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Geetaa and Dashaavataar-1

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Geetaa and Dashaavataar-1

What is an Avataar?
A descent from higher to lower. The Lord coming from Vaikunth or Ksheerabdhi to the mortal world in a form visible to all. This is the common conception. But Avataaran, the descent means not from a place but from a higher realm of consciousness to a lower plane of consciousness. The divinity is everywhere , in every being but unmanifest. When it is manifest in a gross form it is an Avataar. In this sense the Avataar is happening always. Whenever the good overpowers the evil it is Avataar. Geetaa says "paritraanaaya saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha dhushkrtaam Dharm Sasthaapanaarthaaya sambhavaami yuge yuge", to protect the good and to punish the wicked I make myself manifest in every Yug. The words "Yuge Yuge" should not be understood as once in a Yug. It means "in all yug", whenever necessary. But the Dashaavataar, among the 24 Avataar described in Bhagavat Puraan, in which the divinity has manifested for all of us to see, are the prominent ones.

What are Puraan and Ithihaas like Bhaagavat Puraan and Raamaayan?
There are 18 Puraan (see their list here) out of which Bhaagavat Puraan and Vishnu Puraan are the ones where we find the description of the Dashaavataar of Lord Naaraayan. The Puraan and Itihaas are not cock and bull stories or fairy tales as many think in modern days. They are not figments of imagination of the sages or mere mythology. They are pregnant with meaning. The sages, out of mercy for those who could not study and understand the Shruti and Smriti have given out the same truths in the form of stories that everyone can understand.

The whole Sanskrit literature can be classified into three heads --

Shruti and Smriti - Ved are Shruti and Bhagvad Geetaa, Manu Smriti etc which are corollary to Ved are called Smriti. These are classified under the name Prabhu Sanhitaa, because like a Prabhu or master they give commands in the form of injunctions, prohibitions and instructions. Puranas and Ithihaas are called Suhrid Sanhitaa because like a Suhrid, friend, advising what is good for us, they tell us about the same truths contained in the Shruti and Smriti in the form of stories in a friendly and suggestive manner.

There is a third class of works also, known as Kaavya, comprising of drama, prose and poetry like the works of Kaalidaas and other poets, which also contain the values of Dharm and spirituality but like a Kaantaa, a wife, they convey the message in an entertaining and unobtrusive manner. A wife has to tell her husband what is good for him in an indirect and pleasant manner because no husband likes to be advised or instructed by his wife.

Dashaavataar and Geetaa
As the Dashavataar are the most important subject of the Bhaagvat Puraan and Vishnu Puraan, the Bhagavd Geetaa is the most important part of Mahaabhaarat, and therefore in spite of its occurrence in the Itihaaas it has been elevated to the status of Smriti. Geetaa is the gospel of humanity. It is essential in every walk of life and the view that the study of it can be postponed to the old age is wrong. It was told in the battlefield and not in forest, urging Arjun to do his duty. Unless the seed is sown while young, the wisdom of the scriptures will not bear fruit in the old age. Whether one is a student, or an executive or a householder, he will be more efficient in his work if he has mastered the principles of Geetaa. When the same is done without anxiety for the result and with detachment it is Karm Yog.

Dashaavataar in the light of Geetaa
The Dashaavataar are the illustrations of the Geetaa. What the Lord said in the Geetaa, He has demonstrated it in His incarnations. While the Avataar except Raam Avataara and Krishn Avataar are the illustrations of the Geeata, the Raam Avataar is the elucidation of Geetaa and the Krishn Avataar is embodiment of Geetaa.

The purpose of the Matsyaavataar was to retrieve the Ved which were stolen by Hayagreev Asur, while Brahmaa Jee was asleep during his Naimittik Pralaya (which is the night of Brahmaa), and hidden under the ocean. The Lord took the form of a large fish and retrieved them, killing Hayagreev Asur. Now the Hayagreev Asur stands for perverted intellect strong enough to influence the world to eclipse the wisdom of the Ved. The word Haya means, besides a horse, a class of men strong like wood, arrogant, perverted and fearless. "Kaashthaa tulya vapuh Dhrshtah mithyaachaarasch nirbhayah". Ved being immersed in the ocean, wisdom and Dharm being submerged in A-Dharm due to the absence of the guidance of Ved, it requires the Divine grace in the form of Mahaa Matsya. Mathsya form of the Lord is called Mahaa Matsya , It represents the pure intellect , all pervading, Sarvagya, which alone could save the Ved and Dharm. The Brihadaaranyak Upanishad says, "yathaa mahaamatsyah ubhe koole anusancharati poorvam cha aparam cha", which means, "as the large fish goes along the two banks being in contact with one and the other."

Small fish are agitated by the current of the river and run to this bank and the other, whereas the Mahaa Matsya goes touching both the banks and not affected by the current of the river, a'Mahaan cha asou matsyasch naadeeyen srotasa ahaaryahaa". The two banks are doubt and delusion. Born out of the Dwandwa, Raag, and Dwesh, Sukh and Dukh etc between which the Jeev oscillates like a pendulum.

When the intellect is not mature with wisdom it oscillates between doubt and delusion, running hither and thither like small fish swimming alternately between the two banks. But when it is grown fully, all the doubts are resolved and the delusion is no more. Geetaa says, "Raagdwesh viyuktaistu vishayaan indhriyaischaran, aatm vashyair-vidheyaatmaa Prasaadm adhi gachchhati (2.64) the one who contacts the sense objects with his senses fully controlled due to the absence of likes and dislikes is disciplined and self-controlled The two banks have now become Vivek and Vairaagya. The same intellect becomes all pervading, being established in Brhaaman, the Absolute Reality, and is firm and unaffected by the cross currents of Sansaar, the trans migratory existence.

In the story, the Lord as Matsya instructs the King Satyavrat to take pairs of all beings and seeds of the plants and herbs when the world is submerged in water during deluge and get into a boat drawn by
Mahaa Matsya which would come there. He did so and the Lord took him to safety and the reproduction continued. The deluge was the effect of Maayaa which could be crossed only with the help of the Lord as said in the Geetaa "Daivee hyeshaa gunamayee mama maayaa duratyayaa, maamev ye prapadyante maayaam etaam taranti te" (7.14) "This divine delusion formed by the Gun created by Me is difficult to cross and those who resort to Me alone are able to cross over."

2-Koorm Avataar
Next is Koorm Avataar. This incarnation was taken to help taking out Amrit from Ksheer Sagar through its Manthan. Amrit is the nectar of Brahm Gyaan which secures immortality. The mount Mandar is the firm resolve as said in the 5th chapter of the Geetaa, "Tadbuddhayah stadaatmaan tannishthaah tataparaayanaah, gachchhantya punaraavrittim Gyaan nirdhoot kalmashaah" (5.17) Their intellect
riveted in the self, being engrossed in the self, contemplating on the self and fixing their goal as the self, the Yogee whose impurities are washed away by Gyaan reach the state of no return.

The fight between Devtaa and Asur, who denote good and bad impulses, is going on always inside the mind. The only solution to end that, is to acquire Gyaan which is signified by Amrit. The milky ocean (the Ksheer Saagar) is the mind full of turbulence but calm on the surface. Vaasuki is the King of serpents, which stands for the desires. The King of desires is the desire for Moksh. When the desire for Moksh, Vaasuki, is wound around firm resolve, Mandar mountain, the Amrit can be gained. But it needs the help of the Lord at each and every step. He had to help in lifting the Mandar Parvat and to put it in the ocean, helped by supporting it on His back as Koorm, churned the ocean along with the Devtaa , entered them to give strength and finally as Mohinee He took the Amrit away from the Asur and gave it to the Devtaa. This shows that one needs the Divine grace at each and every step of spiritual progress.

First the poison Halaahal came out which was swallowed by Shiv. Halaahal is the bad Vaasanaa or impulses stored in the mind through several births which have to eradicated as the first step. It was absorbed by Shiv the annihilator. The Lord as Shiv out of mercy takes away the sinful propensities to make the mind pure. Vedaantadesikaa, the foremost of Vaishnav Aachaarya after Ramanuj and composer of several devotional and philosophical works, says in his dayasatakam, in which he personifies the Dayaa, mercy of the Lord, as Dayaa Devee, that, she eats the sins of the devotees to make them pure and worthy of the grace of the Lord. "Teshaam eva anukampaartham aham agyaanajam tamah, naashayaami...", the Lord says in the Geetaa. (10.11) "I destroy the darkness of ignorance (which is the cause of sins) for them out of mercy."

All the good things that came out of the ocean like Airaavat elephant, Ucchaishravaa horse etc, are the various Siddhi that come to one who aspires for Gyaan at different levels. The Devtaa were warned against being tempted by these things and stop churning. The Siddhi are impediments to progress and the aspirant for Mukti is not supposed to be tempted by them. Mahaa Lakshmee represents the mercy of the Lord which is why she chose His heart as her residing place. She is called o Purush Karbhooha, who recommends the case of the devotee to the Lord, making Him forgive the faults of the devotee and shower His grace.

Finally the Amrit came out, only to be seized by the Asur at the last moment. This is to show that one should not be complacent about his spiritual progress as there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. The Geetaa says, "indriyaani pramaatheeni haranti prasabham manah". (2.60) the senses of an aspirant till he reaches the final stage remain strong and carry his mind unaware and
indriyasyendriyasyaarthe raag dwesho vyavasthitau, tayorn vashamaagachchhettau hyasya paripanthinau" (3.34) Desire and aversion is attached to each sense object through the respective sense organ. One should not come under their sway because they are his enemies. That is, the senses may even sway a wise man too who he has controlled them.

There is a story to illustrate this: A Guru who has mastered the Shastra was teaching his disciples in the forest these lines from Mahaabhaarat - "Balavaan indriyagramo vidhwaansam api karashti (MB) which means that the senses are strong and tempt even the man of knowledge. The Guru, who was proud of himself as a master of his senses changed it to "Balavaan indhriyagramo vidhwansham naapi karshati", that means, the senses do no tempt the learned man. Sage Ved Vyaas Jee, the author of Mahaabhaarat was angered by this and wanted to teach him a lesson. He created a heavy shower and took the form of an attractive woman and came to the place where that Guru was teaching, seeking shelter. The Guru told her to go inside his hut and take shelter there from the rain. When she brushed past him the Guru was attracted by her and dismissed his students. Then he knocked on the door of the hut which she did not open. Then he got on the roof and tried to get in but was caught in between the bamboos of the roof and called out to his students to come for his rescue. He was rescued and he found, when the door was opened, that there was nobody inside. He learnt his lesson and later taught the same passage as "Balavaan indriyagraamo vidhwansham api karshati karshati karshatyeva".

Koorm Avataar signifies the Sthit-pragya portrayed in the second chapter of the Geetaa - "Yadaa sanharte chaayam koorm angaaneeva sarvashah, indriyaani indhriyaarthebhyah tasya pragyaa prathishtitaa (2.58). When one withdraws his senses from sense objects on all sides like the tortoise withdraws its limbs, his wisdom is firm. The Koorm is the Aadi-Koorm who supports the entire universe on His back to whom the Mandar mountain was nothing. Desika says in his Dasaavataar Stotra that the Lord was not at all affected by the churning and felt as though his back was being scratched. This is the state of Sthit-pragya described in the Geetaa. "baahyasparsheshu asktaatmaa vindati aatmani
yatsukham (5.21) The one whose senses are not drawn towards sense objects outside, acquires joy within himself, being engrossed in Brahm which gives him undiminished joy.

3-Varaah Avataar
Varaah means wild boar. Hiranyaaksh hid the Earth in the ocean and the Lord took the form of Varaah and killed him and brought back the Earth. "Hiranya" means gold and "Hiranye akshinee yasya", one whose eyes are on gold is Hiranyaaksh, who represents the materialistic outlook, Hiranya-Buddhi, as opposed to Bhagavat-Buddhi, whose thoughts are always about the Lord. The Earth is immersed in materialism and the Lord brings it back and puts it on the waters of Bhagavat-Buddhi. Mahaa Varaah, as the incarnation is called, is also known as Vrishaakapi, (in Vishnu Sahasranaam), meaning Dharm Varaah, embodiment of Dharm, Vrish meaning Dharm and Kapi also means Varaah besides monkey. Shree Mad-Bhaagvat describes Varaah as Yagya Varaah, while Geetaa says "Sarvagatam Brahm nityam yagye pratishthitam, Brahm, the supreme reality, is established in Yagya. Further in Geetaa the Lord says "aham kratuh aham Yagyah", "I am the sacrifice". In Narasinh Avataar, Hiranyakashyap stopped all the Yagya because Lord Vishnu is present in Yagya.

In Varaah Puraan, the Lord says that if one contemplates on Him always while he has control over his faculties, the Lord will remember him even if the man is not able to think of the Lord in his last moments. He says in the Geetaa - "ye tu sarvaani karmaani mayi sannyasya matparaah, ananye naiv yogen maam Dhyaayant upaasate || theshaam aham samuddhartaa mrityu sansaar Saagaraat (12.6-7), I uplift those, who offer all their actions to Me and worship Me with unfailing devotion, from the sea of Sansaar. This is the implication of Varaah Avataar. Bhoo Devee prayed to the Lord when she was immersed in the ocean and she is not only His consort but also a devotee and a dependent. Hence the Lord took the form of a wild boar and lifted her from the ocean.

4-Narasinh Avataar
Hiranyaaksh and Hiranyakashyap were brothers and were alike in attitude. Kashyap means food and clothing - "Hiranyam kashipuh yasya sah hiranyakasipu, meaning, one to whom gold is the food and clothing. Prahlaad represents Bhagavat-Buddhi which is hindered by Hiranya-Buddhi. When the true devotee is persecuted by the materialistic world the Lord comes to his rescue as he protected Prahlaad every time whenever Hiranyakashyap tried to kill him. Finally when his faith was challenged the Lord appeared as Narasinh and killed Hiranyakashyap. Prahlaad told his father that the Lord Hari is everywhere and when Hiranyakashyap asked him whether his Lord would protect him if Hirnyakashyap kills him by his sword right then, Prahlaad replied "no, He would not, because the Lord would not allow you to raise the sword in the first place." Such faith was rewarded which confirms the declaration in the Geetaa - "kaunteya pratijaaneehi name bhaaktaH pranashyati", (9.31) "affirm on my behalf, O Arjun, that my devotee never perishes".

The reason the Lord appeared as half man half lion was to protect the words of another devotee, Brahmaa, who has given the boon to Hiranyakashyap that he would not be killed either by man or animal, either during day or night, either inside or outside and by any weapon. The Lord had to satisfy all the conditions to make true the words of Brahmaa though He could have killed Hiranyakashyap in any manner He liked. Also to prove true the words of Prahlaad that the Lord is everywhere, even in a blade of grass or in a pillar, Narasinh was occupying all places at that moment ready to come out of whichever place Hiranyakashyap was going to point at. Deiska says in his Varadaraja panchashat that the whole universe except that one pillar out of which the Lord came, is Narasinh Garbh, means occupied by Narasinh even today.

Narasinh was described as "na mrigam na maanusham", neither man nor animal, being half man half lion. This signifies that he was Dwandwaateet, beyond the pairs of opposites, Dwandwa such as love and hate, gain and loss and joy and sorrow, while the boons of Hiranyakashyap denote the Dwandwa. The meaning of Narasinh Avataar is that "only one who has transcended the Dwandwa, like Raag-Dwesh, likes and dislikes, and can win over the Hiranya-Buddhi.

Prahlaad is the example of a true devotee as described in the Geetaa - "Vaasudevah sarvam iti sa mahaatmaa sudurlabhah" (7.19), the great soul who considers that Vaasudev is everything is very rare. The Lord proved by His protecting Prahlaad the declaration in the Geetaa "yo maam pashyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pashyati tasya aham na pranasyaami sa cha me na pranasyati" (6.30) One who sees Me everywhere and everything in Me, I never perish (cease to exist) in him nor he perishes in Me.

The story goes that the Dwaarpaal of Vaikunth were cursed by the sages Sanakaadi Muni to be born on Earth and the Lord granting their request that they will be taking three births as His enemies so that they would return to Vaikunth soon. Their first birth was Hiranyaaksh and Hiranyakasyap, and the next was as Raavan and Kumbhkarn and the last was as Shishupaal and Dantavakra. The pride of the Dwaarpaal had to be quelled and since the pride is associated with the other five enemies of man, they had to be conquered.

The Lord says in the Geetaa, "ahankaaram balam darpam kaamam krdam cha sanshritaah maam aatmaparadeheshu pradwishantaH abhyasooyakaah" while describing the nature of Aasuree Sampatti, demonic qualities. It means, arrogance, brutal strength, pride, lust, anger and cavil and jealousy which make them inimical towards the Lord.

Hiranyaaksh stands for Mad, arrogance and Hiranyakashyap denotes Krodh (anger). Raavan signifies Kaam (desire) and Kumbhkarn Moh (delusion); Shishupaal and Daantavakra denote Maatsarya (jeolousy), and Lobh (greed) respectively. It is significant that the Lord destroyed Raavan and kumbhkarn in one incarnation as Raam and Shishupaal and Dantavakra in the next Avataar as Krishn. But to destroy the two brothers Hiranyaaksh and Hiranyakashyap He had to take two incarnations which shows that it is more difficult to conquer arrogance and anger.


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Created by Sushma Gupta On 3/9/02
Modified on 12/13/10