Sri Vamana Dwadashi of today is a festival to celebrate the appearance of Sri Vishnu’s dwarf incarnation, Sri Vamanadeva. As a matter of fact, the occasion started already yesterday by fasting from grains and legumes on Parsva Parivartini Ekadashi. According to the Vedic lunar calendar it marked the moment when Sri Vishnu turned around while asleep for four subsequent months leading to the auspicious month of Kartika (October-November). These four months are known by yogis as Chaturmasya, the period of austerities and vows. Many practice dietary discipline by refraining from green leafy vegetables, yogurt, milk, seeds and lentils (gram, toor and urad) that are considered non-vegetarian due to the high protein content. Only during the festive days, such as today, the restrictions may be overlooked. Controlling desires is aimed at transferring the focus into the goal of mediation and transcendence.
The history of Sri Vamanadeva, as narrated in Bhagavata Purana, is a story of truthfulness, integrity, full surrender and reciprocation. It is about keeping one’s word and promise even if it means facing hardship in life.
When I’m reading about the character of men and women of the past, especially in the Vedic context, I am always stunned by their dignity. Whether rendered poverty stricken, falsely imprisoned, humiliated or facing death, they become introspective and find inner strength. We know from our human experience that when reality unfolds according to our plan we flourish, but as soon as adversity arises we crumble like a dry cookie. Uprightness, honesty, goodness, purity and decency are the first attributes to let go if it benefits our material status quo. Sometimes I think there is an unwritten treaty in our modern society to collectively close our eyes to the subtle values and pretend they don’t exist. But, they do. The ability to make moral choices and aspire for higher levels of consciousness differentiates human species from others. It’s our trademark.
The special days, like Sri Vamana Dwadashi, are important to me because they serve as an opportunity to ascertain the meaning of my humanity. They propel to face my weaknesses and improve. Hearing about great personalities like the king named Bali who kept his word although it meant severity and loss of everything, gives me insight to what is gained by sacrifice that is done as an offering of devotion.
When seeing the beautifully effulgent dwarf, Bali Maharaja wanted to give him a gift. All Sri Vamanadeva asked was three steps of land. “How much could it be?” the king thought. He didn’t realize Sri Vamanadeva was the embodiment of the Cosmic Creation and, by default, owns everything. By two mystic leaps Sri Vamanadeva covered all directions and didn’t have a place to rest his third step. At that moment the king understood he had nothing left to offer but himself. Thus, he asked the dwarf to place his foot on his head. It is considered as the pinnacle of humility and letting go of control in all cultures, human and animal alike, to allow someone to step on one’s head. Bali Maharaja did it in order to honour his commitment. And, he did it without anger, envy or sorrow. Being touched by the devotion of the king, Sri Vamanadeva granted him a beautiful planet, Sutala, as a place of residence and volunteered to become his menial doorkeeper.
Bali Maharaja is glorified as Mahajana, a great soul, throughout the Vedic literature. Sri Vamanadeva, on the other hand, is still worshipped in hundreds of temples and thousands of households in India and around the world for being so loving to the surrendered souls that he wants to become their servant.
As an offering I baked cookies for the pleasure of Sri Vamanadeva today. While doing so, I counted my blessing.