The Gods on Earth
The concept of Incarnation or Avatar is the key element of Hindu theology. According to it, the Supreme being manifests in various forms on earth periodically, with the objective of protecting it from evil. In Hinduism, the legend of the Avatar is considered one of the most important myths of the Vedic culture. It is particularly associated with the God Vishnu, one of the principle deities of the Hindu trinity.
There are numerous mentions of incarnations of Gods in many of the Hindu scriptures. Some of them take the form for a particular event. Like Vishnu as Mohini or Lord Shiva appearing as tribal to test Arjun. However, these are considered the manifestations of God rather than an incarnation. Incarnations require birth of the Lord in physical form and going through the experiences as living beings. Vaishnavism hold the concepts of avatar as an undeniable truth and believes that the Lord intervenes to restore order and peace on earth.
As Lord Krishna preaches in the Bhagavad Gita –
Yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya glaanir-bhavati Bhaarata /
Abhyuttaana-madharmasya tadaatmaanam srijaamyaham //
Paritraanaaya saadhoonam vinaasaaya cha dushkritaam /
Dharma samsthaapanaarthaaya sambhavami yuge yuge //
“Whenever, O descendant of Bharata, there is decline of dharma and rise of adharma, I body myself forth for the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of dharma. I come into being in every Yuga”. This aspect of the Lord, where he comes into being upon the earth is called an incarnation or avatar.
The incarnation may exist for a brief period of time or a life time. It can be human, semi human, animal or mythical form. A number of related divinities also incarnate on the earth to play their parts to aid the Lords avatar. So, whenever Vishnu was born as an avatar, his wife Lakshmi also assumed the human form. Hence, we have Padma (consort of Vamana), Dharini (consort of Parasurama), Sita (Consort of Rama), Rukmini (consort of Krishna) and so on.
Followers of Vaishnavism divides the Lord’s various avatars into two. One is the primary avatar where Lord Vishnu directly descends as an incarnation. The primary avatar consists of Purna Avatar like Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and Amsarupavatar, where He manifests only partially, like Matsya or Kurma. In the secondary avatars like Parashurama, He doesn’t directly descend but enters a soul with his form or give them his divine powers. Most Vaishnavites consider Krishna the highest form of Purna Avatar.
The primary role of the Lord’s various avatars is to protect the earth from destruction, re-establish virtue on the earth and to uplift the mankind. Scriptures say that before every incarnation, there is a fervent prayer to the God by the mortals as well as the Devas. Every avatar is an answer to these prayers, as the Supreme being assumes a body to descend upon the earth for saving and blessing mankind.