The literal meaning of the word ‘bala’ is ‘strength.’ However, the word is often used in a metaphorical sense, as for instance in statements like ‘dhigbalaṁ kṣattriyabalaṁ brahmatejobalaṁ balam;’ (‘Fie be unto the power of the kṣattriya! The power of lustre of Brahman is verily the power!’). There are other interesting statements such as: vāṇijya (trade) is the bala of a vaiśya; yuddha (war) is the bala of a kṣattriya; dhana (wealth) is the bala of a rich man; rodana (crying) is the bala of a child; anṛta (falsehood) is the bala of thieves; Paramātman (God) is the bala of devotees and so on.
Works on Hindu political science like the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya (300 B.C.) declare that a rājya or state is constituted by seven elements like svāmin (ruler or sovereign), amātya (minister), janapada or rāṣṭra (the territory of the State and its people) and so on. Daṇḍa or bala (armed forces) is one of these seven constituents.
Most of the ancient and early medieval works state that a big army should consist of four constituents; hence the name ‘caturaṅga-bala,’ ‘armed forces with four parts’. They are hasti (elephants), aśva (horses), ratha (chariots) and padāti (foot-soldiers).
The works also mention six kinds of troops: maula (hereditary troops), bhṛta or bhṛtaka (mercenary troops), śreṇi (guild troops), mitra (troops of an ally), amitra (troops that once belonged to an enemy) and aṭavī or āṭavika (wild tribes as troops). The earlier varieties of troops are superior to the later ones.
The Mahābhārata declares that out of the several balas of a king like bāhubala (brute force), dhanabala (power of wealth), amātyabala (power due to the right type of ministers) and so on, prajñābala (power of wisdom) is the greatest (Udyogaparva 37.52-55).
Balarāma, Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother is also known as Bala. (For details see BALARĀMA.)
Worship of Śakti or the Mother Goddess is a very ancient practice in India. Of the several aspects of the Divine Mother Pārvatī, Lalitā or Lalitā-Tripurasundarī is very important and popular. Bālā (also called Bālā-Tripurasundarī) is an aspect of this Lalitā. Sometimes she is described as the daughter of Lalitā who helped her to destroy the army of the demon Bhaṇḍāsura.
As her very name suggests, Bālā is pictured as an eternal girl of nine years. Iconographical works describe her as red in colour like hibiscus flower. She has four arms carrying akṣamālā (rosary), pāśa (noose), aṇkuśa (goad) and pustaka (book).
Bālā is specially worshipped, by those desiring psychic powers.
See also LALITĀ.