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Vamana with Bali Maharaj
Children Banasura,Ratanamala, Vajrajwala
Avatara Vamana splashes Bali's head, and sends him to the Patala

Mahabali (IAST: Mahābalī) is also known as Bali or Māveli or son of Virochana was a benevolent Daitya King, and the grandson of Prahlada in Indian scriptures. The festival of Onam is celebrated in Kerala to mark his yearly homecoming after being sent down to the underworld Sutala by Vamana, a dwarf and the fifth incarnation avatar of Vishnu.[1]

Legend of Mahabali

Onappottan, a symbolic representation of King Bali.[2] Onappottan visits houses during the onam and gives blessings. Of late onappottan has become a rare sight, confined to villages.

Mahabali 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.

He succeeded Virochana as the king of the Asuras, and his reign over the realm was characterized by peace and prosperity. He later expanded his realm, brought the entire world under his benevolent rule. He fought the first war of his life against the Devas and won that . He defeated Devas 5 times. He was one of the only 2 warriors to have possessed Brahmastra, Pashupatastra and Vaishnavastra the second one being Indrajit. He mastered the use of black magic,hypnosis, Brahmastra, Pashupatastra and Vaishnavastra. He was an expert in creating illusions. He defeated Indra and his army in a battle just by creating illusions. He is the only warrior to have been classified as a Mahamaharathi. He is considered as the one of the strongest warrior in the Hindu mythology. The Devas, ruled by Lord Indra, out of jealousy, wanted to end Mahabali's rule, they went to their patron Lord Vishnu, who agreed to take the incarnation of Vamana and go to Mahabali to end his rule.

Shukracharya, the guru and advisor of Mahabali, advised him to perform the Viswajit Yagna (Sacrifice for the Conquest of the World.)[3]

Mahabali began the Ashwamedha Yaga at the Narmada River. The ceremony had several Brahmins present, that King Mahabali had invited.[4] Lord Vishnu, meanwhile, adopted the avatar of Vamana, during the rite, approached Mahabali.

Mahabali, known for his generosity and as a man of his word, welcomed Vamana, and told him that he could ask for anything. Vamana, a little boy, asked for a 3 feet of land and the Asura king complied. Lord Vishnu, who had incarnated as Vamana, grew to a gigantic figure, measured Earth using one offoot, and the entire universe in his next. Mahabali, realising Vamana to be Vishnu in disguise, let Vamana place his third foot on his head causing him to drown in the netherworld, that is traditionally called as Sutala. Mahabali had just one wish, to be able to return to his kingdom once every year and meet his people. Vamana granted this wish and hence, during Onam, every Malayali welcomes their beloved king, preparing colourful flower carpets and sumptuous feast called Sadya.God Vishnu is guarding Bali's Kingdom as a mark of respect for his virtues.

Lord Vishnu, seeing the devotion of Mahabali, blessed him to be the Indra of the next Manvantra.[5]

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[6] and performed the Ashvamedha ritual to enlarge his kingdom.[7] Like his grandfather Prahlada, he 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 very happy, 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.[citation needed]

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.[8]

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.[9] Colorful aquatic festivals (e.g., boat races) are held on this occasion on the banks of the river Pampa.[10] The celebration occurs all over Kerala and in the Malayalee diaspora.[11] 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.

Traditions 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.[12] Shuk compared the saint-singer Narsinh Metha to Bali.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

In Sikhism

Vamana is discussed in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of Sikhism.[16]

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.[17]


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.[18] 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.[19]

It is believed that Bali was a practitioner of the Raja Yoga.[20]

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.)[21]

It is believed in texts such as Abhinanda's Rāmaćarita[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

The Bhagavata Purana reads "He (Vishnu) will take the kingdom away from Purandara (Lord Indra) and give it to Bali Maharaja."[25]

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.[26] 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.[27] A rat approached it, wanting to drink the ghee (melted butter) but as it attempted to drink, the flame was rekindled into its mouth.[27] Parvati asked Lord Shiva to keep his promise and so Lord Shiva did.[27]

The Skanda Purana, a Shaivite text also reads that Bali worships Shiva everyday.[28]

Vishnu grants a boon to Mahabali

As he was pushed down into Patala (a good[29] colony of demons), King Bali made a last request. He requested that he be allowed to visit his land on Earth 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[30]) during the time of the eighth Manu, Savarni Manu.

Before he left for Patala, he bowed to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.[31]

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.[32]

Scholar Veermani P. Upadhyaya writes that even divinity cannot protect a person from accumulating sin by acting as owner of all, or "mahasriman".[33]

It is notable that even though Vishnu, God, tested Bali, the king retained his faith in God.[34]

Ganesha Blessed Vamana's Mission

Some hold that it was Ganesha who gave the blessings to Vishnu in his avatar of Vamana.[18]

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.[35] In the Bhagavata Purana. Brahma then asks Vamana to release Bali.[36] Bali was released from the ropes and bowed before Vishnu.[36]

According to the Padma Purana, Bali along with his kinsmen, friends and followers were bound.[37]

Bali After Leaving Earth

It is said that Bali attained Moksha by atmanivedanam.[38] Krishna in the Sri Rūpa Gosvāmīs Bhakti-rasāmrta-sindhu[39] 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[40][41] and will remain so forever.[42] Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas too declares that Vamana became the Dvarapala (gate-keeper) of Bali.[43] In the Vamana Puranna, it is written that Bali performed the Aswamedha sacrifice in the Kurukshetra, where Bali deprived Indra of his kingdom.[44]

Mahabali visiting Kurukshetra

Mahabali is said to visit Kurukshetra, bestowing it with gifts.[45]

In Commemoration of Mahabali

Onam Festival

In the Keralite festival of Onam, Mahabali is praised by Keralites as having been a charitable king.

Bali-Bamana Besha

In the month of Bhadra, Jagannatha is dressed like Vamana incarnation of Visnu.[46] Balarama is dressed as Bali.

Places associated with Bali

The Somanath Temple of Shiva, in Gujarat is believed to have been built upon where Bali and his guru Shukracharya were performing the Aswamedha Yajna for maintaining power of the world.[47] This temple is also known as the Temple of Bhargu Rishi[48] (Brigutirth), and Shukracharya was of the lineage of Bhargu Rishi.

Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh in local legends is where Vamana appeared before Bali to ask him for three steps, and so it is known as Bawan.[49]

Bali is also associated with Kerala, where all keralites celebrate Onam.

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).[50] He further says that the word is used together with Asuras in Panini's Parshvadi-gana.

In Buddhism

Bali is regarded as an asura (demon), and Avalokiesvara visits him in patala (hell) where Avalokitesvara promises to release Bali if Bali agrees to give up his evil way, to stop associating with evil people, and become a Buddhist himself. Bali agrees, and he along with other asuras converted to Buddhism.[51]

In Jainism

In Jainism, there is several versions of the Vishnu-Bali story written in Sanskrit and Prakrit with certain variations.[52] In some versions Bali had developed a hatred towards Jain sages.[53] Bali is one of the Salakapurusa or "illustrious or worthy persons", a Prati-Vasudeva or Prati-Narayana demon.

In the Jnatadharmakatha, the heroes that Bali conflicted against were Nandimitra (or Mandana, according to the version), and Dattadeva or Purusapundarika.[54]

The Jambudvipaprajnapti, Sthananga, and Avasyaka Niryukti also mention that Bali had conflicted against the Vasudeva (Nandimitra or Mandana) of his era.[citation needed]

In the Trisasti-salaka-purusa-charita, Hemacandra writes that in Bali's era, two sons were born to King Mahasiva (Mahasiras) in Cakrapura during the period in which Ara was the Tirthankara. The sixth Baladeva, Ananda, was from King Mahasiva's first wife Vijayanti, while the sixth Vasudeva Purusapundarika was from Mahasiva's second wife Laxmivati. King Bali wanted to rob Purusa's wife was vanquished and killed by Purusa.[55]

In the Harivamsapurana (JHP), Jinasena writes that Krishna had gone down into Sutala to rescue the infants killed by demon King Kamsa, and that Bali of Sutala had allowed Krishna to take them.[56] In another account of the JHP, Bali is one of the four ministers in Ujjayini of King Sridharma. In another version, he is minister to demon King Namuci.[57]

In the Mahapurana, Gunabhadra writes that Bali had lit a fire for a yajna (sacrifice) but Jain monks are enveloped by the fire.[citation needed]

In the Uttarapuranam, Gunabhadra writes that Visnukumara assumed the form of a dwarf Brahmana and asked Bali for three steps on the earth.[58]

In the Vasudevahindi, Sanghadasagani also writes of Muni Vinhu (or Visnukumara) asking Bali for land.[59]

In Brhatkatha-slokasarh-graha, Buddhasvamin also writes of Visnukumara asking Bali for land.[citation needed]

In the Vinhuglyaga or Narayanastuti is a Jain praise of Vishnu, and it also covers the Vishnu-Bali legend.[citation needed]

In the Girnar inscriptions of Gujarat, minister Vastupala of the Chakulya Dynasty is praised as a great king by Jains, and the inscriptions connect him to Bali because Vastupala gave much charity. Some excerpts from the inscriptions are:

O Vastupala, Bali has sent thee a message that he has been much pleased by hearing from Narada, who visits the three worlds, that though frequently solicited thou dost not extend thy anger to the needy,...[60]
By the famous minister Vastupala watering the earth with nectarial charities, the pride of Bali and Kalpataru has been greatly lowered...[61]
Let there be continuous salutation to holy Bali and Karna, whose charity though unseen has been the object of so much fame; consequently the people are worthy of worship, and the great minister Vastupala's charity which the people see with their eyes so great that even the world itself can scarcely contain it.[62]

Jainism also mentions a separate Mahabali, who was the son of Bahubali, and was given Bahubali's kingdom before Bahubali became a monk.[63]

Connection to Bali Arinnawa

The Bali Arinnawa is also an astrological system of mantras (prayers) that attempts to avert the influence of the planets. Bali is the ceremony wherein the presiding deities of the planets (graha) are invoked and placated in order to ward off their evil.[64]

Bali and gemology

Different gems came out from Bali's parts of body according to some astrologers. 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.[65] 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 face of Bali.
  • Ishiv Mani: This jewel is believed to have from the semen of King Bali.

Another version says[66] 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."


King Bali had only one son named Bana (or Banasura). Bana's daughter Usha married to Aniruddha son of Pradyumna and the grandson of Krishna. She gave birth to Vajra, whose lineage is traced to the royal family of Jaisalmer. Bana is a gotra (clan) of Jats found in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand in India. Banas who formed Bana Kingdom are descendants of King Banasura. Balija's(Bali+Ja(Born) = Balija) of South India claim that they are descendants of the King Bali.

See also


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