Friday, May 30, 2014
Onam – Maha Bali – Vaman – Vaman Jayanti, (1-Page Format) A look beyond usual narration. The Real History has more dimensions.
Onam – Maha Bali – Vaman – Vaman Jayanti, (1-Page Format) A look beyond usual narration. The Real History has more dimensions.
Part 1 Onam: Benevolent king cheated and tricked by jealous gods. Is anything amiss in the currently popularized version of the story?
The popular story, current today, leads us to believe that God became partisan and cheated a benevolent king, Mahaa[क] Bali.
In this story of distant past, there are three main players. Mahaa Bali, Bhagavaan Vaaman, (the fifth[ख] Avaatar of Vishnu) and Indra[ग] (King of Devas who rules over the Swarga[घ]-Loka). Let us see what seems to be unexplained or amiss from the narrations surrounding them:
1) If Mahaa Bali was a good king, exiling him does not make sense. 2) If Mahaa Bali was a bad king, giving him boons does not make sense. 3) If Mahaa Bali was good and bad at the same time does not make sense because his subjects loved him unreservedly and no one shunned him including God the Almighty. In fact, Mahaa Bali has a pride of place among foremost Vishnu-Bhaktas. 4) Irrespective of Mahaa Bali being good or evil, why that land possessed by new owner, Vaaman, was re-transferred with political powers to Mahaa Bali’s son prince Baanaasur[ङ]? 5) Why did Vaaman not retain control over the legendarily happy land? 6) Was it not a mistake to trust and transfer the land and political power to son of adversary? 6) Episode of abdication by Mahaa Bali and Power transfer to Banaasur is very different from other historical[च] transfers of power. In here, very strangely, the loser is happy, gainer is happy, subjects are happy and the agency, which forced the change, is happy. Mahaa Bali, goes off willingly, retains full respect, given ruler-ship of another kingdom (Paataal[छ]-Loka पाताल-लोक), enjoys full protection (from God), visits his ex-kingdom, is welcomed by everyone and even his adversary, the instrument of change, Vaaman is also respected by all. 7) Is it not unusual that Bhagavaan Vishnu took form of, nothing colorful but just a simple Brahmin to entice Mahaa Bali? Remember, Vishnu had disguised himself as a beautiful maiden during ‘samudra-manthan’ as an entrapment. 8) Was Bhagavaan Vishnu a deputy of Indra or an accomplice in the crime that he decided to act upon Indra’s pleading? God who takes care of everybody and everything is always fair. Is it therefore not injustice to Him, if anyone was to assume that He got into action to rid Mahaa Bali just due to unfair pleading by Indra? Surely, there could have been another independent reason that prompted Vishnu to take action. It does not make sense to believe that anyone, including Indra, could manipulate and rope in Bhagavaan Vishnu.
Above eight points suggest that there is something more to the story and that the take away message is different from what the popular tale compels us to believe. There is always more than what meets the eyes.
Take contemporary history of recent wars, it is not easy to pinpoint one single or one definite reason for the war, be it WW1, WW2 or even as latest as Iraq War. Why did allied forces, led by US attacked Iraq? Official version at one time said that it was because of stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. However, that reason proved to be false and political analysts forwarded many alternative theories. It could have been that the West wanted to exercise control over Iraq’s petroleum assets or that they wanted to help Saudi Arabia, who feared from increased military power of Iraq. May be, West feared Iraq may go beyond after annexation of Kuwait and then the possibility of Iraq’s control over Gulf waters (the main waterways that carry petroleum to the world). It could also be that US feared marginalizing their greenback due to Saddam’s insistence on selling petroleum to the world in non-dollar currency such as Euro (thereby reducing Iraq’s dependence on USD and US). This shows us that one or more than one or none of the known reason can be the real reason.
Similarly, Indra’s fear of losing Indra-Aasan[ज] (Indraasan) may not be the reason or may not be the only reason, why was Mahaa Bali exiled by Vaaman and why was he replaced by Banaasur.
From our experience with Hindu texts, we know that none of the writers of Hindu texts has ever done injustice to the characters involved. When they praise Raam, good qualities of Raavan are not forgotten and when narrating Krishna, good qualities of Kamsa and Jaraasangh are not overlooked. When praising Mahaa Bali, would they not describe his vanquisher, Vaaman? Hinduism encourages its followers to be logical, to have no inhibition in investigating until truth emerges. Hinduism does not oppose scientific enquiry.
If a good king is exiled instead of rewarded and if his detractor is not condemned but deified, an intelligent person would investigate. Especially because, those knowledgeable in Hinduism studies tell us that every element, every process and every narration in Hinduism is for the sole purpose of guiding humans to a ‘higher’ or ‘elevated’ life based on human dignity, gratefulness, selfless service and freedom from wants. Conversely, therefore, every process that has a potential of steering humans towards ignominy, ungratefulness or selfishness is unmeritorious. Its torchbearers, especially, Avataars have to set an example and cannot be cheats, jealous, partisan or unjust.
Part 2: Onam story, its currently popular common narration
Onam is a Puraanic story of Mahaa Bali and Vaaman taken from Bhaagavat Puraan[झ]. It is a history from early ‘Treta-Yug’, much before the Ramaayan[ञ] times.
King Mahaa Bali was a devotee of Bhagavaan Vishnu. His country was peaceful and subjects were happy. He ruled with fairness and kindness. Mahaa Bali was brave, generous and a man of character. He had performed Aswamedha[ट]-Yagna. Indra was jealous of him due to his superior abilities and virtues. He was scared that Bali might stake claim on Indraasan. Indra pleaded with Bhagavan Vishnu for help to save his Indraasan. To help Indra, Bhagavaan Vishnu takes inconspicuous form of an innocent smallish looking Brahmin going by the name Vaaman. He goes to Mahaa Bali and asks for land large enough for placing his 3 steps. Mentor, Guru, Shukra-Acharya forewarns Mahaa Bali about possible dangers from Vaaman. However, Bali agrees to 3-steps land. Vaaman, then expands his form into a super-giant and covers Bali’s entire kingdom in two pace. Vaaman wonders where he should place third step. Honorable Bali recognizes Vaaman as Bhagavaan Almighty and bows to Him. As there was no other place left, Bali offers his head to Vaaman, requesting Him to place His foot on it for third step. God is pleased with Bali’s gesture and gives him boons and then placing his foot on Bali’ head, pushes him down to Paataal-Loka. Driven by love for his subjects, Mahaa Bali requests that he, be allowed to visit his country once every year. Vaaman agrees. In addition, He vows to protect him and gives him the ruler-ship of the Paataal-Loka. With these boons, Mahaa Bali is still alive and visits his subjects every year. His boon of yearly-once visit inadvertently becomes a boon of long life, making him ‘Chiranjeev’[ठ] (चिरंजीव having a long life just short of immortality).
Importance of Mahaa Bali in the Sanskriti: It is interesting to know that the all-important festival of Dipaavali is the last day of the Vikram Samvat year, but the Bali-Pratipadaa day is the first day of the New Year, 1st Kaartik. King Mahaa Bali has a special place in the hearts of people from Kerala. Malayalees[ड] consider Mahaa Bali as their ‘king’ from time immemorial. Therefore, in Kerala, the festival of Onam, marking ‘annual-one-day-home-coming’ of Mahaa Bali, is celebrated by everyone, Hindu or otherwise. Government of Kerala celebrates Onam as ‘state festival’ (generally, secular Indian governments do not celebrate religious festivals). People of Gujarat not only honor Mahaa Bali but also his wife Vidyaavati on Gujarati New Year day, the Bali-Pratipadaa.
Importance of Vaaman in the Sanskriti: Vaaman Jayanti is an important festival for all Hindus, all over the world, as birthday of an Avataar of Vishnu. In Kerala, however, as compared to Onam, the celebration of Vaaman Jayanti is not very noticeable except among Hindu Malayalees.
Festival of Oman/Waaman Jayanti occurs in the month of Bhaadrapada on 12th Suda (Bright-half-month), which roughly translates as month of ‘Chingum’ in Kerala or Aug/Sept. The day, Mahaa Bali’s homecoming is celebrated with appropriate Pooja, preparation of sweets, feasts, new clothes, Rangoli designs and decorating homes welcoming the king.
Part 3: Real (or more complete) history, decodes the puzzle
Those with ‘Darshan’ (‘दर्शन’ meaning, wider knowledge, understanding and appreciation) of underlying Hindu thoughts understand narration of Puraans, a bit differently. They neither add, delete nor modify but interpret a given text from the benefit of wider understanding derived from having mastered several cross-connected matters from the colossal volume of other Hindu texts.
The popular story, at best, is only a side plot, related only to how Indra felt about Mahaa Bali. However, actual main story centers on the fact that no lesser a person than God Almighty had to descend on earth as Vaaman Avataar. Why? Unless there was, a real pressing objective needed to be fulfilled, an objective that only He could take care of. Only a simpleton will think that Bhagavaan Vishnu, the God Almighty can be ‘persuaded’ to do injustice.
Bhagavaan declared the purpose of an Avataar in the Bhagavad Gita, at Ch-4, V-8. “परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम| धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे||”, (“Paritraanaaya sadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha dushkrutaam | Dharma samsthaa panaarthaaya sambhavaami yugey yugey ||”). Avataar has three objectives, one, to help activists engaged in selfless society-uplifting activities, two, to neutralize those engaged in a conduct that would result in societal-evil and three, to be a leader of society, become a role-model and re-establish righteous conduct which can uphold a society in peace and prosperity over a long time. If we were to take a cue from above statement of Bhagavaan Krishnaa (an Avataar of Vishnu), it may lead us to believe that perhaps the world-order was in jeopardy due to Mahaa Bali. If so, if Mahaa Bali was somehow disrupting world order, he deserved to be exiled. Let us examine further.
Mahaa Bali was great grandson of king Hiranyakasipu.
Hiranyakashipu → Prahalaad → Virochan → Mahaa Bali → Baanaasur
Bhagavaan Brahma had blessed Hiranyakashipu. He became powerful and almost invincible king of his times. He thought, as a monarch, it is he, who is sole provider of protection and prosperity to his subjects. Citizens are able to live only because of him. His subjects did appreciate and praised him, but thought he deserved more. Though he was blessed by Bhagavaan and although he did himself worship Him, in his mind, he felt a sense of jealousy when his subjects revered Bhagavaan. The power and fame went to his head. Hiranyakashipu thundered, “What do you miss in life that I do not provide? I provide you food, house, security. You are living a good life because of me. Shouldn’t you appreciate me more? Think, whom should you worship? Know which side your bread is buttered? He would not even tolerate people sharing some love with God, he wanted unconditional total surrender of people. Gradually, he made his country ‘God-less’ and people began worshipping the king. No one missed God. It did not hurt anyone’s dignity to be a sycophant.
There is a deep connection between belief in Bhagavaan and a development of a virtuous and progressive society. (Hindu concept of God is different from Western/Abrahamic concept of God. For this reason, the word ‘Bhagavaan’ is used although for most purposes, it is okay to use the word ‘God’. Bhagavaan or Hindu God, is an entity that exists in everyone including own self and everything around. This understanding shapes worldview of Hindus and make them good humans). The God ‘within himself’ produces sense of dignity for self. This sense of self-esteem produces an inner strength for character building. Simultaneously, God ‘within everyone around’ makes a Hindu respect everyone as creation of God. His respect of others restraints him from harming others. A Hindu automatically, by default, develops sense of responsibility towards own self and towards everything created by Bhagavaan; people, animals, trees, mountains nature and the rest. (There are many major differences between what Hindus mean when they use the word ‘God’ and what others mean when they use the same word ‘God’. Interested readers might want to read more about it here: http://nmsresolution.blogspot.ca/ ).
Prince Prahlad saw what was coming. He tried to explain his dad, Hiranyakashipu. No God meant none to bite conscience for unethical or unfair. No dignity meant it is okay to beg, borrow or steal; it is okay to do anything, good, bad or ugly to meet an objective and it is okay to accept crumbs thrown at him. A dog is an excellent example of a man without dignity. Master may kick his dog and yet it will forget the insult, wag its tail, as soon as a crumb of bread is thrown at him. In addition, dog will wag its tail and accept anyone as master who offers bread. Self-respect or dignity is last thing on its mind. It should not surprise anyone that in a Hindu temple, every animal but a dog is allowed to enter. Hindu Sanskriti places highest value to human dignity. (Do not misunderstand this as a discrimination; Dog has many other exemplary attributes and are appropriately accounted for in the vast Indian Sanskriti. As illustration, take Bhagavaan Dutta, who always keeps a dog with Him. Another famous example of love for dog is from Mahaabhaarat, where, the Dharmic-most Yudhisthir refuses to enter heaven when told that the stray dog accompanying him will not be permitted to go him). Loss of human dignity is floodgate of a thousand other evils. Human dignity deficient society ultimately reaches zenith of materialism, consumerism, hypocrisy, exploitation, immorality, violence selfishness. Powerful people mercilessly exploit and powerless people helplessly suffer. In the end that society self-destructs, unless correcting forces such as, in current story, Nara-Sinha and Prahalad help change the situation.
Prince Prahalaad, who also was leader of student union and an activist, politely confronts his father, the king Hiranyakashipu. “Yes, we are certainly thankful to you, but, you cannot make sun to rise, provide rain or digest food in our stomachs. You are a King, people look at you for inspiration. You are a role model; please do not insult God by asking ‘what he gives?’ I love you father and people love you as a good king, but please be humble. Worshipping God does not mean that they are insulting you”. Power-obsessed person sees himself as the wisest, needing no advice. Arrogant rarely pays attention to counsel. Ultimately, Hiranyakashipu reaches a point; he could not anymore tolerate Prahalaad’s God-centric activism.
Hiranyakashipu saw his son as incorrigible rebel bent upon turning his country against him. He makes several secret attempts to kill Prahalad, but remains unsuccessful. In the end, he makes it official; he puts Prahalaad on trial on the charges of sedition-for ‘war against the state’. He wanted to punish his son in presence of all his courtiers. He wanted to prove that, on sedition charges, he would not pardon even his own son. He wanted to set example for his nation about his impartiality and the dire consequences to the followers of Prahalaad. An iron pillar is heated up, Prahalad is made to face glowing red-hot pillar. Hiranyakashipu then orders Prahlaad, “Hug that pillar, it has your God in there”. That was the very moment, God, Nara-Sinha, an Avataar of Bhagavaan Vishnu, emerges from the pillar. He saves Prahalaad and destroys Hiranyakashipu. Prince, Prahalaad was then sworn-in as new king. He re-established values; reintroduced God in the narrative. Under his rule, it was a brotherhood of mankind under fatherhood of God. The society was happily contented and peaceful. Prahalaad ruled for many years.
Prahalaad’s son Virochan was a good person but as he was a poor administrator, by the counsel of good advisors, he hands over regime to his son, Mahaa Bali, (Prahalaad’s grandson) who becomes a very successful king and rules for many years.
Mahaa Bali was successful due to his vigor, understanding and compassionate nature. He had inherited virtues from his grandfather. He constantly thought of how to improve society and how to be helpful. He was pained to see that Brahmins were poor and constantly struggling to make their living. He knew the reason why Brahmins suffered. It was due to ancient customs that forbade them from demanding price for their service and their consequent dependence on unsteady quantum of Bhiksha[ढ]. It struck to him as unfair that among the four Varnas, (Brahmin-Kshatriya-Vaishya-Sudra), the Brahmins, who were most knowledgeable and yet they led a most severe and frugal life. It was not acceptable to the sensitive Mahaa Bali.
The ancient code of conduct and work culture in India was defined by twin arrangements of Varna-Vyavastha[ण] and Aashram Vyavastha[त]. Everyone took pride in living life based on his or her Varna and Aashram. It was a self-sustaining arrangement based on human nature and objectives. As it fulfilled both, the obvious and the latent desires of every individual, it ensured long-term stability of society.
Brahmins had voluntarily accepted the tradition for they knew that once you accept servitude and salary of any master, you would find it virtually impossible to retain freedom of mind. That freedom of mind is of foremost value to a Brahmin. More than anything else. (For example, Guru Drona expresses sadness that he accepted government job and consequently could not avoid many unethical things and insults as admitted by him in the Mahaabhaarat) Therefore, among Brahmin community of yore, they valued independent living accepting no salary and especially no servitude to government. They considered hard and frugal life dedicated to selfless learning and teaching as a worthy life. As per ancient codes of behavior and charters, while the rest of the varnas were free to earn their livelihood, Brahmins had no avenue of earning. They were expected not to charge fees for their only profession, teaching. They had to depend on unsteady Bhikshaa and voluntary ‘guru-dakshinaa’ payments from students. Moreover, the charter of Manu’s laws of administration specified harshest punishments for Brahmins for the equal offence if committed by person of other Varna. It was thought by the lawmakers that a person who knows and still does a wrong thing is worthy of harsher punishment (Something like, how a police officer would attract severe punishment than an ordinary person would for the identical offence).
Mahaa Bali thought that it was too tough a life for Brahmins and especially it can really become worse if the society around turns insensitive and shuns providing Bhikshaa, the Brahmins would literally starve. He therefore thought that ancient traditions should change and Brahmins should enjoy life and luxuries as rest of the society. To take care of this, the perceived ‘injustice’ to Brahmins, he established free hostels, organized free meals, created well-equipped and well-stocked Yagna-Shaalaas, and provided a lot of other freebies, awards and honorariums. Many welfare schemes were organized for Brahmins. He thought of restoring ‘dignity’ of Brahmins by providing everything to help them stop from going out for Bhikshaa and let them concentrate on their core activity of learning and teaching. There was no other time in the Indian history when Brahmins were more comfortable.
Steeped in voluntarily accepted ascetic life, most of the Brahmins resisted life of comforts. However, with time, gradually, one after another, they succumbed to the allure of readily available comforts provided by the government. Comforts and freebies are habit forming and enjoying patronage of royalty is very gratifying. It was but natural that the role a traditional Brahmin played was seriously eroded. Core qualities of Brahmins, that they remain unbiased, remain fiercely independent, remain upholder of virtues, remain dedicated to a life of life-long learning-teaching activity, remain provider of daily public-education etc. began getting compromised due to favors they began accepting from royalty. They did not anymore think that accepting gifts, state honors, doles and other freebies was loss of dignity. To repay kindness of King, Brahmins avoided critical analysis of his work and began praising the king and his rule. Sycophancy did not remain far behind. When the upholder of values is corrupted, it does not take long for the entire society to become corrupted. It is easy to go downhill but harder uphill, the morals and principles too are easy to loose and harder to raise. With time, almost all the Brahmins were happily leading a comfortable life, and relished respect bestowed upon them by the King. There is an old saying[थ] in Sanskrit; ‘सुखार्थीना कुतो विद्या?’ (‘Sukha-aarthina Kuto Vidyaa?’ - who seeks comfort, how would he gain knowledge?). The core competence of Brahmins was to learn, teach and guide all, without discrimination and fear or favor none. When comforts became priority, level of struggle for acquiring knowledge took back seat. Over a period, society lost its valuable knowledge asset and succumbed to mediocrity followed by gradual loss of shin in all aspects of societal life. General all-round corruption, moral degradation, greed, selfishness, rivalries, crime, violence etcetera began to bite. When citizens observed that Brahmins who had become ineffective and yet they were beneficiaries of government doles; continued to enjoy royal patronage, gave rise to jealousy among other sections of society. Discontent and tensions brewed. Mahaa Bali had to intervene on many occasions to solve people’s problems. In the earlier times, when Brahmins were uncorrupted, it was as if the society was on an autopilot mode and it self-corrected and self-restrained. High morals were upheld by society owing to inspiring Brahmins. Sadly, not anymore. The modifications brought about by Mahaa Bali in the governance of Brahmins spelled a major disruption. His sympathy was misplaced. If that was not corrected soon, it had potential to ruin the society. A revolution in mindset was need of the hour.
However, there were a few Brahmins, who kept up ancient tradition. Vaaman was born in one of those uncompromising families who lived in poverty with pride and considered knowledge and activism for world’s good to be the only worthy cause of their life. The ancient rishis and foresighted administrators like Manu had very carefully designed the code of conduct and that of governance of Brahmins. They had created a society which respected knowledge and knowledgeable more than wealth and wealthy. They had made Brahmins feel pride in use of minimum of world’s resources and give back maximum to the world. A famous hymn, ‘Kaupin Panchakam’ कौपीन पंचकम् aptly describes celebration of joys of thinking high and living plain. वेदान्तवाक्येषु सदा रमन्तो भिक्षान्नमात्रेण च तुष्टिमन्तः| अशोकवन्तः करुणैकवन्तः कौपीनवन्तः खलु भाग्यवन्तः “(I envy) how blessed is he, who has just a loin-cloth to wear, just a morsel full of Bhikshaa-food and nothing for tomorrow but who wanders in the realm of Vedas with kindness in his heart for the world around”. (There are four more verses in this 5-Stanza hymn, written by Shri Aadi Shankarachaarya).
Those few Brahmins struggled to re-establish righteous path. However, they had many hurdles to overcome. First, it was hard to wean anyone away from comfortable life in favor of inviting hardship. Second, the perpetrator was a powerful monarch. Third, he was kind and generous with everyone, although especially partial to Brahmins. And fourth, the doles to Brahmins was an arrangement between two willing partners. King wanted to give and Brahmins wanted to receive. When both parties are happy, how can anyone intervene? ‘मींया बीबी राझी तो क्या करेगा काझी?’ Thus the correction was very difficult to accomplish. It was nearly an impossible situation. This was the main task before Bhagavaan Vishnu. Task was not what the popular narrative seems to suggest, that of saving Indraasan for Purandhar.
Under the circumstances, the only sensible way lay ahead for Vamaan was to undertake a mega public education to convince society and its rulers as to what needed to be done to save society from ultimate immorality, corruption and general degradation. Precisely for this work, Bhagavaan Vishnu is incarnated as a boy born to a Brahmin family in the reign of Mahaa Bali. His parents named the boy as ‘Vaaman’ due to his smallish frame. He gets educated and becomes an activist with a cause to restore original societal order and to do away with freebie culture promoted by Mahaa Bali. The story of Mahaa Bali-Vaaman episode is a message of reformation of the society.
On one hand, Vaaman admired the kind king and on the other, he had to stop the public-appeasement policy of the king. Good government knows the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. Waaman undertook a massive public-education program explaining long term damage to the society, how the freebies corrupt a society, how a paisa earned by own effort is thousand times better than accepting a rupee thrown at him. Performing duty is honorable even if it means having to do with fewer comforts. Dignity of a man erodes the moment he begins accepting doles. A good ruler creates situation where citizen value their self-respect, not feel ‘bribed’ and obliged by the freebies.
In India, from the time immemorial, everyone practices making donations on some or the other event. They do it during children’s wedding, own birthdays-especially on 60th, on certain festivals such as Holi and Deepaavali, after any significant event such as birth of a child, death of parents etc. Thus, almost every Hindu is a donor to some extent. Kings too follow the same tradition. On that fateful day, king Mahaa Bali offered citizens to come for receiving donations. Vaaman arrives in the court. The king welcomes midget Brahmin. Mahaa Bali was intent on donating whatever be the request. When it was Vaaman’s turn, amused at his small, child-like frame, king asked what he desired. As the story goes, Vaaman asked for an area that can be covered by him in three steps. Mahaa Bali’s advisor, Guru Shukraachaarya, also a learned Brahmin, knew immediately with his sixth sense, that Vaaman was no ordinary person but someone who would abuse king’s generosity only to destroy him. Mahaa Bali is alerted to the dangers by Shukraacharyaa. He even makes a gallant effort to derail king from accepting Vaaman’s request. However, in his extreme goodness, despite warnings, Mahaa Bali went ahead and promised to fulfill desire of Vaaman. Once the King is tied down to his promise, Vaaman expands his form into a giant being. It is said, He become so huge that He could cover entire kingdom in two steps. With no space left for taking His third step, Vaaman asks the King as to where shall He place His foot for the next step. Mahaa Bali realized that Vaaman was God Himself. He is overwhelmed that God almighty had come to him to ask for something. He is thrilled, overjoyed, he humbly bows to Vaaman, in recognition of His Godhood. Vaaman gives him enlightenment. King realizes where he went wrong despite his best intentions. He voluntarily asks for punishment and be put to death and request the Giant to take the third step by placing his foot on his ‘arrogant’ head and crush it. With that gesture, Bhagavaan Vaaman was very touched. He asked King to ask for any boon that he desired. Mahaa Bali loved his people so he asks for one simple boon, “I will miss my countrymen, hence please allow me to visit my kingdom once every year”. God agrees. Mahaa Bali is exiled ‘pushed’ down to the bottom strata of 14-layered[द] Hindu-‘world’, into the Paataal-Loka. The simple boon asked by Mahaa Bali, turns out to be a great boon because, in the process, inadvertently, Mahaa Bali became ‘almost immortal’. Mahaa Bali has to remain alive to visit his subjects every year and thus he has that rare distinction of being among only 7 such individuals who are classified, not strictly as immortal but as ‘Chiranjeev’ (चिरंजीव) having a long life.
Vaaman coroneted Baanaasur, the son of Mahaa Bali as new King and sent Mahaa Bali in exile. Baanaasur reverses dole culture. Key element, that a populist policy could be reversed, was intensive and extensive public education, involving arousing human dignity and sense of duty among people. It was not easy. Vaaman had to work on five-fold difficulties. One, as Mahaa Bali was not an evil king, he could not be publicly denounced, punished or killed to remove him and forced policy changes. Two, on the other hand, as Mahaa Bali genuinely loved his people including Brahmins and wanted to help them, (even though his actions were harmful to the community in long run) and essentially, Mahaa Bali’s heart was clean, he deserved neither physical harming nor dishonoring. Three, He had to undertake long-term public-education, including that of Baanaasur to change their mindset against dole-governance. Four, replace Mahaa Bali in such a way that he will not interfere in governance. And five, to ensure Mahaa Bali remains a respected person over millennia. A tall order, certainly. Vaaman succeeded in his task, We till date, worship Vaaman and lovingly honor Mahaa Bali.
Part 4: Real Onam deciphered
Onam is a great festival like no other. In popular literature fashioned by Western writers and their copycats in India, foolishly or ignorantly, call Onam as ‘Harvest Festival’, whereas in reality it is a festival to recall the momentous day to welcome a generous and honorable king of character and substance. However, more importantly it marks a day that ushered in societal reformation and began reclaiming human dignity. It simultaneously celebrates ‘victor’ and ‘loser’, where the ‘victor’ Bhagavaan Vaaman does not see Himself as victor and the ‘loser’ Mahaa Bali does not see himself as loser. Both are appreciative of each other. Onam uniquely celebrates two opposite poles in one single event. It celebrates heart as well as head; it celebrates motherly-laxity and fatherly-discipline. It celebrates equality of every human and yet recommends becoming equitable to everyone. It celebrates the spirit of making donations with spirit of rejecting freebies and doles. Mahaa Bali holds one pole and Bhagavaan Vaaman, the other. Onam represents balancing two schools of thoughts.
In the end, Mahaa Bali concedes his actions as innocent error of judgment made out of love for citizens of his kingdom and voluntarily accepts exile as his own chosen ‘punishment’, paving way for re-establishment of a more desirable world order. Vaaman Jayanti is celebration of remembering importance of remaining steadfast in performing duties (Sva-Dharma), equitable justice to everyone and rejection of freebies and doles, contrasting with freebie-driven governance of Mahaa Bali.
When we celebrate Onam or Vaaman Jayanti with proper understanding, it unleashes a potential of ushering in our own self-development, building character based on human dignity and Sanskritic-insight. Kerala comes to mind the moment we utter Mahaa Bali, Onam or Vaaman Jayanti. Its tourism department has coined a very apt phrase[ध] for Kerala, ‘God’s Own Country’. It honors two significant incarnations of Bhagavaan Vishnu; the fifth Avataar Vaaman and the Sixth Avataar Parshuraam. Kerala would do well to think beyond cliché jealousy story and remember missions of Avaatars, especially Vaaman, who came to vanquish Mahaa Bali for a good reason, a reason that looks topical even today.
Part 5: If the popular Onam story has been unfair and it defies logic, why does it continue to remain in the current narration?
There are five main reasons: 1) Greek and Roman legends depict their mythological Gods as egoist, jealous and partial. The Testament (Both new and old) clearly state in Ten Commandments that ‘I am a jealous God’. Thus, a large population familiar with Western literature expect God to be jealous and therefore do not see anything wrong in the Onam story. (those well versed in Hindu Sanskriti, know that God is never jealous. He is always fair and impartial) 2) In the Puraans, some of the stories related to Indra Deva does show that he gets jealous and scared of those who are powerful and virtuous lest they claim Indraasan. However, be careful, Indra is not a God; he is a person, of extra-ordinary caliber, appointed by Gods as ‘Indra’ to look after functioning and balancing of natural elements and forces. Not dissimilar to an executive who is appointed by a business owner. Indra is the title of the executive who occupies seat, the Indraasan. Every executive needs to take care of his seat in order to do full justice to his task and not waste away his investment of time and energy at the job. Therefore, it is not unnatural if an executive feels a little possessive about his seat, often it is for securing better future of business he is asked to run. Just as in any business, the appointee who initially appears capable, may prove himself to be unfit for the job, so has it happened even in the administration of heaven. Ancient Hindu Sanskriti is witness to sackings and appointments of candidates on the Indraasan. Puraanic history tells us that God sacked Nahush from the position of Indra and replaced him with Purandhar as the new Indra. An unsuitable man can destroy years of good work of previous executive, so if Indra defends his Indraasan, it is understandable. 3) All those forces who would like to show Hinduism in poor light would be happy to perpetuate the story of ‘unfairness of Hindu Gods’ to show that their ism is better than Hinduism. They uncritically hails Bali and preach, if not hatred, dislike for Indra Deva, Vishnu Bhagavaan, Bhagavaan Vaaman et al. 4) Many Hindus are naïve or uninformed about their Sanskriti heritage. They do not know that most translations of ancient Sanskrit books into English was done by those who were not India’s best friends, that English language does not have proper equivalents of Sanskrit words and that current uninformed writers have copied and recopied their work from erroneous material. Thus, what we are reading is an erroneous triple-distillated material that smacks of a demagogue portraying a partisan, unfair or jealous God. 5) Onam story is more significant to Malayalees due to Mahaa Bali’s association with the state of Kerala. Since independence, for last 6 decades, communists and left of center socialists parties are running the government of Kerala, who prefer as state policy, the freebie model of governance. They are therefore natural proponents of ‘freebie’ story.
[क] King Bali is addressed as Mahaa Bali. ‘Mahaa’ is an adjective. It means ‘Great’ or ‘Big’. Adding ‘Mahaa’ to any word or noun signifies importance. Viz. Mahaa-Raaja=Great King, Mahaa-Bali=Great Bali, Mahaa-Yogi=Great Yogi
[ख] Bhagavaan Vishnu has taken nine Avataars as of now and tenth expected in future. They are, in the chronological order: Matsya, Kurma, Varaaha, Nara-simha, Vaamana, Parasuraam, Raam, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.
[ग] ‘Indra’ is not a name of an individual but it denotes a position, a post. A king of all the Devas is known as ‘Indra’. He rules the ‘Swarga-Loka’ (heaven). From time to time various individuals have occupied the chair of Indra, known as ‘Indraasan’. The post of ‘Indra’ is given to fearless and fair administrator who has performed a thousand Ashwamedha Yagnas (Even one single ashwamedha Yagna is not easy for an extraordinarily brave man) and possessor of divine virtues and intelligence. Name of the current ‘Indra’ is Purandhar.
[घ] ‘Swarga-Loka’ means Heaven. However, the Heaven of Hinduism is completely different entity than Abrahamic Heaven.
[ङ] Baanaasur ruled for several years on the guidelines of good governance he learnt from Waaman. He is said to have ruled for several thousand years. Pleased with his Tapasyaa, (तपस्या), Bhagavaan Shiva was very impressed and gave him enormous powers and promised to help him every time he thought he needed His help. He became invincible. His power eventually went to his head. That proverbial truth ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ became true and in his later life, he became such a nuisance to his own people that he had to be disciplined by divine intervention. (The word, Tapasyaa, has no exact equivalent English term, hence it is recommended to use the same Sanskrit term. However, following partial definition provides somewhat acceptable meaning as applicable to above article is: ‘Hard work dedicated to a worthy cause’)
[च] The manner of transfer of power in case of Mahaa Bali was unusual when compared with what is known to us from History. Most transfers of power have happened only after some bloodshed; blood-less transfer-of-power in itself is uncommon. British government did exile and placed many kings, sultans and sheikhs under ‘house-arrest’ but it was done at gun point and had placed their sons/brothers as new rulers in last century or two in India and in Arabia. The outgoing rulers never relinquished their power willingly. In contrast to the ‘under duress’ and unwilling transfer of reigns, Mahaa Bali handed over reigns willingly. In the last century, in Iran, the Shah of Iran was exiled but he could never return to Iran due to hostile new government very unlike Mahaa Bali, who is welcomed back every year. In the USSR, Gorbachev relinquished his powers but broke his country in several pieces before going out, unlike Mahaa Bali whose country remained intact in the hands of his successor. Another striking difference is that the rulers who are exiled invariably end up despising those who were instrumental in pressurizing transfer of power but the history of Mahaa Bali tells us that Vaaman, who engineered the abdication, is looked at with tremendous respect. Last, but important difference between Vaaman’s legacy and that of others discussed above lies in the fact that those agencies that forced changes had always a selfish purpose of achieving political or commercial advantage whereas Vaaman did not have any personal selfish motive behind exiling Mahaa Bali.
[छ] ‘Paataal-Loka’ means, a world that is under the earth. It is also said as netherworld
[ज] Indra-Aasan or Indraasan means, ‘Seat of Indra’ or ‘Indra’s throne’
[झ] Puraan is a class of ancient holy literature. They are historic accounts stated in story form. There are tens of diferrent Puraans. The Bhaagavat Puraan covers life and times of Avataars of Bhagavaan Vishnu.
[ञ] Ramaayan timeline: Late Tretaa-Yug
[ट] Ashvamedh Yagna is a sustained campaign that involves unifying all kingdoms ruled by various different kings under one ‘federation’ with the most powerful king as its head. At the end of the successful campaign, a monarch performs Ashvamedh Yagna. Only an extraordinarily brave king can accomplish this Yagna.
[ठ] अश्वत्थामा बलिर्व्यासो हनूमांश्च विभिषणः। कृपः परशुरामश्च सप्तैते चिरजीविनः।। Seven persons having very long life, still said to be alive from times immemorial, Ashwathamaa, Mahaa Bali, Vyaas, Hanumaan, Vibhishana, Krupa and Parashuraam
[ड] Because Keralites speak Malayaalam language, they are known also as Malayaalee.
[ढ] Bhikshaa looks similar to begging however, it is quite the opposite. Bhikshaa means, going to the door of someone and accept, unreservedly, whatever is given and use that for surviving that day discarding whatever is left and repeating the same routine next day. If the given food is not enough, the Bhikshuk has to happily starve, no buts and ifs. It is a tough vow, but all the Brahmins of the yore were happy to comply.
[ण] Varna-Vyavastha is erroneously identified as Caste-system by the Western Indologists and accepted uncontested by copycat Indian ‘intellectuals’. It is work-culture based group identity arrangement. The word, ‘Vyavastha’ means ‘arrangement’. It broadly identifies four groups namely, Braahmin-Kshatriya-Vaishya-Shudra
[त] Aashram-Vyavastha is a guideline that roughly means dividing life in four different pursuits. Learning in childhood until about 25 years of age, house-holder’s life after approximately the age of 25, Semi-retired life helping society between approximately 50 and 75 years and renouncing everything after the age of 75 years and living a life of hermit
[थ] From the epic Mahaabhaarat,”विद्यार्थीना कुतो सुखम, सुखार्थीना कुतो विद्या“. Wise minister, Vidura explains in section entitled ‘Shanti Parva’
[द] As per ancient Indian texts, there are 14 worlds including the earth on which we stay. 6 are above and 7 are below ‘Bhu-Loka’ (Earth). In descending order, from top most to bottom most, they are: Brahma-Loka, Tapa-Loka, Jana Loka, Mahar Loka, Swarga-Loka, Bhuvar-Loka, Bhu-Loka (Earth) Atala-Loka, Vitala-Loka, Sutala-Loka, Talaatala-Loka, Mahaatala-Loka, Rasaatala-Loka and Paataala-Loka.
[ध] An Advertising agency, ‘Mudra Advertising’ working for Kerala Tourism Development Dept. had coined the phrase ‘God’s Own Country’. Their Creative head, Walter Mendez, sitting in the agency’s Ahmedabad office invented that phrase after learning about ancient history of Kerala. Bhagavaan Parshuraam threw his axe from Gokarna (in present day Karnataka) to Kanyaakumari (in present day Tamilnadu). The land that came under the arc circumscribed by the throw of axe was to become the territory of Kerala.