Vishnu: Concept of Avatars

Concept of Avatars:

In the Puranic mythologies of ancient India, the legend of the Avatar is considered one of the most important myths of the Vedic culture. It is particularly associated with the God Vishnu, one of the principle deities of the Hindu trinity which also includes Brahma, the creator and Shiva, the destroyer. Vishnu is the preservation aspect of the trinity and represents that all-pervading power which maintains the universe and the cosmic order.

He is considered to be the embodiment of goodness and mercy and periodically intervenes in terrestrial evolution by descending to earth in a human incarnation as the Avatar. The primary role of the Avatar is to re-establish stability and order on the earth and to introduce a new evolutionary impulse which will uplift mankind into a greater and more unified consciousness.

Because their periodic manifestation is determined by an inherent association with the Time Spirit, they take birth at particular points in the cosmic cycle which correspond to the earth’s passage through the zodiacal ages.

In the Bagavad Gita, one of India’s most sacred scriptures the 8th Avatar Krishna reveals himself to his disciple, Arjuna and discloses something of this cosmic process,

“Whenever the world declineth in virtue and righteousness; and vice and injustice mount the throne, then cometh I, the Lord and revisit my world in visible form, and mingleth as a man with men, and by my influence and teachings do I destroy the evil and injustice and reestablish virtue and righteousness. Many times have I thus appeared, and many times hereafter shall I come again?”

yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
abhyutthanam adharmasya
tadatmanam srjamy aham


Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion–at that time I descend Myself.

paritranaya sadhunam
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge


To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I myself appear millennium after millennium.

The above quotes from the Bagavad Gita bear testimony to this fact.

The legend of the Avatar like all myths is prophetic. It is not a mere Allegory but an archetypal story describing the incarnations of living and conscious evolutionary forces. These mythic beings take birth on the earth at precise moments in order to help man and show him the way from his ordinary mortal state to an enlightened consciousness.

The first one is called the matsya avatar or the incarnation in the form of a fish. In this form, Vishnu saved the world from floods and brought back the sacred scriptures, the Vedas which had been stolen by a demon. As kurma avatar or as the incarnation in the form of a tortoise, Lord Vishnu is said to have supported the mountain mandara which was being used to churn the ocean. Mythology says the churning of the ocean was undertaken to obtain the life giving elixir for the devas or the gods. Mandara, the mountain could not stand in the waters, it seemed to be sinking. To prevent this from happening, the tortoise lent its back for mandara to stand on. The third avatar was in the form of a boar. The earth tormented by a demon named Hiranyaksha had sunk into the waters. Lord Vishnu slew the demon and assuming the form of a boar brought up the earth on its horn once again in the varaha avatar. In the Narasimha avatar, the Lord appears as half man-half lion. This is the first time the man figure is introduced in the story of the descent of the lord Vishnu. Narasimha comes to slay yet another demon called Hiranyakahsyapu who was causing havoc in the world. As vamana, Lord Vishnu appears in the form of a dwarf. A dwarf that gradually grows in size to cover the entire universe. Story goes that he asks a boon of a king and the king had exhausted all his riches. The dwarf asks for but three steps and as each step grows larger than the other, the dwarf, in his form as Vishnu brings the end of the king Bali who aspired to be the king of heavens. As the sixth avatar, Lord Vishnu comes as Parasurama. Here there is lot of debate on whether Parasurama is really an incarnation or not. Parasurama was the son of sage Jamadagni. The more important incarnation is the one to follow: as Rama. The story of Rama has caught many people’s fancy and across the entire world, you can see its impact. The eighth incarnation where he appeared as Krishna. The eighth incarnation is that of Krishna. Krishna symbolizes many aspects of life and as a composite figure represents the past, present and the future. He forms the motif for dance, drama, and many other forms of art. Both Krishna and Rama have been so deeply adored by the people that they have acquired kaleidoscopic dimensions over time. As Rama, Vishnu took the form of a mortal. As Krishna, he was still divine in some aspects.

The ninth incarnation is again under great debate. Some say it is Buddha and others say before the Krishna avatar came that of Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna. The tenth incarnation is yet to take place and here Lord Vishnu is believed will come riding on a white horse and save the world once again from deluge.

Dasa Avatar Vs Evolution Theory

The forms taken by the lord in the ten incarnations bear a strange similarity to The Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

From the invertebrates came the fishes. From the fishes the Amphibians and from the Amphibians the Reptiles. The Reptiles in turn gave rise to two separate classes the Aves (or the birds) and the Mammals. And ofcourse in mammals the final step in evolution (atleast as of now!) was Man.

This theory was based on the principle of the survival of the fittest. So by those Amphibians had greater chances of survival than the Fishes, Replites had greater chances over the Amphibians and finally Man had the best chances of survival among all the beings.

In fact in the study of the manifestations of Lord Vishnu, better known as the Dasha- Avatars, we find that the theory of evolution has been explained in a very subtle manner. They are

01. The first entry was made as The Fish (Macha-avatara). The life in water, as an amphibian, the earliest known life on the earth, from where the progress was chronicled.

02. Then came a life sustaining not only in water but progressed to some extent on land. The Lord took shape of a Terrapin (tortoise). (Koorma-avatara).

03. Amphibian became semi-amphibian, and then an animal in swamp or slush. Lord became a Boar (Varaha).

04. The animal progressed to half-human in the shape of Half lion + half-human (Nara-Simha)

05. Evolution, the path of progress took the half human to full human shape. The next avatar was that of a Dwarf (Vamana).

06. It is but natural that Dwarf will progress to a full human, but with a wavering mind, uncontrollable, and acting without reasons. Yes he came as Parasurama, a man without control.

07. Slowly the man became perfect. He was Rama. Always giving importance to the penance than the pleasure ever respecting the guru and the elders and remaining dutiful to others wherever he was.

08. And then the perfect human form emerged with cleverness and ability to think and win. A person of intelligence, taking decisions to suit the situation. He was Krishna. Ready to fight. Ready to mediate, and ready to love and ready to be loved.

09. Tranquility, submission, passion for peace is the next step from achieving everything. He was Buddha.

10. The cycle has to end, so that it can start again. Kalki, they say will come to destroy the world. So that evolution can take place again.

Thus Darwin didn’t propound anything new, but we presume that he studied our scriptures deeply, and came out with his theory. He had to win the laurels, because his name is such. Daar in Sanskrit (also in Arabic) means Doorway. So standing at the doorway to win, he won.


Vishnu is usually associated with right action and dignity. Since he is the preserver, it is his role to protect and sustain all that is good in the world. This is no easy task, so Vishnu reappears in different incarnations at different times throughout the history of the world to restore order.

It is said that Vishnu will appear in this universe 10 different times, in 10 different incarnations, or “das avatar.” The first incarnation was a fish, then a tortoise, then a boar. The fourth was a 1/2 man- 1/2 lion creature, the fifth was a dwarf, and the sixth was an axe-wielding man. The seventh was the dutiful king Rama, while the eighth was the clever and likable hero Krishna. Hindus believe the ninth incarnation of Vishnu was even more progressed than Krishna, the enlightened man, Lord Buddha himself, and now the final incarnation of Vishnu will be Kalki. From fish to amphibian to land animal….from land animal to part man to simple man, and so on to the enlightened being….! What’s remarkable is that Vishnu’s 10 incarnations follow Darwin’s theory of evolution, but were written thousands of years before Darwin, or the Scientific Process for that matter, were even born!

1. The evolution theory.

The Theory of Evolution was originally introduced by the early thinkers and it was further emphasized by Darwin when he first produced his book called the “Origin of Species” in 1859. Later on some more people added their theories to the evolution theory of mankind.

General concept of the evolution theory.

It tells that about three and a half billion years ago some microorganisms like bacteria originated and took the shape of amoeba (microscopic unicellular protozoa), and from that all the plants, trees, worms and animals were evolved. Mammals, birds, fish and reptiles were all evolved from aquatic worms about 600 million years ago.

The theorists use certain terms to express their process of evolution, like: natural selection, adaptation, recombination (of genes), genetic drift and mutation.

According to this theory: Fish or aquatic animals, when exposed to the grounds, developed a need to breathe properly, so they developed a lung-like structure and became frogs (an amphibian). These frogs kept on jumping all the time and disturbing the atmosphere, so the nature pushed them down and they became reptiles like lizards, snakes and crocodiles. Tired of their slow motion they then evolved into running dinosaurs, from a miniature size to a real monstrous size. Feeling great they stamped the grounds of Asia, Europe and America when an unknown natural calamity happened and all the big dinosaurs died around 65 million years ago. They lived between 250 to 65 million years ago.

Now coming to the technical aspects of this theory, you should know that the very basis of the theory is that from the invertebrates came the fishes. From the fishes the Amphibians and from the Amphibians the Reptiles. The Reptiles in turn gave rise to two separate classes the Aves (or the birds) and the Mammals. And ofcourse in mammals the final step in evolution (atleast as of now!) was Man.

This theory was based on the principle of the survival of the fittest. So by those Amphibians had greater chances of survival than the Fishes, Replites had greater chances over the Amphibians and finally Man had the best chances of survival among all the beings.

Now that we have illustrated the features of the Dasa Avatars and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Let us look at the similarities.

For the lord to be able to establish dharma over the evil forces, he has to himself assume a formidable form. These incarnations are supposed to occur one after the other and according to Hinduism the tenth or Kalki avatar is yet to be born.

Given this we see that when the first avatar, that of the fish, was taken, the fishes were themselves the most powerful being on the Earth. This suggests that the Earth was probably filled completely with water at some time of its creation. Then the forms of the tortoise and the boar seem to validate Darwin’s theory. The half man half lion can be considered an intermediate step in the evolution suggesting the need for the human brain.

At this point a clear conclusion is drawn that Man is the most powerful of all creations and so never does god take another animal form.

The evolution of man himself is depicted in discrete steps. The first man was short, and then he evolved into something like the Stone Age man and then reached perfection in Sri Rama. As the saying goes, “everything that rises has to fall back to the Earth” and so does Man too.

The degradation of Man starts with Balarama and continues through Sri Krishna. At this point we complete the past. The line of thought still holds sense as man has indeed degraded and righteousness is a virtue that carries little meaning in the present world.

However we could derive solace from the fact that we are in the beginning of the Kali Yuga (Period between the Buddha and Kalki) and total degradation of values is an attribute of the distant future.

Hinduism predicts that when complete degradation occurs, god will take the final avatar and destroy the Earth. And sure enough he has to take the form of the ultimate destructor to succeed in his goals.

2. Newton’s Law, the Vedic concept of the Law of Karma.

Newton. In 1687 Newton discovered ‘gravity’ which was simple to understand. He formulated the physical laws and detailed his theory known as the Newtonian physics which is still being used in general classical physics and is good enough to determine the gravitational and astronomical situations of our planetary system and our galaxy.

The Newton’s Law of Cause and effect that is to say for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction resembles of our Vedic view of the law of Karma.
The word “karma” comes from the Sanskrit verb kri, to do. Although karma means action, it also means the result of action. Whatever acts we have performed and whatever thoughts we have thought have created an impression, both in our minds and in the universe around us. The universe gives back to us what we have given to it: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap”. Good actions and thoughts create good effects, bad ones create bad effects.

Mental Imprints

Whenever we perform any action and whenever we think any thought, an imprint-a kind of subtle groove-is made upon the mind. These imprints or grooves are known as samskaras. Sometimes we are conscious of the imprinting process; just as often we are not. When actions and thoughts are repeated, the grooves become deeper. The combination of “grooves”- samskaras-creates our individual characters and also strongly influences our subsequent thoughts and actions. If we anger easily, for example, we create an angry mind that is predisposed to react with anger rather than with patience or understanding. As water when directed into a narrow canal gains force, so the grooves in the mind create canals of behavior patterns which become extraordinarily difficult to resist or reverse. Changing an ingrained mental habit literally becomes an uphill battle.

If our thoughts are predominantly those of kindness, love, and compassion, our character reflects it, and these very thoughts will be returned to us sooner or later. If we send out thoughts of hatred, anger, or pettiness, those thoughts will also be returned to us.

The Science of instinct, desire, and karma – Man Vs Animal.

The animal world is strictly predominated with their individual inherent instincts related to their eating, mating and living habits. There are no premeditated robbers or burglars in the regular animal world, and there are no such animals that mate with the same sex. So, they don’t commit sin or do good deed; they only follow their instincts. For example, they kill but they don’t murder. Whereas every action of a human being is followed by his personal will and desire, so it is classified as: evil, bad, selfish, good and devotional; and it is fructified accordingly.

This is the main difference between an animal and a human. A human being is not the consequence of any kind of evolution procedure. He has his own personal characteristics and destiny that could be as great as becoming a God realized Saint. But an animal, no matter how gross or how intelligent he is (from a donkey to the most intelligent being of the animal world, an elephant or a chimpanzee), he is bound to live and die and remain in the animal world until his soul is born in a human family. The working of the animal world is based only on their instincts, and the working of the world of the human beings is based on their personal desires which create various classes of karmas of an individual. Thus, both are entirely separate worlds. They cannot be mixed together.

A concern mentioned occasionally is that the concept of incarnation makes people fatalistic and pessimistic. This is not so. The concept of incarnation, when truly understood, actually does the exact opposite. It makes people optimistic and active. The concept is consistent with Vedic thinking. “God, does not work for you, He works with you” is one of the basic doctrines of Vedic thinking. The concept of Incarnation underlines this fact. God Incarnates only to assist those people who are engaged in selfless, constant work of spiritual enlistment, who take the trouble to reach out to others with the message of the divine brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of God.