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Avatar - Divine Incarnation - Part I

From: Vijay Srinivasan (
Date: Thu Jan 04 1996 - 05:22:02 PST

Recently there have been several comments regarding the Dashavatarams and 
particularly on the Parashuramavataram. I place below some views on the avatara 
of our Lord Sriman Narayana as obtained through our poorvacharyas.

Avataras according to our tradition is a very important manifestation of the 
Paramatma and it is a concrete expression of the divine krupa or daya (grace) 
of the Lord.  The Lord wants to commune with His devotees who thirst for His 
living presence (eg. Gopis, Rishis of dandaka vana, Akrura, Malakara etc.).  
Ramanujacharya opens his Geetha Bhashya with a similar sentiment 
(...Niratishaya Soundarya Soushilyadhigunaganaa vishkaarena Akrura Malakaradhin 
Parama Bhaghavatan krutva...). Swami Vedanta Desika deals with the Avatara of 
the Lord at least on three of his works- Rahasyatraya saram, Dashavatara 
stotram, and Daya shathakam.  In his magnum opus Rahasyatraya saram, Swami says 
it is essential for a prapanna to understand the avatara rahasyam.  Only 
through constant contemplation of the glories (Vibhutis) of the Lord can one 
reinforce Mahaviswasam which is an essential angam of sharanagathi or 
prapatti.  Swami summarizes the avatara rahasyam thus: (1) avatara of the Lord 
is not a Indra-jalam and it is sathyam (2) The Lord's sarira is made of 
suddha-satvam (3) There is no contraction in His gnana during the avatara (4) 
Establishing dharma and offering protection to sadhus is His main mission (5) 
He is not bound by Karma and He takes the Avatara because of His own Sankalpam.

Swami Vedanta Desika's dasavatara stotram is very popular among all the 
vaishnavas.  That, Swami Himself attaches great importance to the Lord's 
avatars can be seen from the phala shruti (the 13th sloka) of the stotram.  I 
have a tamil translation of this wonderful work and hopefully in the near 
future I will have it translated in English and bring it to the kind attention 
of all of you.  The purpose of parashuramavataram is explained thus: The Lord 
came and moved about as Parashurama for exterminating the haughty kshatriyas 
who had become wicked and tyrannical.  

In the Daya shathakam, Swami Desikan says Daya is the root cause of all the 
avatarams.  10 slokas are exclusively devoted for explaining the role of Daya 
Devi in incarnating the Lord on the earth at times of crisis.

I would also like to discuss some of my own reflection on the avatars.  We 
learn that some of the avatars of the Lord co-existed.  For eg.  Parashurama & 
Rama; Balarama & Krishna.  This is somewhat intriguing.  The Upanishads say 
that a yogi like Saubhari could simultaneously animate several bodies i.e. he 
could live through several bodies.  Our Lord is Yogesvaresvara and therefore 
nothing is impossible for Him.  The fact that the Lord has descended on this 
earth does not create a vacancy in Vaikuntha.  We also see that in several 
instances in His avatars the Lord assumes certain limitation on His sarva 
shakthitvam For eg.  Krishna withdrawing from Jarasanadha, Parashurama unable 
to defeat Bheeshma etc.  I think all these are Lord's leela (sport).  The Lord 
is beyond human reasoning.

I will conclude this article by presenting the historical view of the avatars 
in the next part.

to be concluded..

Vijayaraghavan Srinivasan