Onam-Bali Pada is an occasion for us to relate to the story of Vamana where Vamana grew from a short young boy to a giant form and with His 3 strides covered earth, skies and finally placed His leg on the head of Maha Bali, a good but arrogant king and pushed him into Pathala Loka.
This legend where Vamana measured the whole universe does sound like some childish mythology. Even from a cosmological perspective, it appears to be unscientific and self-contradictory. If with His first step, Vamana had measured the whole of the earth then it should have included Bali’s head too as he was also on this earth.
Next, with the second step of His foot, if Vamana had measured the whole sky, then “this earth which is also a part of that sky”, was also included in the second step.
Then where does Bali stand separately, to offer his head for the third measure?
Is this not self-contradictory?
Is there anything rational about this legend?
We must bear in mind that the legend of Vamana avatar is Puranic, i.e. it is an expression of a deeper truth, a moral lesson from historical or scientific incidents, clothed in a story, such that the commoner can easily grasp the essence of the incident and model his conduct accordingly, right through the ages.
What is the moral that lies behind this story of King Maha Bali?
Maha Bali was a great Asura king and ruled over all the lands he saw. While he was basically a good person and his intention to honour the knowledgeable was great, there was also arrogance in him because he owned the entire expanse that he could see on land and was considered invincible. That ahankara, arrogance, ego, blinded him and so, despite his goodness and the keen intention to respect knowledge, his ahankara, ego, did him in.
While he had his preceptor, Guru Sukracharya, next to him, who had warned him to pause, think, take sagely advice and act with caution, King Maha Bali had brushed aside the warning in order to keep up his image, of one who was willing to give away everything. This ego and arrogance got him banished to Pathala Loka.
Knowledge and humility help one transcend ego which can grow as huge as this earth and sky. This ego can be conquered in three simple steps like Vamana’s.
Step 1 – Measure the earth – Look around and be humbled by the sheer number of other living beings like you on this earth.
Step 2 – Measure the skies – Look up into the sky and be humbled by the sheer vastness and multitude of other worlds in the cosmos and how insignificantly small we are in this cosmos.
Step 3 – Place your hand on your head – Realize that in the cycle of births and deaths not only of living beings but the cosmos itself, the time span of each of our lives is very small and the role we play in the larger picture of the order of the cosmos, is even smaller.
This story by example has had a timeless relevance in conquering ego, ahamkara which has also been timeless. A little ahamkara is essential but when ahamkara takes over, it just suppresses the person, however mighty he may be.
These 3 steps of Vamana will keep our ego, ahamkara limited to the necessary.
But why remember this story on Onam Day? Why choose this particular day?
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