The Hindu god Vishnu manifested himself on earth through ten primary incarnations. Within each of these incarnations are lessons for humanity. The first four incarnations are animal/human hybrids between a man and a fish, a turtle, a boar and a lion. The last six manifestations are people, including for example Krishna, the popular blue god, and Buddha (although this is generally contested by buddhists). The first in the group of the human avatars is a dwarf called Vamana. This position between the hybrids and the other human avatars raises certain questions that will be addressed another time.

The story involving Vishnu’s incarnation as Vamana is an interesting tale of hubris, underestimation and a ruler’s desire to be liked despite being very powerful. It takes place in the context of the long-running battle between gods (the Devas) and demons (the Asuras). After the battle is decided in favour of the demon king Bali, Vishnu comes to the aid of the Devas by reincarnating as Vamana. During an audience with the new ruler, the dwarf asks Bali to allow him a piece of land the size of three footsteps where he can meditate. Although Bali is warned that Vamana is an incarnation of Vishnu he does not regard him as a threat and wants to shown his benevolence. He grants Vamana his wish. As soon as he has done so Vishnu/Vamana expands to his cosmic size and spans all of Heaven and Earth in just two enormous steps. With his third step he pushes Bali into the underworld, showing humanity that prejudice against the small doesn’t pay off. The continued debate as to why Vishnu manifested himself as a dwarf seems to originate especially in the general view of dwarfs being inferior to regular-sized people. Perhaps what the story is trying to tell us is precisely the opposite.

For a detailed account of the story visit HERE.