10 Avatars of Lord Vishnu

When God descends on earth, called avatarana (or Avatara) in Sanskrit, ordinary mortals can come in touch with Him. He interacts and mixes with all and, through this human play, uplifts them morally and spiritually. It gives man the privilege and joy of coming to know God in and through such incarnation. The evolution of the Avatara idea is rooted in the Bhakti school of Vedanta.

The Dashavatara refers to the ten principal avatars or divine incarnations of Lord Vishnu in Hinduism. Each avatar serves a distinct cosmic purpose, embodying divine intervention to restore faith of people in Dharma or virtuous life and uphold Dharma (righteousness). An Avatara is like a big ship, which not only crosses the ocean but also carries many passengers to the other shore. Thus the primary purpose of God’s descent as man is the man’s ascent to Godhood.

When Nirguna Brahman (God without any limiting qualities) became insufficient, man sought a God to whom he could surrender, love, share his feelings, depend upon, and adore. This necessitates Saguna Brahman (God with qualities like any other human being but without the limitations of a human being).

The Dashavatara includes iconic manifestations such as Matsya (the fish), Kurma (the tortoise), Varaha (the boar), Narasimha (the man-lion), Vamana (the dwarf), Parashurama (the warrior with an axe), Rama, Krishna (or Balarama), Buddha (or Krishna), and the yet-to-appear Kalki.

In the cyclical pattern of creation and destruction, known as the yugas, each era follows the other in descending order: Krita Yuga (alternatively Satya Yuga), Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga, before the cycle repeats. Read more about Four Yugas here

Within this framework, the ten avatars of Vishnu are associated with different yugas: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, and Narasimha manifest in the present Krita Yuga; Vamana, Parashurama, and Rama appear in the current Treta Yuga; Krishna emerges in Dvapara Yuga; and Buddha and Kalki are from Kali Yuga.

Hindu scriptures and traditions differ in their order and recognition of Vishnu’s 8th and 9th avatars, causing controversy and varying interpretations. Some sources list Balarama as the 8th avatar, acknowledging Krishna as the 9th. Alternatively, when Krishna is seen as the 8th avatar, some perspectives include Buddha as the 9th.

These avatars symbolize the diverse ways in which the divine engages with the world to counteract forces of evil, maintain order, and guide humanity on the path of righteousness. The concept of Dashavatara is integral to Hindu cosmology and mythology, illustrating the cyclical nature of divine incarnations throughout different ages.

Matsya (The Fish):


Matsya is Vishnu’s first avatar and is associated with the great flood myth. In this form, Vishnu takes the shape of a fish to rescue the sage Manu and the seven sages and various animals by guiding a boat through the deluge. Matsya carries the Vedas and other scriptures to preserve knowledge.

Read more about Matsya Avatar

Kurma (The Tortoise):

Kurma Avatar

In the Kurma avatar, Lord Vishnu assumes the form of a giant tortoise to support Mount Mandara during the churning of the ocean (Samudra Manthan). This cosmic event, undertaken by gods and demons, results in the emergence of the nectar of immortality (amrita), which Vishnu later distributes to the gods.

Read more about Kurma Avatar

Varaha (The Boar):


Varaha is the third avatar, where Vishnu manifests as a boar to rescue the Earth (personified as the goddess Bhudevi) from the demon Hiranyaksha. The demon has submerged the Earth in the cosmic ocean, and Varaha retrieves it by defeating Hiranyaksha in a fierce battle.

Read more about Varaha Avatar

Narasimha (The Man-Lion):


The Narasimha avatar is a half-man, half-lion form Vishnu assumes to protect his devotee Prahlada and slay the demon king Hiranyakashipu. This form symbolizes the divine manifestation transcending typical creation and destruction forms.

Read more about Narasimha Avatar

Vamana (The Dwarf):


Vamana, the Dwarf, is the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu. In a clever move, Vamana outsmarted Bali, the enemy of the Devas, by asking for only three paces of land. Bali, not realizing Vamana’s true identity, agreed.

Vamana grew to an enormous size and, in two steps, covered the entire earth and heavens. He graciously left the underworld for Bali to rule. However, true to his word, Bali offered his head for Vamana’s third step.

In return, Vamana granted Bali immortality and the role of the ruler of the underworld. Bali is believed to visit his people annually during the Onam festival in Kerala as a gesture of goodwill.

Read more about Vamana Avatar

Parashurama (The Warrior with an Axe):


Parashurama, the sixth avatar, is a fierce warrior carrying an axe (parashu) and a son of Jamadagni. He incarnates to rid the world of corrupt and oppressive Kshatriya (warrior caste) rulers. Parashurama is a Brahmin warrior known for his martial skills and dedication to upholding dharma.

According to Hindu scripture, there is a noteworthy incident involving Parashurama, Shiva, and Ganesha. Parashurama decided to visit Shiva, but Ganesha obstructed his path. Parashurama threw his axe at Ganesha. Being aware that the axe was a gift from his father, Shiva, Ganesha chose not to resist and willingly allowed the axe to sever one of his tusks.

Rama (The Prince of Ayodhya):


Rama, the seventh avatar, is the central character in the epic Ramayana. He is an ideal king and a symbol of dharma. Rama, along with his devoted wife Sita and loyal companion Hanuman, defeats the demon king Ravana, upholding righteousness and establishing the concept of “Ram Rajya,” a reign of justice and virtue.

Krishna (The Divine Cowherd):


Krishna, the eighth avatar, is one of the most beloved deities in Hinduism. He plays a central role in the Mahabharata. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna imparts spiritual wisdom to Arjuna. Krishna is known for his playful and mischievous childhood antics and his role as a compassionate teacher and guide.



In some Hindu traditions and scriptures, Buddha is recognized as the 9th avatar of Lord Vishnu. This inclusion reflects an acknowledgment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and his profound impact on ancient India’s religious and philosophical landscape.

According to this scripture, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Buddha to address prevailing social and spiritual challenges, promoting non-violence, compassion, and the pursuit of inner wisdom. This perspective seeks to reconcile the diverse strands of Hindu and Buddhist thought, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these spiritual traditions.

Kalki (The Future Warrior):


Kalki is believed to be the future and the tenth avatar of Vishnu, yet to descend. According to prophecies, Kalki will appear riding a white horse named Devadatta, wielding a sword, to eradicate evil and restore dharma. Kalki’s arrival is associated with the end of the current age, Kali Yuga, and the beginning of a new era.

The Dashavatara represents the diverse ways the divine intervenes in the world to maintain balance and uphold the principles of righteousness. Each avatar serves a specific purpose and imparts valuable lessons, contributing to Hinduism’s spiritual and ethical teachings.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

Recent Posts