Many, many years ago, a king named Manu had been performing severe austerities for thousands of years. One day, he was by a river when a very small fish came to him and asked for protection. Manu, who had never met a talking fish before, placed the fish in a jar. As time passed, the fish grew bigger and bigger and soon, it was a bit too big for the jar. So Manu put the fish into the river. But the fish got too big for the river, so he moved him to the Ganges… The fish soon grew too big for that also, and so Manu threw him into the ocean. But the fish got bigger still!
Suspecting that there was something fishy going on, Manu thought and thought. And he thought some more. Until one night, he dreamt that the big fish was Lord Vishnu, who said to him, “Manu, the world is going to suffer a great flood. You must build a ship and in this great ship you must place the seeds of all plants, animals of every kind and the seven sages. I will rescue you.”
Manu did as he was told, and in seven days the world was covered with water. The great big fish tied Manu’s boat to his back and swam up-river to the highest point — Mt Himavan. They stayed there till the flood subsided and then they built a new world filled with the riches of the old world — and some knowledge they had gained on the mountain.
The asuras and the devas both wanted the nectar of immortality. So, one day they decided to churn the ocean, using Mt Mandara as a churning stick and the serpent, Vasuki, as the rope.
Indra, the king of the gods, decided to play a trick on the asuras – he asked them for that end of the ‘churning rope’ which was Vasuki’s head. The asuras, suspecting Indra of cheating, took the head instead. Just as Indra had hoped, the asuras got progressively weaker from the poison spewed bythe mighty serpent.
As they churned, the great mountain began to sink, so Vishnu took the form of a very large turtle and kept the mountain afloat.
Finally, after much heaving, sighing and churning, the Nectar of Immortality began to rise. The asuras tried to grab it for themselves.
But Vishnu quickly assumed the form of a beautiful apsara and seduced the asuras into letting her distribute the nectar. She served the devas first and then she disappeared, leaving the poor asuras weak and mortal.
A demon named Hiranyaksha spent many days and many nights praying to Lord Brahma. Finally Lord Brahma granted him a boon — that Hiranyaks could never be killed by man, god or beast. But as with all boons, this one too had a small loophole. Hiranyaksha, so full of pride and greed, began his onslaught on the worlds, and pushed the earth into the underbelly of the ocean. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he stole the Vedas from under Brahma’s nose while he was asleep.
The gods were now terrified and urged Lord Vishnu to reincarnate in the form of a boar (one of the animals Hiranyaksha had forgotten to add to his list). Vishnu took the form of a boar and, using his mighty tusks, brought the earth back from the ocean’s depths. He killed Hiranyaksha and retrieved the Vedas, and peace was restored.
A young man called Prahlada was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. His father, meanwhile, was not. In fact, his father had meditated for years on end only to be granted a boon that he would never grow old, would never be killed by man or beast and would not be killed in either darkness or light.
Furious with Prahlada’s devotion, the mighty and evil king tried endlessly to get rid of his son. He even went to the extent of putting him and his sister Holika onto a burning pyre. But Prahlada remained unhurt.
Finally, after his patience had been tested long enough, he asked Prahlada where Vishnu was.
“He is everywhere,” replied the quiet Prahlada.
“Is he in this pillar?” shouted the evil king, knocking down a pillar that was neither inside nor outside the palace.
Suddenly, there emerged from the pillar a creature that was half man and half lion, at a time that was neither day nor night. It was Narasimha, the fourth avatara of Vishnu. Being neither man nor beast, he killed the evil king on the threshold of the palace, neither indoors nor out, in the time between light and darkness.
Bali was a mighty asura who conquered the world. Indra and the other gods grew quite afraid of him, and feared that he would take over all three worlds. They went to Lord Vishnu for help.
Vishnu was born into a Brahmin’s house as their dwarf son, Vamana. When Vamana grew up, he went to Bali to ask for alms. Bali was pleased when he saw the dwarf, (and slightly amused as well) and so he promised him anything he wanted.
“Your highness, I want nothing, just the amount of land that I can cover in three strides.”
Seeing Vamana’s tiny little legs, Bali allowed the little Brahmin to take three steps.
Vamana grew and grew until he was as large as the world. With two strides, he had covered both heaven and earth. Not having any place to take his third step, he placed his foot on Bali’s head and crushed him.