Demonology
Advertisement

Vamana with Bali Maharaj

Avatara Vamana splashes Bali’s head, and sends him to the Patala

A nocturnal demon of the Underworld, Mahabali (IAST: Mahābalī, Devanagari: महाबली, Malayalam: മാവേലി, മഹാബലി, Tamil: மாவேலி) also known as Bali or Māveli was the king of the Daityas in Indian demonology. In service under the God Vishnu, Bali is known for his grand benevolence. He has the appearance of a donkey and once a year he returns to his people to light a million lamps to symbolize the darkness of anger, ego, greed, and ignorance.

Conquest of the Universe and banishment

Onappottan, a symbolic representation of King Bali. Onappottan visits houses during the onam and gives blessings. Of late onappottan has become a rare sight, confined to villages.

Bali, an asura, was the son of Devamba and Virochana. He grew up under the tutelage of his grandfather, Prahlada, who instilled in him a strong sense of righteousness and devotion.

Bali would eventually succeed his grandfather as the king of the Asuras, and his reign over the realm was characterized by peace and prosperity. He would later expand his realm – bringing the entire world under his benevolent rule – and was even able to conquer the underworld and Heaven, which he wrested from Indra and the Devas. The Devas, after their defeat at the hands of Bali, approached their patron Vishnu and entreated him to restore their lordship over Heaven.

In Heaven, Bali, on the advice of his guru and advisor, Sukracharya, had begun the Ashwamedha Yaga so as to maintain his rule over the three worlds. Vishnu, meanwhile, had adopted the avatar of Vamana, a small Brahmin boy, and, during the rite, approached Bali and requested a grant of land – although only as much land as he could cover with three paces.

Despite the warnings of his advisor, Bali granted this boon. Vamana then grew to an immense size, and, with his first pace, traversed the all of the earth and the underworld. With his second pace, he covered Heaven in its entirety. Admitting defeat, and seeing that Vamana has no more room for his last step, Bali offered his own head as a stepping-stone. At this time the asuras spoke out in protest, but Bali explained that all living and non living things are God's creation, and so it was God's right to have them back. Lord Vishnu, seeing the devotion of Mahabali, blessed him and raised to him to Suthala, the supreme position in heaven.

Genesis of Onam

Folk song about Maveli says "Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam, manushyarellarum onnu pole". The song says that all people were equal when Maveli ruled.The story goes that the beautiful state of Kerala was the capital of the Asura (demon) king, Bali. However, he was very religious, was respectful to priests and performed Vedic Aswamedha ritual to enlarge his kingdom and like his grandfather (Prahlada), was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu on Earth as he sacrificed his kingdom for the Lord. The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Bali. Everybody in his kingdom was happy in the kingdom, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Bali and everybody was happy and content. Banan was the only son of Bali.

However, because he was a Daitya (descendant of Diti), he was viewed by the Devas as unsafe. Otherwise, as the Vamana Purana reads, the rule of Mahabali was righteous. It is further believed (as from the Thiruppavai) that he occupied the property of others.

Onam celebrations are marked in Thrikkakara, a place 10 km from Kochi (Cochin). Thrikkakara is said to have been the capital of the mighty King Mahabali. A temple with a deity of Thrikkakara Appan or Vamanamurthy who is Lord Vishnu himself in disguise is also located at this place.

This fascinating legend is artistically depicted at the Suchindram Temple in Kanyakumari district, where Lord Shiva is believed to have slain Banasura, the evil child of the holy Mahabali.

Onam is observed by all Malayalees as the return of the pious Mahabali to Kerala. Colorful aquatic festivals (e.g., boat races) are held on this occasion on the banks of the river Pampa. The celebration occurs all over Kerala and in the Malayalee diaspora. Mahabali is worshipped even in Tulunadu which consists of coastal region of Karnataka and northern Kerala. There are many pad-danas or folk songs which describe Mahabali and his deeds. Even today, during Diwali people go to their field and call Bali Chakravarthi. It is said that Bali will come and rule this world again if some conditions are fulfilled, which are impossible in real world.

Views on Bali

Nowadays Maveli or Mahabali is portrayed in cartoons and caricatures for advertisement purpose.

He is thought of by the Hindus as a true devotee of God. Shuk compared the saint-singer Narsinh Metha to Bali. He is one of the twelve Mahajans, the authorities on the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Because of the fact that Bali was such as great devotee of Vishnu, his son Bana was not slain by Lord Vishnu.

In the Yoga Vasistha, Lord Rama inquires about King Bali and he is told by his Guru Vasistha that Bali was a great king and is always protected by Lord Vishnu.

In Sikhism

Vamana is discussed in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of Sikhism.

satjugi tai maNiO ChaliO bali bAvan bhAiO
In Satyayuga, you sported as the dwarf incarnation, and fooled Bali.

On page 1330 of the Guru Granth Sahib, Vamana is mentioned as the "enticer" of Baliraja.

Alternative views

When Bali Became Pious

Mahabali offering boon to Vamana.

According to the Yoga Vasistha, after inquiring about the realm beyond the universe, heaven, devas and asuras, which is ruled by the mind, Bali thus concentrates on the mind and being satisfied in himself, and teaches the asuras to do so likewise. From then on, he became a devotee.

He is hailed to be a supreme example of the highest and the ultimate Sadhana of Nava Vidha Bhakti, namely Atmanivedanam.

It is believed that Bali was a practitioner of the Raja Yoga.

Battle with Indra and Acquiring Indra's Possessions

Other versions describing the first battle between Bali and Indra indicate that Bali was not beheaded and that the Brahmin Sukracarya performed the "Mrityu sanjeevani" (wherein only non-beheaded bodies can be revived.)

It is believed in texts such as Abhinanda's Rāmaćarita that Bali had not yet achieved Indra's throne, and as a result was performing the Aswamedha Yagna (which Indian kings have historically performed to enlarge their kingdom) to finally achieve it. He attempted to perform as many as Indra. Then Vamana intervened and in the sacrifice asked for 3 strides of land.

Vishnu Supported Bali to Teach Indra

According to the Brahma-Vaivarta Puranam, it was Lord Vishnu who positioned Bali in power to curb the pride of Indra.

The Bhagavata Purana reads "He (Vishnu) will take the kingdom away from Purandara (Lord Indra) and give it to Bali Maharaja."

Composition of song: King Mahabali had composed a beautiful song 'Hari Nama Mala Stotram" in honour of Lord Vishnu. Pandit Jasraj has a famous Bhajan by the name of 'Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaya' which is this poem.

Shiva Blessed Bali

A Shaiva tradition declares that a rat, by coming into contact with a lamp (and thus making it burn brighter) in a Siva temple was born subsequently as the famous emperor, Mahabali (P. 180 Philosophical Series by University of Madras, 1960). According to this legend, first Lord Shiva said to his consort Paravati that anyone who would make the "deepa" (lamp) burn brighter would become the ruler of the three worlds. A rat approached it, wanting to drink the ghee (melted butter) but as it attempted to drink, the flame was rekindled into its mouth. Parvati asked Lord Shiva to keep his promise and so Lord Shiva did.

The Skanda Purana, a Saivite text also reads that Bali worships Shiva everyday.

Vishnu grants a boon to Mahabali

As he was pushed down into Patala (a good colony of demons), King Bali made a last request. He requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed and content. Lord Vishnu was pleased to grant Mahabali his wish. Also, by the boon of Vishnu, Bali will be the next, that is the eighth Indra (King of Devas) (Purandara is the current Indra) during the time of the eighth Manu, Savarni Manu.

Before he left for Patala, he bowed to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.

The theme of the story has been (repeatedly theorized in texts) is that whether Ravana or Bali, all things animate are endowed with great potentialities for both good and evil.

Scholar Veermani P. Upadhyaya writes that even divinity cannot protect a person from accumulating sin by acting as owner of all, or "mahasriman".

It is notable that even though Vishnu, God, tested Bali, the king retained his faith in God.

Ganesha Blessed Vamana's Mission

Some hold that it was Ganesha who gave the blessings to Vishnu in his avatar of Vamana.

Bali Bound in Ropes

Although Bali was true to his word on giving whatever Vamana requested, in some legends, he is said to have been bounded with the ropes of Varuna by Garuda since Vamana could not place his foot anywhere on the earth and Bali requested Vamana place it on Bali's own head. In the Bhagavata Purana. Brahma then asks Vamana to release Bali. Bali was released from the ropes and bowed before Vishnu.

According to the Padma Purana, Bali along with his kinsmen, friends and followers were bound.

Bali After Leaving Earth

It is said that Bali attained Moksha by atmanivedanam. Krishna in the Sri Rūpa Gosvāmīs Bhakti-rasāmrta-sindhu says that Bali came to Him or attained Him. According to the Adhatya Ramayana It is also said that Vamana is the guard of the gate of Bali's planet Sutala and will remain so forever. Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas too declares that Vamana became the Dvarapala (gate-keeper) of Bali. In the Vamana Puranna, it is written that Bali performed the Aswamedha sacrifice in the Kurukshetra, where Bali deprived Indra of his kingdom.

Kings Paying Tribute to Mahabali

The Bhavishyottara Purana reads that a king should pay respect to King Bali, "the future Indra."

Mahabali visiting Kurukshetra

Mahabali is said to visit Kurukshetra, bestowing it with gifts.

Asuras versus Devas

In the days of Rigveda, there were two major groups of Aryans; The Indo-Aryans who believed that Aditi was the true mother of the gods and Irano-Aryans (Dasyu) who believed Diti, the twin sister was. Bali was the descendant of this line. Scholar D. R. Bhandarkar writes in his Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture that "Parsus or Persians" was an old term for "Rakshasas" (demons).) He further says that the word is used together with Asuras in Panini's Parshvadi-gana.

Bali and gemology

Different gems came out from Bali's parts of body according to gemology

In gemology, it is believed that after Bali was killed by Vishnu, different pieces of Bali's body fell at different places and took the shape of gems and jewels. Thus, origin of different gems and jewels is as follows:

  • Ruby: It originated from the blood drops of Bali, hence it has red or pink colour.
  • Pearl: It is believed to have originated from the mind of Bali.
  • Coral: That part of Bali's blood which flowed down to the sea formed the coral.
  • Yellow Sapphire: It originated from the flesh of Bali.
  • Blue Sapphire: It originated from the eyes of the demon King Bali.
  • Diamond: It originated from the pieces of Bali's brain.
  • Hassonite: This gem originated from the fat of the demon king.
  • Cat's Eye: This jewel originated from the Yagyopavit (sacred thread) of Bali.
  • Turquoise: It originated from the nervous system of the demon king Bali.
  • Moonstone: It originated from the radiance of the eye's pupils.
  • Ghrit Mani: This jewel originated from the pieces of the waist.
  • Tail Mani: Skin of the king Bali formed this jewel.
  • Bheeshmak: This gem was produced from the head pieces of Bali.
  • Upalak Mani: Cough or phlegm of Bali produced this jewel.
  • Sphatik Mani (Rock Crystal): This jewel was formed from the sweat of Bali.
  • Parasmani: Pieces of Bali's heart formed Paras Mani.
  • Ulook Mani: This jewel was formed from the pieces of Bali's tongue.
  • Lapis Lazuli: Bali's hair formed this jewel.
  • Masar Mani: This jewel was produced from the faeces of Bali.
  • Ishiv Mani: This jewel is believed to have from the semen of King Bali.

Another version says that after Indra struck Bāli, the most costly gems dropped from his mouth; he therefore asked for his body, and with his thunderbolt cut it into many parts. "From the purity of his actions, the parts of his body became the germs of the various gems. From his bones came diamonds, from his eyes sapphires, from his blood rubies, from his marrow emeralds, from his flesh crystals, from his tongue coral, and from his teeth pearls."

Advertisement