The Doctrine of Avatar

yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
abhyutthanam adharmasya
tadatmanam srjamy aham

Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion--at that time I descend Myself.

paritranaya sadhunam
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge

To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I myself appear age after age.

"Whenever the world declined in virtue and righteousness; and vice and injustice mount the throne, then cometh I, the Lord and revisit my world in visible form, and mingled as a man with men, and by my influence and teachings do I destroy the evil and injustice and reestablish virtue and righteousness. Many times have I thus appeared, and many times hereafter shall I come again?"

The purpose of the avatar is defined in Bhagavat Gita 4:7-8

Whenever there is

·         decline of dharma,

·         righteousness,

·         justice,

·         rule of law and

·         there is increase in injustice,

Vishnu incarnates

·         to protect the good, the law abiding and

·         to destroy the evil, the delinquent, the unjust or inequitous and

·         to establish dharama, justice


Yet as we go through the Avatars, we will see that this was never accomplished unless the Suras are the only people of god. It is certainly a history of the people who is represented as Suras who are the enemies of the people represented as Asuras.  All the reference to dharma, righteousness, justice, rule of law are the justice of one group of people over another -  unfortunately both these group of people are Bharathians – Indians.  But as far as Vishnu is concerned only the interest of the Devas are counted.

The avatar was at least initially connected to the Dispensational Ages.  We shall now undertake a quick look at the concept of Yuga and their probable origin

Aeons and Avatars

The whole idea of ages and avatars were brought into India by St.Thomas but they were manipulated by the later Gnostics into a fight between good and evil, Suras and the Asuras and developed into myths because of the concept of duality in the world which in turn was introduced into India by the gnostics of Persia and Greece.



The term appropriated by
Gnostic heresiarchs to designate the series of spiritual powers evolved by progressive emanation from the eternal Being, and constituting the Pleroma or invisible spiritual world, as distinct from the Kenoma, or visible material world.

The word aeon (aion) signifying "age", "the ever-existing", "eternity", came to be applied to the divine eternal power, and to the personified attributes of that power, whence it was extended to designate the successive emanations from the divinity which the Gnostics conceived as necessary intermediaries between the spiritual and the material worlds. The Gnostic concept of the aeon may be traced to the influence of a philosophy which postulated a divinity incapable of any contact with the material world or with evil, and the desire to reconcile this philosophy with the Christian notion of a direct interference of God in the affairs of the material world, and particularly in the Creation and Redemption of man.

Jewish angelology, which represented Jehovah ministered to by a court of celestial beings, and Hellenic religious systems, which imagined a number of intermediaries between the finite and the infinite, suggested the emanation from the divinity of a series of subordinate heavenly powers, each less perfect, the further removed it was from the supreme deity, until at length increasing imperfection would serve as the connecting link between the spiritual world and the material world of evil.

In different Gnostic systems the hierarchy of Aeons was diversely elaborated. But in all are recognizable a mixture of Platonic, mythological, and Christian elements. There is always the primitive all-perfect Ćon, the fountain-head of divinity, and a co-eternal companion Ćon. From these emanate a second pair who, in turn, engenders others, generally in pairs, or in groups of pairs, in keeping with the Egyptian idea of divine couples. One of these inferior Ćons, desiring to know the unknowable, to penetrate the secrets of the primal Ćon, brings disorder into the Ćon-world, is exiled, and brings forth a very imperfect Ćon, who, being unworthy of a place in the Pleroma, brings the divine spark to the nether world. Then follows the creation of the material universe.

Finally, there is evolved the Ćon Christ, who is to restore harmony in the Ćon-world, and heal the disorder in the material world consequent upon the catastrophe in the ideal order, by giving to man the knowledge which will rescue him from the dominion of matter and evil. The number of Ćons varies with different systems, being determined in some by Pythagorean and Platonic ideas on the mystic efficacy of numbers; in others by epochs in, or the duration of, the life of Christ. The Ćons were given names, each Gnostic system having its own catalogue, suggested by Christian terminology, and by Oriental, or philosophical and mythological nomenclature. There were nearly as many aeonic hierarchies as there were Gnostic systems, but the most elaborate of these, as far as is known, was that of Valentinus, whose fusion of Christianity and Platonism is so completely described in the refutation of this system by St. Irenćus and Tertullian. (See GNOSTICISM, VALENTINUS, BASILIDES, PTOLEMY.) “

Catholic Encyclopaedia  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01173c.htm


This gnostic insertion changed the concept of avatar in terms of hierachies and levels of gods.  This is what we see in the Avatar myths and the categorization of Avatars in Hinduism.  Evidently some time in History gnostics took over the Christian concepts and remodeled it.  The Greeks and the Syrians had their role in this transformation.  As a result the material world is never redeemed but destroyed.  In Christian theology of redemption, the cosmos with its material realm included is redeemed and the blessing of death and decay is removed as sin is removed and beings becomes like the Son of Man.  This is the deification or theosis of christianity.  All things are thus made new and the mahakalpa ends.  It may repeat.  But that is another story if and when it arises.

Vaishnava Avatar in History

This should then give us some idea of the dates of the period of the four yugas and consequently the time of the various avatars.

Kali yuga started    3102 BC
Dwapara Yuga Started  3102 +
864,000 =  867,102 BC 
Treta Yuga Started 867,102 +1,296,000 =2,163,102 BC
Satya Yuga Started 2,163,102 + 1,728,000 = 3,891,102 BC

Hence the incarnations are supposed to be in the following period


·         Between 3,891,102 and 2,163,102 BC  (2 to 3 million years before) in Satya Yuga:
Matsya (fish), Koorma (tortoise), Varaaha (boar), Narasimha (the man lion)

·         Between 2,163,102 and 867,102 BC (1 to 2 million years ago) in the Treta Yuga:
                   Vaamana (the dwarf), Parasurama (the angry man), Rama (the perfect human)

·         Between 867,102 and 3,102 BC (3000 to 1 million years ago) in the Dwapara Yuga:
                   Balarama and Krishna

·         Now expected in some 427,000 years time- Kali Yuga: 



In the Krita (Satya Yuga) there is no adharma and dharma stands on all four legs (4), in the Treta Yuga it stands on three legs(3) – adharma is only little.  In fact there was no adharma to be destroyed in the first three avatars if at all the other had any.  In the Dwapara Yuga(2) it stands on two legs and in the Kali Yuga (1) it stands on one leg.  If adharma was the reason for incarnation the number of incarnations in each age should have been the other way round.   There is no reason for the first four avatars at all since there is no evil in the first Satya Yuga.




The following table summarizes the meaning of Vishnu's past 9 avatars:


Which avatar's case fits into this scenario

A demon performed austerities and gained too much power over the gods

3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9

The avatar came to save the gods 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9

The avatar came to save humans

1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8

The avatar kills a demon 

3, 4, 7, 8

The avatar's form of embodiment

Animal (1, 2, 3), half-beast, half-human (4), human (5, 6, 7, 8, 9) according to how the demon had to be deceived.

8 out of 9 avatars (no. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9) are involved in saving the world of gods from the power attained by the demons, while only 6 is concerned with saving humans alone.  Whenever there was a conflict of interest between the gods and the non-gods, incarnation of God sided with the gods and in fact outright cheated the non-gods.

The general structure of the Hindu Avatar myth follows a strict progression as follows:

1.      A demon (Asuras) gains great power through austerities and becomes invincible

2.      The demon defeats gods (Suras, Devas) totally and takes over their lands

3.      The Suras pettitions one of the great deities.

4.      The deity takes a form suitable to trick the Asura.

5.      Demon is defeated without violating any legal conditions within the law.

6.      Suras praise the demon slayer.

A casual look will verify that most of the incarnations do not fulfill the reason for avatar.  Evidently it is a one sided story and certainly refers not to how the supreme God of all Creations deal with his creation, but how the King of a group of people deal with their enemies.  It is this obvious character of the avatar that I treat as historical.


The Reality Check with Time


This would imply that except for the Balabhadra and Krishna avatars all avatars took place over a million years ago.  Even those two fall within the vast time frame of 3000 to 867000 BC (nearly a million years).    It would also imply that human civilization with highly sophisticated social system, kingship, chariots, war machines, flying vehicles etc were in existence in India for over three million years.

The True History and the Religion of India: A Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism.- 
By Swami Prakashanand Saraswati

“Using the Hubble constant and information about the expansion of the Universe from the Hubble Space Telescope, we have been able to measure the age of the Universe to between 12 and 14 billion years old.” Dr. Wendy Freedman
Dr. Wendy Freedman  is one of the leaders of an international team of 27 astronomers at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, America.

Poor scientists, What do these people really know?

 Compare this with the evolutionary history of man.

A timeline of human evolution, history, technology, and the fates of human societies.
Shane Ross

This is History, history understood as a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times. Time in BC

 4 million | First bipedal human ancestor. Bipedalism appears suddenly in the fossil record. Could be Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid that lived in the wooded grasslands of the Horn of Africa.

1.8 million-100,000 | Homo erectus in Africa, Asia, and Indonesia (and Europe?). First use of crude stone tools and may have harnessed naturally occuring fire (1.5 Myr, Swartkrans, South Africa). Genetic studies indicate modern humans are not descended from H. erectus, which appears as an evolutionary side-branch and dead end.

200,000-150,000 | Genetic Eve (or "mitochondrial Eve"), the most recent common female ancestor of all living humans (from mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA, dating). The mtDNA from Eve merely acts as a tracer that links all present-day humans to a single population of ancient humans, who lived in Africa.

150,000-30,000 | Archaic Homo sapiens, otherwise known as Neanderthals, appear in the fossil record, distinct from earlier protohumans. They occupied Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. Differ from modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) in skeletal details and behavior. Recent genetic studies also indicate that modern humans are not descended from Neanderthals. They used crude stone tools and may have harnessed naturally occuring fire. They buried their dead and cared for their sick. Hands could not grip complicated tools, preventing them from engaging in fine motor skills, such as carving and painting. Cultural sharing between Neanderthals and modern humans or Homo erectus during time of overlap?

150,000-60,000 | Modern humans appear (sometimes called Homo sapiens sapiens), originally in Africa, probably east Africa. Same stone tools as Neanderthals. No art. Unimpressive hunting skills (killing easy-to-kill, not-at-all-dangerous animals.) No fishing.

140,000 | Diaspora of Neanderthals and modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens)? First domestication of large mammal, the dog.

94,000-12,000 | Prehistoric 'Hobbit'. A little over 3 feet tall, a distinct humanoid species, Homo floresiensis people flourished on Flores from 94,000 to 12,000 years ago, when a volcano killed them off. They apparently hunted dwarf elephants with spears.

60,000-40,000 | Genetic Adam (or "Y-chromosomal Adam"), the most recent common male ancestor of all living humans (from Y-chromosome dating). 

60,000-40,000 | Great Leap Forward (anthropological "big bang" of human expression) among Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans). First standardized stone tools. First jewelry. First painting. Timing of innovation coincides with first appearance of modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens; Cause of innovation unknown, could be due to increase in brain size, some say vocal box became well developed. Most likely first took place among one group of humans in Africa.

60,000 | Diaspora of humans reaches China via Southeast Asia.

50,000 | Human population: 1.2 million hunter-gatherers, H. sapiens sapiens.

50,000 | First human settlement in the Americas, according to evidence found at a South Carolina site. If true, beats the oldest accepted date by 35,000 years. Did they come by sea from Africa or Europe?

45,000 | Humans begin to enter southwestern Europe. Some 6 percent of Europeans are descended from the continent's first founders, who entered Europe from the Near East (these people are modern Basque and Scandinavians). Skeletons are fully modern. Tools of bone: fishhooks, engraving tools, needles. Multi-piece tools. Harpoons, spear-throwers, bows and arrows to catch large, difficult animals. Nets, lines, and snares for fishing. First art: cave paintings, statues, and musical instruments.

The fallacy of such a history as stated in the Hindu myths is obvious when we realize that even the most ancient Indus Valley Civilization extends only from 3,300 BC.  Unless you are one of those who believes that there had been a highly civilized India two million years ago whose remnants even in archeology are destroyed with time, the history as given by the myths will be a fiction of imagination. Scholars like Vamadeva David Frawly and Sri Yukteswar Giri were quick to discern it and is now trying to down grade the traditional yuga to historic lengths

“The shorter yuga theory offers better proof of the age of Rama and Krishna and other important historical Indian figures than other dating methods, which make some of these figures out to be millions of years old - too old for the accepted chronology of human history on Earth.

(The Astrology of the Seers, Frawley)


"the astronomers and astrologers who calculate the almanacs have been guided by wrong annotations of certain Sanskrit scholars (such as Kullu Bhatta) of the dark age of Kali Yuga, and now maintain that the length of Kali Yuga is 432,000 years, of which 4994 have (in 1894 CE) elapsed, leaving 427,006 years still remaining. A dark prospect! And fortunately one not true."

(The Holy Science, Yukteswar)

Yet we should not forget that Sanskrit itself started only by the mid second century AD, and the Indian Time Metric System came into existence at the earliest by fifth century AD.


What we have seen is that there is no mention even of names of avatars in any pre-christian documentation or archealogy.  All these names appeared in due course of time after the Christian Era as is represented in the Purana Stories and in the icons that appeared in the temples.  We wont be able to see any historic person in the form of avatar – not even Krishna and Rama.  That is why the Vaishnavites want to make them long predated to a period when we don’t have any history and it will be impossible to provide any positive  or negate evidence.  The Avatar datings are these days done using intricate astronomic references that are found in the Puranas written as late as the fifteeth century AD.  Other than that we don’t have any way of finding the historical person of the Avatar and it will remain only as a fiction.  Most of these personalities were actually evolved by compiling characters and traits from heroes of our period and presenting it as a unified ideal personality.  Evidently none of these persons lived prior to Christian Era – at least we don’t have any evidence whatsoever for that.


In a country where incarnations are still walking from Kashmir to Puttaparthy these stories will be taken as true by very sincere believers.  Once stories are established additional stories are added in time to elaborate the character and sometimes to cover the trails of truth. The power of the myth continues to delude the masses.


Re-Interpretation of the Theory of Avataras/Kashinath. 1997

"This book tells about the re-interpretation of the theory of Avataras, Hindu Avataras have always been depicted by the priests as the mythological entitles to be worshiped by the believers with fear and hope. Even the modern scholars of Hinduism also putting all their knowledge aside, often paint Avataras as the supernatural beings, plastered with devotional praise, to be worshipped alone. But a careful study says that the Theory of Avataras, among other things, played a great role in unifying several conflicting elements in ancient India to make it a united nation. The class contradictions between the Brahmins and Kshatriyas, which claimed a lot of human blood, were pacified by delcaring Rama and Parshurama, although contemporaries, as the Avataras of Vishnu. Later the Buddha, an agnostic, was also declared to be the Avatara, with the result that Buddhism, with all its high ideals, became one with Hinduism and India was preserved as a land of unity in diversity. But later this doctorine was forgotten. Had the Hindu genius used the Theory of Avataras when confronted with Christianity and Islam, generating crisis, much human blood could be saved that was poured in India, and the country itself was divided in the name of religion obviously, the Theory of Avataras has again to play its tested role to spread unity and love among all the inhabitants of India and the world as well. This process is natural of Hindu genius and the need of the day." (jacket)

Purpose of incarnation


An incarnation is essentially an interference in the normal progression of the manifested worlds. It becomes necessary due to the remorseless violation of divine laws by the actions of beings endowed with free will. The law of karma makes each individual being responsible for its action. But in some cases that alone would not act as a deterrent to prevent people from indulging in evil pursuits and causing a great imbalance in the working of the worlds or interfering with the lives of other people. When their number increases disproportionately, a much higher and potent force is required to deal with them. God is not judgmental. But He would also not remain static to the calls of his devotees.

So when the situation reaches a boiling point, He decides to take matters into His own hands and come down to earth in physical form to restore order and morality. In Hinduism, an evil force is not opposed to God against His will. It is a force that works for God in its own evil ways. God uses these forces to create situations that warrant His intervention. It is part of His divine drama already planned and embedded in the design. Most of the demons that He slew during his many incarnations were but his own devotees who out of arrogance asked for things that would ultimately lead to the welfare of the good and the destruction of the evil and themselves. From the perspective of duality, we may say the demon was destroyed by a divine force for a good cause. But from the highest perspective of the unity of all creation, we cannot deny the fact that by destroying the evil force God facilitates its ultimate dissolution into Himself and the dawn of a new awareness and promulgation of a new code of conduct among people. So from the highest perspective, an incarnation is a drama (leela) with in a bigger drama (maha leela), orchestrated by God for his own enjoyment and for keeping His laws in place. This, in brief, is the purpose and justification of an incarnation, which the followers of Vaishnavism accept as an undeniable truth. 



Here is how the leela is acted out:Shri Mad-Bhaagvat Puraan  Skandh 7:Chapter 1

Shukdev Jee said - "In fact Bhagvaan is Nirgun, Ajanmaa (does not born), cannot be described and is beyond Prakriti, still He with His Maayaa performs all kinds of actions. Sat, Raj and Tam are the Gun of Prakriti, not of Paramaatma. And these three Gun are not always present in the same amount in Prakriti. Bhagavaan takes all Gun at time to time. When Sat Gun is more, He takes care of Devtaa and Rishi; when Rajo Gun is more, He takes care of Daitya; and when Tamo Gun is more, He takes care of Yaksh and Raakshas. When He wants to take any 'body' for Himself then He creates a separate Rajo Gunee creation with His Maaya. When He wants to take strange Yoni (species), He creates them with Sato Gun and when He wants to sleep, then He increases Tamo Gun. Kaal depends on Him not that He depends on Kaal. Whenever this Kaal Eeshwar increases Sato Gun, He increases the power of Devtaa and kills Tamo Gunee Daitya.

Here is how the predestination explained in Vaishanvism:


Those devotees who were spiritually situated were simply taking part in the Lord's transcendental lila…..  Jaya and Vijaya's fall was a special arrangement of the Lord for His lila…

In the following excerpts Srila Prabhupada states something very different; that Jaya and Vijaya are pure devotees who have descended to the material world by the Lords arrangement:

This incident, therefore, proves that those who have once entered a Vaikuntha planet can never fall down. The case of Jaya and Vijaya is not a falldown; it is just an accident. (Bhag. 3.16.12, purp.)

A devotee once accepted by the Lord, can never fall down. That is the conclusion of this incident. [Jaya and Vijaya] (Bhag. 3.16.29, purp.)

From authoritative sources it can be discerned that associates of Lord Visnu who descend from Vaikuntha do not actually fall. They come with the purpose of fulfilling the desire of the Lord, and their descent to this material world is comparable to that of the Lord. The Lord comes to this material world through the agency of His internal potency, and similarly, when a devotee or associate of the Lord descends to this material world, he does so through the action of the spiritual energy. Any pastime conducted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead is an arrangement by yoga-maya, not maha-maya.

Therefore it is to understood that when Jaya and Vijaya descended to this material world, they came because there was something to be done for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Otherwise it is a fact that no one falls from Vaikuntha. (Bhag. 7.1.35, purp.) ,,

Similarly, Krsna does not fight with anyone ordinary, but rather with some of His great devotees. Because Krsna wants to fight, some of His devotees come down to this material world to become His enemies and fight with Him. For example, the Lord descended to kill Hiranyakasipu and Hiranyaksa. Should we think that these were ordinary living entities?

The fighting spirit is there in Krsna also.  …. Just like Jaya Vijaya came just to satisfy his master. His master desired fighting, so some of His servant went to the material world and became great enemy like Hiranyakasipu. Ravana.”


We can see that the whole history of cosmic creation and cycles are considered by the Vaishnavites as leela – a fun game, which is all pre-planned.  This can be seen clearly in the case of the ten avatars which we will be looking at. 




The mythological story goes that the two demigod gate-keepers/dwarapalakas (Jaya and Vijaya) of the abode of Vishnu, known as Vaikunta (meaning place of eternal bliss), barred revered sages from entering Vishnu's abode because Vishnu was sleeping at the time. The sages  cursed the Jaya and Vijaya to be born as mortals and roam the earth (Bhuloka). The gatekeepers reported back to Vishnu of the incident that had taken place.   He told them that he could not take back the curse, but could give them options on how the curse would be lived out. He gave them the option either to be born several many times as great devotees of the Lord Vishnu, or a few times as powerful individuals that were the sworn enemies of the Lord Vishnu, and to die at the hands of Lord Vishnu. The dwarapalakas chose to be born a few times as enemies of Lord Vishnu, and took the form of the demons Madhu and Kaitabh, Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Kumbakarna, and Kamsa(in another version dantavakra) and Shishupala.

Vishnu wanted to someone to fight with.  He cannot really fight with someone who is weak and puny.  So the two gatekeepers – those strong watchmen at the gate of heaven – are send out to be born as Asuras – the Demons and the whole scenario is set up so that Vishnu can take the playful forms and kill them over and over again. It is like children playing in their early childhood. It is their means of growing up and becoming.  It is just the thrill of killing and fighting.  In most cases we can see that there is no moral reason for the incarnation, there is no justice in the killing and foul play; trickery and legalism are used.  Evidently it puts God in a poor light. The ostentious reasons given as decay of  righteousness, justice and dharma are not the real reason for Vishnu incarnation.  Those conditions are created intentionaly for the sole purpose of glorification of Vishnu. (Why should God want to be glorified?)  It is similar to the five point Calvinistic thought where God creates a class of people to be put in hell and another to put in heaven.  Vaishnavism is thus historically a Calvinistic development within the Early Indian Christianity which went wild.


This is in sharp constrast with the concept of incarnation within the historic Christianity where incarnation is for the sole purpose of redemption.  Judgement and punishment are part of the process and are always justified as it is a consequence of the free will of sentient beings.  The on going ages are intended to give as much time as needed to bring in total salvation based entirely on love.  God is love and his actions are based only on love.  His actions are always just.  It is this supreme self sacrificing love that is expressed in the incarnation of Jesus.


Fatherhood of God means a great deal more than we sometimes imagine. It is not merely a term of tenderness; it is also a term of law and discipline. But fatherhood means supremely that if the child has wandered away, the father will suffer everything to save and bring it home again. Within the realm of revealed religion this truth emerged, that the one God, mighty, holy, beneficent, is the Father who will sacrifice Himself to save the child. There man found the point of contact, in infinite love which never abandons him, never leaves him. That is the truth which, coming into revealed religion, saved it from being intellectual apprehension, minus moral dynamic, and sent running through all human life rivers of cleansing, renewal, regeneration.

THE PURPOSES OF THE INCARNATION, G. CAMPBELL MORGAN, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6528/fund62.htm

Fight Night Round 3 Trailer

Basis of Avatar Myth as struggle between

Suras and the Asuras

 But every myth has some historic seed and it must be true of the myths of Vishnu Avatars too. 


A myth is never a reality but is always true in its meaning.  It is not history as such, but retells history in a more subtle powerful way to impress the meaning fully. Since these characters do not appear in any of the Pre-Christian documents, literature, history or archeological records the myth refers certainly to some history which is certainly related to Post Christian history.


Is there a common thread that runs through the whole ten avatars?  We are neglecting the later expansion of infinite avatar and petty additions from the list of heroes and self proclaimed avatars whether leela or serious.  One common factor is that in every case it was supposed to kill an Asura.

Incarnation -  Vasudeva - Vishnu

Asura  -  Prati-Vasudeva

Matsya (Fish) Avatara 

Killed Hayagriva
The Shatpath Brahmana and the Bhagavata Purana relate it to Manu, the Padma Purana to  Makara or Shankhasura , and the Matsya Purana to Asura Hayagriva.

Kurma (Tortoise)Avatara

Associated with the Churning of the Milky Way to get the Amrit

Varaha (Boar) Avatara

Killed Hiranyaksha

Nara Simha (Man-Lion) Avatara

Killed Hiranyakasipu  (brother of Hiranyaksha)

Vamana (Dwarf) Avatara

Defeated Mahabali (Grandson of Hiranyakasipu)

Parasu Rama (Rama with the Axe)

To reclaim Kerala (An Asura Kingdom?)


Killed Asura Ravana (Grandson of Mahabali)

Bala Rama

Killed Asura Dhenuka


Killed Kamsa son of an Asura, taken to be the son of Ugrasen
Killed Sisupala
, the son of Damaghosha, king of Chedi  (the rebirth of Hiranyakasipu.)
Killed Narakasura son of Hiranyksha with Bhumi Devi in the   Varaha Avatar. (Or was he the son of Varahaavatara Vishnu?)


If there is a historical germ in these stories, then we must look at it from the historical period essentially after the development of Sanskrit literature.  This post dates the beginning of Christian Era.  What is given below is the most probable historical explanation.  The myths essentially speaks about an on going war between the Vaishnavism (referred as Suras, Devas,gods) and the Asuras (referred in internet sites as daitya, danava, titans, demons, demigods, rakshasa, cannibals,devil).

Nagendra Kumar Singh in the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism states:

“some are of opinion that the use of the words like daitya, danava, etc, is in accordance with the Puranic character of narrating events of past ages. (Buddha lived long before the authors of the current Puranas.) These words refer to those persons who, in ancient times, followed anti-Vedic religions and consequently found the teachings of Buddha as valid and useful.  A similar use of words is found in the legends concerning the destruction or the loss of Vedas.  The Puranas say that the Vedas were destroyed or stolen by the asuras namely Hayagriva, Sankha and others.  There is no doubt that in these legends the world asura refers to those persons who were against Vedic discipline and who created obstacles to the propagation of Vedic culture.  It must be borne in mind that no mythical tale can spring through pure imagination; such tales must have their bases in some for of reality?”

It would be worthwhile to trace the etymology and history of the Asuras.

Who are the Asuras?

Much scholarly work were done in this regard that I quote the essential passages from them.  They should speak for themselves.

ASURA. [SourceAsura =Spiritual, divine: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'Spiritual, divine.'

In the oldest parts of the Rig. veda this term is used for the supreme spirit, and is the same as the Ahura of the Zoroastrians. In the sense of 'god' it was applied to several of the chief deities, as to Indra, Agni, and Varuna. It afterwards acquired an entirely opposite meaning, and came to signify, as now, a demon or enemy of the gods.

The word is found with this signification in the later parts of the Rigveda, particularly in the last book, and also in the Atharva,. veda. The Brahmanas attach the same meaning to it, and record many contests between the Asuras and the gods. According to the Taittiriya Brahmana, the breath (asu) of Prajapati became alive, and "with that breath he created me Asuras." In another part of the same work it is said that Prajapati "became pregnant. He created Asuras from his abdomen." The Satapatha Brahmana accords with the former statement, and states that "he created Asuras from his lower breath." The Taittiriya. Aranyaka represents that Prajapati created gods, men, fathers, Gandharvas, and Apsarases from water, and that the Asuras, Rakshasas, and pisachas sprang from the drops which were spilt. Manu's statement is that they were created by the Prajapatis.

According to the Vishnu Purana, they were produced from the groin of Brahma (prajapati). The account of the Vayu Purana is: "Asuras were first produced as sons from his (Prajapati's) groin. Asu is declared by Brahmana to mean breath. From it these beings were produced; hence they are Asuras." The word has long been used as a general name for the enemies of the gods, including the Daityas and Danavas and other descendants of Kasyapa, but not including the Rakshasas descended from Pulastya.

In this sense a different derivation has been found for it: the source is no longer asu, `breath,' but the initial a is taken as the negative prefix, and asura signifies 'not a god;' hence, according to some, arose the word A-Sura = No-godsura, commonly used for 'a god.'

 “The gods are the Suras and the demons the Asuras or "non-gods". This distinction, however, did not obtain in the early Vedic period. Originally the deities, and especially Varuna and Mitra, were called Asuras, but in the later part of Rigveda the term is applied chiefly to the enemies of the gods. In the Atharvaveda, as in subsequent Epic literature, the Asuras are simply demons and giants and goblins.


No conclusive explanation can be offered as to how this remarkable change took place in the course of the centuries embraced by the Vedic period. It may have been due primarily to sectarian strife between the religious teachers of those tribes which had been influenced by Babylonian modes of thought and those which clung tenaciously to the forms of primitive Aryan nature worship, and perhaps also the worship of ancestors (Pitris). In the old Persian language, which, like Greek, places "h" before a vowel where "s" is used in Sanskrit, Ahura (= Asura) signifies "god".

The Zoroastrian chief god is called Ahura-Mazda, "the wise Lord", as Varuna is addressed in early Rigvedic hymns, "wise Asura and King", and "the all-knowing Asura who established the heavens and fixed the limits of the earth". On the other hand "daeva" in the Iranian dialect, which is cognate with Sanskrit "deva", "god", came to mean "demon". "Asura" is derived from the root "asu", which signifies "the air of life", and "deva" from "div", "to shine", or "deiwo", "heavenly".”……

How the gods of the Indian Aryans became the demons of Persia and the demons of Persia became the gods of India is a problem for which a solution has yet to be found.

The Asuras became completely identified with the demons and giants; they symbolized evil, darkness, and drought. In Epic literature we read that "in ancient times the gods and Asuras were very active in destroying one another. And the terrible Asuras always succeeded in defeating the gods." .


Asuras (Sk.). Exoterically, elementals and evil, gods—considered maleficent; demons, and no gods. But esoterically—the reverse. For in the most ancient portions of the Rig Veda, the term is used for the Supreme Spirit, and therefore the Asuras are spiritual and divine It is only in the last book of the  Rig Veda, its latest part, and in the Atharva Veda, and the Brâhmanas, that the epithet, which had been given to Agni, the greatest Vedic Deity, to Indra and Varuna, has come to signify the reverse of gods. Asu means breath, and it is with his breath that Prajâpati (Brahmâ) creates the Asuras. When ritualism and dogma got the better of the Wisdom religion, the initial letter a was adopted as a negative prefix, and the term ended by signifying “not a god”, and Sura only a deity. But in the Vedas the Suras have ever been connected with Surya, the sun, and regarded as inferior deities, devas.




Asura, from Sanskrit meaning a "power-seeking" and "power-hungry" being (I don’t see how this meaning comes from the word.  But  this is how the Brahminic world sees it -Ninan), is similar to a Titan, often, but somewhat misleading, described as a "demon"; or anaya (non-Aryan) people of ancient India. The term's derivation is uncertain. Some scholars derive it from Ashur, the Assyrian god, or from the breath (asu) of Prajapati, or from the root as (to be). According to a Hindu myth, a-sura is the negation of sura, an Indo-Aryan liquor, and refers to non-Aryan abstainers. In Hindu mythology sura came to mean a minor godin contrast to a-sura, "not-god" or "demon," but this is believed to be a false etymology.

In older part of the Rg Veda, asura refers to the supreme spirit, like the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazdah, or to Vedic deities (devas) such as Varuna, Agni, Mitra, and Indra. In younger Vedic texts and Hindu mythology asuras become demons or titans who war against the devas (gods). (cf., in the Iranian tradition ahura came to mean "god" while dacva came to mean "demon")

According to Satapathe Brahmana the devas and asuras both came from Prajapati, but the former chose true speech while the latter chose the lie. Aitarcya Brahmana relates that devas hold power by day and asuras hold equal power by night.

The non-Aryan Danavas and Laityas were called asuras. These may have been peoples who were opponents of the non-Aryans and who were mythologically equated with titans and demons.

Asuras are not necessarily evil while devas are not necessarily good. They are consubstantial, distinguished only by their mutual opposition, which is not conceived as an absolute ethical dualism. A.G.H.

The negative character of the asura in Hinduism seems to have evolved over time. In general, the earliest texts have the asuras presiding over moral and social phenomena (e.g. Varuna, the guardian of , or Bhaga, the patron of marriages) and the devas presiding over natural phenomena (e.g. Ushas, whose name means "dawn", or Indra, a weather god).

Devas and Asuras

Modern historians tends to consider Asuras and Devas (the enemies of Asuras) as two divisions of ancient people, who shared same motherland, culture and civilization, for some period of time in the past. Later they split into two groups, harbouring enmity to each other. One group used the name Asura or Ahura  as a respectful surname to their chiefs and kings. They used the name Deva or Daiva to denote a demon or devil. On the other hand, the other group used the name Asura to denote a demon and Deva to denote a divine being or god. These groups probably came from Iran, Iraq and Syriya, from the kingdoms like Assyria and cities like Assur into India. Their religion was the earliest form of Zorastrianism. Zend Avesta was one of their sacred texts, which have many similarities with the Vedas. A portion of this group spread to the Baluchistan in Pakistan, the western shore of India and finally to the whole of South India. The probably used the sea route also to reach these regions, since they were very good at navigation. This group is described in the ancient Indian texts as Asuras.  In The Civilized Demons: the Harappans in Rgveda  Malati J. Shendge shows evidence to show that the early Indus Valley Civilization was an Asura civilization. Essentially therefore Asuras are of Chaldean-Syrian origin and they were spread all over India even as far as Southern tip of the subcontinent.  The Asuras probably kept their contact with Syria and Iran since their religious affiliations required it.  This explains the predominant Christian presence among the Asuras.

Relationship of Asuras and Bhargavas

Small pockets of Asura regions existed in northern India and regions beyond Himalays as well. Vrishaparvan, was a famous Asura king, who ruled some unknown kingdom in the Himalayas. The founder of the Puru dynasty of kings in north India (described in the epic Mahabharata as the forefather of the Pandavas and Kauravas), viz king Puru, was the son of Sarmishta, the daughter of king Vrishaparvan. Vrishaparvan's priest was the sage Sukra, (alias Usanus), who was a Bhargava (the son or a descendant of the sage Bhrigu.) Often the Asura kings chose, sages in the line of Bhrigu as their priest, whereas the Devas chose, sages in the line of Brihaspati or Angiras, as their priests. Mahabali was yet another Asura king whose priest also was named Sukra, in the line of Bhrigu.

Characteristics of Asuras

Historically therefore Asuras were a highly religious people with tremendous power, who were opposed to the Aryan Vedic religion, and of the Vaishnavites.  As a characteristic they were highly moral and kept high ethical standards even in war

They kept their word even at the point of defeat, death and disaster. We can see that they even allowed Vishnu to take respite in between the combats and never retracted their offers or promise.  All through the Avatara myth story we can notice that as a rule, Asuras could not be defeated by the Suras under normal moral methods.  It always required subtle deceit, trickery and treachery even for the Supreme Person Vishnu to defeat the Asuras. In fact, it appears that these deceits, tricks and treachery were eulogized and considered honorable by the Suras, if we take the Avatar Puranas as true.

Taking the antagonism of Vedics to the Asuras in general, the natural early choices will be Jains and Buddhists.

Asuras in the Jain and Buddhist Puranas

The Jain Puranas also mentions Asuras as anti-Vasudeva and names the Asura Kings in that list.  So we should also assume that Asuras were also against Jainism.




This term is often translated as "ogre" or "titan." They are one of the six states of existence that are in samsara. Different types of Buddhism view them differently. Asura is usually seen as positive, resulting from good karma like human beings and gods. In this interpretation, they dwell in the lower heavens. Other views treat the asuras as resulting from bad karma and hence they are seen as the enemies of the gods. Some types of Buddhism ignore this category altogether and have only five states of existence.




In Mahayana Buddhism, anti-gods or demi-gods, who populate the lower heavens, the second highest realm of existence. They enjoy a similar existence to the gods of the highest realm, but are plagued by jealousy of the latter and wage fruitless wars against them.



. Above the human realm is the asura dharmadhatu; these beings have done numerous good deeds when they were in the human realm but did them with excessive envy and anger toward God. This extra envy prevents them from entering the territory of the gods. They usually fight with God.
Non-Death Yoga  Yogi C. M. Chen

Buddhism considers Asuras as beings among the list of beings the order being- Heavenly Beings, Humans, Asuras and Hungry ghosts.  Asuras are beings who have many good things in life, but still like to fight. They appear in the heavens or on earth as people or animals. Hungry ghosts are beings who suffer from constant hunger and Hell-beings.   

It is a peculiar path in the Six paths. In terms of material enjoyment and psychic power, it is similar to Deva. However, in some aspects, it is even worse than Human Path. The male Asura is extremely ugly, while the female is as beautiful as an angel. The male Asura always fights with each other as they are cruel and furious. They are proud of themselves, and reluctant to learn and practise the Buddhist teachings.


Thus Asuras were also anti-Buddhists.

Theosophical dictionary gives the following explanation for the etymology of Asuras:

Two important points are involved herein:

(a) Primarily in the Rig-Veda, the "Asuras" are shown as spiritual divine beings; their etymology is derived from asu (breath), the "Breath of God," and they mean the same as the Supreme Spirit or the Zoroastrian Ahura. It is later on, for purposes of theology and dogma, that they are shown issuing from Brahma's thigh, and that their name began to be derived from a, privative, and sura, god (solar deities), or not-a-god, and that they became the enemies of the gods. . . .
– H.P.Blavinsky  The Secret Doctrine, II, 59

A Sura is a Kumara -- a god. Because of their great purity, virginality in every sense of the word, Hindu mythology called them gods. Actually they are monads in so pure, as yet unevolved, a state, so undeveloped a state, that they are swept along, as it were, in the evolutionary Rivers of Life.

When this Sura or Kumara has become an Agnishwatta, it is then an Asura. And Hindu mythology, or rather Brahmanical theology, with the same spirit behind it that you will find in Christian theology, says -- and I will now use Christian language -- "It has eaten of the Tree of Life, of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and it is no longer virginal and pure." That is the Christian theological way of explaining it. But leaving these dogmatic theologies of the religions aside, what actually are the facts?

That from an unself-conscious god-spark, a Kumara -- the Sura, the monad, the same thing -- through suffering and experience in the lower realms of matter, in the different planes, has become an Agnishwatta. It has tasted of the fire and has become a self-conscious god, an Asura.

Asura really comes from Asu, the essential meaning of which in Sanskrit is 'to, breathe.' You will find it in other languages. The verbal root as, in Sanskrit meaning 'to be,' is the same essential idea. So the Asuras are not merely unself-conscious god-sparks swept along through the ages unself-consciously on the Rivers of Life. They are those who have gained self-consciousness; or, to use a Buddhist term meaning the same thing, they have become celestial Dhyanis, celestial Bodhisattvas, celestial Buddhas.

Studies in Occult Philosophy by G. de Purucker, Theosophical University Press Online Edition http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/soph/sopssd02.htm                    

Evidently we need to look into other possible religious groups ouside of these three – Vaishanavite, Buddhist and Jain to find the Asuras. They were evidently powerful enough to withstand and even overcome all these three religions.  The only choice we are left with is the religion which was brought into India early in the Christian Era by St.Thomas who were known as Issa followers or Christians.  This fits in very well within the time line.  If these myths have any historical basis this is the only choice we are left with.

 If this is true then the Vishnu incarnations tells us the story of the war between Vaishnavites and Christians.  Whenever Christians became powerful, Vaishanavite leadership found a method of defeating them which evidenly included subtle deceit, treachery, force and war.  This is seen throughout the incarnation stories.

Generations of the Asuras

The puranas themselves give us the story of the generation of Suras and the Asuras. Sage Kashyap, had four wives, Diti, Aditi, Vinita and Kudroo. Diti gave birth to Asuras (demons) and from Aditi were born Suras (Devas, gods) , while from Vinita was born Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. The two sons Diti were Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapu . Both of them performed so many religious practices and austerities that in course of time they gained limitless powers.

There is a story behind the birth of these two where they are the two gatekeepers of  Vishnu's heaven, Jaya and Vijaya,who were  cursed to fall from grace and find  salvation only in opposition to Vishnu -probably added later.


Jaya and Vijaya

According to a story from Bhagavata Purana, The Four Kumaras, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana, and Sanat Kumara who are the sons of Brahma (born from the mind or though power of Brahma), visit Vaikuntha - the abode of Vishnu, to see Him. Due to the strength of their tapas, the four Kumaras appear to be mere children, though they are of great age. Jaya and Vijaya, the gate keepers of the Vaikuntha arrogantly stop the Kumaras at the gate, thinking them to be children. They also tell the Kumaras that Sri Vishnu is resting and that they cannot see Him now. The Kumaras grow angry at the gate keepers. They tell Jaya and Vijaya that Vishnu is available for his devotees any time.

They lay a curse to Jaya and Vijaya that they would have to give up their divinity, be born on Earth, and live like normal human beings. Vishnu appears before them and His gatekeepers ask Him to lift the curse of the Kumaras. Vishnu says that the curse of Kumaras cannot be taken back. Instead, he gives Jaya and Vijaya two options. The first option is to take seven births on Earth as a devotee of Vishnu, while the second is to take three births as His enemy. After serving either of these sentences, they can re-attain their stature at Vaikuntha and be with Him permanently. Jaya and Vijaya cannot bear the thought of staying away from Vishnu for seven lives. As a result, they choose to be born three times on Earth even though it would have to be as enemies of Vishnu.

In the first life they were born as Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha. Vishnu takes the avatar of Varaha to kill Hiranyaksha, and the Narasimha avatar to kill Hiranyakasipu. In the second life, they were born as Ravana and Kumbhakarna, being defeated by Rama avatar as depicted in the great Hindu epic Ramayana. Finally, in their third life, they were born as Sishupala and Dantavakra during the time of Krishna.

Evidently as a class both the Suras and the Asuras are the same.  But there is an ethnic difference indicated.  Daityas are identified with the Dravidians.  If Diti was Dravidian and Aditi was Aryan then this is the struggle between Dravidians and the Aryans with Vishnu as the Aryan leader who uses trickery and deceit to defeat the Dravidians.  Apparently Dravidian faith was not the same as the Aryan faith. Asuras had more direct relationship with Syria on a constant on going basis.    Daityas got tremendous strength through their austerities and religious practices.  The story of St.Thomas plays around the Dravidan centers mostly except for Kerala where Vedics joined them as a group which was a minority in that area.

Who are the Dravidians?

We usually take Dravidians as people who are native to India and it is considered that they were the original inhabitants of the Mohen Jodero Harappa Civilization.  According to the present Dravidian Scholarship they are the descendants of Abrahm of the Old Testament originaly from the Ur of Chaldea.  The word Ur indicating village still forms part of the Dravidian languages. In the Old Testament Abraham had another wife other than Sara (which forms the root for Saraswathi) called Keturah.  At the the time of partition of properties, Keturah’s children were send to the East after given them gifts.  These people are said to have settled in the Saraswathi and Sind Area.  Their father Abrahm was a sojourner of great power and he was the Father figure for the nation.

Abram = Brahman?






“Abraham, a popular leader of masses (legendary prophet for Jews, Christians and Muslims,) lived approximately 2000 BC in the NW Indian subcontinent-Asia Minor-Central Asia region. After his death in the tradition of spirit worship he became the “Bermer(u)” for Tulu tribes. Vedic Aryans converted the Abraham legend into the Brahman, the supreme cosmic creative power. Gradually with time Brahman evolved into the God Brahma with ten or four heads in different Purana epics, by the time of composition of the Ramayana ca. 800-500 BC. The dominance of Lord Brahma in Ramayana has been analysed in detail by SSN Murthy.”


“The spirit of Brahma, derived from the mass hero Abraham was one of the earliest spirit worships in the early civilizations around 2000-500 BC. Migrating Tulu tribes and their associates carried Bermer (Brahma) cult around 500 BC from the NW Indian subcontinent to the Karavali (coastal Karnataka) which became their subsequent homeland, the Tulunadu. The Tulu Bermer was imaged originally as a horse riding hero, probably a bearded one like Abraham.

 Similar horse riding hero image was retained for Bommayya (Brahma) by Halakki and other tribes of Uttara Kannada district. The Uttara Kannada area is in the migration route of the early Tulu tribes.


The character of Abraham has been described in the Bible (Genesis) and later retold in the Anacalypsis. Abraham (or the Brahma) was actually a mass hero, an uncommon leader of early tribes, born ca. 1900 BC, more or less during the chaotic time of earth movements, migration of major rivers and mass exodus of tribes from the Indus Valley civilization.

Abraham is said to have been lived for a period of 175 years. (The cited lifespan appears to be an exaggerated figure, characteristic of hero worship societies, nevertheless may imply that Abraham was a strong, dynamic character and had considerably long healthy lifespan.) Different tribes called him slightly differently depending upon the style of pronunciation native to them.

He was called Abraham by Jews and subsequently by Christians. Arabs called him ‘Ibrahim’ whereas IndoAryans referred to him as Brahma. His father, ‘Terah’ originally came from a place known as Ur of Chaldees or Culdees, a part of Asia Minor.

Terah had a beautiful daughter called ‘Sara’ (or ‘Saraswati’ for Indo- Aryans and cohabitants of Pirak and northwest India) born to another wife who was not Abraham’s mother. Abraham or the Brahma fell in love with Sara and married her. For this or other reasons the Abraham and Sara left Ur and settled in Mesopotamia. There he organized Jews and became a venerated hero figure. Abraham has been considered as the founder of Jews. Similarly, Muslims believe ‘Ibrahim’ to be one of their early leader or founder. The original Kaba temple (later a mosque) at Mecca is said to have been built in honour of Abraham or the Ibrahim.

At that time, the present day Asia minor-Indian subcontinent region consisting of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (though had different individual provincial names at that time) were all contiguous states where communications and concepts freely exchanged among diverse townships. The Abraham (or the Brahma) was a dynamic leader of the masses and the ordinary people believed that he was the creator of the tribes. The legend of Abraham continued after his death and continued to inspire or haunt memories of the tribes living in the Asia minor-Indian subcontinent region. The legend of Abraham inspired Vedic tribes and others alike. This is the initiation the concept of Lord Brahma the creator of universe in Hindu mythology. Abraham became the Brahma the supreme God after couple of centuries following his demise. In the primitive cultures accustomed to spirit worship, the legendary Brahma, who organized tribes, represented a supreme hero capable of creation of tribes and later the universe itself. Legends turned into myths and Brahma was deified and considered supreme God.”  Ravi Mundkur

After the coming of St. Thomas, Brahminic domination took over the new concepts of religion brought in by Thomas and transformed it into Vaishnavism in the North and Saivism in the South.   However Brahminism through trickery took over Vaishnavism and transformed it totally.  Saivism remained as part of the Christian faith for a longer time before they were also influenced by Brahminism.  But even today their influence is very small. We can now trace the genealogy of Daitya kings which will come in handy in the discussion

This genealogy explains the on going mythical history of

The Vaishnavite Struggle with Historic Christianity
over a period of six centuries

If this conjecture is correct, then the stories of the Boar incarnation and Lion-man incarnation of Vishnu tells the story of how the generations of the Christians before Mahabali were driven out from Northern India.   This is exactly what we find in terms of geography and order of Vishnu’s incarnation. 



We can actually see the sequence of Vaishanavite conquest in the figure.


Avatar                                        Dravida Asura King killed


1.  Boar   (Varaha)                       Hiranyaksha

2.  Man-Lion (Narasimha)               HiranyaKasipu (Brother of Hiranyaksha)

3   Dwarf  (Vamana)                     Maha Bali (King of Dravida) great grandson of HiranyaKasipu

4.  Parasu Rama
(Rama with the axe)                    Lifting Kerala out of the sea and giving to Brahmins  


5.  Rama                                     Ravana – The King of Sri Lanka Ravana was a great-grandson of     


 First of all we notice that all the incarnations were Vishnu incarnations.  Hence they are a history connected with the Vaishnavite traditions and, it is  the history which tells how Vaishnavism defeated their opponents. 


The opponents were all Daityas – who are usually considered as Dravidian Kings and Kingdoms

Second all the victims were of one family coming from one lineage.

The placement of the events are also interesting.












no indication given in any Puranas

Hiranya Kasipu
(Brother of Hiranyksha)


Indus Valley

Maha Bali

(Great grand son of Hiranya Kasipu)


All of South India – Narmada River to Cape Comorin including Chola, Chera and Pandya

(of the Kingdom of Maha Bali)

Parasu Rama

(Rama with the Axe)

Kerala (Chera)



(Grand Son of Maha Bali)


Sri Lanka


Under the Gnostic influence, the basic avatar concepts were however extended to include a larger number almost including all mankind in one form or other.  There are elaborate classifications and explanations, which are summarized, in the following table


Kinds of avataras




Personal Emanation Incarnations of Visnu

Karanodakasayi Vishnu, Garbhodakasayi Vishnu and Ksirodakasayi Vishnu

"For material creation, Lord Krsna's plenary expansion assumes three Visnus. The first one, Maha Visnu, creates the total material energy, known as mahat-tattva. The second, Garbhodakasayi Visnu, enters into all the universes to create diversities in each of them. The third, Ksirodakasayi Visnu, is diffused as the all-pervading Supersoul in all the universes and is known as Paramatma. He is present even within the atoms. Anyone who knows these three Visnus can be liberated from material entanglement." (Satvata-tantra)


Playfull Incarnations

Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Bala-Rama, Kalki.


Quality Incarnations

Brahma (Rajas), Vishnu (Satvic) and Siva (Tamas).
The Trinity as three aspects of one God




Special incarnations of the Supreme Lord who appear in each manvantara to assist Indra and the other demigods in subduing demons and maintaining the principles of religion.

Innumerable manu avataras (504,000 Manus manifest in the life time of one Brahma): Main 14 also called as vaibhava-avatars: Yajna, Vibhu, Satyasena, Hari, Vaikuntha, Ajita, Vamana, Sarvabhauma, Rsabha, Visvaksena, Dharmasetu, Sudhama, Yogesvara and Brhadbhanu.


Incarnation within the Ages

Kumaras, Narada, Varaha, Matsya, Yajna, Nara-narayana, Kardami Kapila, Dattatreya, Hayasirsa, Hamsa, Dhruvapriya, Rsabha, Prthu, Narasimha, Kurma, Dhanvantari, Mohini,Vamana, Parasurama, Raghavendra, Vyasa, Balarama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. (All these 25 avatars happen every one day of Brahma)


Spirit filled Incarnation

Kapila, Rsabha, Ananta, Brahma, Catuhsana, Narada, Prthu, Parasurama, Buddha, ...
These  are not visnu-tattva but jiva-tattva; jivas, or living beings, empowered for a special mission.

It appears that the number of incarnations increased, till finally an infinite number of incarnations was accepted. It may be an attempt to express the fact that the whole cosmos is permeated with God.  After all God is the only reality.

Text Reference


Agni Purana II-XVI   8c AD
Varaha Purana XXXIX,XLVII 16c AD

10 Avatars including Buddha & Kalki

Satapath Brahmana 1.2.5

Fish, Tortoise 
These were actually the forms of Brahma which later was associated with vishnu

Narayaneeya of Mahabharata  MBh XII 349.37

Boar, Vamana, Narasimha,  and Krishna

Mahabharatha XII 338 77-99
4c AD

Deified heroes Rama-Bhargava, Rama Dasharathi

MBh XII 339 104

Hamsa, Kurma, matsya Kalki

Bhagavatha Purana I.3
6/7 c AD

Brahma, Varaha, Nanda, Nara and Narayana, the philosopher Kapila, Dattareya, Yajna, the Jaina Tirthankara Rsabha, the ancient king Prthu, Matsya, Kurma, the physicin Dhanvantari, Mohini, Narasimha, Vamana, Rama- Jamadagnya ( Parsurama ), Veda-Vyasa, Rama-Dasaratha, Rama Haladhara, Krishna, Buddha and Kalkin

The Garuda P. I.202
10c AD

19 avatars  Matsya, Trivikrama, Vamana, Narasimha, Rama, Varaha, Narayana, Kaplia, Datta, Hayagriva, Mahradhvaja, Narada, Kurmi, Dhanvantari, Sesha, Yajna, Vyasa, Buddha and Kalkin

Visnu Purana Bk I Ch 8
4c AD

that of gods, animals and men, Hari is all that is male; Laksmi is all that is female; there is nothing else than they.'

Visnu Purana Bk I Ch 21

“This Hari, who is the most immediate of all the energies of Brahma, is his embodied shape”



Visnu Purana Bk I Ch 22

‘The Vedas, and their divisions; the institutes of Manu and other lawgivers; traditional scriptures, and religious manuals; poems and all that is said and sung; are the body of the mighty Vishnu, assuming the shape of sound.'

Visnu Purana Bk III Ch 18

`The delusion of the false teacher paused not with the conversion of the Daityas to the Jaina and Bauddha heresies, but with various erroneous tenets he prevailed upon them to apostatize, until the whole were led astray, and deserted the doctrines and observances inculculated bythe 3 Vedas. [The teacher was an illusory form of Vishnu, while the Daityas could not be destroyed whilst they performed the sacred rites and were slain by the gods]'


Since the number of avatars have been growing and since in most cases, it would be foolish to say that Vishnu incarnated into forms that are defective, and very often unsuitable in character and nature, various types of avatars are formed to classify them.  Here is a table that gives some examples. There is no limit to the incarnations of the Supreme Lord and depending on the roles they play, some avatars can be overlapping to more than one kind...


Kinds of avatars

Examples of actual avataras



Karanodakasayi Vishnu, Garbhodakasayi Vishnu and Ksirodakasayi Vishnu



Matsya, Varaha, Kurma, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Bala-Rama, Kalki.



Brahma (Rajas), Vishnu (Satvic) and Siva (Tamas).



Innumerable manu avataras (504,000 Manus manifest in the life time of one Brahma): Main 14 also called as vaibhava-avatars: Yajna, Vibhu, Satyasena, Hari, Ajita, Vamana, Sarvabhauma, Rsabha, Visvaksena, Dharmasetu, Sudhama, Yogesvara and Brhadbhanu.



Kumaras, Narada, Varaha, Matsya, Yajna, Nara-narayana, Kardami Kapila, Dattatreya, Hayasirsa, Hamsa, Dhruvapriya, Rsabha, Prthu, Narasimha, Kurma, Dhanvantari, Mohini,Vamana, Parasurama, Raghavendra, Vyasa, Balarama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. (All these 25 avatars happen every one day of Brahma!)



Kapila, Rsabha, Ananta, Brahma, Catuhsana, Narada, Prthu, Parasurama, Buddha, ...





Serial No

According to Hari Vamsa

According to Narayani Akhyan

According to Varaha Purana

According to Vayu Purana

According to Bhagwat Purana

1. Varaha





2. Narasinha





3. Vaman





4. Parshuram





5. Rama





6. Krishna



























































Ved Vyas


























It is enough to say in a word, that of gods, animals and men, there is nothing else than they.'  -- [Visnu Purana Bk I Ch 8 (p.53)]

Hari is all that is male. 
Laksmi is all that is female.