In the year 2005 we visited California, USA and initiated the Vyāsa SJC which is headed by Freedom T. Cole. We discussed the importance of avatāra and the guṇa.
Later in the SJC Delhi conference we discussed this topic in some depth.
Some of the recordings and others related to the subject are available for download.
The Sanskrit word avatāraḥ is derived from ava meaning ‘down’ or descent and tarati meaning ‘crossing over or tiding over’ and refers to the deliberate descent of a deity, immortal being or the Supreme Being from heaven (normally Viṣṇu) for specific purpose(s). As a noun, avatar also means a new personification of a familiar, idea1 like an embodiment2 or a temporary manifestation3.
2 An embodiment, as of a quality or concept; an archetype: ‘the very avatar of cunning’. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition; Dictionary.com
3 A temporary manifestation or aspect of a continuing entity: ‘occultism in its present avatar’. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition; Dictionary.com
God is one in Hinduism, to which there is no doubt and is represented by the sacred syllable om (ॐ).
Types of avatāra
There are six primary types of Viṣṇu avatāra or incarnations –
(1) Puruṣa avatāra: avatāra of Viṣṇu descending for the sake of upholding dharma
(2) Lilā avatāra: Viṣṇu avatāra (descending) for various ‘lila; (play, Rāma of pastimes) and include (1) Catuḥsana, (2) Nārada, (3) Varāha, (4) Matsya, (5) Yajña, (6) Nara- Nārāyaṇa, (7) Kardami Kapila, (8) Dattātreya, (9) Hayasirsa, (10) Haṁsa, (11) Dhruvapriya, or Prsnigarbha, (12) Rsabha, (13) Pṛthu, (14) Nṛsiṁha, (15) Kūrma, (16) Dhanvantari, (17) Mohini, (18) Vāmana, (19) Paraśurāma, (20) Raghavendra, (21) Vyāsa, (22) Balarāma, (23) Kṛṣṇa, (24) Buddha and (25) Kalki as given in the Bhagavata Purāṇa.
(3) Guṇa avatāra: based on the three modes of rajas, sattva and tamas these are Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva and reside within the material creation in these modes.
(4) Yuga avatāra: viṣṇu avatāra heralding the closing of a yuga (time cycle) and ensuring the continuity of the next. In every mahayuga there are four yuga – Satya, Treta, Dvāpara and Kali bearing the primary colors white, red, black and yellow respectively.(ref: Bhagavata Purāṇa 10.8.13; Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada;)
(5) Manvantāra – avatāra: Also called Manu, they are the progenitors of manuśya (human beings) at the beginning of every kalpa (day of Brahma or the beginning of creation).
(6) Saktyavesa – avatāra: jīvātmā (souls) empowered by Viṣṇu [for a short duration] during their continued existence. They are normally teachers and provide knowledge that helps to sustain mankind like Dhanvantari a jīva tattva śaktyavesa avatar Who taught ayurveda (medicine) and medicinal plants. Lord Buddha, Kapila, Ṛṣabhadeva and Nara-Nārāyaṇa are also saktyavesa avatāra as they were primarily great teachers. Recent theorists have added Jesus Christ and Hazrat Muhammad as well as Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupada to this list as they were also great spiritual teachers. However others have attempted to add all deities Brahma and Śiva to this list and are quite wrong in doing so as they are to be exclusively listed under guṇa avatāra.
Dasa avatāra or ten incarnations
Any list of ten incarnations can be made from the lists of various avatāra of Viṣṇu indicated above. However for identifying the ten principal avatāra of Viṣṇu symbolizing the highest potentate of the ten variables of Jyotiṣa (navagraha and lagna), we need to ensure that they belong to principal list of 22 incarnations or find mention in the Bhagavat Purāṇa. Other factors to consider include-
Guṇa avatāra are not to be selected as they are much above the navagraha and lagna which are in the three modes of sattva, rajas and tamas. For example, Jupiter is strongly sattva guṇa and this does not exclude the presence of the other guṇa. Thus even at its highest potency, Jupiter cannot represent the guṇa avatāra.
Prabhava (mighty, potentate) forms must have a dominance over vaibhava avatāra and here again, permanent potency gets a natural choice over temporal potency as the navagraha symbolize permanency and exist over a long period of time through the kalpa whereas temporal potency forms exist for short durations during the kalpa (life of creation).
For example, Mohini and Haṁsa avatāra exist for a short duration in every kalpa and cannot represent the potency of the graha. Similarly, Dhanvantari, Rsabha, Vyāsa, Dattātreya and Kapila are very specific purpose manifestations and cannot be symbolized by any one graha.
Among the vaibhava-prakāṣa forms are Kūrma, Matsya, Nara-Nārāyaṇa, Varāha, Hayagriva, Pṛṣnigarbha, and Balarāma, The manvantara avatāra Yajña, Vibhu, Satyasena, Hari, Vaikuntha, Ajita, Vāmana, Sarvabhauma, Rsabha, Visvaksena, Dharmasetu, Sudhama, Yogeśvara and Bṛhadbhānu.
List of eleven avatāra: Accordingly our list of twenty-two avatāra is reduced to eleven: (1) Catuḥsana, (2) Varāha, (3) Nārada, (4) Nara-Nārāyaṇa, (5) Kardami Kapila, (6) Dattātreya, (7) Yajña, (8) Rsabha, (9) Prthu, (10) Matsya, (11) Kūrma, (12) Dhanvantari, (13) Mohini, (14) Nṛsiṁha, (15) Vāmana, (16) Paraśurāma, (17) Vyāsa, (18) Rāmacandra (19) Balarāma, (20) Kṛṣṇa, (21) Buddha and (22) Kalki. There are three principal lists which take these avatāra into account – (1) Parāśara Dasa avatāra (2) Jayadeva Dasa avatāra stotra [Bengal School] and (3) Jagannāth temple [Orissa School].
Jyotisa Guru: Pt. Sanjay Rath
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