Thursday, June 10, 2010

Vamana Avatar

Sculpture of Vamana at Pattadakkal, a World Heritage Site
Bali, the king of the demons, was the great grandson of Prahalada, one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. Unlike many of the other demons, Bali was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and a just and kind ruler. He was righteous and truthful, and ruled his kingdom so well that there was peace, prosperity and happiness all around.

He conquered the three worlds and usurped the throne of Indra, the King of the Gods. Seeking to take over Indra’s position for ever, he started conducting horse sacrifices, known as the Ashwamedha Yagna. Indra was now worried, for if Bali succeeded in completing 100 Ashwamedha Yagnas, he would be successful, and Indra would lose his position for ever! 

Indra and the other gods rushed to Lord Vishnu, and asked him to stop Bali. However, Lord Vishnu refused. “Bali is a righteous king, and he has not committed any sins. Besides, he is a devotee of mine. How can I go and stop him from performing the sacrifices?” he asked.

Indra pleaded with him, asking him to consider, since Bali becoming Indra meant the rise of the demons, most of whom were evil. Moreover, Indra and the other gods’ parents – the sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi – also beseeched Lord Vishnu to help. Finally, Lord Vishnu agreed, saying that he would neither kill nor punish Bali, but would just cut down his powers and get back Indra’s kingdom for him. He also blessed Aditi, the mother of the gods, saying that he would be born as her son to help her children.

In due time, Lord Vishnu was born to Aditi and Kashyapa. He grew soon, but had the form of a dwarf, and came to be known as ‘Vamana’ (a Sanskrit word for dwarf). Sage Kashyapa was thrilled at his good fortune, and performed the ceremony investing him with the sacred thread.

Carrying an umbrella and a kamandalu (jar of water), wearing the simple garb of a Brahmin boy, Vamana proceeded to the place where Emperor Bali was performing the yagna. In those days, it was the custom to give cows, clothes and money to Brahmins in charity while performing a yagna, and many Brahmins had collected at the site to accept the offerings.

Vamana joined a group of Brahmins and awaited his turn, but his luster shone among them, and was noticed by Sukracharya, the preceptor of the demons. Sukracharya realized that something was amiss, and suspected that it was none other than Lord Vishnu. He warned Bali immediately, asking him to adjourn for the day and not give anything in charity. However, Bali said, “Guruji, even if it is Lord Vishnu himself who has come to test me or take away all that I have, I shall be thrilled to do his bidding!”

Finally it was Vamana’s turn to accept charity. As soon as Bali set eyes on him, he felt blessed, and bowing reverentially before him, asked him what he desired.  “O great one, your beautiful face shines like the sun. I shall be gratified by giving you what you desire. Please let me know what would be of use to you. Can I give you cows, or do you need gold coins, or is it silken clothes that you desire? Please do not hesitate to ask me” he said, very humbly.

Vamana replied, “O great king, I do not desire any of these things. I do not have need for silken robes or gold coins. What will I do of those? Cows may be useful to me, but I have no place to keep them. I have no land I can call my own. Can you give me a bit of land?”
Bali laughed, “O Brahmin, I can give you as many acres of land as you wish!”, but before he could complete, Vamana had interrupted him, “O king, I do not desire acres and acres of land. All I want is three steps of land that I can measure with my own feet. That is enough for me!”

Hearing this, the whole assembly laughed! The lad was so small, and yet he only desired three paces of land, and that too, paced by his tiny feet! Only Sukracharya was wary. Sensing trouble, he once more warned Bali against giving in. But Bali said, “Guruji, I have given my word. No matter what he asks, I shall give. Please do not interfere.”

He turned to Vamana, and tried to convince him to accept more, but seeing him adamant, picked up the water vessel to seal the charity. Sukracharya made one last effort to stop Bali, and, taking the form of a bee, entered the vessel, blocking its mouth. When the water did not flow out, Vamana took a blade of darbha (sacred) grass, and pierced the mouth of the vessel. It pricked Sukracharya in one eye, and the pain forced him out of the vessel. Since then, Sukracharya has only one eye!

Water flowed freely as Bali and his wife gave in charity the land asked by Vamana, and the king asked him to measure the land he wanted.

As people looked on, the short form of Vamana started growing, and steadily grew till he touched the skies. As everyone looked up, thunderstruck, Vamana took the first step, encompassing the whole earth, and the second, which covered the heavens. Two of the three worlds gained, Vamana looked down at Bali and said, “O king, I have taken two steps, but I can’t find place to keep the third. You have promised me 3 steps of land. If you do not give me a place to keep my third step, you will be breaking your promise and shall go to hell. Tell me what I should do!”

Bali, who was looking open-mouthed at the turn of events, collected himself and said, “Lord, I am thrilled to have the opportunity of serving you. You have already blessed me by appearing before me in this form. I do not want to incur the sin of breaking my promise. Therefore, please bless me by placing your foot on my head as the 3rd step.”

As Bali bowed down, Vamana brought his foot down, and gently placed it on Bali’s head, sanctifying him with the contact. He said, “Rise, O King! You have justified well the belief I had in your integrity, and proved to the world that you are a true devotee. I have taken away two of the three worlds you have conquered, but you still have the nether regions. Go there with your clan, and rule as wisely and as well as you have ruled the earth and the heavens. Since you aspired to become Indra and performed these sacrifices righteously, I also grant you the boon that you shall be born as Indra in another Manvantara.” Saying this, Vamana disappeared, having completed his mission.

Vamana was the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu, one where he does not kill any asuras, but teaches us the lesson of truthfulness and integrity.

This wonderful leela between God and His devotee teaches the lesson of truthfulness and integrity.  Like Bali, we must be willing to offer everything we have to keep our promise to God.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Anu said...

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