Badami Cave – 3: Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama

Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama in Cave - 3, the third of the four rock-cut caves of Badami in Karantaka, India

Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama in Cave – 3

Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama
This intricately carved narrative sculptural relief depicts the story of Vamanavatara, the fifth of the ten avatars of Vishnu. It is carved into the sidewall at the entrance to Cave – 3, third of the four rock-cut caves carved out of a red sandstone hill near Badami, Karnataka, India.

In Vamanavatara, Vishnu takes the following two forms:
1. Dwarf brahmin holding a wooden umbrella
2. Gigantic Trivikrama taking a giant stride. In this avatar, Vishnu curbs the powers of the asura king Mahabali and relegates him to Patala (Netherworld).

Trivikrama in this avatar is portrayed as Ashtabhuja Vishnu (8-armed Vishnu). His additional four hands carry a bow, arrow, sword and a shield. As you can see from the image, Trivikrama’s left leg is on Mahabali’s head as he takes a giant stride.

Trivikrama’s left leg is stretched above the site where Mahabali is performing yagna to please Vishnu. Attending him are the brahmins who are holding materials to offer them as sacrifices at the yagna pyre. The Vamana sculpture under Trivikrama’s left leg is missing, but his umbrella is seen.

Note: Yagna is a Hindu religious ceremony performed by the priests (brahmins) in front of a ritual fire. It includes the ritual in which sacrificial materials are poured into the fire as priests chant hymns from the sacred texts.

Here is the story of Vamanavatara:

In this avatar, Vishnu takes the form of a diminutive brahmin to punish Mahabali, a benevolent asura (demon) king with an ambition to acquire more power and defeat the devas (demigods). He was also a grandson of Hiranyakashipu who was killed by Narasimha (man-lion), a previous avatar of Vishnu.

To fulfill Mahabali’s ambition, his guru Shukracharya advises him to perform yagna – a ritual in front of the fire – to please Vishnu and acquire more power. Indra, the lord of the heavens and the king of the devas, sees Mahabali as a danger to his position and authority and asks Vishnu’s help to curb Mahabali’s power and save devas from defeat.

Vishnu agrees and incarnates himself as Vamana, a dwarf brahmin carrying a wooden umbrella. Vamana goes to the yagna site and asks Mahabali to give him the land that covers his three strides. Mahabali considers it as a trivial request, and against the advice of his guru Shukracharya, who senses a trickery, grants his wish.

As soon as Mahabali grants his wish, Vamana, the diminutive brahmin, changes himself into Trivikrama, an enormous giant. With his long legs, Trivikrama takes his first stride from Bhuloka (earth) to Swarga (heaven) and then the second stride from Bhuloka to Patala (underworld).

Vishnu then asks Mahabali to show him the position to take his third stride. Devoid of any options, Mahabali points to his head because Vishnu covered all the realms with his two strides. Vishnu then places his foot on Mahabali’s head and pushes him to Patala.

Once Mahabali is relegated to Patala, Vishnu grants him the immortality and allows him to come back to earth once a year because he was a benevolent king.

Other Vamanvatara Pages
Vamanavatara relief depicting Mahabali, Vamana, and Trivikrama in Cave – 2

Related Pages
Badami Cave – 1, Badami Cave – 2, Badami Cave – 3, Badami Cave – 4
Durga Temple at Aihole
Hampi Virupaksha Temple Murals

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