Dasavatharas of Sriman Narayana
DASAVATHARAM - AN INTRODUCTION
The Lord is seated on his majestic throne in Vaikuntha. He lies reclining on a serpent bed Adi Sesha in the ocean of milk. He descends into this material world "to give His personal protection and association to His devotees, to punish the irreligious and to re-establish religion in the world". Lord has asankhyeya (innumerable) incarnations and out of them, His most famous ten avataras are Matsya- the fish, Kurma-the tortoise, Varaha-the boar, Narasimha-the man-lion, Vamana-the dwarf brahman, Parasurama-the axe wielder, Rama-the bow wielder, Balarama-the plough wielder, Krishna- the complete Avatara and Kalki, who is yet to come.
Satya Vrata was a pious sage. One day when he went to the waterfront for his evening worship, he caught a little fish in his Kamandala. He was about to let the fish back into water when the fish spoke, "Iam small, please do not let me into the water, because the bigger fish will eat me". The sage took pity on the fish and brought it to his hut. Soon the fish grew big and became too big to his kamandala. He then transferred it to a large pot. The fish grew bigger than that. Finally he let the fish into a pond. The fish swam away, but said, "In seven days there is going to be a deluge; water from the skies will flood the land and wipe out everything. Call the seven Rishis, collect samples of grains and seeds, plants and animals and be ready. I shall save you from the deluge." The sage did as he was bade; and then it rained in torrents for 18 days; flooding all the land. A beautiful golden boat came floating towards him and boarded it with all his collection of seeds, plants and animals. The huge fish appeared in the horizon. The Rishi threw the serpent Vasuki on its horn and tied it to their boat. On the way the Lord divulged to them the secret of the four Vedas. Finally when the deluge waters subsided, the fish landed them to safety and went its way. That was the first Avatara of the Lord, called Matsya Avatara.
Prajapati had two wives. Diti and Aditi. To the elder queen Diti were born the hundred Daityas or Asuras, and to the younger queen Aditi were born the Devas. The Asuras and Devas were always quarrelling. The Asuras grew rich and powerful and the Devas were jealous of them. They went to Vishnu and prayed for supremacy. Vishnu promised them immortality if they would churn the milky ocean. They sought the help of the Asuras, because they could not churn the ocean alone. They took the mountain Mandaragiri and wrapped the serpent Vasuki on it. The Asuras stood on the head side and the Devas on the tail side. Together they drew the snake back and forth and churned the milk ocean. Vishnu took the form of huge tortoise and placed himself below the rock, to keep it from sinking.
After many days of churning, a cup of blue liquid came up. They all thought it was Amrita, the nectar of eternal life. Only Shiva knew that it was poison, and to save the gods he came forward and drank it. Parvathi tried to stop him and held the poison in his throat; siva's neck became blue forever. The churning continued. Untold treasures of gold and gems were thrown up. Lakshmi the goddess of wealth came up, seated on a full bloomed red lotus. The elephants holding the eight quarters saluted her. Then Dhanvathri , the lord of medicinal herbs, appeared with his pot of cures for all sickness. Finally the pot of Amrita, the nectar of immortality appeared. A terrible fight ensued between the Devas and Asuras for its possession. Virochana, one of the Asuras tried to run away with it, but Garuda the king kite followed him high into sky and took it from him. The sun burnt his wings, but Garuda flew unmindfully and placed the golden pot at Vishnu’s feet. Vishnu was pleased with Garuda’s devotion and made Garuda his ever-faithful servant. Vishnu then appeared as Mohini, in the form of a beautiful dancer and asked the Devas and Asuras to line up on either side for a fair share of Amrita. Dancing her way through the lines, Mohini pretended to give Amritha to the Asuras but in reality gave it all to Devas. Only one Asura managed to hide himself with the Devas and took a portion of Amrita. Vishnu saw this and flung his discus on the Asura. The Discus cut the Asura into two. Head and body separated, but the Asura was immortal. So the head roamed freely as Ketu, swallowing the sun and the moon during eclipses; the body roamed freely as Rahu, swallowing an hour
The Devas became immortal. The Asuras felt cheated. Vishnu appeased them by giving away all the wealth to them.
Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu were brothers. They came in the lineage of the Asuras. Hiranyaksha always had his eyes on gold while Hiranyanksipu was all clad in gold. With all the wealth from the churning of the ocean, the Asuras had become greedy and proud. Their desires increased day by day, and they wrought heavy damages to Mother Earth, for more and more wealth. Finally when Mother Earth could not bear the burden any more, she sank into waters, and lay weeping. Hiranyaksha continued his rule of tyrany from the waters. The Devas went to Vishnu and sought his help. Vishnu leapt out of Brahma's right nostril, in the form of a wild boar, that grew and grew till he became huge enough to lift the earth. The boar plunged into the waters and uttered the sacred Mantra AUM. The Asura Hiranyaksha could not bear the sound and came out of his hiding. Vishnu struck him dead. Then he lifted Mother Earth on his tusker teeth and came out of the waters. He held her high and consoled her by revealing the message of the Vedas. Soon good people populated the Earth again.
Hiranyakasipu heard of his brother Hiranyaksha's death at the hands of Vishnu, and swore to avenge his death. He became an arch enemy of Vishnu and went about destroying cows, trees and sages and all that were dear to Vishnu. The gods again prayed for help from Vishnu.
Hiranyakasipu went into the mountain of the Himalayas. Standing on one leg in the cold, he performed severe penance for many many days. Finally Brahma appeared before him and said "I am pleased with your penance. Ask what you came for". "O lord of creation", said Hiranyakasipu, "The Devas cheated us of Amrita and took immortality for themselves. I too want to overcome death and become immortal". "That",said the lord of creation, "is not in my power, for all bodies must one day be dissolved. This is the law of Prakriti, and I go by it. What I can do is let you choose the manner of death, nothing more". Hiranyakasipu thought for a while and answered, "then my lord, grant that I may die neither by man nor by beast, neither on ground nor in air, neither by day nor by night, neither by weapon nor by disease". "Your wish is granted" said Brahma and disappeared.
Hiranyakasipu descended from the mountains and returned to his kingdom. There was a great jubilation everywhere. Hiranyakasipu took the throne and ruled happily. All was well. Then gradually a change took place. The boon of near immortality that Siva had given him made him a tyrant king, melting harsh punishments on subjects. The Rishis in the forest heard about all this, but bore the hardships patiently, praying for the day of redemption.
Hiranyakasipu had a queen called Khayatu. One day he took her with him to go to a distant land. On the way the queen had a strange dream that a white elephant smote her. The soothsayers said the queen was going to have a baby. The king was overjoyed to hear this and sent her back to the kingdom for rest. This was the opportune moment that the sages were waiting for.
Sage Narada was a great devotee of Vishnu. With a Tampura slung on his shoulders and a pair of wooden castanets called Chipla in hand he would go round all the worlds singing the praise of Vishnu. The sages sent Narada to the queen. The queen received sage Narada with due honours and beseeched him to entertain her with stories, to relieve the tedium of expecting. Narada sang and told her stories of Vishnu for many days. The queen sat and listened, and she would often fall asleep listening, but Narada would continue telling. All the while baby in the queen's womb lay listening in rapt attention. Soon a male child was born to the queen. This was Prahlada, the great Bhakta, devoted to Vishnu even at birth.
Messengers hastened to Hiranyakasipu and broke the glad news. The king was overjoyed. He now had everything he wanted: wealth and glory, power and penance, kingdom and vassals, above all, the boon of immortality, or so he thought. His pride and insolence grew worse, his tyranny became more terrible. His subjects dreaded him, and served for fear, not love of their king. Unmindful, the king continued his wicked ways. Meanwhile the Rishis in the forest heaved a sigh of relief that their redeemer had been born.
When Prahlada was six years of age, he was sent to the best Acharya of the land, to begin his tutelage. The king had decreed that schools must inculcate his image alone as the one worthy of worship, and chant his name alone, as the one worthy of praise. But Prahlada had already had his schooling in his mother's womb, and so he would gather his fellow-students during breaks and chat the glories of Hari Narayana. The teacher was morbidly afraid that the king might come to know of it, but he could do nothing to change the ways of the young prince.
Word reached the king's ears about what was happening in the Gurukula. The one who dared to disobey his command was his own son. Hiranyakasipu's fury knew no bounds. He ordered that the boy should be flung into burning pyre. They did as they were commanded, but the leaping flames did nothing to the child, who blissfully continued to chant Narayana…. They then hurled the child over a cliff, but the child rolled down unharmed, chanting Narayana….. They threw the child into a snake pit, full of venomous cobras. The hungry snakes came hissing towards him then stood stunned, as he chanted Narayana….. They dug a pit and buried him upto his shoulders and brought an elephant to stamp on his head and crush him. The elephant lifted its foot over his head, but did not put it down. The child continued to chant Narayana….. All this was reported to the king.
Finally the king ordered that Prahlada be brought to him. A trace of paternal love was still lingering in him. "Look, son", he entreated, "I am your father; I gave you life; I maintain you; I shall be giving you this whole kingdom one day. I have conquered death; I am above the gods; why then do you not worship me?" "Father, what you say is true", said Prahlada, "but above all of us is the Lord Narayana, who is Hari. This life we enjoy is his gift. This kingdom you possess is his. It is by his decree that we are all born, and we must all die as well".
"Hari! Hari! What Hari! Why is this Hari? Where is this Hari?" snarled the king angrily. "Why, he is the lord of Universe, he is everywhere?" said the child. "In this pillar, is he here?" growled the king, flew into a fit rage and kicked a pillar. The pillar exploded and terrible form sprang out that was neither man nor lion, but half of both. The king tried to run for his life, but the man-lion caught him at the doorway neither inside nor outside and laid him on his lap, neither on the ground nor in the air. It was evening, neither day nor night.
The man -lion Narasimha tore into Hiranyakasipu's torso and pulled out his entrails. He wore it as a garland on his neck and stromped out into the forest roaring, his claws dripping with the Asura's blood. Without any of the conditions being altered, the tyrant king met his end.
All the people gathered and entreated to Prahlada that he alone should subdue the monstrous form. Prahlada boldly entered the forest and followed the man-lion. Deep in the forest he met the man-lion and worshipped him. The man-lion became pacified and took his benign form, seated with Lakshmi on his lap. "I am pleased with your devotion. Ask for a boon and it shall be granted". Said the lord, make me desire the service to your feet as strongly as men of the world desire wealth and happiness". The lord was pleased; he granted this and also promised to protect Prahlada's clan for seven generations after him.
Bali Chakravarthi was a good and a just king. He came from the ancient race of the Asuras. The great devotee Prahlada was his grandfather. Bali was a noble king. He was also immensely ambitious. The Devas were afraid of him. They feared that one day he might take over Indra's kingdom. So they went to Lord Vishnu and prayed for protection, Vishnu promised to help them. But he had also another promise to keep. To his devotee Prahlada he had promised protection for seven generations. And Bali was Prahlada's grandson.
King Bali had performed a thousand and seven Raja Suya sacrifices. He now engaged himself in performing the thousand and eighth sacrifice. This would estabilsh him as the emperor of all the worlds. The final day of the sacrifice dawned. Bali was seated high before the sacrificial fire. By his side was Sukracharya, his Guru. There were men of learning on all sides reciting from the four Vedas Rig, Yajus, Saman and Atharvana, Singers sang and dancers danced, while men , women and children thronged the field. It was a glorious sacrifice. As the sacrifice was nearing completion a young lad of infinite beauty walked into the arena.
The lad was very simply dressed. He had a single piece of cloth on his waist. There was the sacred Upavita on his shoulder. He carried a palm leaf umbrella on his left hand, a Kamandala or water spout on his right. On his right ring finger was the Pavitra, a twist of sacred Darbha grass. His chest was marked by tiny piece of deerskin tied to his Upavita. His head was shaven, leaving a beautiful tuft of hair on the top. His face was round and full of exceeding charm. His eyes were wide and lotus like, glistening likes petals with drops of dew. His body was smeared with the fragrant sandal paste. On his feet he wore the Paduka, wooden sandals with a knob held by the big toes.
When the lad strode into the sacrificial arena, all eyes turned to him. Singers stopped singing, dancers stopped dancing, the Vedic seers stopped chanting. There was a hunched silence all round.
Bali Chakravarti's concentration failed. Even he stopped performing his oblation and turned around to look. The lad walked towards Bali and stood. Bali was aghast to see a lad of such beauty and learning. "O king", said the lad in a tone ringing with the wisdom of penance, "you are performing a great sacrifice. The success of the sacrifice demands generosity. Can you make a gift for me?". "yes indeed", said the king, "ask what you want, and it shall be granted, you have my word for it". "Three steps of land I need, to make a small hut for myself" said the lad. "is that all?" laughed the king, "then take it", so saying he took the water spout , Kamandala, and poured water to solemnize the promise. But no water poured. The guru Sukracharya who saw through the disguise recognized the lad as none other than Vishnu and had remonstrated. But as his words were of no avail, he tried to stop the gift by becoming small and hiding himself in the spout of the Kamandala, so no water poured from it. The lad took the Kamandala and sent the Darbha grass of the Pavitra on his ring finger into the spout to clear to obstacle. The Pavitra pierced into Sukracharya's eye and he came out howling.
The water poured and the gift was sanctified. "Now take your land", said the king. Then miracle happened. The lad grew and grew and became Trivikrama, the Lord of three worlds. He lifted his left foot and straddled all the space on the left. then he lifted his right foot and covered all the space on his right. with two strides he had taken all the three worlds! Bali's young son Namushi saw this and protested. The gift was made to a lad, and the Lord must take the gift in the same size as he was when he came in, he said. The Lord picked him up and swirled him round and round then let him go in the air. Namushi became a satellite. "where shall I place my third step?" asked the Lord. The king humbly removed his crown, knelt and offered his head. The Lord placed his foot on the king's head and blessed him for his generosity. He made a separate kingdom for him in Patalaloka and himself stood as guardian angel for the king, thus fulfilling his promise to Prahlada.
Every year on Kartikai Deepam, the festival of lights following Deepavali, children light a firework called Maveli Vilakku. This is made of sawdust and leaves. When they swirl it in the air, myriad of sparks float and dance, giving joy to all who see it. It is believed that on this day king Mahabali returns to his old kingdom to see the happiness and well being of his faithful subjects.
Parasurama was the younger son of sage Jamadagni and Renuka. Jamadagni lived in an Ashram serviced by Kamadhenu, the cow of plenty. Once the king Kartavirya Arjuna came for hunting into the forest and took shelter in Jamadagni's Ashram. The sage played host to the king and all his retinue with utmost cordiality. There was plenty of milk, ghee and food for all. The king was surprised. He inquired about the source of such affluence. The sage told him of his cow Kamadhenu. The king immediately took it upon himself to own the cow, claiming that as king he had a right over all that lay in his domain. Forcibly he took away the wailing cow and its calf to his kingdom.
The young son Parasurama heard about all that had happened and forthwith went to the kingdom of Kartavirya Arjuna. He challenged the king in combat, with only a bow and arrow, and an axe in hand. The king had an enormous army and arsenal, but they were no match for Parasurama, whose spiritual energy shone like the Sun and vaporised the king's arsenal like dew drops. Soon the king was exhausted and fell. Parasurama chopped off his thousand arms and cut off his head. He then brought back the cow Kamadhenu and its calf, and left it with his father Jamadagni.
Meanwhile the sons of Kartivirya Arjuna came to know of their father's death at the hands of Parasurama and swore to take revenge. They went into the forest when Parasurama was away, Jamadagni was seated before the sacred fire offering oblations.
The wicked prince cut off the sage's head and took it away on a spear, leaving the torso behind. Parasurama heard the distress cries of his mother Renuka and rushed home to find his mother beating her chest and wailing over her husband's torso. The arrogance of the kshatriyas had reached its nadir. Parasurama swore to wipe out the entire Kshatriya race from the face of the earth. Taking his axe, he set out. From kingdom to kingdom he went destroying every Kshatriya he saw. Twenty-one kings fell to the axe of Parasurama. The Rishis in the forest and the commonfolk heaved a sigh of relief.
Parasurama's aim was not to create an empire for himself but rid the earth of the arrogant warriors. His mission accomplished, he gave away various portions of the land to various Brahmanas as gift. When Rama, prince of Ayodhya was returning from Mithila, after breaking the Siva Dhanush and marrying Sita, he confronted him and challenged him to break his own bow if he could. Rama the prince of Ayodhya easily bent the bow and victoriously asked, "what would you surrender: your life or your spiritual power? "Parasurama gave away his spiritual powers to Rama, prince of Ayodhya. He then threw his axe southwards over Mahendragiri(the western ghats) and made the sea recede. He created stretch of land(which is Kerala today) and retired into it. Parasurama is the sixth Avatara of Vishnu, born to rid the world of Kshatriyas of Asuric minds.
RAGHU RAMA AVATARA
The lineage of Raghus in the lkshvaku race brought forth many good and noble kings: Dilipa, Bhagiratha, Dasaratha and so on, of which Raghurama was one. Rama is the seventh Avatara of Vishnu. His story is told in the Ramayana, an epic poem by Valmiki.
The purpose of Rama's descent on earth was to kill the evil-king Ravana, who had prayed to Siva at Kailasa and received boons of extraordinary strength and wealth. He had prayed that the gods could not touch him. Hence Rama took a mortal form to kill him. Rama's powers grew and grew as he became older. First as a young lad Sage Visvamitra taught him the two Mantras Bala and Atibala to overcome sleep and hunger. Next sage Parasurama transferred the power of his penance. Then sage Agastya gave him special arsenal to fight the Rakshasas.
Though Rama was born a king, he lived a life of austerity all his life. He was the very embodiment of Dharma. Of all the Avataras, Rama is the noblest, most respected figure, addressed as 'Maryada Purushottama'.
Balarama was the seventh son of Vasudeva and Devaki, but transferred to the womb of Rohini. He is the elder brother of Krishna. The exploits of Balarama and Krishna blend like milk and sugar. The stories of Krishna and Balarama are told in the Sri Bhagavata Purana.
Sri Krishna is the purna avatAra (complete manifestation) of Sriman nArAyaNa. Krishna was the eighth child of Vasudeva and Devaki born in captivity but grew up in Vraja under the care of Nanda and Yasoda. Krishna and Balarama grew up together and killed many demon kings including their uncle Kamsa, and in the battle between Pandavas and Kauravas, liquidated the Kaurava alliance. In the battlefield he delivered the sermon of Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. This pastime is part of the epic Mahabharata. Lord's innumerable activities are beautifully explained in Srimad Bhagavad purAna by sage vyAsa deva.
KALKI, AVATARA OF THE FUTURE
It is said that when righteousness is discarded and injustice becomes rampant, the Lord will appear as Kalki the tenth Avathara, the son of Brahmana called Vishnu Yashas, will ride a white horse and wield a long sword to destroy evil like a flood. Kalki brings to an end one cycle of the Lord's Lila or cosmic sport, which is infinite and never-ending. Those who delight in hearing his stories are fortunate, for they are freed of sin and misery.