(Click to enlarge image of the 12 Mahajans—description below)
"Question 3, answer: Why Bali Maharaja is considered a Mahajan: Bali Maharaj is Mahajan because he wanted to serve Visnu by disobeying his non-bona fide spiritual master. As explained above, Sukracarya was hereditary spiritual master by seminic succession. But Bali Maharaj first revolted against this stereotyped seminic succession spiritual master, and therefore he is Mahajan. Srila Jiva Goswami has described in his Karamasandharvha that one should be anxious to accept a spiritual master who is bonafide in spiritual knowledge. And if need be one should relinquish the connection of hereditary spiritual master and accept a real bonafide spiritual master. So when Sukaracharya advised him contrary to his previous instructions, specifically, he checked Bali Maharaj in the matter of worshiping Visnu, and thus Sukaracharya became at once fallen down from the position of becoming a spiritual master. Nobody can become a spiritual master who is not a devotee of Visnu. A brahmana may be very expert in the matter of performing Vedic rituals, accepting charities, and distributing wealth—all these are exalted qualifications of the brahmanas, but the Vedic injunction is, in spite of possessing all these qualities, if somebody is against Lord Visnu, he cannot be a spiritual master. So when Sukaracharya advised Bali Maharaj against Visnu, he at once became unqualified for becoming a spiritual master. Bali Maharaj disobeyed such unqualified spiritual master, and therefore, he is accepted as Mahajan. Mahajan means a personality whose footprints should be followed. So, his exemplary behavior in rejecting a non-Vaisnava spiritual master being ideal to the bona fide students, he is considered a Mahajan."
(Srila Prabhupada Letter, July 3, 1968)
The 12 Mahajans—great authorized devotees—shown above are as follows:
Top row (L-R): Brahma, Siva, Sukadeva Goswami, Prahlad, Narada, Janaka
Bottom row (L-R): The four Kumaras, Kapila, Svayambhuva Manu, Bhisma, Bali, Yamaraja