In Hindu mythology, Avatara is the deliberate 'descent' of the Supreme Being. When the divine suffers division when it literally comes down to earth to spread righteousness and annihilate evil; it must be sustained and restored to wholeness once again by an accumulation of devotion. The term is used primarily for the Vishnu incarnations, the supreme god within the Hindu Trinity (triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) regarded as the preserver of the world during each period of its existence. He manifests in the world in each phase of dissolution as successive avataras voluntarily to impart important truths to humanity. The incarnations are usually equipped with extraordinary abilities aiding them in their divine play.
“For the protection of the good, for destruction of evil, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age,” states Lord Krishna,an avatara of Vishnu in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, verse 8.
The ten most famous incarnations of Vishnu are collectively known as the ‘Dasavatara’ in the Garuda Purana (1.86.10-11).
- Matsya, the fish, manifested in the Satya Yuga.
- Kurma, the tortoise, incarnated in the Satya Yuga.
- Varaha, the boar, appeared in the Satya Yuga.
- Narasimha, the half-man/half-lion emerged in the Satya Yuga.
- Vamana, the dwarf, showed up in the Treta Yuga.
- Parashurama, or Rama with the axe, materialized in the Treta Yuga.
- Rama, Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya, ruled in the Treta Yuga.
- Krishna ('dark coloured' or 'all attractive') manifested in the Dwapara Yuga. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Balarama is said to have appeared along with Krishna as an incarnation of Ananta Shesha; the thousand-headed snake regarded as the symbol of eternity on which Vishnu sleeps throughout periods of dissolution of the world.
- Gautama Buddha (or 'the enlightened one') appeared in the Kali Yuga as Siddhartha Gautama.
- Kalki (meaning eternity or destroyer of foulness) is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the current time period which will end in the year 428899 CE.