Lord Vishnu incarnated Vamana Avatar in Treta- Yug to protect Indra’s kingdom. This is the first avatar were Lord Vishnu incarnated himself in a human form – a dwarf priest. After Prahlad, his son Virechana became the king of asuras and Virechana was followed by Bali who was the grandson of Prahlad -a mighty asura. Bali was a great leader who brought peace to his land and under his reign everyone was very happy. Like his grandfather Prahlad, he was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and had learned vedas from his grandfather Prahlad and later from his guru Shukracharya. In order to take place of Indra (king of heaven), Bali started performing prayers to Lord Brahma.
Lord Brahma appeared and asked for his wish. Bali answered, “Lord everyone is afraid of asuras and in that way I am unable to do good to others, please make me as powerful as Indra so that I can bring good to mankind. Also I can’t be defeated in any wars.” Brahmaji granted him his wish.
Guided by his teacher, Shukracharya, he performed the Vishwajit sacrifice (a yagna performed to become the king of three worlds) at Brugukatch (Bharuch) on the bank of river Narmada to please Agni (fire god). Agni gave Bali a divine golden chariot and celestial weapons. After obtaining blessings of his Guru Shukracharya, Bali took his divine chariot and set out to conquer Indra.
Indra was frightened and he rushed to Brihaspati, his preceptor to seek help and said, “What should I do now? Bali has come with some strange power and we may fail in beating him back.” Brihaspati advised him, “You are unable to face Bali at present. You’ll have to abandon the heaven and wait until his guru curses him for ignoring his counsel and your enemy falls on bad days!”
Bali ascended the throne of heaven and became the lord of three worlds. Meanwhile in a hermitage, mother Aditi, mother of Devtas, could not bear the defeat of Indra and was very sad. Her husband Sage Kashyap was meditating in the forest and was unaware of Devtas defeat.
On his return Kashyap found his wife in distress and inquired,” What is the matter ? Is all well with you and your sons?” ‘No, my lord. Asuras have usurped our kingdom, our splendor & Glory. You must go and help my sons to retrieve their lost kingdom’,replied Mother Aditi.
Hearing everything Sage Kashyap said, ‘It is not me who you should appeal to, but pray to Lord Vishnu. He and only he can help you, so meditate him.’
She asked, ‘How can I please Lord Vishnu?’
Kashyap said, ‘In the month of Phalgun, observe Payo-vrata vow ( it is the vow of milk, in which only milk is consumed by those who are observing this vow). This is the vow which pleases him a lot and he will grant you your desired wish.’
At the advice of her husband Kashypa, she took a vow of Lord Vishnu for twelve long days and on the thirteenth day Lord Vishnu appeared before mother Aditi and asked, “O Divine lady,open your eyes and why did you pray to me?”
Mother Aditi uttered,’Lord you know everything, Bali has taken over my son’s kingdom and he should be defeated.I know he is a great king but what about the other asuras. Since they are powerful at this moment they may go back to their old cruel ways and start hurting people. I wish that you may be born as my son to end Bali’s rule.’
Lord Vishnu said,’Even though Bali is a great king and a great leader, your worship shall not prove fruitless. I shall be born as a son to you to protect your children.’
Months later, on the twelfth day of bright half of Bhadrapada (sixth month of the Hindu calendar), Lord Vishnu took his descent from aditi and thus was born the sixth incarnation of Vishnu. Now as the couple stood amazed, Vishnu changed his form to that of a short – statured Brahman – The Vamana. Clad in a loin cloth, he carried a umbrella in one hand and a kamandalu in other one. He had matted hair on his head.
Aditi said to her son Vamana, “Now you should curb Bali for the welfare of gods and human beings.” Following the advice of his mother, Vamana went to meet Bali.
Though Bali had the kingdom of heaven under his control his desires grew limitless. One day when he was performing a sacrifice of a series of horses (also known as Ashwamedha Yagna ) with the help of sage Shukracharya, a blinding light filled the sacrificial grounds.
Everyone was shocked, one of the sages said that,” It could be Lord Surya ( the Sun God) himself who has come down to witness our sacrifice?”
As their eyes got used to the brilliance, they saw that a dwarf Brahman had entered their sacrificial enclosure. King Bali had taken a vow that he would certainly give anything to a Brahmin if he begged, even how much difficult it might be for him to give.
Bali rose from his seat to welcome him. Bali’s wife then came with a Golden pitcher full of water to wash Vamana’s feet. He gave the Brahman(Vamana) special seat and washed his feet. After that he asked, “O holy one, what can I do for you? Take from me whatever you desire.”
But Vamana kept quiet. Seeing this Bali again said, “Do not hesitate, ask for what ever you want – Cows, elephants, horses, chariots, villages anything?” This time Vamana shook his head and said, ‘All I need is a strip of land, three paces long as measured by my stride (the amount of land that could come under his three feet).’ Bali was very disappointed with Vamana’s humble demand and said, ‘When I am ready to grant you a whole continent, what all you wish is only three paces of land ?’
Vamana replied, “He who is not satisfied with three paces of land will not be satisfied with the whole continent. I have asked for three paces of land and that is all I need.” Bali laughed and said,’Then you shall have as much as you want.’
At that moment Guru Shukracharya, realized the truth that the Brahman was non other than Lord Vishnu. As Bali took the holy water in his palm, Shukracharya, stopped him by saying that, ” Wait, this midget is Lord Vishnu. He is here to help our enemies, the devtas.”
‘Nothing can be done now , Guru Shukracharya, I have given my words.’ replied Bali.
Shukracharya tried to stop him in many ways but Bali said, ‘ Once I have promised that I shall give this Brahman whatever he had asked for, how can I,Bali, the grandson of Prahlad, refuse like a common cheat? I will give this Brahman the land he seeks.’
Guru Shukracharya became very furious at Bali, as how could his disciple dare to disregard his advice so he cursed Bali, ‘You have ignored my command and you will soon fall from your high position.’
And to everybody’s surprise Vamana began to grow and grow. Bali and all others present there were astounded to see the whole creation of Vamana’s body.
Now Vamana began to measure three paces, with his first stride he covered the entire earth, with his second stride he covered the heavens. Bali soon realized that he has been cursed by his Guru and that his fall is inevitable.
Vishnu now asked Bali that,’ You had promised me three paces of land and I have covered all that was yours in two. Where should I place my third stride? You have failed to keep your words and for that you shall suffer.’
Bali said, ‘O lord, I am not afraid of punishment, place your third step on my head, which is more valuable to me than all my possessions put together.’
Lord Vishnu smiled and placed his third step on Bali’s head. With the immense pressure of Lord Vishnu’s foot Bali was pushed down to Patal lok ( lowest regions of universe). Devtas were very happy as Asuras were defeated and they got their kingdom back but Lord Vishnu was upset. Bali had been his true devotee and pleased with his righteousness Lord Vishnu blessed him and asked him to ask for a boon.
Bali asked Lord Vishnu to be present in front of him day and night so that he can worship him. To keep his promise and to fulfill Bali’s desire Lord Vishnu had to become his gatekeeper.Goddess Lakshmi missed Lord Vishnu in Vaikunth and after learning about the whole incident from Naradji, goddess Lakshmi in a disguise of a beautiful woman visited Bali in paatal lok.
She said to Bali, ‘Your Majesty! My husband, he has gone to fulfill some errands and is not yet home. I feel lonely without him. I need protection. I heard that in your kingdom, you look after everyone like your own children. Please give me protection too!’
Bali was moved when he heard the woman. He said, ‘Lady! You are like a sister to me. Please come and stay in my palace. You can stay there as long as you wish!’
She thanked Bali and started living in paatal lok. Soon paatal lok became a very prosperous place and everyone was happy. His kingdom was flourishing.
One day Bali heard his sister saying some prayers. ‘Whom are you praying for?’ Bali asked goddess Lakshmi in disguise. She said I am praying for your long and healthy life my brother.
Bali was moved and said, ‘Whatever you want, I will give you, my sister!’
She smiled and said, “Brother, I want my husband back.”
With a puzzled look Bali asked, “Your husband…?”
She then pointed towards the gatekeeper and said, “That is my husband….”
In a flash both the gatekeeper and women vanished and there stood Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi in their places. Bali was shocked to learn that all these days it was Lord Vishnu as his gatekeeper and his so called sister was the Goddess of Fortune – Lakshmi.
Realizing the truth Bali fell to their feet and apologized. Smiling Lord Vishnu said, “It was your honesty and devotion which brought me here and I had promised you that I will be in front of your eyes day and night. Because you are a great ruler I promise after Indra’s rule you will be the next Indra.”
Bali then seeked sorry from goddess Lakshmi for keeping her away from her husband. She blessed him and said,” Brother, it’s not your fault, Lord is always with his devotees who loves him the most. My good wishes and blessing are always with you. May you always succeed and prosper.”
After this Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi returned to Vaikunth. It is said that because of this bond between Goddess Lakshmi and Bali – Raksha Bandhan is celebrated, where sisters tie a sacred thread on their brothers hand and pray for their long life and in return brothers promise to protect their sister from every harm that comes their way!
In this way Lord Vishnu in Vamana avatar begged the three worlds for Devtas, from their enemy – the righteous king of Asuras —– BALI .