The 10 Incarnations of Lord Vishnu “Dashavatara” (दशावतार)

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lord vishnu

In the Hindu religion, the three main deities are Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva(Mahesh).

Brahma creates, Vishnu protects and Shiva destroys – These are the three faces of Mother Nature.It is believed in the hindu mythology that Lord Vishnu incarnates on this Earth from time to time to eradicate evil forces, to restore dharma and to liberate the worthy ones from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Lord Vishnu in his avatar as Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gita,

Lord Vishnu,himself has told this to Arjuna in his avatar as Lord Krishna.

“To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of righteousness, I manifest myself, millennium after millennium”.
~Lord Krishna, Bhagawad Gita

  • The first four avatars of Vishnu appeared in Incarnations of Lord Vishnu - "Dashavatara''Satya or Krita Yuga, also called ‘The Golden Age’.
  • The next three avatars of Vishnu appeared in the second Yuga, the Treta Yuga
  • After that one avatar appeared in the third Yuga, the Dwapara Yuga 
  • The two remaining avatars, including tenth and the last avatar, appear in the last Yuga, Kali Yuga.
Kali Yuga will end in 427,000 years. This ending has been described in the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana, with the birth of Kalki,Vishnu’s 10th Avatar 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 this earth. Acting with the power of pure spiritual goodness, He will rescue eternal religion. Lord Viṣhṇu — the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the spiritual master of all moving and non-moving 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

lord Vishnu

 What is “Dashavatara”( दशावतार )

Dashavatara, refers to the ten avatars/incarnations of Vishnu, the Universal God of preservation.Vishnu is said to descend in form of an avatar to restore cosmic order.

The list of Dashavatara varies across sects and regions.The standard list is as follows:

  • Matsya
  • Kurma
  • Varaha
  • Narasimha
  • Vamana
  • Parashurama
  • Rama
  • Krishna
  • Balarama
  • Kalki

Sometimes, Krishna replaces Vishnu as the source of all avatars and Balarama takes Krishna’s place in the list. In other versions, Krishna may be dropped from the list and substituted by regional deities like Vithoba, Jagannath or Balarama.


Matsya

Matsya meaning fish was the first Avatar of Vishnu. According to the Matsya Purana, its legend goes like this. In the beginning of Satya Yuga, the world was destined to be ruined by massive floods. Lord Vishnu decided to save mankind from this calamity. He transformed into a fish or Matsya and entered the river on earth.

lord Vishnu

Along the banks of this river, a king named Manu was collecting water from the river. He caught the fish into his vessel and when he was on his way to throw the fish back to the water, the fish implored him not to throw it back into the river. The king took pity on the fish and decided to keep it in his vessel. The next day, he was surprised to see that the fish had grown huge. The fish continued to grow progressively. Finally, the fish grew up to the size that only the ocean could hold it.

The King realized that the fish is a divine being. The fish then came in his original form as Lord Vishnu and informed the king about the upcoming floods. He told him that the floods would submerge the whole world, destroying all the living beings. And only King Manu could preserve the humanity into a new world.

lord Vishnu

The fish commanded him to build a great ship and fill it with valuable people, plants, and animals of every species. The king embarked on a journey to survive the flood. When the floods came, the King, along with the chosen people, animals and plants were safe inside the ship. He steered the ship in the storm but all in vain. Then, Lord Vishnu, as the Matsya, steadied the ship from behind for seven days and seven nights. Manu and his followers were saved and began to create the new world.


Kurma Avatar

In KURMA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as a turtle. It is an interesting story involving both the gods (devas) and asuras (demons). lord VishnuIn the ongoing saga of the battle between the gods and asuras. On one occasion all gods suddenly lost their strength due to a curse by the short-tempered sage Durvasa. The sage had once presented a garland of flowers to Indra, king of gods, who carelessly gave it away to his elephant which trampled it.

The Devtas approached Vishnu for help. Vishnu then asked them to churn the ocean of milk after adding medicines into the ocean. Mt. Mandara could be used a churning stick. He requested them to ask help from the Asuras in lifting a mountain in exchange for nectar of immortality that would ensue from the churning. Both the devatas and the Asuras churned the ocean using the serpent Vasuki as a rope.

lord Vishnu

Indra playing a Machiavellian trick, asked the asuras for the head end of Vasuki. But asuras suspecting foul play and took the head end, only to be deceived as the poison from Vasuki was slowly weakening them.After sometime lord Vishnuthe mountain started sinking. Lord Vishnu took the form of the turtle KURMA and kept the mountain afloat.

As soon as the bowl of Amrita, the nectar of immortality was out, the asuras grabbed it. Lord Vishnu took the form of an apsara( a beautiful maiden) and seduced the asuras into letting her distribute the nectar. As soon as the devatas were served the maiden disappeared, totally deceiving the asuras and making them mortal and weak.


Varaha Avatar

In VARAHA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as a boar in this world. A demon Hiranyaksha had a boon from Lord Brahma that niether beast nor man, nor god could kill him.Lord Vishnu This proved to be his lacunae. He stole the Vedas, the holy scriptures from Lord Brahma, while he was asleep and created havoc.

To retrieve the Vedas and to save the world Lord Vishnu assumed the role of a boar and lifted earth from the under the ocean, using his tusks. It then killed Hiranyaksha. He then retrieved the Vedas from the asuras and brought it back to the safe custody of the Lord Brahma.


Narasimha Avatar

In NARASIMHA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnated himself as a creature who is semi-man, semi-lion in this world. The king of demons (asuras), Hiranyakasyapa, wanted to become immortal and wanted to remain young forever. He prayed to Brahma for that for a long time and after some time lord Brahma was impressed by his austerity and granted him a wish. HiranyaKasyapa wished that he neither killed by a man nor by a beast. He could neither be killed in daylight nor at night.He could neither be killed inside nor outside a building. Having obtained this wish he started thinking of himself as the supreme God and forbade all all good practices and became evil.

But his son Prahlada was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. This enraged Hiranyakasyapa very much. He ordered numerous ways to kill Prahlada. Hes asked his sister Holika to sit with Prahlada in the fire. But every time Prahlada escaped unhurt. Enraged, one evening(neither day nor night) he asked Prahlad to show him the Lord Vishnu. Prahlad said, “He is everywhere“. Further enraged, Hiranyakasyapa knocked down a pillar and asked if Lord was present there. Lord Vishnu then emerged as a half lion, and half man from that broken pillar which was neither inside the house nor outside. He then killed Hiranyakasyapa thus saving the life of his devotee Prahlada.


 Vamana Avatar

In VAMANA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as a dwarf priest in this world. Bali, the grandson of Prahlada was a very valorous and mighty asura. By his penance and might, he had conquered the whole world. Indra and other gods fearing that he and the asuras would conquer all the three worlds went to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu was then born as a dwarf Vamana in the household of a brahmana (priest). He went to Bali on growing up and asked for alms. Bali was delighted to offer him anything he requested even though his priest warned him that it was Lord Vishnu.

Vamana then requested for the amount of land that could come under his three feet. Bali gracefully agreed. Lord Vishnu then grew in size and covered the earth and heaven in two strides. And due to lack of space, he put his third leg on Bali himself and crushed Bali to the nether or the Patala Loka(underground world), thus helping the Gods out.

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Parashurama Avatar

In PARASHURAMA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as a brahmana (priest) in this world. He was brought in this world to avenge all kshatriyas who had become arrogant and were suppressing the brahmans in the world. Lord VishnuHe was born to Jamadagni and Renuka and belonged to the Brighu clan. Parashurama was always carrying an axe presented to him by Lord Shiva whom he worshiped and meditated for. Kartavirya a powerful king, once went to Jamadagni’s home when he was out, and after a meal stole the Kamadhenu cow, which was supposed to give infinite milk.

Jamadagni was enraged and he went and killed the king and brought Kamadhenu back. On hearing this, the king’s son came back and killed Jamadagni.

Parashurama was enraged at this and went to avenge the death of his father by killing all the kshatriyas in 21 battles.


Rama Avatar

In RAMA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as Rama, the central character in the epic Ramayan. In the epic, the character Rama is expected to show the world the characteristics of an ideal person, including an ideal son, ideal husband, ideal king and an ideal person. RAMA was incarnated upon this planet to get rid of the asura with ten heads, Ravana, who had been granted a boon of immunity from gods, and other celestial beings by Brahma. Ravana was too vainglorious to be thinking of being vanquished by a man. Hence RAMA was born and Lakshmi, wife of Lord Vishnu was born as Sita, his wife to be in this life. The story of Ramayan is an exciting nail-biting story of the war raged by Rama against various evil elements of the world and in the end against Ravana.

Ramayan epitomises the ideal behavior of a man, with a special focus on the man-wife relationship, son-father relationship and the rules a king should follow for ideal governance.


Krishna Avatar

In KRISHNA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as KRISHNA, the central character in the epic MAHABHARATA. Lord VishnuIn the biggest epic of Indian mythology, a myriad of topics are covered, including war, love, brotherhood, politics etc.It is essentially the story of two warring groups of cousin brothers, the Pandavas, and the Kauravas. As a part of the Mahabharata, during the war, KRISHNA, gives a long discourse to his disciple ARJUNA, collectively termed as Bhagavad-Gita.

Krishna, during his childhood, was responsible for the killing of Kamsa.Unlike Ramayana, Mahabharata deals with more down to earth issues like politics, human naturehuman weaknesses, and does not attempt to idealize any characters as in Ramayana.

Balarama is regarded generally as an avatar of Shesha. However, Balarama is included as the eighth avatar of Vishnu in the Sri Vaishnava lists, where Buddha is omitted and Krishna appears as the ninth avatar in this list. He is particularly included in the lists, where Krishna is removed and becomes the source of all avatars.


Buddha Avatar

In BUDDHA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as BUDDHA, the ascetic prince who renounced his throne to lead the world on the path of peace and nirvana. He is the founder of the BUDDHIST religion prominent across the world. In certain sects of Hinduism, Gautam Buddha is considered to be a divine incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was born the crown prince of Kapilavastu to Suddhodana and Maya. He was named Siddhartha, meaning “All thing fulfilled” by the king. His mother died soon after his birth but Prajapati, Maya’s sister, brought Siddhartha up.

Buddha was saddened by the death of living creatures, since his childhood days and used to question: “Alas! Do all living creatures kill each other?” He wasn’t happy with any answers that were provided to him and he decided to find out the meaning and the absolute truth.He left his wife and child for a hermit’s life in the forest and one day became the enlightened one. His preaching spawned off the religion of Buddhism now popular across the whole world.

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Kalki Avatar

Kalki (“Eternity”, or “White Horse”, or “Destroyer of Filth”) is the final incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is believed to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the current age. Puranas foretell that Kalki will be on a winged white horse and a radiating sword. Supposedly,the origin of Kalki will be in India near River Ganges.Lord Vishnu

The name Kalki is a metaphor for eternity. His name means the destroyer of darkness ignorance. According to the prophetic work of the Kalki Purana which narrates the life and times of Kalki, a time will come when all the practices taught in the Vedas and institutes of law will be finished.That will be Kala Yuga (The Current Yuga) At the end of the Kala Yuga age, Lord Vishnu will descend upon earth. He will be born in the family of a well-known Brahman of Shambhala Village, as Kalki.

Kalki will be endowed with eight divine faculties. With his enticing strength and power, he will destroy all the barbarians and all those with evil minds. He will restore justice on earth and lead humans to enlightenment. Kalki’s incarnation will bring an end to Kala Yuga and there will be a resurgence of a new Yuga. After the destruction of evil, peace will be restored in the new age, which will be as pure as Satya Yuga. Earth will be full of heavenly beings and there will be no sin deeds. It will be a Holy place back again.


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