Avatar 1: Matsya – The Fish Avatar
The Matsya Avatar is the first avatar of Lord Vishnu. The story of the Matsya avatar begins with King Satyavrata, an honest and just king. One day, he was washing his hands in a river when a small fish swam into his hands and begged him to save its life. So, he kept the fish in a jar, but it was growing so big, that soon, it moved from a tank to a river, and finally, to the ocean. The fish then explained that he was Vishnu and that a serious flood would happen in one week and it would destroy all life. He said that a mare (female horse) who lived at the bottom of the ocean would release a poisonous fire from her mouth. This fire would burn the entire universe. The seven clouds of doom would flood the earth until the early was one ocean. So, the fish told the king to build an ark with “medicinal herbs, varieties of seeds, and along with the seven saints, the serpent Vasuki, and other animals. Then, the ark was completed, just in time. When the flood swept across, the king asked Vishnu why mankind must face such a terrible thing. The king was then told that he was the only righteous person alive, and he would be the father of future generations of men. Matsya Vishnu then killed Hayagriva (the evil mare, not to be mistaken with Lord Hayagriva). Then, Vishnu gave the Vedas to Brahma, then tied himself to Manu’s ark using Vasuki as a rope. He protected them. Then, when the flood subsided, Manu and the others were sent to the Himalayas, where civilization could progress once more.
Avatar 2: Kurma- The Giant Tortoise Avatar
The Kurma avatar is the second avatar of Vishnu. The story of the Kurma avatar begins with the story known as “The Churning of the Ocean”. This is how the story goes. One day, the Devas find that the Asuras are invading the earth and when the Devas tried to stop them, a war started. The Devas realized they needed a strategy to win. They went to Brahma, but he could not provide a tactic. So, they all approached Vishnu, who told them to churn the ocean of milk. He said that instead of butter, the nectar of immortality would emerge. The Asuras would not be able to kill them if they drank this nectar, and they could save those on the earth. The Devas found the ocean of milk, but there were not enough Devas to churn it. They had to ask the Asuras for help, but they requested nectar in return. The Devas soon realized they must deceive the Asuras. The Devas and Asuras performed rituals and they realized that they did not know how to churn the ocean. However, a voice from the sky told them they must use the tallest mountain in the world as a tool to churn the ocean of milk. However, the mountain started to sink, but Lord Vishnu took the form of the Kurma avatar to dive under the mountain and hold it up. Once again, the voice from the sky gave them help. The voice told them to capture a snake and use it as a rope (they needed to wrap it around the mountain). They got into a dispute over who would hold the snake’s tail (it was an impure act). The gods held the tail and they started to churn. The snake began to burn the Asuras when it spit fire from its mouth. Numerous treasures arose, all of which were collected by the Devas. But things slowly went south. A black cloud of poison began to kill every living thing that touched it, forcing the Devas and Asuras to run. However, they all prayed and Shiva drank the poison (he was unaffected by it, other than the fact that it turned his throat blue), and flew away. Grateful, they continued to churn. Soon, the nectar was carried in a golden vessel, but the Asuras ran away with the vessel. Worried, the Devas prayed to Vishnu. Vishnu appeared as Mohini, and the demons said that she should drink the nectar first. They handed her the vessel, and the gods drank the nectar and made the earth a safe place once more.
Avatar 3: Varaha- The Giant Boar Avatar
The story of the Varaha avatar begins with Lord Vishnu’s abode in Vaikunta, which was guarded by Jaya and Vijaya. One day, Lord Brahma’s sons came to meet Lord Vishnu. Jaya and Vijaya stopped them from entering. They cursed them to be born as humans on the earth. They pleaded but were not listened to. Lord Vishnu later apologized and said that they were doing their job. The sons left, saying that the curse could not be taken back. Lord Vishnu then told his guards that the only way to undo the curse was to be killed by Lord Vishnu. They agreed and were born as Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha. Hiranyaksha was a devotee of Lord Brahma, who offered him a boon that stated that no god, human, Asura, Deva, animal, or Beat could kill him. Hiranyaksha started harming people since he was immortal. He grew so powerful that mother earth trembled as he took steps and the sky trembled when he shouted. He invaded Indra’s palace, and the Devas were so scared that they hid in the caves of the earth. Hiranyaksha grabbed the earth and caused Mother Earth to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Lord Brahma became worried, but realizing the boon he granted, he said that they needed to take the help of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu became a tiny boar that soon grew so big that it was the size of a large mountain, and he did this because Hiranyaksha forgot to mention a boar when accepting the offer of a boon. After fighting for a long while, Hiranyaksha was defeated and Mother Earth was saved.
Avatar 4: Narasimha- The half-man/half-lion Avatar
Lord Vishnu killed the brother of Hiranyakashipu to protect mankind and the earth, and Hiranyakashipu was frustrated at this. He prayed for a long period of time and Lord Brahma gave him a blessing. Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahlad, and he was a pious devotee of Lord Narayana. His father did not like this and tried to tell Prahlad to stop worshipping Lord Narayana and convert to a demon to take revenge. However, Prahlad was given a blessing from Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu’s sister, Holika, tried to convert Prahlad to a demon by sitting in a fire. She had a blessing that she would never be burned by fire, so she sat with Prahlad on her lap. However, Prahlad’s devotion to the Lord saved him, and Holika was burned to death, despite the immunity given to her. Hiranyakashipu was very angry at this and attacked a pillar near him. Lord Narasimha came out of it. Hiranyakashipu had a blessing that no human, animal, or Deva could kill him and he could not be killed during the day or night, in space or on Earth, and could not be killed with weapons. Lord Narasimha came in the form of half-lion and half-man and killed him by ripping his nails on his chest.
Avatar 5: Vamana – The Dwarf Avatar
Lord Vishnu took the avatar of Lord Vamana because he wanted to retrieve the Swarga Loka (abode of the Vedic gods) from King Mahabali. King Mahabali is the grandson of Prahlad, and like him, is a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vamana wanted to test the devotion of King Mahabali, and used a simple test to do this. He wanted to receive alms from him. King Mahabali wanted to display his generosity and he agreed to give Lord Vamana anything he asked for. As he was a clever man, Vamana asked for the piece of land he would cover in three steps. Since his feet were small and his steps could not cover much distance (Vamana was a dwarf), King Mahabali was perplexed and slightly amused by the demand, but his guru cautioned him. However, he wanted to showcase his generosity, so he agreed to the demands of Vamana. Within seconds of the approval, Lord Vamana grew and covered the skies with one step, and the earth with another. Vamana asked where his third step could be placed. Soon, King Mahabali realized that it was Lord Vishnu after all, and offered his head. He asked the Lord to place his foot on his head, proving that he was a true devotee of Lord Vishnu.
Avatar 6: Parashurama
Parashurama is the sixth avatar of Vishnu. Lord Vishnu took the form of Parashurama to defeat the evil King Arjuna. But by doing this, he started a war with all Kshatriyas. However, Parashurama was persistent. He waged war for 21 years and eliminated all unrighteous Kshatriyas. He went back into penance, believing that the Brahmins were now free of the fears of Kshatriyas. Parashurama is considered immortal and is said to rule until the end of the world. But this is not the only thing Parashurama has done. You see, at Sita’s swayamwara, the challenge was to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. When Lord Rama went to string the bow, he snapped it in half. Parashurama was infuriated. He screamed and asked who destroyed Lord Shiva’s bow. He was especially angry because it was given to him directly by Lord Shiva. Lakshmana, Lord Rama’s brother added fuel to the fire, saying that the bow was old and that is why it was broken. However, the minute Lord Rama was speaking, Parashurama was caught by surprise. He suddenly realized that his duties were over. He then asked Lord Rama to string the bow of Lord Vishnu. Lord Rama immediately did so, and he asked where the arrow should go. Parashurama said that it should go towards the north. Lord Rama aimed the arrow at Parashurama’s destiny, and that is how Parashurama became immortal. He then settled, having accomplished his goals.
Avatar 7: Rama
Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu. He incarnated in human form and came to Ayodhya. He has half of the divine qualities of Lord Vishnu, and this is called the “Ardha Ansh”. A major Indian epic, the Ramayana, was written, and it narrates Lord Rama’s life, including major events like his birth, marriage, exile, and how he rescues his wife from Ravana, an evil demon. This is the summary of the epic. Lord Rama was able to accomplish things no other young man could do. He could carry and string the bow of Lord Shiva, allowing him to marry Sita. He got married to Sita, but things quickly went downhill. His father was forced to exile him for fourteen years due to a promise he made long ago. However, he, his wife, and brother Lakshmana live happily in the forest. They kill evil demons and meet very kind, virtuous people. Suddenly, an evil demon named Ravana hears of Sita’s beauty and kidnaps her. It is up to Rama to save her. With the help of his brother, and an alliance with the monkey king Sugriva, Lanka was invaded with numerous monkeys (including the well-known Hanuman), and after several battles, Sita was saved and Ravana was defeated.
Avatar 8: Krishna
Lord Krishna was born in a dungeon where his mother, Devaki, and his father, Vasudeva, were chained. This is the story of why they were chained and Krishna’s birth. Devaki’s brother, Kamsa (also spelt as Kansa), was so excited that his sister and now brother-in-law, were married. He agreed to driving them in his chariot, to celebrate their wedding. However, all of a sudden, a celestial voice spoke. It said that Kamsa would be killed by Devaki’s eighth child. Angered by this, he chained the both of them in his prison, and he killed the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth son of Devaki. Finally, the day came. She was giving birth to her eighth child. The baby was soon born, but something was different about this child. Suddenly, Devaki and Vasudeva were free from the chains that once held them both. Realizing what needed to be done, Vasudeva snuck out of the prison and into a villiage, where he exchanged his newborn with a little girl. He snuck back in and they tied their chains back together. Kamsa came in, and as he tried to kill the baby, the goddess Yogmaya emerged, warning that death had arrived in his kingdom. She vanished. Krishna grew up with Nanda and Yashoda, since he was exchanged for another child. He grew up to be extremely powerful and witty, and ended up defeating Kamsa in a battle.
Avatar 9: Balarama
In the previous story, I said that the first six sons of Devaki died. But what happened to the seventh son. Well, Balarama was the seventh son of Devaki, but he was not killed, certainly not. Devaki and Vasudeva prayed to Lord Vishnu, saying that they did not want their seventh son to die. Lord Vishnu heard these prayers, and he transferred Balarama (when he was just a fetus) into the womb of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva. Balarama was born safely and thrived. Meanwhile, when Kamsa asked where the seventh child was, Devaki and Vasudeva stated that the child was born dead. Now that I have told you the story of Balarama’s birth, I will tell you something you may not have known about Balarama. Lakshmana reincarnated as Balarama. Lakshmana said that since he was the younger brother of Rama, he had to obey all of his commands. He wanted to be the older brother, and this is why his wish was fulfilled when he reincarnated. Lord Vishnu assumed the form of the younger brother, Krishna, and Lakshmana reincarnated as Balarama. They even say that the brotherhood of Rama and Lakshmana is very similar to the brotherhood of Balarama and Krishna. Also, you might not have known this, but Balarama’s weapon of strength was the mace. He used this to defeat numerous Asuras.
Avatar 10: Kalki
The tenth and final avatar of Vishnu will be Kalki. Kalki will arrive at the end of the Kali Yuga (the fourth and worst of the four yugas in the Yuga Cycle), to punish the evil and reward the good. Kalki will also appear to inaugurate the Satya Yuga (first and best of the four yugas in the Yuga Cycle), initiating the age of dharma. The Puranas (Indian literature that describes numerous stories of gods, etc.) describe Kalki as ending the destructive period of time and beginning the glorious period of time. He is said to ride a white horse and carry a fiery sword.
Picture Courtesy: Kids of Gurukulam
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