The lady was lusty and wanted sons.
Little did she know that her children
would be demons, and that the Lord Himself
would have to come and kill them.
It was evening. The sun was setting on the forest cottage of the great sage Kasyapa Muni. As the sage sat in ecstatic trance, meditating on Lord Krishna deep within his heart, his beautiful wife Diti approached him in a lusty mood.
“O learned one,” she said, “Cupid is forcibly distressing me with his arrows tonight, just as a mad elephant troubles a banana tree. I want to have sons, like your other wives, so please lay with me and pacify my anxiety.”
“O afflicted one,” said Kasyapa, “I shall certainly satisfy you forthwith, but you must wait just a few moments. This particular time of day is most inauspicious, for at this time Lord Siva, the king of the ghosts, travels throughout the land on the back of his bull, accompanied by his horrible, ghostly companions. Lord Siva’s body is reddish and is covered with ashes, and his hair is dusted with the whirlwind dust of the burning crematorium. Of course, his devilish appearance is misleading, for his personal qualities are beyond reproach. Indeed, he controls the material energy. Considering all these things, we should wait until a more auspicious time so as not to offend him.”
But Diti felt pressed by Cupid, and she caught hold of Kasyapa’s clothing, just like a shameless prostitute. Unable to dissuade his wife, Kasyapa resigned himself to his fate and lay with Diti in a secluded place.
Afterward, Kasyapa bathed himself and meditated on the Supreme Lord’s eternal effulgence, silently chanting sacred hymns. When he had finished, Diti approached him, her face lowered in shame.
She said, “My dear brahmana, please see that Lord Siva does not kill my embryo because of the great offense I have committed against him. He is forgiving, but his anger can move him to chastise others. Since he is the husband of my sister Sati, I pray that he will forgive me.”
Diti trembled with fear as Kasyapa answered her: “Because your mind was polluted, because you defiled the evening hour, because you neglected my directions, and because you ignored the demigods, everything was inauspicious. O haughty one, you will therefore bear two contemptuous sons from your condemned womb. O unlucky woman, they will bring constant lamentation to all the three worlds! They will kill poor and faultless creatures, torture women, and enrage great souls. At that time the Supreme Lord of the universe, the well-wisher of all, will descend and kill them, just as Indra smashes mountains with his thunderbolts.”
Diti was terribly disturbed, but after some time she became pacified. “After all,” she said, “it is very good that the all-merciful Lord will kill my sons and in that way liberate them from material bondage.”
Since she knew that her sons would cause nothing but grief all over the universe, Diti tried to hold them within her womb. During this time the sun dimmed, and the demigods went to Lord Brahma to ask his help. Brahma explained that the Supreme Lord wanted to exercise His fighting spirit: He had arranged that two demigods take birth as His demoniac opponents. Finally, after a full hundred years’ pregnancy, Diti brought forth her twin sons.
Upon the two demons’ birth, many fearful things happened throughout the heavenly and earthly planets. Earthquakes shook the land, and many foreboding planets like Saturn appeared in the sky. Comets, meteors, and thunderbolts disturbed the atmosphere. Darkness reigned everywhere, and cows grew so terrified that they yielded not milk but blood. Clouds rained pus, and, without the slightest wind, trees came crashing down. The end of the universe seemed at hand.
Soon Diti’s sons began to exhibit uncommon bodily features. Their steellike frames grew as large as two mountains, and the crests of their gold crowns seemed to touch the sky. Wherever they went they blocked the sun, and with their every step the earth shook. Kasyapa saw the demoniac nature of his twin sons and named them accordingly.
After naming the elder son Hiranyakasipu, “one whose only concern is gold and soft bedding,” Kasyapa called the younger son Hiranyaksa, “one who hunts for gold everywhere.” In fact, Hiranyaksa would excavate so much gold from the earth as to upset the planet’s equilibrium and plunge her into the Garbhodaka Ocean, at the universe’s bottom. To lift the earth out of the muck beneath the Garbhodaka Ocean, the Supreme Lord would incarnate as Varaha, the giant boar. With its long tusks, a boar can pick things up from filthy places; so the Lord would appear as the giant boar Varaha to rescue the earth.
Meanwhile, Hiranyakasipu was undergoing severe austerities to get a benediction from Brahma. When Brahma granted his desire, Hiranyakasipu thought that he had become immortal. So he became extremely haughty and vicious, and he brought all three planetary systems under his control.
Always eager to fight for his elder brother, Hiranyaksa took a huge club on his shoulder and traveled all over the universe. With golden anklets that clanged on his feet, a gigantic garland that swayed around his neck, and a fierce temper that flared for even the slightest reason, Hiranyaksa traversed the heavenly planets. His enormous mental and bodily strength (he shared Brahma’s boon upon Hiranyakasipu) made him very proud. He feared death at the hands of no one, and there was no checking him. Seized with fear at the very sight of him, the demigods fled to their heavenly abodes. When he could not find Indra and the other demigods who had previously been proud of their power, Hiranyaksa roared with cruel laughter.
After returning from the heavenly kingdom, the mighty Hiranyaksa dove deep into the Garbhodaka Ocean, just as a wrathful elephant might dive into a river. He moved about in the ocean for many years and smote the gigantic wind-tossed waves again and again with his iron mace; thus, he terrified all the sea’s inhabitants. Finally, he reached the city of Vibhavari, which lies within the watery kingdom. It is the capital of the demigod Varuna, lord of the aquatics.
Hiranyaksa fell at Varuna’s feet in false humility. Smiling with contempt, the demon asked, “Give me battle, O supreme lord! You are the guardian of an entire sphere and a ruler of wide fame. Having crushed the might of many arrogant and conceited warriors, O lord, you are fit to be worshiped by the rare and lavish Rajasuya sacrifice!”
Thus mocked by an enemy whose vanity knew no bounds, the lord of the waters grew extremely angry. But by the strength of his reason, Varuna curbed his anger and cooly replied: “O dear one, we have now desisted from warfare, having grown too old for combat. Besides, you are so skilled in the arts of war that I do not see anyone but Lord Visnu who is worthy to meet you in battle. Therefore, you should seek Him out without delay. I am sure that you will then be rid of your pride at once and will lie down on the battlefield, surrounded by dogs, for eternal sleep. Just to exterminate wicked fellows like you and show His grace to the virtuous, the Lord assumes various incarnations, such as Varaha, the divine boar.”
Recklessly ignoring Varuna’s prediction, Hiranyaksa dove deep into the ocean to search out Lord Varaha. The Lord had just then descended into the depths to rescue the earth, and Hiranyaksa came upon Him as he was bearing the globe upward on the ends of His massive tusks.
The demon laughed. “Oh, an amphibious beast! O fool, O lowest of the demigods in the form of a boar, just listen to me. This earth planet is entrusted to us, the residents of the lower regions, and You cannot take it from my presence without being punished by me. You rascal. You have been nourished by our enemies just to kill us, and You have managed to kill a few demons by remaining invisible. But Your power is only a sham, O fool, so today I shall enliven my kinsmen by smashing Your skull with my mace!”
Although Hiranyaksa’s shaftlike words pained Lord Varaha, He tolerated the pain without reacting, for He saw that the earth on the end of His tusks was frightened of falling. Instead of fighting at once, Lord Varaha rose out of the water—just as a bull elephant emerges from the river with his she-elephant when assailed by a crocodile.
As the Lord rose out of the water, the demon chased Him, roaring like thunder. “Are you not ashamed to flee a challenging adversary? But then again, what could shame a shameless wretch like You?!”
Lord Varaha placed the earth within His sight on the surface of the water and transferred His own energy to her so that she could float. While the enraged Hiranyaksa looked on, Brahma sang the Lord’s praises, and the other demigods showered flowers upon Him.
With the earth now safe, the Lord turned to Hiranyaksa, laughed mockingly, and began to vent His own terrible anger. “O mischievous one, I am indeed an amphibious beast, and I am seeking to kill hunting dogs like you. I have no fear from your loose talk, for you are bound up by the laws of death. You are said to be the commander of many soldiers, so now you can take prompt steps to conquer Me. Give up all your foolish talk and slay Me. A proud man is but an ass if he fails to fulfill his promised word.”
Thus challenged by Lord Varaha, Hiranyaksa trembled in anger. Like a cobra he hissed, all his senses shaken by wrath. Now the demon sprang upon the Lord and struck His chest with his huge mace. But the Lord easily dodged the blow. Again and again the demon rushed the Lord, brandishing his mace and biting his lip in rage. Then with His own mace the Lord struck the enemy’s right temple. But, also an expert fighter, the demon used his mace to block the blow.
In this way, the demon Hiranyaksa and Lord Varaha struck each other with their huge maces, each enraged and each intent on winning. Their rivalry was keen, and both sustained many injuries from the maces’ sharp points. With each new injury, they became more enraged at the smell of the blood smeared over their bodies. Both were great fighters, and with the earth floating helplessly nearby, they looked like two bulls battling for a cow.
After some time, Brahma and his associates came to see Lord Varaha’s fight for the earth. Brahma said, “My dear Lord, this demon Hiranyaksa has harassed and terrorized the demigods, the brahmanas, the cows, and innocent people whose only refuge is Your lotus feet. Since I awarded him a boon, he has simply wandered throughout the universe looking for a worthy opponent. My dear Lord, please do not play with this most wicked and arrogant serpent any longer, for he is very skilled at conjuring up tricks. My dear Lord, You are unconquerable, so please kill him immediately, before the demoniac hour arrives and he presents some new approach favorable to him. The dark evening is fast approaching. Therefore, since You are the Soul of all souls, kindly kill Him quickly by Your divine energy and win victory for the demigods.”
When he heard Brahma’s anxious words. Lord Varaha laughed heartily and accepted his prayer with a glance laden with love. Hiranyaksa was stalking fearlessly before Him, so the Lord sprang at the demon and aimed His mace at his chin. But the demon knocked the mace from the Lord’s hand, sending the splendid weapon whirling into the sea. A cry of alarm arose from the assembled crowd of demigods and sages. But their worst fears proved ill-founded, for although Hiranyaksa had an excellent chance to strike the Lord, the demon respected the law of one-to-one combat and put aside his own mace. This further kindled the fury of the Lord, who then invoked His Sudarsana disk, the supreme weapon.
As the Sudarsana disk whirled in the Lord’s hands, and as the Lord confronted Hiranyaksa, the onlookers cried, “May You win the victory! Please finish him!” When the demon saw the Lord standing before him with His Sudarsana disk, his anger exploded. Again he hissed like a serpent and bit his lip hatefully. For some time he stared at the Lord with burning eyes. Then, suddenly, he took up his mace once more and hurled it at the Lord, screaming, “You are slain!” But the Lord playfully knocked the mace down with His left foot, even though it had come upon Him with the force of a tempest.
Then the Lord told the demon, cooly, “Take up your weapon and try again, eager as you are to conquer Me.” Hiranyaksa retrieved his mace and with a loud roar hurled it at the Lord. But the Lord stood His ground firmly and caught the mace with the ease of a large hawk snatching a mouse.
His valor frustrated and his pride destroyed, Hiranyaksa was reluctant to take up the mace for a third time. Instead, he came forth with his fearsome trident, flaming like fire, and hurled it at the Lord with all his strength. But the Lord tore it to pieces with the razor-sharp rim of His Sudarsana disk. Now even more enraged and roaring loudly, the demon rushed at the Lord and pounded His broad chest with fists as strong as thunderbolts. The demon’s blows could have pulverized mountains, yet they caused not even a tremor in any part of the Lord’s body—any more than a wreath of flowers would shake an elephant. Defeated, Hiranyaksa suddenly disappeared.
The demon then used such wizardry against Lord Varaha that the onlookers filled with alarm. In an instant, fierce winds blew from all directions and spread dust and darkness everywhere. Stones came in volleys from every corner, as if thrown by machine guns. Lightning- and thunder-filled clouds covered over the luminaries in the sky, and pus, hair, blood, feces, urine, and bones rained down. Mountains discharged all kinds of weapons. Naked, loose-haired demonesses appeared with raised tridents. But once again the Lord released His Sudarsana disk and dispersed all the demon’s magical forces.
When Hiranyaksa saw all his apparitions dispelled, he came once again before Lord Varaha. This time he put his arms around the Lord to crush Him, but to his amazement he found the Lord standing outside his clasp. Finally, the demon struck the Lord with his stonelike fists, and at that time the Lord slapped him at the root of the ear. Though the Lord had struck him indifferently, Hiranyaksa’s body wheeled, his eyeballs bulged out of their sockets, his arms and legs shattered, and he fell down dead, like a gigantic tree uprooted by the wind. Having enjoyed himself in the great battle, the Lord ended the terror of Hiranyaksa for the great pleasure of the saints and demigods.
The demigods were overjoyed. “All obeisances unto You! You have assumed the form of a boar to maintain the world, and fortunately for us, You have slain this demon Hiranyaksa, who was a torment to the three worlds. Now, O Lord we have become happy under the shelter of Your lotus feet. We know that You will always protect those who are devoted to You.”