Hiranyakasipu was the king of Daityas. He performed tapas and got a boon from Brahma: he could not be slain by man or beast. He became arrogant with the boon. He thought he was so powerful that he could terrorize all the three worlds. He also thought that there was no need for an Almighty God to rule this universe. He hated all believers in God and treated them as his enemies. His tyranny was such that he asked his subjects to worship him as God and to give up all their current religious practices. All the temples in his kingdom were destroyed and the ancient scriptures were burnt. He decreed that religion was forbidden at home and at school. Any citizen could utter the name of God to his or her children only on pain of execution. All officers of his kingdom were asked to propagate the message that there was no one higher than Hiranyakasipu in the entire universe. Prahlada was Hiranyakasipu's son. He got his education in a gurukulam for some years and learnt all the arts befitting a prince. Prahlada visited Hiranyakasipu together with his teacher during Prahlada's stay in the gurukulam. Hiranyakasipu asked Prahlada, "What have you learnt so far, my son?" "Dear father, let me tell you the essence of all that I have learnt so far. I adore Him who is without beginning, middle or end; He is the imperishable Lord of the Universe and the First Cause." These words pierced Hiranyakasipu's heart like arrows and provoked the king in utter rage. Hiranyakasipu's eyes became red with anger and he was trembling with emotion. He turned towards the teacher and asked him what type of teaching he had been imparting to Prahlada. "O King!," replied the teacher politely, "I did not teach Prahlada what he has just told you. I am myself surprised by Prahlada's conviction and at what he said." Hiranyakasipu now turned towards Prahlada, "Who has taught you these vile lessons about the imperishable Lord? Your teacher denies it." "O father! The God of gods is the Supreme instructor of the entire universe. Can you not see His teaching on all material and natural objects of the world-on rocks and trees, in the sky and oceans and most importantly, in the face of man?" "Who is the God of gods you are talking about? I am the only sovereign of the three worlds!" Hiranyakasipu exclaimed. "Human beings are too frail to describe the glory of God. God is only to be meditated upon in utter devotion. All things emanate from the Supreme God and all things abide in Him." "You fool, my son! Do you want to die? How can you call someone else supreme while I am around?" "The Supreme God is the creator, protector and destroyer of everything in the universe. He is also your Lord, my father. Why do you feel offended by this truth?" "Evil spirits have entered your heart. Only a possessed person can utter such words." Hiranyakasipu tried hard to fathom the mind of his son. "Not only in my heart, God has entered into all hearts. God is all pervasive. We, you and I, live and move only because of Him." Hiranyakasipu had had enough of the wretched words, "Take this fool of Prahlada away to his teacher's house. I will speak to the teacher later." After some months, Prahlada was beckoned into the presence of Hiranyakasipu, "Now tell me, if you have learnt any good verses." "May He grace us! May He, who moves everything May He, who is the cause of creation, animate and inanimate May He, the God of gods bless us!" Hiranyakasipu was livid with anger, "Kill this wretched boy! He deserves to die. He is a disgrace to the clan of Hiranyakasipu." "God is present in the weapons of your soldiers and also in my body, so they cannot hurt me," said Prahlada exuding confidence. Hiranyakasipu drew his sword and struck at Prahlada. Prahlada felt no pain. The king's sword did not even leave a scratch. Hiranyakasipu struck repeatedly but with no impact. Hiranyakasipu got exasperated, "Chain up Prahlada and lodge him in the dungeon." Hiranyakasipu tried all types of tortures: throwing Prahlada among poisonous snakes, trampling by furious elephants, tricks of sorcery, and scorching with flames, but to no avail. None of these tortures could hurt Prahlada a bit. In one instance, Prahlada prayed to God to show mercy on the sorcerers and brought them back to life even though they had been consumed in the flames they tried to throw at Prahlada. As the magicians came back to life, they bowed to Prahlada and thanked him for his generosity. Hiranyakasipu was wondering how Prahlada was able to counter the magical arts of the sorcerers, "Wherefrom did you attain these magical powers?" "Father," replied Prahlada, "If we think of no evil to others, we have nothing to fear. I see the same God in all beings as in my own soul. One whose heart is filled with the Supreme Being sees the same Lord everywhere. Father, the power I possess is possessed by all whose hearts recognize the God of gods abiding in them." Hiranyakasipu was shaking with fury as he listened to the words of his son, Prahlada. He ordered his palace servants to throw the boy down from the palace tower so that his body will be smashed to pieces on the ground. The goddess earth received Prahlada gently in her lap as the guards of the palace hurled Prahlada down. Hiranyakasipu ordered that the boy be bound and thrown into the ocean. The Daityas who carried our the orders reported failure: "O King, the boy started floating in the waters. The ocean was in fury and threatened to submerge the earth with its waves." Hiranyakasipu ordered that rocks be tied on with Prahlada so that he and the rocks will sink to the bottom of the ocean.
Prahlada started praying: "Glory to thee, O Supreme Being". You as Brahma created this world; as Vishnu, You preserve this world; and as Rudra, You destroy it. Thou art everything, all things are only Your forms. Thou art everywhere, here at the bottom of the ocean as also in the sky high above. I am everlasting, imperishable and unchangeable because I am one with Thee." Thus meditating, Prahlada was lost in prayer and became one with the object of his meditations. At once, the bonds which bound him were burst asunder, the piles of rock crumbled into sand and he came up floating on the waves. As he floated on the tossing waves, Prahlada praised the Lord's glory: "Thou art perceptible and imperceptible; divisible and indivisible; definable and indefinable; mutable and immutable; Thou are both one and many. You are the First Cause of the Universe."
The Supreme Being now appeared before Prahlada, "Child, your trials are over now. I am pleased with your faithful devotion to me. What boon do you demand?"
Prahlada replied prayerfully, "In all my births, my faith in Thee should not decay!" "I know your devotion will be unwavering. Now choose another boon." "O Supreme Being! Pardon my father for punishing me just because I was praising Thee. Free him from ignorance and sin." "I grant the boon you desire. Now choose another boon for yourself." "All my desires are fulfilled by the boon you granted me that my devotion in You will not decay. I need no other boon." "Those shall live in me for ever." So saying, the Supreme Being vanished from Prahlada's sight. The king Hiranyakasipu was now a changed man. He embraced Prahlada, "Are you alive, my dear child? I repent for my cruelty. I now believe in the Supreme Being."
NOTES: This is the ending in story line of the Vishnu Purana. The Bhagavata Purana relates that Hiranyakasipu demanded his son Prahlada to prove that God existed everywhere and asked if He was in the pillar of the hall in the palace. Hiranyakasipu struck the pillar with his fist and God came out in the form of a man with a lion's head and tore the tyrant king into pieces. He was Narasimha who had to adopt this hybrid man-animal form because Hiranyakasipu had obtained a boon that he would be killed neither by man nor animal. The boon did not bar the king being killed by a hybrid form.