(Sanskrit: दशावतार, daśāvatāra) refers to
the ten primary avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation.
is said to descend in form of an avatar to restore cosmic
order. The word
derives from daśa, meaning 'ten', and
avatar (avatāra), roughly equivalent to 'incarnation'.
The list of included avatars varies across sects and regions, and no
list can be uncontroversially presented as standard. However, most
draw from the following set of figures, omitting at least one of those
listed in parentheses: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana,
Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, (Balarama) or (Buddha) and Kalki. Some
traditions include a regional deity such as
penultimate position, replacing
The order of the ancient concept of Dashavataras has been interpreted
to be reflective of modern Darwinian evolution.
3 Incarnation of the Divine
3.1 Restoration of the Divine
5 Historical development
5.2 Alternate lists
5.2.3 Regional versions
5.2.4 Longer lists
5.3 Status of Krishna
6 Evolutionary interpretation
8 External links
The list of avatars in the
Dashavatara varies by region. The following
table summarises the position of avatars within the
many but not all traditions. A number in the table indicates the
position of the corresponding avatar within the Dashavatara. Two or
more numbers separated by commas indicate that the position of the
corresponding avatar within the
Dashavatara varies between traditions.
Bracketed numbers indicate that the corresponding avatar is omitted in
Vishnu with Lakshmi, his ten avatars above him
(annotated), 6th – 8th century Badami, Karnataka
Dashavatara derives from daśa, meaning 'ten' and avatar
(avatāra), meaning 'incarnation'.
Number of occurrences of these avatars of lord
Vishnu are one less
than the total number of avatars in previous yuga.
Satya Yug - Had 4 (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha)
Treta Yug - Had 3 (Vamana, Parshurama, Rama)
Dvapara Yug - Had 1 (Krishna)
Kali Yug - Had 1, Yet to have 1 (Buddha, Kalki)
Incarnation of the Divine
Restoration of the Divine
Vishnu incarnates on Earth from time to time to eradicate evil
forces, to restore the dharma and to liberate the worthy ones or
devotees from the cycle of births and deaths.
Vishnu in his avatar as
Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Shloka 8: "To deliver
the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish
the principles of righteousness, I manifest myself, millennium after
A similar thread appears in Buddhism. The
Pāli Canon refers to 28
Buddhas, while the
Mahayana tradition additionally has many Buddhas
of celestial origin, for example
Amitābha and Vairocana. The Mahayana
tradition also knows the
Eighteen Arhats who protect the Buddhist
faith, and all schools of Buddhism await for the coming of
Buddha prophesied to arrive on earth many millennia after
Gautama Buddha's death and Parinirvana.
The first four avatars of
Vishnu appeared in Satya or Krita Yuga, the
first of the four Yugas, also called 'The Golden Age', the next three
in the second Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the one avatar after that appeared
in the third Yuga, the
Dwapara Yuga and the two remaining avatars,
including tenth and the last avatar, appear in the last Yuga, Kali
Yuga. The time till completion for
Kali Yuga is in 427,000 years.
Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana, the Kali-yuga ending is
described with the appearance of Kalki, who will defeat the wicked,
liberate the virtuous, and initiate a new Satya or
At that time, the Supreme Personality of Godhead will appear on the
earth. Acting with the power of pure spiritual goodness, He will
rescue eternal religion. Lord Viṣṇu — the Supreme Personality of
Godhead, the spiritual master of all moving and nonmoving living
beings, and the Supreme Soul of all — takes birth to protect the
principles of religion and to relieve His saintly devotees from the
reactions of material work.
— Bhagavata Purana, 12.2.16-17
1st to 5th of the Dashavatars on Udupi temple gopuram, Karnataka.
Matsya, the fish.
Vishnu takes the form of a fish to save Manu from
the deluge (Pralaya), after which he takes his boat to the new world
along with one of every species of plant and animal, gathered in a
Kurma, the giant tortoise. When the devas and asuras were churning the
Ocean of milk
Ocean of milk in order to get Amrita, the nectar of immortality, the
mount Mandara they were using as the churning staff started to sink
Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to bear the weight of the
Varaha, the boar. He appeared to defeat Hiranyaksha, a demon who had
taken the Earth, or Prithvi, and carried it to the bottom of what is
described as the cosmic ocean(much like in ether theory) in the story.
The battle between
Hiranyaksha is believed to have lasted
for a thousand years, which the former finally won.
Varaha carried the
Earth out of the ocean between his tusks and restored it to its place
in the universe.
Narasimha, the half-man/half-lion. The rakshasa (Demon)
Hiranyakashipu, the elder brother of Hiranyaksha, was granted a
powerful boon from brahma, not allowing him to be killed by man or
animal, inside or out, day or night, on earth or the stars, with a
weapon either living or inanimate.
Vishnu descended as an
anthropomorphic incarnation, with the body of a man and head and claws
of a lion. He then disembowels the rakshasa at the courtyard threshold
of his house, at dusk, with his claws, while he lay on his thighs.
Vamana, the dwarf. The fourth descendant of Hiranyakashyap, Bali, with
devotion and penance was able to defeat Indra, the god of firmament.
This humbled the other deities and extended his authority over the
three worlds. The gods appealed to
Vishnu for protection and he
descended as a boy Vamana. During a yajna (यज्ञ) of the king,
Vamana approached him and Bali promised him for whatever he asked.
Vamana asked for three paces of land. Bali agreed, and the dwarf then
changed his size to that of a giant. He stepped over heaven in his
first stride, and the netherworld with the second. Bali realized that
Vishnu incarnate. In deference, the king offered his head
as the third place for
Vamana to place his foot. The avatar did so and
thus granted Bali immortality. Then in appreciation to Bali and his
Vamana made him ruler of Pathala, the
Parashurama, the warrior with the axe. He is son of
Renuka and received an axe after a penance to Shiva. He is the first
Kshatriya in Hinduism, or warrior-saint, with duties between a
Brahmin and a Kshatriya. King
Kartavirya Arjuna and his army visited
the father of
Parashurama at his ashram, and the saint was able to
feed them with the divine cow Kamadhenu. The king demanded the cow,
Jamadagni refused. Enraged, the king took it by force and
destroyed the ashram.
Parashurama then killed the king at his palace
and destroyed his army. In revenge, the sons of Kartavirya killed
Parashurama took a vow to kill every
Kshatriya on earth
twenty-one times over, and filled five lakes with their blood.
Ultimately, his grandfather, rishi Rucheeka, appeared before him and
made him halt. He is a
Chiranjivi (immortal), and believed to be alive
today in penance at Mahendragiri.
Rama, the prince and king of Ayodhya. He is a commonly worshipped
avatar in Hinduism, and is thought of as the ideal heroic man. His
story is recounted in one of the most widely read scriptures of
Hinduism, the Ramayana. While in exile from his own kingdom with his
Lakshman and the God Hanuman, his wife
Sita was abducted by
the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travelled to Lanka, killed the
demon king and saved Sita.
Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna, is regarded generally as an
avatar of Shesha. However,
Balarama is included as the eighth avatar
Vishnu in the
Sri Vaishnava lists, where
Buddha is omitted and
Krishna appears as the ninth avatar in this list. He is
particularly included in the lists where
Krishna is removed and
becomes the source of all.
Krishna was the eighth son of
Devaki and Vasudeva. A frequently
worshipped deity in Hinduism, he is the hero of various legends and
embodies qualities such as love and playfulness.
Buddha: Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is commonly included
as an avatar of
Vishnu in Hinduism.
Buddha is sometimes depicted in
Hindu scriptures as a preacher who deludes and leads demons and
heretics away from the path of the Vedic scriptures, but another view
praises him a compassionate teacher who preached the path of ahimsa
Kalki ("Eternity", or "White Horse", or "Destroyer of Filth"), will be
the final incarnation of Vishnu, foretold to appear at the end of Kali
Yuga, our present epoch. He will be atop a white horse and his sword
will be drawn, blazing like a comet. He is the harbinger of end time
in Hindu eschatology, and will destroy all unrighteousness and evil at
the end of Kali Yuga.
Vishnu with Lakshmi, his Dashavatars above him
(annotated), 6th – 8th century Badami, Karnataka
The evolution of historical Vishnuism produced a complex system of
Vaishnavism, often viewed as a synthesis of the worship of Vishnu,
Vasudeva and Krishna, and which was well established by the
time of the
Bhagavad Gita from 3138 BCE to the 3rd century CE.
Various versions of the list of Vishnu's avatars exist. Some lists
Krishna as the eighth avatar and the
Buddha as the ninth
avatar, while others, such as the Yatindramatadipika, a
17th-century summary of Srivaisnava-doctrine, state
the eighth avatar and
Krishna as the ninth.
The adoption of
Buddha as one of the avatars of
Bhagavatism was a catalyzing factor in assimilation during the Gupta
period between 330 and 550 CE. By the 8th century CE, the
declared an avatar of
Vishnu in several Puranas. The mythologies
Vishnu share a number of structural and substantial
similarities, which contributed to the assimilation of the
an avatar of Vishnu. This assimilation is indicative of the Hindu
ambivalence toward the
Buddha and Buddhism. Conversely,
also been assimilated into Sinhalese Buddhist culture, and
Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes called Buddha-Bhagavatism. By this
period, the concept of
Dashavatara was fully developed.
Some Vaishnavas refuse to accept the
Buddha as an incarnation of
Vishnu, and instead believe that
Balarama is the 8th incarnation, and
Krishna the 9th.
Temple door depicting Dashavatar-the ten avatars, Sree Balaji Temple,
Goa. (from leftmost upper corner, clock wise) Matsya, Narasimha,
Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Kalki, Vamana, Vithoba,
Varaha and Kurma.
Maharashtra and Goa, Vithoba's image replaces
Buddha as the ninth
Vishnu in some temple sculptures and Hindu astrological
almanacs. In certain Oriya literary creations from Orissa,
Jagannath has been treated as the Ninth avatar, by substituting
Bhagavata Purana claims that
Vishnu has infinite avatars which he
takes whenever there is a need to restore cosmic order, however, it
still goes on to numerically list out 22
Vishnu avatars in chapter
Four Kumaras (Catursana) [BP 1.3.6] – the four Sons of god
Brahma and exemplified the path of devotion
Varaha [BP 1.3.7]- The divine warthog who lifts earth from cosmic
Narada [BP 1.3.8] -the divine-sage who travels the worlds as a devotee
Nara-Narayana [BP 1.3.9] – the twin-sages
Kapila [BP 1.3.10] – a renowned sage spoken of in the
Mahabharata, son of Kardama Muni and Devahuti and sometimes identified
with the founder of the
Samkhya school of philosophy
Dattatreya [BP 1.3.11] – the combined avatar of the Hindu
Vishnu and Shiva. He was born to the sage
a great seer himself
Yajna [BP 1.3.12] – the lord of fire-sacrifice, who was also a
previous Indra – the lord of heaven
Rishabha [BP 1.3.13] – the father of
Bharata Chakravartin and
Prithu [BP 1.3.14] – the sovereign-king who milked the earth as
a cow to get the world's grain and vegetation and also invented
Matsya [BP 1.3.15]- A narwhal who guided Manu's ark during the pralaya
(deluge) and also killed demon Hayagriva
Kurma [BP 1.3.16]- A giant tortoise who balances Mount Mandara atop
his caprice during the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk
Dhanvantari [BP 1.3.17] – the father of Ayurvedic medicine and
a physician to the Devas
Mohini [BP 1.3.17] – the enchantress
Narasimha [BP 1.3.18]- The man-lion who kills demon Hiranyakashpu
Vamana [BP 1.3.19]- The dwarf
Parashurama [BP 1.3.20]- The
Brahmin warrior with an axe who kills
Kartyavira Arjuna and his
Rama [BP 1.3.22]- 'Perfect King' from Suryavansha, Subject of Ramayana
Vyasa [BP] 1.3.21] – the compiler of the scriptures –
Vedas and writer of the scriptures
Puranas and the epic Mahabharata
Balarama [BP 1.3.23]- Lord of agriculture and elder brother to Krishna
Krishna [BP 1.3.23]-Subject of the
Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita
Buddha [BP 1.3.24]- The enlightened teacher
Kalki [BP 1.3.25]- The future lawgiver
Thirty-nine avatars are mentioned in the
Pañcaratra including the
likes of Garuda.  However, despite these lists, the commonly
accepted number of ten avatars for
Vishnu was fixed well before the
10th century CE.
Status of Krishna
Srimanta Sankardeva considered
Vishnu himself, the source
of all incarnations. Thus, in his Soturbinxoti Ovotar (Chaturvinshati
Avatar) of the Kirttan Puthi,
Krishna is not included, but
Jayadeva, in his
Pralaya Payodhi Jale from the Gita Govinda, includes
Krishna is equated with
Vishnu and the
source of all avatars.
In traditions that emphasize the Bhagavata Purana,
Krishna is the
original Supreme Personality of Godhead, from whom everything else
emanates. Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship
Krishna as Svayam Bhagavan, or
source of the incarnations. The
Vallabha Sampradaya and
Nimbarka Sampradaya, (philosophical schools) go even further,
Krishna not only as the source of other incarnations, but
Vishnu himself, related to descriptions in the Bhagavata Purana.
Mahanubhavas also known as the Jai Kishani Panth, considers Lord
Krishna as the supreme God and don't consider the list of Dashavatara
while consider another list of Panchavatara (5 Avatars). 
Some modern interpreters sequence Vishnu's ten main avatars in a
definitive order, from simple life-forms to more complex, and see the
Dashavataras as a reflection, or a foreshadowing, of the modern theory
of evolution. Such an interpretation was first propounded by
Helena Blavatsky in her 1877 opus Isis Unveiled, in which
she proposed the following ordering of the Dashavataras:
Matsya - fish, the first class of vertebrates; evolved in water
(Indicates origin of Fishes in Silurian Period)
Kurma - amphibious living in both water and land; but not to confuse
with the vertebrate class amphibians)(Indicates origin of Amphibians
in Devonian Period)
Varaha - mammals, wild land animals (Indicates Mammals origin in
Narasimha - beings that are half-animal and half-human (indicative of
emergence of human thoughts and intelligence in powerful wild nature)
Vamana - short, premature human beings
Parasurama - early humans living in forests and using weapons
Rama - humans living in community, beginning of civil society
Krishna - humans practicing animal husbandry, politically advanced
Buddha - humans finding enlightenment
Kalki - advanced beings with great powers of destruction.
This interpretation was taken up by other Orientalists and by Hindus
in India, particularly reformers who sought to harmonize traditional
religion with modern science. Keshub Chandra Sen, a prominent figure
Brahmo Samaj and an early teacher of Swami Vivekananda, was the
first Indian Hindu to adopt this reading. In an 1882 lecture he
Puranas speak of the different manifestations or incarnations of
the Deity in different epochs of the world history. Lo! The Hindu
Avatar rises from the lowest scale of life through the fish, the
tortoise, and the hog up to the perfection of humanity. Indian
Avatarism is, indeed, a crude representation of the ascending scale of
Divine creation. Such precisely is the modern theory of evolution.
Monier Monier-Williams wrote "Indeed, the Hindus were ...
Darwinians centuries before the birth of Darwin, and evolutionists
centuries before the doctrine of evolution had been accepted by the
Huxleys of our time, and before any word like evolution existed in any
language of the world."
J. B. S. Haldane
J. B. S. Haldane suggested that
Dashavatara gave a "rough idea" of vertebrate evolution: a fish, a
tortoise, a boar, a man-lion, a dwarf and then four men (
Kalki is not
Nabinchandra Sen explains the
Dashavatara with Darwin's
evolution in his Raivatak.
C. D. Deshmukh
C. D. Deshmukh also remarked on the
"striking" similarity between Darwin's theory and the Dashavatara.
^ J.P. VASWANI (2017). Dasavatara. Jaico Publishing House. pp. 12
^ D. Sharma (2005). Life After Death and Reincarnation. Deep and Deep
Publications. p. 38.
^ http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-04-08.html. Missing or
empty title= (help)
^ Snyder, p. 496.
^ Zhang 2014, p. 921.
^ Tan, Piya (2008). "Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta" (PDF). The
Dharmafarers. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-01. When the
situation reaches its lowest point, people finally realize the
futility of violence, give it up, and so begin to keep the precepts,
initiating a social renewal and increase in various wholesome
conditions and ever longer life-spans. When the human life-span
reaches 80,000 years, the whole kingdom prospers and is thickly
populated. The wheel-turner Saṅkha arises in the city of Ketu,mati
(present Kusi,nārā). Then, there arises the future Buddha
^ U Chit Tin, Sayagyi (March 1988). "The Coming Buddha, Ariya
Metteyya". What the
Buddha said in plain English.
^ B-Gita 8.17 "And finally in Kal-yuga (the yuga we have now been
experiencing over the past 5,000 years) there is an abundance of
strife, ignorance, irreligion and vice, true virtue being practically
nonexistent, and this yuga lasts 432,000 years. In Kali Yuga, vice
increases to such a point that at the termination of the yuga the
Supreme Lord Himself appears as the
^ Klostermaier (2007) p. 495
^ "Bhagavata Purana, 12.2.16-17". Archived from the original on 27
^ a b c d Carman 1994, p. 211-212.
^ a b c d Wuaku 2013, p. 148.
^ Literature review of secondary references of
Buddha as Dashavatara
Buddha to be part of standard list:
A Dictionary of Asian Mythology By David Adams Leeming p. 19 "Avatar"
Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide By Roshen Dalal p. 112 "Dashavatara"
""The standard and most accepted list found in
Puranas and other texts
is: ... Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Kalki."
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M p. 73 "Avatar"
Hindu Gods and Goddesses By Sunita Pant Bansal p. 27 "Vishnu
Hindu Myths (Penguin Books) pp. 62-63
The Hare Krsnas - Incarnations of the Lord - Dasavatara - Ten Primary
The Book of
Vishnu (see index)
Seven secrets of
Vishnu By Devdutt Pattanaik p. 203 "In the more
popular list of ten avatars of Vishnu, the ninth avatar is shown as
Buddha, not Balarama."
A Dictionary of
Hinduism p. 47 "Avatara"
BBC - GCSE Bitesize Avatars
Gavin D. Flood (13 July 1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge
University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
^ Beck, Guy L. (1993). Sonic theology:
Hinduism and sacred sound.
Columbia, S.C: University of South Carolina Press. p. 170.
^ a b c Holt 2013, p. 14.
^ Holt 2013, p. 3.
^ Hāṇḍā, Omacanda (1994). Buddhist Art & Antiquities of
Himachal Pradesh: Up to 8th Century A.D. Columbia, Mo: South Asia
Books. p. 40. ISBN 81-85182-99-X.
^ Indian, History. "(Prabha IAS-IPS Coaching Centre - Indian History
2003 exam - "The crystallization Of the Avatara Concept and the
worship of the incarnations of
Vishnu were features of Bhagavatism
during the Gupta period"". Arumbakkam, Chennai. Archived from the
original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
^ Pathak, Dr. Arunchandra S. (2006). "Junnar". The Gazetteers Dept,
Maharashtra (first published: 1885). Archived from the
original on 16 October 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
^ Mukherjee, Prabhat The history of medieval
Vaishnavism in Orissa.
^ Bhag-P 1.3 Archived 2013-05-21 at the Wayback Machine. Canto 1,
^ Sullivan 2001, p. 32.
^ Schrader, Friedrich Otto (1916). Introduction to the Pāñcarātra
and the Ahirbudhnya saṃhitā. Adyar Library. p. 42.
^ Mishra, Vibhuti Bhushan (1973). Religious beliefs and practices of
North India during the early mediaeval period, Volume 1. BRILL.
pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-90-04-03610-9.
^ শ্ৰীমন্ত শংকৰদেৱৰ
চতুৰ্বিংশতি অৱতাৰ। Collected:
^ Orissa Review
^ Religion of the Hindus By Kenneth W Morgan, D S Sarma p.55
^ Iconography of
Balarama By N.P. Joshi p.25
^ Kennedy, M.T. (1925). The Chaitanya Movement: A Study of the
Vaishnavism of Bengal. H. Milford, Oxford university press.
^ Flood, Gavin D. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press. p. 341. ISBN 0-521-43878-0.
Retrieved 2008-04-21. "Early Vaishnava worship focuses on three
deities who become fused together, namely Vasudeva-Krishna,
Krishna-Gopala and Narayana, who in turn all become identified with
Vishnu. Put simply, Vasudeva-
Krishna and Krishna-Gopala were worshiped
by groups generally referred to as Bhagavatas, while
worshipped by the Pancaratra sect."
Hinduism S. Rosen, 2006, Greenwood Publishing Group p.124
^ a b Nanda, Meera (19 November 2010). "Madame Blavatsky's children:
Modern Hinduism's encounters with Darwinism". In James R. Lewis; Olav
Hammer. Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science. BRILL.
pp. 279–344. ISBN 90-04-18791-X.
^ Brown, C. Mackenzie (June 2007). "The Western roots of Avataric
Evolutionism in colonial India". Zygon. 42 (2): 423–448.
^ Brown, C Mackenzie (19 November 2010). "Vivekananda and the
scientific legitimation of Advaita Vedanta". In James R. Lewis; Olav
Hammer. Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science. BRILL.
p. 227. ISBN 90-04-18791-X.
^ "Cover Story: Haldane: Life Of A Prodigious Mind". Science Reporter.
Council of Scientific & Industrial Research. 29: 46. 1992.
^ Amiya P. Sen (2010). Explorations in Modern Bengal, C. 1800-1900:
Essays on Religion, History, and Culture. Primus Books. p. 196.
^ Chintaman Dwarkanath Deshmukh (1972). Aspects of Development. Young
Asia Publication. p. 33.
Carman, John Braisted (1994), Majesty and Meekness: A Comparative
Study of Contrast and Harmony in the Concept of God, Wm. B. Eerdmans
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dashavatara.
Avataras as categorized within Gaudiya Vaishnavism
Avatars (Incarnations or Descents) of Vishnu
Avatars of Vishnu
1 The list of ten avatars varies regionally. The two
substitutions involve Balarama,
Buddha is considered the
avatar of Vishnu.
Krishna is almost always included; in exceptions, he
is considered the source of