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Dasavatharam - The 10 incarnations Of Lord Vishnu

Text 7 in Chapter 4 of Srimad Bhagawat Geeta - the religious scripture of the Hindus states that

"Yada yada hi dharmasya, glaanir bhavati Bharata
Abhyuddhanam adharmasya, tadaatmaanam srujamyaham"

Lord Krishna addresses Arjuna - the Pandava prince and says, "Whenever and wherever there is a decline in dharma (righteousness) and there is predominance of adharma, during such time I descend Myself on to Earth to protect dharma".

It is believed that Lord Vishnu has taken several avatars and descended on to Earth to protect and re-establish dharma. But 10 of His incarnations became popular as Dasavaratara. In Sanskrit language the word 'dasa' means 10 and 'avataram' means incarnation. These 10 incarnations are in accordance with the then prevailing existence. Starting from the species of Pisces (fish), there is a gradual evolution of these incarnations to higher / complex organisms.
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Matsyavatara (incarnation as a fish)

Matsyavataram is the 1st incarnation of Sri Maha Vishnu. There are two mythological stories connected to this avatar. According to one story, it is said that in Satya Yuga, the Vedas (the religious scriptures of the Hindus) were taken away by one Asura (demon) who hid himself and Vedas under the ocean floor. Lord Vishnu - the Hindu god of Preserver, had taken the form of a gigantic fish and dived into the depths of the ocean to get back Vedas from the asura by killing him and thus preserved Vedas.

According to other belief, it is said that in Satya Yuga (the 1st Yuga as per Hinduism) there was a danger of the end of the world and it was predicted that all the three worlds would be submerged in ocean. So Lord Vishnu incarnated as a gigantic fish (matsya) to protect the three lokas from getting submerged and preserve the life on Earth.

Lord Vishnu selected Satyavratha Maharaja for assigning the task of preserving life on Earth. Satyaratha Maharaja was the noblest man and was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. Later, Satyavratha Maharaja came to known by the name of Vaivaswatha Manu (son of Sun).

It is after his name only we read 'vaivaswatha manvantare, kaliyuge, pradhama pade, jambu dweepe, Bharata varshe, Bharata Khande ..' for Sankalpam while performing various poojas and vratas.

Once King Manu was under strict penance and was performing ablutions in the waters of River Kritamala (River Vaigai). He took a handful of water and was surprised to find a small fish which requested him for rescue. When this small fish started growing extraordinarily in size, the king realized that it could be Lord Vishnu in the form of fish. He prostrated before Sri Maha Vishnu who predicted the end of the world. Lord Vishnu ordered Manu to carry each species in a huge boat and HE would appear as a gigantic fish (matsya) to propel the boat to Mount Himavat. Everything went according to the prediction and thus King Manu, being a noble man and an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu could become successful in this allotted work. The mythological story is almost similar to the Biblical story of Noah's Arc.

Kurmavatara (incarnation as a tortoise)

Kurmavataram is the 2nd incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Once Sage Durvasa presented a flower garland to Lord Indra who just gave it His elephant Airawatam which trampled the garland. The short-tempered sage cursed the Devas to lose their immortality. In order to regain their lost immortality, the Devas approached Lord Vishnu to help them in their great task of churning the Milky Ocean to extract Amrutam (nectar) from the depths of ocean. For this great job they asked the Asuras (demons) to help them in lifting the Mandara mountain and placing it on the back on the hard shell of the tortoise or Kurma roopam of Lord Vishnu.

The divine serpent Vasuki was used as a rope for churning or drilling the ocean to bring out nectar from the ocean depths. Thus Lord Vishnu incarnated taking the form of an amphibian which shows a gradual evolution to higher form than the previous incarnation of Pisces which is totally aquatic in nature while an amphibian can live both in water and on land.

There is a famous temple in this turtle form of Lord Vishnu in Srikurmam - a small village in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh bordering the state of Odisha. There is also a small temple named Kachapeswara Alayam in the famous temple town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu.

Varaha Avatara (incarnation as a wild boar)

The 3rd and 4th avatar of Lord Vishnu are in connection with the powerful demon brothers named Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapa respectively. During the ancient time these two powerful demon brothers created havoc in the three worlds. Once while Lord Brahma was in deep meditation, Hiranyaksha snatched Mother Earth (Bhoodevi), the four Vedas(viz. Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Atharvana Veda and Yajur Veda) and other sacred scriptures. He pushed all these into the depths of ocean. In order to re-position Mother Earth, Lord Vishnu had to incarnate in the form of a wild boar / Varaha to dive into the deep oceans. After a fierce fighting with the asura, Lord Vishnu in the form of wild boar killed the demon with His sharp tusks, got Mother Earth back by placing her on His tusks and re-positioned Her. Thus from the previous amphibian form, there is an evolution to higher form of a mammal / beast.

Narasimha Avatara (incarnation as a half beast / lion and half human)

This incarnation of Lord Vishnu is intended at killing the most powerful asura Hiranyakashipa who was the brother of Hiranyaksha. As Hiranyakashipa gets a boon from Lord Brahma that his defeat and death is highly impossible and that neither a man nor an animal can kill him. Hence Lord Vishnu takes the form of a strange creature with the head of a lion and body of a man to bring an end to Hiranyakashipa. Hence the avatar is named Narasimha (Nar in Sanskrit means 'man' and simha means lion). Prahlada who was the son of Hiranyakashipa, was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakshipa who was a dictator, asks his people to worship him and not God.

When his own son turns out to be a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu, the asura feels that his son is his enemy and thus makes various attempts to kill his son Prahlada. The fearless little boy has full faith in the Lord and each time he was trampled to death, the little boy was saved by Hari (the other name of Lord Vishnu). In an outfit of anger Hiranyakashipa wants to kill his son by hitting him with his mace (gada). Finally, when the father asks his son how could he remain alive despite of his several attempts, the son replies that it is Hari who saved him each time. In a fit of anger Hiranyakashipa asks his son who is this Hari and where does He live. To this question, the little boy answers that Hari is all pervading and is present everywhere. Pointing out to a nearby pillar, the father asks whether Hari is existing in it or not. To which Prahlad says yes. Now when the outrageous demon king hits the pillar with his mace, it slits into two halves and from within comes the strange creature with lion's head and animal's body roaring and pouncing on Hiranyakashipa. Thus the demon king meets with his end. This avatar of Narasimha signifies the gradual evolution of a wild beast to a beastly human form.

Vamana Avatara (incarnation as a dwarf)

Bali Chakravarti or King Bali who was the grandson of Prahlada was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, conquered the Trilokas or the three worlds. As always, Indra and other devatas feared their positions and thus sought help from Lord Vishnu who took the form of a dwarf ascetic. Thus Lord Vishnu appeared as Vamana or dwarf before King Bali and requested for three feet of land which the King accepted gladly though he was warned by his Guru - Sukracharya. King Bali was well known for his dana gunam or charitable nature. When the King accepted to offer three feet (foot of Vamana) of land, Lord Vishnu who was in the form of a dwarf took a gigantic form and covered the entire Earth with one foot, the entire heaven or sky with the second foot.

The unique form of Lord Vamana with the posture of one leg on the Earth and with the other leg fully lifted up to the sky is known as Lord Trivikrama. In Kancheepuram or Kanchi, Tamil Nadu, there is an ancient temple of Lord Trivikram where you can see the awesome idol of the Lord with one leg fully up pointing towards the sky. Lord Vamana when asked for the third foot, King Bali, who was fully aware that it was Lord Vishnu, happily offered his head and asked to place the third foot on his head. Thus, King Bali was pushed to the Patala loka or the netherworld. In this avatar, the evolution stage is from beastly man to a dwarf human where there is a gradual evolution of civilized creature.

Parasurama Avatara (incarnation as an enraged man of higher birth)

The incarnation of Lord Vishnu as a Brahmin who was born with unusual physical strength to sage Jamadagni and Renuka. He was gifted with a parasu i.e. axe by Shiva and thus always holds it in his hand. He takes revenge against kshetriyas as his father was killed by the sons of King Kartavirya who steals Kamadhenu (the gifted cow) from Jamadagni. In this incarnation, there is a further evolution to a powerful human from a dwarf man in the previous avatar.

Rama Avatara (incarnation as the most civilized human)

One of the most important avatars of Lord Vishnu in the Treta Yuga. This avatar represents the most cultured man and hence Sri Rama is also known as Purushottam. Lord Vishnu took this avatar to combat Ravana - the most powerful demon king. Considering the stages of evolution from simple to complex beings, from a powerful enraged human there is a gradual transformation to highly civilized human.

Krishna Avatara (incarnation as an intelligent and smart human)

This is an important avatar of Lord Vishnu in the Dwapara Yuga. In this form, Lord Vishnu not only had killed many asuras (demons) right from his childhood but also preached the famous Srimad Bhagawad Geeta to Prince Arjuna in the battlefield of Mahabharata. This incarnation proves that there is an evolution of intelligent / smart human who could face all the difficulties right from the childhood and thus achieve success.

Buddha Avatara (incarnation as an enlightened human)

There are two controversial philosophies on Buddhavatara. Majority of Hindus believe that Gautama Buddha or Prince Siddhartha is not one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. He was the son of King Suddhodana of Kapilavastu who left home at a young age to find the truths for the sufferings in life and finally got enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

It is believed that Adi-Buddha i.e the 1st Buddha (known as Sugata) is one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu (however no evidences). According to some thoughts, there is much resemblance in the physical features of Adi Buddha and Gautama Buddha. However, scientifically, the last stage of evolution of humans is enlightenment.

Kalki Avatar (incarnation as a destroyer of evil)

This is believed to be the 10th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and it is believed that Kalki comes riding on a horse with a sword in his hand to bring back dharma in the Kaliyuga.

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