Stories of Mahabali and Osiris

V. Krishnakumar, N. M. Krishnakumar

The other important story that matches the story of Osiris is that of Mahabali. Osiris was killed by Seth and displaced to the netherworld where a fair judgment made him the lord of the netherworld [1]. Mahabali was also pushed to the netherworld and was made its lord by one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu called Ulagam-Alanda-Perumal (UAP), meaning ‘the god who measured the universe’. He is also called Trivikrama/Vamana. We find several interesting similarities between the two stories, which are as follows:

  1. Seth pushed Osiris to the ground in an encounter; in this encounter Seth “wrongly” claimed that Osiris kicked him. It is said that Seth trampled on Osiris [28] (p.192). This is similar to UAP actually stamping on the head of Mahabali and pushing him to the netherworld. That is, we are comparing Mahabali to Osiris and UAP to Seth.
  2. In the netherworld, Seth ultimately guards the door of Osiris [1]. It is said that Seth took the shape of a composite animal with a crocodile head, body of a lion and the hinder parts of the hippopotamus [1]. Mahabali requests Vishnu to guard his door in the netherworld for which the latter accepts [96, 138]. It is interesting to note that similar composite animals called Yali, guard the doors of temples in South India. Yalis are exceptionally common in Vijaynagara temple constructions. Also they are shown on either side of Vishnu and Shiva in panels in Hoysala temples. See the subsection on Yali below for a detailed account.
  3. Seth grew into a gigantic red hippopotamus in the final battle with Horus [1]. Vishnu grew into a gigantic figure before pushing Mahabali into netherworld. Interestingly, Seth has a “true name” which is “a man of an infinite number of cubits” [87], this again shows that he represents UAP.
  4. According to [13], Draupadi is claimed to be the sister of ‘Maayan who measured’. Maayan has three meanings namely Lord Vishnu, ‘the dark one’ and ‘the deceitful’ [13]. The measuring Lord Vishnu is UAP whom we have mapped to Seth. Also Vishnu is dark; and he deceived Mahabali and pushed him to the netherworld. Seth too is deceitful [1]. We have shown in an earlier article that Draupadi is the counterpart of Isis; and she is Seth’s sister. Thus Draupadi and her brother Maayan map to Isis and her brother Seth.


According to [1], ” Eater of the Dead” is a creature found in the netherworld at times identified with Seth. It is a composite animal with the head of a crocodile, the trunk of a lion and the hinder parts of a hippopotamus. There was a difference of opinion regarding its function. Some believed that, it will punish the dead who have not been good enough, while others believed that it was just a guardian to the entrance of the netherworld [1]. We have shown that Seth maps to the door-keeper of Mahabali, who is Lord Vishnu. Also, in Indian temples one finds the guarding animal at the door namely Yali, which is a composite animal having lion’s body and head of crocodile, elephant and so on. For images see [71].

It may be noted that, Seth guarding the doors of the Lord is a more general concept. Thus, Nandi guarding Lord Shiva’s doors can also map to this. This is because, Seth is also represented by a ram headed man [5].

We see two types of mythical animals, which are combinations of lion and human follows:

  • One with a lion head and a human body:
  1. Lord Narasimha in Vaishnava tradition
  2. God Bes in Egypt with a human body and somewhat lion-like face
  • The other with a lion’s body and a human face:
  1. Sphinx in Egypt
  2. Purushamriga in India, see for detailed discussion [130,131]: The Purushamriga at the entrance of Chidambaram Shiva temple mentioned in this reference maps to Seth, since it is the door-keeper of the lord.
  3. Manussiha in Burma placed at four corners of Stupa in order to protect the royal baby from Ogresses [128]
  4. Interestingly, the image called Narasimha itself in Sri Lanka [128]
  5. Nora Nair and Thep Norasing in Thailand. They are protective in nature [128,129]
  6. The mythical animals that inhabit sacred mountains called Himapan [128,129]


The story of Lord Narasimha as protective god can be related to the Egyptian Bes who protects children [5]. Lord Narasimha protecting Prahlada can be an expansion of this idea. Bes being identified with Horus makes Narasimha part of the Osiris tradition with Seth being the opponent. The other mythical form with human face protecting pyramids can be a representation of Seth, quite similar to the concept of Seth guarding the doors of Osiris, as mentioned in an earlier article. Its Indian counterpart Purushamriga or Sharabha will kill Narasimha when he went on rampage: this should be the version of the Seth followers in India.

However the Burmese counterpart of Sphinx that is Manussiha represents both: it protects the royal baby as did Lord Narasimha in India, whereas as a counterpart of Seth who guards Osiris in the netherworld, he protects Stupa, which contains the relics of Buddhist saints. The concept Manussiha guarding the Stupa is thus similar to Sphynx guarding pyramids with king’s relics. It looks natural that while the Egyptian king is viewed as the religious leader and a manifestation of god Horus when alive and god Osiris after death [1], the Buddhist saints are viewed as manifestations of Buddha himself. Further the Tibetan king is also the religious leader and an incarnation of Buddha.

Finally there is another interesting reference to Purushamriga where it chases Bhima, in fact the claim is that when Bhima turns back, he sees the Purushamriga just behind him. The context is that, Bhima was bringing Saughandika flower desired by Draupadi, before they go incognito. This story somewhat resembles the following Egyptian story: Seth chases Horus who was running away into the desert carrying the head of his dead mother, the claim is, when he turns back he sees Seth chasing him [132].  We have already mapped Seth to Putushamriga and Horus to a Pandava in general. There is a celebration called Shiva-Ottam in Kanyakumari where Purushamriga chasing Bhima is enacted by the devotees [128]. This may actually commemorate the above Egyptian story.

Final Conclusion:

The story of Mahabali and Trivikrama has its origin in Osiris story. Mahabali and Trivikrama are the Indian counterparts of Osiris and Seth. The concept of Yali in India comes from Seth in the netherworld.


[1] J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, A study in Magic and Religion, 3rd Edition, Macmillan and Co. London, 1914

[5] Richard H Wilkinson, The Complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London, 2003

[13] Alf Hiltebeitel, The Cult of Draupadi, MLBD, New Delhi, 1991

[28] Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, USA, 2004









[138] Satya Prakash Bahadur, Complete Works of Gosvami Tulsidas, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1994


Previous                                                  Index                                                                        Next


One Response to Mahabali

  1. Narasimha says:

    Hi I like this

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s