Dashavatara (IAST: Daśāvatāra) refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu God of universal preservation. Etymologically, Dashavatara (Sanskrit: अवतार, derives from daśa, meaning 'ten' and 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 incarnations 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 Bhagavata Purana, 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 Krita 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 Dharma 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.
Twelve alvars, 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.
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The most commonly believed ten avatars of Vishnu are:
- Matsya, the fish, from the Satya Yuga. Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish to save Manu from a flood, 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. There is another story that the Lord took this avatar to kill a demon named Hayagriva, who stole the four Vedas from the hands of Brahma, and to give the vedas back to him.
- Kurma, 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 (demon) 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 harvest.
- Parashurama, Rama 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.
- Rama, 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 his wife Sita, Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He invaded Lanka along with the Vanara Sena and frees Sita after killing Ravana.
- 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 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 spirit. The disappearance of Krishna coincided with the beginning of Kali Yuga.
- Gautama Buddha, The Buddha is described in important Hindu scriptures, including almost all the major Puranas. It is considered that not all of them refer to the same person: some of them refer to other persons, and some occurrences of "buddha" simply mean "a person possessing buddhi"; most of them, however, refer specifically to the founder of Buddhism. Although in some sub hindu religions of India Balarama is considered as 9nth avatar of vishnu but he was an avtar of Shesha (a huge snake who serves as bed of vishnu), according to legends shesha first took human form of Lakshmana and when vishnu was about to be incarnated as Krishna, Sheesha told vishnu that in his previous form (Lakshmana) he was not able to have a disciplinary control over him because vishnu was elder to him (Rama), so vishnu allowed Sheesha to be incarnated before him and hence Balarama was born.
- Kalki ("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.
In Vishishtadvaita tradition, Balarama is considered an incarnation, while Buddha is not included. Gaudiya Vaishnavas, 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 open:
Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya ete
Camsah kalah pumsah krishna stu bhagavan svayam
I bow to God, Krishna, who appeared as the son of Vasudeva
In traditions that emphasize the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, from whom everything else emanates.
In Vishishtadvaita, Balarama is the eighth avatar of Vishnu, while Krishna is the ninth. Buddha is considered as an avatar of Vishnu in Madhva (Dvaita), Smartha and Advaita traditions. The Bhagavata Purana describes Balarama as appearing in the Dwapara Yuga, with Krishna, as an incarnation of Ananta Shesha. He is also an avatar of Vishnu in the Vaishnava movements of Vishishtadvaita, although these lists do not mention Buddha.
In Maharashtra and Goa, Vithoba's image replaces Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu in some temple sculptures and Hindu astrological almanacs. Maharashtra scholars have also praised Vithoba as a form of Buddha.
In Orissa, Jagannath is sometimes depicted as the ninth avatar instead of Buddha. However Jayadeva, a great Vaishnava saint and renowned poet of 12th century from Orissa, included Buddha as the ninth avatar in the famous song Gita Govinda as is the general practice.
- Matsya - fish, the first life in water
- Kurma - amphibians
- Varaha - animals on land
- Narasimha - beings between animal and human
- Vamana - short human beings
- Parasurama - humans using weapons
- Rama - humans living in community
- Krishna - humans with animal husbandary
- Balarama - humans with agriculture
- Kalki - humans with the power 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".
- Garuda Purana 1.86.10-11
- 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
- "Bhagavata Purana, 12.2.16-17".
- 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 period"". Arumbakkam, Chennai. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
- 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.
- Annangaracariyar, P.B. (1971). Nalayira tivviyap pirapantam. Kanci: VN Tevanatan.
- Seth, K.P. (1962). "Bhakti in Alvar Saints". The University Journal of Philosophy.
- Chandra, Suresh (Aug 15, 2012). Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Kindle Edition.
- Bhagavata Purana, Canto 1, Chapter 3 - SB 1.3.24: "Then, in the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Lord will appear as Lord Buddha, the son of Anjana, in the province of Gaya, just for the purpose of deluding those who are envious of the faithful theist." SB 1.3.28: "All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord [Krishna or Vishnu]"
- Britannica list of dashavatara
- English-Tamil dictionary
- The Religion of the Hindus By Kenneth W Morgan, D S Sarma p.55
- 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 Pancaratra sect."
- Essential Hinduism S. Rosen, 2006, Greenwood Publishing Group p.124 ISBN 0-275-99006-0
- Jamanadas, K. (2001). "Vitthala of Pandharpur is Buddha". Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine. Dalit E-Forum. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- 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.
- Klostermaier, Klaus K. (2007). A survey of Hinduism. Albany: Sate University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-7081-4.
- Sikand, Yoginder (2004). Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic perspectives on inter-faith relations. London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-415-31486-0.
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