The ten avatars of Vishnu
, (Clockwise, from top
left) Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Buddha, Parshurama, Rama
and Narasimha, (in centre) Krishna
Dashavatara (Sanskrit: दशावतार, daŚāvatāra)
refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu God of
universal preservation. Etymologically, Dashavatara, derives from daŚa, meaning
'ten' and avatar (avatāra),
meaning 'descent'. God Vishnu incarnates on Earth from
time to time to eradicate evil forces, to restore the dharma and to liberate the worthy
ones or devotees from the cycle of births and deaths.
The avatars in this list are also described as lila-avatars.
The first four avatars of Vishnu appeared in Satya or Krita
Yuga, the first of the four Yugas, also called 'The Golden
Age'. The next three appeared in Treta Yuga, the eighth and
ninth in Dwapara Yuga and the tenth
will appear in Kali Yuga. The time till
completion for Kali Yuga is in 427,000 years.
In the Vishnu Purana and the
the Kali-yuga is described as ending with the appearance of Kalki, who will defeat the wicked,
liberate the virtuous, and initiate a new Satya or Kalki Yuga.
At that time, the Supreme Personality of Godhead will appear on the earth.
Acting with the power of pure spiritual goodness, He will rescue eternal
religion. Lord Viṣṇu — the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the spiritual
master of all moving and nonmoving living beings, and the Supreme Soul of all
— takes birth to protect the principles of religion and to relieve His saintly
devotees from the reactions of material work.
—Bhagavata Purana, 12.2.16-17
The adoption of Buddha as one
of the avatars of Vishnu under Bhagavatism was a catalyzing
factor in assimilation during the Gupta period between 330
and 550 CE. Mahayana Buddhism is
sometimes called Buddha-Bhagavatism.
By this period, the concept of Dashavatara was fully developed.
The evolution of historical
Vishnuism produced a complex system of Vaishnavism, often viewed as
a synthesis of the worship of Vishnu, Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna, and which
was well established by the time of the Bhagavad Gita from 4 BCE to the
3rd century CE.
or saints, spread the sect to the common people with their devotional hymns. Early alvars did
not distinguish or list the Dashavatara, nor did they distinguish Krishna. Their
poems in praise of Vishnu and Krishna in Tamil language are
collectively known as Naalayira Divya Prabandha.
- Matsya, the fish, from the Satya
Yuga. Lord Vishnu takes the form of a fish to save Manu from apocalypse,
after which he takes his boat to the new world along with one of every species
of plant and animal, gathered in a massive cyclone.
the tortoise, appeared in the Satya
Yuga. When the devas and asuras were churning the Ocean of milk in order
to get amrita,
the nectar of immortality, the mount Mandara they were using as the churning
staff started to sink and Lord Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to bear the
weight of the mountain.
- Varaha, the boar, from the Satya
Yuga. He appeared to defeat Hiranyaksha, a demon who
had taken the Earth, or Prithvi, and carried it to the
bottom of what is described as the cosmic ocean in the story. The battle
between Varaha and Hiranyaksha is believed to have lasted for a thousand
years, which the former finally won. Varaha carried the Earth out of the ocean
between his tusks and restored it to its place in the universe.
- Narasimha, the half-man/half-lion
appeared in the Satya Yuga. The rakshasa(An
evil person) Hiranyakashipu, the
elder brother of Hiranyaksha, was granted a powerful boon from Brahma, not allowing him to be
killed by man or animal, inside or out, day or night, on earth or the stars,
with a weapon either living or inanimate. Vishnu descended as an
anthropomorphic incarnation, with the body of a man and head and claws of a
lion. He then disembowels the rakshasa at the courtyard threshold of
his house, at dusk, with his claws, while he lay on his thighs.
- Vamana, the dwarf, appeared
in the Treta Yuga. The fourth
descendant of Hiranyakashyap, Bali, with devotion and
penance was able to defeat Indra, the god of firmament.
This humbled the other deities and extended his authority over the three
worlds. The gods appealed to Vishnu for protection and he descended as the
dwarf Vamana. During a yajna of the king, Vamana
approached him in the midst of other Brahmins. Bali was happy to see the
diminutive holy man, and promised whatever he asked. Vamana asked for three
paces of land. Bali agreed, and the dwarf then changed his size to that of a
giant. He stepped over heaven in his first stride, and the netherworld with
the second. Bali realized that Vamana was Vishnu incarnate. In deference,
the king offered his head as the third place for Vamana to place his foot. The
avatar did so and thus granted Bali immortality. Then in appreciation to Bali
and his grandfather Prahlada, Vamana made him
ruler of Pathala, the netherworld. Bali is believed to have ruled Kerala and Tulunadu. He is still
worshiped there as the king of prosperity and recalled before the time of
Avatars of Vishnu lithograph by Raja Ravi Varma.
Anti-clockwise from left top corner: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana,
Parshurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Kalki surround
- Parashurama, Warrior
with the axe, appeared in the Treta Yuga. He is son of
Jamadagni and Renuka. He received an axe after a penance to Shiva. Parashurama is the first
Brahmin-Kshatriya in Hinduism, or warrior-saint, with duties between a Brahmana and a
Kshatriya). His mother was
from the Kshatriya Suryavanshi clan that ruled Ayodhya, of the line of Rama. King Kartavirya Arjuna
and his army visited the father of Parashurama at his ashram, and the saint
was able to feed them with the divine cow Kamadhenu. The king demanded the
animal, Jamadagni refused, and the king took it by force and destroyed the
ashram. Parashurama then killed the king at his palace and destroyed his army.
In revenge, the sons of Kartavirya killed Jamadagni. Parashurama took a vow to
kill every Kshatriya on earth twenty-one times over, and filled five lakes
with their blood. Ultimately, his grandfather, the great rishi Rucheeka,
appeared and made him halt. He is a Chiranjivi, and believed to
be alive today in penance at Mahendragiri.
Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya, appeared in the Treta
Yuga. Rama is a commonly worshiped avatar in Hinduism, and is thought of
as the ideal heroic man. His story is recounted in one of the most widely read
scriptures of Hinduism, the Ramayana. While in exile from
his own kingdom with his brother Lakshman and the monkey king
wife Sita was
abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travelled to Ashoka Vatika in Lanka,
killed the demon king and saved Sita.
- Krishna, was the eighth
son of Devaki and Vasudev. Krishna is the most commonly worshiped deity in
Hinduism and an avatar in Vaishnava belief. His name
means 'dark' or 'attractive', and he appeared in the Dwapara
Yuga alongside his brother Balarama (generally
included as one of Dashavatara in Sri Vishnava lists, instead of Buddha), and
was the central character of the Bhagavad Gita, the most
published Hindu canon. He is mentor to Arjuna, delivering him the Gita
at the Battle of
Kurukshetra. He is often depicted playing the murali and having a mischievous
is the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is the son of Queen Anjana and
took lifelong penance, sacrificing the pleasures of his palace and his wealth,
to achieve pure bliss. After years of penance, he finally achieved
enlightenment and became known as Buddha.
("Eternity", or "White Horse", or "Destroyer of Filth"), is the final
incarnation of Vishnu, foretold to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, our present
epoch. He will be atop a white horse and his sword will be drawn, blazing like
a comet. He is the harbinger of end time in Hindu eschatology,
and will destroy all unrighteousness and evil at the end of Kali Yuga.
Temple door depicting the ten avatars, Sree Balaji
Temple, Goa. (from leftmost upper corner, clock wise) Matsya, Narasimha,
Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Kalki, Vamana, Vithoba, Varaha and
tradition, Balarama is considered an
incarnation, while Buddha is not included.
and Krishna is the ninth. Buddha is not considered as an avatar of Vishnu in
Smartha and Advaita
traditions. The Bhagavata Purana
describes Balarama as appearing in the Dwapara Yuga, with Krishna,
as an incarnation of Shesha.
for example, worship Krishna as Svayam Bhagavan, or
source of the incarnations.
The Vallabha Sampradaya
and Nimbarka Sampradaya,
(philosophical schools) go even further, worshiping Krishna not only as the
source of other incarnations, but also Vishnu himself, related to descriptions
in the Bhagavata Purana. The first lines of the Bhagavata Purana
Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya ete
Camsah kalah pumsah krishna stu
I bow to God, Krishna, who appeared as the son of
—Bhagavata Purana, Srimad
Bhagavadam, Bhagavata Purana, 1.3.28
In traditions that emphasize the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna is the
original Supreme Personality of Godhead, from whom everything else
emanates. The Jayadevas Dasavatara Stotra Pralaya
Payodhi Jale (from Gita Govinda) by Jayadeva
concludes after listing the ten avatars each with a separate stanza:
- vedān uddharate
jaganti vahate bhū-golam udbibhrate
- daityaṁ dārayate
baliṁ chalayate kṣatra-kṣayaṁ kurvate
- paulastyaṁ jayate
halaṁ kalayate kāruṇyam ātanvate
- mlecchān mūrchayate
daŚakṛti-kṛte kṛṣṇāya tubhyaṁ namaḥ
In his opinion the ten avatars of Vishnu are Kṛiṣhṇa, Matsya, Varāha,
Narasiṁha, Vāmana, ParaŚurāma, Rāma, Balarāma, Buddha and Kalki.
In Maharashtra and Goa, Vithoba's image replaces Buddha
as the ninth avatar of Vishnu in some temple sculptures and Hindu astrological
almanacs. In Orissa, Jagannath is sometimes
depicted as the ninth avatar instead of Buddha.
The order of Vishnu's ten main avatars has significance in the sense that the
avatars evolve from simplistic life forms to more complex life-forms in a
definitive order. Therefore, it is speculated that the Dasavatara story is a
symbolization of the modern theory of evolution.
- Matsya - fish, the first class of vertebrates; evolved in water
- Kurma - amphibious (living in both water and land; but not to confuse with
the vertebrate class amphibians)
- Varaha - wild land animal
- Narasimha - beings that are half-animal and half-human (indicative of
emergence of human thoughts and intelligence in powerful wild nature)
- Vamana - short, premature human beings
- Parasurama - early humans living in forests and using weapons
- Rama - humans living in community, beginning of civil society
- Krishna - humans practicing animal husbandry, politically advanced
- Bhuddha - humans finding enlightenment
- Kalki - advanced humans with great powers of destruction
Lord Vishnu in his full incarnation as Lord Krishna
speaks in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Shloka 8: "To deliver the pious and to
annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of
religion, I manifest myself, millennium after millennium".
B-Gita 8.17 "And
finally in Kal-yuga (the yuga we have now been experiencing over the past
5,000 years) there is an abundance of strife, ignorance, irreligion and vice,
true virtue being practically nonexistent, and this yuga lasts 432,000 years.
In Kali-yuga vice increases to such a point that at the termination of the
yuga the Supreme Lord Himself appears as the Kalki avatara"
Klostermaier (2007) p. 495
Hāṇḍā, Omacanda (1994).
Buddhist Art & Antiquities of Himachal Pradesh: Up to 8th Century
A.D. Columbia, Mo: South Asia Books. p. 40. ISBN 81-85182-99-X.
Indian, History. "(Prabha IAS-IPS Coaching Centre - Indian History 2003 exam -
"The crystallization Of the Avatara Concept and the worship of the
incarnations of Vishnu were features of Bhagavatism during the Gupta
Beck, Guy L. (1993).
Sonic theology: Hinduism and sacred sound. Columbia, S.C: University of
South Carolina Press. p. 170. ISBN 0-87249-855-7.
(1971). Nalayira tivviyap pirapantam. Kanci: VN Tevanatan.
Seth, K.P. (1962).
"Bhakti in Alvar Saints". The University Journal of
Britannica list of dashavatara
Religion of the Hindus By Kenneth W Morgan, D S Sarma
Iconography of Balarama By N.P. Joshi p.25
Kennedy, M.T. (1925).
The Chaitanya Movement: A Study of the Vaishnavism of Bengal. H.
Milford, Oxford university press.
Flood, Gavin D. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press. p. 341. ISBN 0-521-43878-0. Retrieved 2008-04-21. "Early Vaishnava worship focuses on
three deities who become fused together, namely Vasudeva-Krishna,
Krishna-Gopala and Narayana, who in turn all become identified with Vishnu.
Put simply, Vasudeva-Krishna and Krishna-Gopala were worshiped by groups
generally referred to as Bhagavatas, while Narayana was worshipped by the
Essential Hinduism S. Rosen, 2006,
Greenwood Publishing Group p.124 ISBN
Evolutionary explanation — only through Darwinism
The 10 Avatars of Vishnu - About.com
R. S. Nathan (1989).
Hinduism that is Sanatana Dharma, Page 44. Central Chinmaya Mission
Trust. ISBN 8175970650.
Pon Kulendiren (2012).
Hinduism a Scientific Religion & Some Temples in Sri Lanka.
iUniverse. ISBN 1475936737.
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