The Beginning of the Universe

The Beginning of the Universe

“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 Ball. Though beaten, the noble
Bali did not grieve, for he was a philosopher and knew well how
evanescent is worldly life.

“After Ball 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 ofVenus’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.’

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