Skip to main content

Vamana, the Dwarf Avatar of Vishnu

c. 1700-1725
Artist/maker unknown, Indian
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.

Object Details

We are always open to learning more about our collections and updating the website. Does this record contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? Contact us here.

Please note that this particular artwork might not be on view when you visit. Don’t worry—we have plenty of exhibitions for you to explore.