Dashavatara: The ten avatar incarnations of Vishnu

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Kiran Java

8/16/20233 min read

The Dashavataras are the ten main incarnations of Vishnu, principal God in Hinduism. They have descended or appeared one after the other on earth at different times to establish righteousness, win the war of good over evil, and restore cosmic order.

The incarnations are Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.

This list of avatar varies across sects or regions. In some texts Buddha is replaced by Balrama, the elder brother of Krishna.

Matsya is the fish avatar. King Vaivasvata Manu, the current Manu of this Kalpa finds a fish in his hands while offering prayers in the river. Manu takes him home to protect it. The fish expands breaking Manu’s pride. He eventually releases it in the ocean and realizes that the fish is none other than Vishnu himself. Matsya avtaar warns Manu of the destruction of the world and asks him to prepare for it by collecting all the creatures in the world in a boat. When the floods come, then Manu ties the boat to the horn of the Matsya the fish and Matsya saves them all.

Kurma is the tortoise incarnation. At the time of the Churning of the Ocean, when mount Mandara was sinking and Vishnu took the form of Kurma and placed the mountain on it’s back to save the mountain from sinking into the ocean.

Varaha, the Boar avatar. Varaha fought the demon Hiranyaksha for a 1000 years to save Bhumi, the earth. Hiranyaksha had abducted the earth and taken it to the bottom of the cosmic ocean. Varaha won the battle and carried earth on its tusks and placed it back in the universe.

Narasimha, the half-man half-lion avatar. Narasimha killed Hiranyakashipu, and freed humans from persecution including saved his devotee Prahlada.

Vamana, the dwarf incarnation. Bali, the grandson of Prahlada had defeated Indra, the king of the gods with his intense penance and became the ruler of all the three worlds. The gods approached Vishnu to help them.

Parashurama, the warrior avatar. The son of Sapta-Rishi Jamdagni and Renuka. The received an axe as a boon from Lord Shiva. Once his father was hospitable towards a King and fed his entire party with his Kamadhenu cow. The King was impressed and destroyed the ashram and took away the cow. Parshurama was very upset and took revenge by killing the King. The King’s son then killed Rishi Jamdagni. Parashurama took revenge by travelling the earth twenty-one times and killed all the kshatriyas. Eventually his grandfather convinced him to stop the massacres. It is said that when he threw his axe into the sea, some water was displaced and the land that emerged was the coast of Karnataka and the whole of Kerala.

Rama, the King of Ayodhya. He was sent to exile for 14 years. He established righteousness on earth. He killed Ravana and saved his wife, Sita. The day he returned to Ayodhya with Sita and his brother Lakshman is celebrated as Diwali.

Krishna, the 8th son of Devaki and Vasudev and the foster child of Nand-Yashoda. He sported in Gokul with the cowherd lads and Gopis. He saved Mathura from his tyrannical uncle Kansa. He is the central character in Mahabharata and charioteer to Arjuna.

Buddha, prince Siddarth is known as an incarnation of Vishnu where he teaches compassion and non-violence. He is also known to lead people away from the atrocities of the Vedic path.

Kalki, the Avatar to come who appears at the end of the Kaliyuga. It is believed that he will appear on a white horse with sword in hand. He will establish dharma during utter chaos and start the Satyuga.