Ahead of the Onam festival, a controversy is brewing over steps to erect a statue of demon king Mahabali, the mythical ruler around whom festival lore revolves, in the premises of a temple in Kerala.
The Travancore Devaswom Board’s move to set up a bronze statue of Bali, modelled on a painting drawn by a Travancore king, adjacent to Trikkakkara Vamanamoorthy Temple in Ernakulam district, has been opposed by devotees and right wing outfits.
According to devotees, it is improper to install the mythical ruler’s statue near the lone shrine in the southern state dedicated to Lord Vamana, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who as per legend, is supposed to have sent the demon king to the netherworld.
Defending the plan, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, president of TDB which manages the shrine, said though Bali was an ‘asura’ ruler, he was an hardcore devotee of Lord Vishnu and there was nothing wrong in installing his statue in the temple premises. The statue would be made after melting the bronze vessels in the collection of TDB, he said.
“First of all, we are building a bronze statue and not an idol. It is being built not within the temple compound but in an adjacent plot owned by TDB. So there is no impropriety in building the statue,” Gopalakrishnan said.
Noting that people have many misconceptions about the character of Mahabali, he said the demon king was known for his noble mind, devotion to Lord Vishnu and initiating welfare measures for his subjects.
He said Bali was generally pictured in a distorted way, as a man with a moustache and a pot belly. The statue was an attempt to give an ideal representation of him, based on the painting by the Travancore king, he said.
“The Board plans to organise an in depth presentation of the mythical story and the characters of Mahabali and Vamana at the temple during the Onam days. We hope it will clear doubts and misconceptions of devotees over the issue,” he said.
The statue’s foundation work was complete and a total of over Rs 35 lakh is expected for the rest of the work, he said. Hindu Aikya Vedi leader E S Biju said they were not against Mahabali and were extending solidarity to devotees opposed to installing the statue in the temple premises.
“Bali was a people-friendly ruler and devotee of Lord Vishnu, according to legend. So there is nothing wrong in installing his statue. But devotees have objection to setting it up in the ground of the temple, dedicated to Lord Vamana.
The leader also alleged that the Board was taking unilateral decisions in this regard and devotees had already approached the Devaswom Ombudsman against the TDB’s move. The issue gained attention in the wake of RSS mouthpiece ‘Kesari’ kicking up a controversy last year questioning the legend behind Onam, arguing that it marks the celebration of birth of Vamana and not the homecoming of demon king Mahabali.
Popular belief in the state has it that Mahabali s homecoming in the Malayalam month of Chingam to see his subjects is celebrated as ‘Thiru Onam’ annually, which falls on September 4 this year. As per mythology, Onam, the harvest festival, is connected with demon king Mahabali, under whose reign everyone lived in happiness and equality.
Envious with his popularity, the ‘Devas’ (Gods) sought the help of Lord Vishnu to get him banished into the netherworld. But before going down, Mahabali secured a boon from Lord Vishnu to visit his subjects every year on ‘Thiru Onam’ day.
The demon king’s annual visit is celebrated by Keralites, who decorate their front yards with floral carpets, wear new clothes and prepare a sumptuous feast.
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