Nilanjana retells a well-known story, of Vamana Avatara, one of the major Avatars of Narayana, from Srimad Bhagavatam. Here, we learn about King Bali, a generous king, grandson of Prahalada. He was blinded by his ego. Read more about it, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Bali was the grandson of Prahlada and one of the great rulers of the asuras (demons). This story begins, shortly after Amrita Manthan (churning of the ocean in search of the elixir of life) when Bali felt that he was cheated of his fair share by the devas (divine beings). Groping for a solution, he visited his guru (spiritual guide) Sukracharya. Not willing to let his disciple down, Sukracharya blessed Bali with the coronation bath ‘Mahabhisheka’ and performed a yajna (ceremony) that made him powerful enough to defeat Indra, the king of heaven. Out of the glowing fire of the yajna a golden chariot arose armed with divine weapons. Brahma, the creator, came out of the fire with an ever-fresh garland of flowers and Sukracharya blessed Bali with a conch. With so many divine blessings, King Bali set out to conquer the abode of the devas.
Indra’s city, Amravati, was well known for its beauty. Designed by Vishwakarma (the divine architect) the city was impeccably built and was always adorned with divine music and divine perfume. Indra saw Bali entering his city and ran to his guru Brihaspati for advice. The wise man guided a much baffled Indra to leave Amravati for the time being since Bali was blessed by his guru with divine powers. Though not very keen, Indra had no choice but to listen to his guru. Hence, Amravati became Bali’s without any fight. Bali smirked at the cowardice of the devas, declared himself the master of all the three worlds and began ruling. Stories of his greatness, generosity and other positive qualities earned him much fame.
Aditi, the mother of the devas, was not happy. Her sons were thrown out of their kingdom and she asked her husband, Rishi (sage) Kashyap for a solution. The wise sage asked her to pray to Narayana. Following his advice, she concentrated completely on Narayana with the mantra ‘Aum Namoh Bhagavate Vasudevaya’. Narayana was pleased with her efforts and granted her with the boon that her sons will soon be back in Amravati. He also informed her that he will be born as his son in the near future. That will help him help the devas. In due course, Aditi gave birth to a son. When the child was born it was in the form that Narayana has appeared in front of Aditi. Soon, however, he assumed the form of a child. The child grew up but he was small. Indeed, he was a vamana (literally meaning dwarf). He was blessed by all divine beings and was armed with wisdom.
Meanwhile, Bali’s fame of being generous had injected “I” and “mine” into him. He himself was perhaps not aware that ego was ruling him. At the behest of his guru Sukracharya and other wise men, he began the Ashvamedha (the horse ceremony that was performed by kings to gain stature). As the yajna was proceeding a glow emanated from somewhere. The source was Vamana. Bali honoured him with appropriate courtesy and extended all cordiality. When Vamana was seated, Bali offered to give him anything that he desired. Vamana praised Bali for his generosity and asked him for “three paces of ground that was measured by his foot”. Bali was surprised at the childishness of the request. He was the king of all worlds and the little boy was asking for so less. He asked the little boy to reconsider. But Vamana did not ask for anything else. Hence, Bali decided to grant him his request.
At this point, his guru Sukracharya intervened. He warned Bali that this little boy is Narayana in disguise. The glow, his wisdom and everything else just indicated that. But Bali would not listen. He had already given his word to Vamana. Insulted, Sukracharya cursed him that he would lose his kingdom, glory and wealth very soon.
Nevertheless, Bali was keen on fulfilling his promise. Even as he was looking, the little boy grew big and assumed the Vishvarupa (the Supreme Being) of Narayana. With one step, he covered the whole earth, and with the other, he covered the heavens. He then asked Bali where he should place the third step. Bali realised that this predicament was caused by his ego. He, therefore, let his head down and asked Narayana to place his third step on the head.
Narayana smiled as he spoke, “When I wish to destroy someone, I grant him all power and wealth. He gets so entangled in that that he forgets his real nature. This illusion blinds him and then all is taken away from him. He then becomes mine again. Once he is saved, he will never be destroyed.” Narayana went on to praise Bali, who chose to keep his promise despite being abandoned by his guru, his kinsmen, and all material wealth.
Prahlada, Bali’s grandfather, also visited him at this moment. He took Bali back to Sutala (one of the regions under the earth) as Narayana promised to stay with them forever.
Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.
Photo from the internet.
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