Avatars of Viṣṇu

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The god Viṣṇu (see Viṣṇu) assumes various earthly forms in Hindu mythology (see Hinduism entries) in order to restore cosmic order. The first avatar was the great horned fish who saved Manu, the first human, from the deluge that occurred at the beginning of this world (see Manu). The second avatar was the great horned boar, who saved the goddess Pṛthivi (“Earth”) from the demon Hiraṇyākś (see the Boar, see Pṛthivi). As the Tortoise, Viṣṇu is the cosmic foundation on which rests the churning stick used by the gods and demons in their act of creation in the ocean of milk (see Ananta). As the man-lion (see Narasiṃha), Viṣṇu was able to defeat the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu, brother of Hiraṇyākṣa, who was invulnerable to humans and animals but, apparently, not to a combination of the two. Hiraṇyakaśipu, also known as Hiraṇya, was no favorite of Viṣṇu since the demon persecuted his own son Prahlādā, a devotee of the god. When the asura (see asuras) Bali took over the world from the gods, he agreed that Viṣṇu, who had taken the form of a dwarf, could own whatever he could cover in three strides. The dwarf, Vãmana, immediately took on his real being as Viṣṇu and in three steps encompassed the whole world for the gods. When the kṣtriya (warrior) class persecuted the brahman (see Brahmans) class, Viṣṇu became axe-wielding Paraśurāma and defeated them, thus establishing the theological and social dominance of the brahmans. The two most famous avatars of Viṣṇu are Rāma (Rāmancandra), the hero of the Hindu epic the Rāmāyaṇa (see Rāmāyaṇa and Rāma) and Kṛṣṇa (see Kṛṣṇa), who appears in, among many other places, the epic Mahābhārata (see Mahābhārata) as a supporter of Arjuna (see Arjuna) and his Pāṇḍava (see Pāṇḍavas) brothers against their Kaurava cousins. Kṛṣṇa is particularly known for his preaching to Arjuna as his charioteer in the Bhagavadgītā (see Bhagavadgītā). Kṛṣṇa and Rāma have become, in effect, popular Hindu deities. It is said that the Buddha (see Gautama Buddha) is also an avatar of Viṣṇu, coming to preach gentleness. And finally, Viṣṇu will appear at the end of this age as a human, Kalki, riding on a white horse.

Subjects: Religion.

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