Vishnu Avataras: Incarnations of Lord Venkateswara

 Puranas list twenty-five avatars of Vishnu.

1.Catursana (the four sons of Brahma)

The Four Kumaras or Catursana are the four sons of Brahma from the Puranic texts of Hinduism named Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sanat-Kumara. Born from Brahma's mind, the four sons are described as great sages who undertook lifelong vows of celebacy (brahmacarya) against the wishes of their father. The Bhagavata Purana lists the Kumaras among the twelve Mahajanas (great devotees or bhaktas) who although being eternally liberated souls from birth, still became attracted to the devotional service of Vishnu from their already enlightened state. Despite being very senior in age the Four Kumaras are said to wander the universe in the forms of small children. They play a significant role in a number Hindu spiritual traditions, especially those associated with the worship of Krishna and Vishnu.
 
2.Narada (the travelling sage)

Narada or Narada Muni is a divine sage from the Hindu tradition, who plays a prominent role in a number of the Puranic texts, and especially in the Bhagavata Purana. Narada is portrayed as a travelling monk with the ability to visit distant worlds and planets. He carries with him a musical instrument known as a vina, which is primarily used to accompany Narada's singing of hymns, prayers and mantras as an act of devotion to his lord, Vishnu or Krishna. In the Vaishnava tradition he is held in special reverance for his chanting and singing of the names Hari and Narayana and his promoting of the process of devotional service, known as bhakti yoga as explained within the text acredited to Narada himself, known as the Narad Bhakti Sutra.

3.Varaha (the boar)

Varaha is the third avatar of Vishnu, a boar sent to defeat Hiranyaksha, a demon who had taken the Earth (prthivi) and carried it to the bottom of what is described as the cosmic ocean in the story. The battle between Lord Varaha and Hiranyaksha is believed to have taken place for a thousand years, which the former finally won.

Sculpture of varaha from khajurahoVaraha is depicted in art as either purely animal or as being anthropomorphic, having a boar's head on a man's body. In the latter form it has four arms, two of which hold the wheel and conch-shell and the other two hold a mace, sword or lotus or form a blessing posture. The earth is held between the boar's tusks.

The avatar symbolizes the resurrection of the earth from a pralaya (deluge) and the establishment of a new kalpa (cycle).

The Varaha purana is a purana in which the form of narration is a recitation by Varaha.

A very ancient temple lies in Tamil Nadu goes by the name of Sri Mushnam, and is considered a svayambhu murthi like Tirupati and Badrinath.


4.Matsya (the fish)

Matsya was the first Avatara of Vishnu.

According to legend, the mantri to the king of pre-ancient Dravida, Satyavata who later becomes known as Manu was washing his hands in a river when a little fish swam into his hands and begged him to save it's life. He put it in a jar, which it soon outgrew; he successively moved it to a tank, a river and then the ocean. The fish then warned him that a deluge would occur in a week that would destroy all life. Manu therefore built a boat which the fish towed to a mountaintop when the flood came, and thus he survived along with some "seeds of life" to re-establish life on earth.

The Bhagavata Purana narrates the following tale about Vishnu's Matsya incarnation (avatar):-

"Long ago, when life first appeared on the earth, a terrible demon terrorized the earth. He prevented sages from performing their rituals and stole the Holy Vedas, taking refuge in a conch shell in the depths of the ocean. Brahma, the creator of the world approached Vishnu for help and the latter immediately assumed the form of a fish and plunged into the ocean. He killed the demon by ripping open his stomach and retrieved the Vedas. Four forms emerged from the demon's stomach representing the four Vedas: Rig, Sam, Atharva, and Yajus."
Matsya is generally represented as a four-armed figure with the upper torso of a man and the lower of a fish.
 
5.Yajna

In Hinduism, Yajna is a ritual of sacrifice more commonly practised during Vedic times. It is performed to please the Devas, or sometimes to the Supreme Spirit Brahman. It involves pouring oblations into the divine Agni. Everything that is offered in the divine Agni is believed to reach the Devas. A yajna is typically performed by a hotar, with a number of additional priests playing a supporting role, chanting Vedic verses. Often there will be a fire in the centre of the stage and items are offered into the fire. Among the items offered as ahuti in the Yajna include many coconuts, large quantities of ghee, sandalwood shavings and even quantities of clothing. A yajna can go on for several hours, typically with a large number of people in attendance. Yajna ,where milk products, fruits, flowers, cloth, and money are offered, is also termed homa or havan. A typical Hindu marriage essentially consists of a yajna, because the fire deity Agni is supposed to be the witness of all pious marriages. Brahmins and certain other castes receive a yagnopavitham at their Upanayanam. The yagnopavitham symbolizes the right of the individual to carry out yagnas or homams. The mode of temple worship is termed agamic, while communication to divinity through the fire god, Agni, is considered Vedic. Temples of today are generally a combination of both Vedic and Agamic rituals.

6.Nara-Narayana

The name is also associated with Brahma and Krishna. He is also identified with, or as the son of, the original man, Purusha.

But at its core, Nara-Narayana is further broken down where Nara means human and Narayana means the Supreme Divinity, or Vishnu. In the concept of Nara-Narayana, the human soul Nara is the eternal companion of the Divine Narayana. Any human being with an awakened consciousness of divinity in him and who works overall for the welfare of humanity is a Nara-Narayana, an incarnation of Vishnu on earth working for the preservation of dharma or righteousness.

Furthermore, the name Narayana is a Sanskrit tatpurusha compound, with the members nara, which means "human, man", and ayana "eternal, without ending. Tradition associates the nara element with another meaning of "water", explaining the name as indicating the all-pervasive nature of Narayana as that of an infinite ocean in which the never-ending movement of birth, life and death of the cosmos occurs. Narayana according to this etymology is the one who moves in the infinite waters and is also the water itself. This close association of Narayana with water explains the frequent depiction of Narayana in Hindu Art as standing or sitting on an ocean.

Another interpretation of Narayana is that "Ayana" also means direction/goal and as previously mentioned "Nara" means human. Hence Narayana refers to the direction of a human towards moksha. Specially so , because moksha is represented by the water element and as previously mentioned Nara referes to the "Water" element.

7.Kapila

Maharishi Kapila is a Vedic sage traditionally considered to be the original proponent of the Samkhya system of philosophy but there are no known writings by him that deal with the Samkhya system as it is understood today. He is desribed as an incarnation of Vishnu within the Puranas, famous for teaching a process of liberation known as bhakti yoga.

8.Dattatreya

Dattatreya is considered by some Hindus to be God who is an incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The word Datta means "Given," Datta is called so because the divine trinity have "given" themselves in the form of a son to the sage couple Atri and Anasuya. He is the son of Atri, hence the name "Atreya."

In the Nath tradition, Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of the Lord Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nathas. Although Dattatreya was at first a "Lord of Yoga" exhibiting distinctly Tantric traits, he was adapted and assimilated into the more devotional cults; while still worshipped by millions of Hindus, he is approached more as a benevolent God than as a teacher of the highest essence of Indian thought.

9.Hayagriva 

In Hinduism, Hayagriva (also Hayagreeva) is an avatar of Vishnu. He is worshipped as the God of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Hayagriva is celebrated in the Puranas for rescuing the Vedas from the demons Madhu and Kaitabha and teaching them again to Brahma. Symbolically, the story of Hayagriva represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of God, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness.

Hayagriva is a very important deity in the Vaishnava tradition. His blessings are sought when beginning study of both sacred and secular subjects. Special worship is conducted on the day of the full moon in August (Sravana-Paurnami) (his avatara-dina) and on Mahanavami, the ninth day of the Navaratri festival.

This verse, originally found in the Pancaratra Agamas, is popular among devotees of Hayagriva.

10.Hamsa

11.Prsnigarbha

12.Rishabha

Rishabha Deva or Aadinatha was born more than 5000 years ago estimated near about 3000 B.C.E. He is considered the first Tirthankar of Jainism and referred to with the honorific prefix Lord.

Rişhabha (other names used: Rişhabh, Rişhabhanāth, Rishabh Dev,Rushabh, Rushabhdev, Rishabha devar, Adhi Bagvan ,Adinath or Adishwar)

According to Jain beliefs, Rishabha was the first Tirthankar of the present age (Avasarpini). Because of this, he had the name of Ādināth - The first lord. He became a Siddha - a liberated soul which has destroyed all of its karma.

Rishabh has been derieved from Sanskrit and it means morality, it's often confused with sanskrit word "Vrishabha" that means bull.

13.Prithu


14.Narasimha 

Narasimha is desribed as the fourth incarnation (Avatara) of Lord Vishnu within the Vedic/Puranic texts of Hinduism. He is worshipped in deity form by a significant number of Vaishnava groups throughout India (especially in the South) and is primariliy known as the 'Great Protector', being a form of Vishnu who specifically defends and protects his devotees in times of need.

15.Kurma

In Hinduism, Kurma was the second avatar of Vishnu. Like the Matsya Avatara also belongs to the Satya yuga.

Vishnu took the form of a tortoise and sat on the bottom of the ocean after the Great Flood. A mountain was placed on his back by the other gods so that they could churn the sea and find the ancient treasures of the Vedic peoples.

Kurma is also the name of a rishi, the son of Grtsamada.
 
16.Dhanvantari

Dhanvantari (also Dhanwantari, Dhanvanthari) is an avatar of Vishnu from the Hindu tradition. He appears in the Vedas and Puranas as the physician of the gods (devas), and the controller (god) of Ayurvedic medicine. It is common practice within Hinduism for worshippers to pray to Dhanvantari asking him for improved or good health for themselves and/or others.

Dhanvantari is depicted as Vishnu with four hands, holding medical herbs in one hand and a pot containing rejuvenating nectar called amrita in another. The Puranas state that Dhanavantari emerged from the 'Ocean of Milk' and appeared with the pot of nectar during the story of the Samudra or Sagar manthan whilst the ocean was being churned using the Mandara mountain. After this event another avatar, Mohini, appears and takes the nectar back from the Asuras.

17.Mohini

Mohini is one of the 25 avatars of Vishnu found in the Puranas. The main story, or lila, concerning Mohini is the Sagar or Samudra manthan, a lila that includes: Indra, Lakshmi, Kurma, Dhanvantari, and numerous other Hindu divinities. This lila details the conflict between the Daitya (demons) and the Adityas (gods), as well as their quest for amrita.

In this lila, there is a time when the demons overpowered the gods and take possession of the amrita. In order to rescue the gods, Vishnu takes the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini, and approached the demons. When the demons saw the enchanting beauty of Mohini, they lost all composure. While the demons were enchanted by Her beauty, Mohini seized the nectar and distributed it amongst the gods, who drank it immediately. During this lila, Mohini also decapitates the demon Rahu.
 
18.Vamana

Vamana is a personality described in the Puranic texts of Hinduism as the Fifth Avatara of Vishnu, and the first incarnation of the Second Age, or Treta yuga. Also he is the first Avatar of Vishnu which appears with a completely human form, though it was that of a dwarf brahmin. He is also sometimes known as Upendra.

19.Parasurama

Parashurama Bhargava or Parasurama (Axe-wielding Rama), according to Hindu mythology is the Sixth avatar of Vishnu, belongs to the Treta yuga, and is the son of Jamadagni & Renuka. Parashu means axe, hence his name literally means Rama-with-the-axe. He received an axe after undertaking a terrible penance to please Shiva, from whom he learned the methods of warfare and other skills. He is a Chiranjeevin, who fought the advancing ocean back thus saving the lands of Konkan and Malabar (Maharashtra - Karnataka - Kerala coastline). The coastal area of Karnataka and Kerala state in India is known as Parashurama Kshetra (Parashurama's area). Some dispute this and say it extends all the way to Mumbai in Maharashtra.

20.Ramachandra

Ramachandra, or Rama , was a king of ancient India whose grand story is portrayed in the epic Ramayana, one of the two great epics of India. In Hinduism, he is also considered to be the Seventh Avatara of Vishnu and one of the most important manifestations of God. He is one of the most popular heroes of Hindu mythology and folktales in South and Southeast Asia. Born as the eldest son of Kausalya and Dasaratha, king of Kosala, he is the embodiment of the Supreme Brahman and Dharma. Rama is Maryada Purushottama, literally The Perfect Man. He is the hero of the ancient Hindu epic poem, The Ramayana (from Sanskrit, The Journey of Rama). Rama is the husband of Sita, who is also considered the Avatara of Lakshmi and the embodiment of perfect womanhood.
 
21.Vyasa

Vyasa is an important and much revered figure in the Hindu tradition and its literature. He is considered to be an ideal Brahmarishi- omniscient, truthful, purest of the pure and possessor of knowledge of the essence of Brahman.

23.Krishna

Krishna, according to various Hindu traditions, is the eighth avatar of Vishnu. In the Bhagavad Gita , he is seen as the Supreme Person and the highest God. Thus, according to traditions such as Gaudiya Vaishnavism, he is the origin of all other incarnations.

Krishna and the stories associated with him appear across the spectrum of Hindu philosophical and theological traditions. Though they sometimes differ in details reflecting the concerns of a particular tradition, some core features are shared by all. These include a divine incarnation, a pastoral childhood and youth, and life as a heroic warrior and teacher. The immense popularity of Krishna in India also meant that various non-Hindu religions that originated in India had their own versions of him.

24.Buddha

Gautama Buddha is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism. In the Bhagavata Purana he is twenty fourth of twenty five avatars, prefiguring a forthcoming final incarnation. A number of Hindu traditions portray Buddha as the most recent of ten principal avatars, known as the "Dasavatara" (Ten Incarnations of God).

However, Siddhartha gautama's teaching's do not confirm the existence of the Creator God and consequently Buddhism falls under one of the nastika (godless) schools according to other Dharmic schools, such as Dvaita. Other schools, such as Advaita, are very similar to Buddhism in nature and philosophy.

25.Kalki

In Hindu traditions, Kalki is the tenth and final Maha Avatara (Great Avatar) of Vishnu the Preserver, who will come to end the current Kali Yuga, (The Age of Darkness and Destruction). The name Kalki is often a metaphor for "Eternity" or "Time". The origins of the name probably lie in the word Kalka which refers to "dirt", "filth" or "foulness" and hence denotes the "Destroyer of Foulness", "Destroyer of Confusion", "Destroyer of Darkness", or "The Annihilator of Ignorance". In Hindi kal ki avatar means "tomorrow's avatar". Other similar and divergent interpretations (based on varying etymological derivations from the ancient Sanskrit language, —including one simply meaning "White Horse") have been made.

In the Buddhist Kalachakra tradition this legend has a more developed legend associated with the Buddha who initiates the first king of Shambhala, King Suchandra. In Buddhism, he is the ruler of the legendary Kingdom of Shambhala, where the whole of society is enlighted and the Kalachakra tantra is held and widely practiced.

 

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