VSN #17 – Mention of the Avatars

by Sahadev Komaragiri

Source: www.bronzecreative.com

Righteousness needs a correction when it starts to slide like if there is no bottom. When it gets corrected and is at its perfection it starts to decline again as the only natural possibility. It has to go through an endless cycle of ups and downs. Whenever it declines as dictated by the human vagaries, it gets corrected by divine intervention. Divine intervention is the only option and God promised to intervene when it is the right time.

This post is part of the series on viShNu sahasra naamaM

He promised in Bhagavad Gita that:

Whenever righteousness is harmed and unrighteousness is on the rise I will take action. In every age, it is my duty to protect the righteous, to destroy the wicked and to establish righteousness.

This promise came almost at the end of the dwaapar yug from Lord Krishna, the 8th avatar. By this time 7 avatars have already completed their tasks. It is interesting to note how the avatars have an evolution of their own kind. The first avatar was in the form of a fish(matsya), the second one was in the form of a tortoise(kUrma), third one in the form of a boar(varaaha), fourth half-lion half-man(naarasimha), fifth a dwarf(vaamana), sixth paraSuraama, seventh raama, eighth kRuShNa, ninth gautama buddha and finally the tenth one is the yet to appear manifest avatar by the name of kalki. These are the ten avatars that are universally accepted as the manifestations of Lord Vishnu.

It is to be noted here that each and every name in the viShNu sahasra naamaM(VSN) has several interpretations. This is the beauty offered by the Sanskrit language as well as the thousand of acts attributed to Lord Vishnu. What follows is a sample of at least one name that clearly refers to an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The names of Sri Maha Vishnu are a celebration of His acts in various avatars, hence there are many names that have some reference to the avatars of Lord Vishnu. This post focuses on just a few names.

At the time of deluge, Lord Narayana instructed King Satyavrat to collect a sample of every animal and plant species across the world along with the sapta rishis. When the entire earth was about to be submerged in water, a special boat carried all the animals, plants and the seven rishis to the safety. Lord Narayana in the form of a gigantic fish, matsya avatar, navigated the boat to safety. A fish keeps its eyes open all the time, hence the name animishaya(216) – the One who keeps His eyes open all the time. This word is applied to mean, metaphorically, for One who always keeps His eyes open for His devotees. Note that the word matsya itself does not appear anywhere in the 1000 names.

At the time of churning of the ocean, Lord Vishnu takes the form of a massive tortoise, kUrma avatar, on which the Mandara mountain rested. This mountain served as the churning stick. Since He held a mountain on Himself he was called mahaadridRite(182). In this avatar He supported the mountain on His back. Thus we have the name adhiShTaanam(324) – the One who supported. Note that the word kUrma itself does not appear anywhere in the 1000 names.

He was based in water(apaam in Sanskrit) in both the matsya and kUrma avatars. Therefore He is called apaaMnidhi((323) – the Sustainer of the waters .

When a demon, by the name of Hiranyakshu, rolls over the earth to a hiding, Lord Vishnu takes the form a great boar, varaaha avatar, kills the demon and restores the earth to safety. For this reason, He is called mahavaraaha(538). In the varaaha avataar He used His big horns to restore the earth to safety. A horn is called SRuMga in sanskrit. Thus He is called mahaaSRuMga(536).

When a very young devotee, Prahlada, was being severely harassed by his father Hiranyakasipu, Lord Vishnu appears as a half-lion half-human, naarasimha avataar, and kills Hiranyakasipu. It is a half-lion half-man avatar because Hiranyakasipu is blessed with a boon that he cannot be killed by any human or animal. The names naarasimha(21), meaning half lion-half human, and simha(200,488) are applicable to this avatar. He manifested Himself as naarasimha from a pillar, He did not go through the natural process of being born, hence He is called ajaH(204), the One without a birth.

Maharaja Bali, the grandson of Prahlada of naarasimha avatar times, is a devotee of Lord Vishnu. But He denied the gods, of the heaven, their role in the Universe. It was time for him to know his place. Lord Vishnu, born as a dwarf, vaamana avatar, arrives at King Bali’s sacrificial place and seeks a land space covering just three steps. The king agrees without knowing that the seeker is none other Lord Vishnu in the form of a dwarf. The dwarf grows into a huge size and with the first step He takes over the entire earth, the second takes over the entire sky and when asked where He should place His third step, King Bali offers his own head as he still owns it. Vaamana accepts and pushes King Bali to the paatala loka. Hence the name vaamana(152) – the One who bestowed happiness to the gods in the heaven as well as to aditi and kashyap. Vaamana was born to aditi and kashyap, the parents of Indra the ruler of the heaven. Therefore Vamana or Lord Vishnu is also called upEMdra(151). He is called praaMSu(153) as He grows into a gigantic size from a dwarf.

King Sahastrabahu, literally meaning one thousand hands, denied the role of the brahmins as preachers, teachers, and overseers of the law of the land . He destroyed the educational institutions and caused great harm to the way societies function.  Lord Vishnu takes birth as a son of sage Jamadagni in the paraSuraama avataar and raises a revolt against the king and kills him. The word paraSu means axe. In this avatar He carried an axe as His weapon. Thus Lord Vishnu gets the name akhaMDaparasu(573), the One who carried an invincible axe.

In the raama avataar, Lord Vishnu takes birth in Ayodhya and restores righteousness across the entire world by killing several demons including Ravana. Lord Vishnu is also called raama(394), the One who has impressive characteristics. He led an army of vaanaras and therefore He is also called kapeendra(501).

The kRuShNa avatar was covered earlier in a separate section.

The avatars of gautama buddha and kalki require special coverage. I hope to cover this topic at some point in the future.  There are two reasons why I may not be able to do enough justice to these names with the knowledge I gained from various sources. One, I have not learnt enough to write something about it and two, this is an honest submission, I am not too convinced about the way the references are made.

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