Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mahabali - The story of Onam

Mahabali – The Story of Onam


“As he was pushed down into the netherworld (Collins English Dictionary, 2012), King Bali made a last request. He requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed and content. Lord Vishnu was pleased to grant Mahabali his wish.” (Kulkarni, 1992)Thus was born the myth that every year on Onam day, Mahabali comes back to visit his subjects. The natives of Kerala celebrate this reminiscent of a time when Mahabali ruled over them and this is aptly portrayed in the lyrics of the following song.

Click here to listen to the Maveli Song Video


"Maveli nadu vanidum kalam
manusharellarum onnupole
amodathode vassikkum kalam
apathangarkkumottilla thanum
adhikal vyadhikal onnumilla
bala maranangal kelkkanilla
kallavumilla chathiyumilla
ellolamilla poli vachanam
kallapparayum cheru naziyum
kallatharangal mattonumilla "

When Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the people form one casteless race.
And people live joyful and merry,
They are free from all harm.
There is neither theft nor deceit,
And no one is false in speech either.
Measures and weights are right,
No one cheats or wrongs the neighbor.
When Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the people form one casteless race.

But there is a hidden element of masonic significance to this story.
It is related to the events leading to his exile to the underworld.

The story begins thus:
            Mahabali also known as Bali or Māveli was a benevolent Asura(demon) king. The story goes that the present day state of Kerala in India witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. However, unlike the usual Asuras he was very religious, was respectful to priests and like his grandfather (Prahlada), was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. Mahabali was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that his subjects were happy in the kingdom; there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Bali.
Seeing his influence increase the lesser gods petitioned Vishnu to put an end to his reign as they felt threatened by it. Vishnu on his part assumed the incarnation of a Brahmin dwarf and approached Mahabali for a gift of three paces of land.
Mahabali being a generous person, agreed without a second thought. On learning of the event, Mahabali's preceptor, Shukracharya (who had visions of the future) told Mahabali that the one who had come to take alms from him was not an ordinary Brahmin but Lord Vishnu Himself. He advised Mahabali not to promise the lad anything. But Mahabali was a king who would never go back on his word, considering it sinful to do so.
Mahabali's refusal angered Shukracharya. He cursed Mahabali, saying: “As you have not heeded your Guru's words, you will be reduced to ashes”. Mahabali told his Guru: "Prana (life) and Maana (honour) are like the two eyes of a person. Even if life goes, honour should be protected. Knowing that the person that has come now is the Lord Himself, I should be the most fortunate one as the Lord, who gives everything to mankind, is seeking something from me."

When Mahabali decided to accept Vamana’s request Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one footstep, he measured all of the earth. With the second, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Mahabali owed him. Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, for he had no other left. Vamana did so and in doing so, pushed him down to Patala, the netherworld.
As a parting gift, Mahabali was granted permission to visit his subjects once a year. Thus, natives of Kerala the world over celebrate the Onam festival to commemorate the memory of the Great King Mahabali who would keep his promise to visit. Mahabali fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of Truth ("Satya"). The name "Mahabali" itself means Great Sacrifice.

Does this theme strike a chord with the Mason inside you? It did with me. I am reminded of a familiar passage from the third degree:
Such, my Brother, are the peculiar objects of the Third Degree in Freemasonry: They invite you to reflect on this awful subject; and teach you to feel that, to the just and virtuous man, death has no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonour. Of this great truth the annals of Masonry afford a glorious example in the unshaken fidelity and noble death of our Master Hiram Abiff, who was slain just before the completion of King Solomon's Temple, at the construction of which he was, as no doubt you are well aware, the principal Architect. (Craft Freemasonry, 1997)

Is it not striking that the theme of the Hiramic legend is in total harmony with this King who would rather die than betray the trust placed in him once he has given his word? Let us all resolve this Onam to remember amid the festivities and revelry that greatness is not something that is earned but is freely given; only to those Men who have let go of the ego and immersed themselves in devotion to the Almighty.

I further speculate that perhaps Mahabali was a Freemason (at heart), because he practiced a certain truth that we Masons highly value – the value of a Man’s word and his honour.


Works Cited

Collins English Dictionary. (2012, August 28). 10th Edition. Retrieved from Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nether world
Craft Freemasonry. (1997). Craft Ritual Book (Indian) (Seventeenth Edition ed.). New Delhi: Grand Lodge of India.
Kulkarni, S. D. (1992). The Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Bibliography

Collins English Dictionary. (2012, August 28). 10th Edition. Retrieved from Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nether world
Craft Freemasonry. (1997). Craft Ritual Book (Indian) (Seventeenth Edition ed.). New Delhi: Grand Lodge of India.
Kulkarni, S. D. (1992). The Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.