Dashavatara (Sanskrit: दशावतार, daśāvatāra) refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation. Vishnu is said to descend in form of an avatar to restore cosmic order.
The list of Dashavatara varies across sects and regions. The standard list is: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. Sometimes, Krishna replaces Vishnu as the source of all avatars and Balarama takes Krishna's place in the list. Buddha may be dropped from the list and substituted by regional deities like Vithoba or Jagannath, or Balarama.
The Dashavatara order is interpreted to convey Darwin's evolution.
Avatar ("descent") or the incarnation of a deity Vishnu in human or animal form to counteract evil and to preserve & protect the world. The term usually refers to these 10 appearances of Vishnu: Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (Man-Lion), Vamana (dwarf priest), Parasurama ( angry Rama with the axe), King Rama (the Divine warrior hero of the Ramayana epic), Krishna (the divine cowherd, Divine lover & statesman), Buddha the Divine sage or Balarama (elder brother of Krishna), and Kalkin (the mighty worrior saviour yet to come). The number of Vishnu's avatars is sometimes extended or their identities changed, according to local preferences.
In this scheme we see the idea of the evolution of the soul from the animal realms to perfect spiritual knowledge.
Playing Cards from a Dashavatara (Ten Avatars) Ganjifa Set
Four Tigers - Number Four of the Narasimha Suit, Seven Tortoises - Number Seven of the Kurma Suit, Three Axes - Number Three of the Parashurama Suit, Minister on Horseback - Pradhan (Minister) of the Vamana Suit, Three Ewers - Number Three of the Vamana Suit.
Ten Quivers - Number Ten of the Lakshmana Suit: Playing Card from a Ramayana (Adventures of Rama) Ganjifa Set (?)
The Boar Incarnation Varaha - King of the Varaha Suit, Playing Card from a Dashavatara (Ten Avatars) Ganjifa Set
Five Lotuses - Number Five of the Buddha Suit, Playing Card from a Dashavatara (Ten Avatars) Ganjifa Set
Six Peacock Feather Crowns - Number Six of the Taj (Crown) Suit, Playing Card from a Mughal Ganjifa Set
Six White Horses with Honorific Parasols - Number Six of the Kalki Suit, Playing Card from a Dashavatara (Ten Avatars) Ganjifa Set
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
#3a: Varaha avatar of Vishnu, killing a demon to protect the Earth, and the earth goddess, Bhu or Bhu devi, which he lifts on his tusks above the black ocean. c1740.
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
#6c: Lord Parashurama with Saraswat brahmin settlers commanding Lord Varuna to make the seas recede to make the Konkan and Kerala.
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
#6d: Painting showing Parasurama killing Arjuna Kartavirya. The wild 'avatara' with his eponymous axe, blood-tinged, is depicted slaying the multi-armed leader of the 'kshatriyas'. His obsessive search for vengeance is emphasised by his unbound hair and fixed, steely expression.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
#7d: Gods Brahma, Agni and Shiva attest to Sita's purity while Rama looks on in shock. Still from Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
Hindu gods (Vishnu avatars): From left: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Balarama.
Image source: media.photobucket.com
Some Hindus believe that this is similar to the biblical representation of Noah.
Matsya (Fish in Sanskrit) was the first Avatar of Vishnu in Hindu mythology.
According to the Matsya Purana, the king of pre-ancient Dravida and a devotee of Vishnu, Satyavrata who later was known as Manu was washing his hands in a river when a little fish swam into his hands and pleaded with him to save its life. He put it in a jar, which it soon outgrew. He then moved it to a tank, a river and then finally the ocean but to no avail. The fish then revealed himself to be Vishnu and told him that a deluge would occur within seven days that would destroy all life. Therefore, Satyavrata was instructed to take "all medicinal herbs, all the varieties of seeds, and accompanied by the seven saints” along with the serpent Vasuki and other animals.
Matsya is generally represented as a four-armed figure with the upper torso of a man and the lower of a fish.
The Devas lost their strength and powers due to a curse by the sage Durvasa because Indra, the king of the Devas, had insulted the sage’s gift (a garland) by giving it to his elephant (Airavata) which trampled upon it. Thus, after losing their immortality and kingdom, they approached Lord Vishnu for help.
Vishnu suggested that they needed to drink the nectar of immortality to regain their lost glory. However, they needed to strive hard to acquire the nectar since it was hidden in the ocean of milk. After declaring a truce with their foes (Asuras), Indra and his Devas together with the Asuras, use the serpent Vasuki as a churning rope and the mount Mandara as the churning staff.
When they began churning, the mount began sinking into the ocean. Taking the form of a turtle (Kurma), Vishnu bears the entire weight of the mountain and the churning continues and various objects are thrown out including the deadly poison Halahala, whose fumes threaten to destroy the Devas and the Asuras. Lord Shiva then comes to their rescue and gathers the entire poison in his palm and drinks it. His consort, Parvathi, clasps his throat and the poison remains there. Hence he became known as “Neelakanta” (literally: “the blue-throated one).
“Fourteen precious things” come out of the ocean, culminating with Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, appearing with the nectar of immortality. The Asuras immediately rush and grab the nectar while quarreling among themselves.
Vishnu again comes to the rescue in the form of a beautiful damsel, Mohini and tricks the Asuras and retrieves the potion which is distributed to the Devas. Though the Asuras realize Vishnu’s tricks, it is too late, as the Devas regain their renowned prowess and defeat them.
Varaha is the third Avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, in the form of a Boar. He appeared in order to defeat Hiranyaksha, a demon who had taken the Earth (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. Vishnu married Prithvi (Bhudevi) in this avatar.
Varaha is depicted in art as either purely animal or as being anthropomorphic, having a boar's head on a man's body. In the latter form he has four arms, two of which hold the wheel and conch-shell while the other two hold a mace, sword or lotus or make a gesture (or "mudra") of blessing. The Earth is held between the boar's tusks.
He is often visualized as half-man/half-lion, having a human-like torso and lower body, with a lion-like face and claws
In his previous avatara of Varaha, Vishnu killed a rakshasa known as Hiranyaksha. Hiranyaksha's brother Hiranyakashipu, greatly angered by this, started to abhor Vishnu and his followers. To which end he decides to attempt to kill Vishnu by gaining mystical powers, which he believes Brahma, the chief among the devas will award him if he undergoes many years of great austerity and penance. This initially seems to work as planned with Brahma becoming pleased by Hiranyakashipu's austerities. Brahma thus appears before Hiranyakashipu and offers him a boon that he will personally make true anything he wishes for. In reply to which Hiranyakashipu requests the following:
O my lord, O best of the givers of benediction, if you will kindly grant me the benediction I desire, please let me not meet death from any of the living entities created by you. Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal. Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. Since no one can kill you in the battlefield, you have no competitor. Therefore, grant me the benediction that I too may have no rival. Give me sole lordship over all the living entities and presiding deities, and give me all the glories obtained by that position. Furthermore, give me all the mystic powers attained by long austerities and the practice of yoga, for these cannot be lost at any time.
One day while Hiranyakashipu was performing austerities at Mandaracala Mountain, his home was attacked by Indra and the other devas. At this point the divine sage, Narada intervened to protect Kayadu, whom he describes as 'sinless'. Following this event Narada takes Kayadu into his care and while under the guidance of Narada, her unborn child (Hiranyakashipu's son) Prahlada, became affected by the transcendental instructions of the sage even at such a young stage of development. Thus, Prahlada when later growing as a child began to show symptoms of this earlier training by Narada, gradually becoming recognised as a devoted follower of Vishnu, much to his father's disappointment.
Hiranyakashipu eventually becomes so angry and upset at his son's devotion to Vishnu (whom he sees as his mortal enemy) that he decides he must kill him, but each time he attempts to kill the boy, Prahlada is protected by Vishnu's mystical power. When asked, Prahlada refuses to acknowledge his father as the supreme lord of the universe and claims that Vishnu is all-pervading and omnipresent. To which Hiranyakashipu points to a nearby pillar and asks if 'his Vishnu' is in it:
"O most unfortunate Prahlada, you have always described a supreme being other than me, a supreme being who is above everything, who is the controller of everyone, and who is all-pervading. But where is He? If He is everywhere, then why is He not present before me in this pillar?"
Prahlada then answers, He was, He is and He will be. In an alternate version of the story, Prahlada answers He is in pillars, and he is in the smallest twig. Hiranyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashes the pillar with his mace, and then following a tumultuous sound, Vishnu in the form of Narasimha appears from it and in defence of Prahlada moves to attack his father. In order to kill Hiranyakashipu and not upset the boon given by Brahma, the form of Narasimha was chosen. Hiranyakashipu could not be killed by human, deva or animal, Narasimha is neither one of these, as he is a form of Vishnu incarnate as a part-human, part-animal. He comes upon Hiranyakashipu at twilight (when it is neither day nor night) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out), and puts the demon on his thighs (neither earth nor space). Using his sharp fingernails (neither animate nor inanimate) as weapons, he disembowels and kills the demon.
Vamana was born to Aditi and Kashyapa. He is the twelfth of the Adityas. Vamana is known to be the younger brother of Indra.
The legend of Bhagavata has it that the Vamana avatar was taken by Vishnu to restore Indra's authority over the heavens, which was taken away by force by the demon king Bali in Dravida. Vamana is a disguise of a short Brahman, carrying a wooden umbrella requested three steps of land for him to live in. Given a promise of three steps of land by King Mahabali against the warning given by his Guru Sukracharya, Vamana, the Supreme God grows so huge that he could cover from heaven to earth, earth to lower worlds in two simple steps. King Mahabali unable to fulfil the promise of three paces of land to the Supreme God, offers his head for the third step. Thus Vamana places his place on King Mahabali's head and gives him immortality for his benevolence.
Parashurama a Brahmin, the sixth avatar of Vishnu, belongs to the Treta yuga, and is the son of Jamadagni and Renuka. He received an axe after undertaking a terrible penance to please Shiva, from whom he learned the methods of warfare and other skills. He fought the advancing ocean back thus saving the lands of Konkan and Malabar. The coastal area of Kerala state along with the Konkan region, i.e., coastal Maharashtra and Karnataka, is also sometimes called Parashurama Kshetra (Parashurama's country). Parashurama is said to be a "warrior Brahman", the first warrior saint.
Rama is one of the many popular figures and deities in Hinduism, specifically Vaishnavism and Vaishnava religious scriptures in South and Southeast Asia. Most of the details of Rama's life come from the Ramayana, one of the two great epics of India. Born as the eldest son of Kausalya and Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya, Rama is referred to within Hinduism as Maryada Purushottama, literally the Perfect Man or Lord of Self-Control or Lord of Virtue. Rama is the husband of Sita, whom Hindus consider to be an avatar of Lakshmi and the embodiment of perfect womanhood.
Rama's life and journey is one of perfect adherence to dharma despite harsh tests of life and time. He is pictured as the ideal man and the perfect human. For the sake of his father's honour, Rama abandons his claim to Kosala's throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the forest. His wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, being unable to live without Rama, decide to join him, and all three spend the fourteen years in exile together. This leads to the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana, the Rakshasa (Asura) monarch of Lanka. After a long and arduous search that tests his personal strength and virtue, Rama fights a colossal war against Ravana's armies. In a war of powerful and magical beings, greatly destructive weaponry and battles, Rama slays Ravana in battle and liberates his wife. Having completed his exile, Rama returns to be crowned king in Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) and eventually becomes emperor, after which he reigns for eleven thousand years – an era of perfect happiness, peace, prosperity and justice known as Rama Rajya.
Krishna is often depicted as an infant or young boy playing a flute as in the Bhagavata Purana, or as a youthful prince giving direction and guidance as in the Bhagavad Gita. The stories of Krishna appear across a broad spectrum of Hindu philosophical and theological traditions. They portray him in various perspectives: a god-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero and the Supreme Being. The principal scriptures discussing Krishna's story are the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana.
Balarama also known as Baladeva, Balabhadra and Halayudha, is the elder brother of the divine being, Krishna in Hinduism. Within Vaishnavism and a number of South Indian, Hindu traditions Balarama is worshipped as an avatar of Vishnu, and he is also listed as such in the Bhagavata Purana. Within both the Vaishnava traditions and Hinduism generally he is acknowledged as being a manifestation of Shesha, the serpent on whom Vishnu rests.
The Bhagavata Purana describes Krishna as the original Supreme Personality of Godhead from whom everything else emanates. As part of this divine 'emanation', Krishna's very first expansion is Balarama, and from Balarama all other incarnations of God then appear. Of the three transcendental elements described in Sanskrit as sat, cit and ananda (eternity, knowledge and bliss), Balarama is in charge of eternity and knowledge. Hence he is worshipped as the supreme teacher or Adiguru.
In Hinduism, Kalki (also rendered by some as Kalkin and Kalaki) is the tenth and final Maha Avatar (great incarnation) of Vishnu who will come to end the present age of darkness and destruction known as Kali Yuga. The name Kalki is often a metaphor for eternity or time.
The Bhagavata Purana states, "At the end of Kali Yuga, when there exist no topics on the subject of God, even at the residences of so-called saints and respectable gentlemen , and when the power of government is transferred to the hands of ministers elected from the evil men, and when nothing is known of the techniques of sacrifice, even by word, at that time the Lord will appear as the supreme chastiser. It further describes Lord Kalki's activities as follows: "Lord Kalki, the Lord of the universe, will mount His swift white horse Devadatta and, sword in hand, travel over the earth exhibiting His eight mystic opulences and eight special qualities of Godhead. Displaying His unequaled effulgence and riding with great speed, He will kill by the millions those thieves who have dared dress as kings."
Do you know what an avatara is? An avatara is an incarnation and means that a god adopts a human form to be born on earth. Why do gods do this. The purpose is to destroy evil on earth and establish righteousness. Vishnu is regarded as the preserver of the universe and it is therefore Vishnu's incarnations that one encounters most often. Vishnu has already had nine such incarnations and the tenth and final incarnation is due in the future. These ten incarnations of Vishnu are as follows.
(1) Matsya avatara- fish incarnation (2) Kurma avatara- turtle incarnation (3) Varaha avatara- boar incarnation (4) Narasimha avatara- half-man lion incarnation (5) Vamana avatara- dwarf incarnation (6) Parashurama (7) Rama (8) Krishna (9) Buddha (10) Kalki-this is the incarnation that is yet to come.
The Agni Purana now describes these ten incarnations.
1. The Fish
Agni told Vashishtha the story of the fish incarnation.
Many years ago, the whole world was destroyed. The destruction in fact extended to all the three lokas (worlds) of bhuloka, bhuvarloka and svarloka. Bhuloka is the earth, svarloka or svarga is heaven and bhuvarloka is a region between the earth and heaven. All there worlds were flooded with water.
Vaivasvata Manu was the son of the sun-god. He had spent ten thousand years in prayers and tapasya (meditation) in the hermitage Badrika. This hermitage was on the banks of the river Kritamala.
Once Manu came to the river to perform his ablutions. He immersed his hands in the water to get some water for his ablutions. When he raised them, he found that there was a small fish swimming in the water in the cup of his hands.
Manu was about to throw the fish back into the water when the fish said, "Don't throw me back. I am scared of alligators and crocodiles and big fishes. Save me."
Manu found an earthen pot in which he could keep the fish. But soon the fish became too big for the pot and Manu had to find a larger vessel in which the fish might be kept. But the fish became too big for this vessel as well and Manu had to transfer the fish to a take. But the fish grew and grew and became too large for the lake. So Manu transferred the fish to the ocean. In the ocean, the fish grew until it became gigantic.
By now, Manu's wonder knew no bounds. He said, "Who are you? You must be the Lord Vishnu, I bow down before you. Tell me, why are you tantalising me in the form of a fish?"
The fish replied, "I have to punish the evil and protect the good. Seven days from now, the ocean will flood the entire world and all beings will be destroyed. But since you have saved me, I will save you. When the world is flooded, a boat will arrive here. Take the saptarshis (seven sages) with that boat. Don't forget to take the seeds of foodgrains with you. I will arrive and you will then fasten the boat to my horn with a huge snake."
Saying this, the fish disappeared.
Everything happened as the fish had promised it would. The ocean became turbulent and Manu climbed into the boat. He tied the boat to the huge horn that the fish had. He prayed to the fish and the fish related the Matsya Purana to him. Eventually, when the water receded, the boat was anchored to the topmost peak of the Himalayas. And living beings were created once again.
A danava (demon) named Hayagriva had stolen the sacred texts of the Vedas and the knowledge of the brahman. In his form of a fish, Vishnu also killed Hayagriva and recovered the Vedas.
2. The Turtle
Many years ago there was a war between the devas (gods) and the daityas (demons) and the gods lost this war. They prayed to Vishnu to rescue them from the oppression of the demons. Vishnu told Brahma and the other gods that they should have a temporary truce with the demons. The two sides should get together to churn the ocean. Vishnu would ensure that the devas benefited more from this churning of the ocean than the daityas did.
The truce was agreed upon and the two sides got ready to churn the ocean. The mountain Mandara was used as a churning rod and great sake Vasuki as the rope for churning. The devas grasped Vasuki's tail and the daityas grasped Vasuki's head. But as the churning began, the mountain Mandara which had no base, started to get immersed in the ocean. What was to be done? Lord Vishnu came to the rescue. He adopted the form of a turtle and the peak was balanced on the turtle's back.
As the churning continued, terrible poison named kalkuta emerged from the depths of the ocean and was swallowed by Shiva. Shiva's throat became blue from this poison and he is therefore known as Nilakantha, blue of throat. The goddess Varunai, the goddess of wine (sura), came out next. The gods readily accepted her and thus they came to be known as suras. But the demons rejected Varunai and were therefore known as asuras. She was followed by the Parijata tree, a beautiful tree that came to occupy the pride of place in Indra's garden. A jewel named koustubha emerged and was accepted by Vishnu as his adornment. Three wonderful animals came out next - the cow Kapila, the horse Ucchaishrava and the elephant Airavata. They were followed by the apsaras, beautiful women who became the dancers of heaven. They were known as apsaras because they emerged from ap (water). The goddess Lakshmi or Sri came out next and was united with Vishnu.
Finally, Dhanvantari emerged with a pot of amrita (the life - giving drink) in his hands. Dhanvantari was the originator of medicine (ayurveda). The daityas led by Jambha gave half of the amrita to the devas and departed with the remaining half.
But Vishnu quickly adopted the form of a beautiful woman. So beautiful was the woman that the demons were charmed. "Pretty lady," they said. " Take the amrita and serve it to us. Marry us."
Vishnu accepted the amrita, but he had no intention of giving it to the demons. He served it to the gods instead. There was only one demon who was somewhat clever. His name was Rahu. He adopted the form of Chandra, the moon-god, and succeeded in drinking some of the amrita. The sun-god and the moon-god noticed what was happening and reported it to Vishnu. Vishnu thereupon cut off Rahu's head with a sword.
But Rahu had drunk the amrita, so he could not die. He prayed to Vishnu and Vishnu granted him a boon. The boon was that occasionally Rahu would be permitted to swallow up the sun and the complained about him. You can see this happening at the time of the solar and the lunar eclipses. People who give alms during such eclipses are blessed.
The gods obtained the amrita and the demons did not. Thus, the gods became more powerful than the demons. They defeated the demons and regained heaven.
3. The Boar
Vishnu's next incarnation was in the form of a boar.
The sage Kashyapa and his wife Diti had a son named Hiranyaksha. He became the king of the asuras. Hiranyaksha's meditation pleased Brahma and Brahma granted him the boon that he would be invincible in battle. Thus armed. Hiranyaksha went out to fight with the devas. He comprehensively defeated the gods and conquered heaven. He also defeated Varuna, the god of the ocean. Thus, Hiranyaksha became the king of the heaven, the earth and the underworld.
But the asura was not particularly fond of the earth. He himself had begun to live in Varuna's palace under the ocean. So he hurled the earth into the depths of the ocean.
The gods went to Vishnu and prayed that something might be done about Hiranyaksha. They wished to be restored to heaven and they wished that the earth might be brought back from the depths of the ocean. In response to these prayers, Vishnu adopted the form of a boar and entered the ocean. Who should he meet there but Hiranyaksha himself?
Hiranyaksha of course did not know that this boar was none other than Vishnu. He thought that it was an ordinary boar and attacked it. The two fought for many years. But finally, Hiranyaksha was gored to death by the boar's tusks. The boar raised the earth up once again with its tusks.
Vishnu thus saved the gods and the principles of righteousness or dharma.
4. Man -Lion
Hiranyaksha had a brother named Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyakashipu was furious to learn that his brother had been killed and the resolved to kill Vishnu. But this could not be done unless h e himself became powerful land invincible. Hiranyakashipu, therefore, began to pray to Brahma through difficult meditation. Brahma was pleased at these prayers and offered to grant a boon.
"I want to be invincible," said Hiranyakashipu. "Please grant me the boon that I may not be killed by night or day; that I may not be killed by man or beast; and that I may not be killed in the sky, the water or the earth."
Brahma granted the desired boon. And Hiranyakashipu was happy. He thought that he had taken care of all possible eventualities. And since he had become so powerful, he conquered all the three worlds and kicked the gods out to heaven.
Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahlada. You no doubt remember that Hiranyakashipu had resolved to kill Vishnu. But strangely enough, Prahlada became devoted to Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried to persuade his son. That did not work. He tried to kill his son. That too did not work since each time, Vishnu intervened to save Prahlada.
Meanwhile, the gods had been driven off from heaven. They had also been deprived of their shares in yajanas by Hiranyakashipu. These shares now went only to the asura king. In desperation, they went and prayed to Vishnu and Vishnu promised them that he would find a solution.
One day, Hiranyakashipu called Prahlada to him. "How is it that you escaped each time I tried to kill you?" he asked.
"Because Vishnu saved me," replied Prahlada. "Vishnu is everywhere."
"What do you mean everywhere?" retorted Hiranyakashipu. He pointed to a crystal pillar inside the palace and asked, "Is Vishnu inside this pillar as well?"
"Yes," replied Prahlada.
"Very well then. I am going to kick the pillar," said Hiranyakashipu.
When Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar, it broke into two. And from inside the pillar, Vishnu emerged in his form of half-man and half-lion. He caught hold of Hiranyakashipu and placed the demon across his thighs. And with his claws, he tore apart the demon's chest and so killed him. Brahma's boon had been that Hiranyakashipu would not be killed by man or beast. But then narasimha was neither man nor beast it was half-man and half-beast. The boon had said that the asura would not be killed in the sky, the water or the earth. But Hiranyakashipu was killed on Vishnu's thighs, which were not the sky, the water or the earth. And finally, the noon had promised that Hiranyakashipu would not be killed by night or day. Since the incident took place in the evening, it was not night or day.
After Hiranyakashipu died, the gods were restored to their rightful places. Vishnu's made Prahlada the king of the asuras.
5. The Dwarf
Prahlada's grandson was Bali and Bali became very powerful. When he was the king of the asuras, there was a war between the devas and the asuras. The gods were defeated and were driven off from svarga. As always, the gods fled to Vishnu and began to pray to him to save them. Vishnu assured the gods that he would do something about Bali.
Accordingly, Vishnu was born as the son of Aditi and Kashyapa. The son was a dwarf.
King Bali had arranged for a huge sacrifice and had announced that, on the occasion of the sacrifice, he would not refuse anyone a boon. The dwarf arrived at this sacrifice and began to recite the Veda's. Bali was so pleased at this that he offered the dwarf a bon. Bali's guru (teacher) was Shukracharya and Shukracharya thought that there was something fishy about the way the dwarf had arrived. So he tried to restrain Bali.
"No," said Bali. "I have offered a boon and I shall stick to my word." What boon do you desire? I will give whatever you want."
Before a boon was actually granted, a small rite had to be performed with holy water. Shukracharya was still trying to do his best to prevent the boon from being given. So he entered the vessel in which the holy water was kept to seal the mouth of the vessel and prevent the water from being taken out. To get at the holy water, the vessel was pierced with a straw. This straw also pierced one of Shukracharya's eyes. Ever since that day, the preceptor of the demons has been one eyed.
"Give me as much of land as may be covered in three of my steps," said the dwarf. "I need this as Dakshaina (fee) for my guru."
Bali agreed. But the dwarf adopted a gigantic form. With one step he covered bhuloka. With another step he covered bhuvarloka. And with the last step he covered svarloka. The three worlds were thus lost to Bali and Vishnu returned them to Indra. Bali had no option but to go down to the underworld (patala). But so pleased was Vishnu at Bali's generosity that he granted the asura the boon that he would bear the title of Indra in the future.
The kshatriyas were the second of the four classes. It was their job to wear arms and protect the world. And rule. The brahmanas were the first of the four classes. It was their job to pray, study the sacred texts and perform religious rites. But the kshatriyas became very insolent and began to oppress the world and the brahmanas. Vishnu was then born as the son of the sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka. Since this was the line of the sage Bhrigu, Parashurama was also called Bhargava. Parashurama's mission was to protect the brahmanas and teach a lesson to the kshatriyas.
There was a king named Kartavirya who had received all sorts of boons from the sage Dattatreya. Thanks to these boons, Kartavirya had a thousand arms and conquered and ruled over the entire world. One day, Kartavirya went on a hunt to the forest. He was very tired after the hunt and was invited by the sage Jamadagni had a Kamadhenu cow. This meant that the cow produced whatever its owner desired. Jamadagni used the Kamadhenu to treat Kartavirya and all his soldiers to a sumptuous feast.
Kartavirya was so enamoured of the Kamadhenu that he asked the sage to give it to him. But Jamadagni refused. Kartavirya then abducted the cow by force and a war started between Kartavirya and Parashurama. In this war, Parashurama cut off Kartavirya's head with his axe (parashu) and brought the Kamadhenu back to the hermitage.
After some time, Parashurama was away when Kartavirya's sons arrived at the ashrama and killed Jamadagni. On the death of his father, Parashurama's anger was aroused. He killed all the kshatriyas in the world twenty-one times. On the plains of Kurukshetra, he built five wells which were filled with the blood of kshatriyas. Eventually, Parashurama handed over the world to Kashyapa and went and lived on Mount Mahendra.
Brahma came out of Vishnu's navel. Brahma's son was Marichi's son Kashyapa, Kashyapa's son Surya, Surya's son Vaivasvata Manu, Manu's son Ikshvaku, Ikskhvakku's son Kakutstha, Kakutstha's son Raghu, Raghu's son Aja, Aja's son Dasharatha, Dasharatha's sons were Rama, Bharataa, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Since Rama was descended from Kakutstha and Raghu, he was also called Kakutstha and Raghava. Since his father's name was Dasharatha, he was also called Dasharathi. Rama's story belongs to the solar line (surya vansha), since one of his ancestors was Surya.
Vishnu himself wished to destroy Ravana and the other Rakshasas (demons). He therefore divided himself into four parts and was born as Ramas, Bharataa, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Rama was Koushalya's son, Bharataa Kaikeyi's. Lakshmana and Shartrughna were the sons of Sumitra.
The sage Vishvamitra came to Dasharatha and pleaded for Rama's help in defeating the Rakshasas who were disturbing his yajanas. Rama killed these demons and Vishvamitra was so pleased that he taught Rama the use of all divine weapons. Rama broke a bow of Shiva's that had been in the possession of the king of Mithila, Janaka. This was the task that had been appointed for marrying Sita, Janaka's daughter. Rama married Sita, Lakshmana married urmila, Bharataa married Mandavi and Shatrughna married Shrutakirti. On the way back to Ayodhya, Rama also beat Parashurama in a duel. Dasharatha resolved that Rama should be made yuvaraja, that is, the heir apparent to the kingdom.
But Kaikeyi had a servant named Manthara who plotted otherwise. When he was young, Rama had pulled at Manthara's feet and ever since that day, Manthara had not been kindly towards Rama. She reminded Kaikeyi of the two; boons that had been promised to her by King Dasharatha. Years ago, the gods had been fighting with the demon Shambara and had asked Dasharatha for his help. In fighting with Shambara, Dasharatha had been injured. He had been nursed back to health by Kaikeyi. Dasharatha had promised two boons to Kaikeyi as a reward and Manthara's suggestion was that Kaikeyi should now ask for these two boons. By the first boon Rama would be banished to the forest for fourteen years and by the second boon Bharataa would become yuvaraja.
Kaikeyi listened to Manthara. At Manthara's instance, she asked for these two boons. Dasharatha was very angry, but Rama insisted that he would indeed go to the forest for fourteen years. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita first went to the banks of the river Tamasa. From there they went to the kingdom of Guha, the king of the hunters (nishadas). They crossed the river Jahnavi and arrived in Prayaga, where the sage Bharadvaja had his hermitage. Their final destination was the mountain range of Chitrakuta, on the banks of the river Mandakini.
Meanwhile, back home in Ayodhaya, King Dasharatha who could not bear to be parted from Rama, died. Bharataa and Shatrughna had gone on a visit to their uncle's house and were recalled. But Bharataa refused to be king. He went to the forest to try and persuade Rama to return, but Rama insisted that he would not return before the fourteen years were over. So Bharataa brought back Rama's sandals. He placed these sandals on the throne as a token of Rama's kingship. And he began to rule the kingdom in Rama's name from Nandigram, rather than from Ayodhya.
Rama, Lakshmana and Sita then went to the forest that is known as the Dandaka forest, Dandakaranya. This forest was on the banks of the river Godavari and there was a beautiful lgrove inside the forest known as Panchavati. They built a hut there and resolved to live there.
There was a Rakshasa woman named Shurpanakha. She happened to come to the place where Rama Lakshmana and Sita had built their hut. Shurpanakha liked Rama so much that she wanted to marry Rama and eat up Lakshmana and Sita. But Lakshmana cut off Shurpanakha's nose and ears with his sword.
Shurpanakha fled to brother Khara and demanded revenge. Khara and fourteen thousand other demons (Rakshasas) attacked Rama, but they were all killed by Rama. Shurpanakha then went to her other brother Ravana, the king of Lanka.
Ravana asked the rakshasa Maricha to adopt the form of a golden deer and roam around in front of Rama's hut. Sita was so charmed by the deer that she asked Rama to capture it for her. Rama was long in returning and Lakshmana went to look for him. Taking advantage of Rama and Lakshmana's absence, Ravana kidnapped Sita. Jatayu, the king of the birds, did try to stop Ravana, but he met his death at Ravana's hands.
Rama and Lakshmana were greatly distressed to find Sita missing and they looked for her everywhere. Rama made friends with the monkey Sugriva. He killed Sugriva's brother Bali and made Sugriva the king of monkeys. The monkeys were sent off in all the four directions to for Sita.
The monkeys who had gone towards the south learnt that Sita was in Lanka, across the ocean. One of these monkeys was Hanuman. Hanuman leapt over the ocean and arrived in Lanka. He discovered the lonesome Sita in a grove of ashoka trees, the ashokavana. Hanuman introduced himself and assured Sita that he would soon be back with Rama. Hanuman caused some general havoc in Lanka and was captured by Meghnada or Indrajit, Ravana's son. Ravana ordered that Hanuman's tail should be set on fire. But Hanuman used his burning tail to set fire to all the houses of Lanka. He then returned to Rama with the news that Sita had been found.
Rama, Lakshmana and the army of monkeys arrived at the shores of the ocean. There they built a bridge over the ocean so that they could cross over into Lanka. There was a terrible war in which Rama killed the giant Kumbhakarna, Ravana's brother. Lakshmana killed Indrajit. Rama killed Ravana with a powerful divine weapon, the Brahmastra.
The fourteen years were by now over and Rama, Lakshmana and Sita returned to Ayodhya. There, Rama was crowned king and he treated his subjects as his own sons. He punished the wicked and followed the path of dharma. During Rama's rule there was no shortage of foodgrains anywhere and the people were righteous. No one died an untimely death.
On Rama's instructions, Shatrughna killed the asura Lavana and built the city of Mathura in the place where Lavana's kingdom had been. Bharataa was sent by Rama to kill a wicked Gandharva, a singer of heaven named Shailusha, who lived on the banks of the river Indus with his sons. Bharataa killed them and built two cities there, Takshashila and Pushkaravati. In Takshashila Bharataa established his son Ataksha as king and in Pushkaravati he made his son pushkara the king. Rama and Sita had two sons named Kusha and Lava. Rama ruled for eleven thousand years before he died.
This is the story of the Ramayana as recounted in the Agni Purana. It was written by the sage Valmiki after he had heard the story from the sage Narada.
Rama was the seventh avatara of Vishnu, Krishna was the eighth.
As you have already been told, Brahma emerged from Vishnu's navel. Brahma's son was Atri, Atri's son Soma, Soma's son Pururava, Pururava's son Ayu, Ayu's son Nahusha and Nahushja's son Yayati. Yayati had two wives, Devayani and Sharmishtha. Devayani had two sons, Yadu and Turvusu. And Sharmishtha had three sons, Druhya, Anu and Puru. The descendants of Yadu were known as the Yadavas.
Vasudeva was a Yadava. His wife was Devaki. Vishnu was born as sthe son of Vasudeva and Devaki in order to remove the wicked from the world. The seventh son of Vasudeva and Devaki was Baladeva. And the eight son was Krishna himself. Krishna was born in the month of Bhadra in the thick of the night. Scared that the wicked Kakmsa might kill the newly born child, Vasudeva left him with Yashoda, the wife of Nanda.
Nanda was the king of the cowherds and he brought up Baladeva and Krishna. Kamsa sent a Rakshasa woman named Putana to kill Krishna but Krishna killed her instead. In Vrindavana, Krishna subdued the terrible snake known as Kaliya. He killed several other rakshasas named Arishta, Vrishabha, Keshi, Dhenuka and Gardhabha and made the country safe from the attacksof these demons. He also stopped the worship of Indra. This led to a fight between Indra and Krishna, Indra tried to destroy the inhabitants of Gokula by sending down torrents of rain. But Krishna held aloft the mountain Govardhana and saved the inhabitants of Gokula.
Kamsa's capital was in Mathura, Baladeva and Krishna went there. Kamsa let loose a mad elephant named Kuvalayapida on Krishna. But Krishna killed Kuvalayapida. Baladeva and Krishna also killed two strong wrestlers, Chanura and Mushtika, whom Kamsa had instructed to kill Baladeva and Krishna. Finally, Krishna killed Kamsa and made Ugrasena the king. Kamsa was Jarasandha's son-in-law and Jarasandha became furious when he learnt of Kamsa's death. He attacked the Yadavas and laid siege to the city of Mathura. After a prolonged war, Krishna managed to defeat Jarasandha. Krishna also defeated another evil king named Poundraka. On Krishna's instructions, the Yadavas built the beautiful city of Dvaraka or Dvaravati. The Yadavas began to live in Dvaraka.
There was an asura named Naraka who was killed by Krishna. Naraka had imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the devas, Gandharvas and Yakshas (guards of Heaven's treasury). These women were freed by Krishna and Krishna married all of them. Amongst Krishna's other exploits were defeating the daitya Panchajana, killing Kalayavna, seizing the parijata tree from Indra and bringing back to life the sage Sandipani's dead son.
Krishna had several sons. Shamba was born of Krishna's wife Jambavati and Pradyumna was born of Krishna's wife Rukmini. As soon as Pradyumna was born, he was abducted by the asura Shambara. Shambara threw the baby into the sea, but a fish swallowed the baby. A fisherman caught the fish and brought it to Shambara's house. When the fish's stomach was cut open, the baby came out. There was a woman named Mayavati who lived in Shambara's house and Shambara handed over baby Pradyumna to Mayavati so that he might be brought up well. When he grew up, Pradyumna killed Shambara and married Mayavati. They returned to Dvaraka and Krishna was very happy to see his lost son.
Pradyumma and Mayavati had a son named Aniruddha. Aniruddha secretly married Usha, the daughter of King Vana, Vana himself being the son of Bali. Vana's capital was in a city named Shonitapura. Vana had pleased Shiva through hard and difficult tapasya, so that sometimes he was called the son of Shiva. Vana loved to fight and he had wanted a boon from Shiva that he might get the chance to fight with someone who was his equal in battle. A flag with a peacock on it used to fly from the ramparts of Vana's palace. Shiva told him the day this flag fell down. Vana's desire for with an equal would be satisfied.
With the help of a friend of Usha's, Anuruddha and Usha used to meet secretly in Vana's palace. Vana's guards informed him about this and there was a fierce battle between Vana and Aniruddha At the same time, the flag with the peacock on it fell down. Krishna got to know from Narada about the fight between Vana and Aniruddha and he, Baladeva and Pradyumna arrived in Vana's capital. Shiva came to fight on Vana's side, accompanied by Nandi and Skanda or Kartikeya. But after a duel that lasted for a long time, Krishna triumphed over these enemies. Krishna's arrows also cut off the thousand arms that Vana had. But at Shiva's request, Krishna spared Vana's life and gave two arms with which to make do.
All of these stories about Krishna are related in detail in the Harivamsha. The Agni Purana merely gives a brief summary of the Harivamsha. But stories about Krishna, the eight avatara of Vishnu, also crop up in the Mahabharataa. The Agni Purana, therefore, next summarises the Mahabharataa.
The Pandavas were merely a pretext. Krishna used the Pandavas to rid the world of evil men. You have already learnt that one of Yayati's sons was Puru. In Puru's line were born Bharataa and Kuru. One of Kuru's descendants was the king Shantanu. Shantanu married Ganga and Bhishma was born from this marriage.
But Shantanu also married Satyavati and had two more sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Bhishma never married. Chitrangada died young. When Vichitravirya grew up, Bhishma defeated the king of Kashi and brought two of the king's daughters, Ambika and Ambalika, as brides for Vichitravirya. Vichitravirya as also quite young when he died of tuberculosis.
Since Vichitravirya had left no children, Vyasadeva was brought to Hastinapura. Vyasadeva and Ambalika had a son named Dhritarashtra and Vyasadeva and Ambalika had a son named Pandu. Dhritarashtra married Gandhari and they had a hundred sons, of whom the most important was Duryodhana. Pandu had two wives, Kunti and Madri. Kunti's sons were Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna and Madri's sons were Nakula and Sahadeva. But Yudhisthira was really the son of the god Dharma and not Pandu's son. Similarly, Bhima was the son of the god Pavana, Arjuna the son of Indra and Nakula and Sahadeva the sons of the two Ashvinis. Earlier, Kunti had a son named Karna from the sun-god.
This was before she had god married to Pandu. Karna became a friend of Duryodhana's. Because of a curse imposed on him by a sage, Pandu died in the forest.
Duryodhana tried his best to kill the Pandavas. He set fire to a house of lac (jatugriha) in which Kunti and the five Pandavas were staying. But the Pandavas were saved and fled to a city named Ekachakra. There they lived, disguised as brahmanas. In Ekachakra, they destroyed a rakshasa named Vaka. They then won the hand of the daughter of the king of Panchala. Her name was Droupadi and all five Pandava brothers married her. When Duryodhana learnt that the Pandavas were alive, he handed over half the kingdom to them.
Meanwhile, the forest Khandava had to be burnt and Krishna and Arjuna did this together. Krishna had befriended Arjuna. When Arjuna successfully defeated the god Agni at the burning of the Khandava forest, Agni gave him several divine weapons. Arjuna had also obtained divine weapons from his guru Dronacharya.
On the Pandava side, Yudhisthira had become king. The Pandavas organised a rajasuya yajna (royal sacrifice) in which they conquered several kingdoms and accumulated lot of wealth. This made Duryodhana envious.
He arranged a game of dice (aksha) between Yudhisthira and Duryodhana's uncle Shakuni. Shakuni did not play fairly and Yudhisthira lost the game. As penalty for the loss, the Pandavas were to spend twelve years in the forest and one additional year without being detected. Droupadi went with them to the forest, as did the Pandava's priest, Dhoumya.
After the twelve years were over, the Pandavas came to the kingdom of King Virata where they proposed to spend the additional year that had to be spent in disguises. Yudhisthira pretended to be a brahmana, Bhima a cook, Arjuna a dancer, Nakula and Sahadeva stable-hands. Droupadi became the queen's maid. The queen's brother Kichaka tried to molest Droupadi, but was killed by Bhima. When the year was over, the Kauravas attacked King Virata to rob him of his cattle. But Arjuna defeated all the Kauravas and saved Virata's cattle. After this success, the identity of the Pandavas could no longer be kept a secret. But thankfully, the one year during which identities had to be kept a secret, was over.
King Virata's daughter Uttara was married to Abhimanyu, Arjuna's son. Abhimanyu's mother was Subhadra, whom Arjuna had married. Subhadra also happened to be Krishna's sister.
The Pandavas now demanded their rightful share of the kingdom, but Duryodhana refused. A war was imminent. A huge battalion of soldiers was known as an akshouhini. Duryodhana collected eleven akshouhinis for the war and Yudhisthira collected seven. Krishna was sent as a messenger to Duryodhana to try and preserve the peace. Krishna told Duryodhana that the Pandavas would be satisfied with a mere five villages. Duryodhana refused to give them even this without a fight.
So the armies gathered for a war on the plains of Kurukshetra. Noticing that elders and relatives like Bhishma and Dronacharya were fighting on the side of the Kaurvas, Arjuna was reluctant to fight. But Krishna gave Arjuna lessons which have come down to us as the Gita. He taught there was no reason for sorrow if Bhishma or Dronacharya died, that was only a death of their physical bodies. The true identity of a person was his atman (soul) which never died, but passed from one body to another. True bliss was obtained when the atman united with the Brahman (divine essence) or Paramatman (supreme soul). This was always the goal of a yogi, that is, a person who sought union with God.
Thus instructed by Krishna, Arjuna started to fight. With the help of Shikhandi, he defeated Bhishma. This happened on the tenth day of the fighting. Bhishma did not however die. He had earlier received the boon that he would only die when he actually wished to do so. For many days, he lay there in the battlefield on a bed of arrows. After Bhishma's defeat, Dronacharya became the general on the Pandava side. Dronaharya killed Virata, Drupada and several other kings and soldiers on the Pandava side. Dhrishtadyumna also killed many Kaurava soldiers. On the fifteenth day of the fighting, a rumour gained currency that Ashvatthama, Dronacharya's son, had been killed. Dronacharya abandoned his weapons on hearing this bad news and Dhrishtadyumna faced no problems in killing him. Karna now became the Kaurava general and lasted for two and a half days before he was killed by Arjuna. Shalya was the last Kaurava general. He fought for only half a day and was killed by Yudhisthira.
Bhima and Duryodhana fought the last duel of the war with maces. Bhima broke Duryodhana's thighs and killed him. Ashvatthama had been fuming ever since his father Dronacharya had been killed by unfair means. In the dead of the night, he entered the Pandava camp where he killed Dhrishtadyumna and the five sons of Droupadi. Droupadi was disconsolate and demanded revenge. Arjuna and Ashvatthama let loose divine weapons at each other. Since this might destroy the world, they were asked to withdraw these weapons. Arjuna could withdraw his weapon, but Ashvatthama could not. Ashvatthama's weapon killed the baby that was in Uttara's womb, but when the dead baby was born, Krishna brought it back to life. This baby was Parikshita.
Many kings and soldiers died in the course of the Kurukshetra war. The only ones left alive were Kritvarma, Kripacharya and Ashvatthama on the Kaurava side and Pandava side. After the war was over, Bhishma taught Yudhisthira the duties of king. It was only after this that he died.
As a king, Yudhisthira performed many yajnas and gave a lot of to brahmanas. When Yudhisthira learnt that the Yadvas had been destroyed, he no longer wished to rule. He handed over the kingdom to Parikshita and the Pandavas left on a pilgrimage, in the course of which they died.
It was Krishna who had used the Pandavas as a tool to rid the world of evil kings and establish the good ones. Realising that the Yadavas were also evil, Krishna also ensured that the Yadavas would be destroyed. He then gave up his life at the place of pilgrimage that is known as Prabhasa. After Krishna died, the city of Dvarka was swallowed up by the sea. This was the story of the eighth avatara of Vishnu.
The ninth avatara of Vishnu was Buddha. Many years ago, there was a war between the devas and the asuras in which the demons managed to defeat the gods. The gods went running to Vishnu for protection and Vishnu told them that Mayamoha would be born as Buddha, the son of Shuddhodana. Such were the illusions that Buddha created, that the asuras left the path indicated by the Vedas and became Buddhists. These dastardly creatures performed ceremonies that were a sure ticket to Naraka.
Kalki The tenth avatara of Vishnu will be Kalki.
Towards the end of the Kali era, all people will be dastardly. They will oppose the Vedas, become robbers and will be concerned only with wealth. The disbelievers will then become kings and these kings will also be cannibals.
Much later, Kalki will be born on earth as the son of Vishnuyasha. He will take up arms to destroy these disbelievers. Kalki's priest will be the sage Yajnavalkya. The norms of he four classes (varna) and the four stages of life (ashrama) will be established yet again. People will honor the sacred texts and become righteous. It will then be time for the dawn of a new Satya Yuga, a fresh period of righteousness. In every cycle (kalpa) and in every era (manvantara) Vishnu is thus born in various forms. It is a sacred duty to listen to the stories of the ten avataras. The listener attains his desires and goes to heaven.
Lord Vishnu’s Incarnations
Sutji once reached Naimisharanya in course of his pilgrimage. There he found numerous sages engaged in austerities and penance. All of them were delighted to find Sutji in their midst and considered it as a God sent opportunity to get their doubts related with religious topics cleared. Sage Shaunak was also present there and he asked Sutji --' O revered sage! Who is the creator of this world? Who nurtures it and who annihilates it in the end? How can one realize the supreme Almighty? How many incarnations the Almighty has taken till now? Please enlighten us on all these things, which are shrouded in mystery.'
Sutji replied--' I am going to reveal to you the contents of Garuda Puran, which contains the divine tales of Lord Vishnu. This particular Puran is named after Garuda because he was the one who first narrated these tales to sage Kashyap. Kashyap subsequently narrated them to sage Vyas. I came to know about these divine tales from sage Vyas. Lord Vishnu is the supreme almighty and the source of all creations. He is the nurturer of this world and the annihilator as well. Though he is beyond the bondage of birth and death yet he takes incarnations to protect the world from the tyranny of sinners. His first incarnation was in the form of the eternal adolescent Sanat kumar and others who were all celibates and extremely virtuous.'
'Lord Vishnu took his second incarnation in the form of a boar (Varah) to protect the Earth from the mighty demon named Hiranyaksha, who had abducted her to Patal loka (Nether world). In his third incarnation as Narad, he propagated the virtues of 'nishkaam karma' (performing one's duties without bothering about the results). In his fourth incarnation as Nar-Narayan, he performed arduous austerities for the protection and propagation of Dharma or religiousness.
Lord Vishnu's fifth incarnation was as Kapil, which he took to protect the Saankhya shashtra, which was on the verge of becoming extinct. He took his sixth incarnation in the house of Atri and Anusuya as Dattatreya with the specific objective of propagating the most secret Brahma vidya to worthy people. His disciples included virtuous souls like Prahalad and others. Lord Vishnu took his seventh incarnation as the son of Ruchi Prajapati and Aakuti and was known as Yagya deva. His eighth incarnation was as Rishabh deva- the son of sage Naabhi and Merudevi.
In this incarnation he established the norms for Grihashtha ashram, which later on became the guidelines for every householders. Lord Vishnu took his ninth incarnation as Prithu and 'milked'(extracted) various nutrients (cereals, pulses etc.) from the Earth who had disguised herself as a cow and thus protected the populace from getting starved to death.
In his tenth incarnation as Matsya (fish), he protected the life of Vaivaswat Manu, who would not have survived otherwise. Lord Vishnu took his eleventh incarnation in the form of a tortoise (kurma) and held the Mandarachal mountain on his back at the time when the ocean was being churned. His twelfth incarnation was as Dhanvantari and thirteenth as the most enchanting beauty- Mohini to retrieve the ambrosia pot from the possession of the demons. He subsequently distributed it among the deities as the result of which they became immortal.
In his fourteenth incarnation, Lord Vishnu manifested himself as 'Nrisimha' (partly human and partly lion) and to protect his devotee- Prahlad killed the wicked demon Hiranyakashipu by tearing apart his abdomen with his sharp claws. His fifteenth incarnation was as Vaman (dwarf) in which he demanded all the three worlds from Bali-the most benevolent demon king and then sent him to Patal loka. In his Ano Bhadraha Kritavayo Yantu Vishwataha (Let noble thoughts come from every side) – Rg Veda
Vishva Dharma ki Jay! (Victory to Universal Dharma!)
sixteenth incarnation as Parshuram, he wiped out the whole caste of kshatriyas from the face of the earth for twenty-one times, as they had all become immoral.
In his seventeenth incarnation he was born as Vyas to Parashar and Satyavati and accomplished his mission of propagating the knowledge of Vedas by categorizing them into four parts. In his eighteenth incarnation he manifested himself as Sri Ram. His nineteenth incarnation was as Krishna and his twentieth incarnation as Balram. He will take his twenty-first incarnation as Buddha to bring the mankind back to virtuous path by preaching against the rituals and proving that it is not proper for a seeker to get bound by them. Lord Vishnu would take incarnation as Kalki and will be born to a Brahmin named Vishnuyasha to liberate the earth from the sinners.'
19th century painting of avatars of Vishnu by Raja Ravi Varma.
1. Matsya, the fish, from the Satya Yuga. Vishnu takes the form of a fish to save Manu from the deluge, 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.
2. Kurma, the tortoise, from 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 Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain.
3. 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.
4. Narasimha, the half-man/half-lion, from the Satya Yuga. The rakshasa (An evil person) 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.
5. Vamana, the dwarf, from 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 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.
6. Parashurama, warrior with the axe, from the Treta Yuga. 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 Brahmana 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 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, rishi Rucheeka, appeared and made him halt. He is a Chiranjivi (immortal), and believed to be alive today in penance at Mahendragiri.
7. Rama, the prince and king of Ayodhya, from the Treta Yuga. He 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 the monkey God Hanuman, his wife Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travelled to Ashoka Vatika in Lanka, killed the demon king and saved Sita.
8. Krishna was the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudev, from the Dwapara Yuga. He is also a frequently worshiped deity in Hinduism and an avatar in Vaishnava belief. He appeared alongside his elder brother Balarama. Balarama 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 particularly included in the lists, where Krishna is removed and becomes the source of all avatars.
9. Buddha: Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is generally included as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Buddha may be depicted in Hindu scriptures as a preacher who deludes and leads demons and heretics away from the path of the Vedic scriptures. Another view praises him as a compassionate teacher who preached the path of ahimsa (non-violence).
10. 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.
Temple door depicting Dashavatar-the ten avatars, Sree Balaji Temple, Goa. (from leftmost upper corner, clock wise) Matsya, Narasimha, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Kalki, Vamana, Vithoba, Varaha and Kurma.