Mahabali / Maveli


Mahabali (IAST: mahābalī, Malayalam: മഹാബലി; devanagari: महाबली) A benevolent Asura King, and the grandson of Prahlada. The festival of Onam is celebrated in honor of this mighty king.

A brief sketch

Mahabali... OnamThe king was from the line of Diti, a deity in the Rigveda. Bali is the descendant of this line. The real name of Bali is Indrasena.

Bali was born of Devamba to Veerochana, the son of Prahlada. He grew up under the tutelage of his grandfather who instilled in him a sense of righteousness and Bhakti. Bali succeeded his grandfather to become king of the Asuras. There was peace and prosperity everywhere during his reign. He expanded his kingdom and usurped the heaven. The vanquished Devas then complained to their protector Vishnu, who assured them that he himself would restore the authority of Devas. Bali, at the behest of his Guru Sukracharya decided to conduct the Ashwamedha Yagam. During the Yagam, Vishnu, in the guise of a small Brahmin boy (Vamana), appeared before Bali and asked for three paces of land. Bali, who had vowed not to refuse anyone, promptly granted the wish, even ignoring the warnings of his guru. Vamana measured all the worlds and the sky with two paces. Then, Bali offered himself for the third pace and was thus banished to the Patala. However, impressed by Bali's unselfish devotion and unwavering "dharma", Vishnu granted him the permission to visit his subjects once every year.

Genesis of Onam

Folk song about Maveli says "Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam, manushyarellarum onnu pole". The song says that all people where equal when Maveli ruled meaning that there was no caste system in Kerala when Maveli ruled.

The story goes that the beautiful state of Kerala was the capital of the Asura (demon) king, Bali. However, he was very religious, was respectful to priests and performed Vedic Aswamedha sacrifices to enlarge his kingdom and like his grandfather (Prahlada), was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu on Earth as he sacrificed his kingdom for the Lord. The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Bali. Everybody was happy in the kingdom, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. Rich and poor were equally treated. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Bali and everybody was happy and content.Banan was the only son of Bali.

However, because he was a Daitya (descendant of Diti), he was viewed by the Devas as unsafe. Otherwise, as the Vamana Purana reads, the rule of Mahabali was righteous. It is further believed (as from the Thiruppavai) that he occupied the property of others.

Onam celebrations are marked in Trikkakara, a place 10 km from Kochi (Cochin) on the Edapally- Pookattupadi road. Trikkakara is said to have been the capital of the mighty King Mahabali. A temple with a deity of Trikkakara Appan or Vamanamurthy who is Lord Vishnu himself in disguise is also located at this place.

This fascinating legend is artistically depicted at the Suchindram Temple in Kanyakumari district, where Lord Shiva is believed to have slain Banasura, the evil child of the holy Mahabali.

Onam is observed by all Malayalees as the return of the pious Mahabali to Kerala. Colorful aquatic festivals (e.g., boat races) are held on this occasion on the banks of the river Pampa. The celebration occurs all over Kerala and in the Malayalee diaspora.

Views on Bali

He is thought of by the Hindus as a true devotee of God. Shuk compared the saint-singer Narsinh Metha to Bali. He is one of the twelve Mahajans, the authorities on the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Because of the fact that Bali was such as great devotee of Vishnu, his son Bana was not slain by Lord Vishnu.

In the Yoga Vasistha, Lord Rama inquires about King Bali and he is told by his Guru Vasistha that Bali was a great king and is always protected by Lord Vishnu.

In Sikhism
Vamana is discussed in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of Sikhism.
satjugi tai maNiO ChaliO bali bAvan bhAiO
In Satyayuga, you sported as the dwarf incarnation, and fooled Bali.
On page 1330 of the Guru Granth Sahib, Vamana is mentioned as the "enticer" of Baliraja.

Alternative views

When Bali Became Pious
According to the Yoga Vasistha, after inquiring about the realm beyond the universe, heaven, devas and asuras, which is ruled by the mind, Bali thus concentrates on the mind and being satisfied in himself, and teaches the asuras to do so likewise.From then one, he became a devotee.

He is known to be the supreme example of the "ghiest" and Sadhana of Nava Vidha Bhakti, namely Atmanadevana. It is believed that Bali was a practitioner of the Raja Yoga.

Battle with Indra and Acquiring Indra's Possessions
Other versions describing the first battle between Bali and Indra indicate that Bali was not beheaded and that the Brahmin Sukracarya performed the "Mritra sanjeevani" (wherein only non-beheaded bodies can be revived.)

It is also believed that Bali had not yet achieved Indra's throne in texts such as Abhinanda's Rāmaćarita and as a result was performing the Aswamedha Yagna (which Indian kings have historically performed to enlarge their kingdom) to finally achieve it. He attempted to perform as many as Indra. Then Vamana intervened and in the sacrifice asked for 3 strides of land.

Vishnu Supported Bali to Teach Indra

According to the Brahma-Vaivarta Puranam, it was Lord Vishnu who positioned Bali in power to curb the pride of Indra. The Srimad Bhagavatam reads

"He [Vishnu] will take the kingdom away from Purandara [Lord Indra] and give it to Bali Maharaja."
Composition of song: King Mahabali had composed a beautiful song 'Hari Naam Mala Stotram" in honor of Lord Vishnu. Pandit Jasraj has a famous Bhajan by the name of 'Om Namoh Bhagwate Vasudevaya' which is this poem.

Shiva Blessed Bali

A Shaiva tradition declares that a rat, by coming into contact with a lamp (and thus making it burn brighter) in a Siva temple was born subsequently as the famous emperor, Mahabali (P. 180 Philosophical Series by University of Madras, 1960). According to this legend, first Lord Shiva said to his consort Paravati that anyone who would make the "deepa" (lamp) burn brighter would become the ruler of the three worlds. A rat approached it, wanting to drink the ghee (melted butter) but as it attempted to drink, the flame was rekindled into its mouth. Parvati asked Lord Shiva to keep his promise and so Lord Shiva did.

The Skanda Purana, a Saivite text also reads that Bali worships Shiva everyday.

Vishnu grants a boon to Mahabali

As he was pushed down into Patala (a good colony of demons), King Bali made a last request. He requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed and content. Lord Vishnu was pleased to grant Mahabali his wish. Also, by the boon of Vishnu, Bali will be the next (Purandara is the current Indra ), that is, the eighth Indra (King of Devas) during the time of the eighth Manu, Savarni Manu.
Before he left for Patala, he bowed to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.

The theme of the story has been (repeatedly theorized in texts) is that whether Ravana or Bali, all things animate are endowed with great potentialities for both good and evil.

Scholar Veermani P. Upadhyaya writes that even divinity cannot protect a person from accumulating sin by acting as owner of all, or "mahasriman".

It is notable that even though Vishnu, God, tested Bali, the king retained his faith in God.

Asuras versus Devas

In the days of Rigveda, there were two major groups of Aryans; The Indo-Aryans who believed that Aditi was the true mother of the gods and Irano-Aryans (Dasyu) who believed Diti, the twin sister was. Bali was the descendant of this line. Scholar D. R. Bhandarkar writes in his Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture that "Parsus or Persians" was an old term for "Rakshasas" (demons).) He further says that the word is used together with Asuras in Panini's Parshvadi-gana.

A few scholars believe that these demons Hiranyakashipu were actually Iranians fighting with Indians. However scholar Askhoy Mazumdar as being from the Daitya branch of the Aryans ruling in 29th century BC northwest India He is held by many of the same as being the "Aryan colonizer" of eastern and southeastern India.


In the state of Kerala, the Onam festival is a celebration of the visit of Mahabali or Maveli (local name of Bali) to their land. The Nepali version of Diwali has many connections to Bali, the song and dance festival of duesey and bhailoram during Diwali is believed to have been started by Bali.

According to legend, Mahabali requested Vamana to grant him a boon to come and visit his homeland, Kerala, at least once a year, and he comes to visit his people and his land during Onam. Vamana also told Mahabali that he is destined to become Indra in the next cycle of creation.