Avatars Of Vishnu

The nine avatars of Vishnu beginning with the MATSYA avatar, which represents the almighty God in the form of a fish, to BUDDHA, representing the Lord in the non-violent philosopher ascetic human form, mark various stages of evolution of life itself. These avatars, apart from their mythological perspective, are also extremely interesting from the manner in which they fuse the Indian philosophy of God’s oneness with the universe.
Avatars of Vishnu
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAvatars.jpg)

The concept of incarnation or Avatar originated in India in ancient times, and is an inherent part and parcel of its religious philosophy. Vishnu, the form of Lord or nature that preserves life, has presented itself amid mankind in nine different forms till now, as per the Hindu mythology, and its tenth incarnation, the Kalki is awaited.


When dealing with the HINDU religion and its practices, you need to make sure that you appreciate the essence and do not get lost in the enormous mass of legends, fables and rituals.

For ancient Indians, religion was little more than a sacred philosophy called

SANATANA DHARMA, literally meaning "eternal duty." It consisted of many schools of philosophy, and while there was competition between them for ascendancy, they were all respected and revered. The word 'Hindu' arose from the word 'Indus', the name of the river around which the great Indian civilization grew many thousand years ago, and which was used to refer to people living in that territory. The foreigners, including those from Persia, Greece and other places called the place Indu or Hindu, the people were called 'Hindus' and their religious practices came to be called as HINDU.

Almighty God in Hindu Philosophy

In ancient Indian philosophy, god is accepted as a single entity that is beyond the comprehension of mankind. Traditionally, god is described as an entity that neither has a beginning, nor an end. He is present everywhere, knows everything, and is capable of every action.

However, when it comes to worshipping the god, there are two schools of devotees. One worships god as NIRAKAR, or a formless entity that is all pervading, but unseen and unobserved. Contrary to them, the other school prefers to worship god in a human form known as SAAKAAR. Largely because most people find associating with a form easier to meditate or devote, the second school is far more popular among the devotees.

The almighty Lord is hence worshipped in a form that the devotees imagine him to be. Thus there are countless deities, with different characteristics, to whom the devotees surrender themselves and their ego while undertaking BHAKTI, the process of submerging one's identity in a divine form of the Lord.

Vishnu - The Preserver

The three primary forms in which god is conceptualised in Hindu tradition are BRAHMA, the creator, VISHNU, the preserver and SHIVA, the destroyer. Together, they form the holy trinity.

VISHNU is the most revered form of the Lord in India, along with Lord Shiva. He is said to preserve the universe and all its entities including human beings and other forms of life on earth. Thus, he is said to be involved with most aspects of life and its preservation.

Incarnation – Form in Which Lord Visits Us

INCARNATION is an important aspect of Hindu religious philosophy. There is a firm belief that whenever there is too much of anarchy and destruction, whenever the human values are lost in the society, the Lord himself takes a mortal form and joins the world to get rid of the evil, save the world and create an example that the lesser mortals can follow. Vishnu is said to have done this nine times till date, since the beginning of life on earth, in the current cycle of the universe.

DASHAVATAR - The Ten Incarnations of Vishnu

I. MATSYA Avatar ( Fish Form ) - It is said that when VEDAS, the sacred ancient texts, were stolen by the demon Hayagiri, Vishnu incarnated as a fish that killed the demon and saved them. Later, he warned king SATYAVRATA about the impending doomsday, so that he could prepare for it by collecting necessities to survive the catastrophe, thereby keeping the human race alive.

II. KOORMA Avatar ( Turtle Form ) - There is a mythological legend of churning of the ocean for all the assets that were hidden and merged in it. It required a process of centrifugation for which a base was required. It is said that Vishnu took his second incarnation as a turtle and helped in this process of churning of waters, or SAMUDRA MANTHAN.

III. VARAH Avatar ( Boar Form ) - The mythology has it that once the Earth got submerged in the lower universe (rasatal), and Vishnu took the form of a boar to save the planet and bring it back to normalcy.

IV. NRUSINGH Avatar ( Semi Human, Semi Lion ) - The demon king Hrinyakashyap worshipped Lord Brahma and got the promise that no man or animal could kill him, that he could be killed neither during the day nor night and neither indoors nor outdoors. His son, PRAHLAD, was a great devotee of Vishnu which Hrinyakashyap did not like. He tried to kill his son, but Vishnu saved him. Finally, Vishnu took the form of Nrusingh, half human and half lion (neither human nor an animal), and killed the demon king in the evening hour, when it as neither day nor night, sitting on the doorstep, where he was neither indoor nor outdoor.

V. VAMANA Avatar ( Dwarf ) - When demon king BALI became the leader of the demons (asuras), they became almost unassailable because Bali

was devoid of any personal weaknesses. He was living examples of virtues, self discipline, fairness, knowledge and courage. He defeated all and conquered the Earth and the other worlds. When he was undertaking his worships, and offering wealth to poor and the scholars, Vishnu went there in the form of a dwarf scholar. Vamana refers to 52, the size of his length in fingerbreadths. He asked for land that he could cover by his three steps, and was granted his wish. Once his request was granted, he increased in proportions, became enormous and covered the Earth, as well as the other worlds in his three steps. Bali, realising he has been tricked by the Lord himself, surrendered all that he had won to the Lord.

VI. PARASHURAMA – Next, when the warrior class or KSHATRIYAS, who were supposed to be the saviours of the rest of the human race, instead of the role and duty assigned to them, begun to misuse their power and started tormenting people, Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama, a priest and scholar, who was also a great exponent of arms. He defeated and killed the tyrants in many battles and imposed discipline on them.

VII. RAMA – In his seventh incarnation, Vishnu is said to have been born as Rama, a prince, whose life has till date remained the ideal for every Indian. Rama’s father, king Dashratha, had three wives. Traditionally, the eldest son inherited the throne of the king. However, Dashratha had once promised his second wife, KAIKAYEE, who had once saved his life during a hunting session, that he will grant her two wishes whenever she wanted. Kaikayee, wanting to make his son the king, demanded that her son, Bharata may be made the king and Rama may be sent to the forest for fourteen years. King Dashratha belonged to the Raghu dynasty, which was famous for keeping their word. Dashratha was faced with a dilemma, as he could neither punish his innocent son, nor get back on his word.
When Rama came to know of his father’s dilemma, he decided himself to fulfil his father’s promise. He abdicated the throne and went to the forest. Dashratha could not stop him, and died as a sorry father. When Bharat, his step-brother, who was away during all these happenings, came to know about all this, he scolded his mother and tried to bring back Rama, but Rama refused as he considered it his duty to keep his father’s promise and his ancestor’s tradition of respecting a promise even at the cost of life. Later, in the forest, his wife, SITA, was abducted by demon king RAVANA, of Sri Lanka. Rama fought Ravana, with the help of forest tribals (VAN NARS), killed Ravana and thereby became an eternal symbol of victory of good over evil. His story is preserved as an epic titled RAMAYANA, the world’s most ancient epic, written between 4000 to 4500 years ago (two thousand years before Buddha) in Sanskrit.

VIII. KRISHNA – The next incarnation of Vishnu is as Krishna, a prince who killed many an evil kings, and finally helped in establishing the upper hand of truth in the battle of Kurukshetra, where he also delivered a sermon that is preserved as ‘SRIMAD BHAGWAT GEETA’ and is the essence of all ancient Indian religious philosophy.

IX. BUDDHA – We all know about prince Siddhartha, who left his wife and position to seek truth and self actualisation. He finally achieved it and his teachings began a new religious philosophy which is known outside India as Buddhism, whereas in India, it got assembled in Dharma, the Indian word for religion, which actually means duty, and which is referred now a days as Hinduism. Buddha is considered the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.

X. KALKI – The tenth, yet awaited incarnation of Vishnu is called KALKI in the religious texts, because he will come in the current epoch, called KALIYUG, the era of fallen values, crime, sorrow and suffering. It is said that he will take the whole world in his stride, and re-establish humanity as the sole virtue.

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