·         Introduction

·         Legends of the Vamanavtar

·         Iconography of Vamanavtar

·         Temples

·         Worship

·         Symbolism


Vaman, the dwarf is the fifth incarnation of Vishnu and it took place in Tretayuga, the second Yuga. He appeared in the form of a dwarf brahmin, without any special anthropomorphic features. The reason behind this incarnation is to control the demon Bali and save the deities from him.

Legends of Vamanavtar

Arucha in Rgveda explains that Vishnu covered the earth, underworld and the sky in just three paces of his feet.

इदं विष्णुर्वि चक्रमे त्रेधा नि दधे पदम् ।

समूळहमस्य पांसुरे ॥

–    ऋ. १.२२.१७


Idamvishnurvichakrametredhanidadhepadam |

Samulhamasyapaansure ||

–      Rgved 1.22.17

‘This whole universe is occupied by Vishnu. He placed his foot at three spots and covered the entire world.’

According to Taitteriya Samhita, Vishnu incarnated himself as a dwarf to help his friend Indra in getting his kingdom back. Aitereya Brahmhan tells that Indra and Vishnu were busy in fighting with demons. They made a deal with asuras that as much land as Vishnu covers in three steps will belong to both of them. The demons agreed to it and Vishnu occupied the living world, light and speech.

Shathpath Brahman says that the gods and ‘Asuras’ (demons) were struggling for supremacy. The gods lost the war with demons and fled away. Then ‘Asuras’ (demons) sat together to distribute the world among themselves. On this occasion, the gods reached there requesting for some land to stay. The Asuras agreed to give them a piece of land which Vaman (the dwarf) could occupy in three feet. Vaman occupied the ‘Tribhuvan’ i.e. all three worlds; the earth, sky and underworld with his three feet and defeated the asuras.

The legend of king Bali and Vaman evolved in Ramayan for the first time. Vishnu took this form to subdue the pride of king Bali. As Vaman, he appeared during the occasion of performance of a yajnya (sacrifice) and asked for the land measuring the size of his three steps. After granting this gift, he enlarged himself and covered the whole earth in three steps. Finally, he sent king Bali to rule the underworld (patallok).

The concept of Vamanavtar is mentioned in many puranas. It is as follows, there was a continuous conflict between devas and asuras. Bali, the grandson of Prahlad, the great devotee of Vishnu was the king of asuras. With his devotion and sacrifices, he became so powerful that he conquered the entire universe including heaven. Indra and other gods urged Vishnu to retrieve their celestial adobe back and save the world from asuras. Vishnu agreed and took birth in the house of a Brahman called Kashyap and his wife Aditi.

When he was a young boy, he reached the yajnyamandap (place where sacrifices are performed) of Bali. He asked for alms. Bali was impressed seeing his divine appearance as a Brahmhachari (Vedic student) with shaved head, shikha, yadnyopavit(sacrifial thread worn by brahmhans), dand(ritual stick). He agreed to give Vaman anything that he wished. Shukracharya, the priest of asuras warned him that the boy was no other than Vishnu and not to commit anything but the ever generous Bali considered it a great honour if Vishnu himself asked for favour.

Vaman asked for space equal to his three strides. As the king of asuras agreed to his demand, Vaman started growing in size. He covered the earth (Bhulok) with his first step and heaven (Antariksha) with the second step. Since there was no place left, he asked Bali where to be put his third step. Bali bowed before him and requested Vaman to put his third stride on his head. Immensely pleased with Bali, Vaman did so and pushed him into the netherworld (patallok). Occupying all the three worlds, Vishnu became ‘Trivikram’ (conquerer of three lands).

He sent Bali to patallok to rule the asuras with peace. The Gods again became independent and continued to control the universe under the sovereignty of Indra.

Iconography of Vamanavtar

The iconographical representation of Vishnu in this incarnation is mainly shown in two ways; either as a dwarf Vaman or the Trivikram Vishnu.

1.   Vaman

According to Vishnudharmottarpuran, the image of Vaman should have two arms. One hand should hold a Kamandalu and the other an umbrella. There should be a tuft of hair tied together. He should be wearing a deer-skin along with a yadnyopavita(sacred thread worn by brahmhans) and a kaupina (loin-cloth). He should carry a book with him. All these are the emblems of a vedic student or a brahmhachari.

Sometimes we can see the sculptures of Vaman as a deformed dwarf. The image is ill-shaped man with a hunch back, protruding joints and a big belly.

2.   Trivikram

The image of Trivikram Vishnu is sculptured in three ways i.e. with the left foot raised up to the level of,

i)     the right knee,

ii)   the navel

iii)  the forehead.

It is to represent him as striding over all the three worlds. He should have either four or eight hands. If he has four hands, one right hand should hold shankh, and a left hand carries chkra. The other right hand should be held in abhayamudra and the other left hand should be stretched out parallel to the uplifted leg.

If the image has eight hands, five of the hands should carry shankh, chakra, gada (mace), bow and hal (plough). Others carry the symbols of the four-handed image. The right leg of Trivikrama is to be firmly placed on the earth and the left has to be in position of taking a stride. Indra should be shown holding an umbrella over his head. Varun, Vayu, Surya and Chandra are to be shown as flying whisks. Brahmha should be shown washing the uplifted foot of Trivikram. Below his left leg, the dwarf Vaman has to be presented in the position to receive the grant of three steps land. Opposite to him, the asura king Bali should be shown with a water vessel indicating that he is ready to pour the sacred water as proof of his gift.


Vaman Temple, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

The Vaman temple at Khajuraho was built around 1050-75 by Chandella rulers. It is situated 200 meters from the Brahmha temple. It is a ‘nirandhara’ (one without pradakshina-patha around the garbhagriha) type of temple. It is a sapta-ratha i.e. seven projectioned sanctum, porch, maha-mandapa with a pair of balconied windows and a ruined shikhara. A typical characteristic of roof over maha-mandapa known as ‘Samvarna’ can be seen here. This is a distinguishing feature of medieval temples of western India.

The temple consists of a mandap and garbhagriha in which there is a beautiful and delicate image of Vaman. There are two bands (patt) of sculptures with almost 300 images of gods and goddesses, dancers, musicians etc.


Vishnu manifested himself as Vaman on Bhadrapad Shuddha Dwadashi. The occasion is known as Vamandwadashi. The day is celebrated at places which are the meeting point of two rivers.

A pot is filled with the water and five precious stones. After midnight, it is set up with some sesame or wheat and an image of Vaman. His attributes, dand, kamandalu, chatra, paduka, akshmala are also kept with it. After worship, the prayer for Vaman is uttered:

अजितदण्डकमण्डलुमेखलारुचिपावनमूर्तये ।

मितजगत्त्रितयाय जितारये निगमवाक्पटवे बटवे नम: ॥

Ajitdandkamandalumekhalaruchirpavanmurtaye |

Mitjagattrityayjitarayenigamvakpatvebatavenamh ||

‘The one whose image is adorned with Ajin, Dand, Kamandalu, Mekhala; the one who has occupied all the three lands, conquered the enemies and the one who is proficient in Vedas… I salute the dwarf Vaman.’

On the second day, the image is given to a brahmhan and the dand, kamandalu, chatra, paduka, akshmala are to be given to a bachelor.

The Mahabharata refers to a tirtha called ‘VamanTirtha’ which may have been a place of pilgrimage.


At any place and in any form, virtue can defeat the evil forces. Such battle can be considered as a yadnya for which, the whole earth, even the entire universe can be treated as a fire altar. Thus the task of conquering evil should be fulfilled as an act of sacred worship.

Vishnu, in the form of Vaman is the symbol of an avtar which may appear small or less important but when he takes the Virat(huge) form, he crushes the immoral with all his force. The one, who wishes to control evil and bring about a rule of peace, should not restrict his work to the boundaries of strength, shape and riches. He should be open-hearted and generous.

Sometimes, Vaman is symbolised as a minute particle, anu(atom) and Trivikram comprises the virat (huge), the cosmic aspect. Bali symbolises the evil force which tries to keep virtue in his command. After its surrender, the yadnya fills its course. All manifestation is yadnya in which the divine power unfolds itself as matter which is symbolised as three worlds.