to them as a result of their union at the time of dusk, which was said to be an inauspicious time for such a deed.
After his brother Hiranyaksha's death at the hands of the Varaha avatar of Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu comes to hate Vishnu. He decides to kill him by gaining mystical powers, which he believes Brahma, the chief among the devas, will award to him if he undergoes many years of great austerity and penance, just as Brahma awarded powers to other Rakshasas.
This initially seemed to work as planned, with Brahma becoming pleased by Hiranyakashipu's austerities. Brahma appears before Hiranyakashipu and offers him a boon of his choice. But when Hiranyakashipu asks for immortality, Brahma refuses. Hiranyakashipu then makes the following request:
O my lord, O best of the givers of benediction, if you will kindly grant me the benediction I desire, please let me not meet death from any of the living entities created by you.
Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought by any being other than those created by you, nor by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.
Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. Since no one can kill you in the battlefield, you have no competitor. Therefore, grant me the benediction that I too may have no rival. Give me sole lordship over all the living entities and presiding deities, and give me all the glories obtained by that position. Furthermore, give me all the mystic powers attained by long austerities and the practice of yoga, for these cannot be lost at any time.
Prahlada and Narasimha
Whilst Hiranyakashipu is performing the penance to be granted this boon, Indra and the other devas attack his home, seizing the opportunity in his absence. At this point the divine sage Narada intervenes to protect Hiranyakashipu's wife Kayadhu, whom he describes as 'sinless'. Narada takes Kayadhu into his care, and while she is under his guidance, her unborn child (Hiranyakashipu's son) Prahlada becomes affected by the transcendental instructions of the sage even in the womb. Later, growing as a child, Prahlada begins to show symptoms of Narada's prenatal training and gradually becomes recognised as a devoted follower of Vishnu, much to his father's disappointment.
Hiranyakashipu eventually becomes so angry and upset at his son's devotion to Vishnu (whom he sees as his mortal enemy) that he decides he must kill him but each time he attempts to kill the boy, Prahlada is protected by Vishnu's mystical power. When asked, Prahlada refuses to acknowledge his father as the supreme lord of the universe and claims that Vishnu is all-pervading and omnipresent. To which Hiranyakashipu points to a nearby pillar and asks if 'his Vishnu' is in it:
"O most unfortunate Prahlada, you have always described a supreme being other than me, a supreme being who is above everything, who is the controller of everyone, and who is all-pervading. But where is He? If He is everywhere, then why is He not present before me in this pillar?"
Prahlada then answers, He was, He is and He will be. (In an alternate version of the story, Prahlada answers He is in pillars, and he is in the least twig.) Hiranyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashes the pillar with his mace. A tumultuous sound is heard, and Vishnu in the form of Narasimha appears from the broken pillar and moves to attack Hiranyakashipu in defence of Prahlada.
Vishnu has chosen here to appear in the form of Narasimha in order to be able to kill Hiranyakashipu without violating the boon given by Brahma. Hiranyakashipu cannot be killed by human, deva or animal, but Narasimha is none of these, as he is a form of Vishnu (a deva) incarnate as part human, part animal. He comes upon Hiranyakashipu at twilight (when it is neither day nor night) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out), and puts the demon on his thighs (neither earth nor space). Using his nails (neither animate nor inanimate) as weapons, he disembowels and kills the demon.
Even after Hiranyakashipu's death, none of the gods and demigods present are able to calm Narasimha's fury, not even Shiva. So all the gods and goddesses call His consort, the goddess Lakshmi, but she is also unable to do so. Then, at the request of Brahma, Prahlada is presented to Narasimha, who is finally calmed by the prayers of his devotee.
One of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill Prahlada was to have him sit on a burning pyre with his sister Holika. Holika had a special gift that prevented her from being harmed by fire. Prahlada chanted Vishnu's name and in the battle of good against evil, Holika was burnt down but nothing happened to Prahlad. The burning of Holika is celebrated in Hinduism as the festival of Holi.
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 734.
- Mani, Vettam (1975). Puranic Encyclopaedia: A Comprehensive Dictionary With Special Reference to the Epic and Puranic Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 314. ISBN 0-8426-0822-2.
- Bhag-P 7.4.1 "Lord Brahma was very much satisfied by Hiranyakasipu's austerities, which were difficult to perform"
- Bhag-P, Canto 7 7.3.35–38
- Bhag-P 7.7.6 "The victorious demigods plundered the palace of Hiranyakasipu, the King of the demons, and destroyed everything within it. Then Indra, King of heaven, arrested my mother, the Queen"
-  "When Hiranyakasipu left his kingdom and went to the mountain known as Mandaracala to execute severe austerities, all the demons scattered. Hiranyakashipu's wife, Kayadhu, was pregnant at that time."
- Bhag-P 7.7.8 "Narada Muni said: O Indra, King of the demigods, this woman is certainly sinless. You should not drag her off in this merciless way. O greatly fortunate one, this chaste woman is the wife of another. You must immediately release her."
- Bhag-P 7.8.6
- Bhag-P 7.8.3–4 "Thus he finally decided to kill his son Prahlada. Hiranyakashipu was by nature very cruel, and feeling insulted, he began hissing like a snake trampled upon by someone's foot."
- Bhag-P 7.8.12
- Bhag-P 7.8.29 "Lord Nrisimhadeva placed the demon on His lap, supporting him with His thighs, and in the doorway of the assembly hall the Lord very easily tore the demon to pieces with the nails of His hand."
- Bhag-P 7.9