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Ulagalanda Perumal means ‘Lord who measured the universe’. Trivikrama or Vamana manifestation of Vishnu is so called in Tamil.
This is a beautiful statue created after the deity of Ulagalanda Perumal Koil at Singanallur in Tamil Nadu (Koil is a Tamil term meaning ‘residence of God’). Here Vishnu as Trivikrama is seen eight-armed holding various weapons and one leg raised up towards the sky to measure the worlds.
This beautiful statue depicts the moment when Vamana became Virat (immense) and raised his leg to take his first stride.
Ulagalanda Perumal is eight-armed and bears chakra (disc), khadga (sword), bana (arrow) in his three right hands while his fourth hand is raised in abhayahasta pose granting fearlessness to the gods. In his left hands he holds shankha (conch), khetaka (shield; not visible in the image), dhanush (bow) and his fourth hand with its index finger raised is counting his first stride.
His left leg is raised in a stride and right leg stands on two hands of Bali, which is an artistic way of depicting how Ulagalanda Perumal crushed Bali’s ego and also blessed him for his devotion and integrity.
The tale is that asura king Bali, grandson of the great Vishnu-devotee Prahlad, performed the Vishwajit yagna (sacrifice) with a firm vow of giving away whatever was asked of him by any brahmin. He thereby assumed boundless power and glory and subsequently displaced the gods off their positions in swargam (heaven). The gods were rendered powerless and vanished to hide away. Seeing the plight of gods their mother Aditi performed a severe thirteen-day fast as advised by her husband rishi Kashyap; to please Vishnu.
On the thirteenth day Vishnu appreared to her and blessed her that he would be born as her son and shall rid the gods, her sons, of their woes.
Vishnu was then born to Aditi and was named Vamana since he grew up with stunted height. Later on Vamana went over to the yagnashala of Bali and requested alms. When Bali asked him what he wanted Vamana requested just as much land he could measure with his three steps.
Bali granted so and coaxed him to ask for more but when Vamana remained fixated on his request and Bali proceeded to pledge, his guru Shukracharya intervened and warned Bali that it was Vishnu himself who was seeking alms disguised as Vamana. He told Bali to refuse him this or any further request. Bali however remained adamant to fulfil his promise. Shukracharya tried to obstruct the ritual of giving by becoming a worm and blocking the orifice of the pot through which Bali was to pledge the said land to Vamana by pouring water over his hand. Vamana however divined this and he cleared the orifice with a straw thereby causing Shukracharya to lose one of his eyes.
The moment Bali ritualistically pledged to give Vamana the land worth his three strides, he grew to cosmic proportions. He seemed to pervade the entire universe with his form. Heavenly bodies like the sun, planets etc. seemed like gems on his form. He then started measuring.
With one stride Vamana measured the entire earth with regions under it and which another he measured the sky and heaven. There was no place left for him to place his third foot. Then, to fulfil his promise to Vamana Bali requested him to end his third stride on his head since his body was still his to offer.
Vamana did so and crushed Bali to nether regions which were the rightful abode of the asuras. Henceforth Vishnu also came to be known as Trivikrama for vikrama means valour and that was what Sri Vishnu showed thrice when he took his three strides.
However pleased with Bali’s devotion, integrity and steadfastness Vamana granted him kingship of the netherworld and promised him that he would personally protect his kingdom as his guard. He also blessed Bali that he would become the Indra for the next manvantara (a Hindu measurement of cosmic time).