Though small of stature, Vamana, the Fifth Avatar of Vishnu, should never be underestimated. His harsh lessons in humility have shamed even the proudest of kings.
The demon king, Bali, was fair and righteous, yet for all his virtues, Bali was extremely proud and driven by fierce ambition. After conquering the Underworld and all the Earth, Bali managed to wrest the Heavens from the God Indra. Unable to reclaim his seat, Indra implored Vishnu for aid, and so Vishnu took the form of a small mortal man, a priest named Vamana.
In his splendid palace, Bali was giving gifts to the pious. Vishnu, disguised as the monk Vamana and carrying a wooden umbrella, requested only as much land as he could cover in three steps. Bali offered Vamana an island but Vamana stuck to his request, which Bali granted against the wishes of his advisor. Immediately, Vamana grew to cosmic proportions, crashing through the ceiling of the palace and filling the sky. With one colossal step, he engulfed all the Earth and the Underworld. With a second step, he consumed the heavens. Now, with everything under his two feet, Vamana had nowhere to place his third step. He challenged Bali to go back on his word or offer somewhere else for him to step. Bali's demon army surged forth, but the demon king held them back. Bowing in humility, Bali offered his head as the third step. Vamana sends Bali to the underworld but in recognizing Bali's benevolence, shows mercy by granting him sovereignty over it in appreciation of Bali's sacrifice.
Vishnu returned control of the Heavens to Indra and left his Avatar behind, but he also left behind a valuable lesson. Even the mightiest and most arrogant of kings can be humbled by the smallest of men.