Monthly Archives: March 2020

Bali Chakravarti, The Asura king worshipped by Hindus

Ancient India was inhabited by various communities of which the most powerful were the Asuras (Danavas and Daityas) and the Devas (Manavas). The Danavas, Daityas and the Devas were step brothers and born of the same father, Kasyapa. The dispute between the Devas and the Asuras were for power and kingship and this led to the conflict famously known as the Devasura Sangrama.

To commemorate the triumph of the various avatars of Vishnu over his rivals, Hindus celebrate various jayanthis like Narasimha jayanti, Vamana jayanti, Parashurama jayanti, Ramanavami and Krishnaastami. On the occasion they worship the character of the avatar who vanquished his enemy/rival who normally belonged to the Asura or Rakshasa community. But there is an exception to this celebration where Bali, an Asura whom Vishnu in the avatar of Vamana took his kingdom and exiled him is greatly revered and worshiped during the festival of Deepavali. In all other avatars, in vanquishing his foes, Vishnu used force while in the case of Bali he used stratagem.

A virtuous and generous ruler

Bali or Mahabali was one of the bravest and powerful rulers of the Asuras. Son of Virochana Daitya, he was virtuous, learned and to keep one’s word and in generosity, Bali was the forerunner of king Satya Harishchandra of the solar dynasty and Karna, the tragic hero of Mahabharata. Under his benevolence rule, peace and prosperity prevailed in his kingdom. From the time of Prahlada, the grandfather of Bali, the Daityas were in good relationship with the Devas and this relationship continued during the reign of Bali.

Conflict with the Devas

Once the Daityas along with Devas and Nagas undertook a joint expedition probably in the gangetic region where many valuable things were obtained. When the time for division came the Devas kept all the best things for themselves, gave a few to the Nagas and ignored the Daityas. The Daityas under Bali fought for their right but they were in the country of the Devas far away from home and unprepared for the fight and so were defeated and escaped to their country with difficulty. Later Bali planned an expedition against the Devas and attacked them with a large army and took control of their country. On behalf of the Devas a sage Vamana came to Bali’s country for negotiation. When he arrived at the Daitya’s capital, Bali was engaged in a sacrifice. A discourse followed and Bali was so pleased with the erudition of Vamana that he promised to grant any boon that Vamana might ask. Though Shukracharya his preceptor advised him to retract his words, Bali refused. Vamana asked the whole of his empire and Bali cheerfully gave it. Vamana then deported Bali to the country of the Nagas and later handed over Bali’s kingdom to his descendants (his son Bana).

Bali was deified

Vamana stayed with Bali in the Naga country and taught him the esoteric teachings of spiritualism and as a result Bali was later recognised as a Devarishi like Narada. Described as good, great and god like in Hindu literature, it is no wonder that centuries later Bali was deified.

Exact location of Bali’s kingdom

According to J.P.Mittal in the fight between the Devas and Asuras, the Devas came out victorious and hence the Brahmins, the authors of the Puranas did not write the history of the Asuras except where they came in conflict with the Devas. Hence, we find paucity of sources of information about the Asuras and also paucity of sources for reconstructing the history of ancient south India where the Asuras and Rakshasas ruled. Hence, we can only speculate from where exactly did Bali rule.

According to the Puranas the Nagas, Danavas and Daityas lived in Rasatala identified with the valley of Jaxartes. According to Jwala Prasad Singhal, Hiranyakashipu, the first great king of the Daityas and the great grandfather of Bali ruled from his capital Hyrcania situated south-east of the Caspian Sea. Hiranyakashipu was succeeded by his son Prahlada and later by his grandson Bali. This means that Bali’s kingdom was situated in Central Asia.

According to Akshoy Kumar Mazumdar Bali’s kingdom was situated along the river Indus in Punjab and after being defeated by Vishnu, Bali fled to Patala i.e. Bengal. There Bali built a small capital on the banks of river Ganga and lived with his queen Sudeshna and his followers. Bali had no issues and hence requested a blind rishi called Dirghatama to whom he had given refuge to impregnate his queen. As a result, Bali’s queen bore five sons who grew up into very pious, powerful and learned and who later founded the kingdoms of Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Pundra and Suhma. But F.E.Pargiter claims that the king Bali who ruled in the eastern region belonged to the Anava dynasty who were the descendants of Anu, the son of Yayati. This Bali was a contemporary of king Sagara of Ayodhya and not the Bali son of Virochana Daitya.

Bali ruled from south India

Though Bali lived several millenniums ago, to his day he is worshipped all over India during the five days festival of Deepavali. The day on which he is worshipped is known as Balipadyami or Balipratipada wherein the image of Bali, his queen Vindyavali and Asuras like Kusmanda, Bana, Mura and others are drawn in coloured powder and then worshipped with offerings of lotus, sandal paste, incense and naivedya of food. In Kerala the festival of Onam is celebrated as the home coming of Bali, who being exiled by Vamana was allowed to visit his kingdom once in a year. Bali’s capital is said to be Mahabalipuram a place in Tamilnadu. Also, the Banas a historical dynasty who ruled in southern parts of Karnataka and Tamilnadu adjoining Kerala claim descent from Bali. All these indicates that Bali was ruling from a region situated in south India and probably in the present state of Kerala and its surrounding place.

National god of Babylonia

It is said that after Bali gave his kingdom to Vamana, the former was exiled to to Sutala one of the seven spheres of Rasatala. Rasatala derived its name from the river Rasa identified with river Jaxartes. Normally if a person is exiled, he will be sent to a far-off place; especially if he is popular. If Bali had been ruling from Hyrcania he would not have been sent to Rasatala a place nearby. In all likelihood he was ruling from south India and from there exiled to West Asia. His benevolent character, his generosity had made him so famous that Bali became the national god of Babylonia, the empire of the devotees of Bel or Baal or Bali.

References

  • Akshoy Kumar Mazumdar- The Hindu History, Dacca, 1920

  • John Dowson- A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology

  • Jwala Prasad Singhal- Some Light on Ancient world history from the Puranas, The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol III, March 1927, No.1

  • P.V.Kane- History of Dharmashastras, Vol 5, part I Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1958

  • J. P. Mittal- History of Ancient India (7300 B.C.-4250 B. C.) Vol-I, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2006

  • Nundo Lal Dey- Rasatala or the underworld, The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol II, June 1926, No.2

  • F.E.Pargiter- Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, London,1922