Prahlad — An imaginative retelling

Away we go to an ancient time

Where born to a saint was a demon child

Though born of virtuous Daksha’s loin

Hiranyakashipu grew unrighteous, wicked, and wild

Through disciplined worship and austerity

The wicked demon obtains Brahma’s boon

That he not be slayed by any living being

Not on ground or sky shall he meet his doom

He cannot be killed within his house or outside

Nor by sword or spear, nor in day or night

So free was he to let wickedness spring forth

And men and angels saw no end in sight

Yet the Lord of all felt the sorrow of creation

As the Earth itself groaned with pain

So in the demon’s sinless wife was planted

The seed by which the world would virtue regain

A holy child received God’s Grace

While still enveloped by his mother’s womb

Thus does the Lord set the path by which

The dying Earth shall walk out of her tomb

The demonic father slaughters virtuous men

And through vice brings his people shame

Yet to his wife Prahlad is born

A son, born virtuous, chanting the Holy Name

His father desired that the son have no knowledge

Of God, of virtue, and of eternal law

He put his son in charge of strict advisors

But they could not control what his insight saw

As the son grew pious, the father grew enraged

There is no God said he, no power greater than me

Leave aside your prayer, and your belief in the Law

Sit by your father, conquer the world that you see

Now the boy still honored his father, so spoke

In a sweet and reverential tone

Repent, Beloved Father, of your ways

For sin builds on sin and turns hearts to stone

But if you should turn away from evil

If you wash your hands and make your mind clean

Then your scarlet sins will be made snow

By that great and glorious Power unseen

The angry father stared at his son

With a menacing and contemptuous glare

This impudent fool, fruit of my loins

Of my almighty power I shall make him aware

He ordered his own child thrown into the arena

Where wild elephants did bodies trample

And the devoted boy put his trust in the Lord

Of courageous faith became the noblest example

Illustration by Evelyn Paul [Stories of Indian gods and heroes, WD Monro (public domain)]

Yet when the wild elephants did encounter

That noble, fearless, and devoted child

All savagery from their hearts did disappear

And they knelt in awe of the boy so mild

The sight of his fierce elephants bowing

To his sworn enemy enraged the King

In a mad lust for power, he commanded

Wood for a funeral pyre to bring

The angry father bellowed and wailed

You shall indeed be made to kneel

Through penance and prayer I have acquired

Power that makes even devas squeal

So thought the boy, of the wicked mistress Sin

Who had blinded his father that he could not see

That God was not meant to adapt to our will

That we must conform our heart to be set free

The Demon King’s sister, immune to flames

Grabbed the holy child and sat him on the pyre

And the boy hung his helplessness on the Lord

As the King set alight the wood with fire

The Lord covered him with the shadow of his wing

For he would not let him come to harm

He caused from the evil sister the shroud to spring

To the boy it now provided an eternal balm

So Hollika burned, as Prahlad stayed still

Her screams of pain contrast with his silence

And yet Hiranyakashipu did not see

The wicked fruit of his ceaseless violence

Neither beast or flame had harmed the boy

And the King pranced in his rage

Going back and forth while cursing the Lord

Like a wild tiger trapped in a cage

You pray to him, but I see him not

Where is your beloved fictitious being

The One you pray to ceaselessly, is he

So weak that he allows not himself to be seen

The boy replied, his face still poised

In all created things is He

Through his power all is sustained

Devoid of it, all shall cease to be

Then in this very pillar should he exist

If what you say about him is true

Come let me smash it, said the King

And deal with that cowardly fool

And so with his powerful mace he smashed

The pillar in that palatial room

With a thunderous crack then did fear descend

Presaging the Demon King’s doom

A beast emerges with a lion’s head from

That pillar smashed by the demon’s mace

His lower half was that of a man

What a dreadful way to show His Grace

Through his own wicked and vengeful blindness

Did this beast the Demon King bring

And soon enough he shall learn; that to fall

Into the hands of the living God is a fearful thing

The beast emerged in his terrible glory

With fangs of ivory and claws of steel

In front of the Lord of all creation

Every tongue shall tell, and every man shall kneel

The Demon swings his mace in vain

At Heaven’s transcendent glory

Truth shall triumph over falsehood

At the end of every eternal story

The beast of doom grabs the demon king

And lays him across his thigh

On the threshold of his palatial home

Neither on the Earth, nor in sky

His claws then rip the demon’s skin

From his flesh and bone right clear

He sinks his fangs into his heart

Neither by sword, nor by spear

India, Himachal Pradesh, Nurpur, circa 1760–1770

The boy recognizes the Lord has come

In the lion-man’s disguise

He bows his head and folds his palms

Awaiting heaven, faith’s eternal prize

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.