Vamana Avatar of Lord Vishnu, A Dwarf Brahmin

King Mahabali and Vamana Avatar

Shri Vamana, the fifth Avatar (Incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, appeared in the form of a handsome young Brahmin. He is renowned for the story of Vishnu’s stride, in which he measured the entire universe with his three steps. He was the one who returned the Deva Loka to Lord Indra while outwitting the Asura King Mahabali.

King Mahabali and Vamana Avatar

The story of King Mahabali and Vamana’s avatar of Vishnu is described in the Eighth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam.

In the Vedic astrology text by Maharshi Parashara, the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, Lord Vamana, is connected with the planet Jupiter. In this regard, Vamana represents the wise one with the knowledge of the universe.

As Rig Veda mentions,

idaṃ viṣṇurvi cakrame tredhā ni dadhe padam |
samūḷhamasya pāṃsure ||

Lord Vishnu with his world strode Vishnu planted his foot thrice and the whole was gathered in his footstep’s dust. All hail to Lord Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of Lord Vishnu!

Rig Veda, Book 1, Hymn 22, Verses 16-18

The appearance of Lord Vishnu As Vamana

Srimad Bhagavatam mentions there lived a great Asura king named Bali Maharaja, the grandson of Prahlada. He defeated Lord Indra, King of devas, and took control of Deva Loka. This deranged Aditi and Kasyapa Muni, who were the parents of the Devas(demigods).

Aditi and Kashyapa, concerned for the safety of their sons, prayed to Lord Vishnu for protection from the Asuras. Lord Vishnu was pleased with their devotion and decided to help them. Lord Vishnu took the form of a dwarf Brahmana known as Vamana. This occurred during the Treta Yuga.

Pleased with seeing the incarnations of Vishnu, the great sage Kashyapa performed all the prescribed sacred rites. At the sacred thread ceremony of Vamana as a brahmin, Lord Surya uttered the Gayatri mantra, Brihaspati offered a sacred thread, and Kashyapa offered a grass belt.

Bhudevi (Mother Earth) gave Him a deerskin, and Chandra deva gave him a Brahma-danda, the staff of a brahmachari. Mother Aditi gave him an undergarment, and the sky god gave Him an umbrella.

Lord Brahma brought a jug of water to Lord Vamana, the seven sages brought Kusha grass, and Mother Saraswati brought a Rudraksha rosary. Lord Kubera gave Him a begging vessel, and Mother Bhagavati made the first donation.

With words of welcome and blessings, Lord Vamana, the best of the brahmacharis, revealed the effulgence of Brahman to all present. Thus, He eclipsed with His beauty the entire assembly, which was attended by great saints and brahmins.

Vamana Avatar and Mahabali

At the Yajna (sacrifice) of King Mahabali, Lord Vamana was in attendance. King Mahabali was known for his generosity and welcomed Vamana with open arms. He offered to donate something to the young Vamana, to which Vamana humbly asked for just a gift of land in three footsteps. In those days, Brahmins were never refused, but the request for such a small amount of land surprised Mahabali, who encouraged Vamana to ask for more.

King Mahabali and Vamana Avatar of Lord Vishnu
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Guru Shukracharya, Mahabali’s Guru, knew that this brahmin was not an ordinary person. He realized Lord Vishnu had taken the form of a brahmin boy to destroy Mahabali’s wealth. Shukracharya began to chastise his disciple for promising three steps of land. He said that Lord Vishnu came to deceive King Bali and deprive him of all wealth.

Mahabali replied that the earth could bear the weight of mountains and oceans, but she could not bear the burden of a liar. So, Vamana’s request was granted, and the dwarf was transformed into Trivikrama (gigantic form).

He is also referred to as Lord Trivikrama (three steps). Trivikrama is associated with Trivikrama Tatwam which constitutes all three Lokas, Bhu Loka, Bhuvar Loka, and Suvar Loka.

तथा त्रिविक्रमं वक्ष्ये ब्रह्माण्डक्रमणोल्बणम्।
पादपार्श्वे तथा बाहुमुपरिष्टात् प्रकल्पयेत् ।।

Now about the Vamana form of lord striding the three worlds, as if pervading all the universe.

Matsya Purana – 260.36

Having firmly established himself on the back of the tortoise, Vamana’s universal form proceeded to take a step into Bali’s sacrificial hall. As the eternal lord, he then took a second step, encompassing the entire world. Turning to Bali, he inquired, “O lord of Asuras, where should I place my third step? There is no space left.” Bali, joined by his wife, replied with reverence and a laugh, “O lord of Devas, you are the creator of the universe. I am not. Although it may be small for you, O lord of cosmic identity, I have never lied and will never do so. Step upon my head.

King Bali offered to put the third step on his royal head since there was no other free place left. The pacified Vamana placed the third step on his head and allowed Bali to visit Patala Loka along with the armies of asuras and rule there. Lord Indra regained his kingdom of Swarga or Deva Loka.

Purana mentions that when Vamana’s foot touched heaven during his encounter with King Bali, Lord Brahma washed it with holy water from a water pot, which then took the form of the river Ganga and flowed down to earth.

Life Lessons from Vamana Avatar

According to Vamana, no amount of wealth or worldly possessions can bring happiness to a person who lacks control over their senses. However, a person who has mastered the art of self-control can find happiness and contentment in any circumstance. Vamana believed that people who are solely focused on acquiring material possessions may amass great wealth, but they will never truly be satisfied.

1. Should Control Our Senses

During the conversation between Vamana and Bali, Lord Vamana told the King that one must learn to rein in their senses if one wants to find true contentment in life, regardless of material possessions. A true devotee is always satisfied with what he has.

2. Lesson of Truthfulness

When Shukracharya asked Mahabali to refuse the promise given to Vamana, Bali replied he could not lie to the Brahman because the weight of a liar is an unbearable burden for Mother Earth. Truthfulness is one of the fundamental principles of religion. Due to Mahabali’s truthfulness, Vishnu re-installed dharma, and Bali continued to live as a king of Asuras.

3. A Complete Devotion

Mahabali is a unique example of a devotee who has surrendered himself to Lord Vishnu. Sometimes Lord Vishnu gives us trials in the form of deprivation and adversity. It is easy for a devotee to turn to Lord in such a helpless situation. It becomes a much more serious test when Lord Vishnu, on the contrary, gives us everything – money, power, attraction, and knowledge.

We should be cautious not to become proud and use them for their intended purpose. And we can remember the charm of the little brahmin boy Shri Vamana Deva to get the “super-special mercy” needed in such a situation.

The greatness of Lord Vamana is revered in every Purana, such as Shiva Purana, Narada Purana, Kurma Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana, Brahmavaivarta Purana, Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and Vamana Purana. Being one of the principal incarnation and the first one in Treta Yug, Vishnu’s strides symbolizes power, humility, and the fate of karma.