“It would seem then,” said King Vikrama, after some deliberation, “that Lord Vishnu in the form of Mohini, the Enchantress, helped the devas to steal the asuras share of the amrita. Robbery is also an evil karma, is it not?”
“It is, your majesty, and eventually the gods had to pay for it,” replied the eighth pundit. “As soon as they realized Mohini’s deception, the asuras attacked the devas, but the gods were now fortified with amrita and so they easily defeated their weakened adversaries. After the battle Venus used the Sanjivani Vidya to revive the dead asuras, including their King Bali. Though beaten, the noble Bali did not grieve, for he was a philosopher and knew well how evanescent is worldly life.
“After Bali had recuperated from his death and defeat he took the advice of Venus, and of the other members of the Bhrigu family who were his advisors, and collected great spiritual power by performing difficult penances. Eventually, at a cosmic moment which was propitious for the asuras and inauspicious for the devas, Ball was able to conquer heaven. Now it was Jupiter’s turn to advise his king, Indra, to go into hiding and bide his time until his enemy’s star should sink. Bali then became ruler of the universe, and Venus made him perform one hundred horse sacrifices, that he might retain his new power and consolidate his new position as cosmic overlord.
“Aditi, who is the mother of all the devas, was so very distressed by this disaster that had befallen her children that her husband, the Rishi Kashyapa, caused her to perform a vow accompanied by a milk fast during the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Phalguna. During the course of this vow the Blessed Vishnu appeared to her and promised to be born as her son. A portion of Vishnu then entered Kashyapa, who transmitted it to his wife. When their son was born, He displayed a divine form to His parents, that they might know the true identity of their child, and then in the next instant He changed Himself into a short Brahmana, in the same way that an actor changes his costume. The gods and sages who conducted His post-natal ceremonies named Him Vamana. As soon as these formalities were concluded He set out for Bali’s horse sacrifice, which was being performed at Bhrigukaccha (the modem Bharuch) on the northern bank of the supremely holy Narmada River.
“Vamana’s overwhelming spiritual radiance so captivated the guests at the sacrifice that they all rose as one to receive Him when He arrived. As was customary, Bali offered Him a gift. Vamana responded by first praising Ball’s family and its generosity, beginning with Ball’s grandfather Prahlada, because of whom Vishnu appeared in the world as the Man-Lion (Narasimha); and then Bali’s father, who gave up his life when requested to do so by gods disguised as holy men, though he knew them to be devas. Vamana then asked only for three paces of land.
“King Bali replied, ‘This is not much of a request. Ask for enough to maintain you for life.’
“Vamana said, ‘No, why should I be greedy? Those who are satisfied with what destiny brings them live happy lives, but those ‘who remain enslaved by their desires cannot be satisfied even with lordship of the whole universe.’
“Venus, ever anxious to protect his disciples, now warned King Ball: This diminuitive Brahmana’s request for three paces of land alone is bound to be some sort of trick, for He is none other than Vishnu in disguise. You must under no circumstances fulfill this request.’
“But Bali humbly told his guru, ‘Great one, when the Preserver of the Cosmos Himself comes to me to beg a boon, how can I refuse Him?’
“Venus grew wrathful when he saw that his disciple was prepared to rebel against his order, and he cursed Bali to be deprived of all his wealth and glory. Bali bowed his head respectfully to his mentor and willingly accepted that curse. Then he prepared to take the traditional oath of donation, the promise that he would indeed give what had been requested.
“But Venus was determined to prevent Bali from losing his kingdom. As you know, your majesty, at the end of the oath of donation water must be poured onto the ground, to seal the promise by making Earth herself a witness. Just as Bali was beginning to mutter the oath Venus shrank himself to miniscule size and entered the spout of the water pot, so that when Bali tried to pour water from the pot onto the ground nothing came out.
“Vamana, of course, knew what was going on. He took a razor-sharp blade of the holy darbha grass and stuck it into the spout, poking out one of Venus’s eyes thereby. Out onto the ground poured the water, mixed with Venus’s blood, to seal the oath.
“Vamana had asked for as much land as He could cover in three steps, and as soon as the oath had been sealed He expanded His dwarf body, larger and larger, until it became the Universal Form. Bali saw within that form the entire cosmos. He saw the Earth in Vishnu’s feet, the Sun in His eyes, the Heaven in the crown of His head, the asuras, including himself, in Vishnu’s lips, the fire in His face, day and night in His eyelids, water in His semen, the sacrifice in His strides, death in His shadow, the delusive power in His laughter, plants in His hair, and rivers in His blood vessels. Vishnu measured the whole of the earth with His first step, and the heavens were nearly insufficient for His second stride. When the Lord’s foot touched the top of heaven, His toenail cracked the Cosmic Egg and down flowed the Waters from Beyond, which became so pure by this contact with the Lord’s feet that it is now known as the heavenly River Ganga (the Milky Way).
“For the third step there was nothing left to measure. The other asuras now attacked Vishnu, infuriated at his perpetual duplicity, but Bali stopped them, saying, ‘No being can overpower Time, and right now the times are not propitious for us. In the past when Time was in your favor you had defeated the gods many times, and when Time is again in our favor we shall again conquer them. Wait patiently, 0 asuras, for the coming of that favorable Time.’
“Then Vishnu’s mount Garuda bound King Bali with Varunas noose and said, ‘Because you cannot grant what you promised to grant, you must now go to the nether world, sped onward by the curse of your guru.’