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Dashavatara (Sanskrit: दशावतार, daśāvatāra) refers to the ten primary avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation. Vishnu is said to descend in form of an avatar to restore cosmic order. The word Dashavatara derives from daśa, meaning 'ten', and avatar (avatāra), roughly equivalent to 'incarnation'.
The list of included avatars varies across sects and regions, and no list can be uncontroversially presented as standard. However, most draw from the following set of figures, omitting at least one of those listed in parentheses: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, (Balarama) or (Buddha) and Kalki. Some traditions include a regional deity such as Vithoba or Jagannath in penultimate position, replacing Krishna or Buddha.
The order of the ancient concept of Dashavataras has been interpreted to be reflective of modern Darwinian evolution.
- 1 Description
- 2 Etymology
- 3 Incarnation of the Divine
- 4 List
- 5 Historical development
- 6 Evolutionary interpretation
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The list of avatars in the Dashavatara varies by region. The following table summarises the position of avatars within the Dashavatara in many but not all traditions. A number in the table indicates the position of the corresponding avatar within the Dashavatara. Two or more numbers separated by commas indicate that the position of the corresponding avatar within the Dashavatara varies between traditions. Bracketed numbers indicate that the corresponding avatar is omitted in some traditions.
The word Dashavatara derives from daśa, meaning 'ten' and avatar (avatāra), meaning 'incarnation'.
Number of occurrences of these avatars of lord Vishnu are one less than the total number of avatars in previous yuga.
Incarnation of the Divine
Restoration of the Divine
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. Vishnu in his avatar as Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Shloka 8: "To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of righteousness, I manifest myself, millennium after millennium".
A similar thread appears in Buddhism. The Pāli Canon refers to 28 Buddhas, while the Mahayana tradition additionally has many Buddhas of celestial origin, for example Amitābha and Vairocana. The Mahayana tradition also knows the Eighteen Arhats who protect the Buddhist faith, and all schools of Buddhism await for the coming of Maitreya, a Buddha prophesied to arrive on earth many millennia after Gautama Buddha's death and Parinirvana.
The first four avatars of Vishnu appeared in Satya or Krita Yuga, the first of the four Yugas, also called 'The Golden Age', the next three in the second Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the one avatar after that appeared in the third Yuga, the Dwapara Yuga and the two remaining avatars, including tenth and the last avatar, appear in the last Yuga, 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 ending is described with the appearance of Kalki, 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 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 religion and to relieve His saintly devotees from the reactions of material work.— Bhagavata Purana, 12.2.16-17
- Matsya, the fish. Vishnu takes the form of a fish to save Manu from the deluge (Pralaya), 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.
- Kurma, the giant tortoise. 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 Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain.
- Varaha, the boar. 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(much like in ether theory) 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. 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. 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 a boy Vamana. During a yajna (यज्ञ) of the king, Vamana approached him and Bali promised him for 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.
- Parashurama, the warrior with the axe. He is son of Jamadagni and Renuka and received an axe after a penance to Shiva. He is the first Brahmin-Kshatriya in Hinduism, or warrior-saint, with duties between a Brahmin and a Kshatriya. 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 cow, but Jamadagni refused. Enraged, 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, rishi Rucheeka, appeared before him and made him halt. He is a Chiranjivi (immortal), and believed to be alive today in penance at Mahendragiri.
- Rama, the prince and king of Ayodhya. He is a commonly worshipped 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 the God Hanuman, his wife Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travelled to Lanka, killed the demon king and saved Sita.
- Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna, 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.
- Krishna was the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. A frequently worshipped deity in Hinduism, he is the hero of various legends and embodies qualities such as love and playfulness.
- Buddha: Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is commonly included as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Buddha is sometimes depicted in Hindu scriptures as a preacher who deludes and leads demons and heretics away from the path of the Vedic scriptures, but another view praises him a compassionate teacher who preached the path of ahimsa (non-violence).
- Kalki ("Eternity", or "White Horse", or "Destroyer of Filth"), will be 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.
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 3138 BCE to the 3rd century CE.
Various versions of the list of Vishnu's avatars exist. Some lists mention Krishna as the eighth avatar and the Buddha as the ninth avatar, while others, such as the Yatindramatadipika, a 17th-century summary of Srivaisnava-doctrine, state Balarama as the eighth avatar and Krishna as the ninth.
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. By the 8th century CE, the Buddha was declared an avatar of Vishnu in several Puranas. The mythologies of the Buddha and Vishnu share a number of structural and substantial similarities, which contributed to the assimilation of the Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. This assimilation is indicative of the Hindu ambivalence toward the Buddha and Buddhism. Conversely, Vishnu has also been assimilated into Sinhalese Buddhist culture, and Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes called Buddha-Bhagavatism. By this period, the concept of Dashavatara was fully developed.
In Maharashtra and Goa, Vithoba's image replaces Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu in some temple sculptures and Hindu astrological almanacs. In certain Oriya literary creations from Orissa, Jagannath has been treated as the Ninth avatar, by substituting Buddha.
The Bhagavata Purana claims that Vishnu has infinite avatars which he takes whenever there is a need to restore cosmic order, however, it still goes on to numerically list out 22 Vishnu avatars in chapter 1.3. 
- Four Kumaras (Catursana) [BP 1.3.6] – the four Sons of god Brahma and exemplified the path of devotion
- Varaha [BP 1.3.7]- The divine warthog who lifts earth from cosmic waters
- Narada [BP 1.3.8] -the divine-sage who travels the worlds as a devotee of Vishnu
- Nara-Narayana [BP 1.3.9] – the twin-sages
- Kapila [BP 1.3.10] – a renowned sage spoken of in the Mahabharata, son of Kardama Muni and Devahuti and sometimes identified with the founder of the Samkhya school of philosophy
- Dattatreya [BP 1.3.11] – the combined avatar of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He was born to the sage Atri became a great seer himself
- Yajna [BP 1.3.12] – the lord of fire-sacrifice, who was also a previous Indra – the lord of heaven
- Rishabha [BP 1.3.13] – the father of Bharata Chakravartin and Bahubali
- Prithu [BP 1.3.14] – the sovereign-king who milked the earth as a cow to get the world's grain and vegetation and also invented agriculture
- Matsya [BP 1.3.15]- A narwhal who guided Manu's ark during the pralaya (deluge) and also killed demon Hayagriva
- Kurma [BP 1.3.16]- A giant tortoise who balances Mount Mandara atop his caprice during the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk
- Dhanvantari [BP 1.3.17] – the father of Ayurvedic medicine and a physician to the Devas
- Mohini [BP 1.3.17] – the enchantress
- Narasimha [BP 1.3.18]- The man-lion who kills demon Hiranyakashpu
- Vamana [BP 1.3.19]- The dwarf
- Parashurama [BP 1.3.20]- The Brahmin warrior with an axe who kills Kartyavira Arjuna and his Kshatriya allies
- Rama [BP 1.3.22]- 'Perfect King' from Suryavansha, Subject of Ramayana
- Vyasa [BP] 1.3.21] – the compiler of the scriptures – Vedas and writer of the scriptures Puranas and the epic Mahabharata
- Balarama [BP 1.3.23]- Lord of agriculture and elder brother to Krishna
- Krishna [BP 1.3.23]-Subject of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita
- Buddha [BP 1.3.24]- The enlightened teacher
- Kalki [BP 1.3.25]- The future lawgiver
Thirty-nine avatars are mentioned in the Pañcaratra including the likes of Garuda.  However, despite these lists, the commonly accepted number of ten avatars for Vishnu was fixed well before the 10th century CE.
Status of Krishna
Srimanta Sankardeva considered Krishna as Vishnu himself, the source of all incarnations. Thus, in his Soturbinxoti Ovotar (Chaturvinshati Avatar) of the Kirttan Puthi, Krishna is not included, but Balarama is included.
In traditions that emphasize the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, from whom everything else emanates. Gaudiya Vaishnavas 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. Mahanubhavas also known as the Jai Kishani Panth, considers Lord Krishna as the supreme God and don't consider the list of Dashavatara while consider another list of Panchavatara (5 Avatars). 
Some modern interpreters sequence Vishnu's ten main avatars in a definitive order, from simple life-forms to more complex, and see the Dashavataras as a reflection, or a foreshadowing, of the modern theory of evolution. Such an interpretation was first propounded by Theosophist Helena Blavatsky in her 1877 opus Isis Unveiled, in which she proposed the following ordering of the Dashavataras:
- Matsya - fish, the first class of vertebrates; evolved in water (Indicates origin of Fishes in Silurian Period)
- Kurma - amphibious living in both water and land; but not to confuse with the vertebrate class amphibians)(Indicates origin of Amphibians in Devonian Period)
- Varaha - mammals, wild land animals (Indicates Mammals origin in Triassic Period)
- Narasimha - beings that are half-animal and half-human (indicative of emergence of human thoughts and intelligence in powerful wild nature)
- Vamana - short, premature human beings
- Parasurama - early humans living in forests and using weapons
- Rama - humans living in community, beginning of civil society
- Krishna - humans practicing animal husbandry, politically advanced societies
- Buddha - humans finding enlightenment
- Kalki - advanced beings with great powers of destruction.
This interpretation was taken up by other Orientalists and by Hindus in India, particularly reformers who sought to harmonize traditional religion with modern science. Keshub Chandra Sen, a prominent figure in the Brahmo Samaj and an early teacher of Swami Vivekananda, was the first Indian Hindu to adopt this reading. In an 1882 lecture he said:
The Puranas speak of the different manifestations or incarnations of the Deity in different epochs of the world history. Lo! The Hindu Avatar rises from the lowest scale of life through the fish, the tortoise, and the hog up to the perfection of humanity. Indian Avatarism is, indeed, a crude representation of the ascending scale of Divine creation. Such precisely is the modern theory of evolution.
Similarly, Monier Monier-Williams wrote "Indeed, the Hindus were ... Darwinians centuries before the birth of Darwin, and evolutionists centuries before the doctrine of evolution had been accepted by the Huxleys of our time, and before any word like evolution existed in any language of the world." J. B. S. Haldane suggested that Dashavatara gave a "rough idea" of vertebrate evolution: a fish, a tortoise, a boar, a man-lion, a dwarf and then four men (Kalki is not yet born). Nabinchandra Sen explains the Dashavatara with Darwin's evolution in his Raivatak. C. D. Deshmukh also remarked on the "striking" similarity between Darwin's theory and the Dashavatara.
- J.P. VASWANI (2017). Dasavatara. Jaico Publishing House. pp. 12 – 14.
- D. Sharma (2005). Life After Death and Reincarnation. Deep and Deep Publications. p. 38.
- http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-04-08.html. Missing or empty
- Snyder, p. 496.
- Zhang 2014, p. 921.
- Tan, Piya (2008). "Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta" (PDF). The Dharmafarers. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-01.
When the situation reaches its lowest point, people finally realize the futility of violence, give it up, and so begin to keep the precepts, initiating a social renewal and increase in various wholesome conditions and ever longer life-spans. When the human life-span reaches 80,000 years, the whole kingdom prospers and is thickly populated. The wheel-turner Saṅkha arises in the city of Ketu,mati (present Kusi,nārā). Then, there arises the future Buddha Metteyya.
- U Chit Tin, Sayagyi (March 1988). "The Coming Buddha, Ariya Metteyya". What the Buddha said in plain English.
- 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". Archived from the original on 27 January 2010.
- Carman 1994, p. 211-212.
- Wuaku 2013, p. 148.
- Literature review of secondary references of Buddha as Dashavatara which regard Buddha to be part of standard list:
- Britannica Balarama
- A Dictionary of Asian Mythology By David Adams Leeming p. 19 "Avatar"
- Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide By Roshen Dalal p. 112 "Dashavatara" ""The standard and most accepted list found in Puranas and other texts is: ... Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Kalki."
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M p. 73 "Avatar"
- Hindu Gods and Goddesses By Sunita Pant Bansal p. 27 "Vishnu Dashavatara"
- Hindu Myths (Penguin Books) pp. 62-63
- The Hare Krsnas - Incarnations of the Lord - Dasavatara - Ten Primary Visnu Incarnations
- The Book of Vishnu (see index)
- Seven secrets of Vishnu By Devdutt Pattanaik p. 203 "In the more popular list of ten avatars of Vishnu, the ninth avatar is shown as Buddha, not Balarama."
- A Dictionary of Hinduism p. 47 "Avatara"
- BBC - GCSE Bitesize Avatars
- Gavin D. Flood (13 July 1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
- 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.
- Holt 2013, p. 14.
- Holt 2013, p. 3.
- 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. Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
- Krishna 2009.
- Pathak, Dr. Arunchandra S. (2006). "Junnar". The Gazetteers Dept, Government of Maharashtra (first published: 1885). Archived from the original on 16 October 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- Mukherjee, Prabhat The history of medieval Vaishnavism in Orissa. P.155
- Bhag-P 1.3 Archived 2013-05-21 at the Wayback Machine. Canto 1, Chapter 3
- Sullivan 2001, p. 32.
- Schrader, Friedrich Otto (1916). Introduction to the Pāñcarātra and the Ahirbudhnya saṃhitā. Adyar Library. p. 42.
- Mishra, Vibhuti Bhushan (1973). Religious beliefs and practices of North India during the early mediaeval period, Volume 1. BRILL. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-90-04-03610-9.
- শ্ৰীমন্ত শংকৰদেৱৰ কীৰ্ত্তন পুঠি, চতুৰ্বিংশতি অৱতাৰ। Collected: 8/10/2015 IST
- Orissa Review
- 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
- Nanda, Meera (19 November 2010). "Madame Blavatsky's children: Modern Hinduism's encounters with Darwinism". In James R. Lewis; Olav Hammer. Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science. BRILL. pp. 279–344. ISBN 90-04-18791-X.
- Brown, C. Mackenzie (June 2007). "The Western roots of Avataric Evolutionism in colonial India". Zygon. 42 (2): 423–448. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2007.00423.x.
- Brown, C Mackenzie (19 November 2010). "Vivekananda and the scientific legitimation of Advaita Vedanta". In James R. Lewis; Olav Hammer. Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science. BRILL. p. 227. ISBN 90-04-18791-X.
- "Cover Story: Haldane: Life Of A Prodigious Mind". Science Reporter. Council of Scientific & Industrial Research. 29: 46. 1992.
- Amiya P. Sen (2010). Explorations in Modern Bengal, C. 1800-1900: Essays on Religion, History, and Culture. Primus Books. p. 196. ISBN 978-81-908918-6-8.
- Chintaman Dwarkanath Deshmukh (1972). Aspects of Development. Young Asia Publication. p. 33.
- Carman, John Braisted (1994), Majesty and Meekness: A Comparative Study of Contrast and Harmony in the Concept of God, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
- Holt, John C. (2013), The Buddhist Visnu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture, Columbia University Press
- Klostermaier, Klaus K. (2007). A survey of Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-7081-4.
- Krishna, Nanditha (2009), Book of Vishnu, Penguin UK
- Sikand, Yoginder (2004). Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic perspectives on inter-faith relations. London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-415-31486-0.
- Snyder, David. The Complete Book of Buddha's Lists -- Explained. David Snyder. GGKEY:EP57DW1UD6T.
- Sullivan, Bruce M. (2001), The A to Z of Hinduism, Scarecrow Press
- Wuaku, Albert (11 July 2013). Hindu Gods in West Africa: Ghanaian Devotees of Shiva and Krishna. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-25571-5.
- Zhang, Zong (8 December 2014). Modern Chinese Religion I (2 vol.set): Song-Liao-Jin-Yuan (960-1368 AD). BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-27164-7.
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