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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Avatar or Avatara

a term in Hindoo mythology for the incarnation of the Deity. The number of I the Avataras mentioned in the Puranas, or legendary poems of the Hindoos, is very great. Those of Vishnu alone, who is distinguished by the character of Preserver" in the Trimurti, or triad of the principal Hindoo deities, are stated to be endless. They are variously enumerated; but all accounts seem to agree in selecting the following ten as the most conspicuous:

1. Matsya, the Fish, under whose form Vishnu preserved Manu, the ancestor of the present human race, during a universal deluge.

2. Kurma, the Tortoise, which incarnation Vishnu underwent in order to support Mount Mandara, or rather the entire earth, when the celestial gods and their opponents the Asuras, or Daityas, were churning the sea for the beverage of immortality (amrita).

3. Varaha, the Boar Vishnu, with the head of a monstrous boar, is represented as slaying Hiranyaksha, the chief of the Asuras, who had taken possession of the celestial regions, and as uplifting the earth, which had been sunk to the bottom of the sea.

4. In his incarnation as Narasinha, a being half man and half lion, Vishnu killed Hiranyakasipu, the brother of Hiranyaksha.

5. The form of Vamana, the Dwarf, was assumed by Vishnu to humble the pride of King Bali. He went to a sacrifice which the king was performing and supplicated for as much ground as he could measure with three steps, which request being granted, the dwarf suddenly grew to an immense size, and with his steps comprised earth, mid-air, and heaven.

6. Vishnu appeared in a human form, as Parasurama, the son of Jamadagni and Renuka, in order to preserve mankind, and especially the Brahmins, from the tyranny of the military tribe of the Kshatriyas.

7. Vishnu was born as the son of King Dasaratha, and under the name of Rama, in order to destroy Ravana, the Daitya sovereign of Ceylon, and other demons who were then infesting the earth. The actions of Rama form the subject of a celebrated epic poem in Sanscrit, called the Ramayana, and attributed to the ancient sage Valmiki. 8. The most celebrated of the Avataras of Vishnu is his appearance in the human form of Krishna, in which he is supposed to have been wholly and completely incarnate, whereas the other Avataras are only considered as emanations from his being. Krishna assisted the family of the Pandavas in their war with the Kurus, and through them relieved the earth from the wicked men who oppressed it. The history of this conflict is told at length in the Mahabharata, another great epic poem in Sanscrit.

9. Buddha is, by the followers of the Brahminical religion, considered as a delusive incarnation of Vishnu, assumed by him in order to induce the Asuras to abandon the sacred ordinances of the Vedas, by which they lost their strength and supremacy.

10. Kalki is the name of an Avatara in which Vishnu will appear at the end of the Kaliyuga, or present age of the world, to destroy all vice and wickedness, and to restore the world to virtue and purity. (See BUDDHISM); (See HINDOOISM).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Avatar or Avatara'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/avatar-or-avatara.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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