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Dashavatar refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu God of universal preservation. Dasa means ‘ten’ and avatara means ‘descent’ or ‘incarnation’. Lord Vishnu incarnates on Earth from time to time. All incarnations have a purpose: the protection of the good, the destruction of evil, and the establishment of Dharma. Jayadeva enumerates ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu in Geeta Govinda:

1. Matsya (The Fish): Matsya (The Fish) is the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It appeared when the entire creation was submerged in water. Considered the first aquatic creature created by God, it carried the spark of Chidatma (divine consciousness). Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish to protect the Vedas, which were in peril. The purpose was to guide humanity and preserve divine knowledge, directing the mind towards the understanding of Brahma, the Ultimate Reality.

2. Kurma (The Tortoise): Kurma appeared when the Devas and Asuras were churning the Ocean of Milk to obtain Amrita, the nectar of immortality. The Mount Mandara they were using as the churning staff started to sink, and Lord Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain.

3. Varaha (The Boar): Varaha appeared to defeat Hiranyaksha, a demon who had taken the Earth, or Prithvi, and carried it to the bottom of what is described as the cosmic ocean in the story. The battle between Varaha and Hiranyaksha is believed to have lasted for a thousand years, which the former finally won. Varaha carried the Earth out of the ocean between his tusks and restored it to its place in the universe.

4. Narasimha (The Half-Man Half-Lion): Narasimha, the half-man half-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu, emerged to counter the rakshasa Hiranyakashipu. Due to a boon from Brahma, Hiranyakashipu was protected from death by any creature, weapon, time, or place. Vishnu took the form of Narasimha with a human body and a lion’s head and claws. At dusk, Narasimha disembowelled Hiranyakashipu on the threshold of his house, overcoming the demon’s invincibility and restoring balance.

5. Vamana (The Dwarf): Bali, a descendant of Hiranyakashyap, defeated Indra and gained control over the three worlds. The gods sought Vishnu’s help, and he appeared as the dwarf Vamana. Vamana approached Bali during a yajna and asked for three paces of land. Bali agreed, unaware that Vamana was Vishnu in disguise. Vamana then grew into a giant and covered heaven and the netherworld in his strides. Bali realized Vamana’s true identity and offered his head for the third step. In return, Vishnu granted Bali immortality.

6. Parashurama (Rama with the Axe): Parashurama received an axe after penance to Shiva. Parashurama is the first Brahmin-Kshatriya in Hinduism, or warrior-saint, with duties between a Brahmana and a Kshatriya. Most of the Kshatriyas who were the ruling chiefs of the country were despots and did not care for the welfare of the people. They practised all sorts of cruelties. To save his creation from disaster, God again incarnated Himself as Parasurama and after eliminating these Kshatriyas, He restored peace and order on the earth.

7. Rama (Ramachandra, the Prince and King of Ayodhya): Rama is a commonly worshipped avatar in Hinduism and is thought of as the ideal heroic man. His story is recounted in one of the most widely-read scriptures of Hinduism, the Ramayana. While in exile from his kingdom with his brother Lakshman and the monkey king Hanuman, his wife Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travelled to Ashoka Vatika in Lanka, killed the demon king, and saved Sita.

8. Balarama (Also known as Haladhara): Balarama is the elder brother of Krishna (an avatar of the god Vishnu) and is generally regarded as an avatar of Shesha. He is also sometimes considered the Sankarshana form of Vishnu and the eighth avatar of Vishnu.

9. Buddha: Due to the Vedic complexities of the mode of worship to God, the rigidity of the caste system, and other superstitions prevalent in society, people were subjected to great oppression and ill-treatment. Animal sacrifice in the ‘Yagna’ and many other cruelties were practised in the name of God. To eradicate these blemishes from human society, God incarnated Himself as Buddha and taught people the rare virtues of truth and non-violence.

10. Kalki (Eternity or White Horse, or Destroyer of Filth): Kalki is the final incarnation of Vishnu, foretold to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, our present epoch. He will be atop a white horse, and his sword will be drawn, blazing like a comet. He is the harbinger of the end time in Hindu eschatology and will destroy all unrighteousness and evil at the end of Kali Yuga.

Pallavi Krishnan, a leading exponent of Mohiniyattam in the national and international performance circuit, is acclaimed for her versatility as a performer, choreographer, and trainer. Initially, Pallavi earned her training in Kathakali and Mohiniyattam under Guru Kalamandalam Sankaranarayanan at Santiniketan.

Pallavi Krishnan, Artistic Director, Lasya Akademi of Mohiniyattam Charulata, 16th Street, Hari Nagar, Punkunnam,
Thrissur – 680 002.

Mob: 9447181584 & 6282 255 922

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