Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Incarnations of Vishnu


It is said in the Puranas that Lord Vishnu will complete ten avatars (incarnations) in each Maha-Yug (great-cycle) of the universe. According to these scriptures, he has already finished nine of the ten incarnations in the current cycle. His tenth, the Kalki avatar, will be to destroy the entire universe, and will happen when sin gains the upper hand in its eternal struggle against virtue.

There is some disagreement on the exact incarnations of Vishnu. For example Buddha (founder of Buddhism) is said to be an incarnation of Vishnu, which is almost certainly a later addition to accommodate the growing popularity of the new religion. The well accepted incarnations are Matsya (fish) avatar, Kurma (tortoise) avatar, Mohini (bewitching woman) avatar, Varaha (boar) avatar, Narasimha (man-lion) avatar, Vamana (dwarf) avatar, Parashurama Avatar, Rama avatar, Krishna avatar, Kalki avatar. Usually, Buddha replaces the Mohini avatar.

Some of these avatars lasted only a short time. For example, the Kurma avatar only lasted for less than a day, when the Asuras and Devas had to churn the ocean of milk. Similarly Mohini Avatar also lasted a short time, the time it took her to distribute Amrit (Nectar) to the Devas and also to bear the child Iyappa to Shiva. The others, like Rama avatar and Krishna avatar, lasted for many years, and they appear in the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata respectively. All the incarnations happened for some specific purpose, mostly to deliver the Devas from oppression by the Asuras. Vishnu is the protector of the Devas, and they always turn to him for support, whenever trouble strikes them.

The Parashurama avatar, was a curious incarnation, as he is shown contemporary to both Rama and Krishna, who do not mutually overlap. The problem is solved by stating that Parashurama originally had Vishnu's Amsa (portion/power), till he meets Rama, at which point, he transfers the Amsa to Vishnu, and becomes a mere mortal. Thus, he is merely a mortal in the latter half of the Ramayana and throughout the Mahabharata.


Last Modified At: Sat Nov 6 12:00:35 2004