For what fault or great sin did Vishnu punish Mahabali by pushing him to Pathala?
Mahabali was known to be a pious person, even direct paternal grandson his great devotee Prahlad , a king kind to his people whom he ruled very well.

As per the declaration - "Yada Yada hi Dharmasya Glanir Bhavathi Bharatha, Abhyuthanamadharmasya Tadatmanam SrijanyaAham'."

The God takes self-birth Avatars to destroy evil sinners and re-establish dharmic order. But Mahabali Emperor had no bad track record, even was directly blessed by Vamana himself before deportation to Pathala and so on, then what was the cause or provocation?

  • Good Q. In sloka "SAdhu = Follower of SwaDharma, DushkrutAm = Non-follower of SwaDharma". SwaDharma is too personal & best known to self. We can't be judgemental if someone is following it or not just by one's activities. Attachment causes "sin", hence IMO Punya is special case of PApa. May be Bali was too attached to his pious activities. His devotion brought God to incarnate & detach him from what he stood for. The imbalance in Dharma would have happened as: Imagine a rich businessman with his humility & donation creates a parallel govt., which challenges country's sovereignty. – iammilind Feb 10 '16 at 5:38
  • Question is (God forgive!) where was that exceedingly good power threatening situation? Was it like "holier than thou" process of elimination to retain supremacy being unwilling to share with a future Rakshas potential threat and pre-emptying it perhaps as Vishnu saw that evil could resurface after three or four generations? After all Prahlad had prenatal indoctrination of the Bhakthi seeded from Narada.. – Narasimham Feb 10 '16 at 6:11
  • Daityas are not always RAkshashas. Indra & VAmana were sons of Aditi & Bali's great-grandpa Hiranyakashipu was son of Diti. Both were wives of Kashyapa. VAmana & Bali were blood related. But neither animosity nor power struggle nor future threat can be reason. Without claiming it as original reason, I can just speculate that: Bali might have been attached for what he was or did. Any attachment is bound to break, in this life or later. VAmana made it easy for Bali being a devotee in that life itself. Other words: Consumer God in Bali asked this to the Supplier God in VAmana. – iammilind Feb 10 '16 at 6:41
  • @Narasimham - Please may I know Where is mentioned that Lord Vamana pushed Balimaharaja to paathaala ? – Vishu Feb 10 '16 at 13:52
  • In Srimad Bhagavatha Puranam. It was VAmana Avatar's sole purpose. – Narasimham Feb 11 '16 at 9:50

But the Mahabali Emporor had no bad track record

This does not seems to be the case.

As per Bhagwat Purana, below situation is mentioned:

Bali Mahārāja, after offering obeisances to Prahlāda, the brāhmaṇas and his spiritual master, Śukrācārya, equipped himself to fight with Indra and went to Indrapurī with his soldiers.Blowing his conchshell, he attacked the outskirts of Indra’s kingdom.

So, basically, he was attacking and trying to acquire the property/wealth of Indra, by force. That does not seems like a good quality.

Also as you mentioned, King Mahabali was a generous man who won the praise of the world.

But the flip side of this is mentioned in Wikipedia:

This praise, from his courtiers and others, led him to think of himself as the greatest person in the world. He believed that he can help any one and can donate whatever they ask. Even though he became benevolent, he became pompous of his activities and forgot that the almighty is above him.

Bali become proud of his possessions(again, not the best of the qualities) as identified and explicitly spelled in S.B.8.21.34

vipralabdho dadāmīti  tvayāhaṁ cāḍhya-māninā tad vyalīka-phalaṁ bhuṅkṣva  nirayaṁ katicit samāḥ

Meaning: Being falsely proud of your possessions, you promised to give Me land, but you could not fulfill your promise. Therefore, because your promise was false, you must live for a few years in hellish life.

After gaining all the strength, he become a threat to universe itself, as mentioned in Bhagwat Purana, S.B.8.15.26:

nainaṁ kaścit kuto vāpi  prativyoḍhum adhīśvaraḥ pibann iva mukhenedaṁ  lihann iva diśo daśa dahann iva diśo dṛgbhiḥ  saṁvartāgnir ivotthitaḥ

Meaning: No one anywhere can counteract this military arrangement of Bali’s. It now appears that Bali is trying to drink up the entire universe with his mouth, lick up the ten directions with his tongue, and raise fire in every direction with his eyes. Indeed, he has arisen like the annihilating fire known as saṁvartaka.

Now, of course, with this kind of situation, As per "Yada yada hi dharmasya glani.." declaration the God takes self-birth Avatars to destroy evil sinners and re-establish dharmic order.

Hence, Vamana Avatar.

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    Please may I know Where is mentioned that Lord Vamana pushed Balimaharaja to paathaala ? – Vishu Feb 10 '16 at 13:53

Shukracharya recognized Vamana as Lord Vishnu himself.So he tried to dissuade King Bali from fulfilling his promise. Shukracharya was aware that Lord Vamana would cover Bali's entire kingdom (the universe) with two steps, not leaving any space for a third step. Bali rejected his guru's advice because it contradicted with the principle of Dharma.

Bali Maharaja said, "I do not fear hell, poverty, an ocean of distress, falldown from my position, or even death itself as much as I fear cheating a brahmana."

On hearing this, Shukracharya curse that he would suffer in hell for disobeying his Guru's words.

There is also an another reason for King Bali's abandonment form earth.When Vamanadeva had appeared in the womb of Aditi, Prahlada(Grandfather of King Bali) had warned Bali that the Lord would soon defeat the demons and return the heavens to the demigods.

Bali had arrogantly said, "Who is this Vishnu compared to my demon warriors?"

Upon hearing this, Prahlada had him: "How can you speak like this? I curse you to lose your prestigious position and your kingdom and will be banished from earth,for you have insulted my worshipable Lord Vishnu." Infact the story of Mahabali is an example of total surrender and true devotion.

Further Vamana justifies his action of punishing Bali for removing Indra from his position before the expiry of his tenure.(Dialogue between Banasura,son of King Bali and Lord Vamana)

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