Vamana, the Dwarf Avatar of Vishnu
Page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana (Story of the Lord Vishnu)
Artist/maker unknown, India
Through 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.