“Achanchala bhakti” (unwavering faith) is the essence of the story of Prahlada, described in Srimad Bhagavatam through chapters 1 to 9 of its seventh book – simple enough as a thought, but defined, explicated, illustrated and generally plumbed in style only a person of incredible depth of scholarship, research and cerebration can do. Such was Kalyanapuram Aravamudachariar's Harikatha exposition of the episode of Bhakta Prahlada.
The listeners were overwhelmed by the flood of words of deep significance drenched with sweet music. Anecdotes and quotations from poetry, metaphysics, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita Govindam, Narayaneeyam and the Vedas came forth endlessly. One had Nammazhwar, Kamban, Valmiki, Vyasa, Marathi abhangs, et al, giving wise guidance about the individual, family and society. For music there was Naattai, Poorvikalyani, Sahana, Charukesi, Anandabhairavi, Behag, Kalyani, Bilahari, Dhanyasi, Sama, etc.
Enough ambience was generated in the auditorium for one to feel elevated way above the mundane plane within minutes from start of the two-and-a-half-hour discourse delivered by Aravamudachariar standing upright all through.
The name of the Lord (ashtakshara) enjoys a status higher than that of even the Lord.
Chariar referred to our age-old custom of naming children with epithets of the Lord, so that by calling them we utter His name. One way bhakti can enter our life is through panic or fear, as in the deathbed. In Ajamila, the seed of bhakti got implanted as he witnessed how his calling out, in mortal fear, to his son named Narayana sparked a great debate between the Yama kinkaras and Vishnudootas and mused upon the power of the mere name, and thereafter turned to become a great sage. (Srimad Bhagavatam, chapters 1 and 2, Book 6).
The other kind of bhakti is congenital, “Jaayamaana kataaksham.” Prahlada received his initiation from Narada, as an embryo in the womb of Hiranyakasipu's wife, and Pareekshit was blessed when the Sudarsana chakra shielded Uttara's womb targeted by Aswatthaama's deadly missile. These two characters can be described as “Garbhasreemaan”.
An interesting comparison was drawn between the Vraja maidens who clustered around Krishna and Draupadi who saw Him only occasionally. While the former had to plead to Him directly “Vaasaamsi dehi” (“let us have our robes”), Draupadi, facing the ultimate humiliation of being disrobed in Duryodhana's open court, could resort to only uttering his names (Achyuta, Ananda, Govinda, Kesava, Madhusudana, Jagannatha, Bhaktavatsala, Krishna, Dwarakaavaasa, Yaadavanandana…) to receive an endless supply of cloth to protect her modesty.
Reference was also made to reaching Him through sentiments other than love - “bhayaat, dveshaat, snehaat, bhaktya” - fear (Kamsa), hate (Sisupaala), friendship (Pandavas) and devotion (Prahlada). Replying to his father's question about what he thought as the most worthwhile thing to do, Prahlada replies: “Tat saadhu manye vanam gato yat Harim aasrayeta” (I regard as supreme the act of retiring to the woods to meditate on Vishnu). Chariar interprets the word ‘Hari' in the alternative sense of ‘Lion' and sees this as a dramatic irony, in which a person who is yet to appear in the drama (Narahari or Narasimha) is referred to – an imaginative and insightful point of view!
Chariar addressed a pertinent, if hypothetical, issue meaningfully: Why does not Vishnu, Who descended to destroy one Hiranyakasipu, appear now, seeing there are so many Hiranyakasipus?
Response: the focus in the avatara was not Hirantakasipu but Prahlada. “Do we see a single Prahlada today? Then there will be an avataara.” The faith that the child of five had in his Master, when he affirmed that He was everywhere – “chaanilum ullan, it-toonilum ullan…”- had to be corroborated -
“Satyam vidhaatum nija-bhrtya-bhaashitam
Vyaaptim cha bhooteshu cha akhileshu cha aatmana:
Adrsyata ati adbhuta roopam udvahan
Stambhe sabhaayam na mrgam, na maanusham.”
(To make word of slave come true/Entered He everywhere in this universe wide
To reveal form so wonderful/ Upon that stage – nor beast, nor man.)
In the process, He also stood by Brahma, keeping the conditions of His boon in word and spirit - an important principle in Management: never let down your assistants or team when finding a solution.
The Lord granted Prahlada's wish: that his father's sins be not visited upon his successors.