Posted on Feb 04, 2023
Lord Vishnu is one of the principal deities in Hinduism and is known as the preserver of the universe. He is often depicted as holding a conch shell and a discus(Sudarshana Chakra) and is usually shown with four arms. Vishnu is considered the second god in the Hindu trinity, alongside Brahma (the creator) and Shiva (the destroyer). He is also considered the supreme god in Vaishnavism which is one of the major traditions within Hinduism. According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu is said to have taken on various incarnations or avatars in order to restore balance to the world, and some of his most recognised avatars include Rama and Krishna. Apart from being prevalent for his 10 avatars, he is also known as Narayana, Vasudeva, and Hari.
The Srimad Bhagavatam, also known as the Bhagavata Purana, is one of the 18 major texts of Hinduism. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Vishnu is said to have 24 avatars, which include the 10 avatars, the Dashavatara. The additional 14 avatars are not as widely recognized as the Dashavatara.
The 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu are considered to be the most significant and important incarnations of Vishnu, as they have played a major role in shaping the course of human history, restoring balance to the world, and defeating evil. Also, different scriptures mention different versions of Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara. For example, in some scriptures, Buddha is mentioned as one of the forms of Vishnu whereas, in some, Buddha is replaced with Balarama. Let’s look at the list of 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu in order and learn about the legends behind them.
In Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara, the first avatar, the Matsya avatar is considered to be one of the most important avatars of Vishnu. According to Hindu mythology, Matsya is the fish incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who appeared to save the world from a great flood.
According to the legend, a tiny fish came to king Satyavrata(well-known as Manu) when he was washing in a river, and asked the king to protect him. The king took care of the fish as he grew bigger and bigger, and then one day, the fish told the king that a great flood was coming and that he must build a boat to save himself and the entire world's population. When the flood came, the fish appeared in its true form as Lord Vishnu and towed the boat to safety.
Lord Vishnu is often depicted as a fish with a human upper body and arms, holding a conch and a discus. The story of the Matsya avatar is believed to be a reminder of the cyclical nature of creation and destruction, and the importance of preserving the balance of the universe.
Among the 10 incarnations of Vishnu, the Kurma avatar is also considered to be one of the most important avatars of Vishnu. Kurma is the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who appeared to help the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) in the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk (Ksheera Sagara) to obtain the nectar of immortality.
In the story, Devas and Asuras were at war, and the Devas were losing. They sought help from Lord Brahma, who advised them to obtain the nectar of immortality from the cosmic ocean of milk(Ksheera Sagara). To do this, they needed a massive churning rod and a pivot, but nothing suitable was available. Lord Vishnu appeared as Kurma, the giant tortoise, and offered to serve as the pivot for the churning rod. The Devas and Asuras then churned the ocean using the serpent Vasuki as the churning rope. Many valuable items emerged from the ocean, including the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, and the nectar of immortality.
In this avatar, Lord Vishnu is often depicted as holding up Mount Mandāra in the ocean, with the lower body of a tortoise and a human upper body with arms, holding a conch and a discus. The story of the Kurma avatar is believed to symbolize the power of determination and cooperation. It teaches that even the most difficult tasks can be accomplished with the help of others.
Among Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara, the Varaha avatar is the boar incarnation wherein he rescues Mother Earth(Bhudevi) from the harmful clutches of a demon king named Hiranyaksha.
In the story, Lord Vishnu, in the form of Varaha, descended into the ocean to rescue Bhudevi (the earth) from demon king Hiranyaksha who stole her and hid her in the cosmic ocean. Lord Varaha defeated Hiranyaksha and lifted the earth out of the ocean with his tusks, restoring it to its proper place. He then celebrated the victory over the demon king with a cosmic dance, the Ananta-Vishnu-Nritya.
This legend is believed to symbolize the victory of good over evil, as well as the importance of the earth and the protection of the environment. The Varaha avatar is also seen as a representation of the power of Lord Vishnu to sustain and protect the universe.
The fourth avatar out of the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu was the Narasimha avatar in which Vishnu appears in a half-human and half-lion form. The legend behind it is found in the Hindu scriptures, specifically in the Bhagavad Purana and the Vishnu Purana.
According to the legend, Lord Vishnu took the form of Narasimha to defeat the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The demon king had a boon of invincibility and was terrorizing the world and trying to kill his son Prahlada, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu protected Prahlada and killed Hiranyakashipu by tearing his chest with his claws.
This legend, like the previous one, is believed to symbolize the triumph of good over evil and the power of devotion to Lord Vishnu. The Narasimha avatar is also seen as a representation of the power of Lord Vishnu to protect his devotees and the importance of devotion in attaining salvation.
The legend of Lord Vishnu's Vamana avatar tells the story of a demon king named Mahabali, who was just but his growing ego led him to challenge the authority of the gods. Lord Vishnu, in the form of a dwarf Brahmin named Vamana, asked Mahabali for a small piece of land, no larger than the space he could cover with three steps. Vamana revealed his true form as Lord Vishnu and covered the earth and the heavens in two giant strides, banishing Mahabali to the underworld.
The story of Lord Vishnu's Vamana avatar symbolizes the importance of humility and the dangers of excessive pride and greed. The demon king Mahabali, despite being a just ruler, allowed his ego to grow and began to challenge the authority of the gods and the balance of the universe.
In order to restore balance and justice to the world, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama and set out to eliminate the corrupt Kshatriyas. He travelled the land, destroying any Kshatriya who was oppressing the people and restoring the power to the Brahmins. He fought and defeated many powerful kings and warriors and is said to have fought 21 battles in total.
Through his actions, Parashurama succeeded in restoring balance and justice to the world and is revered as a great warrior and protector of the oppressed. This avatar of Lord Vishnu also symbolizes the fight against the abuse of power and the importance of restoring balance and justice in the world.
Lord Vishnu's Rama avatar is the story of prince Rama from Ayodhya who was banished to the forest for 14 years, where he faced many challenges including the abduction of his wife Sita by the demon king Ravana. With the help of an army of monkeys and bears, Rama rescued Sita and defeated Ravana in a fierce battle, restoring dharma(order and righteousness) to the world.
The story of Rama is an important and widely told tale in Hinduism and is also the basis of the famous Indian epic, the Ramayana. It is considered a narrative of moral virtues and ideals such as duty, loyalty, and devotion, and serves as a guide for human behaviour.
Lord Vishnu's avatar, Krishna, was born to a royal family but raised in a cowherd community in Vrindavan. He was prophesied to defeat King Kamsa, who had imprisoned his parents and sought to kill him. Despite several attempts by Kamsa to kill Krishna, he was protected by divine powers and eventually defeated Kamsa in a great battle, freeing his parents and restoring order to the kingdom.
Krishna played a key role in the Mahabharata war, as a counsellor and charioteer for the Pandavas, ultimately helping them defeat their enemies, the Kauravas. He also delivered the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text that contains teachings on morality, devotion, and the nature of reality.
Throughout his life, Krishna was known for his wisdom, bravery, and divine powers and is considered one of the most revered and beloved deities in Hinduism.
Buddha is considered Lord Vishnu’s avatar in some Hindu traditions. According to the legend, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, renounced his royal life to seek spiritual enlightenment. He attained enlightenment and became the Buddha, teaching the path of spiritual liberation to all through the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
As one of the forms of Vishnu, Buddha taught the path of righteousness, compassion, and non-violence, spreading the message of love, peace and harmony. This story symbolizes the importance of self-discovery and the rejection of materialism in the pursuit of spiritual growth and enlightenment.
Lord Vishnu's Kalki avatar is the final incarnation of Lord Vishnu that is yet to come. The Kalki avatar is said to appear at the end of the current age, known as the Kali Yuga. It is believed that the avatar will vanquish the demon Kali, who is said to embody all that is evil and destructive in the world and restore balance and righteousness to the world.
He is often depicted as a powerful warrior riding a white horse and is said to have the power to destroy evil and bring about the end of the current age, after which the world will be recreated.
Each avatar, or incarnation, has a specific purpose and mission to accomplish. The belief is that Lord Vishnu takes on different forms to protect the world and the devotees from evil forces.