Bali Pratipadā (Sanskrit: बालि प्रतिपदा,Marathi: बळी-प्रतिपदा or Pāḍavā पाडवा,Kannada: ಬಲಿ ಪಾಡ್ಯಮಿ or Bali Pāḍyami) is the third day of Dipavali (Diwali), the Hindu festival of lights. It is celebrated in honour of the notional return of the demon(Daitya)-king Bali to earth. Bali Padyami falls in the Gregorian calendar months October–November. It is the first day of the Hindu month Kartika and is the first day of the bright lunar fortnight (day after new moon day) in the month. It is also called the Akashadipa (lights of the sky). It is celebrated as the first day of the Vikram Samvat calendar, in Western India.
According to Hindu mythology, Bali Padyami commemorates the victory of god Vishnu in his dwarf incarnation Vamana, the fifth incarnation of the Dashavatara (ten major incarnations of Vishnu) defeating Bali, and pushing him to the nether world. But Bali was bestowed a boon by Vishnu to return to earth for one day on this day to be honoured and celebrated for his devotion to the Lord and for his noble deeds to his people.
According to Hindu mythology, Bali, an Daitya king was well known for his bravery, uprightness and dedication to god Vishnu. He was benevolent and his popularity was only marred by the actions of his kinsmen who involved themselves with depredations against the gods who stood for righteousness and justice. But Bali was also considered as arrogant and vainglorious and the godly people did not like him for this. Bali was also considered invincible since he was a great devotee of Vishnu. The gods, upset by the harassment meted out to them by the asuras, and jealous of the popularity of Bali – sometimes glorified as Mahabali (“the great Bali”), approached Vishnu to help them to get rid of Bali.
Vishnu took the form of a dwarf Vamana. Vamana is Vishnu’s fifth Avatar (incarnation), out of his ten avatars that he is believed to have assumed to triumph over evil and usher peace, prosperity and happiness in this world. Vamana, the dwarf Brahmin, then approached Bali seeking reverence and alms. Aware of the generous nature of Bali, Vamana appeared before him and sought a gift of three paces of land from the king. Bali readily agreed. The dwarf then assumed his huge universal form (vishwarupa or “all pervading”) and placed his first step forward, which occupied the entire universal space. With his second step he occupied the earth, except the space where Bali was standing. Since there was no other space available to put Vamana’s third step, Bali readily offered his own head for Vamana to put his third step, fully realising that the person who was asking for such gift was none other than Vishnu himself. Vishnu banished Bali to patalaloka, the nether-world.
Pleased with the generosity of Bali, Vishnu grants him a boon that he could return to earth for one day in a year to be with his people and light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is this day that is celebrated as the Bali Padyami, the annual return of Bali from the netherworld to earth. However, in Kerala, the Onam festival (August/September) – the Keralite new year – marks the homecoming of the demon-king Bali (Mahabali). It is believed that Mahabali’s kingdom is identified with present day Kerala. Vishnu, while banishing Bali to the netherworld, assured to keep him company as his spiritual mentor and preceptor. Another boon given to Bali was he would be the next Indra (King of gods), Purandara is the current Indra.
Another version of the legend states that after Vamana pushed Bali below ground (patalaloka), at the request of Prahlada (described as a great devotee of Vishnu), the grandfather of Bali, Vishnu pardoned Bali and made him the king of the netherworld. Vishnu also granted the wish of Bali to return to earth for one day for people to worship him. It is this day that is celebrated as Bali Padyami by lighting lamps and bursting crackers.
The rituals observed on the Bali Padyami day have variations from state to state. In general, on this sacred festival day, Hindus exchange gifts, as it is considered a way to please Bali and the gods. After the ceremonial Oil Bath [a particular usage in Indian English, which denotes that oil is smeared over the body and then washed by soap or shikakai (means "fruit for hair" and is a traditional shampoo used in India), during bath] (considered essential as purification of selfish desires) by all the family members, wearing of new clothes is kind of mandatory. People decorate the main hall of the house with a Rangoli or Kolam drawn with powder of rice in different colours, thereafter Bali and his wife Vindhyavali are worshipped. Symbolically, seven forts are also built out of clay or cow dung to worship Bali. In the evening, as night falls, door sills of every house and temple are lighted with lamps arranged in rows. People remember Bali’s kingdom with the slogan: “Let the ideal kingdom of Bali dawn at the earliest on earth.”
Another observance that is practised, mostly in North India, on this day is of playing the gambling game called pachikalu (dice game), which is linked to a legend. It is believed that god Shiva and his consort Parvati played this game on this festival day when Parvati won. Following this, their son Kartikeya played with Parvati and defeated her. Thereafter, his brother, the elephant-headed god of wisdom Ganesha played with him and won the dice game. But now this gambling game is played only by family members, symbolically, with cards.
In Maharashtra, it is celebrated as Padva or Bali Pratipada. The day is linked to worship of king Bali. Men present gifts to their wives on this day.
The farming community celebrates this festival, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, by performing Kedargauri vratam (worship of goddess Kedar-Gauri – a form of Parvati), Gopuja (worship of cow), and Gouramma puja (worship of Gauri – another form of Parvati). Before worship of cows, on this day, the goushala (cowshed) is also ceremoniously cleaned. On this day, a triangular shaped image of Bali, made out of cow-dung is placed over a wooden plank designed with colourful Kolam decorations and bedecked with marigold flowers and worshipped.
The day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja in North India. It is celebrated to observe the lifting of Govardhana hill by god Krishna to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods.