This mural is to be found in one of the winding back lanes of Assi Ghat, the southernmost part of the city of Varanasi. It is just off the Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Rd (the large road running up along the left edge of the map). If you are interested in visiting, take the second lane to your right, moving north away from Assi Ghat.

Next to the lovely painting of Krishna and one of his conquests are two lines taken from the Matsyapurana, a mythological poem about king Manu, the first of the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu. The lines are so called shlokas, a metre consisting of two half-lines, each containing 16 syllables, each of which has a medial caesura (a place before which a word boundary should end), after 8 syllables, giving a shloka the metrical structure: half-line 1: 8 / 8; half-line 2: 8 / 8. The two shlokas in the mural are lines 10 and 11 of chapter 102 of the Matsyapurana.

अश्वक्रान्ते रथक्रान्ते विष्णुक्रान्ते वसुन्धरे । मृत्तिके हर मे पापं यन्मया पूर्वकसंचितम् ।।

उद्धृतासि वराहेण कृष्णेन शतबाहुना । त्वया हतेन पापेन गच्छामि परमां गतिम् ।।

Oh horse-trodden, chariot-trodden, Vishnu-trodden receptacle of wealth! Earth! Take from me the long-accumulated sins.

You are supported by the dark, hundred handed boar. When you have removed my sins, I shall reach the supreme mode of existence.

The boar in the second line is another, the third, incarnation of Vishnu. But why is the earth called Vishnu-trodden? This alludes to a mythical tale about king Bali, son of Virocana, who defeated all the gods in battle and thus became owner of the three worlds. Although in possession of the entire universe, Bali was no niggard. He ceaselessly dispensed wealth to all those who came to him. Seeing this, the gods realised that his generosity could be used against him and they hatched a plan to send Vishnu to Bali in the form of a dwarf. Why a dwarf? Well, when the Vishnu got to Bali in his vānara incarnation (the Sanskrit word for dwarf) he asked for as much land as he could cover with three strides, Bali, generous as ever, agreed, at which Vishnu strode over all the three worlds, thus getting back the worlds for the king of the gods Indra. One version of this tale is found in chapter 28 of the Bālakāṇḍa, the first book of the Ramayaṇa, where in lines 10 and 11 it is said:

त्रीन्क्रमानथ भिक्षित्वा प्रतिगृह्य च मानद:।
आक्रम्य लोकाँल्लोकात्मा सर्वभूतहिते रत:।।
महेन्द्राय पुन: प्रादान्नियम्य बलिमोजसा।
त्रैलोक्यं स महातेजाश्चक्रे शक्रवशं पुन:।।

When the giver of honour had asked for three steps, got them, and, soul of the world delighting in the good of all creatures, stepped over the worlds, forcibly tying down Bali, he gave the three worlds back to great Indra and, being of splendour, made them once more subject to the will of the powerful one.

Silvio Zinsstag,

teacher for ancient languages