03 September, 2006

Dashaavataara -- The 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu

yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharatha
abhyutthanam adharmasya
tadatmanam srijaamya aham

Whenever there is a decline in religious practice
O descendent of Bharata
and a predominant rise of irreligion
at that time I descend

This was the verse I sang every Sunday morning with Sonu Nigam while watching "Mahabharatha" -- one of the most popular serials on Indian Television. I didn't know what it meant, but something about it was so enchanting that I would very religiously sing it every weekend. Eversince I had aspired to read the Bhaagavata, but had never really made an attempt to read it. I had also borrowed the book from a library a couple of times but had returned it without reading a single page. I, conveniently blamimg it on the busy schedule had been delaying reading the book. While at Puri, I saw the dashaavataara or the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu on the eastern gate of the Jagannatha Temple and decided I would read the book as soon as I returned to Bangalore. I finally managed to read a few chapters from the sacred book and here I have made an attempt to update this post with a little bit of information about few of the incarnations. Describing the "Rama" and "Krishna" avataaras of the Lord would require more than just a single post. So I have not made an attempt to write about these two incarnations. I shall probably post another article about Budhdha later.

According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu has incarnated 9 times to save the world from destruction. He is yet to reincarnate as Kalki, the 10th avatara. The 10 avaataras are:

1. Matsya (Fish)
2. Kurma (Tortoise)
3. Varaha (Boar)
4. Narasimha (man-lion)
5. Vamana (dwarf)
6. Parashurama
7. Rama
8. Krishna
9. Budhdha
10. Kalki

Matsya Avataara

Sri suta uvacha
itya ukto vishnu ratena
bhagavan baadarayanih
uvacha charitam Vishnur
matsya roopena yatkritam

Shri Suta (Goswami) said:
when questioned by maharaja Parikshita (vishnurata)
the most powerful son of Vyasadeva -- Sukadeva Goswami (baadarayanih)
described the pastimes of Lord Vishnu
in the form of a fish (matsya roopa)

Asid atita kalpante
brahmo naimittiko layah
samudropaplutas tatra
loka bhur adayo nripa

At the end of kalpa (past millenium),
At the end of Brahma's day,
annihilation took place and thus were inundated (as Brahma fell asleep)
the three worlds O King.

kalenagata nidrasya
dhatuh shishayishor bali
mukhato nihsritan vedan
hayagrivo antike aharat

At the end of Brahma's day, when he fell asleep
and desired to lie down,
the vedas were emanating from his mouth
Hayagriva who was nearby stole the vedic knowledge

Jnatva tad daanavendrasya
hayagrivasya chestitaam
dadhara saphari rupam
Bhagavaan harir ishvarah

Understanding the great demon
hayagriva's acts,
the fish form
was accepted by Hari -- the supreme controller

The lord assumed one fish incarnation to save the vedas at the beginning of the swayambhuva manvantara and at the end of Chakshusha manvantara the lord again assumed the form of the fish to favor the great king Satyavrata.

One day while Satyavrata, the king of Dravidadesha and the son of Vivasvan was performing austerities by offering water on the bank of river Kritamala, a small fish appeared in the water of his palms. When he was about to throw the fish into the water, the fish requested him to take it with him and protect it from the other acquatics. The king took the fish in a jug and brought it to his residence. But the fish grew overnight and he had to find a well. The fish grew three cubits within a moment. The king then took it to a lake. The fish assumed a gigantic form exceeding the extent of water. He took the fish to the ocean. The fish requested him not to throw it in the ocean as there were dangerous sharks that could eat it. The king was now sure that the fish was Lord Vishnu. He expressed his wish to know the purpose for which the lord had assumed the form of a fish.

Shri Bhagavan uvacha
saptame hi adyatanad oordhvam
ahani etad arindama
nimankshyati apyaya ambhodhau
trailokyam bhur bhuvadikam

Lord replied:
On the seventh day from today,
this creation, O King who can subdue your enemies(arindama)
will be inundated in the ocean of destruction.
the three lokas that will be inundated are bhu, bhuvah and svaaha.

Tri lokyam liyamanayam
samvarta-ambhasi vai tada
upasthasyati nauh kachid
visaala tvam mayerita

When the three lokas merge
in the water of destruction
a large boat will appear
that will be sent by me.

tvam tavad aushadhih sarvah
bijanya uchchavachaani cha
saptarshibhih parivritah
sarva sattvopabrimhitah
aruhya brihatim navam
vicharishyasya aviklavah
ekarnave niraloke
rishinam eva varcasa

Until that time you shall collect all types of herbs
and seeds of the lower and higher order.
Along with the seven rishis
surrounded by all living entities
you shall get on the large boat
and travel without moroseness
in the ocean of inundation of darkness.
The only illumination will be the efflugece of the great rishis

Dodhuyamanam tam navam
samirena baliyasa
upasthitasya me sringe
nibadhnihi maha-ahina

The boat will be tossed about
by powerful winds.
I shall be present by your side so that you can tie the boat to my horn
by means of great serpent (Vasuki)

aham tvam rishibhih sardham
saha-navam udanvati
vikarshan vicharishyami
yavad brahmi nisha prabho

With you and all the rishish together,
I shall pull the boat in the water of devastation
and travel
till the night of Lord Brahma's slumber is over O King!

Kurma Avataara
The demigods and demons summoned the king of serpants -- Vasuki, and porimised to give him a share of the nectar. They coiled Vasuki around Mount Mandara as a churning rope and endeavored to produce nectar by churning the ocean of milk.

When the sons of Kashyapa (both demigods and demons)began churning the ocean of milk, Mandara sank into water as it had no support.

Vilokya vighnesha vidhim tadeshvaro
duranta viryo avitatha abhisandhih
kritva vapuh kachchapam adbhutam mahat
pravishya toyam girim ujjahara

Observing the obstruction created by the will of the supreme
the inconceivably powerful Lord, whose determination is infallible
took the wonderful shape of tortoise
entered the water and lifted the mountain

tam utthitam veekshya kulachalam punah
samudyata nirmathitum suraasurah
dadhara prishthena sa laksha yojana
prastarina dvipa ivaparo mahan

Seeing the mountain thus being lifted,
the demigods and demons were enlivened.
The mountain was carried by Sah (Supreme lord) on his back and he extended 1,00,000 yojanas (800000 miles)
like a big island

Surasurendrair bhuja virya vepitam
paribhramantam girim anga prishthatah
bibhrat tad avartanam adi kachchapo
mene anga kanduyanam aprameyah

When the demigods and demons, by the strength of their arms
rotated the mountain (while churning), O anga (Parikshitha maharaj),
the rotation of the mountain was considered by the kachchapa (tortoise)
as pleasing scratching of the body

Narasimha Avataara and Varaaha Avataara

Shri Narada Uvacha
Ekada Brahmanah putra
Vishnu lokam yadracchaya
Sanandanadayo jagmus
Karanto bhuvana trayam

Narada said :
Once upon a time the four sons of Brahma
Sanaka, sanandana, sanatana and sant kumara
Were wandering through the three worlds
And came to Vishnu loka.

Pancha shaddhayanarbhabhah
Purvesham api purvajah
Dig vasasah shisun matva
Dvah stahau tan pratyashedhatam

Although these four great sages
were older than Brahma’s other sons like marichi
they appeared like small naked children only five or six years old.
When Jaya and vijaya saw them trying to enter Vaikuntha loka forbade them to enter thinking they were only ordinary children.

Asapan kupita evan
Yuvam vasam na karhathah
Rajas tamobhyam rahite
Pada mule madhudvishah
Papishtaham asurim yonim
Balisau yatam asv atah

Being filled with anger they cursed thus
You two do not deserve to reside here
In a place that is free of passion and ignorance
At the feet of the one who has slain the demon Madhu
Be born in the womb of the most sinful asuras
Oh you two fools go quickly from here

Evam saptau sva bhavanat
Patantau tau kripalubhih
Proktau punar janmabhir vam
Tribhir lokaya kalpatam

Thus being cursed from their abode – Vaikuntha
While jaya and Vijaya were falling down, the merciful sages
Addressed again, “after three births
You will get back your position in vaikuntha.”

Jajante tau diteh putrau
Ditya danava vanditau
Hiranyakashipur jyeshto
Hiranyaksho anujas tatah

Thus were born the two sons of Diti
Worshiped by all the daityas and danavas (demons)
Hiranyakashipu was the elder son
Hiranyaksha was his younger brother

Hato hiranyakashipu
Harina simha rupina
Hiranyaksho dharodhare
Bibhrata sukarm vapuh

Hiranyakashipu was killed
By Hari (Vishnu) who appeared in the form of Lion (Narasimha)
When Hiranyaksa tried to hinder Hari who was delivering the planet earth that had fallen in Garbhodaka ocean
Vishnu killed him assuming the form of a boar

Vamana Avataara
Bali maharaja, the demon, lost all his opulance and died in the fight. Shukraacharya a descendant of Bhrugu muni, brought him back to life. Bali maharaja became his disciple and served him with great faith.

The brahmana descendants of Bhrugu muni were pleased with Bali maharaja. They desired to conquer the kingdom of Indra. They engaged Bali in Vishvajit yajna. Bali maharaja gathered demonic soldiers and departed for the opulent capital of Indra.

tam deva dhaanim sa varuthini patir
bahih samantaad rurudhe prtanyayaa
aachaarya dattam jalajam mahaa svanam
dadhmau prayunjan bhayam indra yositam

The palce where Indra lived
was surrounded in all directions by the commander of numberless soldiers
He sounded the conch shell given by Acharya
that created fear in all the ladies protected by Indra.

Indra approached Brihaspati to learn the secret of Bali's strength.

Shri guru uvaacha
jaanami maghavan chatror
unnater asya kaaranam
shisyayopabhrtam tejo
bhrgubhir brahma vadibhih

Shri guru (Brihaspati) said
"I know maghavan (Indra)
the reason for the elevated power of your enemy
the brahmana disciples of Bhrigu muni
have endowed him with all the power."

He then informed Indra that neither he nor his men could conquer Bali. Only the supreme lord could conquer him as he was equipped with the spiritual power.

tasmaan nilayam utsrjya
yunam sarve tri vistapam
yaata kaalam pratikshanto
yatah satror viparyayah

Therefore give up the heavenly kingdom
and go elsewhere
until that time you need to wait
when the condition is reversed.

The demigods assumed various forms and escaped unnoticed. Aditi, the mother of the demigods was aggrieved. She was instructed by her husband Kashyapa muni to observe payo-vrata and satisfy Vasudeva. Janardhana was pleased with Aditi and agreed to be born as her son and protect her other sons -- the demigods. Thus was born Vamanadeva.

One day while Bali Maharaja was performing ashwamedha sacrifice at the field known as Bhrugukachcha, Vamanadeva proceeded to show his mercy to Bali Maharaja. Bali Maharaja jubilant on seeing Lord Vaamanadeva offered him a seat with great satisfaction.

yad yad vato vaanchasi tat pratichchaa me
tvam arthinaam vipra sutaanutarkaye
gaam kaanchanam gunavad dhaama mrishtam
tathaanna peyam uta vaa vipra kanyaam
graamaan samriddhaams turagan gajaan va
rathaams tahtarhattama sampratichcha

Whatever you desire O brahmachaari (vato) that you may take from me
You can take from me whatever you desire Vipra Suta (son of a brahmana)
You may take cow, gold, furnished home, palatable
food grains and drinks, daughter of a brahmana for your wife,
villages that are prosperous, horses, elephants or
chariots or what ever you desire.

tasmaat tvatto mahim isad
vrne aham varadarshabhaat
paadaani trini daityendra
sammitaani paada mama

From your Majesty I seek very little land
From the personality who can give charity munificienty I ask
three paces of land O daityendra (Kind of the daityas)
to the measurement of my steps.

shri suka uvaacha
ity uktah sa hasann aha
vaanchtah pratigrhyataam
vaamanaaya mahim daatum
jagraaha jala bhaajanam

Sukhadeva Goswami said
thus being addressed he (Bali Maharaj) smilingly said
"as you have desired, now take from me
Lord Vaamana, the land"
To confirm his promise Bali Maharaja took the waterpot.

Shukrachaarya realised Lord Vishnu's purpose and forbade him to fulfill his promise that might harm the interest of the demons. He told Bali Maharaja to take the evidence of Bahvarcha sruti, which says that a promise is truthful only if preceeded by the word "OM" and untruthful if not. Bali Maharaja after contemplating he relised that there was nothing more sinful than untruthfulness. He decided that fame should be the aim of life and even if one becomes poverty stricken for the sake of good reputation, it is not a loss. Bali Maharaja gave Vishnu everything he possesed.

tad vaamanam roopam avardhataadbhutaam
harer anantasya guna trayaatmakam
bhooh khaam disho dyaur vivaraah payodhayas
tiryan-nr-devaa rsaayo yad aasata

The incarnation of Lord Vaamana then began to increase in size
until everythin in the universe was within his body,
the land, the sky, all directions, the planetary system, different holes of the universe, great seas and oceans
lower animals birds and beasts, human beings, demigods great saintly persons

paadam dviteeyam kramatas trivistapam
na vai tritiyaaya tadiyam anv api
rukramasyaanghrir upary upary atho
mahar janaabhyaam tapasah param gatah

As the lord took his second step, he covered all of the heavenly planets
not even a spot remained for his step.
for the lord's foot extended higher and higher
beyond maharloka, janaloka, tapoloka and even satyaloka.

paadaani trini dattaani
bhoomer mahyam tvayaasura
dvaabhyaam kraantaa mahi sarvaa
tritiyam upakalpaaya.

You had promised to give me three footsteps
of land. O king of the demons
But my two steps have occupied all the land completely
Now find the means for the third step.

shri balir uvaacha
yady uttamasloka bhavaan maeritam
vacho vyalikam sura varya maanyate
karomi anritam tan na bahvet pralambhanam
padam triteeyam kuru shirshine me nijam

Shri Bali said:
if, O supreme lord, your goodself thinks
my promise was false, O greatest of all suras (demigods)
I shall make it true. I cannot allow allow my promise to be false.
Place your lotus feet on my head.

indrasena mahaaraja
yahi bho bhadram astu te
sutalaam svargibhih praarthyam
jnaatihih parivaaritah

Lord Vishnu said:
O Bali Maharaj (Indrasena)
All good fortune unto you! You may go to
Planet sutalam that is desired even by demigods
surrounded by your family members


A brahmana sage named Ricika married Satyavati, the daughter of King Gadhi. Satyavati and her mother, each desiring a son requested Ricika to prepare an oblation. Ricika prepared one for his wife and an other for his mother in law and went to bathe. Satyavati's mother thought that the oblation prepared for her daughter must be better and so asked her daughter for the oblation. Satyavati and her mother exchanged the oblation.

tad viditva munih praha
patnim kashtam akarashih
ghoro danda dharaah putro
bhraata te brahma vittamaah

Having learned this fact, the great sage said:
"Wife you have done a wrong thing.
Your son will be a fiercce kshatriya who will punish others.
Your brother will be a learned scholar in spiritual science."

Satyavati pacified Ricika with peaceful words and requested her son not be like a fierce kshatriya. Ricika replied, "then your grandson will be of a kshatriya spirit." Thus was born Jamadagni as the son of Satyavati. He married Renuka, the daughter of Renu and many sons were born to them. The youngest of them was Parasurama. When the royal dynasty, being excessively proud of the material modes of passion and ignorance, became irreligious and ceased to care for the laws enacted by the brahmanas, Parashurama killed them.

Kartaviryarjuna, the Best of Kshatriyas, the king of Haihayas was blessed with 1000 arms by Dattatreya. He became undefeatable and roamed all over the universe without opposition like the wind.Once Kartaviryarjuna turned the course of river Narmada and it inundated the camp of Ravana that was set up on the banks of the river near the city of Mahishmati. Ravana attempted to insult Kartaviryarjuna in the presence of the women who were surrounding him at the moment. Kartaviryarjuna arrested Ravana just as one captures a monkey and released him neglectfully in the city of Mahishmati.

Once while Kartaviryarjuna was wandering in a forest hunting, he came to the residence of Jamadagni. Sage Jamadagni received the king, his soldiers, ministers and carriers very well. He supplied them with all the necessities as he possessed Kamadhenu, the cow, that could give everything. Kartaviryarjuna thought that Jamadagni was more powerful than he was, as he possessed the cow.

havirdhanim risher darpan
naran hartum achodayat
te cha mahishmatim ninyuh
sa vatsam krandatim balat

Kamadhenu belonging to Sage Jamadagni
was forcibly taken away by Kartaviryarjuna's men after being encouraged by him
The men also forcibly brought the calf along with crying Kamadhenu to Mahishmatim.

Soon after, Parashurama returned to the ashram and upon learning the act of Karthaviryarjuan, he became as angry as a trampled snake. Taking his chopper, shield, bow and quiver of arrows, Lord Parashurama chased Kartaviryarjuna like a lion chasing an elephant.

achodayaat dhasti rathasva pattibhir
gadasi banarshti sataghni saktibhih
akshauhinih sapta dasatibhishanas
ta rama eko bhagavan asudayaat

Kartiviryarjuna sent elephants, chariots, horses and infantry soldiers,
clubs, swords, weapons called rishtis, weapons called sataghnis, weapons called saktis,
seventeen groups of akshauhinis,
Lord Parashurama killed them all single handedly.

He worked with the speed of mind and wind, slicing his enemies with Parashu (chopper. The enemies fell, their arms and shoulders being severed, their chariot drivers killed, their carriers, the elephants and horses all annihilated.

atharjunah pancha sateshu bahubhir
dhanuhshu baanaan yugapat sa sandadhe
ramaaya ramo astra bhritam samagranis
tany eka dhanveshubhir acchinat samam.

Thereafter Kartaviryarjuna, fixed arrows on five hundred
bows simultaneously,
to kill Lord Parashurama.
But Lord Parashurama released enough arrows with just one bow
to cut all the arrows and the bows in the hands of Kartaviryarjuna.

Punah sva hastair achalan mridhe anghripan
utkshipya vegad abhidhavato yudhi
bhujan kutharena kathora nemina
chichheda ramah prasabham tv aher iva

Kartaviryarjuna uprooted hills with his own hands
and uprooted the trees. With great force
Parashurama chopped off Kartaviryarjuna's arms like one lops off the hoods of a serpant.

kritta baahoh shiras tasya
gireh sringam ivaharat
hate pitare tat putra
ayutam dudruvur bhayat
agnihotrim upavartya
savatsam para vira ha
samupetya 'sramam pitre
pariklishtaam samarpayaat

Thereafter Parashurama cut off the head of Kartaviryarjuna
like a mountain peak.
When their father was killed, the sons,
(ten thousand in number) fled in fear.
Parashurama released Kaamadhenu
and with her calf, brought her back to the ashram.

Parashurama then travelled to holy places to rid himself of the sin he had committed by killing kartaviryarjuna. Once when Renuka, Jamadagni's wife had gone to river Ganga to get water she saw king of Gandharvas decorated with garland and sporting in the river with apsaras. She was inclined towards Chitraratha -- the king of Gandharvas. When she returned to the ashram, Jamadagni realised what had happened and ordered his sons to kill their mother as she had committed adultry in her mind. But the sons did not carry out their father's command. He then ordered Parashurama who had just returned to the ashram. He carried out his father's order.

Jamadagni was pleased with Parashurama and he told his son to take any benediction he liked. Parashurama requested that his mother and his brothers be brought back to life and that they do not remember the incident when they became alive again. Jamadagni granted Parashurama the benediction. Thus Renuka and her sons were brought back to life again.


Vinutha and Lingaraj said...

Loved it !!

Vinutha and Lingaraj said...

hmmm.. intresting .. i didn't know that Parashurama's story started with his grandparents