Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Vamana - The Dwarf


[This story is based for the most part on [Bh.P.8.15.1-8.23.30]]

Prahalada ruled justly for a long time. He had a son named Virochana, who married a woman named Devamba. They had a son, Bali. From a very young age, Bali showed signs of greatness. He became a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, just like his grand-father. When Bali came of age, he was named the crown-prince, the successor to Prahalada. He married Vindyavalli, the daughter of a sage.

Bali was well versed in the history of the Asuras. He had spent many an hour, thinking about how the Devas always managed to triumph over the Daithyas (Asuras), despite the superior force on the side of the Daithyas. He realized that the reason was that Devas had the assistance of greater Yogic power, since all the sages were on their side. Besides, Vishnu also helped the Devas in any conflict. So the young prince decided that he must perform many austerities, severe Tapas (penance) and obtain the boons that would strengthen the Asuras, allowing them to avenge their past defeats.

As is the custom of the Asuras, his penance was directed towards Lord Brahma. When Brahma appeared, Bali obtained the boon that made the Asuras stronger than the Devas. Thanks to this boon, Bali became stronger than Indra. Armed with these boons, he went back to his kingdom.

By this time Prahalada had decided to spend the rest of his life in the forest, following the tradition of Vanaprastha (forest dwelling). It is the third of the four recommended phases of life. The first two are Brahmacharya (scholarship) and Grihasthashrama (household). So Bali was now crowned the king of the Asuras.

The first task that Bali undertook was the conquest of the neighboring kingdoms. Soon, he had brought the entire earth under his rule. Acting on the advice of his guru Shukra, he performed the Vishawjit Yagna (world conqueror sacrifice), that established his rule over the whole world and proclaimed him emperor of earth. Only the heavens remained free.

Meanwhile, the Devas were not idle. They watched the Asuras grow from strength to strength. They decided that the best way to ensure their own safety was to keep sending one trouble or the other for Bali. Accordingly they sent famine and pestilence to Bali's kingdom. The King was very worried. He consulted his astrologers, all of whom were unanimous that this was the work of the Devas. This was the provocation that Bali was waiting for. He amassed his massive army and invaded Amravati, the capital of Swargaloka.

The battle was vicious. The Adityas (sons of Aditi), Vayu, Varuna, Kubera and Agni were the commanders on the side of the Devas. They were led by their king Indra, who was resplendent in his armor, mounted on his white elephant Iyravata. However, on this day, the Asuras were stronger. Thanks to the boon of Brahma, Bali emerged victorious. The Devas had to flee from the heavens.

Now Bali was the unquestioned ruler of both heaven and earth. He made a vow to rule righteously and never to turn away anyone who approached him for charity. Despite being a Danava (descendent of Danu), his rule was beneficial to the whole world. However, he had tilted the balance of power, for the all-powerful Devas were now forced into hiding. They beseeched Vishnu to save them.

The Lord assured them. He said, "Do not worry, Your rule over the heavens will be soon restored. Bali is a righteous man. He was merely avenging the defeat of his ancestors at your hands. I shall arrange matters such that his glory increases, and at the same time you will be restored to your rightful place in the heavens."

Meanwhile, sage Kashyapa returned to the house of his wife Aditi after finishing a long penance. He immediately noticed that she was not in the best of spirits, and asked her the reason.

Aditi said, "How can I be happy? My sons, who are the rightful rulers of the heavens have been defeated, and have been chased away from their abode. The sons of Diti have gained complete sovereignty  over the three worlds. My Lord, if you will not help me, I don't know who else could!"

Her husband said, "I am not powerful enough to help you, only Lord Vishnu can. I have learned the method for invoking him from Lord Brahma. This ritual is called 'Payo Vratha'. If you follow it faithfully, you shall obtain your heart's desire from Lord Hari."

As per her husband's instructions, Aditi diligently undertook the Payo fast. In the month of Falguna (Dec-Jan), when the moon is waxing, this ritual was performed for twelve days. She shunned solid food, subsisting solely on milk during this period, and devoted her time to singing the praises of Hari, using the Mantras that had been taught to her by Kashyapa. At the end of each days worship, she provided food to all comers, and gratified the Brahmanas with offerings of food and wealth. At last, the fast was concluded, and the Lord appeared before her.

The Lord said, "I know the reason why you have invoked me. Fear not, the day is not far when your sons will regain their rightful inheritance. I shall be born in your womb and shall deliver my brothers from the tyranny of the Asuras." With these words, he disappeared.

Accordingly, Vishnu was born as the son of Aditi in the month of Shravana (Jul-Aug) under the star Shravana (Note: Please check both star and month) as a Vamana (dwarf). Many auspicious signs appeared in the heavens, foretelling the good fortune of this child.

As his parents watched, within minutes, the child grew into a boy, albeit one of short stature. A divine light shone from him, indicating the essence of the supreme. The SaptaRishis conducted all the vedic rituals for the boy, including the Upanayanam (sacred-thread ceremony). Surya initiated him into the Gayatri mantra, Brihaspati gave him the sacred thread, and his father gave him the remaining articles of worship.

Mother earth gave him a dear-skin rug, Soma gave him the Dhandam (Sacred-staff). His mother Aditi gave him a loin-cloth and an upper-garment. The goddess of the sky gave him an umbrella. Lord Brahma gave him the sacred water pot, and the sages gave him the Darba grass. He was given a garland by Saraswati. Kubera gave him his begging-bowl, and Parvati gave him his first alms.

The child possessed intrinsic knowledge of the Vedas and scriptures and he performed his first vedic ritual in front of all these well-wishers by worshiping Agni by invoking the sacrificial fire. The onlookers were dazzled by the fire of knowledge emanating from the young dwarf.

Meanwhile, following the advice of his guru Shukra, Bali had begun the process of performing a hundred Ashwamedha Yagnas (horse sacrifices). This would reaffirm his overlordship of the world and make him invincible. While the arrangements for the sacrifice were being made, Shukra took Bali aside and told him, "O King, I observe evil omens and fear that there will be some interference in this sacrifice. Promise me one thing. If Vishnu comes and asks you for anything, do not give it. Say that it is not proper for you to give charity to the Lord of the universe. I know that you have taken a vow to not to let any supplicant return empty handed, but even this vow may be broken when the welfare of your clan is at stake."

Bali was surprised. He said, "I shall not break my vow for any consideration. If Vishnu begs something of me, my glory will be increase many fold. Sages spend years and years performing the most arduous penances, just so that they can have a glimpse of the Lord of the world. How much more lucky could I get, if the great Vishnu comes in person to ask a favor of me? I shall certainly grant him anything that he asks. He doesn't have to request, he has the right to command."

The sacrifice was nearing its completion. Many Brahmanas came to the sacrificial hall and Bali showered much wealth on them. At last, Vamana approached the hall. It was a wonderful sight, for the onlookers saw a glorious Brahmana boy, just eight years old, and short statured for his age, walking towards the sacrificial altar. He held an umbrella in one hand. He was carrying a danda (hermit's staff) on the other. He was clad in rough bark and a deerskin cloth. His brow was marked with sandalwood paste. He was smiling as he approached the Danava King.

Bali said to this boy, "O young Brahmacharin. Who are you? Who are the parents who gave birth to you, O noble young scholar? What task do I have the honor of performing for you? I have vowed to grant any favor that a Brahmana asks today, ask, and it shall be yours."

The boy said, "I am the son of sage Kashyapa and Aditi. My name is Vamana (dwarf). I have heard much about your virtues and your vow to never refuse to grant a favor."

Shukra whispered in Bali's ears, and said, "O King, even now it is not too late. Tell him that you are not giving anything more away as the sacrifice is nearly over. This is none other than Vishnu who had come to trick you."

Bali replied, "Gurudeva, I know that you have only my welfare in mind. However, I value truth more than even my life. As I have promised, so shall I act. Even if this is Indra himself in disguise, I shall not refuse to give him the gift he seeks."

Angered, Shukra cursed Bali, "May you loose all your wealth and prosperity!".

Undeterred, Bali turned back towards Vamana, and repeated his willingness to grant anything he wanted.

Vamana said, "My needs are simple. All I want is the space that can be measured by my three steps. I shall be satisfied with that much land."

Bali smiled and said, "Ask me for something more. The land covered by your tiny feet will not be much. I am the overlord of both heaven and earth. Ask for a gift that would benefit you more."

Vamana reiterated that he wanted only three steps of land. So Bali asked for the water jug to be brought forward, for in order to make a gift at an Yagna, you had to first wash the feet of your guest with your hands, and then pour water while saying the deed of your gift. Shukra saw that Bali was going to make this gift, so he made a last ditch attempt. He transformed himself into a small insect and blocked the mouth of the spout in the jug. Bali was trying to pour the water, but none came out. Vamana smiled at this desperate attempt by the perceptor of the Danavas. He took a blade of darba grass and poked it into the spout. It struck Shukra and blinded him in one eye. Shukra was forced to flee. The water was duly poured out and the deed of gift was complete.

Vamana said, "I shall measure out my land right now." With this statement, he started growing in stature. This was Vishnu taking on his Vishwaroopa (literally universal form, and refers to his massive, immeasurable form. The three steps are why Vishnu is also referred to as Trivikrama). With his first step, he covered the entire earth. With his second, he covered the heavens. Then he said to Bali, "There is no place for my third step, where should I keep it?"

Bali prostrated himself before the lord and said, "O Jagannatha, please keep your last step on my back."

Pleased with his devotion, Vamana resumed his form as the boy and kept his feet on the head of Bali and blessed him. He said, "O King, You have achieved greater fame than the Devas by your truthfulness and by the steadfast way by which you held to your vow. Even your guru, the great Shukra advised you to abandon it, but even though you knew that you would loose everything, you did not swerve from the path of righteousness. I grant you the overlordship of the nether-world. You shall be the immortal king of the nether-world. Let your son rule over the world. I will be returning the heavens to the Devas. May you always prosper!".

Bali accepted this ruling and went on to rule the nether-world. The day on which his he gifted his empire to Vamana is said to be the day of Diwali. (The other explanations for Diwali are 1. It is the day of Rama's return from exile (or) 2. It is the day Krishna slew Narakusara).

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Last Modified At: Sun Jul 24 17:05:32 2005