Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Onam Paradox

You don’t find stories, stories find you. Some stories find ways to reach you, as comics or movies. One such story that fascinated me in my childhood was Mahabali and Vamana. King Mahabali ruled Keralaputra, today’s Kerala. Vamana was an avatar of Lord Vishnu, who came to Keralaputra and decimated the power of Mahabali, by sending him to the underworld called Pataal.

Image Courtesy: Google
Mahabali was, in fact, a ‘good guy’. He led Keralaputra, through what could be called, its golden age. Popular songs in the oral tradition corroborate this fact. Although Historians in Kerala would not concede on the idea, Mahabali was a real human being and not just a figment of popular imagination, let me guarantee you that considering Mahabali as a physical reality will not deter one from the quest of knowing, enjoying and re-telling his story. In fact, it will only add more charm.

The original myth suggests that Mahabali ruled his nation in such a fashion that it surpassed in fame and effective handling of wealth the kingdoms ruled by Devas, the demigods. Indra, the king of Devas decided to put an end to the rule of Mahabali, since he thought the rule of Mahabali would be a threat to his own domineering power. This story is strikingly similar to some modern political scenarios, burning issues verging war, in how jealousy is core cause of many conflicts.

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Indra, called for help from Lord Vishnu, the superpower in Vedic times. Indra convinced Vishnu of the profits of sabotaging Mahabali’s regime. Vishnu, however, was skeptical of a ground attack and decided to send one of his Avatars, instead. This Avatar was Vamana, a midget, who looked like a young brahmin. He came to Mahabali’s court. Mahabali, by principle was a man of high ethical values, a trait his descendants in Kerala lack in their personalities. Under pressure of his ethical self, Mahabali agreed to satisfy the ‘brahmin youth’ by accepting his wishes. No one had thought that a young brahmin can ask for anything that can shake the base on an empire.

Vamana, the avatar of Vishnu from North, asked the king of the South, three feet of land for him to sit and meditate. Three feet of land sounded better than three thousand gold coins. So Mahabali consented. Vamana took two feet, according to the legend, and covered all available space on the earth as well as in the ether. Now, there was no more space to put his third feet. Mahabali was bound by the promise he gave to the dwarf. So he bowed down and bent his head in front of Vamana, as the third space.

Vamana stepped over Mahabali, but literally putting his feet over his head, and sent him downward into the underworld known as Pataal. When Mahabali realized that he was encountering the avatar of the mighty lord Vishnu, he had no other choice but to cry out for sympathy. There was no other choice left.

Image Courtesy: Google
Ignorant of the implications, the descendants of Mahabali still celebrate this event as the ‘great encounter’ with the god of Sustenance, Vishnu. This argument is validated in the myth by providing a later part to the story that explains how Vishnu granted a request of Mahabali out of sympathy. The helpless king implored that he wished to come back to the physical world to ‘see’ his decedents. Vishnu, according to the legend, in an extremely felicitous move granted the wish with a small amendment. The lord from the North said, he would allow Mahabali take a yearly visit to the earthly world. It is interesting to note that this legend mirrors closely, various other myths and stories related to Spring festivals, in many other cultures—in the portrayal of death and resurrection.  
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