One of the characteristics of Hinduism is the belief in Avatar (incarnation). Avatar literally means to descend or descend from above. In fact, Avatar in Hinduism refers to the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form to counteract some particular evil in the world. Dashavatar or 10- Avatars of Lord Vishnu (ten incarnations) are very significant to all Hindu devotees.
The Purpose of Avatar
Almighty God has provided arrangements for religious practice to protect His Creation. The extraordinary quality of religion is that whoever protects religion, religion protects him. There is a saying in Manu Smriti (8.15)- “Dharma eva hato hanti, Dharma rakshati rakshitah.” That is, you protect religion, religion will protect you. However, in human society, religion is sometimes neglected. Then oppression and persecution begin in the lives of the righteous. The oppression and lawlessness of the criminals corrupt the social life. In such a situation, in order to protect the religion, God descends to earth in the form of a living body. This is called Avatar (incarnation). Actually the purpose of Avatar is to destroy the miscreants, reduce the sorrows of devotees and establish religion. The philosophical thought about Avatar (incarnation) is called Avatarvad. The concept of Avatarvad was introduced in Hindu mythological age. According to this concept, the God of infinite power descends to earth as an Avatar (incarnation) in the form of a human or an animal.
Lord Vishnu, one of the Trinity and the Preserver of the Creation, descended on this planet ten times (watch video) for the sake of religion. They are namely Matsya Avatar, Kurma Avatar, Baraha Avatar, Narasimha Avatar, Vamana Avatar, Parashurama Avatar, Rama Avatar, Balarama Avatar, Buddha Avatar and Kalki Avatar.
Lord Vishnu’s first Avatar was Matsya Avatar. Matsya Avatar (a four-armed figure with the upper torso of a man and the lower of a fish) took place to save the pious and first man of this planet, Manu. The second Avatar of Vishnu is Kurma Avatar. Kurma Avatar took place to help gods to churn out nectar from Samudra Manthan or churning out of the ocean. The third Avatar of Lord Bishnu is Varaha Avatar. When a demon named Hiranyaksha dragged the earth to the bottom of the sea, Vishnu took the form of a Varaha (boar) in order to rescue it. Narasimha (half-lion and half-man) Avatar is the fourth Avatar and he had taken the form of a half-man half-lion to protect his devotee Prahalad and thereby restoring Dharma. It is believed that the four incarnations mentioned above took place in Satya Yuga. Lord Vishnu incarnated Vamana (dwarf) Avatar in Treta Yuga to protect Indra’s kingdom. This is the first avatar where Lord Vishnu incarnated himself in a human form – a dwarf priest. The sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu, Parasurama appeared as a priest for saving the whole world from the hand of the bad kings and safeguarding the humanity from the danger in the last of Treta Yuga. Lord Rama is the seventh Avatar of Lord Vishnu. He was born in Treta Yuga. He taught all kings that citizen and their welfare are upper than the family and to all human being that order of every elder must be obeyed. Lord Rama defeated and killed the demon King Ravana and saved his wife Sita who was captured by Ravana in Lanka. Lord Rama is one of the major deities in Hinduism. During the last DwaparaYuga, which was predominantly an age of passion and power. There was chaos and war everywhere and fight for power was destroying the earth. On the plea of mother earth Lord Vishnu incarnated Himself as a companion and brother of Lord Krishna. Balarama along with Krishna was also involved in killing the demons and establishing Dharma. The ninth Avatar of Vishnu is Buddha Avatar. He taught the world people how one can get liberation or moksha through meditation or tapasya which is also the teaching of Hinduism. tor Kalki is the tenth and final Avatar of Vishnu foretold to appear at the end of the current Kali Yuga. Hindu mythologies foretell that Kalki will appear riding a white horse with a drawn blazing sword. He is the harbinger of the end time in Hindu theology, after which he will guide the world people to Satya Yuga.
It is mentionable that many Hindus include Lord Krishna in the group of Vishnu’s 10-Avatars or Dashavatar. But many other Hindu devotees, theologists and sects never do that. International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) does not include Lord Krishna in the group of Vishnu’s Dashavatar. I also think Krishna is Almighty Himself. He can never be included in the group of ten Leelavatars of Lord Vishnu. I strongly believe it but I do not want to make it a subject of controversy.
In Hinduism, the Yugas (Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali) represent the endless cycle of birth and death. Lord Vishnu descended as ten Avatars in these Yugas to serve his definite purposes. He desceded to earth mainly to protect religion. The chronology of his Avatars is also very significant in Hindu scriptures. It points towards how evolution took place on this planet in different Yugas.