Thursday, June 24, 2004

Something that every indian and every person interested in Hindu Mythology should know. The inescapable, all pervading Vishnu and his ten Avataars.

Matsya Avataar
(Matsya = fish)

Matsya,( the Fish incarnation), is the first manifestation of Vishnu. When the earth was flooded in a deluge this incarnation saved humanity from the flood. While Brahmma fell asleep, at the end of the Kalpayuga, the asura Hayagriva intended to take advantage of the situation and steal from Brahma, the Vedas. But Vishnu spies this demon in the act, and to retrieve the Vedas, took the form of a fish. Then Vishnu, in the form of Matsya, directs the rishi Satyavrata to collect herbs, seeds and animals, to gather together the seven rishis (or saptarishis), and to wait. At the beginning of the Pralayaa (great Deluge) the gigantic fish defeated the asura, restored the Vedas to Brahmma; the rain poured down relentlessly, the ocean began to swell and the waves began engulfing the earth, then, a boat appeared where Satyavrata was waiting. When the rishis, with the animals and the seeds were boarded, the boat was fastened to the fish's fin. Using Vasuki, king of the serpents as their guide through the stormy sea, they sailed through the night to Brahmma. Thus Vishnu saved the mankind from dissolution.

(Koorma = Tortoise)

Koorma, ( the Tortoise), was used for support to mount Mandara, as a churn dasher, when the devas and the asuras churned the heavenly ocean of milk (Samudramanthana) to obtain Amrita.
Following Pralayaa - the Deluge at the beginning of the present Kalpayuga, the Gods lost immortality. So they decided to go to Vishnu. Vishnu suggested that they make peace with the asura (demons) enemies and cousins of the devas (gods), to work together to obtain the Amrita-the nectar of immortality by churning the ocean of milk in heaven. Then he transformed himself into a tortoise and plunged into the ocean. The devas cast all kinds of plants and herbs into the ocean of milk. Garuda carries mount Mandara on his back and brings it to the center of the ocean of milk to use as a churn. Vasuki, the king of the serpents, was used as rope for turning it. The devas pull from one side and on the other the asuras pulled, churning the ocean of milk. The churning first threw up Visha (or Halahala) - the poison. Shiva absorbs the poison by swallowing it, and the churning resumed. Many precious things rose up. In the end emerged the jar containing Amrita-Soma (the nectar of immortality). Suddenly the asuras, dishonoring their agreement, take possession of this jar all for themselves. So Vishnu takes on the form of Mohini, a celestial princess whose beauty was considered matchless and approaches the asuras. Intoxicated and distracted by her beauty, they forget about the jar of Amrita and surround the beautiful woman. Meanwhile the devas manage to take possession of the jar of Amrita and the they alone drank the nectar of immortality, not a drop was left to the asuras.

Varaaha Avataar
(Varaaha = Boar)

Varaaha, (the Boar), is the allegory of the re-establishment of the world after Pralayaa-theDeluge. At the begining of the Kalpa, Prithvi (the Earth) lies on the ocean-bed, Vishnu wishing to lift her up, took the form of a boar and plunged into the primeval waters then lifted Bhoomidevi (the Mother Earth) onto his tusks and raised her to the surface. Before doing this, Varaaha defeated the evil asura Hiranyaksha.

Narasimha Avataar
(Nara = Man; Simha = Lion)

Narashima (the Man-lion) , is the fourth incarnation of Vishnu. It was believed that the evil asura king Hiranyakashipu, Hiranyaksha's elder brother, had been blessed with a boon from Brahma. He had been granted that he could not be killed by either man or beast, during the day or at night, indoors or outdoors, on earth or in the sky. The asura, being aware of own virtual immortality, conquered heaven and earth, and there were no limits to Hiranyakashipu's impudence and insolence. He subjected his son Prahlada, a devout worshipper of Vishnu, to a long and cruel persecution. All this because his son revered Vishnu instead of his own father. One fateful day, when the asura was going to slay Prahlada, Vishnu emerged from a pillar in the palace in the form of Narasimha to protect his devotee. When Narashima (neither man nor beast) attacked the asura, it was the twilight (neither day nor night), he dragged Hiranyakashipu under the arch of the doorway (neither indoors nor outdoors), where he threw the asura on his own lap (neither on earth nor in the sky), and killed him like a lion kills its prey!

Vaamana Avataar
(Vaamana = dwarf)

During the Tretayuga Vishnu descended upon the earth to grant a boon to Aditi (mother of the devas or the Gods ) who asked for the protection of her sons. The last of the devas had been defeated by asuras, and now King Bali (Prahlada's grandson) who was an asura, ruled over the tree worlds. Vishnu assumed the role of Aditi's son and changed his form to that of Vaamana (a dwarf brahmin). Then he appeared where king Bali was performing a sacrifice. As per Hindu religion, a king performing any ceremonial sacrifice has to appease the brahmins that preside and grant them their wishes. When it was Vaamana's turn to be granted a wish, he requested Bali to donate to him a strip of land as long as three his strides. Bali, acting in opposition to his guru's advice, who realized that Vaamana was none other than Vishnu, consented to the dwarf brahmin's humble demand. After all, how much land would three strides of a dwarf mean? As Vaamana lifted his foot for the first stride, suddenly he grew and with him grew his strides. With the first he covered the entire earth, with the second the heavens, and the third on Bali's head. Thus giving back to the devas ownership of the earth and the heaven.
This avatar is also worshipped as Trivikrama, and Ulagalanda-Peruma.

(Parashu = Axe Plow)

Parashurama (Rama of the axe plow), the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was born a brahmin but had been blessed with extraordinary physical power uncharacteristic of brahmins. Outraged by king Arjuna and his son Kritaveeryarjuna, who first stole Kamadhenu and then killed his father Jamdaagni ,Parashurama swore to destroy the whole Kshatriya clan. Vishnu as Parashurama, in the course of a war which lasted 21 years, went on to destroy all the Kshatriyas, thus he accomplished the task for which he had come to the earth. But he never killed Kshatriyas that had wives for he had vowed not to widow any woman and he never killed women. Thus two of the most important Kshatriya dynasties of Hinduism were spared. These were the dynasties of Raja Dasharatha (Lord Rama's father) the king of Ayodhya and Raja Janaka (Sita's father), the king of Mithila. Parshurama even challenged Rama for a duel because he had dared to break the bow of Shiva while winning her in a Swayamvar.Legend states that on their journey returning from Mithila to Ayodhya Rama's cavalcade was interrupted by none other that Parashurama. He had been tutored in the art and skill of archery by Lord Shiva himself, and here was Rama who had broken Shiva's bow and to add to his anger he was a Kshatriya boy! So he challenges Lord Rama to a dual. Both are such good fighters that neither can overpower the other.....suddenly their eyes lock and Parashurama realizes that Lord Rama is none other than Vishnu Himself! It was time for his incarnation to come to an end and so he retires to the deep forest for the rest of his life. Parashurama is considered immortal and is believed to be living in that forest to this day!

Rama Avataar
Lord Rama or Ramachandra, is the most important Avatar. Together, with Lord Krishna he represents the peak of the historic incarnations and by him is defined the ideal character of Indian people. He is known as Maryada Purushottama and is the embodiment of virtue and righteousness.
He is Vishnu descended upon earth to conquer all the Indian peninsula, including Sri Lanka, under the Bharatvansha (the dynasty of Bharata) rule. Lord Rama is one of the most adored and revered gods in India. He was born in the north Indian city of Ayodhya (a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh) and is popularly depicted holding a bow (Kodanda) and arrow indicating his readiness to destroy evil. His story forms the epic Ramayana. He is perfect in every aspect; the perfect man, the perfect brother, the perfect king, etc. and the obedient son. Commonly he is pictured in a family, with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and his most ardent devotee Hanumana (the Monkey God).

Krishna Avataar
(Krishna = Dark as in complexion)

Krishna, the eighth Avatar of Vishnu, descended upon the earth at the end of the Dwapara Yuga. A portentous baby, playful boy, Gopis (cowherd-girls) beloved, strong leader, and then Divine Charioteer of Arjuna in the "Bhagavadgita". His body and face are blue, the color of the endless ocean and infinite space. He is often depicted holding a flute in his hands (Murlidhar) as cowherds do and almost always wears a peacock feather in his hair. Lord Krishna is one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu faith. He is known for his bravery in destroying evil powers. The Lord is usually remembered and worshipped as Radha-Krishna. The couple symbolizes the eternal love between man and God.
His death marks the beginning of Kaliyuga. He is Vishnu descended upon this earth for the deliverance of the Gita, to show the path to Hindus and explain the philosophical significance of being a Hindu.

(Buddha = become aware/regain consciousness)

According to the Dashavataara, Buddha, the ninth avataar was born a Kshyatriya prince. Siddhartha Gautama was the name of this prince born in the kingdom of Lumbini (what is today in Southern Nepal). Deeply disillusioned by the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and all that is human life which inevitably leads to suffering, loss, and pain, he renounced his royal heritage and his life of a prince and traveled to the east. As he sat under a tree one day, he recognized that all of the world's problems begin with a fundamental ignorance (avidya) and understood that because of the fact of constant change even things that seem to provide happiness--such as wealth, fame, power, sex, relationships--are in fact sources of suffering (duhkha).

At dawn the following morning, he had attained enlightenment and had become a "buddha," a term derived from the Sanskrit root word budh, meaning to wake up or to regain consciousness. He was now fully awakened from the sleep of ignorance in which most beings spend life after life. At first he thought to remain under the tree and pass away without revealing what he had understood, since he knew that the teachings of an awakened being are subtle and difficult for ordinary beings to comprehend. As he sat there in blissful contemplation, however, the god Brahma came to him, bowed down before him, and begged him to teach others.

For forty years he preached his ideals and gained wide disciples and followers all around the world. According to his biography, he died in a grove of trees near the town of Vaishali at the age of eighty.


Kalki is the next Avatar of Vishnu. He is yet to appear and when he does He will appear, riding his white horse and wielding a shiny sword, at the end of the Kaliyuga, the dark age through which we are passing. This is considered to be the age of suffering, darkness and doom. His task will be to end the evil and restore the Dharma. Thus will begin a new cycle, again will start the Satyayuga or the age of truth and righteousness.

No comments: