The following is an excerpt from an interview with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Perth, Australia, on December 23, 1998
Reporter: Now, the haircuts. I thought my haircut was short; all of my friends made fun of my short hair. So why is the hair of the men so short and why the little ponytail?
Vrajanātha dāsa: Why the shaven head and śikhā (tuft of hair at the back of the shaven head, which remains uncut)?
Navīna Kṛṣṇa dāsa (now Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja): A transcendental aerial.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: This is like a transcendental aerial. By this śikhā we can hear the transcendental words from the transcendental world, just as an antenna has some power to catch words.
Reporter (laughing, speaking to Navīna Kṛṣṇa dāsa): Oh, so you were serious. At first I thought that you were making fun of me.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: No. What we are telling is true. It catches the sound. Just as an aerial catches sound, this śikhā catches transcendental words. It is true to the highest extent.
You know that the lines on our hands indicate something.
Reporter: Yes, I wrote an article on palmistry and had my palms read.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: These lines are true, and this fact which we are presenting now is more true than that.
Reporter: A person’s lines change according to what he does with his life.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: There was a lady in India whose son was on his way to England. When her son was in the channel between France and England, a heavy storm came and his boat capsized. Water entered that boat from the bottom, and everyone in the boat was about to die.
The son cried, “Oh mother, oh mother.” At that time, in Calcutta, India, his mother was thinking, “I wonder if there is some calamity befalling my son.” She quickly began to pray, “God, God, Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa!” After some time, by the grace of God, the son was saved. He later told his mother, “At that time I was calling, ‘Mother, Mother!'” And his mother said, “At that same time I was thinking there was some danger.”
So, there is something in the heart. You have something there. If you pray to Kṛṣṇa from your heart, Kṛṣṇa will hear; God will hear. He will give you some transcendental news and inspire you.
All your senses can be engaged by us in a way to connect us with Kṛṣṇa, with God. All of our activities are in accordance with the injunctions of Vedic culture, and all these activities are very helpful for our meditation. We can change the lines on our palms through these bhakti-yoga activities, and we can also change our death-date.
An excerpt from a morning walk with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Odessa, Ukraine, on September 24, 2008, published in Walking with a Saint – Morning Walks and Conversations 2008
Śrīpāda Nemi Mahārāja: He is asking what is the destination of the devotees in the Nimbārka sampradāya? What planet do they go to?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: They will go to Goloka, but not to Vṛndāvana.
(To a devotee standing nearby) I see that so many Russian devotees do not have śikhās. I will reject those who do not wear śikhās.
Śrīpāda Sādhu Mahārāja: He says that he does not want to disturb the general population, and that is why he does not wear a śikhā.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Let them be disturbed. What is the harm in that? In India, the general people do not wear śikhās, but we keep long śikhās.
Śrīpāda Sādhu Mahārāja: He says that he will definitely grow a śikhā from now on.
An excerpt from a radio interview with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Jammu, India, on October 3, 2007, published in Walking with a Saint – Morning Walks and Conversations 2007
Announcer: What is the effect of the Vedic philosophy-based kṛṣṇa-bhakti that you are preaching in different countries?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Due to the Vedic knowledge that I am preaching all over the world, millions of people all over the world have given up eating cow and other meat, eggs, garlic, and onion, and are taking up a righteous way of living. According to the Vedic rules, they wear neck beads, keep śikhās, wear the sacred thread, and perform devotional service to the Lord. They consider themselves very happy and fortunate, and they say that they are indebted to me life after life for saving them from the miseries of this world.
An excerpt from a darśana with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Alachua Florida, on April 28, 2008, published in Walking with a Saint – Morning Walks and Conversations 2008
Rūpa-kiśora dāsa: Can you please illuminate a little more about the meaning of initiation? We have a concept that it is sort of regimented – like we are entering into something akin to a business contract.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: I have explained this many times. I gave you initiation, but you refused to accept its significance. You have no śikhā, and now you are wearing a tie. You have heard so much hari-kathā, but everything is now spoiled. You have entered gṛhastha life from the life of a brahmacārī; all right. But you must follow the Kṛṣṇa conscious principles such as waking up early in the morning, performing āhnika (utterance of the gāyatrī-mantras), reading, chanting, and also preaching. Then you are a disciple. Please take off this tie in my presence.
Rūpa-kiśora dāsa: You want me to take it off now?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes, take it off, and be my sincere disciple. Otherwise, I will tell my daughter, your wife, to reject you. (To his wife) If he does not follow, you should reject him.
(To all) Thank you all. Try to come to our classes, where you will hear so much hari-kathā and surely be inspired.
Rūpa-kiśora dāsa: One last point regarding understanding Kṛṣṇa and guru: We are always told that we should have unconditional love for guru and Kṛṣṇa. My question is this: Does guru and Kṛṣṇa have unconditional love for us?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: (To Prema-prayojana dāsa) You explain first.
Prema-prayojana dāsa: We have heard from Śrīla Gurudeva and from Bhagavad-gītā and other texts that Kṛṣṇa is very humble, merciful, and kind. At the same time, He does not interfere with the independence of the living entity. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (4.11):
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
O Pārtha, in whichever way a person renders service to Me I reciprocate accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects.
He says there, “As you offer your love to Me, I will reciprocate with you.” And at the end of the Gītā He says:
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhya-taraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
Thus I have explained to you still more confidential knowledge. Deliberate on this fully and then do what you wish to do.
He never said, “You have to do it.” Love can never be by force. It can only be by free will, given voluntarily. Guru and Kṛṣṇa have unconditional love for the living entities, but this does not mean that they will reveal the transcendental spiritual world to a person whose heart really doesn’t want it.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: The sun shines in the sky. Does it make any condition before giving its nourishing light and heat?
Rūpa-kiśora dāsa: No.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: But if one does not come in front of the sun and instead remains in the shade, how can the sun give that person its heat and light? You may think that this is conditional, but really it is not. Kṛṣṇa, guru, and Vaiṣṇavas give their mercy in this way.
An excerpt from a morning walk with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Alachua Florida, on May 4, 2008, published in Walking with a Saint – Morning Walks and Conversations 2008
Aniruddha dāsa: It seems that the dhotī, śikhā, and kaṇṭhī-mālā are all external. What is the relationship of these things to bhakti? Are they actually necessary?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Try to realize that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has told us to do this, as did Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī; and Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has written about this in his Hari-bhakti-vilāsa. Why did Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu follow these principles? Why did Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī follow this? It is external?
An excerpt from a morning walk with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Miami Florida, on May 13, 2008, published in Walking with a Saint – Morning Walks and Conversations 2008
Līlānātha dāsa: There are different kinds of yoga teachers, the highest of which is the Vaiṣṇava. At the same time, there are many persons claiming to be Vaiṣṇavas on the basis of their wearing tilaka, dhotī, and mālā. How does one recognize the authentic Vaiṣṇava?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: You must know the meaning of yoga. It comes from the ancient Indian culture. It is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to add two components or elements.’ One plus one equals two, three plus four equals seven.
You are the transcendental soul present in your body, and also residing there is the transcendental Supersoul, who is Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord. When these two come together in love and affection, this is true yoga.
If one wants to link himself to or join, the Supreme Lord, he cannot do so on his own. He must first hear about the process, called bhakti-yoga, from a qualified teacher, who will inform him how to do so.
One then takes initiation from that bonafide guru. At that time he begins to follow all the principles of bhakti-yoga, such as chanting Kṛṣṇa’s holy names and remembering Him. Then, through the mercy of that guru, one gradually advances in bhakti-yoga and becomes liberated from material entanglement. He then begins to engage in the direct service of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord. This is real yoga.
Those who are initiated by a bonafide guru and, wearing tilaka, tulasī-mālā, and śikhā chant and remember Kṛṣṇa, are truly God conscious. Only they are to be recognized as true yogīs, or bhaktas.
Vrajanātha dāsa: Gurudeva, in Kali-yuga there are many people who pose as Vaiṣṇavas, but are not Vaiṣṇavas.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes, there are many. However, true Vaiṣṇavas are those who chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and follow our guru-paramparā. They are the real yoga teachers.
Līlānātha dāsa: There are many ancient cultures, like the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, which have physical proof of their existence. Is there any physical proof that our ancient Vedic culture existed?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Actually, the empires and ancient cultures you mentioned have no evidence of their existence at all. On the other hand, we Indians have evidence that our culture existed millions of years ago, even from the beginning of creation.
For example, it may be said that we are in the Kaśyapa gotra (the Kaśyapa dynasty). There was a saintly person named Kaśyapa Ṛṣi, who was a self-realized soul and devotee of Kṛṣṇa. We are his descendants, and there are other saints, like Vasiṣṭha and Gautama Ṛṣis, who also have dynasties and descendants. There have been innumerable saintly persons since the beginning of creation, whose Vedic knowledge and culture we are following.
There are also many scriptural evidences of our culture, such as the Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, Purāṇas, and Vedas. As of yet, the empires which you mention have no evidence of literatures dating from such ancient times. The scriptural literature of the Western culture is very new in comparison to that of the Indian culture. For instance, the Bible has only existed for about two thousand years, and the Koran, the scriptural text of the Mohammedans, is fairly new as well.
With regards to physical evidence, the Roman buildings are not more than five hundred to one thousand years old, whereas the bridge from India to Śrī Laṅkā, which is millions of years old, still exists as its own evidence of our civilization.
Līlānātha dāsa: From Treta-yuga.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes.
Even science has shown that remnants of the city of Dvārakā, where Kṛṣṇa personally lived in His palaces 5,000 years ago, are still present under the ocean. Present-day archaeologists have seen remnants of Dvārakā’s great opulence.
Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja: Do you know the meaning of the word gotra? Gotra means ‘family.’ Lord Brahmā [the first living being in the universe, and the great-grandfather of all other beings] had many sons, like Gautama, Atri, and Pulastya, to name a few. All of these sons were ṛṣis who were performing bhajana. The descendants of those ṛṣis are still alive, and they trace their origin to Lord Brahmā’s dynasty.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: The Vedas have been manifest in this world from time immemorial. What is Vedic knowledge? “We are spirit souls; we are not this physical body.” In no other scriptures of the world other than the Vedas is this knowledge revealed with such depth and clarity: we are soul, not this body, and there is a Supreme Lord who has a form and who has created this world.
Devotee: Right now we are living in Kali-yuga, the degraded age of quarrel and hypocrisy, so why is there a rumour in the world that human civilization is escalating to new heights of consciousness? For example, there are more vegetarians than ever before and human rights have improved. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam states that at the end of Kali-yuga men will be very small, but we see that our kids are bigger than us. Why is this so? How do we reconcile this?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: All Kali-yugas except for this particular Kali-yuga are full of innumerable sinful activities. Although this Kali-yuga is also full of sinful activities, they are less in comparison to previous Kali-yugas.
In this Kali-yuga Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, came and preached “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa.” He taught us that all beings are spirit souls and that they must have love and affection for Kṛṣṇa. We are also preaching this message in every country, and that is why this Kali-yuga is special.
Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja: This Kali-yuga is called dhanya-kali, meaning ‘blessed Kali-yuga.’
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: At the end of the other Kali-yugas, the Kalki incarnation descends and cuts off the heads of the demons, ushering in Satya-yuga again. In this Kali-yuga, Kalki will not appear.
Līlānātha dāsa: Yesterday I was reading a book by Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja, which stated that guru is nitya-siddha (an eternally perfect associate of the Lord).
My question is this: How does a guru who is not a nitya-siddha, meaning that he was not naturally inclined from birth to serve Śrī Gaurāṅga and Nityānanda, compare with a guru who is nitya-siddha?
Vrajanātha dāsa: Prabhu is saying that there are spiritual masters who have been practising Kṛṣṇa consciousness since birth, without any inclination towards anything other than kṛṣṇa-bhajana. And there are others, who were born in Western countries and who were addicted since birth to eating meat and engaging in other sinful activities. What is their position as gurus?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: The nitya-siddha guru comes from the transcendental world, and therefore he cannot help us unless he plays the role of a madhyama-adhikārī. The madhyama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava can help us:
bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ
An intermediate or second-class devotee, called madhyama-adhikārī, offers his love to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is a sincere friend to all the devotees of the Lord, shows mercy to ignorant people who are innocent, and disregards those who are envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Madhyama-adhikārīs know how to differentiate between all types of persons. They understand everyone’s qualification and disqualification.
On the other hand nitya-siddhas, having come from the transcendental world, cannot know who is happy and who is suffering. Rather, with their topmost vision, they consider that everyone is already serving Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja: What about Śrī Nārada Ṛṣi and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Nārada Ṛṣi is nitya-siddha, but he came to this world in the role of a madhyama-adhikārī, and in that way he initiated many disciples. Devotees like Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Nārada Ṛṣi, and Vyāsadeva are very rare.
An excerpt from a morning walk with Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Badger, California, on June 13, 2008, published in Walking with a Saint – Morning Walks and Conversations 2008
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: (To Śrīpāda Tridaṇḍi Mahārāja) Thank you for your good preaching. Everywhere I go I hear that your preaching is very good. Everyone is happy.
Vrajanātha dāsa: Yesterday was Sahadeva’s birthday.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Oh, yesterday? Maṅgalaṁ bhāvatu (all auspiciousness to you). Kalyāṇaṁ bhāvatu (may your true welfare manifest). Sukhī bhāvatu (may you be happy). May you be happy in this world and in the transcendental world. But where is my dakṣiṇā?
Sahadeva dāsa: I give my heart to you.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: My blessings to you.
Haridāsa dāsa: Gurudeva, my birthday was a month ago.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Maṅgalaṁ bhāvatu. Kalyāṇaṁ bhāvatu. Bhaktir bhāvatu.
But, śikhā bhāvatu also [‘may you wear a śikhā, the tuft of hair at the back of the head, signifying that one is a Vaiṣṇava’]. Without a śikhā there can be no blessings.
Haridāsa dāsa: The barber took it off. I don’t know how that happened.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: I wish to see you wearing a śikhā.
(To Īśa dāsa) Thank you for my website. So many people throughout the world are hearing my classes through our website and praising your work. All are very happy.
As the months went on and more and more walks and darśanas were edited, several of the editors began to consider removing the names of Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja’s spiritual daughters and sons who were corrected or lovingly chastised by him, worried that those devotees would be embarrassed by ‘public exposure.’ They wanted to express their concerns to him personally and did so in Delhi (March 2010). At that time Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja (addressed as ‘Śrīla Gurudeva’) directed them to be transparent and not omit anything. Here is the transcription:
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: Śrīla Gurudeva, during some of your morning walks and darśanas you lovingly chastise disciples; and sometimes, out of your compassion, you tell about the faults of certain disciples and others to the devotees present with you. Some of the editors think that these statements should not be in the book. They are concerned that, on one hand, we are supposed to quote our Gurudeva, and on the other hand we are not supposed to criticize others. If the readers see your chastisements or apparent criticisms in the book, they might also feel comfortable to criticize those same persons – or anyone else. How do we reconcile this?
Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja: If you give an example, then we can discuss [it].
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: For example, in an Alachua darśana your disciple Rūpa-kiśora dāsa asked you about the meaning of initiation, and he also told you that initiation seems sort of regimented. In your reply you told him, “I gave you initiation, but you refused to accept its significance. You have no śikhā, and now you are wearing a tie. You have heard so much hari-kathā, but everything is now spoiled. You have entered gṛhastha (married) life from the life of a brahmacārī. All right, but you must follow the Kṛṣṇa conscious principles such as waking up early in the morning, doing āhnika (utterance of the gāyatrī-mantras), reading, chanting, and preaching. Then you are a disciple. You should take off this tie, in my presence, and be my sincere disciple. Otherwise, I will tell my daughter, your wife, to reject you.”
Someone reading that quote may then tell others, “Rūpa-kiśora’s life is spoiled because he has rejected Gurudeva’s instructions.”
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: What I have told, I have told. There is no need for adjustment; nothing to ask about that. By this chastisement, he will correct himself. I gave him this good instruction for himself, as well as for others.
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: So, should we write in our Foreword to the book that the self-realized guru has a right to chastise, but others do not?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes.
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: Suppose a disciple is doing something wrong and you instruct him or chastise him for his betterment, and after that he changes for the better. Then, although he has already changed, one or two years later people may read the Morning Walks book and think, “He is doing wrong,” or “He has done wrong”?
Do we need to keep in the name of the devotee who is being corrected or chastised?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes. I have chastised disciples for those disciples’ well-being, but others should not chastise or find fault. They have no power to do so.
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: When you say ‘no power,’ do you mean that they have no power to change the person or make him Kṛṣṇa conscious, so they have no authority to criticize or chastise?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Yes.
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: Some of the editors also say that if people who have a relationship with you, and also with ISKCON, read your criticism of ISKCON’S present leaders, they may become less favourable to you.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: I don’t criticize; I tell the truth.
Śyāmarāṇī dāsī: The editors are afraid that such statements might make the ISKCON leaders and their followers complain and criticize you more.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Let them do so. I have no objection.
Excerpt of a discourse delivered by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja at Śrī Ramaṇa Bihārī Gauḍīya Maṭha on September 2, 2010, in Janak Purī, Delhi, India on the auspicious occasion of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī, Published in Rays of The Harmonist, No. 25, Tirobhāva Tithi Edition, 2011
With the purpose of cheating Śrī Bali Mahārāja, Lord Śrī Vāmana-deva [the Lord in the form of a dwarf brāhmaṇa boy] took an umbrella and wearing wooden shoes, his hair matted, went alone to the assembly of Śrī Bali Mahārāja. Bali Mahārāja and all present were moved by Śrī Vāmana-deva’s presence and rose to respectfully greet Him. Bali Mahārāja offered Him obeisances and said, “O Mahārāja, we are fortunate that today You have come to our kingdom. I am sensing that You want to ask me for something.”
“I am poor,” Śrī Vāmana-deva said, “so what need do I have to fulfil? I only desire to make one small hut in which to perform bhajana. For this purpose, the measurement of a mere three of My footsteps will suffice.”
Śrī Bali Mahārāja said, “But how much land will You be able to acquire with Your three small steps? I can give You an enormous kingdom, as well as elephants, horses and a suitable maiden to marry. Why are You only begging for three footsteps?”
Śrī Vāmanadeva replied, “No, no, I am a brāhmaṇa. The dharma of the brāhmaṇa is to be satisfied in all circumstances and to be free from excessive desires. Three footsteps of land are sufficient for Me. But you must vow that you will give Me those three footsteps, regardless of the circumstances. If you recall, your forefather Śrī Prahlāda Mahārāja venerated the brāhmaṇas and never wavered once he had given his word to them. Remember this.” In this way, Śrī Vāmana-deva began to implement His plan.
Śrī Bali Mahārāja said, “If that is Your wish, so be it. I vow that I will certainly give You three footsteps of land in all circumstances.”
Just then, Śukrācārya said, “O Bali Mahārāja, by my divine vision I have understood that this brāhmaṇa is none other than Śrī Viṣṇu. He is the demigods’ spy! Beware of Him! Do not give Him even one straw; you have no idea how He can cheat you.”
Bali Mahārāja replied, “The practice in our dynasty is that once a word is spoken, it is to be honoured in all circumstances. I cannot take back what I have said.”
These days, no one keeps their word. A person may say one thing and then change his mind the very next moment, and then again the moment after that. In this manner, one’s word is always changing, according to one’s needs at the time.
Śrī Bali Mahārāja took kuśa grass and a saṅkalpa-pātra (special pot with a spout, used when making a vow with water) and began to make his vow, but no water came out of the spout. By his mystic power, Śukrācārya had entered the saṅkalpa-pātra and blocked it. Śrī Vāmana-deva observed this and told Śrī Bali Mahārāja to bring the container to Him. Śrī Vāmana-deva then took a thin stick and sharply poked it into the spout. A flow of blood poured out from the cut eye of Śukrācārya. The blockage removed, Śrī Bali Mahārāja proceeded with his vow to give Śrī Vāmana-deva three footsteps of land.
Śrī Vāmana-deva then assumed the huge form of Trivikrama, reaching into the sky. With just one footstep He covered the planets of the demigods above the earthly realm as well as all the upper planetary systems. With His second footstep He covered the Earth planet and the seven lower planetary systems. He then asked Śrī Bali Mahārāja, “Where should I put My third step?”
Śrī Bali Mahārāja contemplated this and finally said, “Prabhu, bestow Your mercy upon me by placing Your third step on my head*. I am offering myself to You. Now, everything I have no longer belongs to me; it is all Yours! Now I will be as You wish me to be. However you want me to move and whatever You desire me to eat, drink or wear, I will do so.”
For this reason it is stated, “sarvasvātma-nivedane bali – Bali Mahārāja attained Bhagavān through ātma-samarpaṇa (full self-surrender)” (Padyāvali 53). Without ātma-samarpana, nothing has been done on this path.
Śrī Bali Mahārāja had a daughter named Ratnamālā. When Śrī Vāmana-deva had entered the assembly, a desire came to Ratnamālā’s heart that if she had a son like Him, she would certainly, with great affection, take Him on her lap and lovingly give Him her breast milk. Understanding her desire, Śrī Vāmana-deva gave her the boon that it would be fulfilled. But later, Ratnamālā saw how Śrī Vāmana-deva, a mere boy, cheated her father and stole everything from him. At that point she had a change of heart, and she thought that if He were her son, she would give Him poison to drink because there is no need for a son such as this. Śrī Vāmana-deva granted this desire also.
In Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, Śrī Bali Mahārāja’s daughter Ratnamālā came in as Pūtanā and tried to kill Kṛṣṇa by giving him poison she had smeared on her breasts. This history is explained in the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, Śrī Garga-saṁhita and other scriptures.
An excerpt from a lecture delivered by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Mahārāja on September 13, 2016, published on visuddhacaitanyavani.com
But then, Śukrācārya told Bali Mahārāja, “He is not a baṭu (dwarf), He is Bhagavān. On the pretext of begging three steps of land, He will take away everything. Then where will you reside?” Hearing this Bali Mahārāja contemplated, ‘If He is Bhagavān Himself, even without offering Him anything, He can still snatch away everything from me. So it is better for me to offer charity and assume the position of a donor.’ Just as Bali Mahārāja conveyed this decision, Vāmanadeva [assuming a very large form] covered the entire Svarga-loka (the higher planets) with His first step and with His second step He covered all the outer worlds, He then asked Bali Mahārāja, “Where shall I place My third step? You are bound by your promise, so you have to keep your word.” In fear of his defeat Bali Mahārāja looked towards his wife, Vindhyāvali, who alluded to what he should do by touching her own head, ‘You gave all your material possessions, but you have not given your very self!’ Then Bali Mahārāja surrendered his head before Vāmanadeva saying, “You may place Your foot [for Your third step] upon my head.” Vāmanadeva then manifested a third foot from His lotus navel and rested it upon the head of Bali Mahārāja.
*Note from the editor: A śikhā (or choti) is the short tuft of hair that a male devotee has at the back of the head. When Vāmana-deva [the Lord in the form of a dwarf brāhmaṇa boy] began to take His steps, He became so tall that with two steps He covered all three planetary systems and pierced the covering of the universe with the toes of His left foot. He then needed somewhere to place His foot for His third step, and Bali Mahārāja offered his head. Vāmana-deva placed His foot upon Bali Mahārāja’s head (the place where one keeps a śikhā).
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Unless indicated differently, all verse translations and quotes are from the books by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja Prabhupāda (Vedabase.com)