Bali’s myth is nested within a number of interlocking myths. His part in the story of Rama and Sita is mostly negative, as Rama has to kill him. But this is because he has turned from the very practices that made him a great king. He had a divine birth, one of miracle and magic. And that birth was set in motion by a woman sage of great power whose pronouncement stopped the sun from rising.
Bali was the son of Indra by Aruna, but Aruna was a male—the charioteer of Surya. This was a late myth that highlighted the lust of Indra and devotion to Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu. But before we can get to the gender-shifting birth of Bali and his brother, Sugriva, there is another story of the events that set this one in motion.
Silavati was a devoted wife and had acquired great power through her austerities. One night according to the wish of her leprous husband, Ugratapas, (Silavati carried him on her back to a harlot. On their way the sage Animandavya saw them and cursed Ugratapas for his lust: he would die before sunrise. (Silavati heard this and cast a spell so that the sun would not rise the following day. And the next day the sun did not rise at the right time, and the night was prolonged. Because of the magic of SSilavati, the sun continued to sleep. Aruna, the charioteer of the sun, seeing that the sun was not rising at his appointed time, thought of spending this free time watching the dance of the apsaras in the court of Indra. He went to Indra’s court disguised as a beautiful woman. But Indra noticed and was attracted by this new woman. He took her to a remote place, and out of their union was born Bali. Aruna was late getting back to Surya, so the sun was angrily waiting for him and demanded an explanation. When Aruna told the whole story, Surya became interested in seeing this female form. Aruna again became a woman for the sun and out of their union was born Sugriva.
The brothers, Bali and Sugriva, were given to one of the most pious of women, Ahalya, wife of the sage Gautama, and brought up in their hermitage. Later the monkey king, Riksha-raja, prayed to Indra for sons, and Indra brought him the divine brothers. Thus, Bali, the elder, became the king of the monkey tribe when Riksha-raja became too old to rule.
After some time Bali learned that a monkey was born of SSiva and Parvati, and he feared for his kingdom. He tried to kill that monkey, Hanuman, before he was born by pouring five molten metals into the womb of his foster mother, Anjana. But since Hanuman was conceived of the sperm of Siva, he could not be injured by heat or metal. And Hanuman’s presence protected his monkey mother as well.
Bali had been given a boon from the devas that he would receive half the strength of his opponent in battle, thus enabling him to defeat anyone he wanted. So his kingdom grew in every direction. The demon king of Lanka, Ravana, was envious and devised a plan to kill Bali. One morning as Bali did his rituals on the eastern seashore, Ravana quietly sat down behind him, planning to attack from the rear and outwit the boon from the gods. Bali pretended that he did not notice Ravana but tied him up like a bunch of sticks with his long tail. He jumped about India as usual on his way back to his kingdom. When everyone saw the demon tied up by Bali’s tail, he was laughed at and humiliated. Ravana returned to Lanka in defeat.
There is an interesting story, an excursion into magic and deceit, to explain how the two divine monkey brothers turned into blood enemies. The son of Maya, a carpenter of the demons, sought to use his abilities in magic and wrestling to defeat Bali. But when he challenged Bali in the middle of the night, Bali and his brother Sugriva chased the magician into a cave. Bali left Sugriva at the mouth of the cave with the command to seal it if red blood indicated he was killed. And if the milk of a sorcerer appeared, it would mean that Bali had succeeded. But after a year blood appeared, and Sugriva sealed the cave, returned to the monkey kingdom, and was crowned king. But the sorcerer’s magic had worked in spite of his death as his blood appeared red instead of white. Thus Bali believed that his brother had tried to kill him for the kingdom. Bali would have killed his brother, but Sugriva took refuge on a mountain that Bali could not go to because of a sage’s curse that he would meet death there. So Bali practiced rituals and austerities (tapas) on the seashores, jumping back to his kingdom in a single bound after each attack. On his way, he would kick his brother on the forbidden mountain in mid-flight. Hanuman was Sugriva’s minister, and this torture of his king troubled him. One day he leaped into the sky as Bali jumped from the sea toward the kingdom, kicking Sugriva in passing. If Hanuman could have pulled Bali into the mountain, the touch of the mountain would have ended his life and the torment of Sugriva. But Hanuman and Bali were equal in strength and finally had to make a truce.
Finally, the stage has been set for Bali to be a worthy opponent of Rama on his march to Lanka to free Sita. Rama met Sugriva, and they became allies. Sug- riva and his prime minister, Hanuman, were to help Rama attack Ravana, and Rama was to help Sugriva take back his own kidnapped wife from Bali. But Bali, the son of Indra, had such great powers that none had been able to defeat him. Sugriva had two duels with him, losing half of his energy to Bali each time, and was near death. Finally Rama killed Bali from his hiding place, robbing Ravana of a powerful ally. As he died, Bali questioned Rama’s honor as a warrior, saying that it was not right for the king of Ayodhya to kill from ambush. In each version of the story, Rama’s answer was revised. Since he was the perfect king and husband, and an incarnation of the supreme god, his answer needed to be satisfactory. But each version had attempted to solve a perceived weakness in his character and his divinity. Rama had done what was needed: Bali could not be defeated in direct combat and needed to be punished for violating his dharma by stealing Sugriva’s wife. So Rama had killed him by the only method that was available to him. But such a utilitarian justification of his actions was not an ideal solution, which sought glorifications of dharma and honor.
After Bali was killed by Shri Rama, the kingdom was given to Sugriva, and Rama proceeded to Lanka to attack Ravana.