Focus of Sri Vamana Avatara falls on the story of King Bali. Popularly referred to as Bali Chakravarthi or Maha Bali he was a Daitya (Asura) King in the lineage of Prahlada (Bhaktha Prahlada). He was the grand son of Prahlada and son of Virochana. Prahlada, his grand father was an ardent and coveted devotee of Lord Sri ManNarayana for whose sake the Lord took the avathara of Lord Narasimha. Sage Sukrachaarya (Daitya Guru) was his preceptor helping King Bali in all his endeavors.
Bali was a mighty and valorous Asura who had conquered all the three worlds including Heaven and Indra had to surrender to him. At the same time he was virtuous, an exemplary King dedicated to the welfare of the people in his kingdom. He was also famous and known for his charitable qualities. King Bali learned all the Shastras and obtained Vedic knowledge under the guidance and supervision of his illustrious grand father Prahlada. During his reign the country and the people were very prosperous. With the help of his preceptor Maha Bali had conquered the three worlds and dethroned Indra from Heaven and occupied Amaravati the capital of Indra. Celebrating his successful expedition Maha Bali was performing a great Yagna with the help of his Guru, Sage Sukrachaarya.
Lord Vishnu in his Vamana avatara mission enters Yagnashala (sacred fire place) as a Brahmachari where, Bali was performing Aswamedha yaga. Lord Vamana after entering the Yagnashala asks King Maha Bali for three paces of land measured by his foot as charity. When King Bali was in the process of fulfilling the request of Vamana, Sage Sukracharya realizes that Vamana was none other than the Supreme Lord Maha Vishnu himself. Sensing the trickery of Lord Vishnu, Sukracharya advises and prevails upon King Bali to retract from his promise. But Bali refused to heed to his Guru’s words and insists upon going ahead with his promise to the Lord Vamana. Due to this Bali had to face the curse at the hands of his own Guru Sage Sukracharya who cursed him to lose his power and position. Prior to this on an earlier occasion also Maha Bali had to receive the brunt from his own grand father Prahlada for contesting the supremacy of Lord Maha Vishnu. Sukracharya’s curse had added fuel to the fire.
Literally Bali means sacrifice. King Bali is a classic example of Aatmanivedanam, complete surrender with devotion to the Supreme Lord and taking refuge in Him to achieve the ultimate goal. Knowing from his preceptor that the one who has come for charity is none other than Lord Sri Maha Vishnu and knowing fully well that he is going to fail in keeping up his promise, Bali did not listen to his Guru and wanted to proceed honouring his word. Bali was prepared for all consequences and felt that there cannot be a better fortune and poorva janma sukrutha for him (in the position of a giver to the Lord) than this, when the Lord himself has come and seeking charity from him with stretched hands.
Bali is also an outstanding example of supreme sacrifice where he has sacrificed everything he had, knowing fully well that he is going to lose his rulership on the three worlds and that is going to ruin him. Bali did not deter from the curse given by his preceptor since the offering is to the Supreme Lord who is the Supreme Preceptor.
Ultimately when King Bali fell short of fulfilling his promise given to Vamana, he surrendered completely before the Supreme Lord for which he was amply rewarded by the Lord for his virtues. He became the ruler of Suthala (Nether world) with Lord himself protecting his kingdom, became immortal, and got identified as the future Indra of the next Manvanthara period.
Festivals related to King Bali
The sacred day on which King Bali gave charity to Lord Vaamana is celebrated as Bali Paadyami (Bali Prathipada) which occurs during Diwali festival on Karthika Sukla Prathipada day.
Similarly, Onam a popular festival among Keralites is also connected to King Bali as it is believed that King Bali would return to the Earth (Kerala) every year during Onam. Kerala is said to have been the capital of King Bali.