Sri Vamana Avatar was the fifth avatar of Sri Maha Vishnu. This avatar was taken to defeat the Asura king Bali, also called Mahabali, as he was becoming too powerful.In this avatar, Vishnu was called Vamana because he had a dwarf form. He was also called Trivikrama as he conquered the three worlds, Earth, Heaven, and Patal Lok. He assumed a gigantic size to defeat King Bali and conquered the Universe by taking three steps with his foot. Another name for him is Upendra, as he was the younger brother of Lord Indra. There is an exclusive Purana named after him. It is Sri Vaamana Purana written by Sage Veda Vyasa, and it is part of the 18 great Puranas called Ashtadasa Puranas.
Vamana was the son of Sage Kashyap and his wife, Aditi. He was born due to the penance done by the couple and also the prayers of Indra and other gods on Bhadrapada Shukla Dwadasi day under Sravana Nakshatra. Every year, this day is observed as Vamana Jayanti, his birthday. Soon after birth, he attained boyhood and became a Vatu (Brahmachari). It was Lord Brahma who initiated the Gayatri Mantra to Vamana. He dressed like a typical Brahmin Brahmachari, wearing only a Koupeena (Loin cloth) and a sacred thread. He is shown holding an umbrella in one hand and Dhanda/Kamandalu (stick and water jug) in the other. A deer skin covers his upper body, and he wears a ring of Darba (Kusa grass) on his third finger.
Significance of Vamana’s Three Steps
Vamana approached Mahabali and asked for enough land as measured by three steps of his foot. At first, Bali hesitated as giving just three paces of land was not in keeping with his reputation and status. But when Vamana insisted, he agreed. But as soon as Bali made the promise, Vamana assumed his cosmic form (Trivikrama) and measured the entire Earth, including the nether worlds, with his first step.
With his second step, Vamana measured all the upper worlds. On reaching the zenith, his foot crossed the Sathya Loka where Lord Brahma resided. Seeing Vishnu’s foot, Brahma offered Abishekam and washed it. The water that fell from it sanctified the entire Universe. In the verses of Sri Annamacharys, the great composer and saint, we can find a reference to the foot washed by Brahma (Brahma Kadigina Padamu). The verse is on Sri Venkateswara.
Once the entire Universe was covered by two paces of Vamana, there was no more space left for Vamana’s third step. When Vamana asked for the space to take his third step, Bali’s pride and vanity vanished. He also surrendered before Vishnu. Bali then offered his own head to Vamana for his third step. Vamana placed his foot on Bali’s head and sent him to Patal Lok or the nether world. Thus, the story goes, Bali’s ego was suppressed, and Indra got back his kingdom. But Vishnu promised Bali that he could return once a year to see his subjects. This occasion is celebrated as Onam in Kerala. It is, in fact, the state festival and is celebrated for 10 days. Onam 2021 starts on Aug 12 and ends on Aug 23. Thiruvonam, the main day of the festival, is on Aug 21.
The Uniqueness of Vamana Avatar
Vamana is the first avatar where Vishnu took a complete human form though as a dwarf in the beginning. The fact that Vishnu did not use any weapon to subdue his opponent makes this avatar unique. The only weapon he used was guile. He took advantage of Bali’s pride, vanity, and ego by appealing to him for a small piece of land that he knew that the king would not hesitate to grant him. Also, he did not kill Bali though he was an Asura or demon. He conquered him in a sattvic way through his intelligence. Thus, Vamana Avatar was a sattvik avatar, unlike his other avatars. Vishnu had to use this strategy because he had promised his beloved devotee Prahlada that he would kill any of his descendants. In astrological terms, Jupiter (Guru) is believed to be the Paramatma Amsa of Vamana Avatar.
Vamana Avatar’s Message
Behind every Vishnu avatar lies a message. The message behind Vamana avatar is that one should surrender to God totally, however mighty one is. By shedding one’s ego and surrendering with complete devotion at the Lord’s feet, one can receive his grace and protection. In Bali’s case, too, this is what happened. He was forced to surrender to Lord Trivikrama, who had conquered all the three worlds.
When Mahabali surrendered before Vamana with complete devotion, the Lord was immensely pleased and voluntarily gave him boons. He anointed him as the ruler of the nether world Suthala but also promised him that he would always protect Bali’s kingdom. He also said that Bali would become Indra in the next Manvanthara. When Vishnu’s foot touched the head of Bali, all his sins were cleansed, and he became immortal. So, we should realize that we should not ask God for anything. For, if you ask, you will get only what you asked for. But when you don’t ask for anything, you will get all that you want.
The story of Mahabali underscores the fact that nothing is permanent in life and that we should take nothing for granted, whether it is wealth, power, beauty, position, status, or family, for nothing belongs to anyone. Even the mighty can be vanquished, so we should avoid pride and be humble always.
Sri Vamana Jayanthi, the day of Vamana’s birth, is celebrated every year on Bhadrapada Shukla Dwadasi Day.