In the Shrimad Bhagwat Geeta, Lord Shri Krishna has said to Arjuna that-
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥
yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata|
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānam sṛijāmyaham||
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśhāya cha duṣhkṛitām
dharma-sansthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge
Whenever there is decline of righteousness (Dharma) and rise of wickedness or unrighteousness then I (Lord Shri Vishnu) manifest myself.
In order to protect the pious devotees, to destroy wicked and evil, and to establish Dharma, I incarnate in human form in every yuga (i.e. in each era the four era cycle).
Goswami Tulsidas ji has also said in his book Ramcharit-Manas that-
“जब –जब होई धरम की हानी,
बाढ़हि असुर अधम अभिमानी,
तब–तब धरि प्रभु विविध शरीरा,
हरहि दयानिधि सज्जन पीरा“
Lord Vishnu takes various incarnations whenever there is a loss of religion, rise in unrighteousness, vicious people increase, atrocities and misdeeds of demons (Asura) rise. Lord Vishnu saves Sage, saints, humans and God by destroying evil.
Lord Vishnu has taken various incarnations (avatars) in different eras. In Satyayuga, Lord Narayan took 5 (five) incarnations-
- Matsya (Fish) Avatar,
- Kachhap/Kurma (Tortoise) Avatar,
- Varaha/Shukar (Boar) Avatar,
- Narasimha (Half-man/Half-lion) Avatar and
- Vamana (Dwarf) Avatar.
Similarly in Treta Yuga, Lord Narayan had taken two avatars –
- Rama avatar, and
- Parshuram/Bhrigupati avatar.
Then in Dwapar Yuga, Lord Narayan had taken two incarnations-
- Krishna Avatar and
- Haldhar/Balram Avatar.
It is said that, in this Kali Yuga, Lord Narayan will take a total of three incarnations. Two of them are included in this list of ten incarnations (Dashavatara). Description about Dashavatar is found in many books like ‘Geet Govind’ by poet Jaydev Ji Maharaj and Bhagwat Shastra etc. A brief description about those Dashavatars is given below:-
Matsya (Fish) Avatar: –
Maharishi Ved Vyas Ji Maharaj writes about the Matsya Avtar of God in Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran:-
“आसीदतीतकल्पान्ते ब्राह्मो नैमित्तिको लयः। समुद्रोपप्लुतास्तत्र लोका भुरादयो नृप।।
कालेनागतनिद्रस्य धातुः शिशयिषोर्बली। सुखतो निःशृतान वेदात् हयग्रीवोन्धन्तिकेन्धहरत्।।
ज्ञात्वा तहदानबेन्द्रस्य हयग्रीवस्य चेष्टितम्। दधार शफरीरूपं भगवान हरिरीश्वर।।
अतीतप्रलयापाय उत्थिताय स बेधसे। हत्वासुरं हयग्रीवं वेदान् प्रत्याहरंधरिः।।”
– (Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran – Matsyavatarakatha – Eighth Volume – Chaturvinsho’dhyay)
Shri Jaidev Ji Maharaj writes about Matsya Avatar in his Gita Govind that:-
“प्रलय पयोधि जले धृतवानसि वेदम्, विहित वहित्र चरित्रमखेदम्।।
केशव धृत मीन शरीर जय जगदीश हरे।।“
In both the above verses, Maharishi Vedavyasa and Jayadev describe what Lord Vishnu did by appearing in the form of a Matsya (fish). Lord Vishnu saved mankind from the devastating holocaust by the boat of Manu. It was through him that Lord Vishnu did the work of establishing Dharma.
A demon Hayagriva had stolen the Vedas and hid himself deep in the waters of the ocean. Lord Vishnu took the form of Matsya, fought a fierce battle with Hayagriva and killed him. Lord Vishnu returned the Vedas to Lord Brahma after recovering them. Seven sages were also saved by Lord Vishnu in the form of Matsya.
Kachhap / Kurma (Tortoise) Avatar: –
In Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran, Maharishi Ved Vyas wrote about Kachhap Avatar:
“पृष्ठे भ्राम्यदमन्दमन्दरगिरि– ग्रावाग्रकण्ड्वयनानिद्रालो कमठाकृतेर्भगवतः श्वासानिलाः पान्तु वः।
यतसंस्कार कलानुवर्त्तन बशाद् बेलानिभेनायसां जतायातमतंद्रितं जलनिधेर्नाद्यापि विश्राम्यति।।” –
Srimad Bhagavata Puranam / Canto: 12 / Chapter: 13
Lord Vishnu in Kurma i.e. Kacchapp (Tortoise) avatar placed himself at the bottom of the ocean of milk and made his back the base or pivot of the Mandarachal mountain for churning the ocean.
When the gods were in danger of losing their authority to the demons, Lord Vishnu advised them to churn the ocean so that they could obtain the nectar (Amrit) that would make them strong and immortal. The Gods entered into an agreement with the demons to get help in churning the ocean, and together they churned the ocean to retrieve all the valuable things from the ocean.
Jaidev Ji Maharaj has written in his Geet Govind about Kachhap Avatar : –
“क्षितिरति विपुल तरे तव तिष्ठति पृष्ठे। धरणीधारणकिण चक्र गरिष्ठे।
केशव धृत, कच्छप रूप, जय जगदीश हरे।।“
When there was only darkness on the earth, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a tortoise to bring light and lifted the earth on his back and placed it on the orbit of the Sun.
Varah (Boar) Avatar: –
In Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran, Maharishi Ved Vyas wrote about Varah Avatar : –
“तमालनील॰ सितदंतकोट्या क्ष्मामुक्षिपंत॰ गजलीलयांग।
प्रज्ञाय बंध्धाजलयोंधनुवाकै– र्बिरंचि मुख्या उपतस्थुरीशम्।।“
Poet Jaidev writes about Varah Avatar in Geet Govind :-
“वशति दशन शिखरे धरणी तव लग्ना। शशिनी कलंक कलेव निमग्ना।
केशव धृत, शूकर रूप, जय जगदीश हरे।।“
A demon named Hiranyaksha dragged the earth to the bottom of the ocean. Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar (Varaha) to protect the earth, and after thousands of years of war, he saved the earth by killing the demon Hiranyaksha.
Narasimha (Half-man/Half-lion) Avatar: –
In Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran, Maharishi Vedvyas has said about Narasimha Avatar :-
“दिबिस्पृशत्काय मदिर्घपी बरग्रीबोरुबक्षःस्थलमलुमध्यमम्।
चन्द्राशुगौरैश्चुरितं तद्वरुहैर्विष्वराभुजादिकशतं नखायुद्धम्।।
विष्वक् स्पुरन्तं ग्रहणातुरं हरिर्ब्यालो यथान्धन्धखु॰ कुलिशाक्षतत्वचम्।
द्वार्य्वर आपात्य ददार लीलया नखैर्यथाहिं गरुड़ों महाविषम्।।”
– Bhagavata Purana – Canto 7 – Chapter 8: Verse 29
Poet Jaidev ji also writes about Narasimha Avatar in his Geet Govind –
“तब कर कमलवरे नखमद्भुतशृंगम्, दलित हिरण्यकशिपु तनु भृंगम्।
केशव धृत, नरहरि रूप, जय जगदीश हरे“
Lord Vishnu in this incarnation as half man and half lion (Singh) saved his devotee Prahlad from the atrocities of his father (demon king- Hiranyakashipu). Hiranyakasipu had a boon of dying in such a way that he would not be killed by any man or animal, neither in air, water or sea, nor at home nor outside, neither in day nor night, nor by weapons or scriptures nor be killed by someone. After getting this boon, he considered himself immortal.
Lord Narasimha came out of a pillar, and made Hiranyakashipu sit on his lap, and at the entrance of the door, the Lord ripped open his stomach with his long nails.
Vaman (Dwarf) Avatar: –
Maharishi Vedvyas has written in Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran:–
“यत् तद् बपुर्भात बिभुषणायुधैरब्यक्तचिद् ब्यक्तमधारयन्धरिः।
बभुव तेनैब स वामनो बटुः संपश्यतेर्दिव्यगतिर्यथा नटः”
– Shrimad Bhagwat Purana- Ashtama: Skandha: Ashtadasho’dhyaya: Shloka 12
“धातु कमंडलुजलं तदुरुक्रमत्स्य, पादाबनेजन पवित्रतया नरेन्द्र।
स्वर्धुन्यभून्वभसि पतती निमार्ष्टि, लोकत्रयं भगवतो बिशदेव कीर्ति।।”
– Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran / Sakandh 08 / Chapter: 21
Poet Jaidev ji has also given the same evidence in his Gita Govind –
“छलयसि विक्रमणे वलीमद्भुतवामन, पदनखनीरजनित जन पावन,
केशव धृत, वामन रूप, जय जगदीश हरे”
Both the above verses imply that this incarnation (depicted as a dwarf holding a oblong water pot or kamandalu of water in one hand and an umbrella in the other) was taken to reclaim Indra’s kingdom.
King Bali Was the great-grandson of Hiranyakashipu. He had established his supremacy in all the three worlds using the strength of his penance. When Bali’s prestige started to overshadow Indra, Indra sought help from Lord Vishnu to establish his supremacy.
Lord Vishnu disguised (transformed) himself into a dwarf and asked King Bali to grant him a piece of land as big as three steps on which he could meditate. When Bali accepted his request, Lord Vishnu, using his supernatural powers, captured the earth and heaven in the first two phases and deprived Bali of his kingdom.
But King Bali showed his magnanimity and asked Lord Vishnu to place the third foot on his head. Lord Vishnu was pleased to see Bali’s generosity and made King Bali the ruler of netherworld (Patala).
Maharishi Vedvyas ji has written in Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran that –
“अवतारे षोड़शमे पश्यन ब्रह्मद्रुहनृपान।
त्रिसप्तकृत्वः कृपितोनिःक्षत्रा मकरोन महीम्।।“
“आस्तेन्धद्यापि महेंद्रादै न्यस्तदण्डः प्रशान्तधीः।
एवं भृगुषु बिश्वात्मा भगवान हरिरीश्वरः।
अबतीर्य परं भारं भुबोन्धहन बहुशोनृपान्।।“
Poet Jaydev ji writes in his book Geet Govind that –
“क्षत्रियरुधिरमये जगदपगतपापम्, स्नपयसि पयसि शमितभवतापम्।
केशव धृत, भृगुपति रूप, जय जगदीश हरे।”
Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama / Bhrigupati in Treta Yuga. Parashurama (depicted in his form with an axe in his right hand) is the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. At the time of this incarnation, Mahaprabhu Parshuram pacified Mother Earth with the blood of Kshatriyas. It is said that he became angry at the death of his father and he destroyed the Kshatriyas completely 21 times!
Maharshi Vedvyas ji says in Bhagvat Mahapurana that-
“ततः प्रजग्मुः प्रशमं मरुद्गणा, दिशः प्रसेहुर्विमल नभोन्ध्धभवत्।
मही चकंम्पे न च मारुतो बबै, स्थिर प्रभश्चाप्यभवत् दिवाकरः।।”
– Ramayanam / Yudhkandam / Canto: 111
Following verses are from Adhyatma Ramayana –
“एवं स्तुतस्तु देबेशो विष्णुस्तिदशपुंगबः।
पितामह पुरोगांस्तान् सरवलोकनमस्कृतः।।”
“अब्रबीत त्रीदशान सर्वान समेतान् धर्मसंहितान्।
सपुत्रपौत्रं सामात्यं समन्तिज्ञातिबांधवम्।।
हत्वा कुरंदूराधर्षं देवर्षीणां भयाबहम्।
दशवर्ष शहस्राणि दशवर्ष शतानि च।
वत्स्यामि मानुषे लोके पालयन् पृथिवीमिमाम्।।
रावणेन हृतं स्थानमस्काकं तेजसा सह,
त्वयाद्य निहतो दुष्टः पुनःप्राप्तं पदं स्वकम्।।”
Poet Jaidev ji has also written in his Geet Govind about Ram Avatar –
“बितरसि दिक्षु रणे दिक्पतिकमनीयम्, दशमुख मौलिवलिं रमणीयम्।
केशव धृत, रघुपति रूप, जय जगदीश हरे।।”
In the verses written above, it is said that Lord Rama is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. Lord Rama is shown with a bow and arrow in this incarnation. He killed ten-headed demon king of Lanka “Ravana” and freed his abducted wife Sita. This was one of the major tasks of the establishment of Dharma in Treta Yuga.
He was helped in this task by Lakshmana (one of his younger brothers) and Hanuman (the monkey god). This story is narrated in the great epic Ramayana. The life of Shri Ram is a great example of moral excellence, and stability of marriage. He was the best king in the world. There was probably no one better than him in rearing his subjects. He was a strong, majestic warrior and hero. The evil-doers used to tremble at the mere mention of his name. His ideal conduct was such that his kingdom on earth was considered an ideal kingdom. That’s why till today we call the ideal rule as ‘Ram Rajya’.
Balram / Haldhar Avatar: –
In Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran, Maharishi Ved Vyas Ji writes about Balram Avatar –
“स आजुहाब यमुनां जलक्रीड़ार्थमीश्वरः।
निजं बाक्यमनादृत्य मभ रत्यापगां बलं।
अनागतां हलाग्रेण कुपितो बिचकर्ष ह।।
पापे त्वं मामवज्ञांय यन्नायासि मयान्ध्धहुता।
नेष्ये त्वां लंगलाग्रेण शतधा काम चारिणीम्।।
एवं निर्भत्सिता भीता यमुना यदुनंदनम्
उवाच चकिता वाचं पतिता पादयोर्नृप।।” – श्रीमद्भागवतपुराणम्/स्कन्धः १०/उत्तरार्धः/अध्यायः ६५
Poet Jaydev Ji Maharaj has described about Haldhar Avatar in his Geet Govind that –
“बहसि बपुषि विशदे बसनं जलदाभम्, हलहतिभीति मिलित यमुनाभम्।
केशव धृत, हलधर रूप, जय जगदीश हरे।।”
In Dwapara Yuga, Lord Balram ji along with his friends “Gopi – Gopal” was playing (i.e. divine sport or Leela) on the bank of Yamuna and all of them went to take bath in Yamuna river. The Yamuna river, due to arrogance, did not allow them to take bath. At that time, Lord Balarama changed the course of Yamuna river by ripping the soil with his plow and destroyed her pride.
Buddha Avatar: –
In Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran, Maharishi Ved Vyas Ji writes about Buddha Avatar –
“ततः कलै संप्रबृत्ते सम्मोहाय सुरदिक्षाम्।
बुद्धो नाम्नाजनसुतः कींकटेषु भविष्यति।।”
– Bhagwat Canto 1 Chapter 6 Shloka 19-29
Further, poet Jaidev Ji has written about the incarnation of Buddha in Geet Govind –
“निंदसि यज्ञबिधेरहह श्रुतिजातम्, सदयहृदय दर्शित पशुघातम्।
केशव धृत, बुद्ध शरीर, जय जगदीश हरे।।”
These verses describe Lord Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In Kaliyuga, he was born as the son of Ajna (who is said to have been born in Nepal without necessary proof) in the town of Keenkata in Orissa, to fascinate the demigods. According to modern belief, Gautam Buddha is the Buddha Avatar. A few years before the end of Kali Yuga, he took an incarnation and did the work of establishing Dharma by removing the practice of animal sacrifice in Yagya.
In Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran, Maharishi Ved Vyas Ji writes about Kalki Avatar: –
“अथसै युगसंध्यायां दस्युप्रायेषु राजसु,
जनिता विष्णुयशसा नाम्ना कल्किर्जगत्पतिः।।”
बादैर्वि मोहयति यज्ञकृतोर्न्धदर्हान,
शूद्रान् कलौ क्षितिभुजो न्यहनिश्यदन्ते।।“
– Shrimad Bhagwat-First: Skandha: Third Chapter Verse-25
Poet Jaidev Ji has written about Kalki Avatar in Geet Govind –
“म्लेच्छनीबह नीधने कलयसि करवालम्, धुमकेतु मिव किमपि करालम्।
केशव धृत, कल्कि शरीर, जय जगदीश हरे।।”
Out of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the Kalki avatar is the only one which is left. In this Kaliyuga, Lord Kalki will assume a fierce form like Dhum-ketu (a comet), holding a big sword in his hand and riding on a white horse. He will destroy the wicked, sinners, tyrants, miscreants, mlecchas (evil-doers) and establish Dharma for Satyayuga on earth.
These ten incarnations have been described in many scriptures. The benefit of reading about these incarnations is mentioned in Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran –
“शृण्वतां स्वकथां कृष्ण पूर्णश्रवणकीर्त्तनः।
हृद्यन्तस्थो ह्यभप्राणी सुदुतसताम्।।
जन्म गुह्य भगवतो य एतत् प्रयतो नरः।
सायं प्रातःर्गुणन भक्त्या दुःख ग्रामाद् बिमुखते।।“
– Shrimad Bhagavat First Canto: Second chapter: Verse-17
Shri Jaidev ji also writes about the benefits of reading and listening to the Dashavatar hymn :-
“श्री जयदेव कवेरिदमुदित मुदारम्। श्रृणु सुखदं शुभदं भव सारम्।
केशव धृत, दशविद्ध रूप, जय जगदीश हरे।।”
Reciting the Dashavatar hymn (stotra) of Lord Vishnu is auspicious and soothing. By reading or listening to this one gets the grace of the Lord and gets salvation (moksha) from the ocean of life.
Shri Jaidev ji writes at the end of Dashavatara hymn written in Geet Govind that:-
“वेदानुद्धरते जगन्ति वह भूगोलते मुद्बिभ्रते
दैत्यं दारयते बलिं छालयते क्षत्रक्षयं कुर्वते।
पौलस्त्यं जयते हलं कल्यते कारुण्यमातन्वते
म्लेच्छान्मूर्च्छयते दशाकृतकृते कृष्णाय तुभ्यं नमः ।।”
Oh, Shri Krishna! You took the form of a Matsya (fish) and rescued the Vedas that were drowned in the ocean, became giant tortoise (Mahakurma) and carried the earth on your back, saved the earth drowned in Karanarnav in the form of giant boar (Mahavarah), killed Hiranyakashipu and other demons in the form of Narasimha. In the form of Vamana, graced King Bali, in the form of Parshuram killed the Kshatriya caste, in the form of Shri Rama conquered the mighty Ravana, in the form of Shri Balarama, took the plow as a weapon, in the form of Lord Buddha promoted compassion and non-violence, and in the form of Kalki you will destroy the Mlechhas (evil-doers). In this way, I worship Mahaprabhu Shri Krishna ji who took ten different incarnations.
Mahaprabhu Achyutanand ji, the author of the Bhavishya Malika book, writes in his book Ashtagujjari that-
“भाव विनोदिया ठाकुर भक्त वत्सल हरि,
भक्त न्क पाईं कलेवर दश मुरती धरि।”
Lord Vishnu is a bhakt-vatsal (i.e. affectionate towards devotees), the God of bhav (i.e. emotions). He understands the feelings of devotees. In each age (yuga), Lord Vishnu takes incarnations only for the welfare of the devotees.