Theory of Incarnation. An Analytical Study on its Evolution

Based on Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣads

Textbook, 2016

98 Pages, Grade: 78.0




Chapter 1: Incarnation: A Structural Analysis
1.1. Avatāra: Derivation and Evolution
1.2. General Classification of Incarnation

Chapter 2: Concept of Avatāra in Vaiṣṇava Philosophy
2.1 Incarnation According to Rāmānuja.
2.3. Incarnation According to Nimbārka
2.4 Incarnations According to Vallabha.
2.5 Incarnations According to Caitanya.

Chapter 3: Incarnation and Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s
3.1 Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣads dealing with avatāravāda.
3.2 Significance of AtharvaVeda in Upaniṣad s of Incarnation.
3.3 Development of Mythology in Indian Literature.
3.4 Detailed Description of avatāras as depicted in Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣads

Chapter 4
Brief Description of Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s
Along with their Teachers
4.1. Introduction.
4.1.2. Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad
4.1.3. Nṛsiṃhatāpanīya Upaniṣad
4.1.4. Rāma tāpanīya Upaniṣad
4.1.5. Gopāla tāpanīya Upaniṣad
4.1.6. Varāha Upaniṣad
4.1.7. Gāruḍa Upaniṣad
4.1.8. Kṛṣṇa Upaniṣad
4.1.8. Vāsudeva Upaniṣad
4.1.10. Hayagrīva Upaniṣad
4.1.11. Rāmarahaṣya Upaniṣad
4.1.12. Rādhā Upaniṣad
4.1.13. Ātmaprabodha Upaniṣad
4.1.14. Nārada Upaniṣad
4.1.15. Nṛsiṃhaṣaṭhcakra Upaniṣad
4.1.16. Gopīcandana Upaniṣad
4.1.17. Tulasī Upaniṣad
4.1.18. Kalisaṅtaraṇa Upaniṣad
4.1.19. Lāṅgūla Upaniṣad
4.1.20. TārasāraUpaniṣad
4.2. Teachers and Sages in Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣads

Chapter 5



The present work entitled ‘Theory of Incarnation: An Analytical Study on its Evolution (Based on Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s)’ deals with the history and philosophy that comes in the path of evolution of incarnation. Its limitation is in the Vaiṣṇava theology. Thus, the principal aim of this work is to present an exhaustive as well as analytical approach of some faiths in idolatrous, those were inherited from earliest available materials to the time of Jayadeva, who is deemed to be the pioneer of the Vaiṣṇavism of the present day.

This work is a humble offering from me to the eminent scholars who want to explore the Vaiṣṇavism and philosophy and also for those who have vast knowledge and want to put forward some critical ideas along with analysis of socio-philosophical structure of Vaiṣṇavism with special reference on incarnation. The readers like them have been encouraged me to enter into this ocean of knowledge with small boat.

Upaniṣad s are universally acknowledged as the main source of Indian theist philosophy. The latter Upaniṣad s which are not commented on by Śaṃkaracārya, always claim equal attention in the matter of philosophical and socio- religious study, though they are known as minor Upaniṣad s. The purpose of the present volume is to furnish an account of the deities known to India as the incarnated forms of Viṣṇu. This book caters vast hope as most of the things are explained in simple way and takes a character as simple as possible to make it understanding and interesting to the general reader as well as the scholars and interested people of Indology, History, Philosophy, Religion and obviously Sanskrit.

It is true that, scholars of wide reputation studied Vaiṣṇavism in a great way, yet the subject Vaiṣṇava Upniṣad s, however can be treated in various other perspective also. It is so because a different trend can be traced in the mediaeval period that gave birth to a new tradition in the Upaniṣadic literature. Along with the pure Vedāntic Upniṣad s a vast area of the later Upaniṣadic literature explores the yogic practice, life of Sanyāsin s and sectarian practice. According to the Western Scholars of Indology like A.S. Geden, James Hastings etc., these Upaniṣad s expound with more or less loyalty of the doctrines from the point of the popular religions, exalting Viṣṇu, or Śiva or endeavoring promotion of discipline and teaching yoga or other limited aims.[i] From this perspective, these Upaniṣads can be classified into seven groups.[ii] They are-

1. Vedānta Upaniṣad:

Garbha Upaniṣad, Prāṇāgnihotra Upaniṣad, Piṇḍa Upaniṣad, Ātma Upaniṣad, Sarva Upaniṣad, etc.

2. Yoga Upaniṣad:

Brahmavidyā Upaniṣad, Kṣurikā Upaniṣad, Chūlikā Upaniṣad, Nādabindu Upaniṣad, Brahmabindu Upaniṣad, Aṃṛtabindu Upaniṣad, Dhyānabindu Upaniṣad, Yogaśikhā Upaniṣad, Yogatattva Upaniṣad etc.

3. Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣad:

BrahmaUpaniṣad, Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣad, Āruṇeya Upaniṣad, Paramahaṃsa Upaniṣad, Jābāla Upaniṣad, Āśrama Upaniṣad etc.

4. Śaiva Upaniṣad:

Atharvaśiras Upaniṣad, Atharvaśikhā Upaniṣad, Nīlarudra Upaniṣad, Kaivalya Upaniṣad etc.

5. Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad:

Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣad, Nṛsiṃhapūrvatāpanīya Upaniṣad, Nṛṣiṃha uttaratāpanīya Upaniṣad, Rāma pūrvatāpanīya Upaniṣad,Rāma uttaratāpanīya Upaniṣad, Kṛṣna Upaniṣad , Vāsudeva Upaniṣad, MahāUpaniṣad, Gopāla pūrvatāpanīya Upaniṣad,Gopāla uttaratāpanīya Upaniṣad etc.

6. Śākta Upaniṣad:

Allā Upaniṣad, Ātharvadvitīya Upaniṣad, Kālikā Upaniṣad, Gāyatrīrahasya Upaniṣad, Śitā Upaniṣad, Annapūrnā Upaniṣad, Sarasvatīrahasya Upaniṣad, Devī Upaniṣad etc.

7. Gāṇapatya Upaniṣad:

Gaṇapati Upaniṣad, Gaṇeśa purva tāpanīya Upaniṣad, Gaṇeśa uttara tāpanīya Upaniṣad, Heramba Upaniṣad etc.

With the sole object of attaining salvation, these Upaniṣads have a definite place and purpose in the post Vedic Paurāṇic Hindu religion. Thus after declining the Vedic religion, there arise-

i. Worship of various sectarian deities.
ii. Various paths like bhakti, karma, yoga, tantra, mantra etc.
iii. Idol worship like Viṣṇu and Śiva.
iv. Theory of incarnations.
v. Doctrines like Advaita, Vedānta, Sāṃkhya etc.

It is noticeable that, those particular Upaniṣad s who are titled in the name of Viṣṇu or any other incarnated forms of Viṣṇu, fall into the category of Vaiṣṇava Upniṣad. With this connection it is considered that, ritual worship of Vaiṣṇava deities becomes more prominent than Vedic customs like yajña in mediaeval age. On the other hand Upaniṣad s specially deal with Vedānta philosophy and thus it is a common tendency to make them attached with the Veda s. Muktikā Upaniṣad does the same with its 108 listed Upaniṣad s. As the metaphysical basis of Vaiṣṇaism are Sāṃkhya and Vedānta, so Vaiṣṇavism and Upaniṣad s link up with each other on the basis of Vedānta philosophy. Eventually name of Ātmabodha Upaniṣad can be mentioned here. This particular Upaniṣad sets an example of the statement that some pure Vedānta Upaniṣad s also accept Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu as the prime worshipped deity in their texts.

Now why incarnation and Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad become the topic of this research? Amongst these seven religious sects Vaiṣṇava religion has a prominent and elaborate views and definitions about incarnation. In this regard, there can be seen an adjoining tendency between Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava theology of incarnation, regardless Śaiva sect do not support the Vaiṣṇava concept of incarnation and they are not vocal about the types or names of incarnations also. The conception of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā of Vaiṣṇava was interpreted by Sahajiyā ’s (Vaiṣṇavites from Caitanya’s school) in a sense akin to the conception of Śiva and Śakti. So the theological speculations centering round the love-dalliances of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in standard Vaiṣṇavism could very easily be assimilated by the other cult. In fact interesting thing can be deducted through this amalgamation that there is a demonstration of syncretic attitude in the religious teacher of this mediaeval period and that proves a rapproachment among the Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva and Śākta sects.

Gānapatya is partial sect of Śaiva. Here we can see a fare influence of Vaiṣṇava theology. Thus in Mudgala Upapurāṇa we can find out eight avatāra s of Ganesha having different era and mount. But all of them appeared with a single and common purpose to slay the demon.[iii] The avatāra s are-

a. Vakratuṇḍa (twisting trunk), his mount is a lion.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten[iv]

b. Ekadanta (single tusk), his mount is a mouse.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten[v]

c. Mahodara (big belly), his mount is a mouse.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Ellora Caves - Cave 15 – Mahodara Ganesha [vi]

d. Gajavakra (or Gajendra) (elephant face), his mount is a mouse.

Lambodara (pendulous belly), his mount is a mouse.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten[vii]

e. Vikaṭa (unusual form), his mount is a peacock.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

f. Vignarāja (king of obstacle), his mount is celestical serpent Śesa.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten[viii]

g. Dhumravarṇa (grey colour), corresponds Śiva, his mount is a horse.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten[ix]

This rapprochement leads us to the scenario of the doctrine of incarnation. In the Vaiṣṇava religion the story of incarnation of the god in the form of dwarf, boar, tortoise, fish etc. shows that these were originally the totems of the people like proto-Austroloids, who were gradually being merged with the Arya society.[x] With this merging their gods gradually became the gods of Aryans. This is the fact that the totems were also being absorbed in the cult of Viṣṇu as well as Rudra- Śiva. Thus they gradually became the deity of general masses and when sectarianism emerged in Hinduism naturally Viṣṇu and Śiva became the Supreme gods. This could be so easier because of basic instinct of Indian mind. Granting all changes in the mode of dress, eating habits, mannerisms and as well as in the relationship of individual with other members of the society throughout the ages, the dominant theme that has pervaded the thought process of Indian mind has been always the same, viz., “Reality and God is one; he conceive in different ways and forms binding all of us together by universal brotherhood.” On the contrary of this fact, there is noticed the composite culture of socio- religious system that based on “they” and “we” syndrome preoccupies a separateness of groups in Hindu as well as Indian mind. This accounts not only for the antiquity but also explains the only threat for unity running through all kinds of diversities. The same tendency also made a peripheral distinction between the Brahminism and all sectarian religions and also between the every sectarian religion. This research work tries to through the light on this legacy of unity in diversities.

The thesis gives a brief list of Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s consulting the Upaniṣadic texts mainly enlisted in the Muktikā Upaniṣad. Mention should be done here that the thesis has gone through chiefly three publications of Upaniṣadic texts. They are, Upaniṣad Granthāvalī, edited by Satīścandra Mukhopādhāya, Vasumati Sahitya Mandir publication; Upaniṣad- Saṃgrahaḥ, edited by J.L. Shastri, Motilal Banarasidas publication; Upaniṣad Granthāvalī, edited by Svāmī Gambhīrānanda, Udbodhon Karyalaya publication. As there are so many textual versions in the Upaniṣadic text editions, hence Motilal Banarasidas published and Jagadish Sastri edited Upaniṣad- Saṃgrahaḥ has been taken here for the reference.

For the English translation of the Upaniṣads, Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda by Paul Deussen has been consulted. As the mentioned book does not give the translation of Gopāla tāpanīya Upaniṣad (both pūrva and uttara), the English translation of the said text by Kusakratha Dasa with the commentary of Baladeva Vidyabhushana and Vishvanath Chakravarti has been consulted. The Mahābhārata also has been consulted as the reference and for mostly comprehensible text edition S.K. Belvalkar edited The Mahābhārata published from Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute has been consulted. Along with this Vishnu S. Sukthankar edited The Mahābhārata of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute has also been taken for comprehending the verses.

Last but not the least, I wish to thank all of my friends to support me and be with me every time with their valuable times and helping hands. Their support enriched me a lot. My heartiest thank to my elder brother Subhro Maitra, teacher of Naghariya High School, Malda, for his diligent support with his valuable times and suggestions. I would like to pay my earnest gratitude to my husband Dr. Anupam Das, Assistant Professor of Cotton University, Guwahati for his constant effort and support to make me to complete this project successfully. I wish to thank my parents for their beloved supporting and blessing in every path of my life. I pray to my God for their healthy life and wish to have their blessings in my further life. Finally, I would like to thank those persons whoever helped me by any means to make successfully bring this book to the society.

Indian philosophy as well as Vaiṇavism has been enriched by many great scholars with their valuable explorations time and again. By paying homage to this galaxy of scholarly works I declare that this very research work is a humble little try to collate the data and give the observation on the basis of the data. In this occasion I have consulted some popular and significant Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s to do justice of my work. Throughout the dissertation, I have always tried to keep standpoint neat and clean. Some sort of affable help that I got from various academic bodies and intellectuals, reflecting to that, I think, I have done a very little. Since the subject is too lofty and difficult, my attempt may appear to be too desperate to the great scholars of Indology. I sincerely submit that I have done at my best with all limitations of my intellect for which the learned scholars may forgive me.


Incarnation is nothing but an appearance of God embodying human flesh, body and gesture with a particular purpose to serve mankind. The Bhagavata-gītā proclaims that, the god-head incarnates Himself with a purpose to destroy wicked and protect the righteous.

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata |

abhyutthānamadharmasya tadātmānaṁsṛjānmyahaṁ ||

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁvināśāya ca duśkṛtāṁ |

dharmasaṅsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge ||”[xi]

From the traditional point of view it can be said that, the God has also taken births from age to after age in order to protect the dharma, rather the code of conduct of varṇa and āśrama system in the then society.

The significance of above mentioned statement can be judged from the historical perspective. India has been fortunate that whenever there is some need to reestablish the ‘ dharma’, there is appeared some great reformers at the crucial juncture to bring new life to the religion. With a hoary antiquity and admixture of different culture Hinduism has been faced many evil distrackted form in time and again. Superstions and rigid ritualism had taken place of the lofty idea of Brāhmanism. Thus some saints were needed to point out these disorders and to revitalize the religion for bringing back its prestigious glory. It can be assumed that these religious movements accomplish the trend of social revolution seems to have been considerably influenced by the Buddhist concept of the former Budhas whose prime attribute is humanity. By supporting this statement J.N. Farquhar said that, “We do not know how Vaiṣṇavas were led to develop the doctrine of devine incarnation. The idea appears suddenly in the literature, and there is nothing in the earlier Hindu thought, that would seem to be a natural and sufficient source of the conception. It may be that they were led to it by the example of Buddhists, who, as we have seen, had already raised Buddha to devine powers and honours, and had created a series of precedent Buddhas stretching away into the distant past. So Kṛṣṇa and Rāmawith Dwarf are now conceived as devine, and they already form a short series; for Rāma is held to have appeared at much earlier date than Kṛṣṇa, and the Dwarf precedes Rāma.”[xii] In fact the Buddhist conception of pratyek- Budhas might have influenced the development of the theory of avatāravāda. It reveals the theory to explain the nature and relations of beings is ultimately a reality. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing independent, except the state of nirvāṇa or emansipasion. All physical and mental states depend on and arise from other pre-existing states, and in turn from them, there arise other dependent states while they cease. This is quite relevant with the idea of incarnations and their supreme powers that can creat and demolish the cosmos.

Incarnation is related to the idea of divine manifestation in various aspects of human life and the natural world. The doctrine of incarnation sometimes is claimed as the partial solution to the problem of theological meaning of God. There is a longstanding distinction between the metaphysical attributes of God (ascetic, eternity, infinity etc.) and mortal attributes (goodness, love, wisdom etc.)[xiii]. The doctrine of incarnation involves the claim that, the moral attributes of God have been embodied in a finite human life namely that of Viṣṇu, Rāma and so on.

The word avatāra does not occur in the Veda s, but is recorded in Paṇini (3.3.20).[xiv] Initially ‘ avatāra ’ was used to describe different deities. Afterwards, around 6th century A.D. it began to be used primarily to describe the manifestation of Viṣṇu. While earlier texts mentioned deities taking on different forms, the Bhagavata-gītā (4.5-9) may be recognized as the first text to discuss the doctrine associated to that very term even though the word ‘ avatāra ’ is not mentioned there.-

vahūni me vyatītāni janmāni tava cārjuna|

tānyahaṁ veda sarvāni na tvaṁ vettha pantapa||

ajoapi sannavayātmā bhūtānāmīśvaroapi san|

prakṛtiṁ svāmadhiṣṭhāya sambhavāmyātmamāyaya||

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata|

abhyutthānamadharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛjānmyahaṁ||

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśāya ca duśkṛtāṁ|

dharmasaṅsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge||

janma karma ca me divyamevaṁ yo betti tattvataḥ|

tyaktā dehaṁ punarjanma naiti māmeti soarjuna||”[xv]

The concept of the avatāra or ‘Gods in flesh’ undoubtedly works a great development in the religious ideas of the Hindus. To be specified it can be said that an important feature of Vaiṣṇavism is the worship of Viṣṇu’s incarnated forms. In fact the trait which differentiates Viṣṇu from other deities is in the avatāra s or incarnations which he assumes. The avatāra s are said to have been taken for carrying out his supreme work in the preservation of human race.

Upaniṣad s which are much more vocal about incarnations of Viṣṇu are minor and mostly later composed texts. The doctrine belonging to the lower Brahman occupies a considerable part of the literature of these minor and later Upaniṣad s. These Upaniṣad s advocate various ways of reaching the end which is the liberation or emancipation. The approach towards this liberation in an abstract nature and theistic worship is not detailed in treatises and that gap is filled in these later and minor Upaniṣad s. Thus the deities like Dattātreya, Hayagrīva, Viṣṇu etc. which are less important in those treatises have their importance increased in the later Upaniṣadic days when different sects arose in honor of those deities. The later Upaniṣad s have a major portions devoted to these different deities. The sectarian character of these Upaniṣad s led them to be related to the incarnations of the deities like Viṣṇu, Śiva etc. Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s have the same kind of significance in the theory and description of incarnation as Viṣṇu is the most prominent deity having a huge number of incarnations.

So, it can be assumed that the concept of avatāra is not only famous in common mass; it has a great acceptance in the theist Indian philosophy also. The Vaiṣṇava schools of Veānta offer some significant discourses where different types of incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu have been illustrated with minute details. The book will illustrate this topic later on in separate chapter.

Chapter 1: Incarnation: A Structural Analysis

1.1. Avatāra: Derivation and Evolution .

1.1.1. The Sanskrit noun avatāra is derived from the verbal root ‘ tṛ ’ (to cross over), joined with prefix ‘ ava ’ (off, down)[xvi].

If we glance at the western Mythology, we find that, the noun ‘incarnation’ comes from the ecclesiastical Latin verb ‘incarno’, itself derived from the prefix ‘in’ and ‘carno’ (flesh) and together it means “to make itself flesh”. Due to is Christological implications, some scholars like Parrinder, Oduyoye, Vroom and Sheth believed that, the common translation of incarnation is somewhat which misleads the concept of an ‘ avatāra ’, rather corresponds more closely to the view of Docetism, which has been employed “far beyond, what historically descriptive usage, would allow”[xvii].

1.1.2. It can be seen that the concept of incarnation has been evaluated into three stages. In the primitive stage, human beings used to offer the worship directly to the natural creatures like animals, birds, mammals etc. definitely, there was no need of idolism, as these worshiped creatures were treated then as the Gods. In the second stage, the Gods were personated in animal body and human head. Gods were taken in the concept of human idol in the last stage of evolution of incarnation. Significantly, the primitive gods became mounts of those particular human idols.

In the question of intension behind such evolution that is amalgamated with the flavour of religion Donald A. Mackenzie said, “the religious attitude of a particular community must have been dependent on its need and experiences. The food supply was the first consideration.”[xviii] Thus, it can be assumed that those animals, birds or mammals, whoever considered as the deity in later age, were the sources of food in those age or primitive age of human development. So, hunting and live- stock farming economic system may be the cause behind the theory of incarnation.[xix] It is commonplace to say that, what made civilization possible, is the invention of agriculture; but even more fundamental cause than agriculture is ethics. Only through ethics is it possible for large groups of people to live together. Agriculture is clearly necessary to support a large, sedentary population, but there would be no significant grouping of cooperative people to invent agriculture if they did not have a unifying, objectively valid ethical code to begin with. Thus, the gradual evolution of the man from the state of lower creation was a result of agriculture oriented economic life style. The old concept of animal worshipping took the new shape, name and rituals in the religion of social human life.[xx]

1.1.3. In this regard, the conception of Matsya avatāra (God in fish), undoubtedly marked a great development in the religious ideas of the Hindus. The fish succeeded the tortoise (Kūrma avatāra), the man-lion (Nṛsiṁha avatāra) to the boar (Varāha avatāra). Then the full grown heroes Paraśurāma, Rāma, Kṛṣṇa and Buddha came.[xxi] By supporting this statement P. Jash said, “it is interesting to note that some of these avatāra s may be interpreted in terms of evolution of life, i.e. from Matsya (fish) residing in water, through Kūrma(tortoise) residing in water and earth, Varāha (boar) on earth, Nṛsiṃha(man-lion)- an inter-mediatory stage from animal to man, Balarāma representing as an agriculturist, Paraśurāma, Dāśarathirāma, Buddha (human form)”.

(P. Jash: Essay: “Incarnatory forms of Viṣṇu-Kṛṣṇa”. Western conference of the Association for Asian Studies, University of Utah, U.S.A. 1980.)

1.2. General Classification of Incarnation

1.2.1. From the perspective of the ancient Sanskrit scriptures and literature, incarnation grossly can be divided into two categories.-

1. Full Incarnation
2. Partial Incarnation

As already explained that, whenever any great calamity threatened the life of gods and men, or any evil shook the world, Viṣṇu, the Preserver, came to earth in some form, animal or human, to right the wrong. There is no definite information as to the exact number of these incarnations. Some of the Hindu scriptures give ten, some mention twenty- four, and some declare them innumerable. However, ten is the most commonly accepted number and these are most important ones.

There is a common feature regarding the distinction between primary or full and partial or secondary incarnation. In that sense primary avatāras are declared to be like a flame springing from a flame that is God himself with a transcendent body, while the secondary incarnation is a soul in bondage with a natural body which is possessed or pervaded for some particular mission or function by the power of God.[xxii]

1.2.2. Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and Taittirīya Saṁhitā state that, Brahmā took incarnation of Matsya, Kūrma and Varāha to cosmos the universe and to protect it. But Vaiṣṇavites proclaim that it is Viṣṇu , not Brahmā, who took these three incarnations.[xxiii] According to Bhagavata- gītā, the avatāra s are sprung from a part of the God’s energy. With this fact it can be considered that they are not as powerful as the original one. Hence, there must be some differences between the God Viṣṇu and his incarnates. Gītā says, contingency of incarnation follows two types of concepts. One is relegation to a lower position, which means being incarnated into human body, flesh and life.

madbhāvā mānasā jātā yeśāṃ loka imāḥ prajāḥ ||”[xxiv]

The difference lays in the superiority of the original god, which shows the adoration to his worldly creations or subordinate ones. Another is ascension, which brings human thoughts and concepts in such a position where the consciousness of God and mankind cannot be separated. This stage can be classified as the rebirth of self (madbhāvamāgatā). In this way God incarnates into human body to bring up mankind in such a divine life. Without this the cause of establishment of dharma goes in vain. But the intension of incarnation is to make mankind follow the ism like Vaiṣṇavism, Buddhism or Jainism and purify their inner thoughts.[xxv] In this connection it can be noted that the Viṣṇu- Purāṇa described Kṛṣṇa as an aṁśāvatāra or a manifestation of a part of Viṣṇu (“aṃśāvatāra brāhmarse yo yaṃ yodukulodbhavaḥ”); while the Bhagavata gītā takes him to be Pūrṇa Brahman or Brahman in his entirety.[xxvi]

1.2.3. These two types of incarnation are admitted by other texts also, but sometimes in different names. Both Ahirvudhnya [xxvii] and BiṣvakasenaSaṁhitā s[xxviii] refer two kinds of incarnations. Namely primary incarnation and secondary incarnation, whicha are conceptlually nothing but other names of the same full and partial incarnation.

According to these two Saṁhitās Brahmā, Śiva, Buddha, Vyāsa, Arjuna, Paraśurāma, Vasu and Kubera are the secondary incarnations. The Pañcarātra Saṁhitā [xxix] enumerates as many as 39 incarnations of the deity.[xxx] They are-

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

According to some scholars this is the oldest list of incarnations.

1.2.4. Different avatāras of Viṣṇu.

Though the conception of incarnation is also associated with other Gods, like Śiva, Śakti, Ganapati etc. Viṣṇu is by far the most popular and well known. The basic theory of incarnation of Vaiṣṇava religion seems to be that whenever any great calamity threatened life of gods and men or any evil shook the world, Viṣṇu came to earth in some form of animal or man to right the wrong. Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa (1.3, 2.7, 11. 4) gives three lists of incarnations of Viṣṇu containing various numbers like twenty two, twenty three and sixteen avatāra s. In the list of 22 incarnated forms of Viṣṇu[xxxi], the enlisted names are-

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Amongst them tem incarnations are popularly accepted by the Hindu theology. These ten incarnations are also adopted by Jayadeva in his Daśāvatāra stotra.

matsya kūrmo varāhaśca narasiṃha’tha vāmanaḥ |

rāmo rāmaśca rāmaśca buddhaḥ kalkī ca te daśa ||”[xxxii]

They are- Matsya , Kūrma , Varāha , Nṛsiṃha , Vāmana , Paraśurāma , Rāma , Kṛṣṇabalarāma , Buddha and Kalki. In this regard, Sanaka , Sananda , Sanātana , Nārāyana , Yajña , Pṛthu , Mohinī , Garuḍa , Ṛṣi , Manu , Manuputra and other Gods are also the partial incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu.

Mahābhārata includes three lists containing various numbers of incarnations- the first one enumerated six, the second only four, the third mentioned ten incarnation of the deity.[xxxiii] In the ŚāntiParvan of Mahābhārata [xxxiv] there is a list containing nine incarnated forms of the deity. They are-

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At the present day few names are repeated by the Hindus at the beginning of every ritualistic ceremony and they are popularly recognized as the avatāras of Viṣṇu. Some of these names are given as the synonyms of Śrīkṛṣṇa as it is said that He has been chanted with 108 names. They are-

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Chapter 2: Concept of Avatāra in Vaiṣṇava Philosophy


The great epic Mahābhārata gives an account of the development of bhakti. Grossly it can be said that, the term bhakti is used in contradistinction to the term jajña and karman. The concept was employed by many a sect of modern Hinduism, though its actual origins may be lost in far off antiquity. The influence of worship of two different gods, namely Viṣṇu and Nārāyaṇa sometimes with an identical approach had lost in a complex body of myth, legend, superstitious belief, sentiment and philosophy. Rather it emerged in a more or less definite form in the Bhāgavatism[xxxv] and Kṛṣṇa- Vāsudeva worship of Bhagavata - gītā [xxxvi] . On this basis this worship has been systematized into a philosophy in such late bhakti works. It is again continued as a doctrine till about the end of 8th century A.D.[xxxvii] about 12th century A.D. Vaiṣṇava Vedānta philosophy witnessed five chief sampradāyas, into which Vaiṣṇava movement divides itself. They are-

- Śrīsampradāya of Rāmānuja.
- Rūdra sampradāya of Vallabha.
- Mādhvīsampradāya of Madhva.
- Sanaka sampradāya of Nimbārka.
- Gouḍīya Vaiṣṇava sampradāya of Caitanya.

In the commentary of Bhaktamāla, as mentioned in ‘ Bhāratbarṣīya Upāsaka Sampradāya ’ by Akshaya Kumar Dutta,[xxxviii] Kṛṣṇadāsa referred this śloka as a part of Pramāṇaprameyaratnāvalī and Tantra s of Goutama. He mentioned the original description of this particular śloka where these profoundersare described as the incarnations of Hari or Viṣṇu. It says, “At first Viṣṇu incarnated himself into 24 different personas, in which there were only four were appeared in the Kali era. First one is broad minded, wish tree in human body Rāmānuja. Second one is kind- hearted Viṣṇusvāmī or Vallabha. Third one is source of bhakti by himself Madhvācārya and last one is a light of darkness of ignorance Nibāditya. They sectioned the birth and founded religions according to the schools of thought”.[xxxix] In this connection this statement can be taken in this connection as the primitive approach of avatāravāda in the Vaiṣṇava philosophy.

Here we should not fail to remember that all these schools portray Brahman as Puruṣottama Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu; hence it is comprehensible that they have a lot to discuss on incarnations of Viṣṇu. The discourse on several avatāra s of Viṣṇu by different ācāryas of Vaiṣṇava Vedānta schools is presented in brief.

2.1 Incarnation According to Rāmānuja.

It is sometimes pointed out that Rāmānuja did not emphasis much on the type of arcāvatāra in his major philosophic compositions, ŚrīBhāṣya. According to him, there is only one Supreme soul Nārāyaṇa in various archetypical forms. He manifests Himself as avatāra s of various individuals. Rāmānuja admitted three kinds of incarnations, namely Vyuha avatāra, Guṇa avatāra and Lilā avatāra.[xl]

a. Four vyuha s consisting of Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣarṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. They all have bodies of suddha - sattva. They are not different springing from a casual deity but presentations by the same deity to cosmos and direct the cosmic process.
b. There are three guṇaavatāra s. They are Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara for creation, sustention and dissolution.
c. Lastly there are in numerous numbers of lilāavatāra s known generally as incarnations popular in Hindu theology, like Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha etc.

Thus Rāmānuja’s idea of Nārāyaṇa in Vaikuṇṭha with a particular archetypical form does not militate against his śarīra - śārīrī doctrine according to which Prakṛti and Jīvas form the body (śarīra) and the Supreme Being is the śārīrī.[xli] The śārīrī is His eternal and intrinsic nature which is called by Rāmānuja as Nitya - vibhūtī and the śarīra is His sportiveand changeful nature. This can be treated as the Līlā avatāras.


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2.1. Incarnation According to Madhva

According to Śrī Madhva there are several types of incarnations recognized in Vaiṣṇavism.[xlii] These are-

1. Vyūha - A. Vāsudeva

B. Pradyumna

C. Anirudda

D. Saṅkarṣaṇa

2. Kalāvatāra - It signifies the Trimūrti of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva.

3. Lilāvatāra - Divine manifestations from time to time for the protection of Dharma. They are, Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Nṛsiṃha, Vāmana, Paraśurāma, Rāma, Kṛṣṇabalarāma, Buddha and Kalki. Here it is noteworthy that the commonly popular incarnated forms of Viṣṇu are admitted here as Lilāvatāras.

2.3. Incarnation According to Nimbārka.

Alike to Rāmānuja and Madhva, Nimbārka claimed that the Supreme soul has several other forms in His creative manifestations which can be divided into two types called vyūha s and avatāra s. Nimbarka was much formed to establish the distinction between the incarnated forms of Supreme Self and His identical forms like Vāsudeva, Saṇkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.[xliii] They are supposed to be another form of Supreme Self. They are supposed to be the spark of His own, to regulate the various stages of creation.

He also claimed that in the form of incarnates the Supreme Self. Nārāyaṇa does not manifest His all potencies. In fact He remains in the same divine status even after manifestations of the incarnations. Here states the exact essence of the doctrine of dvaita and advaita. Supreme Self manifests various incarnations to right the wrong or to cosmos the universe with all his powers. But at the same time He also enjoys the separation from them and maintains His Svarūpa, i.e. divine status. Brahman is transcendent to the world yet the world is emmanent to Him. According to Nimbārka there are three types of incarnations. This doctrine holds the idea that, Brahman is the only ultimate existence, but He manifests Himself as the manifold world of becoming consisting of the jīvas and the jagat. They are-

i. Guṇa avatāra - It is His manifestations assuming one or the other of the three guṇa s prakṛti - sattva, rajas and tamas. They are associated with Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Rūdra for respectively creation, preservation and dissolution of the manifested universe.
ii. Puruṣa avatāra - It is the manifestation for controlling the evolution of prakṛti and rests in casual waters (Kāraṇārṇava), or the water from which the universe is supposed to be born.
iii. Līlāvatāra - They are again classified into three types or forms. They are-

A. Āveśāvatāra : It is the Lord’s own psycho-physical organism, where there is nothing to intervene the psychological ascension with the physical organism. Example is the incarnation as the Nara - Nārāyaṇa.
B. Śaktyamśāvatāra : In this manifestation the Lord infuses His potency into an organism possessing a Jīva and manifests His power through him. Examples are Paraśurāma, Kapila, Sanatkumāra, Nārada, Vyāsa etc.
C. Svarūpa avatāra : In this particular form it is believed that the Lord manifests Himself in his Sat-cid-ānanda form. They are again sub-divided into two forms like aṃśarūpa avatāra s and pūrṇa avatāra s. In the former section the Lord manifest incarnates partially, though He uses to be fully present in their organisms. Examples are Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Vāmana etc. In the later section the manifested forms expressed all the power and qualities of the Lord. On the other hand it can be said that these pūrṇa avatāra s are those full incarnations who are supposed to be another form of Lord Himself with all His potencies. They are only Nṛsiṃha, Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa.[xliv]

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2.4 Incarnations According to Vallabha.

The creation of the real world is explored by Vallabha in his theory of Tirobhāva (concealment) and Āvirbhāva (manifestation). If we consider the meaning of manifestation as the transformation and Brahman manifests Himself in the incarnated forms, then it also would be considerable that, He is withdrawing His attributes of ānanda and caitanya partially and presenting Himself as lesser categories. Vallabhāites identifies the Supreme Soul or Brahman with Kṛṣṇa. Vallabha was not concern about the categories of manifestation; rather he was more concern about the intension of the manifestation. Thus he clarified akṣara, a source or base considered as Puruṣottama as the Impersonal Absolute, in which other categories take their origin.[xlv] It is such a state according to Vallabha, which use to be produced when the Supreme Being conceals His ānanda aspect considerably. Without negating the mortal world Vallabha stated that all the jīvas are parts of Brahman. So, all these effects are that nothing but, actually very Brahman, wherein His highest nature is only concealed.[xlvi]

2.5 Incarnations According to Caitanya.

Alike Vallabha Caitanya was also not concerned about the categories of incarnation, rather with the intension of the manifestation. In this regard we should understand that Caitanya was not against the types of manifestations, rather he was more vocal about the relation between the forms of manifestations and the Supreme Reality. To him, it is the relation of Śakti (power) and Śaktimat (power holder).[xlvii] They are inseparably related. But the distinction between them is simultaneously evident. By supporting Vallabha Śrī Caitanya also claimed that the power or Śakti projects the world of multiplicity, whereas the Śaktimat remains transcendent. Thus Caitanya emphasised more on bhakti to know the Supreme Reality than His different incarnations.

Chapter 3: Incarnation and Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣads

3.1 Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣads dealing with avatāravāda.

Following the previously mentioned statements and means of incarnations there could be seen some Upaniṣad s which are dealt with incarnations of Viṣṇu. Here is presenting a list of such Upaniṣad s which are seems to be related with the matter of incarnations of Viṣṇu, according to their titles.

1. Nṛsiṃha pūrva tāpanīya Upaniṣad

2. Nṛsiṃha uttara tāpanīya Upaniṣad

3. Rāma pūrva tāpanīya Upaniṣad

4. Rāma uttara tāpanīya Upaniṣad

5. Gopāla pūrva tāpanīya Upaniṣad

6. Gopāla uttara tāpanīya Upaniṣad

7. Rāmarahasya Upaniṣad

8. Dattātreya Upaniṣad

9. Gāruḍa Upaniṣad

10. Kṛṣṇa Upaniṣad

11. Hayagrīva Upaniṣad

12. Vāsudeva Upaniṣad

13. Varāha Upaniṣad

14. Kaliśantaraṇa Upaniṣad

15. Kātyāyana Upaniṣad

16. Nṛsiṃhaṣaṭhcakra Upaniṣad

After MuktikāUpaniṣad, all the above mentioned Upaniṣad, except VāsudevaUpaniṣad, are associated with Atharvaveda; and VāsudevaUpaniṣad belongs to Sāmaveda.

3.2 Significance of AtharvaVeda in Upaniṣad s of Incarnation.

It has been observed that, the ṚgVeda and Atharvaveda together present a more or less full picture of the life of the Vedic man in all its aspect.[xlviii] Broadly speaking, the Atharvaveda is pre- eminently “the Veda of masses”.[xlix] In other words it may be considered that while ṚgVeda represents the main hierarchical current of the Vedic literature and culture, there Atharvaveda represented its popular undercurrents. Indeed, Atharvaveda exhibited remarkable freedom in the choice and treatment of its subjects. Thus the portrayals of the life of the common man, in all its lights and shades, hopes and fears could be flourished in this Veda. The Atharvaveda reveals certain beliefs and practices which were current in those days, that ritualistic practices might have a deep association with idol worshiping. For that very reason most of the Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad s dealing with avatāra s are related to Atharvaveda. Among the gods mentioned in the Pariśiṣṭha s of Atharvaveda, Śiva seems to be quite popular, though one cannot come across the later epic Gods such as Nṛsiṃha, Vāmana, Rāma, Kṛṣṇa etc. But the name of Vāsudeva can be found twice (71.16.5 and 17.4). In addition to Śiva, Sūrya and Brahmā, there were mentioned some other Gods. Amongst them Viṣṇu also took a vast part.[l]

3.3 Development of Mythology in Indian Literature.

Primarily mythology and incarnation is vies-versa benefactor to each other. In the ancient age, there was no need of image worship. It was nature worship. People animated their natural welfare with gratitude and love mingled with awe and reverence. In other cases where life was not so obvious, the visible object was believed to be animated by an internal power called spirit or god.[li] Generally the ancient Indian culture and mythologies contain reference to numerous mythological beings with fabulous or composite forms which were closely associated with their deities to serve them in the accomplishment of their magical religious beliefs. It may be caused for the fact that, simple elemental nature worship no longer satisfied the growing religious cravings of Aryans as it awakened the call of civilization and newly born national life.[lii] Thus a richly peopled mythology arose in India. Religious ideas that revealed in a sense of dependence on higher power and a desire to realize His strengthen in this new effect of civilization . Son the Hindu personified deified and worshipped not only the power of external nature but all the internal feelings, moralities, passions and intellectual qualities and faculties. Soon he begun to regard every object as a visible manifestation of the Supreme Providence presenting over the Universe and every depart hero or benefactor as an incarnation of the same omnipresent Ruler. In that case idolatry is a later development of a society.

3.4 Detailed Description of avatāras as depicted in Vaiṣṇ ava Upaniṣads

The sixteen above mentioned Vaiṣṇava Upani ṣads, related to incarnation of Viṣṇu, mainly deal with eleven different avatāras. Now detailed discussions on these avatāras, as explored by the Vaiṣṇva Upaniṣad s are being presented here. Here we should keep in mind that avatāra s always carry different mythological stories, told by Purāṇas and other literary sources. These stories sometimes have a great impact on the Vai ṣṇava Upaniṣad s.

3.4.1. Varāha avatāra.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Pic: Statue of Varaha avatāra (a form of Lord Vi ṣṇu) at heritage Indian museum building; Kolkata; West Bengal; India.[liii]


[i] Cf. James Hastings. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 12, p. 540.

[ii] Cf. Paul Deussen. Sixty Upaniṣads of the Vedas, Introduction, vol. 1. p. 1-4.

[iii] Cf. Granoff Phyllis, Ganesh as Metaphor, in Robert Bround Edition “Ganesh as Studies of an Asian God”, pp. 94-95, note 2.







[x] Cf. J. Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts (OST), 5 vols, London, 1872-84.

[xi] Bhāgavata-gītā. Verse 4.7-8.

[xii] Cf. J.N. Farquhar. An Outline of the Religious Literature of India, Chapter 3, p.85.

[xiii] Cf. John H. Hike. Philosophy of Religion, Chapter , p. 74

[xiv] Pāṇini : Aṣṭādhyāyī, sūtra: “parimaṇākhyāyāṃ sarvebhyaḥ” , 3.3.20.

[xv] Bhāgavata-gītā, Verse 4.5-9.



[xviii] Donald A. Mackenzie. Myths of Babylonia and Assiriya. London. p. 42.

[xix] Cf. Dinendra kumar Sarkar. Loka O Laukika, “Mānaba Sabhyatāy Kumārīvalī”. p.27.

[xx] Cf. Dinendra kumar Sarkar. Loka O Laukika, “Mānaba Sabhyatāy Kumārīvalī”. p.45.

[xxi] Cf. S.G. Desai. A Critical Study of Later Upaniṣads. Chapter.II.p. 33.

[xxii] F. Otto Schrader: Introduction to the Pāñarātra and Ahirbudhnya Samhitā, p. 47.

[xxiii] Amal Kumar Chakraborty: Pourānika 1st Part (A-N), “Avatār”, p. 62.

[xxiv] Bhāgavata-gītā, Verse 10.6.

[xxv] Sri Arobindo: Gītā Nibandha. Chapter 15.p. 130.

[xxvi] Pranabananda Iash: “History and Evolution of Vaiṣṇavism in Eastern India”. Chapter 3.p. 95.

[xxvii] Ahirbudhnya Samhitā: “sarvaśaktimayo devovāsudevaḥ sisṛkṣayā/ vibhajatyātmanā’’tmānaṃ yaḥ sa saṁkarṣaṇaḥ smṛtaḥ ||”- Verse 5.29.

[xxviii] Cf. Amal Kumar Chakraborty: Pourānika 1st Part (A-N), “Avatāra”, p. 62.

[xxix] F. Otto Schrader: Introduction to the Pāñarātra and Ahirbudhnya Samhitā, p. 47.

[xxx] Ahirbudhnya Samhitā, Verse 5.50-56.

[xxxi] Śrīmadbhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa: Verse 1.3.6-28.

[xxxii] Jayadeva: Daśāvatāra- stotra.

[xxxiii] Mahābhārata: Verse 12.340.100

[xxxiv] Mahābhārata: Verse 12.340.100

[xxxv] Cf. Sushil Kumar De: Aspects of Sanskrit Literature, 1959. p. 91.

[xxxvi] Cf. Sushil Kumar De: “Early History of the Vaiṣṇava Faith and Movement in Bengal”. Chapter I. p. 2.

[xxxvii] Cf. Sushil Kumar De: “Early History of the Vaiṣṇava Faith and Movement in Bengal”. Chapter I. p. 3.

[xxxviii] Cf. Akshaya Kumar Dutta. Bhāratbarṣīya Upāsaka Sampradāya. Vol.1. p.115.

[xxxix] Cf. Akshaya Kumar Dutta: Bhāratbarṣīya Upāsaka Sampradāya. Vol.1. p.115.

[xl] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta, p. 75-76.

[xli] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta, p. 75-76.

[xlii] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta, p. 192.

[xliii] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta, p. 93.

[xliv] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta, p. 93-94.

[xlv] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta. P. 221.

[xlvi] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: Bhakti Schools of Vedānta. P. 220-222.

[xlvii] Cf. Svāmī Tapasyānanda: “Bhakti Schools of Vedānta”. p. 313.

[xlviii] Cf. A.A. Macdonell: “These two Vedas furnish a body of material which is of inestimable value, not only for the early history of India in its various aspects, but for the study of the development of human institution in general”.- ‘Hymns (Vedic)’. p. 57.

[xlix] Cf. B.R. Modak: The ancilliary Literature of the Atharva Veda. Introduction.p. 1.

[l] Cf. B.R.Modak: The ancilliary Literature of the Atharva Veda. Chapter 8.p. 444-451.

[li] Sir W.W. Hunter’s dictum on the religious growth of India is that, “the Aryans worshipped first as they feared, then as they admired and finally as they reasoned. The stupendous phenomena of physical nature were the earliest Vedic gods. Then later came the genial household deity Agni, the kindly Sun, the friendly Day, beauteous Dawn Soma, the intoxicating plant.”

[lii] E. O. Martin : “Gods of India”, Part I, p. 5-6


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