Indian and Himalayan Art
Vamana, the Dwarf Avatar of Vishnu
Artist/maker unknown, India
Opaque watercolor, gold, and silver-colored paint on paper
Currently not on view
2004-149-32125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004
LabelThrough intensive religious rituals, the demon king Bali conquered the gods. The god Vishnu came to earth as Vamana, his fifth avatar, to defeat him. Vamana appeared as a dwarflike Brahmin. When the pious Bali asked what gift the holy man desired, Vamana requested only as much land as he could cover in three steps. As Bali was about to seal his promise by pouring a libation of holy water, Bali's advisor recognized Vamana's true identity and tried to stop the transaction by shrinking to tiny size and lodging himself in the vessel's spout. Bali poked out this obstruction with a blade of sacred grass, accidentally blinding his advisor in one eye. In this illustration, the blind advisor raises a warning finger to Bali. Action holds its breath in anticipation of the next moment when Vamana will shed his dwarf disguise, grow to cosmic size, and engulf the world with his three steps.