By Swami Harshananda
Hiraṇyakaśipu literally means ‘one who has covered himself with gold’, ‘the greedy one’.
Jaya and Vijaya, the gate-keepers of Vaikuṇṭha, the abode of Viṣṇu, were once cursed by the sages Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumāra and Sanatsujāta, to be born as rākṣasas (demons). The curse was to be effective for three births only. They were hence born as Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu in the Kṛtayuga, as Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa in the Tretāyuga, and as Siśupāla and Dantavaktra in the Dvāparayuga. In all the three births they were killed by Lord Viṣṇu in his incarnations as Varāha, Narasimha, Rāma and Kṛṣṇa.
Hiraṇyakaśipu, the son of Kaśyapa and Diti, was enraged by the killing of his twin-brother Hiraṇyākṣa by the lord Viṣṇu. He performed severe austerities, pleased the god Brahmā and secured several boons from him. Emboldened by these, he conquered the gods in heaven and started harassing everyone.
He had four sons, of whom Prahlāda (the famous child-devotee) was the eldest. Since he was deeply devoted to Viṣṇu, Hiraṇyakaśipu tried his level best, first to ‘reform’ him and then to liquidate him. But by Lord Viṣṇu’s grace and protection the boy remained unharmed. Finally Hiraṇyakaśipu was killed by the lord in the form of Narasimha (man-lion). Thus the world was freed from an incorrigible tyrant. This story appears mainly in the Viṣṇupurāna and the Bhāgavata
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore