Monday, November 16, 2020

Deepawali - Balipadyami and Govardhana Puja

Author: Mohan Raghavan

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In this article we explore the deep symbolism and the inner experience behind the observances of Balipadyami / Govardhana Pooja (on prathama) and Yama dvitiya / Bhagini Dvitiya.

The story of Bali chakravarthy and the Trivikrama avatara

The story itself is well known. Bali is the king of Asuras and grandson of the great devotee Prahlada. Just like Narakasura, he too wishes to bring the heavens under his own control, thereby deviating from the natural order - Dharma. Thus Vishnu takes birth as the son of Aditi - the mother of Devas who rule the heavens. When our entire being is devoted to material enjoyment and the asuri tendencies such as kama, krodha and other vices, we ourselves are the embodiment of asura Bali. His conquest of Indra loka is an allegorical mention of the darkness of ajnana that has filled us. Here Vamana is a dwarf who seeks a small charity of three steps of land from Bali, while he is in the midst of a sacrifice. Bali gives his word. Vamana now grows manifold and effortlessly occupies the entire world and the heavens with just two steps. Just as even a small spark of flame can grow and envelop the entire forest, aatma jyothi which is seen by jnanis in the region of the heart to be of the size of a phalange of the thumb engulfs the entire Earth and Heavens. If nurtured by the sadhaka with his tapas, it can envelop the entire being and make it brahmamaya (filled with brahma vastu). Yoga shastra says that while we go about doing our worldly chores our pranas travel along the extensive network of nadis. But for travelling on the Yogic path, prana must enter the nadi called Sushumna which runs through the centre of the spinal cord from the mooladhara chakra at the lower extremity, all the way to the sahasrara at the upper extremity. The extent of this yogic path spans the three lokas bhuh, bhuvah and suvah that are alluded to in the Vedas and are the three steps of Trivikrama. The third, Swarloka is the abode of the effulgent Surya. Within ourselves, it is the Jnana Surya that the jnanis experience in the region of their crest within themselves. That trivikrama placed his third foot on Bali's head is a beautiful allegory to the fact that Bali's asuric tendencies

were cleansed by the highest Yogic experience of the effulgent light. Even more interesting is what follows and is of highest relevance to this current context. Bali for all his faults, is extremely devoted to Lord Vishnu. Hence Trivikrama showers his blessings on Bali and despatches him back to the lower loka called Sutala, which abounds in all riches. Thus Bali is sent back to the lower loka - the nadis where worldly affairs are transacted, to enjoy the material world. It is a loka of immense riches and wealth. But this time Bali enjoys the riches in the aftermath of his experience of the supreme light, that has endowed  him with a sense of balance. What is more, Narayana himself offers to stand guard at the gates of Bali, protecting him from enemies, to ensure that his asuri tendencies are kept under check. There is also the promise that in future Bali will ascend to the heavens and take up the position of Indra.

This story also shows the ways in which Narayana rectifies our asuric tendencies. Sometimes as in the case of Narakasura, he employs Nigraha or destruction of asuri tendencies to shower his grace - anugraha on us. But in this case, he gently tricks Bali into giving up his unjustly gained position voluntarily and blesses him. 

 Without these insights given by Sriranga Mahaguru, it is impossible to understand this story and make sense of it in a rational way. For instance, if one were to try to take it literally, when trivikrama had already occupied everything with just two steps, wasn't Bali and his head already covered ? Many such questions arise for which no meaningful explanation can be given. Understanding the tattvas behind the Puranic stories is only possible by insights borne of inner spiritual experience.   

Govardhana Giridhaari

While the story of Bali is of an asura who wished to usurp the position of Indra and was chastised, the story of Govardhana is of Indra himself being chastised. In both cases, the reason was ahankara or ego which makes us forget that the supreme principle - paramatma or antarjyotih is paramount in our lives. Indra lords over the Indriyas or senses, and keeps them on the path of Dharma. But if he forgets that he himself functions as an offshoot of the primordial seed variously called param-Brahma or Narayana, he is in fact acquiring the qualities that are essentially asuric. Thus the same fate awaits him as did Bali. Krishna firstly convinces the village elders that it is not Indra who sustains, but Govardhana which sustains their cows and hence is responsible for all their material prosperity. When Indra turns his rage on Gokula, Krishna lifts up the Govardhana giri and provides shelter to all his kith, kin and kine. The beautiful imagery shows that all material prosperity represented by Govardhana (literally multiplier of cows and hence prosperity) is actually sustained by the primordial principle Krishna himself. All people live happily when under his protective grace. Thus amidst Deepawali festivities which bring in riches and prosperity, here is a reminder to us on the source of this material prosperity and the dharmic way to enjoy them. This beautiful episode culminates in Indra worshipping Krishna - an episode called as Govinda pattabhisheka. 

Observance of Bali Padyami and Govardhana Puja

Balipadyami starts with the ritual oil bath. At night, the main event is the worship of Balindra. The image or idol of Balindra along with his retinue is worshipped with the following verse

बलीराज नमस्तुभ्यं विरोचनसुत प्रभो |

भविषयेन्द्र सुराराते विष्णुसान्निध्यदो भव ||

The prayer is for bestowing the saannidhya of Vishnu, which was Bali's most extraordinary achievement. It is interesting to note that golden coloured flowers by the name honnaavarike are used in this worship. These golden flowers are spread all around the courtyard while saying 'Honnu, Honnu' meaning "It's all golden, It's all golden", a clear reference to Bali's extraordinary experience of the Jnana Surya or the golden light.  In some houses there is also the tradition of turning the image of Bali backwards or westwards at the end of puja. This is very consistent and conforms very well with the tattvas we have hitherto mentioned. Turning back or westwards represents the inward journey, or the eventual ascent of Bali to the position of Indra.  

In northern India, especially among the Vaishnava sampradayas, the Govardhana Puja is also called Annakuta. An image or replica of Govardhana is installed and worshipped. Several varieties of food are offered as worship, depicting the enjoyable riches. After the worship, they are partaken as prasad of Govardhana Giridhari Krishna.

Yama dvitiya or Bhagini dvitiya

This is celebrated on the dvitiya, immediately after Balipadyami. It is celebrated as the day brothers visit their sisters with gifts and are treated sumptuously by them in return. Yama as has been explained before is the son of the supreme light, Surayanarayana. He is the king of Dharma, and dispenses the results of our karmas with his danda. He reminds us of the eventuality that awaits us, and the need to adhere to Dharma always while we go about our material lives. Yamuna is his own sister and daughter of Suryanarayana. She is the river that nourishes our lives and  defines the very essence of feminine grace. Yama and Yami(Yamuna) represent the Purusha and Prakrti principles which we have alluded to before. Thus their meeting which is the inspiration behind this festival represents the confluence of worldly benefits and Dharmic disposition. In the realm of spiritual pursuits, it represents the coming together of Purusha and Prakrti, which results in the supreme sthithi of Samadhi.  


This brings us to the conclusion of the series of articles on the festivities of Deepawali. We started with an exploration of the significance of Deepa. Further after an introduction to symbolism and their inner experiences, we have considered the legends, their significance and their reflections in the practiced rituals of the five day Deepawali festivities starting from the Dhanatrayodasi to Yama dvitiya.   


This article is based on Amaravani  - the published lectures of Sriranga Mahaguru and 'Bharateeyara habba haridinagalu', a magnum opus on Indian festivals by Sri SriRangapriya Sri Srih.