Dasavatara in art : some depictions

                Dasavatara refers to the manifestations of Lord Vishnu. The avatars are different forms of a single divine force. He is a part of the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He is the God of Preservation.Lord Vishnu incarnates on Earth from time to time to eradicate evil forces, to restore dharma and  liberate his worthy devotees from the cycle of births and death. He is a saviour and brings balance to the earth. His ten avatars are Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.

Matsya avatar : This is the first avatar of Vishnu;  the great fish from Satyuga. He saves Manu  and all other creatures of the earth from deluge in the form of a half human,half-fish. There is another version which says he takes the matsya form to save the Vedas sacred texts of the Hindus from the demon Hayagriva and also saves the seven sages or saptarishi.

Kurma avatar :  Kurma means turtle in Sanskrit, also the second avatar of Vishnu. This incarnation is also from Satyuga. Vishnu as Kurma supported Mount Mandara from sinking during the churning of the vast ocean of milk or samudramanthana for the pot of nectar for the devas to drink, as they had lost their strength due to a curse by Sage Durvasa.The devas had lost their strength an the asuras overpowered them; Lord Vishnu stepped in to help The serpent Vasuki served as the churning rope.  Vishnu had to take the form of a turtle during the churning as the Mount had started to sink. The devas and asuras both churned the ocean in order to have the nectar. Fourteen precious items rose from the ocean; Dhanwantari, the God of ayurveda brought with him the nectar. The asuras immediately got hold of the nectar. Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini, a beautiful woman and distracted the asuras and the devas could get the nectar to themselves. On drinking it they became strong and could defeat the asuras.

Vishnu and his Avatars, 11th century. Black schist. Brooklyn Museum.jpg

Vishnu and his avatars, black schist,11th century,Brooklyn Museum,USA.

By Trish Mayo – originally posted to Flickr as P1240913, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7827940

Varaha avatar : Lord Vishnu appeared  as a boar to defeat Hiranyaksha , a demon who had taken the Earth,Prithvi or Bhu and carried it to the bottom of what is described as the cosmic ocean. The battle between Varaha and Hiranyaksha is believed to have lasted for a thousand years, which was won by Varaha. Varaha carried the Earth out of the ocean and restored it to its place in the universe.

A carved stone relief at Panchadharla.jpg

Dasavatara,Panchadarla temple, 11th-13th century,Vishakapatnam.

By Srichakra Pranav – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39107465

Narasimha avatar : Hiranyakashipu, the elder brother of Hiranyaksha, a demon or rakshasa was granted a powerful boon from Lord Brahma, by which he becomes invincible that is he cannot be killed by anyone, human or animal, at any time like day or night, or any place either inside or outside. Lord Vishnu take the form of Narasimha, half-lion, half-bird and kills him at the threshold of his house at dusk holding him on his thighs. The Narasimha avatar is also from Satyuga.

File:Panel relief depicting the Dashavatara (ten avatars) of the god Vishnu in the Vidyashankara temple at Shringeri.jpg

Dasavatara,Shri Vidyashankara Temple,8th century, Shringeri,Karnataka.

By Mashalti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Vamana avatar : Lord Vishnu takes the form of a dwarf, during Treta Yuga. Another demon,the fourth descendant of Hiranyakashyapa, Bali, defeats Indra, the Lord of the heavens. Bali takes over all the three worlds.The gods appealed to Lord Vishnu for protection Lord Vishnu takes the form of a dwarf . Vamana during a is ayagna is promised by Bali for three paces of land. Bali agrees and the dwarf then changes his size to that of a giant. He steps over heaven in his first stride, and the netherworld with the second. Bali realizes that Vamana is Lord  Vishnu himself. He offers his head for him to place his third step. Vamana does so and grants Bali immortality an makes him the Lord of Patala, the netherworld.

Ten incarnations of Vishnu.jpg

Dasavatara, scroll-painting, 18th century.

By Unknown (production) – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O17944/scroll-drawing-ten-incarnations-of-vishnu/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18763266

Parasurama : This avatar is a warrior with an axe, a brahmin-kshatriya from the Treta Yuga. He has received this axe from Shiva after along penance. He is the son of Jamadagni and Renuka. Once King  Kartavirya   visits the father of Parasurama at his ashram, and the saint was able to feed them with the divine cow Kamadhenu. The king wants the cow, but Jamadagni refused. The king takes it and destroys the ashram. Parashurama is very angry and   kills the king at his palace and destroys his army. In revenge, the sons of Kartavirya kill Jamadagni. Parashurama takes  a vow to kill every Kshatriya on earth twenty-one times over, and fill five lakes with their blood. Ultimately, his grandfather, Sage  Rucheeka, halts him.

File:Vishnu Avatars.jpg

Dasavatara,oleograph,Raja Ravi varma,19th century.

Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rama : An avatar of Lord Vishnu from Treta yugaHe is widely worshipped and is the ideal man.His story is  His story is told in the great Hindu epic Ramayana. While in exile with his brother Lakshmana  his wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travels to Lanka, along with Hanuman, a monkey or vanara army and kills Ravana; liberates Sita and goes back to his kingdom Ayodhya to be coronated.


Dasavatara,paining, Jaipur,19th century, V and A Museum, U.K.

By the Victoria and Albert Museum – Painting from Jaipur, India; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (site is redesigned, old description is also available in Britannica”, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2763094

Krishna : Lord Vishnu is Krishna in the Dwapara-yuga. He is a popular deity in Hinduism. He is lovable as a cowherd companion of Radha at Vrindavan, the eighth son of Vasudeva and Devaki, and brought up by Yashoda.He has an important role as Arjuna’s charioteer in the Hindu epic Mahabharata and sermonises him as told in the Bhagavdagita.

Buddha: Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, from the Kali-yuga, is generally included as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. 

Kalki avatar : will be the final incarnation of  Lord Vishnu, will appear at the end of Kali Yuga, our present epoch. He will come on  a white horse and his sword will be drawn, blazing like a comet. He will destroy all evil at the end of this age.

Dasavatara,temple door, Sree Balaji Temple, Goa. 

By Aruna Radhakrishnan – originally posted to Flickr as Dashaavathaaram…ദശാവതാരം…, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5049537

Dashavtar Ivory Carving.jpg

Dasavatara,ivory carving,late 18th Century, south India, National Museum, New Delhi. 

By Noman – Noman, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30484366

The painting by an artist from Raghurajpur.JPG

Dasavatara, painting, Odisha.

By Revanthv552 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26650537

References :

  • Vishnu : Hinduism’s blue skinned saviour/Cummins,Joan,ed.,Ahmedabad : Mapin   Publishing,2011.
  • wikipedia.org

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