Once upon a time there was a great Asura king named Mahabali. His kingdom was in the Indian state of Kerala. He was a generous king and was respected by his people for his wisdom and righteousness. He was a great donor. No-one asking something returned from his door empty handed.
He was an Asura king however, was a great devotee of Vishnu. In his kingdom prevailed peace and there was no crime and discrimination. A corruption free society as we want it today. People were happy in his rule. His rule marked a golden era for his kingdom, Kerala.
King Mahabali was the grandson of Prahlad. Prahlad is known for his devotion for Vishnu and for him Vishnu had to take the incarnation of Narasimha (Narasingh). He was the son of Virochana. As he descended from an asura family, he was an Asura by birth. His grandfather Prahlad taught him Vedas and later Shukracharya became his teacher.
Mahabali’s Conquest and Dejection of Indra
With the teachings of Shukracharya he became a great warrior and soon conquered the three lokas/worlds (The Earth, Heaven and Atmosphere). To take heaven, he defeated Indra. After all his conquest, Shukracharya wanted him to perform Ashwamedha Yagna. Upon performing the Yagna 100 times, he would become the permanent lord of the three worlds.
Indra was dejected from heaven. King Bali not only won over the Heaven, he also showed that how a king should behave. People were happy in his rule. He went to his mother Aditi and explained the things. Looking at the sad son, Aditi started performing penance to please Vishnu.
Pleased with Aditi’s Penance Lord Vishnu appeared and asked, “What do you need?”
Aditi said: “King Bali has taken my son Indra’s throne of heaven. Help him regain the throne.”
“Bali is a great man and a king. He is a good devotee. He deserves to take the position of Indra.”
Aditi reminded of Mahabali being an Asura and it is a possibility that after his reign Asuras may fall to their known behavior of hurting people. No doubt, he is a good king. However, he is an Asura by nature. Anytime he can return to his core behavior. Devas should rule the Heavens.
Vishnu agreed to Aditi’s logic and he gave a boon that he will take birth as her son to help Indra getting his throne back. He will take incarnation as her son to end the rule of Asuras.
Vaman Avatar, Vishnu’s fifth incarnation
Vishnu took birth as Aditi’s and Kashyap’s son. This was the Vaman avatar of Vishnu. Dark complexion, intelligent and playful. He was short heighted thus he was called Vaman (Dwarf).
Mahabali had performed 99 yagnas and was about to do the last one. This would be his 100th Yagna and if he commenced it successfully, he will be the permanent lord of the 3 lokas. He started the last yagna with a great preparation.
The moment Mahabali was about to finish the Yagna, the Dwarf boy appeared. Mahabali could not resist himself and he felt an attraction toward the boy. He greeted the dwarf brahmin boy. He said: “I am happy that you came to my 100th Yagna. Please tell me if you want anything from me. Tell me your wish and I will fulfil it.”
However, Shukracharya knew that it was Vishnu as a Dwarf Brahmin. He called Mahabali and asked him to finish the yagna first. He informed Mahabali that it is Vishnu and he came to destroy your yagna.
As king Mahabali was a great devotee of Vishnu, he became overwhelmed with his presence. He went back to the dwarf brahmin and asked for his wish.
“3 steps of land” asked the Dwarf boy.
I need only 3 steps of land.
Just 3 steps? Is that what you need? I will give that to you.
That was almost nothing for King Mahabali, however, he had to fulfil the brahmin’s wish. He said “take it”.
3 Steps of land
On being granted the wish, Vaman started growing. He kept on growing. He grew so big that only his feet were visible. Whole of the Earth was covered with his single step. He lifted his step and measured the entire sky, keeping the foot on the Heaven. Now, it was the time to put his 3rd step. He asked king Bali: “Give me the place to keep my 3rd step”.
Astounded Mahabali was still and watched Lord Vishnu’s brilliance. He offered his head for the 3rd step. He had to keep his words that he gave to the Dwarf Brahmin. His lord Vishnu had asked something from him. How can he defy his own words.
“I offer you my head for the 3rd step.”
Vishnu put the 3rd step on his head and king Mahabali was he was pushed to patala (under the earth). Lord Vishnu was pleased with his devotee. Vishnu was pleased with the devotion, righteousness.
Mahabali Ruled the Patala (underground)
King Mahabali started setting up his kingdom in patala. Without a thought of regret he was leading a happy life as he fulfilled the wish of his lord.
One day a black man approached king Mahabali and asked if he could offer some service. The king Mahabali appointed him as his gatekeeper. Later a lady came to him and said that his husband is out for work and she needs protection. King Mahabali asked him to be his sister and live with him under his protection. Gradually, the kingdom of Patala (underground) flourished under the rule of King Mahabali. Prople were happy and prosperous.
In fact the black man was Vishnu himself and the lady who lived as Mahabali’s sister was goddess Lakshmi. They were pleased to see that even after leaving the rule of 3 worlds, Bali was without a regret and was still a righteous king. The appeared in from of King Bali and revealed their identity. Upon seeing Vishnu and Lakshmi together, King Bali fell to their feet.
Please with Bali, Vishnu gave him a boon that he will be the next Indra once the reign of current Indra is done. He took a promise that he will always be a good man and king. As Bali loved his kingdom and people so much, he would come to his Kingdom in Kerala once in a year to see his people.
Onam Celebration, King Mahabali comes home
The day king Mahabali visits India once in a year is celebrated as Onam. The festival is celebrated as a tribute to the sacrifice of King Mahabali and every year, people make elaborate preparations to welcome their King whom they affectionately call Onathappan.
It is believed that King Mahabali visits his people on the second day. Trikkara is said to be the capital of the mighty King Mahabali where a temple with a deity of ‘Trikkakara Appan‘ or ‘Vamanamurthy‘ who is Lord Vishnu himself in disguise is also located at this place.
The bond between Mahabali and Devi Lakshmi is of a brother and sister. Sisters pray for the welfare of brothers and brothers protect sisters from any harm.