I suspect we’re all pretty familiar with the main stories surrounding Divali: Rama, Krishna, Lakshmi, Kali.
But down Mysore way, it’s Bali who is the central figure, as Tim Miller reminds us in his blog post this week:
Throughout Karnaataka state, where Mysore is located, Divali commemorates the one very special day of the year that King Bali rises from the underworld and showers the people with his blessings.
Bali was born as an asura, a demon, but a righteous asura who gains great wealth, power, and eminence through the help of his guru, Sukra (Venus). He nurses an ancient grievance against Indra, king of the gods, who once killed him in battle. Sukra, the guru of the asuras, restored Bali to life and helped him to become even more powerful than Indra. Bali led his army of asuras to the gates of Amaravati, Indra’s incomparable city. When Indra saw the strength of Bali and his army he fled without a fight, and Bali became the ruler of Heaven.
The story may be taking a familiar twist: Vishnu is about the arrive on the scene as Vamana, his dwarf avatar. You know the rest.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Hinduism’s traditions is the lack of clear divisions between good and evil, right and wrong. (Arjuna’s struggle that leads to the Gita is, perhaps, the most famous example.) The Mahabharata is full of figures who are bad, but redeemed — or at least have clear “good” qualities. Even Ravana is a wise and just king to his people — and he is still far from the evil character in many versions of the Ramayana. (And then there’s Rama’s treatment of Sita once they return to Ayodyha.) For me, it’s Duryodhana’s being in heaven at the end of the Mahabharata that I always have trouble getting my brain around; but he followed his dharma…
As we light the candles tonight, the complexities of life will be on my mind. (And, perhaps, the complexities of our Ashtanga practice.)
Posted by Steve