(Last Updated on : 28/02/2013)
In the basic Hindu Trinity of Vishnu
, Incarnations of Vishnu also known as Dasavatara mentions about the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaaha, Narasimha , Vaamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.
In popular mythology, Vishnu has a lotus
growing form his navel upon which sits Brahma; perpetually involved in the actions of the cosmos he has created. Vishnu is also depicted as a handsome young man, dressed in royal robes and being either dark blue or black in complexion. In his four hands he holds a conch
shell or Shanka called Panchajaya, the fiery discus weapon called the Sudarshana charka made from the rays of the sun, a mace called Kaumodaki, and the fourth hand holding a lotus or Padma. His bow is called Sarnga and his sword Nandaka. One of the peculiar identifying marks of Vishnu is that his chest has a curl of hair called the sri-vasta. Vishnu is often represented resting on the coiled serpent Shesha, with his consort Goddess Lakshmi
massaging his feet. Vishnu never sleeps and is the deity of Shanti, the peaceful mood.
speak of the ten avatars of Vishnu. These incarnations detail the divine help given by Vishnu during various stages of human evolution, by appearing on earth in different forms. The ten most famous incarnations of Vishnu are collectively known as the 'Dasavatara.' The Bhagavad Gita
mentions their purpose to demonstrate that divinity re-establishes Dharma or righteousness and destroys injustice from time to time, by appearing on earth in various incarnations. This list is included in the Garuda Purana
and denotes those avatars most prominent in terms of their influence on human society.
The majority of avatars in this list of ten are categorised as 'lila-avatars' and the first four are said to have appeared in the Krita Yuga
. The next three avatars appeared in the Treta Yuga
, the eighth incarnation in the Dwapara Yuga and the ninth in the Kali Yuga
. The tenth is predicted to appear at the end of the Kali Yuga in some 427,000 years time. The ten avataras are Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaaha (boar), Narasimha (the man lion), Vaamana (the dwarf), Parasurama (the angry man), Rama (the perfect human), Balarama and Krishna (the divine statesman). The 10th avatar, which is yet to appear, is Kalki.
This was the form of the fish, taken up by Vishnu during a deluge that submerged the earth. Matsya is generally represented as a four-armed figure with the upper torso of a man and the lower of a fish. According to a legend, Vishnu commanded a rishi to gather together samples of all species and wait in a boat. The gigantic golden fish then dragged the boat through the deluge and then enabled Brahma to start the act of creation all over again.
In this incarnation, Lord Vishnu took the form of a tortoise. According to this legend, the Gods and Demons united in their efforts to churn the celestial ocean of milk, in the quest of Amrit. This mammoth task was carried out with the Mandara Mount as the churning stick and the mythological snake Vasuki as the rope. Thus, Lord Vishnu incarnated himself as the Kurma (the tortoise) in order to support the mount Mandara, which started sinking during the churning of the ocean. Thus, the Kurma sat on the bottom of the ocean with a mountain, being placed on his back by the other gods so that the gods and demons could churn the sea and find the ancient treasures of the Vedic people.
Varaha is the third avatar of Vishnu, who appeared in order to defeat the demon Hiranyaksha
. Varaha is depicted in art as either purely animal or as having a boars head on a mans body. In the latter form he has four arms, two of which hold the wheel and conch-shell while the other two hold a mace, sword or lotus or make a gesture of blessing. The Earth is held between the boar's tusks.
Since, the demon had taken the earth and carried it to the bottom of the cosmic ocean, the Lord killed the demon and lifted the earth out of the flood waters in which it had been submerged. He lifted the Bhoomi Devi (Earth), between his tusks and restored it to its place in the universe. This may be a symbolic representation of the resurrection of the world from the deluge of sin by the power of the Supreme Being and the establishment of a new cosmic cycle. Later, Vishnu married Bhoomi Devi in this avatar.
A combination of man and lion, Narasimha represents another form of Vishnu. He is in the form of half-man and half-lion, having a human torso and lower body, but with a lion-like face and claws. When Prahlada
, the great devotee of Vishnu was being severely tortured by his father, the demon Hiranyakashipu
, Vishnu appeared as Narasimha (man-lion) emerging out of the pillar shown by Hiranyakasipu and killed him. Thus, in this avatar, Vishnu demonstrated his omnipresence in a powerful way. Narsimha is especially the embodiment of valour, which is a divine attribute and hence worshipped by rulers and warriors.
The next incarnation of Vishnu is Vamana (the dwarf). This is his fifth Avatara and the first incarnation of the Second Age, or Treta Yuga. Also he is the first Avatar of Vishnu, which appears with a completely human form, though it was that of a dwarf Brahmin
. He is also sometimes known as Upendra. He took this form to destroy the demon Bali
. Bali, a demon, achieved supernatural power by asceticism and he had snatched Indra's authority over the heavens by his power.
To protect the world, Vishnu appeared before him in the form of Vamana, carrying a wooden umbrella during a sacrifice where the latter was distributing gifts of the seeker's choice, to show his power of wealth. Here, Vamana requested three steps of land for him to live in. Bali then granted Vishnu as much land as he could cover in three steps, much against the warning given by his Guru Sukracharya.
All of a sudden he assumed the massive form of Trivikrama, dominating the universe; with his first foot he covered the earth, with the second the heavens. When there was no room for the third, Bali, who never went back on his word offered his head and with the third, he pushed down Bali to the pathala (netherworld) and gave him immortality for his benevolence. Hence he is also known as Trivikrama, one who encompassed the world with three big steps.
Vishnu then took up the form of Parasurama, who was the sixth Avatara born as the son of the sage-couple, Jamadagni and Renuka. This avatar was to quell the arrogance of the Kshatriya rulers who harmed the sages and unprotected mortals. He exterminated the tyrannical among the Kshatriyas led by Kartavirya, who were oppressing
In Hinduism, he is considered to be the Seventh Avatar of Vishnu and an important manifestation of God. Rama or Ram was also referred as Ramachandra and
honorifically as Sri Rama, is a legendary/historical king of ancient India. Vishnu came in the form of Rama to rescue the world from the demon, Ravana
Ram's purpose was to ensure that justice and peace (dharma) ruled. He is the hero of the epic Ramayana
, and he is regarded as an example of morality and virtue. Rama is shown with a bow in his hand, symbolizing his strength, because he won the hand of his wife, Sita
, using a bow in a contest. He is usually depicted with his brother Lakshmana
, his wife Sita, and Hanuman
8. Lord Krishna:
Lord Krishna, or Sri Krishna, as fondly known, is the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the most popular of all his incarnations. Krishna is a deity worshipped across many traditions of Hinduism. He is usually depicted as a young cowherd boy playing a flute or a youthful prince giving philosophical direction. He was the charioteer of Arjuna
in the battle of Kurukshetra
He is the great expounder of the 'song celestial', the Bhagvad Gita
. Krishna and the stories associated with him appear across a broad spectrum of Hindu philosophical and theological traditions. Though they sometimes differ in details reflecting the concerns of a particular tradition, all shares some core features. These include a divine incarnation, a pastoral childhood and youth, and life as a heroic warrior and teacher.
9. Buddha: Gautama Buddha
is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism
. In the Bhagavata Purana
, he is twenty-fourth of twenty-five avatars, prefiguring a forthcoming final incarnation. Thus, Lord Vishnu took up the avatar of Buddha, to purify Hinduism of excessive ritualism. Lord Buddha preached detachment, and the middle path consisting of eight fold virtues of right views, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
The Kalki Avatar is the only avatar of Vishnu that is set in the future. It is believed that at the end of the present age (Kali Yug), there will be a deluge when Kalki - the tenth and the last avatar of Vishnu, will ride forth on a horse to redeem humankind and re-establish righteousness. Riding on the back of a white horse, with a drawn sword, he will destroy the enemies of Dharma and re-establish it in all its glory. The name Kalki is often a metaphor for "Eternity" or "Time".