Dasavataram - The Ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu

Dasavataram: Lord Vishnu is one of the supreme deities in Hinduism, who is regarded as the preserver and protector of the universe. According to Hinduism, Vishnu is the ultimate reality and the source of creation, and one of the Trimurtis, along with Brahma, the creator, and Shiva, the destroyer. Vishnu is portrayed as a god with a blue complexion and depicted with four arms. Each arm holds a divine object, like, a conch shell (shankha), a discus (chakra), a mace (gada), and a lotus flower (padma). He is depicted resting on the coiled serpent Shesha floating on the cosmic waters, along with his wife Goddess Lakshmi seated near his feet.

Lord Vishnu incarnated in ten different forms to preserve the universe and restore peace and dharma in the four yugas (era or cycle) namely,

Satya yuga, the first yuga where the first four forms - Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, and Narasimha manifested.

Treta yuga, the second yuga where he appeared as Vamana, Parasuram, and Sri Ram.

Dwapara yuga, the third yuga, he appeared in two avatars, Balaram, and Sri krishna.

Kali yuga, the last yuga where it is believed that Vishnu will appear in his last avatar as Kalki on a white horse wielding a blazing sword.

The Ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu 

Matsya: Matsya is the first avatar of Lord Vishnu represented with the upper torso of a human, and lower body with a fish tail. Matsya is the avatar of Vishnu as a saviour in the form of fish who saves the first man in creation named Manu from the flood. In Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Vishnu incarnated as Matsya (meaning fish) to save the world from heavy rain. The story of Matsya begins with a king named Manu, who was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish instructed Manu about the impending flood, and asked him to build a massive boat and take along with him seeds of all plants, animals, and the seven sages. As the deluge began, Vishnu in the form of Matsya avatar guided the boat through the storm, and saved Manu, and all of the beings and seeds in the boat. When the flood receded, Manu repopulated the earth with the seeds, thus beginning a new cycle of creation. The essential part of Matsya avatar in Hindu Mythology also explains the battle with Hayagriva who stole the vedas from Brahma, where Matsya retrieved the Vedas and restored them to Brahma. Matsya avatar symbolizes preservation, protection, and the cyclical nature of creation and destruction.

 Kurma: Kurma is the second avatar of Lord Vishnu as a tortoise to protect the devas and asuras. This avatar depicts Vishnu with the upper torso of a human, and lower body as a giant tortoise. Lord Vishnu took the form of a Tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain Mandara, while the devas and asuras were churning the Ocean for Nectar of immortality. According to the Puranas, during the churning of the cosmic ocean, the gods and demons used Mount Mandara as a churning rod and Vasuki, the serpent king, as the rope. However, as the mountain began to sink, Vishnu took the form of Kurma Avatar to support the mountain on his back and prevent it from sinking. This helped the churning to continue and the treasures hidden in the ocean to be retrieved, including the nectar of immortality. The kurma avatar symbolizes wisdom, patience, a state of balance, and the willingness to serve others.

Varaha: Varaha is the third avatar of Lord Vishnu as a boar or a giant pig protecting Mother Earth from the demon Hiranyaksha when he became a threat to the earth. Varaha is depicted with the face of a wild boar, and the torso and lower body of a human. Hiranyaksha, through his severe penance, earned a powerful boon from Brahma that he should be invincible against all beings. With his new power, he troubled the gods and celestial beings, and submerged the Mother Earth into the ocean. In order to protect the universe, Vishnu took the form of Varaha to rescue the earth. Varaha dived deep into the cosmic ocean and fought Hiranyaksha, and lifted the earth using his strong tusks, and brought it back to the surface, restoring it to its rightful place in the universe. The boar symbolizes strength and stability, which is proven lifting the earth from the cosmic ocean, and Varaha avatar symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, to protect the universe and maintain cosmic balance.

Narasimha: Narasimha is the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu depicted with a human torso and lower body, but with the head and claws of a lion. He primarily took this avatar to destroy the demon king Hiranyakashipu to protect his devotee Prahalad. Prahalad, a devoted follower of Vishnu, is the son of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The demon king got a powerful boon, that states he could not be killed by any man or beast, indoors or outdoors, during the day or night. He became so arrogant and considered himself invincible, demanding that everyone worship only him as a god. But Prahalad’s steadfast devotion to Vishnu remained the same. The angry Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his own son, but it failed as Vishnu emerged from a pillar as Narasimha and protected Prahalad. In a fierce encounter, Narasimha defeated Hiranyakashipu, killing him at dusk, using his sharp claws. The pillar from which Narasimha emerged, the use of sharp claws, and killing at dusk, thus epitomized divine creativity, adhering to the conditions of Hiranyakashipu’s boon. Narasimha Avatar symbolizes the victory of good over evil and the protection of devotees.

Vamana: Lord Vishnu's fifth avatar as a brahmin dwarf of incredible intelligence and power to control and destroy the Asura King Mahabali who intend to control the universe. According to Hindu scriptures, the demon king Mahabali had gained immense power and was ruling the three worlds. The gods, fearing his growing power, sought Vishnu's help. Vishnu agreed to help and took the form of Vamana, a dwarf Brahmin. Since Mahabali was known for his generosity, Vamana approached Mahabali and asked for three spaces of land that would be sufficient for himself, and that he would measure the three spaces with his own feet. Mahabali agreed to Vamana, not knowing the original form of the dwarf. Vamana grew into an enormous size, and measured the earth with the first step, and sky with the second step, and for the third step, Vamana stood that there was no place for the third step. At this Mahabali offered his own head for Vamana to take the third step, thus surrendering himself to the Lord. Impressed by Mahabali's humility and devotion, Vamana granted him a boon to visit his kingdom once a year, and this visit is celebrated as the festival of Onam in Kerala, India. The Vamana Avatar symbolizes the victory of humility and righteousness over arrogance and power, and Vishnu's role as the preserver of dharma.

 Parasuram: Parasuram is the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu depicted as a sage with an axe. He is an important character in the Epic Mahabharata, and according to Hindu mythology, Parasuram was born in a Brahmin family, and was trained in warfare by Lord Shiva himself. He is said to be the first warrior saint trained in both meditation and warfare, and has been a Guru to Bishma, Dronacharya and Karna. He is known for his aggressive nature, and is a symbol of strength, and courage  playing a significant role in restoring dharma (righteousness) in the world.

Sri Rama: Sri Ram, the Prince of Ayodhya, is the eldest son of King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya. Rama is the seventh avatar of Lord vishnu as an ideal good human being, and he is the principal character in the epic Ramayana, which tells us about his supremacy along with his wife Sita devi and brother Lakshmana. Sri Ram took this avatar to destroy the demon king Ravana. Rama’s life events is well explained in the epic Ramayana, which tells us about his marriage to Sita, his exile to the forest to keep up the promise made by his father to his stepmother, Queen Kaikeyi, the abduction of Sita by Ravana, and the battle with Ravana to rescue Sita. Rama with his brother Lakshmana, and with the help of the Vanara king Hanuman, defeated Ravana, and returns to Ayodhya. The return of Rama to Ayodhya is celebrated as the Festival of Lights (Diwali), symbolizing the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Sri Ram is revered as a symbol of righteousness, and morality, and is the best example of an ideal man as he exemplifies the virtues of a good son, a moral king, a faithful husband, and an affectionate brother.

Balarama: Balarama also known as Baladeva, or Haladhara ( Plough bearer) is the son of Vasudeva and Rohini, and elder brother of Sri krishna. He is the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu, and carries a plough (Hala) which symbolizes his agricultural nature, and a Gada (Mace), a weapon that signifies his physical strength and valor. He is considered an incarnation of the Adi Sesha, the divine serpent on which Lord Vishnu rests in the cosmic ocean. Balarama, is an important deity in Vaishnavism, and serves as Krishna's constant companion, protector, and advisor, playing a significant role in the epic, Mahabharata. Balarama and Krishna share a deep bond, and their childhood adventures together are often recounted in Hindu mythology.

Sri Krishna: Krishna is the son of Vasudeva and Devaki, incarnated as the ninth avatar of Lord Vishnu to destroy evil and preach Dharma. Krishna is worshipped as one of the supreme deities in Hinduism for his compassion and love, he shows towards his devotees. Lord Vishnu incarnated himself as Lord Krishna in the Dwapara Yuga for two important events. In the first, Lord Krishna defeated his evil maternal uncle, Kamsa. Secondly, he was the mentor of the Pandavas during the battle of Kurukshetra, where he imparts spiritual wisdom and guidance to the warrior prince Arjuna just before the war is about to begin. The primary role of Krishna avatar encompasses Krishna's teachings that emphasizes the importance of duty, righteousness, devotion, and detachment from the material world.

Kalki: Kalki is the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and it is believed that Vishnu will appear on a white horse with a blazing sword in the present Yuga or the end of the Kali Yuga to destroy all unrighteousness and evil existing in mankind. Kalki is depicted as a warrior on a white horse wielding a sword, symbolizing the destruction of evil forces, and initiate a new era of enlightenment and harmony. The concept of Kalki and his arrival has various interpretations in Vishnu purana and Bhagavata purana, but the belief is that, a divine savior will appear to set things right in a world plagued by chaos and moral decline, and begin a new era of peace and prosperity known as the Satya Yuga.

The reasons for Vishnu taking these incarnations may vary according to different Hindu scriptures and interpretations, but each incarnation serves a specific purpose and represents different aspects of Vishnu's divine power, to protect dharma, and uphold the balance in the universe.

Making of the Dasavataram wood panel - The Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu

Older Post Newer Post