BÂLI – Great Monkey King Killed by Sri Rama

Bâli’s myth is nested within a number of interlocking myths. His part in the story of Râma and Sîtâ is mostly negative, as Râma has to kill him. But this is because he has turned from the very practices that made him a great king. He had a divine birth, one of miracle and magic. And that birth was set in motion by a woman sage of great power whose pronouncement stopped the sun from rising.

Bâli was the son of Indra by Aruna, but Aruna was a male—the charioteer of Sûrya. This was a late myth that highlighted the lust of Indra and devotion to Râma as an incarnation of Vishnu. But before we can get to the gender-shifting birth of Bâli and his brother, Sugrîva, there is another story of the events that set this one in motion. S´îlavatî was a devoted wife and had acquired great power through her austerities.

One night according to the wish of her leprous husband, Ugratapas, S´îlavatî carried him on her back to a harlot. On their way the sage Animandavya saw them and cursed Ugratapas for his lust: he would die before sunrise. S´îlavatî heard this and cast a spell so that the sun would not rise the following day. And the next day the sun did not rise at the right time, and the night was prolonged.

Because of the magic of S´îlavatî, the sun continued to sleep. Aruna, the charioteer of the sun, seeing that the sun was not rising at his appointed time, thought of spending this free time watching the dance of the apsaras in the court of Indra. He went to Indra’s court disguised as a beautiful woman. But Indra noticed and was attracted by this new woman. He took her to a remote place, and out of their union was born Bâli.

Aruna was late getting back to Sûrya, so the sun was angrily waiting for him and demanded an explanation. When Aruna told the whole story, Sûrya became interested in seeing this female form. Aruna again became a woman for the sun and out of their union was born Sugrîva. The brothers, Bâli and Sugrîva, were given to one of the most pious of women, Ahalyâ, wife of the sage Gautama, and brought up in their hermitage.

Later the monkey king, Riksha-râja, prayed to Indra for sons, and Indra brought him the divine brothers. Thus, Bâli, the elder, became the king of the monkey tribe when Riksha-râja became too old to rule. After some time Bâli learned that a monkey was born of S´iva and Pârvatî, and he feared for his kingdom. He tried to kill that monkey, Hanuman, before he was born by pouring five molten metals into the womb of his foster mother, Anjanâ.

But since Hanuman was conceived of the sperm of S´iva, he could not be injured by heat or metal. And Hanuman’s presence protected his monkey mother as well. Bâli had been given a boon from the devas that he would receive half the strength of his opponent in battle, thus enabling him to defeat anyone he wanted. So his kingdom grew in every direction. The demon king of Lanka, Râvana, was envious and devised a plan to kill Bâli.

One morning as Bâli did his rituals on the eastern seashore, Râvana quietly sat down behind him, planning to attack from the rear and outwit the boon from the gods. Bâli pretended that he did not notice Râvana but tied him up like a bunch of sticks with his long tail. He jumped about India as usual on his way back to his kingdom.

When everyone saw the demon tied up by Bâli’s tail, he was laughed at and humiliated. Râvana returned to Lanka in defeat. There is an interesting story, an excursion into magic and deceit, to explain how the two divine monkey brothers turned into blood enemies. The son of Maya, a carpenter of the demons, sought to use his abilities in magic and wrestling to defeat Bâli.

But when he challenged Bâli in the middle of the night, Bâli and his brother Sugrîva chased the magician into a cave. Bâli left Sugrîva at the mouth of the cave with the command to seal it if red blood indicated he was killed. And if the milk of a sorcerer appeared, it would mean that Bâli had succeeded. But after a year blood appeared, and Sugrîva sealed the cave, returned to the monkey kingdom, and was crowned king. But the sorcerer’s magic had worked in spite of his death as his blood appeared red instead of white.

Thus Bâli believed that his brother had tried to kill him for the kingdom. Bâli would have killed his brother, but Sugrîva took refuge on a mountain that Bâli could not go to because of a sage’s curse that he would meet death there. So Bâli practiced rituals and austerities (tapas) on the seashores, jumping back to his kingdom in a single bound after each attack. On his way, he would kick his brother on the forbidden mountain in mid-flight. Hanuman was Sugrîva’s minister, and this torture of his king troubled him.

BÂLI - A great monkey king

One day he leaped into the sky as Bâli jumped from the sea toward the kingdom, kicking Sugrîva in passing. If Hanuman could have pulled Bâli into the mountain, the touch of the mountain would have ended his life and the torment of Sugrîva. But Hanuman and Bâli were equal in strength and finally had to make a truce. Finally, the stage has been set for Bâli to be a worthy opponent of Râma on his march to Lanka to free Sîtâ.

Râma met Sugrîva, and they became allies. Sugrîva and his prime minister, Hanuman, were to help Râma attack Râvana, and Râma was to help Sugrîva take back his own kidnapped wife from Bâli. But Bâli, the son of Indra, had such great powers that none had been able to defeat him. Sugrîva had two duels with him, losing half of his energy to Bâli each time, and was near death. Finally Râma killed Bâli from his hiding place, robbing Râvana of a powerful ally.

As he died, Bâli questioned Râma’s honor as a warrior, saying that it was not right for the king of Ayodhyâ to kill from ambush. In each version of the story, Râma’s answer was revised. Since he was the perfect king and husband, and an incarnation of the supreme god, his answer needed to be satisfactory. But each version had attempted to solve a perceived weakness in his character and his divinity.

Râma had done what was needed: Bâli could not be defeated in direct combat and needed to be punished for violating his dharma by stealing Sugrîva’s wife. So Râma had killed him by the only method that was available to him. But such a utilitarian justification of his actions was not an ideal solution, which sought glorifications of dharma and honor. After Bâli was killed by Shrî Râma, the kingdom was given to Sugrîva, and Râma proceeded to Lanka to attack Râvana.

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