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We know that Hindu scriptures contain many stories about Avataras (or incarnations). Lord Vishnu's 10 incarnations (Dashavatara) are well-known, for example.


Few questions on Avataras are given below:

  1. What are some key features of an (human) Avatara of God?
  2. What are the distinct physical marks that an Avatara must have?
  3. Is it necessary that the birth of an Avatara can only take place in some specific clans/castes only? For example, Sri Rama, Krishna were both born in Kshatriya families. Can an Avatara be born in a Vaishya or a Sudra family as well?

NOTE: This question is not only about Lord Vishnu's Avataras but in general about all (human) Avataras.

  • As per your third point (don't have reference to show), When Shiva was teaching to Parvati about yoga or tantra sadhna, then Parvati fell asleep during session. And Shiva angrily told her to take birth in family of fish-catchers so that you can learn how to overcome from sleep and keep focused on work, Parvati did so. So this incarnation born in Viashya family since fish catcher are vaishya I guess. Mata parvati took many births due to many different reasons and they all were not only from kshatriya or Brahmana families (one example I have shown). – Rishabh Nov 16 '18 at 12:26
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    @Rishabh 'vishnu is not parabrahma since he takes birth' I give this example to answer. Prime minister may out of his own will sometimes may enter prison house, that doesn't make him a prisoner. It is foolish on the part of prisoners to think him to be one of them. Krishna refutes such conceptions BG 9.11: Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.BG 4.9: One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but at – user16618 Nov 17 '18 at 15:48
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    @Rishabh Garuda purana says: dashavatara-gahane kshipto maha-sankaöe rudro yena kapala-panir abhito bhikshaöanam karitah ity adau. tasmai namah karmane "I offer my respectful obeisances unto the law of karma, because of which Shiva carries a skull in his hand and wanders about as a beggar, and because of which Vishnu was hurled into the painful abyss of having to assume ten incarnations within the material world" According to this statement, both Vishnu and Shiva are not parabrahma since both are under law of karma. – user16618 Nov 17 '18 at 15:59
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    @rara I can't thankyou enough for your reply. Specially for you BG (9.4) shloka. This clears all doubts. BG shloka no one can deny. This single shloka is alone capable of shutting all mouths :) Jai Shree Raama... – Rishabh Nov 17 '18 at 17:20
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    @Rishabh I believe you are referring to bg 4.9 not 9.4, there is another which says he is not affected by any karma. If we know him as such, even we will not be bound. BG 4.14: There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work. – user16618 Nov 17 '18 at 18:02
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Is it necessary that the birth of an Avatara can only take place in some specific clans/castes only? For example, Sri Rama, Krishna were both born in Kshatriya families. Can an Avatara be born in a Vaishya or a Sudra family as well?

Yes:

  • As per Mahabharata: Adi Parva: Adivansavatarana Parva: Section LXIII

    Dharma was born a Sudra in the form of the learned Vidura.

  • As per Bhagavata Purana: Saraga 9: Chapter 21

    The Lords of the three spheres (Brahma, Vishnu and Siva), who bestow rewards on those who seek them, and who appeared (a short while ago) in (three) illusory forms (viz. those of Brahmana, Sudra and a Chandala) created by Lord Vishnu (in order to test the fortitude of Rantideva), (now) revealed themselves (in their own form) in his (Rantideva's) presence. (15)


What are some key features of an (human) Avatara of God?

From this commentary which seems to be referring to Vishnu Purana 6.5.74 as Parāśara Muni is the author of the Vishnu Purana:

The Sanskrit word bhagavān is explained by the great authority Parāśara Muni, the father of Vyāsadeva. The Supreme Personality who possesses all riches, all strength, all fame, all beauty, all knowledge and all renunciation is called Bhagavān. There are many persons who are very rich, very powerful, very beautiful, very famous, very learned and very much detached, but no one can claim that he possesses all riches, all strength, etc., entirely.

And from this commentary, the personality who has one or more of the above mentioned quality is known as Avtara. For example,

Dattātreya, Matsya, Kumāra and Kapila exhibited His transcendental knowledge.

Nara and Nārāyaṇa Ṛṣis exhibited His renunciation.

Balarāma, Mohinī and Vāmana exhibited His beauty.

From this answer,

the group of six qualities is said to exist in Nrisimha, Rama and Krishna.


As per SRI RAMAKRISHNA: THE GREAT MASTER by SWAMI SARADANANDA: PART FOUR: CHAPTER 3:

No inference or reasoning is necessary to explain that the lives of incarnations are not like those of ordinary men. Seeing in them the manifestation of unthinkable, unimaginable power, men’s heads are bent down in reverence to them; they offer their heart-felt worship and take refuge in them.

The Philosophers of India, like the great Rishi Kapila and other geniuses, made the utmost effort to pierce the mystery of the lives of those extraordinary, powerful personages. Trying to ascertain what led to such a vastly greater manifestation of power in them than in ordinary people, they saw at the very outset that the law of Karma, common to all, was quite inappropriate to solve the mystery.

  • For, it is in search of their own selfish pleasures that ordinary people perform good and bad actions. But, when the actions of those other persons are studied, that motive is seen to have been absolutely lacking.

  • The desire to remove the misery of others produced in them an irresistible effort therefor and at the altar of that desire they completely sacrificed all their own enjoyment and pleasures.

  • Again, it was also seen that the quest for honour, for name and fame in the world, never nourished the root of that desire.

  • For, it was always their habit to give up in all respects the desire to attain higher worlds and worldly honour, which they shunned as they would the droppings of crows.

  • Do you not see that the two Rishis, Nara and Narayana, spent ages in practising austerity in the hermitage of Badarika, in order to ascertain the means to do good to humanity? Ramachandra banished even Sita, dear to Him as His life, so that His subjects might be happy. Krishna performed each action of His with a view to establishing truth and religion. Buddha renounced the wealth of a king so that he might deliver men from the pain arising from birth, old age, death, etc. Jesus gave up His life on the cross, so that the kingdom of Heaven might come down to this world of grief and misery, that the realm of love of the Father in Heaven, who was Love Itself, might prevail over hatred, jealousy and bloodshed. It was against irreligion that Mohammad took up the sword. Sankara applied all his powers to explain to men that true peace consisted in the realization of non-duality. And, knowing that all the power conducive to the good of men lay in the name of Hari alone, Chaitanya renounced worldly pleasures and enjoyment and dedicated his life to the preaching of the name of Hari through loud singing and unrestrained dancing. What selfishness impelled them to perform all those actions, what pleasure attracted them to undergo such sufferings?

The signs spoken of in the scriptures and admitted to be produced in the bodies of persons liberated-in-life, owing to extraordinary feelings experienced by them, were, the philosophers found, clearly manifested in the lives of incarnations too. They were, therefore, forced to regard them as belonging to a new class. Kapila, the author of the Sankhya, said that they had in their minds a kind of very generous desire to do good to humanity. Therefore, though already liberated through the power of austerity practised in their past lives, they did not dwell in the state of Nirvana, infinite Bliss. They merged in Prakriti; in other words, they spent the period of a cycle, knowing that all the powers of Prakriti were theirs. And, therefore, that one among that class who knew himself possessed of such powers in any particular cycle, appeared to the people in general to be Isvara during that period.

For, any one who knew all the powers of Prakriti as his, would be able to apply or withdraw those powers at will. Just as we can use all the powers of Prakriti that exist in our limited bodies and minds only because we know them as ours, so can they use all its powers at will inasmuch as they know them as belonging to themselves. Although Kapila does not admit the existence of an eternal Isvara, he has admitted the existence of all-powerful persons each of whom exists for a cycle, and called them Prakriti-lina Purushas, i.e., persons merged in Prakriti.

Again, seeing a higher and a lower manifestation of power in these persons and observing that the actions of some of them are performed for the permanent good of all the people of the whole world and those of others for the people of one country or a part of it only, the authors of the Vedanta have recognized the former as incarnations of God and the latter as eternally free Isvarakotis endowed with less authority.

With this opinion of the authors of the Vedanta as the basis, the authors of the Puranas afterwards came forward in their effort to ascertain, with the help of imagination, how large a part of God each one of the incarnations was, and made a little too much of their business of calculation: the author of the Bhagavata wrote such verses as, “These are one-sixteenth or smaller parts of the all-pervading One, but Krishna is the divine Lord Himself.”

The bodies and the minds of Adhikarika persons are seen to be made of such stuff as enables them to hold and retain the divine love and devotion and to manifest the powers of higher planes, quite naturally and without any sense of elation. The Jiva becomes egoistic and is beside himself with joy when he gets a little of spiritual power and respect from people. But the Adhikarika persons do not get at all unsettled or have their power of discrimination destroyed or become egoistic, even if they get those powers a thousandfold.

The Jiva never likes to return to the world for any reason whatever if, being free from all kinds of bondage, he can somehow attain, in Samadhi, the knowledge of the Self. But as soon as the Adhikarika persons feel this bliss, there arises in their minds the question how they can share it with others.

After the realization of God the Jiva has no duty whatever left. But it is only after that realization that the Adhikarika persons grasp and understand the especial purpose for which they were born and begin to accomplish it.

Therefore, the law regarding Adhikarika persons is that, until they execute the specific mission for which they are born, there never arises in their minds, as does in the mind of ordinary, liberated persons, the attitude that if the body is to drop, it might well be allowed to drop without any harm; but, rather, there is seen in them an eagerness to live in this sphere of the mortals.

But there is, it is seen, a tremendous difference between the will to live of the incarnations and that of the Jivas. Moreover, the Adhikarika persons know when it is that their mission has been executed and delightfully give up their bodies in Samadhi without remaining for a second more in the world. A Jiva cannot even know when the duties of his life would come to an end, let alone the power of giving up his body at will in Samadhi. Rather, he feels that many desires remain unfulfilled in this life of his.

There are similar differences between them in all other respects also. Therefore we shall be falling into a great error if we try to judge the purpose and actions of the lives of incarnations by our own standard.


Related Post(s)

What does the term "Adhikarika Purusha" mean?

What are the various 'kalas' of Lord Vishnu?

Anshavatar and Purnavatar - are there different types of avatars?

Which scriptures deals about avataras and kalas?

Which scripture describes six kalyana gunas (auspicious attributes) of Vishnu?

  • @Rickross See no waste!!! – Parabrahman Jyoti Nov 17 '18 at 13:06
  • No thr are some definite physical signs as well.. Like several auspicious marks on hands and feet will be present. I am specifically looking for those info. Ok apart from Vidura? The Vidura example actually did not satisfy me much.. but thx for the attempt. – Rickross Nov 17 '18 at 14:23
  • @Rickross is it possible for you to award 50+ to satisifed answer? – Parabrahman Jyoti Nov 17 '18 at 14:47
  • @Rickross For Lord Vishnu's avtars, may be the mark of Śrīvatsa on chest..but what if it's an imitation mark like Pauṇḍraka had..i think physical mark alone can't decide avtara.. – YDS Nov 17 '18 at 17:31
  • @Rickross This is one more instance apart from Vidura when God took form of Sudra....Bhagavata Purana: Saraga 9: Chapter 21 > 15th verse.... – YDS Nov 18 '18 at 15:50
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This is the way to identify an incarnation according to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

CC Madhya 20.353 — “The Vedic literatures composed by the omniscient Mahāmuni Vyāsadeva are evidence of all spiritual existence. Only through these revealed scriptures can all conditioned souls attain knowledge.

CC Madhya 20.354 — “An actual incarnation of God never says ‘I am God’ or ‘I am an incarnation of God.’ The great sage Vyāsadeva, knowing all, has already recorded the characteristics of the avatāras in the śāstras.

CC Madhya 20.355 — “ ‘The Lord does not have a material body, yet He descends among human beings in His transcendental body as an incarnation. Therefore it is very difficult for us to understand who is an incarnation. Only by His extraordinary prowess and uncommon activities, which are impossible for embodied living entities, can one partially understand the incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.’( This is a quotation from Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.10.34 )

CC Madhya 20.356 — “By two symptoms — personal characteristics and marginal characteristics — the great sages can understand an object.

CC Madhya 20.357 — “Bodily features, nature and form are the personal characteristics. Knowledge of His activities provides the marginal characteristics.

CC Madhya 20.363 — “At the time of Their appearance, the incarnations of the Lord are known in the world because people can consult the śāstras to understand an incarnation’s chief characteristics, known as svarūpa and taṭastha. In this way the incarnations become known to great saintly persons.”

The following verse of Srimad Bhagavatam seems to indicate that there is no restriction as to which species an incarnation can occur. I infer that incarnations can even appear in other castes.

SB 7.9.38: In this way, my Lord, You appear in various incarnations as a human being, an animal, a great saint, a demigod, a fish or a tortoise, thus maintaining the entire creation in different planetary systems and killing the demoniac principles. According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the Age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.

But we see in general that, incarnations appear in brahmana or kshatriya families when he appears in human form and that seems because the purpose of incarnations are generally either to teach spiritual knowledge or to kill the miscreants or both.

Despite such appearances, he still takes up duties of other varnas showing he is not restricted in any way. Seeing such behaviour, people like Sisupala hurled insults at Krishna.

SB 10.74.33-34 — How can you pass over the most exalted members of this assembly — topmost sages dedicated to the Absolute Truth endowed with powers of austerity, divine insight and strict adherence to severe vows, sanctified by knowledge and worshiped even by the rulers of the universe? How does this cowherd boy, the disgrace of His family, deserve your worship, any more than a crow deserves to eat the sacred puroḍāśa rice cake?

SB 10.74.35 — How does one who follows no principles of the social and spiritual orders or of family ethics, who has been excluded from all religious duties, who behaves whimsically, and who has no good qualities — how does such a person deserve to be worshiped?

Though these are insults, these are actually indirect praises.

  • Does the book mention the physical features that an incarnation must hv? They hv certain signs on hands and the feet. Does the book mention about them? – Rickross Nov 17 '18 at 16:07
  • @Rickross it is well accepted amongst us that Vishnu's incarnations have auspicious marks like thunderbolt, arrow, fish etc.. on their foot and hands, not like our normal hands. About Saktyavesa avatara like parasurama, I am not sure of auspicious signs since they are jivas empowered. I will try to search for more information. – user16618 Nov 17 '18 at 16:31
  • "An actual incarnation of God never says ‘I am God’ or ‘I am an incarnation of God.'" - Strange.. Didn't Krishna say ‘I am God’...? – YDS Nov 17 '18 at 17:37
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    @YDS another intended meaning could be, he doesn't need to say, based on scriptural evidence, he can be identified. Like BG 10.13. BG 10.12-13: Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me. – user16618 Nov 17 '18 at 18:16
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    @YDS The original bengali text doesnt seem to have as much stronger connotation('never' word) as when it is translated into English. – user16618 Nov 17 '18 at 18:41
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Perhaps this is a more universal view.

Whenever there is hurt to Dharmc practice the superior Spirit takes self-evolutionary birth in any avatar, caste or religion spurred on by adharmic and chaotic disorderly circumstances... at any time during any stage of human evolution.

The active manifestation can be recognized by evidence of destruction of elements inimical to Dharma and ubiquitous encouragement to forces that uphold it through a single or multiple avatars.

The transformation appears natural and divine at the same time. New order which is more stable and normal is a mark of completion of its mission in any avatar or avatars.

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