You might have heard about the different incarnations of Vishnu in Hindu mythology. Lord Vishnu is one of the supreme gods in the Hindu trinity. Unlike other gods in the trinity such as Lord Brahma, the creator and lord Shiva, the destroyer, lord Vishnu is said to be the protector of righteousness in the universe.
But do you know how many avatars lord Vishnu has? What was the purpose behind incarnating in different forms? Lord Vishnu is known as Dashavatara because of his ten prime avatars. He returned to earth in various incarnations when the evil forces seemed to be too powerful and protect the world from evil.
But many are still confused about the top 10 Vishnu avatars. If you are one among them, read this blog. Let's dive into the roots of 10 avatars of Vishnu.
Top 10 Avatars of Vishnu
Do you know which is the first avatar of Vishnu? Based on the Hindu mythology, lord Vishnu’s first avatar was Matsya, i.e. fish. He took this avatar to save the world from a ruinous deluge. This story of the Matsya avatar of Vishnu is found in Bhagavata Puranas and Matsya Puranas mostly.
According to this mythological story, there was a king named Manu during Satya Yuga. While he was performing rituals near the river banks, a small fish jumped into his hands and insisted on saving it from a large fish. Out of sympathy, King Manu placed the tiny fish into a jar. But the fish started outgrowing, forcing him to change it to a big container. Later, it grew big enough to fill the whole ocean. Eventually, the fish showcased its true identity as lord Vishnu.
During the flood, the Matsya avatar of Vishnu asked King Manu to build a gigantic ark to gather all the living beings for the survival of life.
Lord Vishnu's second incarnation was during the Samudra Manthan. The term ‘Kurma’ refers to the tortoise which occurred to support the churning of the sea. The main reason behind this avatar was to give a strong foundation for Mount Mandara which was used as a churning stick. It is believed that both gods and demons were disturbing the sea to obtain the nectar of immortality.
Lord Vishnu in his kurma avatar, was cautious and took precautions to prevent demons from finding nectar from the sea. Through this incarnation, he protected the universe by balancing and providing stability during tough times. Lord Vishnu incarnating in the form of a tortoise has taught us patience and perseverance in uncertainties.
Lord Vishnu took his third avatar as a boar (Varaha) to save the world and was identified as goddess Bhudevi. She was captured by the demon Hiranyaksha and hidden in the primordial waters. Lord Vishnu in the form of Varaha used his tusks and lifted the earth from water. To save her, he dived into the cosmic ocean and defeated the demon. He rescues goddess Bhudevi and brings her back to the right place, demonstrating the reimposing of the balance of the universe.
The demon Hiranyaksha represents the chaos and the hassles destroying the peace and balance of the universe. Whereas, Varaha’s actions were selfless and were concerned with fulfilling the righteousness on earth.
The fourth avatar of lord Vishnu was Narsimha, the lion-faced human. The purpose of this avatar was to protect his devotee- Prahlada. The demon Hiranyakashipu was given a blessing that he couldn't be killed during the day or night by man or animal, indoors or outdoors, even on earth or stars.
To stop him from devil doings, lord Vishnu took an avatar of Narasimha, a lion-faced human to save the world, including his devotee Prahlada. He made the demon lie on his thighs during dusk and killed him by disembowelling him with his claws.
Vamana was one of the significant avatars of Vishnu in the form of a dwarf Brahmin with an umbrella. This avatar aimed to restore the power of the universe. Representing humility and cosmic control, lord Vishnu in the form of Vamana, came to earth to gain three paces of land from demon king Mahabali. Then, Vamana grew into a giant proportion and conquered the whole universe in three paces.
With his first step, he conquered the earth, following he descended to the underworld then, at last, King Mahabali sacrificed his head for the third step to please the gods. So, it is believed that lord Vishnu has granted King Mahabali a boon to visit back to his land once a year to visit his kingdom.
You might be aware of the festival Onam, celebrated in Kerala. Despite all other reasons behind celebrating onam like harvest season and cultural significance, it also has a mythological significance to commemorate the return of the king Mahabali to visit his kingdom.
Being the sixth avatar of lord Vishnu, Parashurama is a warrior sage with an axe. The motive of his birth and existence was to save the corrupted world from brutal Kshatriya rulers. He reflects justice and righteousness to the world and defeats Kshatriyas single-handedly in the war.
Being the son of Jamadagni and Renuka, he is said to be the first Brahmin and Kshatriya and took both caste responsibilities. He is said to be one of the seven immortals in Hinduism.
Lord Rama is one of the profound deities and incarnations of lord Vishnu, whose life story is described in the epic Ramayana. Being the seventh avatar of Vishnu, he was born and lived with an adherence to righteousness and devotion.
Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, was born as a son of King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya. The unwavering obedience of lord Rama was proved through his exile of 14 years from his kingdom due to his father’s command. After returning to Ayodhya after 14 years, he took the throne of Ayodhya and ruled the kingdom fairly. The purpose of lord Rama was to defeat the demon king Ravana and rescue his wife, Sita, who got kidnapped by the demon, and he succeeded in his mission. His life is considered a book of valuable lessons about truth, justice, self-control and more.
There is an enormous proportion of devotees praising the lord Rama and commemorating his birth through Ram Navami and his return to Ayodhya as Diwali.
Lord Krishna is one of the impeccable and important incarnations of lord Vishnu. Being the eighth avatar of Vishnu, he was considered the preserver of the universe. The stories of lord Krishna were delivered through epic Hindu mythologies such as Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita.
Even though he was born as the son of King Vasudeva and Queen Devaki, he was taken to Gokul to cowherd Nanda and his wife, Yashoda to protect him from danger. Along with all his doings throughout his life, he was also widely known for his divine love with Radha. He also played a profound role in the epic war of Kurukshetra.
His divine teaching and lessons of justice, love, dharma, etc. inspired a wide community of devotees and had a significant impact on spirituality in Hinduism and Indian culture.
Being considered the enlightened one, people consider Gautam Buddha as the ninth incarnation of lord Vishnu. Following the principles of spiritual growth and righteousness, Buddha taught the lessons of compassion, enlightenment and non-violence throughout his life.
Even though he was born into a royal family at Lumbini, Siddhartha Gautham Buddha was filled with harsh realities of life. During the search for answers to problems, he left his palace to gain spiritual enlightenment. Later, he got enlightenment at a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, after years of meditation. He is considered the spiritual leader and the founder of Buddhism. He is also known for his eightfold path, introducing mental and ethical guidelines for a peaceful life.
The tenth avatar of lord Vishnu is said to be Kalki. He is said to appear in the future to defeat the evil. people believe that Kalki will come to an end to the uncertainties and chaos of the current world. He is depicted to ride the horse with a sword for the new era of righteousness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there 24 avatars of Vishnu?
Even though some studies say there are 24 avatars of Vishnu, most people believe in the 10 avatars of lord Vishnu.
Will Kalki's avatar of lord Vishnu take place in future?
It is believed that the Kalki avatar of Vishnu will take place in future to start a new era of righteousness.
What do you mean by incarnation?
Incarnation which is also known as avatar is the appearance of a deity in a human embodiment.
Lord Vishnu, The Guardian of the Hindu Trinity
With immense significance, lord Vishnu took these incarnations to serve the cosmic balance and preserve the universe from evil forces. Every avatar of Vishnu occurred during the battle of evil and good and defeated evil.
Every avatar of lord Vishnu has unique characteristics, differentiated through appearance and features. These avatars from Matsya to Kalki incarnated to serve dharma and spiritual significance. Learning about the lord Vishnu’s avatar will aid you in connecting more with the Hindu culture, traditions, and spirituality.