Dashavatar: 10 manifestations of Lord Vishnu
Lord Vishnu is one of three main gods worshipped in Hinduism. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion and almost 33 Million Gods are worshipped within their culture. However, the three major gods, or who we say Gods of Gods ‘Devo ke Dev’ are Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and Lord Brahma. But to understand who they really are, it’s better to know about the three denominations of Hinduism. Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism are the three main sects of their spiritual tradition in Sanatan Dharma, yet Vaishnavism is the largest. These sects co-work with each other, their beliefs and customs are borrowed according to the need of the other.
For Vaishnavites, Lord Vishnu is God. Lord Vishnu is one of the three denominations of Hinduism and apparently the supreme deity of all. His other names include Trimurti, Hari, and Narayana. He is the Preserver and guardian of men, protects righteousness, and establishes Dharma. Therefore, in order to create a righteous world, Lord Vishnu swooned on incarnating on earth 10 times- thus being called Dashavatar.
“Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and wherever there is a predominance of unrighteousness. I incarnate on earth”- Lord Vishnu, Bhagavad Gita 4:7.
10 manifestation of Lord Vishnu
ॐ नमोः नारायणाय. ॐ नमोः भगवते वासुदेवाय
Matsya or Fish
Matsya or fish incarnation of Vishnu was the very first avatar of Dashavatar. Lord Vishnu took rebirth as a fish to save the world from a devastating flood. According to the Matsya Purana, Manu was the first man on earth who captured Matsya as a small fish. That fish later grew into a huge half-fish half-human. When the flood approached, the man saved himself by tying his boat to the horns of the fish. Thus, Lord Vishnu managed to save humanity.
In the illustration presented by Matsya Purana, the fish has four hands. In one hand he was holding a conch shell; the other had a chakra while the remaining two hands were for boon and Abhaya mudra (fearlessness).
Kurma or Turtle
The second reincarnation of Lord Vishnu was a turtle. Kurma played a great role in the myth of the Churning of the ocean of milk. Gods and Asurs (also known as demons) used to stir the ocean of milk through a mountain known as mount Mandara. Nagaraja who abides on the neck of Lord Shiva offered himself to be a rope when several things were released into the ocean including a lethal poison Halahala. As the poison grew stronger so did the demons, they possessed a huge threat to the creators. Thus, Lord Vishnu then took the avatar of a turtle, to place Mount Mandara on his back and stir back the ocean to its original stability.
Matsya Purana depicts the Kurma avatar as half human half animal. The upper part of the body resembles the normal Vishnu illustrations whereas the lower part was that of a turtle.
Varaha or the Boar
When the Dwarpalaka, Jaya was reincarnated as Hiranyaksha, Lord Vishnu was born as a boar. Hiranyaksha was a devotee of Lord Brahma, and in order to gain a boon from him, he prayed to him day and night. Impressed by his devotion Lord Brahma provided him with a boon that he could not be killed by any human neither animal. After attaining the boon, Hiranyaksha creates havoc and kidnaps the mother earth or Bhudevi to prevent the gods from becoming powerful. Bhudevi in her defense prayed to Lord Vishnu to save her. Thus, Lord Vishnu in the form of boar defeated him under the ocean water and rescued Bhudevi. Hiranyaksha died in this battle.
Narasingha or the Lion
Narasingha was the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and was the angriest God known to date. Hiranyaksha’s brother Hiranyakashipu seeks revenge for his death, thus he prayed to Lord Brahma for a boon. Brahma denied yet by the conditions set by Hiranyaksha, he offered him a boon that he could not be killed by an animal, human, or a weapon inside a residence, outside the residence, in daylight, or night, and neither on earth or space. Hiranyakshipu was now ready to face Lord Vishnu; however, the only problem was his son Prahlad who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.
Hiranyakshipu attempts to kill his son several times but never succeeds. So, he asks help from his sister Holika who was equally evil, to kill Prahlad. Holika who was immune to fire asks Prahlad to accompany her to sit on the pyre, however, due to Holika’s evil intuition her immunity was distorted and thus was burned to ashes. Prahlad on the other hand gained her immunity. Then came Lord Vishnu in the form of Narasingha, who killed Hiranyakshipu and established Dharma.
These four manifestations took birth in Satya yuga.
Vamana or the Dwarf
Vamana took birth in the Treta Yuga when King Bali use to rule the entire universe and god’s lost their powers when he chased them out of heaven. One day, Vamana made his visit to the Bali king and asked him as much space as he could cover with his three steps. King Bali laughed at him yet granted him the request. When the Dwarf took his first step, he covered the entire world under it; in his second step, he covered the mid-world and the heaven. Witnessing such a miracle Bali immediately asked for mercy and offered Vamana his head for the last step. King Bali was then descended to rule the netherworlds.
Parasurama was the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Also known as Avesha Avatar was born at Renuka Tirth. Parasurama was a great devotee of Lord Shiva, who impressed by his devotion offered him a boon of celestial weapon yet in order to attain this weapon he ordered him to slay Daityas and Danavas that were posing a threat to gods. Parasurama slew all the Daityas and Danavas and gained the promised celestial weapon.
Parasuram also slew King Kartavirya who oppressed his subjects, the Brahmans, and also dared to insult Lord Indra. He also stole the holy cow Kamadhenu from Rishi Jamadagni (father of Parashurama). The conflict between Jamadagni and King Kartavirya resulted in the death of Jamadagni. Angry Parasurama killed King Kartavirya and his entire clan. Parasurama also slew all the Kshatriyas who were plaguing the earth in Treta yuga. He is also the Guru of Bhishma, Dronacharya and Karna.
The Mythology Ramayana, folklore well known by each one of us. Lord Rama was the son of King Dasharath of Ayodhya, ruler of Kosala. He had three siblings Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. Lord Rama was married to Devi Sita. Though he was born into the Royal family, his life was never more than of a saint. He spent fourteen years in exile with his wife and brother Lakshmana.
When Devi Sita was kidnapped by Ravana (incarnation of Jaya), Lord Rama with his brother Lakshman challenges Ravana in a war. In the war, monkey king Sugriva along with his army and Hanuman stood beside Rama. A historic battle took place between Rama and Ravana. From Ravana’s side stood his brother Kumbha-Karna (incarnation of Vijaya), and his son Indrajit. The battle lasted seven days resulting in the defeat of Ravana.
These three manifestations of Lord Vishnu took birth in the Treta Yuga.
Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Hindu mythology Mahabharata took place in Dwapar Yuga. The story of Lord Krishna is mentioned in Krishna Charita including the famous tale of Radha-Krishna. Shishupala and Dantavakra were the manifestation of Jaya-Vijaya in Dvapara Yuga who were slain by Krishna.
Born in the Yadava clan, Krishna was son to Devaki and Vasudev with the prophecy of killing his own uncle Kamsa. The evil Mathura king Kamsa was prophesied to be killed by his sister Devaki’s eighth son. Thus in order to prevent his death, Kamsa killed all the seven sons of Devaki right after they were born but was tricked while slaying the eighth son. Krishna was then raised by Yashoda and Nanda bearing the name ‘Yashoda Nandan. He at the age of seventeen killed his wicked uncle Kamsa along with his brother Balrama.
Vasudev Krishna also played a key role in the battle of Kurukshetra. He refused to bear arms yet provided as charioteer to Pandu’s son Arjuna and guided him to victory. The battle lasted for 18 days.
Gautama Buddha was the ninth incarnation, who was born to end the sufferings of the world. While some Hindus oppose seeing Buddha as a Vishnu incarnation, many other Hindus in fact embrace Buddha and worship him both in Buddhist temples and in Hindu temples. The oldest symbol of Buddhism is the wheel of Dharmachakra and a perfect doctrine of Buddha. It is also used as an attribute of the God Vishnu. His existence varies in several Hindu Literature, some suggest he denied Vedic knowledge while others believe he incarnated to stop the animal slaughter.
These two manifestations took birth in the Dwapar Yuga.
Kalki is said to be the tenth, final, and yet-to-be-born incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is prophesied to appear before the end of Kali Yuga to re-establish the four pillars of Dharma. The mention of Kalki in the Mahabharata occurs only once as a white horse to Lord Vishnu. While much Vedic literature has no mention of Kalki, several Puranas do include Kalki as the tenth avatar.