24 Avatars of Vishnu are the 24 divine incarnations of the Hindu God, Vishnu. The list and name of 24 Avatars of the Lord Vishnu also include the Dashavatara of the 10 Avatars. They include Matsya Avatar, Kurma Avatar, Varaha Avatar, Narasimha Avatar, Vamana Avatar, Parashuram Avatar, Rama Avatar, Krishna avatar, Buddha Avatar and Kalki Avatar. The first 9 Avatars have already incarnated, the Kalki is believed to appear in the end times of the final Yuga Cycle namely Kali Yuga.
The 9th Avatar is sometimes replaced with Balarama, the brother of Krishna, however, the list of 24 Avatars of Vishnu varies with two names.
The literal meaning of Avatar is a representation of the idea, ideology or the divine form in the image of a being. The Marriam- Webster dictionary defines it as “an embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person”. As per the Dictionary.com, an Avatar is an embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life.
The stories in the Hindu Puranas give a description of the various Avatars of Vishnu, Shiva, and other Devtas. The most famous being the Avatars of Vishnu. In Shreemad Bhagawat Gita, Krishna says
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥
This means, whenever there is the deterioration of Dharma, I incarnate from Yuga to Yuga for establishing the Dharma and end the evil. The main purpose of Avatar in the Earth is to establish the highest ideals by destroying the wrongdoers and wrongdoings. Evils may be in the form of politics, demons, humans, lifestyle, and many other factors. Gods cannot use their superpowers to control them because of their own obligations.
They send their representations so that the Dharma is established while setting up an example. An Avatar sets up an example by fighting with those negative ideologies. You can click here to read more about Dharma in the context of Spirituality and Yoga.
In the metaphysical sense, there is more to Dharma. You can spend some time from Scientific Monk to read the relation between the Cosmic order namely Rta from which Dharma is derived.
The earliest incarnation of Vishnu is Adipurush Avatar. He is the source of three head deities of Hinduism namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. From his navel, the creator God Brahma is born. He is depicted as resting on the serpent of infinity namely Ananta. The infinity snake took birth as Lakshman in Treta Yuga and Balarama in Dvapar Yuga.
The second incarnation of Vishnu was in the form of four sages namely Sanak, Sanandan, Sanatan, and Sanatkumar. These four sages are responsible for the birth of the evils like Ravana and Kumbhakarna.
In the gates of the heaven of Vishnu namely Vaikuntha, there were two gatekeepers, Jaya and Vijaya. Once the Kumaras tried to visit the great Vishnu of the Vaikuntha. In the sense of ego, these gatekeepers misunderstood the four Kumaras to be kids and didn’t allow them to enter the main Gate. It angered them, as a result, they were cursed to be separated from the Vishnu.
This further resulted in their birth in the lower realm, in the first they were incarnated as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipyu, secondly, the great evil king Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna and in the third birth, evil humans namely Shisupala and Dantavakra.
The third incarnation in the list of 24 Avatars of Vishnu was Varaha, the boar of the start time. The Puranas of ancient times suggest that Hiranyaksha, the demon took birth immediately after he was cursed by the Sanat Kumaras. Due to his evil nature, he kidnapped the earth and took it deep inside the sea.
Vishnu had to incarnate in the form of Varaha to help the Earth. A great battle was fought between the Vishnu and Varaha resulting in the defeat of the demon Hiranyaksha. Later on, Varaha took the Earth in his trunk and placed it in the exact position.
The fourth Avatar of Vishnu was the divine celestial sage namely Narada. He is also said to have attained the status of the highest order philosopher namely Devarishi. Narada is the embodiment of pure devotion towards the creator. The great sage is often seen in the scriptures chanting the names of ‘Narayana’. The main aim of this Avatara is to prove the ecstasy of the Bhakti as far better concept than the self-ego.
The Fifth among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu, the sages Nar-Narayan holds the great place for Dharma. They are the twin sages born directly to the Lord Dharma. This incarnation is directly connected with the three upcoming Avataras of Vishnu. Once the sage Kashyapa did penance to please the Sage Narayana. The divine sage was impressed by the devotion of Kashyapa and blessed him that, he will take birth three times through him and his wife Aditi. The three births are as follows, Rama, Krishna, and Kalki. This is why Krishna in Mahabharata often calls him and Arjuna to be the rebirth of Narayana and Nara.
The sixth incarnation of Vishnu was the sage Kapila. He was the son of Maharishi Kardam and Devahuti. Kapila is often credited to be the founder of Sankhya philosophy. Many of the philosophers and scholars believe him to be the original founder of higher Yogic Philosophy. Sometimes he is equivalent to the great Hiranyagarbha, the founder of Yoga. You can click on the link to read more about Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana.
In the stories, once he also cursed the 60,000 sons of Sagara to burn into the ashes. Later on, the curse was reversed by the King Bhagirath after he successfully made River Ganga flow down to the Earth from Heaven with the help of Shiva himself.
Among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu, the Seventh incarnation was Sage Dattatreya. The son of sage Atri and Anusuhya. He established various Yogic principles and even taught the Parasurama, another Avatar of Vishnu. The sage Dattatreya is often represented as a combined form of the Tridevas namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The 8th incarnation in the list of 24 Avatars of Vishnu was Yajna. He was born in the first time period of Swayambhuva Manvantara to protect it from evils. Yajna means the holy sacrifice to the divine fire.
The ninth incarnation in the 24 Avatars of Vishnu was with the name of Rishabhdev. As per Puranas, there was a pios king named Naveli. Unfortunately he had no children. He had to perform various rites to get a children. He and his wife Merudevi, wishing for a son started doing Yajna, or the holy offering for the Gods. Lord Vishnu himself appeared and gave a boon to the King that he will take birth himself in the womb of his wife. The Rishabhdev is also one of the great masters of Yoga. He taught the highest philosophy of life to his devotees. Also, he is the great giver of boons.
The 10th incarnation was that of King Prithu. He established vegetation on the Earth. He had dedicated himself towards the highest philosophical ordeals.
The 11th incarnation of Vishnu was Matsya Avatar. This incarnation happened in order to save the Earth from the destruction of the end times. There was a pious King named Satyavrat. Once he was taking bath in the nearby river. At a sudden moment, a small fish came to his fist. When he tried to put it back, the fish said – please don’t put me in the water, the bigger fishes are ready to eat me. The merciful King kept the small fish in his Kamandalu.
Strangely, the fish was becoming bigger and bigger. He had to change the vessel from pot to the Lake. Again, when it increased its size, the King immediately understood that it is not an ordinary creature. Immediately lord Vishnu appeared in the form of half man-half fish. He told to Satyavrat that there will be an end for the world after seven days. He was suggested to build a huge boat and to save the seven sages, creatures, and vegetation.
The god Matsya, the great among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu gave the precious knowledge of Matsya Purana to the king Satyavrata. Also, he blessed him to rule the world in the next manvantara as a Manu. He was known as Vaivashvata, the ruler of Vaivashvata Manvantara.
The 12th incarnation was Kurma or the turtle. According to the Purana, the sage Durvasa, Avatar of Shiva cursed Indra, the king of the gods. All the property possed by the gods was taken by the sea. Indra went to Lord Vishnu for help. He suggested him to churn the ocean to get back all the property.
To churn the sea, the Mandarachal Mountain acted as a churner. Serpent Vasuki was netted on the mountain. The gods and demons started churning the ocean. However, the Mandrachal was sinking down because of its weight. Lord Vishnu took the form of a giant turtle and kept the mountain in his back. This Avatar among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu is said to be the Kurma Avatar of Vishnu.
The story of the Thirteenth incarnation, Dhanvantri is also related to the churning of the ocean. He was a great doctor and master of medicines among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu. Dhanvantri was born while churning the ocean. The divine doctor is seen holding the pot of nectar in his hands.
The 14th incarnation, Mohini is also related to the churning of the ocean. She is only the female avatar in the list of 24 Avatars of Vishnu. During the Samundra Manthan, demons and devas started fighting for Amrit. Vishnu had to incarnate as Mohini to lure the demos and keep the nectar safe. The Ayappan is believed to be born out of the combined energies of Mohini and Shiva.
The fifteenth incarnation among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu is Narasimha (half man-lion man). To fulfull the curse of Sanat Kumara, Vishnu had to take this incarnation to kill Hiranyakashipu, The demon king had gotten a boon that he would neither die from man nor god nor bird or nor animal, neither in day, nor at night, nor on earth, nor in the sky, nor by weapon. Due to ego of this boon, it made him ardent enemy of Vishnu.
However, his son Prahlada was a great devotee of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried hard to convince Prahlada, he didn’t leave the devotion of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu had no option remained than to give him the death penalty. Although with the grace of Vishnu, he always survived. The sister Holika, who had the boon of freedom from the fire sat in blazing fire with the kid. Later on, when the Prahalada said, Vishnu is everywhere. The demon went on to destroy the pillar of the house. From, the pillar the half man-half lion form appeared and killed the Hirankashipu. He is one of the fiercest among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu.
The sixteenth incarnation was of Vishnu is Vamana, the dwarf lord. During ancient times Prahlada’s grandson Bali took control of the three worlds. All the Devtas had no option than to visit Vishnu for help. Then Lord Vishnu himself assured them to take birth as one among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu from the womb of Aditi to help them regain the heavens.
Once Bali was performing a yajna, Vamana went and asked the Bali, three steps of land. As he was known for his charitable deeds. Bali immediately agreed and pledged to donate three steps of land to Vamana. Vamana took a Giant form and measured the earth in one step and heaven in the second step. There was no place left for the third step, Bali asked Vamana to keep the third step on the head.
This made Bali reach the underworlds. Due to the attitude to charity attributed to the Bali, Vishnu appeared before him and blessed him that he will be the ruler of the underworld. Also, in the next Manvantara, he will rule the three worlds with the status of Indra.
The seventeenth incarnation of Vishnu is Hayagriva, the half-horse, and half-man from among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu. According to the Puranas. Once the demons named Madhu and Kaitabh stole the Vedas from Brahma. Brahma went to Vishnu for help. Then gracious Vishnu incarnated as Hayagreeva. He killed Madhu-Kaitabh and gave Vedas back to the Brahma. Hayagreeva is also a great knower of Yoga.
The 18th incarnation among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu was Shri Hari. Once a powerful elephant named Gajendra lived in the mountain called Trikuta. The elephant went to take bath in the pond. A crocodile grabbed his limbs. The struggle of Gajendra and crocodile continued for a long time. Gajendra had no option remained other than to meditate open Vishnu. Lord Vishnu appeared immediately and killed the crocodile with Sudarshana Chakra, the weapon of all the 24 Avatars of Vishnu.
The nineteenth incarnation of Vishnu was Parshurama. According to the Puranas, the city of Mahishmati was ruled by Sahastrabahu who possessed 1000 limbs. He was a dictator and an arrogant Kshatriya. Once Agni, the lord of fire begged for food to him. He suggested Agni to get it from anywhere as the whole nation is his property. Meanwhile while burning the places, the Agni also burnt the ashram of one of the greatest sage named Apava. He cursed Sahastrabahu that Lord Vishnu would be born as Parashurama to destroy not only Sahastrabahu but all the Kshatriyas. Thus Lord Vishnu took incarnation as Parsurama the fifth son of Maharishi Jamadagni to destroy evil Kshatriyas.
The famous shloka Agrata Chaturo Veda is dedicated to him.
अग्रत: चतुरो वेदा: पृष्ठत: सशरं धनु:.
इदं ब्राह्मं इदं क्षात्रं शापादपि शरादपि
It means, Parasuram is the person who holds Vedas from the front and weapons from the back. He is a Brahmin, meanwhile he is also a Kshatriya.
The twentieth incarnation in the 24 Avatars of Vishnu was Maharishi Veda Vyas. He appeared as the son of the sage Maharishi Parashar. Vyasa is credited with the compilation of Vedas and Puranas for common people.
The twenty-first incarnation was Shree Rama. In Tretayug or the third eon. Ravana was creating havoc in the three worlds. He had asked a boon to Brahma that, he could be killed neither by gods, nor the greater beings. In the ego, he had forgotten to mention the human being. Lord Vishnu incarnated in the form of human to slay the demon king Ravana and to fulfill the curse of Sanat Kumara and to destroy the ego of the society. Rama established the highest ordeals for the Kings of the next generation.
Twenty-second incarnation of Vishnu Shri Krishna. In Dwapar Yuga, Lord Vishnu took the Shri Krishna avatar and killed the demon Kansa. He also propounded all the secrets of Vedas through Shrimad Bhagawat Gita.
Twenty-third incarnation was Lord Buddha He established principles of non violence in the Earth and lured the demons from using Vedas for negative actions.
The twenty-fourth incarnation would be Kalki. He will be the upcoming Avatar among the 24 Avatars of Vishnu. The details of Kalki Kings can also be found in Buddhist texts. He is the bringer of end times.
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