“Whenever Truth decays and untruth flourishes, O noble one, then I create myself. To protect the righteous and destroy the wicked, to establish Truth firmly, I take birth age after age.” – Vishnu to Arjuna in tha Bhagavad Gita.
The avatars of Vishnu are his incarnations on earth to help humankind in moments of crisis. The most famous incarnations are:
- Matsya, the first avatar, appeared as a fish who protected Manu, the first man, during the great primal deluge.
- Kurma, the tortoise, helped the churning of the waters which created amrita, Lakshmi goddesss of Fortune and the celestial nymphs or apsaras.
- Varaha, the boar, rescued the earth from the depths of the primordial ocean, divided it into seven continents and endowed it with life. Vishnu, as Varaha, is depicted as a giant with a boar’s head, carrying the goddess of the earth.
- Narasingha, half-man, half-lion, killed the powerful demon, Hiranyakashipu after he threatened to dethrone Indra and send the sky gods into exile. The demon could not be killed by god, man or beast, in the day or at night, neither inside nor outside his palace; therefore Vishnu appeared as half-man, half-beast and tore him to pieces at dusk on the threshold of his palace.
- Vamana, a dwarf, came to save the world from the demon, Bali. He appeared before Bali and asked for as much land as he could cover in three strides. Laughing, the demon agreed; then the dwarf expanded his size, covering the earth with his first step, the heavens with his second, and pushed Bali down to the nether regions with his third.
- Parashurama, “Rama with the axe”, destroyed the kshatriya warrior caste and ordered their widows to sleep with the brahmans to create a new and pure warrior caste.
- Prince Rama, “the Charming”, was the embodiment of righteousness whose rule over the kingdom of Ayodhya was an exemplary time of justice, peace and happiness. The story of Rama and his wife, Sita is played out in the Ramayana.
- Krishna, the “Dark One”, is the most important incarnation of Vishnu, and the embodiment of love. He represents the unfettered spontaneity of life, and is associated with Radha, a gopi girl. Their love becomes a metaphor for soul’s yearning for the Divine. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna becomes a charioteer, teaching Arjuna meditation and shining with the splendour of a thousand suns.
- Gautama Buddha, “The Awakened One”, appeared in the Kali Yuga or Age of Darkness. He was born in the sixth century BC in a royal family, which he renounced to pursue a life of meditation. He became enlightened and spread his teaching of the “four noble truths” for over forty years. His teachings became the basis for Buddhism.
- Kalki, the tenth and last incarnation of Vishnu is yet to come, as a man on a white horse or a man with a horse’s head; brandishing a flaming sword he will destroy the world and establish a new Golden Age from its ashes.
Originally published in Here & Now magazine. Written by Khalid Julian Millane, joint owner of Shikara Design, importer of Asian artifacts, furnitire and carpets, and who has anendless fascination with Eastern mythology and history.
Related to - Eastern Spiritual Mythology