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Mahabali (IAST: Mahābalī, Devanagari: महाबली), also known as Māveli was a benevolent Asura King, and the grandson of Prahlada. The festival of Onam is celebrated in his honor.

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.

Bali was thus banished to the underworld. Due to his selfless devotion and unwavering dharma, however, he was granted permission to visit his subjects once every year.

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 meaning that there was no caste system in Kerala 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[1] 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[who?] 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[who?] 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.[2] It is further believed (as from the Thiruppavai) that he occupied the property of others.[3]

Onam celebrations are marked in Trikkakara, a place 10 km from Kochi (Cochin) on the Edapally- Pookattupadi road. Trikkakara is said to have been the capital of the mighty King Mahabali. A temple with a deity of Trikkakara 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.[4] Colorful aquatic festivals (e.g., boat races) are held on this occasion on the banks of the river Pampa.[5] The celebration occurs all over Kerala and in the Malayalee diaspora.[6]

Views on Bali

He is thought of by the Hindus as a true devotee of God.[7] Shuk compared the saint-singer Narsinh Metha to Bali.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

In Sikhism

Vamana is discussed in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of Sikhism.[11]

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.[12]

Alternative views

When Bali Became Pious

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.[13] From then on, he became a devotee.[13]

He is hailed to be a supreme example of the highest and the ultimate Sadhana of Nava Vidha Bhakti, namely Atmanivedana.[14]

It is believed that Bali was a practitioner of the Raja Yoga.[15]

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 "Mritra sanjeevani" (wherein only non-beheaded bodies can be revived.)[16]

It is also believed that Bali had not yet achieved Indra's throne in texts such as Abhinanda's Rāmaćarita[17] 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.[18] Then Vamana intervened and in the sacrifice asked for 3 strides of land.[13]

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.[19]

The Bhagavata Purana reads "He [Vishnu] will take the kingdom away from Purandara [Lord Indra] and give it to Bali Maharaja."[20]

Composition of song: King Mahabali had composed a beautiful song 'Hari Naam Mala Stotram" in honor of Lord Vishnu. Pandit Jasraj has a famous Bhajan by the name of 'Om Namoh 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.[21] A rat approached it, wanting to drink the ghee (melted butter) but as it attempted to drink, the flame was rekindled into its mouth.[21] Parvati asked Lord Shiva to keep his promise and so Lord Shiva did.[21]

The Skanda Purana, a Saivite text also reads that Bali worships Shiva everyday.[22]

Vishnu grants a boon to Mahabali

As he was pushed down into Patala (a good[23] 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 (Purandara is the current Indra[24] ), that is, the eighth Indra (King of Devas) during the time of the eighth Manu, Savarni Manu.

Before he left for Patala, he bowed to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.[25]

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.[26]

Scholar Veermani P. Upadhyaya writes that even divinity cannot protect a person from accumulating sin by acting as owner of all, or "mahasriman".[27]

It is notable that even though Vishnu, God, tested Bali, the king retained his faith in God.[28]

Ganesha Blessed Vamana's Mission

Some hold that it was Ganesha who gave the blessings to Vishnu in his avatar of Vamana.[13]

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.[29] In the Bhagavata Purana. Brahma then asks Vamana to release Bali.[30] Bali was released from the ropes and bowed before Vishnu.[30]

According to the Padma Purana, Bali along with his kinsmen, friends and followers were bound.[31]

Bali After Leaving Earth

It is said that Bali attained Moksha by atmanidedinam.[32] Krishna in the Sri Rūpa Gosvāmīs Bhakti-rasāmrta-sindhuh[33] says that Bali came to Him or attained Him.

According to the Adhatya Ramayana It is also said that Vamana Maharaja is the guard of the gate of Bali Maharaja's planet Sutala[34][35] and will remain so forever.[36] Tulsidas' Ramayana too declares that Vamana became the "dwarpal" (gate-defender) of Bali.[37] In the Vamana Puranna, it is written that Bali performed the Aswamedha sacrifice in the Kurukshetra, where Bali deprived Indra of his kingdom.[38]

Kings Paying Tribute to Mahabali

The Bhavishyottara Purana reads that a king should pay respect to King Bali, "the future Indra."[39]

Mahabali visiting Kurukshetra

Mahabali is said to visit Kurukshetra, bestowing it with gifts.[40]

Connection with Maritime Geological Events

According to scholar Preston Peet in his Underground!: the disinformation guide to ancient civilizations, astonishing archaeology and hidden history this story of Vamana ousting Bali Chakravarti can be understood as geological change from maritime to landward expansion, guided by rishis possessed of special knowledge.[41]

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

A few scholars believe that these demons Hiranyakashipu were actually Iranians fighting with Indians.[43] However scholar Askhoy Mazumdar as being from the Daitya branch of the Aryans ruling in 29th century BC northwest India.[44] He is held by many of the same as being the "Aryan colonizer" of eastern and southeastern India.[45]

See also


  1. P. 72 Unto Krshna Consciousness: A New Look at Vaishnava Religion as a Religion for gods, sages, saints, devotees, the sinners, the fallen, the outcast, the stupid, and the anti-god demons too by Anayath Pisharath Mukundan, Nārāyaṇabhaṭṭapāda.
  2. P. 10 History of Travancore from the Earliest Times by P. Shungoonny Menon.
  3. P. 20 Thiruppavai.
  4. P. 372 Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston, K. Rangachari.
  5. P. 138 Explore Hinduism by Bansi Pandit.
  6. P. 128 Encyclopaedia of India by Ajay Bansal.
  7. P. 254 The Srimad-Bhagavatam of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa by Evelyn J A Evans, J. M. Sanyal, S. R. Mittal.
  8. P. 223 Gujarat and the Gujaratis by Behramji Merwanji Malabari, Krishnalal M. Jhaveri.
  9. P. 8 The Srimad-Bhagavatam of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa by J. M. Sanyal.
  10. P. 132 The Yoga-vashishtha-ramayana by Dhirendra Nath Bose.
  11. P. 1390 Guru Granth Sahib.
  12. P. 1330, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Vol. 4.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 P. 187 The Concise Yoga Vāsiṣṭha by Venkatesananda, Christopher Chapple. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ReferenceA" defined multiple times with different content
  14. P. 143 Advices on Spiritual Living by Chidananda.
  15. P. 283 Sri Aurobindo: A Biography and a History by K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar.
  16. P. 66 Hrishikesa: Krishna-A Natural Evolution by T. V. Gopal.
  17. P. 242 Rāmaćarita of Abhinanda: A Literary and Socio-cultural Study by Promila Vatsyayan.
  18. P. 207 Srimad Bhagavatam: Eighth Canto by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada.
  19. P. 841 The Brahma-Vaivarta Puranam Bhagavatapurana Puranas, Rajendra Nath Sen.
  20. P. 158 Srimad Bhagavatam: Eighth Canto by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 P. 155 Temples of Tamilnad by R. K. Das, 1964.
  22. P. 1419 The Skanda-purāņa by Jagdish Lal Shastri, Govardhan P. Bhatt, Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare.
  23. P. 124 The Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata by Shripad Dattatraya Kulkarni.
  24. P. 30 Know the Puranas by Pustak Mahal.
  25. P. 162 Śrīmadbhāgavatamāṃ Adbhuta Vijñāna-vihāra: Śrīmad-Vallabhācāryajīnī Najare: with English translation by Navanītapriya Jeṭhālāla Śāstrī by Navanītapriya Jeṭhālāla Śāstrī.
  26. P. 16 Religion, man, and society: from the archives of Dr. C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar: selections from his speeches & writings. by Chetpat Pattabhirama Ramaswami Aiyar, Sir.
  27. P 182 Modern Researches in Sanskrit: Dr. Veermani Pd. Upadhyaya Felicitation Volume by Veermani Prasad Upadhyaya.
  28. P. 109 Complete Works of Gosvami Tulsidas by Satya Prakash Bahadur, Tulasīdāsa.
  29. P. 50 Shrimad Bhagwat Purana.
  30. 30.0 30.1 P. 51 Shrimad Bhagwat Purana.
  31. P. 786 The Padma-purāṇa by N. A. Deshpande.
  32. P. 178 Vedanta Established in Its Own Light=: Sushka Vedanta Tamo Bhaskaram by Malayalaswamulavaru.
  33. P. 379 Sri Rūpa Gosvāmīs Bhakti-rasāmrta-sindhuh by Rūpagosvāmī by Rūpagosvāmī.
  34. P. 281 The Adhyatma Ramayana: Concise English Version by Chandan Lal Dhody.
  35. P. 134 Srī Rūpa Gosvāmī's Bhakti-rasāmṛta-Sindhuh by Rūpagosvāmī, Bhakti Hridaya Bon.
  36. P. 134 Sri Rūpa Gosvāmīs Bhakti-rasāmrta-sindhuh by Rūpagosvāmī.
  37. P. 246 Complete Works of Gosvami Tulsidas by Satya Prakash Bahadur, Tulasīdāsa.
  38. P. 90 Kurukṣetra in the Vamana Purāṇa by Sasanka Sekhar Parui.
  39. P. 70 Kalādarśana: American Studies in the Art of India by Joanna Gottfried Williams.
  40. P. 160History of Kurukshetra by Vishwa Nath Datta, H. A. Phadke.
  41. Peet, P. 45 Underground!: the disinformation guide to ancient civilizations, astonishing archaeology and hidden history.
  42. Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture by D. R. Bhandarkar.
  43. P. 27 The Sphinx Speaks: Or, The Story of the Prehistoric Nations by Jwala Prasad Singhal.
  44. The Hindu History, B. C. 3,000 to 1,200 A. D. by Akshoy Kumar Mazumdar.
  45. Sinha, P. 207 Comprehensive History of Bihar.

External links