- AvatarThere are many versions of the stories about VISHNU’s Vamana AVATAR (incarnation), as there are about his other manifestations.In the best-known Vamana story, the avatar appeared in order to fight the asura (demon or antigod) Bali, who had succeeded by his religious austerities in gaining supreme power over the three worlds. Because of his own powers he was depriving the gods of the offerings that ordinar-ily went to them. They went to Vishnu to ask for assistance. He took on the form of a dwarf (vamana means “dwarf” in SANSKRIT) and approached the arrogant demon, BALI. The foolish demon king offered the dwarf the boon of having whatever territory he could cover in three paces. Thereupon the dwarf, who was Vishnu himself, took one step to possess the Earth, another to possess the sky, and another to possess heaven itself. (In some versions Vamana takes two paces to step over the whole universe and the last step onto Bali’s head.) Thus did Vamana return the worlds to the gods.Further reading: Nanditha Krishna, The Book of Vishnu (New Delhi: Viking, 2001); A. K. Ramanujan, Hymns for the Drowning (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Pandrimalai Swamigal, The Ten Incarna-tions: Dasvatara (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1982).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.