WHAT IS AVATARA?
We have heard of “Aarohanam” and “Avarohanam” in music. The former means the cadence moving from a low pitch up to a high one; the latter means the cadence coming down from a high pitch to a low one. “Avataara” means the Lord who is in the highest realms of Paramapadam chooses to come “down to earth”. This descent is called “Avataara”.
WHO TAKES THESE “AVTAARAS” AND WHO DOES NOT?
It is Sriman Narayana who is the “Bhagavan” and none else. Stories of the so called Avataras by lesser deities may be found in Raajasa Puraanas which are less authentic while Taamasa Puraanas are not authentic at all (e.g.) the stories of “Pittukku Mann Sumanthathu” and “Sutta pazham, Sudaatha Pazham” etc. episodes are not vouched by any Saatvika Puraanas and hence should be dismissed as imaginative.
WHO IS THIS BHAGAVAN”?
Bhagavan has been defined as one who possesses all the six essential qualities of Jnaana (Knowledge), Sakti (Power), Veerya (Valor), Tejas (Brilliance), Bala (Strength) and Aiswarya (Lordship). Ahirbudnya Siva himself says that it is only Sriman Narayana who possesses all these six qualities.
WHY SHOULD BHAGAVAN TAKE “AVTAARAS”?
Lord Krishna has made it clear in Bhagavad Gita
Yadhaa yadhaa hi Dharmasya Glaanir bhavathi Bhaaratha/
Abhyuthaanam Adharmasya Tad Aatmaanam srujaamyaham//
Whenever there is a decline in the natural order of the Universe, whenever there is a rise in evil beyond certain limits, I manifest myself” and
Paritranaaya Saadhoonaam Vinaasaaya cha Dushkritaam/
Dharma Samsthapanaarthaayaya Sambhavami yugE yugE//
To protect the virtuous, to destroy evil and to establish “Dharma’I recreate myself in every Yuga”.
CAN HE NOT DO ALL THESE BY REMAINING IN HIS NITYA VIBHOOTHI?WHY SHOULD HE TAKE THE TROUBLE OF “COMING DOWN” TO US?
He can do all these without coming down. But, it is to give us the reassurance that He is with the Sadhus by being in their physical proximity that He takes these Avataaras.
The concept of Avataara is a distinguishing feature of Hinduism that is not present in any other religion. God's will is supreme. So, whenever He wants, He can take an Avataara. But, the most important of them all are known as “Dasa Avataara” – the 10 Main Avataaras. He can appear in this world as a concrete person and appear to be in flesh and blood though His body is Suddhasatva. and every such manifestation is called an Avatara
He `touches down' earth so that we can `take off' to his high heavens.
He `demotes' himself to our level so as to `promote' us to his level.
He `descends' leaving his high pedestal to help us leave our mundane existence and ‘ascend' unto him.
He ‘steps down' so that we may ‘step up'.
He humbles himself to teach us realize how humble we really are.
He manifests himself in `ridiculous' forms like fish, tortoise, boar, half-lion, dwarf etc to appeal to our `ridiculous perceptions' and help us `sublimate' our lives
"The Impersonal Absolute God, descends as it were to the level of our mundane universe and makes his presence felt. The perfect God takes on, it seems, an imperfection in itself to appear as a living being in order to take us imperfect beings on the onward path to perfection. So, whenever an event takes place (as when the son of God appeared on Earth), the people of that time who had the beatific experience of God's proximate presence worshipped Him as God incarnate. These Avataars are the closest approximation to the divinity for us, who cannot see him in ourselves"1 (1: Dr.V.Krishnamoorthi, Retd. Professor,Pilani)
He ‘lowers’ himself in order to ‘lift’ us up;
He ‘stoops’ to our level so that we might ‘clasp’ his hands.
He ‘debases’ himself in an attempt to ‘ennoble’ us.
He enters ‘our homes’ to make us feel 'at home.' with him
He ‘condescends’ to make us feel ‘worthy’ of him.
HOW MANY TIMES HAS HE TAKEN “AVATAARAS’?
“Avtaaraa: asankhyeyah” – Avataaras are countless. There is a saying that the Lord Himself has not kept a tab on the number of Avataaras He had taken! Down from the Vedas to Puraanas, as many as 100 + Avataaras have been
identified but only 10 as the main Avataaras.
WHY NO AVATAARAS SO FAR IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT IN THIS YUGA IS SAID TO BE WORST?
For this, we have to look at the length of Yuga reckoning.
Kali Yuga 432,000 human years
Dwaapara Yuga (Dwa =two) 2 times Kali = 864,000
Treta Yuga (Tre= three) 3 times kali = 1296,000
Krita Yuga (Kri= 4 ) 4times Kaliyuga = 1728,000
Total 4320.000 or 4.32 million
= 1 Mahayuga
So, there are-
4 Avataaras in Krita (Matsya, Koorma, Varaaha and Nrisimha)
3 Avataaras in Treta Yuga (Vaamana, Parasuraama and Sri Rama)
2 Avataaras in Dwaapara yuga (Balaraama and Krishna)
1 Avataara in Kaliyuga (the apocalyptic Kalki, yet to be)
DO THE AVATARAS HAVE ANY BEARING TO THE MODERN THEORY OF EVOLUTION?
We cannot say so exactly. But in a way, we may derive a parallel:
First, the creatures that live solely in water (Matsya);
Then, those that can live in both water and land (amphibian) (Koorma);
Then, those that live solely on land (Varaaha);
Then Half-lion and Half-man - a stage between Homo sapiens and animals (Tiryaks) (Nara + Simha);
Then, Homo sapiens with short stature (Vaamana);
Then, the rough and tough and not so civilized human (Parasurama, Rama with the axe)
Then, the Perfect example of Civilized human (Sri Rama, Rama with the bow)
Then, one with occupational (say, Agricultural) skills (Balarama, Rama with the plough)
Then, Superhuman (Sri Krsihna)
Then, the apocalyptic (Kalki)
WHAT DOES THE LORD GAIN BY THESE AVATAARAS?
The only gain is that He enjoys the fun making this earth - His fun place. If you take the entire cosmos, Vedas say that Paramapadam known as Vaikuntam or “Nitya Vibhuthi” is 3/4ths and this Universe “Leela Vibhuthi” is the balance of 1/4th.
WHAT IS THIS “LEELA VIBHUTHI”?
This is Lord’s playground.
“ulagam yaavaiyum,thaan ulavaakalum, Nilai peruthalum, neekalum
neengala alagilaa vilaiyattudaiyaan avn padam saran naangale”
Bhagavad Ramanuja in his invocatory slokam of his Sri Bashyam says-
“ Akhila bhuvana janma sthema Pankhaadhi leele” (Leele means in play)
IS THERE ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN ASHTAKSHARAM AND ITS RELATION TO 10 AVATAARAS?
Pranavam has 3 letters a., u. and ma = 3
Na+ra+ya+na+ya = 5
Na+ma: = 2
WHY 13 SLOKAS FOR 10 AVATAARAS?
Azhwars and Avataaras
Abinava Dasa avataaram = 10
Andal + Madhurakavi + Amudanaar = 3
Total = 13
"DASAAVATAARA STOTRAM OF SWAMI DESIKA"- INTRODUCTORY SLOKAM–
DevO na: Subham AaathanOthu dasadhaa nirvarthayan bhoomikaam
RangE dhaamani labda nirbhara rasaih adhyakshithO bhaavukai:/
Yad bhaavEshu pruthak vidhEshu anuguNaan bhaavaan swayam bibhrathee
Yad dharmair iha dharmiNi viharathE naanaa kritir naayikaa// 1
" May the Supreme Lord who descended down to earth in ten incarnations and acted, all in sport, a variety of roles on the massive stage of this earth and Mother Goddess who took appropriate roles and also presided over their drama as great Connoisseurs of histrionic arts – May the Divya Dhampathis shower on us their divine grace"
1. The first Slokam is prefatory outlining the twin requisites of ancient dramatics of "Naandhi" and "Prasthaavana"
2. Naandhi = Prayer to Ishtadevata a Mangalaasaasanam Prasthaavana = Introduction of the "dramatis personae" and the roles donned by them. Both the "Sutradaara"(narrator) and the `NaTi" (actors) have to enter the stage in the opening scene itself. So, both Perumal and Thayar are mentioned in this Sloka. The last 2 Slokas present a summation (Padavakhyam) and Concluding remarks (Phalasruthi)
3. The first word is "Deva" and the last is "Nayika" establishing that the Divine couple together is the Lord of all, the basic tenet of our Siddhantam.
4. Subham = Prayer for eternal bliss and happiness which they alone can grant.
4. Na: = includes "us"- not only the actors but also the audience signifying active involvement and mutual gratification.
5. Bhumikaam = Stage, Costumes, and the World (Bhumi) - (All the world is a stage!)
6. Dasadhaa = 10 Scenes, 10 roles
7. Range Dhaamani = Holy city of Srirangam, the stage or the dais, this universe.
8. Labda = indicates "acquisition of a new experience hitherto unobtained"
9. Nirbhara = "Overflow" of the enjoyment like floods breaching the embankments.
10. Rasaih = is in plural indicative of the rich variety of bliss, a multifaceted experience.
11. AdhyakshitO bhaavukai: = Between (na:) Rasikas and actors (bhaavuka:), SD introduces
"adhyakshita" (Presiding) the Chief patron of the kshetram, Lord Ranganatha Himself who is both "Vaktaa" and "bhoktaa" and enjoys the show in the company of Rasikas.
12. Prithakvideshu anugunaan = Swami Desika emphasizes the common intent and purpose of the Lord and the Lady who are inseparable, a condition that is "sine-qua-non" as per our Sampradayam. "Dwandam
anyonya lakshyam". He seems to suggest that if it were not for Her Sankalpam, the Lord's Sankalpam would be vitiated by "Rasabangham", "Karyabangham" and "Dharma bangham"
13. Yath Dharmairiha Dharmini = She is one with the Lord in the discharge of His Dharma as "sahadharmiNi"
14. Iha = can mean in Srirangam, in this world, and "in every Avatara dasa" as "anthar bhoothai" and "pathni"
15. Naayika = may mean Sriranganayaki, also that she directs the show implying that the entire show is meant to bring out Her greatness. Is nor Ramayana called "Sitaayaa: Charitam mahath"?
5. 16. Naanaa kritir naayika = again, affirms the multifaceted roles she dons in different Avataras.
17. ViharatE = reemphasizes that both the Lord and the Lady "Play"
their respective roles. In the drama in 10 scenes.