Like Prahlāda, Bali is another great name among the asuras or demons who were devotees of Lord Viṣṇu. Actually, he was the grandson of the former and the son of Virocana. After losing his life in a battle with Indra, the king of devas or gods, he was revived by his guru Śukrācārya. He then performed severe austerities, got some divine weapons and then usurped svarga, the Kingdom of Indra, after worsting him in the battle. When the gods appealed to Lord Viṣṇu to restore their domain back to them, Viṣṇu incarnated himself as Vāmana, the Dwarf, approached Bali, who was well-known as extraordinarily generous, for a gift of land and occupied all the three worlds in the process of receiving it. He also pushed Bali down into the nether world and restored to Indra and the gods, their lost svarga. Bali became the Indra later, in another cycle of creation, known as Sāvarṇika Manvantara. He is listed among the eight cirajīvins (those who are immortal).
‘Bali’ is a technical term used for an offering of grain or cooked rice to certain gods, household divinities, spirits, animals and even lifeless objects that form a part of the householder’s life. The bali offerings are thrown, in the mornings, in the direction of the four cardinal points or into the fire. Some of the offerings are placed near the main door, in water, in the pestle and mortar, near the bed, and so on. In the evenings bali is offered to the spirits that roam about at night.
Bali also means the tax collected by the king.
The word is also used to signify the living beings offered in sacrifice to fierce deities like Durgā and Kālī, as also in certain Vedic sacrifices like Paśubandha.
The spread of Hindu culture in the South East Asian countries like Malaya, Java, Sumatra, Bali and Cambodia must have started as early as the 1st century of the Christian era, if not earlier. Quite a few of the kingdoms there were established by Hindu kings from India. Along with them, as also the traders who preceded them, came Hindu religion and culture including the Sanskrit language.
The Bālī island (called Balidvīpa in ancient texts) (also spelt as Bali) which is a part of the present Indonesia and is situated very near the much bigger Java, is still a citadel of Hindu religion and culture. Its area is 5623 sq.kms. and the population, 2.1 millions. It is an island full of hills and forests and includes a volcano which sometimes gets active.
The people follow Hindu religion quite actively. They believe in gods, spirits and other supernatural beings and their influence on human life. Appeasing these through yajñas (sacrifices) is a common feature of their religion. The sacraments of jātakarma, nāmakaraṇa, upanayana and vivāha, to be performed at the time of birth, initiation and marriage are also observed. Worship of God as the family deity is common in all the houses. Animal sacrifices to appease terrible deities like Durgā or certain demons are also common. The few rivers of the island have been named as Sindhū, Gaṅgā and Kāverī though their waters are not considered as sacred. The caste system is very much prevalent and the brāhmaṇa has an important place in all religious activities. Influence of the Sanskrit language is also clearly seen.