Are there different types of avatars: anshavatar (partial incarnation), purnavatar (complete incarnation) etc.?

One of my friends told me sage Bharadwaja and Parashurama were anshavatars of Vishnu but Krishna and Rama are purnavatars.

Hanuman is known as an ansh of Shiva, does that mean he is an anshavatar?

A simple Google search tells us that;

  1. Purna Avatar: Complete incarnation
  2. Anshavatar: Partial incarnation
  3. Naimittik Avtar: Casual incarnation
  4. Nittya Avatar: Mundane incarnation

(something like that, cannot access that website now)

Another search result says:

Rama was 14 kala sampurna but Krishna was 16 kala sampurna thus Krishna is purnavatar.

Is there any scriptural basis for this?

Can you give anymore examples with explanation?

  • This is just for sharing thoughts or enhancing my knowledge, Due to stack exchange site format I am asking it as a question. By the way m visiting tirupati temple tomorrow, will find something more interesting :)
    – Friendy
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 8:26
  • 1
    If you're interesting in the Tirupati temple, I've asked a whole bunch of Venkateshwara-related questions here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/venkateshwara Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:35
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    @Friendy you can add jnana avatar- vyasa
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:04
  • We can speculate and say many things, but it is better to get it clarified with Acharyas. The avatars concept is not easy. Some say amsa avatars, some say Avesha avatars etc and so on.
    – user808
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 12:04
  • "are there different types of avatars?" No. There is no proof of this in the scriptures.
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 15:39

8 Answers 8


I don't know whether there are concepts of Kalas or something like that in Avatars. The only place in Padma Purana which I have found compares Avatars as:

Padma Purana Uttarkhanda Chapter 229 40-42. Thus the state of the inner-controllership of self consists in his being the innermost soul. Matsya, Kurma,Varaha, Nrisimha, Vamana, Rama, Parasurama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki are the ten incarnations of Brahman, the highest soul. The group of six qualities is said to exist in Nrisimha, Rama and Krishna.

The six qualities mentioned above are:

aiśvaryasya samagrasya dharmasya yaśasariśrayaḥ jñānavairāgyayoścaiva ṣaṇṇāṃ bhaga itīraṇā [VishnuPurana - 6.5.74]

Complete splendor, virtue, glory, opulence, knowledge, dispassion - these six are known as bhaga.

The above six qualities are the one which makes 'Bhagwan' ie. Having 'Bhag' qualities.

So as Per that statement of PadmaPurana the incarnation which had all six qualities were:

Nrisimha, Rama, and Krishna

So, Nrisimha, Rama and Krishna can be considered full incarnation if we compare. So, I think making Lord Rama 14 kalas and Lord Krishna 16 Kalas has no basis in scripture.

  • 3
    By the way, a Sri Vaishnava priest once made a remark to me comparing these three Purna avataras. He said, "Krishna took seven and a half years to rescue Vasudeva and Devaki fom jail, Rama took two years to rescue Sita from Ravana, but Narasimha appeared instantaneously to rescue Prahlada from Hiranyakashipu." So he argued that Narasimha is superior to Rama who is superior to Krishna. But that may just be his personal opinion. Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 15:37
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    @KeshavSrinivasan all have their own logics... Rananandis tell Rama as supreme... Gaudiya tell Krishna as Supreme... Are there any sects which tell Matsya and Varaha as supreme...?
    – Tezz
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 15:42
  • The logic is Rama and Krishna just saved few peoples of earth in few regions... but Varaha saved the entire earth so, Varaha is Supreme... Matsya saved the entire human race... we are now here because of Matsya... so Matsya avatar is Supreme...
    – Tezz
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 15:43
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    Well, to be clear that guy didn't believe Narasimha was supreme, as a Sri Vaishnava he believed that Vishnu was supreme. He just thought that Narasimha was the best incarnation of Vishnu. As far as I know, no one believes that Narasimha is supreme; Ramanandis think Vishnu is an incarnation of Rama, and Gaudiya Vaishnavas think Vishnu is an incarnation of Krishna, but no one thinks Vishnu is an incarnation of Narasimha. And no sects believe Matsya or Varaha is supreme. There are only people who believe Vishnu is supreme, Rama is supreme, or Krishna is supreme. Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 15:46
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    @KeshavSrinivasan - What the priest said is equally valid because Vishnu as Narasimha appeared immediately at the behest of a small boy, prahalada, saying that Vishnu is present everywhere and even in the pillar. The Bhagavatha purana? , Not sure, I think says, that just to make sure that prahalada's word come true, Narasimha, made himself latent in all the pillars before manifesting. Krishna laments that he didn't do sufficient to protect draupadi. Raama tested Sugriva first and then protected him from Vaali.
    – user808
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 11:54

Yes, It certainly has a scriptural basis and there are such types of Avatars. Narada says in Garga Samhita - Goloka Khanda - First Chapter

श्रीबहुलाश्व उवाच -

कतिधा श्रीहरेर्विष्णोरवतारो भवत्यलम् ।

साधूनां रक्षणार्थं हि कृपया वद मां प्रभो ॥ १५ ॥

Bahulāśva says - To protect the pious ones how many avatars did Sri Vishnu take, please kindly tell me o Lord.

श्रीनारद उवाच -

अंशांशोंऽशस्तथावेशः कलापूर्णः प्रकथ्यते ।

व्यासाद्यैश्च स्मृतः षष्ठः परिपूर्णतमः स्वयम् ॥ १६ ॥

Narada said - O King. The avataras of Bhagavān are six types as told by sages like Vyāsa which are - amśa, amśāmśa, āveśa, kalā, pūrṇa and paripūrṇatama (or paripūrṇa).

अंशांशस्तु मरीच्यादिरंशा ब्रह्मादयस्तथा ।

कलाः कपिलकूर्माद्या आवेशा भार्गवादयः ॥ १७ ॥

Sages like Marīci are amśāmśa avatars, Brahma and his likes are amśā avatars. Paraśurāma and like are āveśa avatars.Kapila, Kūrma and the likes are kalā avatars.

पूर्णो नृसिंहो रामश्च श्वेतद्वीपाधिपो हरिः ।

वैकुण्ठोऽपि तथा यज्ञो नरनारायणः स्मृतः ॥ १८ ॥

Pūrṇa avatars are Narasimha, Śrī Rāma, śvetadvīpādhipati Hari, Vaikuntha, Yajna and Nara Nārāyaṇa.

परिपूर्णतमः साक्षाच्छ्रीकृष्णो भगवान् स्वयम् ।

असंख्यब्रह्माण्डपतिर्गोलोके धाम्नि राजते ॥ १९ ॥

Śrī Krishna is Paripūrṇatama avatar who is the lord of infinite Brahmāṇḍas and who resides in Goloka.

कार्याधिकारं कुर्वन्तः सदंशास्ते प्रकिर्तिताः ।

तत्कार्यभारं कुर्वन्तस्तेंऽशांशा विदिताः प्रभोः ॥ २० ॥

Those who like Brahma take up the authority of works like creation etc., are the sāttvic amśa avatars of Lord. Those who help in such works are amśāmśa avatars like Marīci and other prajāpatis.

येषामन्तर्गतो विष्णुः कार्यं कृत्वा विनिर्गतः ।

नानाऽऽवेषावतारांश्च विद्धि राजन्महामते ॥ २१ ॥

The all pervading vishnu who resides in the inner heart with his power to accomplish a certain work and leaves the person or body (though the person doesn't die) after the accomplishment, such avatars like Paraśurāma are called āveśa avatars.

धर्मं विज्ञाय कृत्वा यः पुनरन्तरधीयत ।

युगे युगे वर्तमानः सोऽवतारः कला हरेः ॥ २२ ॥

In every Yuga, when the Lord descends to earth, protects and establishes the dharma and takes back his avatara after that is called kalā avatar.

चतुर्व्यूहो भवेद्‌यत्र दृश्यन्ते च रसा नव ।

अतः परं च वीर्याणि स तु पूर्णः प्रकथ्यते ॥ २३ ॥

Where the four vyūhas are manifested like Rāma, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna are manifestations of Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Anirudhas (four vyūhas of Vishnu), where nine rasās are visible and where the utmost valour, power and strength are manifested like Rāma, Narasimha such avatars are called Pūrṇa avatars.

यस्मिन्सर्वाणि तेजांसि विलीयन्ते स्वतेजसि ।

तं वदन्ति परे साक्षात्परिपूर्णतमं स्वयम् ॥ २४ ॥

Paripūrṇatama avatar is the one in whos tejas, the tejas (lusture and splendour in all their fullness) of all other avatars gets absorbed.

Garga Samhita is a great book also called Garga Bhagavatam. The Hindi prose version is available here.

Hope this helps you.

  • Can the Garga Samhita be trusted? According to the wikipage it is "highly corrupted".
    – Wikash_
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 0:13
  • @Wikash the issue on what is corrupted & what isn't is a highly ambiguous topic. The term Mayavada was first coined in literature by Yamunacharya, so the verse of Padma Purana that states Bhagavana Shiva manifested as Adi Shankara to spread Mayavada is interpolated but Madhva Vaishnavas will insist that this verse is a valid composition of Krishnadwaipayana Vedavyasa. North Indian Hindus consider the entire Tantrik corpus to be interpolated but the followers of Tantra consider it to be authorative conversation between Devi Parvati & Bhagavana Shiva. And Wiki isn't an authority on religion.
    – অনু
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 10:12

Part 1

Are there different types of avatars: anshavatar (partial incarnation), purnavatar (complete incarnation) etc.?

Yes it does have a scriptural basis but the numbers are not really the same. Others have given some examples already so I am sharing a different one from the Satvata Tantra Patal 3 (Avatar Bheda Kathana). In this conversation Narad Muni is asking Lord Shiva about the difference in the various avatars specifically the sampoorna, amsa and kalaa forms:

enter image description here

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Part 2

Rama was 14 kala sampurna but Krishna was 16 kala sampurna thus Krishna is purnavatar.

Is there any scriptural basis for this?

Lord Shiva tells him that there are 62 virtues that Lord possesses and lists all of them. Then it delves into the distinctions of the avatars based on how many of these virtues the avatar has. From the verses shared above it would imply that:

  1. A Poorna incarnation has 62 qualities
  2. Partial or Amsa ones have 62/4 = 15.5 or roughly 16 qualities
  3. Sub-partial or Kalaa incarnations have 62/16 = 3.875 or roughly 4 qualities and
  4. Vibhuti incarnations have 62/100 = 0.62 or less than 1 quality

Further it also says that Krishna is not an avatar but the Supreme God Himself therefore he is a Poorna Avatar.

enter image description here

The text lists the Amsa or partial incarnations as:

Rama, Matsya, Kurma, Varah, Narsimha, Hayagriva, manvantar incarnations headed by Yagna avatar, Sukla, RIshabh Dev, Nar-Narayan, Dattatreya, Buddha and Kalki

The Kalaa incarnations are:

The four Kumars, Narad, Vyasa, Shukadeva, Gaya, Prithu and Maharaj Bharat

So Shri Krishna would have 62 Kalaas while Shri Rama would have 16

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    Very nice find! Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 6:18
  • Thank you @AmritDhara
    – Viraj
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 9:46

There are ansha avtar, kala avtar, vibhuti avtar and aavesh avtar or Guna avtars.

For eg:-

नारायणोपि रामशः शंखचक्रगदाव्जधृक्। चतुर्भुजस्वरूपेण वैकुण्ठे च प्रकाशते॥ अवतारा बहवः सति कलाश्र्चांशविभूतयः। राम एव परं ब्रह्म सच्चिदानन्दमव्ययम्।।

(Śrī Bhardwaj Samhita)

Śrī Hāri Nāräyana is an incarnation of Śrī Rāma and shines in Vāikunth in the form of four arms with conch, chakra and mace. There are many incarnations of Śrī Rāma differentiating by Kalãs, Part, Vibhuti etc. But Śrī Rāma himself is Par-Brahma who is devoid of Māya in his two armed form (human form).

श्रीराम पादुका रुपं सच्चिदानन्दम् अव्ययम्। यतोऽवताराः सर्वेऽपि स्त्रोतांसि जलधेर्यथा।‌। गुणावताराः सृष्ट्यर्थ ब्रह्मविष्णुमहेश्वराः। विभुतयाः कलाश्चांशाः सर्वे ज्ञानक्रियात्मकाः।।

(~Adi ramayan 2.57.11-12)

Sri Rama's sandal form is the true bliss, the inexhaustible. From him all incarnations gets absorbed, just like like streams flows to the ocean. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahasvara are the incarnations of the modes for the purpose of creation, sustainance and destruction. His arts and parts and the powers incarnations are all composed of knowledge and action.

बहवोवतारश्च सकला अंशविभुतयः। राम एव परंब्रह्म सच्चिदानन्द अव्ययम्।

There had been many ansha,kala, vibhuti avtars but shri Ram is only parabrahman sachidanand swarup.

~pulastya samhita

अवताराणान्तु सर्वेषाम् रघुत्तमः। सरिता सर्वमध्ये तु सरयु पावनी भवेत्।

Among all avtars , raghukul shiromani Shri Ram is avtari swaym bhagwan, similarly saryu river is best among all rivers

~bharadwaj samhita

बहवोवतारश्च सकला अंशविभुतयः। रामो परात्पर साक्षात् भगवान् परमेश्वरः।।

There had been so many ansha, kala, vibhuti avtars but shri Ram is the only supreme among all (परात्पर) , himself bhagwan and parmeshwar

~hanumat samhita


I do not think this finds a root in the scriptures. Although, it is a belief held by many people. The abstract concept of 16 Kalas was used, in context of the phases of the moon, to explain this. This answer might give some insights with regards to Shri Rama, Shri Krishna, Hanumana and Parashurama:

Gurudev, you have talked about Solah Kalas (referring to the sixteen extraordinary abilities or Divine qualities). Which are these and what is their importance?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: The word Kala usually refers to the extent by which the moon waxes (or wanes) in one day. So by this understanding, the Moon possesses 16 different Kalas (different phases of the Moon). You can observe this from one Amavasya (No-moon day) to the next Purnima (Full moon day). So if you count the number of days from one Amavasya to the next Purnima, it turns out to be 16. And the transition from No-Moon to the Full Moon also symbolizes moving from Zero (nothingness) to Fullness.

On the no-moon day you don’t see the moon at all, and on the full moon day you see the complete moon. This does not mean that the Moon is not there on the day of Amavasya. No, it is still there. So by this understanding, these are called the Solah Kalas. On the day of solar eclipse, for example, the Moon is there but it cannot be seen, that’s all.

So the word Kala is a unit of measure of one’s power, or by what degree one has blossomed or progressed. So, someone may be like a half-moon, someone else may have reached to three quarters of the moon and so on. This was a means of measurement in the ancient days.

In those days, it was said that the life or Prana in a stone is equal to one Kala, the water element is said to have two Kalas. Fire has three Kalas, Vayu (Air element) has four, and the Space or Akash has five. Plants and trees are said to have six Kalas. Animals have seven Kalas. Human beings have eight Kalas.

If it is an extraordinary human being then he is said to have nine Kalas. It is said that Lord Parashurama (one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu) had nine Kalas. They say Lord Rama has 12 Kalas. Lord Hanuman is greater than Him in this regard and is said to have 14 Kalas. That is why he could help Lord Rama. Only a person who is stronger than us can help us.

The Devi (Mother Divine) is called Shodashakala (The One with all 16 Divine qualities or attributes). It means that she possess all divine and noble qualities, and lacks nothing. Lord Krishna too is said to have all 16 Kalas, which is why He is called as the Solah Kala sampurna or the Purna Avataar. To have all 16 Kalas means to possess all the 16 qualities or signs attributed to the total blossoming and manifestation of Divinity.

If you see the Devi, on one side she is so beautiful and full of love and grace, but on the other side, she is also Maa Kali (one of her more terrifying and violent manifestations).

She is graceful and serene, but at the same time she also has a terrifying and violent aspect to Her as. Goddess Durga is very terrifying and awe-inspiring, while Goddess Lakshmi is very calm and graceful.

You can see all the opposite aspects of Divinity coming together in the Devi. The all-bestowing Goddess Lakshmi rides the harmless owl (the mount), and the vanquisher of evil and ignorance, Goddess Durga rides the fierce lion. Just imagine, where would you see both the owl, and the lion!

In the same way Lord Krishna is also said to have possessed all the Solah Kalas. Why is this so? In Lord Krishna, you see the complete and total manifestation of Divinity in every way. He is so complete. He is the King of thieves. He does not steal small things, he steals away your very mind. That is why He is called as Chita-Chora (the beautiful One who completely captures and steals away the mind).

He is also called as Ranchhodrai (meaning the cowardly one who flees the battlefield) in Gujarat. They say that He ran away from the battlefield in the middle of the war. But on the other side He lifted up the Sudarshan Chakra (the Lord’s divine discus) to defeat Bhishma Pitamaha (the grandsire of the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the Mahabharata) . So He is very brave and valiant too.

So, on one side he is very brave and on the other side he is like a coward. One cannot even imagine how complete he is. He is obedient as well, but He is also the one who breaks the rules.

In the Bhagawat, it is mentioned at many places that Lord Krishna is perfect and complete in every possible aspect. That is why it is said that one should not emulate Lord Krishna (Laughter). Follow the path of Lord Rama and listen to Lord Krishna. Don’t walk in the way that Lord Krishna did. If you go and steal the clothes of a lady, you will be in big trouble (jokingly referring to one of the pastimes of the Lord where He steals the clothes of some ladies bathing in the river and hides them on a tree).



There are only three kind of Avatar as per Ved and Upadenished , 1 ) Purna Avatar 2) Amsha Avatar 3) Nimmitta Avatar Taking about Purna Avatar , Ram, Krishna Vishnu are Purna Avatar, Because the main Purpose of Purna Avatar is to Make Peace and Sanatan Religion in the world , they visit world in the by respecting Nature ( in Natural Way like other human) and finished their work and go back where they belongs . Similarly Amsha Avatar also have particular task to do in the world which is directed by purna Avatar, They have specific goal on their appearance and return by spreading various precious message towards human kinds . eg :- Gutam Buddha , ParashuRam , Jesus Crist, etc….

Like wise Nimmitta avatar is a special Avatar who appears for a specific purpose , They appear suddenly as per requirement, Some time ther appear for their special followers and some time they appear for securing world and mankind . eg:- Narashima , Matshya,

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    Welcome to Hinduism StackExchange! We encourage you to cite sources.
    – Pandya
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 11:06

Yes, There are basically Four types of the avatar according to Dashavatar Book:

  1. Transmigration:- It believes in Acquisition of flesh.Here, There is one soul become a God.
  2. Possession:- It also believes in Acquisition of flesh. God is inspired in the one soul. Exa. It was believed that Shivaji(Chhatrapati) used to come to Bhavani in his body.
  3. Immanation:- God's comes in one soul. God himself does not come. Exa.All Anshavataras like Shankaracharya, Vashishtha etc
  4. Total Avatar:- God Himself grows into the world. Exa. All 10 Avataras like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Vamana etc.
  • 2
    The Dashavatar Book? Is this an authentic scripture?
    – Wikash_
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 15:40

The avatara or incarnation concept is a relatively new one to Sanaatana Dharma, otherwise known as Hinduism.

If we remove the interpolations and read Srimad Ramayana and Mahabharata, which closely followed the Vedic way of life, we will understand that there is no incarnation concept in those epics.

We will find the description of Vishnu taking the form of Vamana, a dwarf, for overcoming Bali, as per the wishes of Gods, in Srimad Ramayana, but there is no incarnation.

बलिः वैरोचनिः विष्णो यजते यज्ञम् उत्तमम् |
असमाप्त व्रते तस्मिन् स्व कार्यम् अभिपद्यताम् || १-२९-७

Oh, Vishnu, Bali the son of Virochana is conducting an unsurpassed Vedic ritual, before the completion of which our own mission, say the task of gods, is to be achieved completely.

स त्वम् सुर हितार्थाय माया योगम् उपाश्रितः |
वामनत्वम् गतो विष्णो कुरु कल्याणम् उत्तमम् || १-२९-९

'As such, oh, Vishnu, you may effectuate the most suitable merited deed for the welfare of gods on resorting to your illusory power, and on assuming the form of a dwarf to deal with Emperor Bali.' Thus gods told to Vishnu.

It was not Lord Vishnu, who took the Varaha Avatar, but Lord Brahma. Srimad Ramayana clearly states this.

सर्वम् सलिलम् एव आसीत् पृथिवी यत्र निर्मिता |
ततः समभवद् ब्रह्मा स्वयम्भूर् दैवतैः सह || २-११०-३

All was water only in the beginning" from which element the earth was formed. After that, the self-existent Brahma with all the gods came into existence.

स वराहः ततो भूत्वा प्रोज्जहार वसुंधराम् |
असृजच् च जगत् सर्वम् सह पुत्रैः कृत आत्मभिः || २-११०-४

"Thereafter, that Brahma, assuming the form of boar, caused the earth to rise from water and with his sons of pure soul, created the entire world."

The incarnation concept was started with the Puranas, which came at a much later period.

  • 3
    so , it Is wrong What PURANAs said ? If Mahabharta written by vyasa is right then How PURANAs wrong it's also written by vyasa ? Why vyasa said wrong things in PURANAs ?
    – Bhavin
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:23
  • 2
    @BhavinChhatrola: Please do not drag Sage Vyasa into this. The Puranas were written by some scholars and attributed the authorship to Sage Vyasa to get popularity. Even the original version of Mahabharata consists of only 8,800 slokas, which was later elaborated to 1,00,000 slokas. So major part of Mahabharata contains interpolations. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:29
  • 4
    Vamana was definitely an incarnation. It was a case where a god took birth as the son of Kashyapa and Aditi. What else do you think an incarnation is? Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 13:38
  • 2
    @Srimannarayana k v 1 - The views expressed by you is more in line with western indologists and we all know their intentions. Even, Kamba Ramayana which is one of oldest Ramayana'stalks of Vamana and Varaha as Vishnu only. Also. Self existent brahma told in Valmiki Ramayana is not chatur mukha brahma, but supreme brahman, Narayana, Vishnu.
    – user808
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:42
  • 1
    @Srimannarayana k v 1 -So, you cannot do blanket sweep and say Srimad Ramayana says, chaturmukha brahma came as Varaha, Mahabharata is only of 8800 verses etc..Yes mahabharata has lots of interpolations, but that doesnt mean it is originally of 8800 verses only. These are some foolish presentations by Western indologists and some of the left centered indian historians, who are stuck in quagmire..All puranas were not written by Vyasa, he more or less compiled them. E.g. Sage Parasara was the author of vishnu purana. Vyasa had authored Srimad Bhagavatham.
    – user808
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:47

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