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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


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The ten avatars of Vishnu, (Clockwise, from Left upper corner) Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Buddha, Parshurama, Rama and Narasimha, (in centre) Krishna
In Hindu philosophy, an avatar (also spelled as avatara) (Sanskrit: अवतार, avatāra), most commonly refers to the incarnation (bodily manifestation) of a higher being (deva), or the Supreme Being (God) onto planet Earth. The Sanskrit word literally means "descent" (avatarati) and usually implies a deliberate descent into lower realms of existence for special purposes. The term is used primarily in Hinduism, for incarnations of Vishnu whom many Hindus worship as God. Shiva and Ganesha are also described as descending in the form of avatars, with the Ganesha Purana and the Mudgala Purana detailing Ganesha's avatars specifically.

The word has also been used by extension to refer to the incarnations of God or highly influential teachers in other religions, especially by adherents to dharmic traditions when explaining figures such as Jesus.

Types of avatars

According to the Puranas countless numbers of avatars descend into our universe.[1] Theologically within Vaishnavism the many avatars have been categorised into a number of different types depending on their specific personality and role as described in scripture. Not all are recognised as 'full' or 'direct' incarnations of Vishnu. Some avatars are believed to be souls blessed with certain abilities of 'divine origin', although being a jiva themselves.

Purusha avatars

Purusha avatars are described as the original avatars of Vishnu within the universe:

Guna avatars

Main article: Trimurti
The personalities of the Trimurthi are also sometimes referred to as Guna avatars, because of their roles of controlling the three modes (gunas) of nature[2], even though they have not descended upon an earthly planet in the general sense of the term 'avatar'.
  • Vishnu - As controller of the mode of goodness (sattva)
  • Brahma - Controller of the mode of passion and desire (rajas)
  • Shiva - Controller of the mode of ignorance (tamas)

Manvantara avatars

Manvantara avatars are beings responsible for creating progeny throughout the universe, said to be unlimited in number. For further information see: Manu.

Shaktyavesa avatars

The Shaktyavesa incarnations are classified as two kinds
  • direct (sakshat) and
  • indirect (avesa).
When Vishnu himself descends, he is called sakshat, or a direct shaktyavesa-avatara, and when he empowers some living entity to represent him, that living entity is called an indirect or avesa incarnation[3].

There are said to be a great number of avatars of this second type in particular. An example would be Narada Muni or Buddha. The secondary avatar class is sometimes called Saktyamsavatar, Saktyaveshavatar or avesha avatar.

Other secondary avatars, include Parashurama in which Vishnu does not directly descend. Parashurama is the only one of the traditional ten avatars that is not a direct descent of Vishnu.

According to Srivaishnavism, there are two types of secondary avatars:
  1. Vishnu enters a soul with His form . (e.g., Parashurama) or
  2. Vishnu does not enter a soul with His own form, but gives him extraordinary divine powers (e.g., Veda Vyasa.) The secondary avatar class besides being called shaktyavesa avatar is also called Saktyamsavatar, or avesha avatar.

Worship of Shaktyavesa avatars

The secondary avatars are generally not worshiped as the Supreme being. Only the direct, primary avatars are worshiped in this way. In practice, the direct avatars that are worshiped today are the Purna avatars of Narasimha, Rama and Krishna. Among most Vaishnava traditions, Krishna is considered to be the highest kind of Purna avatar. However, followers of Chaitanya (including ISKCON), Nimbarka, Vallabhacharya differ philosophically from other Vaishnavites, such as Ramanuja and Madhva, and consider Krishna to be the ultimate Godhead, not simply an avatar. In any event, all Hindus believe that there is no difference between worship of Vishnu and His avatars as it all leads to Him.

According to Madhvacharya, all avatars of Vishnu are alike in potency and every other quality. There is no gradation among them, and perceiving or claiming any differences among avatars is a cause of eternal damnation. (See Madhva's commentary on the Katha Upanishad, or his Mahabharata-Tatparya-Nirnaya.)

According to Srivaishnavite doctrine, there are two types of avatars, primary avatars and secondary avatars. The most common type of primary avatars are called Svarupavatars, in which He manifests Himself in His Sat-cid-ananda form. In the primary avatars, such as Narasimha, Rama, Krishna], Vishnu directly descends. The Svarupavatars are subdivided into Amsarupavatars and Purna avatars. In Amsarupavatars, Vishnu is fully present in the body but He is manifest in the person only partially. Such avatars include the first five avatars from Matsya to Vamana except for Narasimha. Narasimha, Rama and Krishna, on the other hand, are types of Purna avatars, in which all the qualities and powers of the Lord are expressed. Narasimha and Rama are also additionally considered to be Lila avatars.

Avatars of Vishnu

Dasavatara: Ten Avatars of Vishnu in the Garuda Purana

The ten most famous incarnations of Vishnu are collectively known as the 'Dasavatara' ('dasa' in Sanskrit means ten). This list is included in the Garuda Purana (1.86.10-11) and denotes those avatars most prominent in terms of their influence on human society.

The majority of avatars in this list of ten are categorised as 'lila-avatars' as will be discussed below. The first four are said to have appeared in the Satya Yuga (the first of the four Yugas or ages in the time cycle described within Hinduism). The next three avatars appeared in the Treta Yuga, the eighth incarnation in the Dwapara Yuga and the ninth in the Kali Yuga. The tenth is predicted to appear at the end of the Kali Yuga in some 427,000 years time.[4]
  1. Matsya, the fish, appeared in the Satya Yuga.
  2. Kurma, the tortoise, appeared in the Satya Yuga.
  3. Varaha, the boar, appeared in the Satya Yuga.
  4. Narasimha, the half-man/half-lion appeared in the Satya Yuga.
  5. Vamana, the dwarf, appeared in the Treta Yuga.
  6. Parashurama, Rama with the axe, appeared in the Treta Yuga.
  7. Rama, Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya, appeared in the Treta Yuga.
  8. Krishna (meaning 'dark coloured' or 'all attractive') appeared in the Dwapara Yuga along with his brother Balarama. According to the Bhagavata Purana Balarama is said to have appeared in the Dwapara Yuga (along with Krishna) as an incarnation of Ananta Shesha. He is also counted as an avatar of Vishnu by the majority of Vaishnava movements and is included as the ninth Dasavatara in some versions of the list which contain no reference to Buddha.
  9. Buddha (meaning 'the enlightened one') appeared in the Kali Yuga (specifically as Siddhartha Gautama).
  10. Kalki ("Eternity", or "time", or "The Destroyer of foulness"), who is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the time period in which we currently exist, which will end in the year 428899 CE.

Avatars of Vishnu in the Bhagavata Purana

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Deity form of Varaha, Khajuraho, 12th C AD
Twenty-two avatars of Vishnu are listed numerically in the first Canto of the Bhagavata Purana[5] as follows:
  1. Catursana [SB 1.3.6] (The Four Sons of Brahma)
  2. Varaha [SB 1.3.7] (The boar)
  3. Narada [SB 1.3.8] (The Traveling Sage)
  4. Nara-Narayana [SB 1.3.9] (The Twins)
  5. Kapila [SB 1.3.10] (The Philosopher)
  6. Dattatreya [SB 1.3.11] (Combined Avatar of The Trimurthi)
  7. Yajna [SB 1.3.12] (Vishnu temporarily taking the role of Indra)
  8. Rishabha [SB 1.3.13] (Father of King Bharata)
  9. Prithu [SB 1.3.14] (King who made earth Beautiful and Attractive)
  10. Matsya [SB 1.3.15] (The Fish)
  11. Kurma [SB 1.3.16] (The Tortoise)
  12. Dhanvantari [SB 1.3.17] (Father of Ayurveda)
  13. Mohini [SB 1.3.17] (Beautiful/Charming Woman)
  14. Narasimha [SB 1.3.18] (The Man-Lion)
  15. Vamana [SB 1.3.19] (The Dwarf)
  16. Parasurama [SB 1.3.20] (The Rama with an Axe)
  17. Vyasa [SB 1.3.21] (Compiler of the Vedas)
  18. Ramachandra [SB 1.3.22] (The King of Ayodhya)
  19. Balarama [SB 1.3.23] (Krishna's Elder Brother)
  20. Krishna [SB 1.3.23] (The Cowherd)
  21. Buddha [SB 1.3.24] (The Deluder)
  22. Kalki [SB 1.3.25] (The Destroyer)

Besides these, another three avatars are described later on in the text as follows:
  1. Prshnigarbha [SB 10.3.41] (Born to Prshni)
  2. Hayagriva [SB 2.7.11] (The Horse)
  3. Hamsa [SB 11.13.19] (The Swan)

After Kalki avatara is described in the Bhagavata Purana it is declared that the avatars of Vishu are 'Innnumerable'[6], however in that context the above list of twenty-five Avataras are generally taken as those of greater general significance.

According to Gaudiya Vaishnava interpretation of a verse in the latter texts of the Bhagavata Purana[7], and a number of texts from the Mahabharata and other Puranic scriptures[8], Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is also listed as an avatar and is worshiped as such by followers of the tradition. In this connection Chaitanya is often referred to as the Golden Avatar.

Symbolism of the Avatars of Vishnu

Some groups claim that the ten avatars represent the evolution of life and of mankind on earth. Within this theory Matsya, the fish, represents life in water. Kurma, the tortoise, represents the next stage, amphibian. The third animal, the boar Varaha, symbolizes life on land. Narasimha, the Man-Lion, symbolizes the commencement development of mammals. Vamana, the dwarf, symbolizes this incomplete development of human. Then, Parashurama, the forest-dwelling hermit armed with an axe, connotes completion of the basic development of humankind. The King Rama signals man's ability to govern nations. Krishna, an expert in the sixty-four fields of science and art according to Hinduism, indicates man's advancement in culture and civilization. Balarama, whose weapon was a plough, could stand for the development of agriculture. Buddha, the enlightened one, symbolizes the social evolution of man.

Note that the time of the avatars also has some significance: Monarchy reached its ideal state in the Treta Yuga with the incarnation of Rama; social justice and Dharma were refined and protected in the Dwapar Yuga with the avatar of Krishna. Thus the avatars represent the evolution of life and society against the backdrop of changing epochs from Krita Yuga to Kali yuga. The animal evolution and development connotations also bear striking resemblances to the modern scientific theory of Evolution.

The avatars described above are of Vishnu, which in a sense a symbol of the "current state" of the society. The wife of Vishnu is "Laxmi" the goddess of Wealth. The Wealth is generated by the society, and is required to keep it going. This is symbolized by keeping Laxmi at the feet of Vishnu and basically taking care of him. Brahma, the "Creator" god, is the god of Knowledge. He is supposed have created knowledge.

The four Yugas are again the symbolically represented. The description of each Yuga is given as follows:
  • Satya Yuga is represented by a man carrying a small piece of pot (kamandalu).
  • Treta Yuga is represented by a man carrying a Cow and an Anchor.
  • Dvapara Yuga is represented by a man carrying a Bow and Parashu (Axe).
  • Kali Yuga is represented by a man who is ugly, without clothes and making offensive gestures holding in his hand his genitals (sex organ).
If the above descriptions are seen carefully, one realizes that this also represents several technological advancements of the human society. In the first yuga there is a development of pottery, language and yagna (yadnya) rituals etc. The second yuga shows the mastering of agricultural techniques. The third yuga tells the development of weapons technology whereby the agricultural society (now staying in groups) and their generated wealth needs to be protected. The last yuga represents the complete anarchy of the values developed so far and is basically the last phase in the development of any society.

Other people who have been considered avatars

For more details on this topic, see List of people who have been considered avatars.

Besides the avatars of Hinduism listed in the Puranas and Vedas, some other Indian Hindus are considered to be avatars by themselves or by others. Some of these include: Some Hindus with a universalist outlook view the central figures of various non-Hindu religions as avatars. Many other Hindus reject the idea of avatars outside of traditional Hinduism. Some of these religious figures include:

Influence of the concept of the avatar


The avatar concept was adapted by orientalising Western occultism, specifically Theosophy and Neo-Theosophy. In a series of four lectures delivered at the Theosophical Society at Adyar, Madras, in December 1899, Annie Besant, the president of the society, combines Theosophical concepts with classic Vaishvanite ideas. A decade later, her co-worker the clairvoyant Charles Webster Leadbeater would claim that his young protege Jiddu Krishnamurti was actually the avatar of a Cosmic Christ-like being called the Maitreya. Later Krishnamurti denied being the Christ and this almost destroyed the Theosophical Society.

The New Age

Many New Age teachings have been strongly influenced by Neo-Theosophical ideas (primarily through Alice Bailey), and feature a celestial hierarchy of ascended masters. At the head of the hierarchy is the same being, the Maitreya, that Leadbeater claimed to see in Krishnamurti. Some New Age teachings speak of the coming return of Christ, or the coming of the Maitreya, which will usher in a new cosmic Era. According to Benjamin Creme, the Maitreya has already incarnated, and will soon reveal himself.

Criticism of contemporary avatars

Swami Tapasyananda of Ramakrishna Mission said:

The avatar doctrine has been excessively abused by many Hindus today and we have the strange phenomenon of every disciple of a sectarian Guru claiming him to be an avatar. Christianity has therefore limited the Divine Incarnation as a one-time phenomenon. The theory has strong points and equally strong defects but it surmounts the gross abuse of the doctrine indulged in by many Hindus.

As early as the 17th century, the Vaishnavite saint Raghavendra Swami, in his last speech before his death, said on this subject:

The search for knowledge is never easy. As the Upanishads say it is like walking on the razor's edge. But for those who have strong faith and put in sustained effort and have the blessings of Shi Hari and guru this is not difficult. Always keep away from people who merely perform miracles without following the shastras and yet call themselves God or guru. I have performed miracles, and so have great persons like Shri Madhvacharya. These are based on yoga siddhi and the shastras. There is no fraud or trickery at all. These miracles were performed only to show the greatness of God and the wonderful powers that one can attain with His grace. Right knowledge (jnana) is greater than any miracle. Without this no real miracle can take place. Any miracle performed without this right knowledge is only witchcraft. No good will come to those who perform such miracles and also those who believe in them.

A different viewpoint was voiced by Swami Sivananda, who said that a guru can be likened to God if he himself has attained realization and is a link between the individual and the Absolute. Such a guru, according to his definition and interpretation, should have actually attained union with God, inspire devotion in others, and have a presence that purifies all.

See also


1. ^ Bhag-P 1.3.26 "O brahmanas, the incarnations of the Lord are innumerable, like rivulets flowing from inexhaustible sources of water"
2. ^ - theology
3. ^ Teachings of Lord Chaitanya - Avatars
4. ^ B-Gita 8.17 "And finally in Kali-yuga (the yuga we have now been experiencing over the past 5,000 years) there is an abundance of strife, ignorance, irreligion and vice, true virtue being practically nonexistent, and this yuga lasts 432,000 years. In Kali-yuga vice increases to such a point that at the termination of the yuga the Supreme Lord Himself appears as the Kalki avatara"
5. ^ Bhag-P 1.3 Canto 1, Chapter 3
6. ^ Bhag-P 1.3.26
7. ^ Bhag-P 11.5.32 "In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself."
8. ^ Vedic Encyclopedia "Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu predicted"
9. ^ Gupta, Mahendra. Hans Puran, (1969) New Delhi.
10. ^ Jesus in India

External links



An avatar is the incarnation of a higher being.

Avatar may also refer to:

In computing:
  • Avatar (icon), the graphical representation of an Internet user
  • AVATAR, a text graphics protocol used by BBSes

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This article refers to codes used as commands for computing devices. Escape sequence can also refer to a sequence of escape characters used in parsing source code.

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Bulletin board system, or BBS, is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line (or Telnet) and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging
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ANSI escape codes are used to control text formatting and other output options on text terminals. In this context, ANSI refers to the ANSI X3.64 standard (which was withdrawn in 1997). It was replaced by ISO/IEC 6429, and is equivalent to ECMA-48.
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ASCII art is an artistic medium that relies primarily on computers for presentation and consists of pictures pieced together from the 95 printable (from a total of 128) characters defined by the ASCII Standard from 1967 and ASCII compliant character sets with proprietary
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FidoNet is a worldwide computer network that is used for communication between bulletin board systems. It was most popular in the early 1990s, prior to the introduction of easy and affordable access to the Internet.
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RemoteAccess is a MS-DOS Bulletin Board System (BBS) software package written by Andrew Milner and was published by his company Wantree Development in Australia. RemoteAccess was written in Turbo Pascal with some Assembly Language routines.
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ANSI escape codes are used to control text formatting and other output options on text terminals. In this context, ANSI refers to the ANSI X3.64 standard (which was withdrawn in 1997). It was replaced by ISO/IEC 6429, and is equivalent to ECMA-48.
..... Click the link for more information.
ANSI art is a computer artform that was widely used at one time on BBSes. It is similar to ASCII art, but constructed from a larger set of 256 letters, numbers, and symbols — all codes found in IBM code page 437, often referred to as extended ASCII and used in MS-DOS
..... Click the link for more information.
An avatar is the incarnation of a higher being.

Avatar may also refer to:

In computing:
  • Avatar (icon), the graphical representation of an Internet user
  • AVATAR, a text graphics protocol used by BBSes

..... Click the link for more information.
Hindu ( pronunciation , Devanagari: हिन्दु), as per modern definition, is an adherent of the philosophies and scriptures of Hinduism, and the
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Sanskrit}}} | style="padding-left: 0.5em;" | Writing system: | colspan="2" style="padding-left: 0.5em;" | Devanāgarī and several other Brāhmī-based scripts ! colspan="3" style="text-align: center; color: black; background-color: lawngreen;"|Official
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Incarnation, which literally means embodied in flesh, refers to the conception, and live birth of a sentient creature (generally human being) who is the material manifestation of an entity or force whose original nature is immaterial.
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Deva (देव in Devanagari script, pronounced as /'d̪ev.ə/) is the Sanskrit word for "god, deity".
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General approaches
Agnosticism Atheism
Deism Dystheism
Henotheism Ignosticism
Monism Monotheism
Natural theology Nontheism
Pandeism Panentheism
Pantheism Polytheism
Theism Theology

Specific conceptions
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EARTH was a short-lived Japanese vocal trio which released 6 singles and 1 album between 2000 and 2001. Their greatest hit, their debut single "time after time", peaked at #13 in the Oricon singles chart.
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Sanskrit}}} | style="padding-left: 0.5em;" | Writing system: | colspan="2" style="padding-left: 0.5em;" | Devanāgarī and several other Brāhmī-based scripts ! colspan="3" style="text-align: center; color: black; background-color: lawngreen;"|Official
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Hinduism (known as Hindū Dharma in modern Indian languages[1]
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For other meanings, see Vishnu (disambiguation).

Vishnu (IAST
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Shiva (IAST: Śiva
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Ganesha (Sanskrit: गणेश; Gaṇeśa
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Ganesha Purana (Sanskrit:गणेश पुराणम्;
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The Mudgala Purana (Sanskrit:मुद्गल पुराणम्;
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Dharmic tradition (Dharmic religion) refers to any religion, religious philosophy, or tradition that has a notion of dharma:
  • Indian religions
  • Buddhism

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Jesus (8–2 BC/BCE to 29–36 AD/CE),[2] also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity, and is also an important figure in several other religions.
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Purana (Sanskrit: पुराण
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Vaishnavism is one of the principal traditions of Hinduism, and is distinguished from other schools by its primary worship of Vishnu (and his associated avatars) as the Supreme God.
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jiva (alternate spelling, jiwa) is a living being[1], or more specifically the immortal essence of a living being (human, animal, fish or plant etc...) which survives physical death[2].
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Vasudeva (Sanskrit: वसुदेव) in Hinduism was the son of Śũrasena, of the Yadava dynasty. His sister Kunti was married to Pandu.
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Shesha (Śeṣa
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