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1. ) Matsya is said to be the first avatar of Vishnu. He is a fish (or sometimes depicted as half man and half fish like a mermaid). He is said to have rescued the first man from a flood in a story that seems to have influenced the Noah flood story (or, perhaps more likely, both stories were influenced by a common source). Matsya is associated with the beginning of the world.

2) Kurma is the second avatar of Vishnu. This embodiment was a turtle. This incarnation is associated with the very famous churning of the ocean story. While the devas and asuras were churning the ocean for the nectar of immorality, the mountain they were using began to sink in the soft ocean floor, so Vishnu became a turtle and rested the mountain on his back.

3) Varahais the third avatar. This embodiment was as a gigantic boar. His lover is the Earth herself (Bhudevi). The story goes that the universe was full of primordial waters and the earth was small and lost in it. Varaha dove in and rescued, then married her.

4) Narasimha, the fourth avatar, is half man and half lion (note the second part of his name “simha” means “lion.”) He is known as the Great Protector, protecting devotees who are in need. He is the manifestation of divine anger. His main story is from when a demon is upset that his son worships Vishnu and Vishnu takes this form to protect the son. Because the demon had a boon listing a great many things that could not kill him, this form that is neither man nor animal was created. (The weapon Pashupata first makes an appearance in this story. It will become an important part of The Mahabharata plot).

5) Vamana, the fifth avatar, is the first fully human one. He is often portrayed as a little person and is sometimes called “the dwarf avatar.”

6) Parashuramais the sixth avatar. He is an avatar of Vishnu, a descendant of Brahma, and a student of Shiva! He was a guru to Bishma, Drona, and Karna (key characters in The Mahabharata). Parashurama is an immortal and, as such, he was alive during several other incarnations of Vishnu (including Krishna and Rama). This, to me, shows how a soul is not as individual as we usually think! He had important roles in both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. If any of you have seen Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata, he is the character who gives Karna the divine weapon (the one who has a serious grudge against everyone of the Kshatriya caste).

7)  Ramais the seventh avatar. He is often considered the perfect man. His devotion to and respect for his father is highly praised. The story of the Ramayana is pretty well known around the world and the story of Rama’s wife, Sita, kidnapped by a demon and rescued by Rama and monkey servant, Hanuman. Rama is one of the best known of the avatars and there’s a lot to be said about him. More than I could fit here!

8) Krishnais the eight avatar.  He is no doubt the most well known. Krishna holds the distinction of having delivered one of the most beloved texts in Hindu scripture: The Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord). It describes how to free one’s self from the prison of endless cycles of life and death. Krishna is a fascinating figure, worth studying much closer. His life is often broken into different segments. Some focus worship on his child form when he was known as a cute and mischievous butter lover. He was born to overthrow an evil king and was killing demons when he was a toddler. Some focus on Krishna’s teenage years when he was fawned over by lots of young women, the gopis (cow herding girls). His flute would melt their hearts. Several poets have written love songs to Krishna in this stage. In his later life as a king, Krishna was a key figure in The Mahabharata, guiding the Pandava brothers and it was during that time that he spoke the Gita.

9) Buddhais thought to be the ninth avatar by some. (Some others believe Krishna’s brother Balarama was the ninth avatar). Buddha was originally a Hindu prince named Siddhartha. Several Hindu texts refer to a buddha, but they may refer to different people as the word means “enlightened one.” Some say that Vishnu came in the form of Buddha to change the Hindu traditions around animal sacrifice, making new rules for a new age.

10) Kalki, the last avatar, has not happened yet. It is said that he will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga (the last age, which we are currently in) to herald the end of the world (rather, the world will become unmanifest until it all starts over again). Interestingly, he is a horseman, riding in on a white horse with a blazing sword to destroy the darkness of the last age.

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Krishna Is the Source of All Incarnations