Our Blog


Hiranyakashipu, on the lap, being killed by Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu. The strange shape is the innovation Vishnu had to use to neutralize Hiranyakashipu's five special powers.
Holi is a festival celebrated in north India. It marks the coming of Spring, usually in March. Few families hold religious ceremonies, but for many Holi is more a time for fun than religious observance.  Holi is a colourful festival, with dancing, singing, and throwing of powder paint and coloured water. The legend of Holika and Prahlad is linked to Holi. 

The Legend of Holika and Prahlad

According to Bhagavat Purana, a king named Hiranyakashipu who, like many demons and Asuras, had the intense desire to be immortal. To fulfill this desire, he performed the required penances until he was granted a boon by Brahma (the creator in the Hindu trinity). Since the Gods rarely granted immortality, he used his guile and cunning to get a boon which he thought made him immortal. The boon gave Hiranyakashyapu five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by projective weapons (atra) nor by any handheld weapons (shastra), and neither on land nor in water or air.

As this wish was granted, Hiranyakashyapu felt invincible, which made him arrogant. Hiranyakashyapu decreed that only he be worshiped as a God, punishing and killing all who defied him. His son, Prahlad, disagreed with his father, and refused to worship his father as a God, continuing instead to worship Vishnu.

This made Hiranyakashipu very angry and he made various attempts to kill Prahlad. During a particular attempt on Prahlad's life, King Hiranyakashyapu called upon his sister Holika for help. Holika had a special cloak that protected her from being harmed by fire. Hiranyakashyapu asked her to sit on a bonfire with Prahlad, by tricking the boy to sit on her lap and she herself took her seat in flames. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life: she was unaware that the boon worked only when she entered a fire alone. Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Vishnu all this while, came out unscathed as Vishnu blessed him for his extreme devotion.

Vishnu appeared in the form of Narasimha - half human and half lion, at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Hiranyakashyapu at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon). In this form, the boon of five special powers granted to Hiranyakashyapu were no longer useful. Prahlad and the kingdom of human beings were thus free from the compulsion and fear of Hiranyakashyapu, showing the victory of good over evil.


Comments ( 2 )

  • Anna says:

    Hello! I am searching for the original text in the Puranas where Holika takes Prahlada into the fire, but instead of him the fire does only harm her. I was searching intensely, but couldn’t find – whether in the Bhagavata Purana nor in the Vishnu Purana – the original text of that special myth. Every hint would be of big help! Thank you! Anna

Leave a message

Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonYouTube IconSubscribe on YouTubeTwitter Icontwitter follow buttoniTunes