Vamanavatara – Vamana
The sculptural relief shown in the image is one of the two reliefs mounted at right right angles to each other, depicting the story of Vamanavatara, the fifth of the ten avatars of Vishnu. These two reliefs are mounted on the outer wall of the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu in Karnataka, India.
In this avatar, Vishnu takes the following two forms:
1. Vamana – Vishnu as a dwarf brahmin holding a wooden umbrella. The image shows this part of the story. The dimunitive figure holding a wooden umbrella is Vishnu and the giant figure is Mahabali. As you can see from the image, unsuspecting Mahabali pours alms into Vamana’s hands.
2. Trivikrama – Vishnu in a gigantic form taking a giant stride. In this form, Vishnu curbs the powers of the asura king Mahabali and relegates him to Patala (Netherworld). Check the Trivikrama relief mounted at right angles to the current relief.
Here is the story of Vamanavatara in brief:
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.
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