Explainer: Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara

Dashavatara  refers to the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. Lord Sri Maha Vishnu incarnates on Earth from time to time to eradicate evil forces, to restore the dharma. He has taken nine avatars till now and the tenth Avathar will descend on Earth at the end of the Kali Yuga. These ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu is collectively known as the Dashavatar.


1 human year = 1 day of the Devas.
30 days of the Devas = 30 years of humans. The lifespan of the Devas is 100 years which is equal to 36,000 human years.

12,000 years of the Devas = 1 day of Brahma (4320,000,000 human years).

This day of Brahma is divided into 1000 parts called charanas.

The charanas are divided as follows:

The Four Yugas
4 charanas (1,728,000 years) — Satya Yuga
3 charanas(1,296,000 years) — Treta Yuga
2 charanas(864,000 solar years) — Dwapar Yuga
1 charanas(432,000 solar years) — Kali Yuga

So after completion of Kali yuga again the cycle repeats.The cycle repeats itself so there are 1000 yugas in one day of Brahma. In each charana Lord Vishnu descend down to earth in different forms.

Satya Yuga: The first and best Yuga. It is the age of truth and perfection. Humans are gigantic, powerfully built, handsome, honest, youthful and virtuous. People must perform penances for thousands of years to acquire Samadhi and die. Matsya avatar, Kurma avatar, Varaha avatar,Narasimha avatar comes under this Yuga.

Treta Yuga: It is considered to be the second Yuga in order, however Treta means the “Third”. In this age, virtue diminishes slightly. At the beginning of the age, many emperors rise to dominance and conquer the world. Wars become frequent. People become slightly diminished compared to their predecessors. Average lifespan of humans is around 1000-10,000 years. Vamana avatar, Parasurama avatar, Sri Rama avatar comes under this yuga.

Dwapara Yuga: Is considered to be the third Yuga in order. Dvapara means “after two”. In this age, people aren’t as strong as their ancestors. Diseases become rampant. Humans are discontent and fight each other. Vedas are divided into four parts. Average lifespan of humans is around a few centuries. Sri Krishna avatar, Buddha/Balarama avatar comes under this yuga.

Kali Yuga: The final age. It is the age of darkness and ignorance. People become sinners and lack virtue. They become slaves to their passions. People become liars and hypocrites. Knowledge is lost and scriptures are diminished. Humans eat dirty food and engage in unrestrained sinful sexual practices. The environment is polluted, water and food become scarce. Wealth is heavily diminished. Families become non existent. Average lifespan of people is barely 100 years, though, by the end of the Yuga, it will be up to 20 years. Kalki avatar comes under this yuga. So after this yuga again Satya yuga follows.

Throughout these four yugas, in each charana , Lord Vishnu is said to incarnate ten times in ten different avatars. This is known as ‘Dasavatara’ (Sanskrit dasa = ten).

Why Lord Vishnu took birth on Earth in different avatars?

There were wars between Devas(Demi gods) and Asuras(Demons). The gods would always beat the Demons in all the battles that went on. Humiliated, Shukracharya (Shukra), the guru of the Asuras, went away to pray to lord Shiva. This was to obtain the Mritasanjeevani Stotram, a Mantra that would make the Asuras undefeatable.
Meanwhile,in his absence, Shukracharya asked the demons to take refuge at the Ashram of his father Bhrigu.

The gods found the absence of Shukrachrya to be a good time to attack the asuras. Also, they thought that it might not be possible to defeat the Asuras if Shukracharya manages to achieve the mantra which makes the asuras undefeatable. Hence, led by Indra, the Devas advanced to strike.

The demons fled to Bhrigu’s wife (Shukracharya’s mother) for shelter. Since sage Bhrigu was elsewhere, his wife decided to protect the Asuras and using her powers she made Indra immobile.

Devas took refuge at the feet of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu then asked Indra to enter his body so that he could be rescued. But Bhrigu’s wife warned them that if it were to happen, she would burn both of them to ashes.

Indra urged Vishnu to kill her, upon which Lord Vishnu severed her head with his Sudarshana Chakra.

When Sage Bhrigu returned and saw the severed head of his wife, he cursed Vishnu to be born on earth several times and suffer the pains of death and worldly life.

As for his own wife, Bhrigu restored her wife to life through his powers.

Hence, Vishnu took birth on the Earth in the form of his Avatars.

Matsya avatar:

At the end of the charana, a great flood was to come and destroy all the life on earth to start afresh for the next charana. After the strenous work of the charana, Brahma felt sleepy. As his eyelids closed and his mouth opened involuntarily, the vedas slipped out of his mouth without his noticing. But the devil by the name Hayagrive  noticed this and swallowed the vedas. Sri Vishnu  observed this and decided to retrieve the vedas and restore them to Brahma to enable him to go ahead with his work of creation during next charana. As the flood was about to come, he decided to come down to earth in the form of a fish.

There once lived a king named Satyavrata. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and daily
worshiped him .Satyavrata was a great and good king. Once he went to river Kritimala for offering water during sandyavandana. A small fish came into his hands when he took water in his hands. He dropped it back in the water. But everytime he lifted the water the fish was sure to get into his hands. The king left it in a tub but it grew so fast that the tub could not hold it. The king transferred it into a well,pond, lake and finally the sea as it overgrows so rapidly that none of them could contain it. Satyavrata was amazed when the fish revealed himself as Lord Vishnu. When the Lord asked what he wanted, he didn’t desire anything for himself. Lord Vishnu told him that on the 7th day from then a great flood would take place and destroy the world. But, if Satyavrata could muster herbs, seeds and pick of beings he wanted for the next charana and keep ready, the fish would send a spacious boat in which all of them would be accomodated and saved. Satyavrata did exactly as advised by the fish and entire crew was saved. As the boat sailed , Lord Vishnu thought Satyavrata what is known as Matsya purana. Thus Vishnu saved true devotees from destruction and endowed them with divine knowledge. During the 7 day waiting period the Lord in his gaigantic form killed Hayagriva in a fight and retrieved the vedas. Thus, Lord Vishnu saved the righteous, destroyed the demons and retrieved vedas for establishing dharma.

Kurma avatar:

Once Sage Durvasa went to the abode of Sri Vishnu and offered respect to Lord Vishnu and Sri Mahalakshmi. He got a garland of Sri Mahalakshmi. While retruning sage Durvasa passed through Indraloka,where Indra, Lord of Devas was coming in procession mounted on his elephant. Durvasa offered the garland to Indra. Indra did not receive it with due respect and placed it on the head of the elephant which threw it down and crushed it. The sage got angry at the behaviour of Indra and instantly cursed him and Devas that all their glory  would be lost. The curse started operating and the Devaloka lost its luster. Indra went to brahma who led the Devas to Sri Vishnu. Vishnu advised that they could reclaim their lost glory and strength only if they drink the nectar(drink of gods) of immortality which could be got only by churning the milky ocean. Lord Vishnu suggested that they lift mount Mandara and place it in mid ocean as a churn dasher and using Vasuki, the serpent as a rope for turning it. But, because of the curse the devas became very weak that they could not even think of lifting the mountain. Lord Vishnu suggested to make an agreement with the asuras. But he also suggested that devas should not desire any of the things emerging from the ocean even if the asuras forcibly took them. They should not rest until the nectar appeared and Lord Vishnu also ensured that the asuras did not snatch the nectar.

Indra went to the capital of asuras for peace talks. The asuras were pleased and agreed to participate in  lifting the mountain and churning. Finally, Mount Mandara churned, but the force was so great that the mountain began to sink into the ocean of milk. Immeadiatly Lord Vishnu took the form of a Gaint Tortoise, plunged into the ocean, and emerged out with the mountain on his back. Now they churned with ease.

The first thing that appeared was the deadly poison called halahala representing the impurities of the ocean. Responding to the prayers of the devas and asuras, Lord Shiva drank the poison. Parvati, his wife stopped the poison from descending down the throat. Hence Shiva is called Neelakanta. Then emerged Surabhi(the cow), Vaaruni(the wine), Parijatham(a tree), apsaras, chandra(moon), airavatham(elephant). Finally Lord Danvantari(divine physician) appeared with Amrutha , an elixir of life that can prolong life indefinitely. Both the devas and asuras were excited and they started fighting for Amrutha. Lord Vishnu now took the form of a beautiful woman and enticed the asuras to give up their fight and entrust to her the task of distributing of nectar among them all, on condition that none would question her action. Both sides agreed to the condition.

Lord Vishnu in the form og beautiful woman started distributing first to the row where devas had seated. The asuras waited for their turn. But by the time she completed serving the row occupied by the devas, there was not a drop of nectar left. Then woman, appeared as Lord Vishnu, mounted on his Garuda and flew to his abode. The asuras were disappointed and started fighting with the devas. But the rejuvenated devas easily defeated the asuras and regained their lost power and glory and the asuras were driven to Patal loka.

Varaha avatar:

The Maanasa putras of Brahma viz, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanaatana and Sanatkumara, visited the abode of Lord Vishnu. At the entrance, the gate keepers, Jaya and Vijaya stopped them even though they had the right to meet the Lord without prior appointment. Enraged at this the rishis cured them to be born in the world. Lord Vishnu appeared and modified the fiat by offering them to be born on three occasions as demons to be killed by himself in his three future avatars after which they could reenter the kingdom of god. It is these Jaya and Vijaya who were born as Hinanya-aksha and Hiranya-Kasipu during the period of varaaha and Narasimha avatars respectively. Ravana and Kumbakarna during Rama avatar and Sisupla and Dantavaktra during Krishna avatar and were killed by Lord Vishnu in their respective avatars.

In the first case they are born on earth as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu to the sage Kashyapa and his wife Diti.
The demon brothers are manifestations of pure evil and create havoc in the universe. The two demons developed enemity towards Lord Vishnu. The elder brother Hiranyaksha practises tapas (austerities) and blessed by Brahma with a boon that makes him indestructible by any animal or human.Hiranyaksha had not included the boar in the list of animals that would not be able to kill him. He and his brother torturing the inhabitants of earth as well as the gods and engage in war with the gods. Hiranyaksha takes the earth  and hides her under patala. The distressed gods went to Vishnu for help. The devas pleaded with Lord Vishnu. He assuered them that he would do the needful.

Hiranyaksha had not included the boar in the list of animals that would not be able to kill him. Brahma was mediatting on the Lord , when a tiny boar emerged from one of his nostrils. Even as Brahma wondered what it was , the boar grew in size and became as big as a huge mountain. His body is the size of the space between the earth and the sky. His thunderous roar is frightening.

In the ocean, Varaha encounters Hiranyaksha, who obstructs his path and challenges him for a fight. The demon also mocks Varaha as the beast and warns him not to touch earth. Ignoring the demon’s threats, Varaha lifts the earth on his tusks. Hiranyaksha charges towards the boar in rage with a mace. The two fiercely fight with maces. Finally, Varaha kills the demon after a thousand-year duel. Varaha rises from the ocean with the earth in his tusks and places it in her original position, as the gods and the sages sing Varaha’s praises

Narasimha avatar:

On learning of the death of his brother at the hands of Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakasipu vowed to kill Lord Vishnu and his devotees. He undertook many years of penance. Brahma thus offers the demon a boon and Hiranyakasipu asks for immortality. Brahma replies that he himself is not immortal, so he can’t grant immortality to anyone else. Though disappointed, the demon tries to get immortality indirectly by seeking the benediction that his death happen only in certain conditions, conditions that he believes will be impossible to be met.

The conditions are he should not be killed by any of the living entities created by Brahma. He should not  die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. His death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal.He should  not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. He became invincible and started torturing all good people. When he was busy doing penance, Indra took away Hiranyakasipu’s wife, who was pregnant. Sage Narada stopped him to protect Hiranyakasipu’s wife whom he describes as sinless. Following this event, Narada takesHiranyakasipu’s wife into his care. Once Narada explained to her the glory of Maha Vishnu. The fetus growing in the womb listened to the discourse of sage Narada and became bhakt of Sri Vishnu. On return from penance with all the boons he got from Brahma, Hiranyakasipu proclaimed that he was himself god and nobody should pay respect to Lord Vishnu. When the baby was born to Hiranyakasipu, he was named Prahlada. When he came of age, Prahlada was sent to Gurukula of his preceptor Sukracharya. Sukracharya tried to inculcate the new syllabus of adoring Hiranyakasipu as God. However hard he tried, Sukracharya could not divert the attention of Prahlada from his attachment to Vishnu. Having failed in his efforts, Sukracharya complained to Hiranyakasipu who became angry with his son, roared and threatened him. But nothing would move Prahlada from his devotion and dedication to worship Vishnu. Hiranyakasipu tried many attempts to kill his son. But Prahlada emerged without any injury everytime. Hiranyakasipu became exasperated. Enraged Hiranyakasipu vowed to kill Vishnu and then Prahlada. Hiraṇyakaśipu, unable to control his anger, smashes the pillar with his mace. With a resounding crash the pillar cracked and Lord Vishnu emerged from it in the form of half-lion, half-man. In order to kill Hiranyakasipu and not upset the boon given by Brahma, the form of Narasimha is chosen. Hiranyakasipu can not be killed by human, deva or animal. Narasimha is neither one of these as he is a form of Visnu incarnate as a part-human, part-animal. He comes upon Hiranyakasipu at twilight (when it is neither day nor night) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out), and puts the demon on his thighs (neither earth nor space). Using his sharp fingernails (neither animate nor inanimate) as weapons, he disembowels and kills the demon.

Vamana avatar:

Vamana is the fifth avatar of Vishnu, and the first incarnation of the Second Age or Treta yuga. He is the first avatar to appear as a human, although he does appear as a dwarf Brahmin

Mahabali, the grandson of Prahlada was a virtuous king. He performed a sacrifice called Viswajit meaning that which bestows mastery over the three worlds. From out of sacrificial fire arose a golden chariot, armor and a coat of arms. Danning them, he set out on a Digvijaya(a conquest of the directions). With the help of Sukracharya his preceptor, he drove Indra and devas to the nether world and occupied Mayavathi, the capital of Indra. Vishnu descended as the Vamana avatar to restore the authority of Indra over the heavens.
Lord Vishnu was born as the youngest son of Kasyapa and Aditi. The baby grew up to be a short statured Brahmin called Vamana. Vamana, in the guise of a short Brahmin carrying a wooden umbrella, went to the king who was performing Ashwamedha. He was resplendent and shone like a thousand suryas. Bali was amazed and received him with due honours and requested what he wanted. Vamana said he did not desire any of these but wanted that much of land as measured by three steps. Bali readily agreed. Mahabali consented, against the warning of his guru, Sukracharya. Vamana then revealed his identity and enlarged to gigantic proportions to stride over the three worlds. He stepped from heaven to earth with the first step, from earth to the netherworld with the second and asked Bali where was he to measure by the third step. Bali bowed low to Vishnu and asked to place his foot on his head. Vamana then placed his foot and gave the king immortality for his humility. He was also allowed to return every year to see the citizens of his country. The festival of Onam is related to this return of Mahabali.

Parasu Rama avatar:

Karthaveeryarjuna , the ruler of Hehaya, was great king. He got boons from Dattatreya and other deities to become invincible. Puffed with ego due to the new found powers acquired by him, he became tyrannical and began torturing everyone. Once, he even tried to confront Ravana, the ruler of Lanka but was defeated and so he made truce with him. With a thousand arms, with weapons and power, with a powerful ally in Ravana, nothing could stop him in his evil ways. To put an end to Karthaveerya and his ilk and to protect the righteous that Lord Vishnu descended down to earth and was born as Bhargava Rama, the youngest of the sons of Jamadagni and Renuka. Jamadagni’s father was Rishikan who married a kshatriya girl Satyavati. Because of these mixing up of castes, Bhargava Rama though born as a brahmin exhibited Kshatriya traits and had a liking for weapons. Indeed , his favourite weapon was an axe, which he got as agift from Shiva. Parasu means axe. Hence he was called Parasu Rama.

Once, when Parasu Rama had gone out, Karthveerya entered the hermitage of Jamadagni and demanded food for himself and his retinue. With the help of Kaamadhenu, Jamadagni got food prepared for the hosts of guests. Karthaveerya knowing this demanded Kamadhenu. But, Jamadagni would not part with it. The king forcibly took away the cow and calf. When Parasu Rama, learnt of this incident, he marched towards capital of the king. Single handed , Parasu Rama killed thousand arms and Karthaveerya with his axe.

Karthaveerya’s sons sormed the hermitage to avenge the death of their father. Only Jamdagni and Renuka were there at that time. Ignoring the pledges of Renuka,they cut off the head of Jamadagni who was deep in meditation. Renuka was beside in grief and crying aloud as Parasurama returned. Parasurama vowed that he would wipe out 21 generations of Kshatriyas. Parasurama carried out the vow, wrested the land and properties of Kshatriyas and finally gave them away to sage Kayapa and retired to southwest corner of India.

Rama avatar:

In RAMA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as RAMA, the central character in the epic Ramayan. In the epic, the character RAMA is expected to show the world the characteristics of an ideal person, including ideal son, ideal husband, ideal king and an ideal person. RAMA was incarnated upon this planet to get rid of the asura with ten heads, Ravana, who had been granted a boon by Brahma of immunity from gods, and other celestial beings. Ravana was too vainglorious to be thinking of being vanquished by a man. Hence RAMA was born and Lakshmi, wife of Lord Vishnu was born as Sita, his wife to be in this life. The story of Ramayan, is an exciting nail-biting story of the war raged by Rama against various evil elements of the world and in the end against Ravana.

Ramayan is perfect example of ideal behaviour of man, with special focus on man-wife relationship, son-father relationship and the rules for ideal governance by a king

Krishna avatar:

In KRISHNA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as KRISHNA , the central character in the epic MAHABHARATA. In the biggest epic of Indian mythology a myriad of topics are covered, including war, love, brotherhood, politics etc. It is essentially the story of two warring groups of cousin brothers, the PANDAVAs and the KAURAVAs. As a part of the Mahabahrata, during the war KRISHNA, gives a long discourse to his disciple ARJUNA, collectively termed as Bhagvad-Gita.

Krishna, during his child-hood was responsible for the killing of Kamsa. Krishna is also considered to be an ultimate playboy who was responsible for charming all gopikaas around him.

Unlike Ramayan, Mahabharata deals with more down to earth issues like politics, human nature, human weaknesses, and does not attempt to idealise the characters as in Ramayan.

BUDDHA Avatar:

In BUDDHA Avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnates himself as BUDDHA, the ascetic prince who renounced the throne to lead the world on the path of peace. He is the founder of the BUDDHIST religion prominent across the world. In certain sects of Hinduism, he is considered to be a divine incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was born the crown prince of the Kapilavastu to Suddhodana and Maya. He was named Siddhartha, meaning “All thing fulfilled” by the king. But his mother died soon after his birth but Prajapati, the sister of Maya, brought Siddhartha up.

Buddha was saddened by death of living creatures, since his childhood days and used to question: “Alas! Do all living creatures kill each other?” He wasn’t happy with any answers that were provided to him and he decided to find out the meaning and the absolute truth and he left his wife and child to a hermit’s life in the forest and one day, became the enlightened one. His preaching spawned off the religion of Buddhism now popular across the whole world.

Some Vaishnavas refuse to accept the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, and instead believe that Balarama is the 8th incarnation, and Krishna the 9th

KALKI Avatar:

In KALKI Avatar, Lord Vishnu will incarnate himself as KALKI, the machine-man, who will come riding his white horse and with his blazing sword in his hands. This is supposed to be a future avatar of Lord Vishnu. At the end of Kali Yuga (present eon) he will punish all evil doers in this world, destroy this world and recreate a golden age again.

KALKI is the last of the avatars of Lord Vishnu

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