1. Matsya (The Fish)
Matsya is the first of Vishnu’s many avatars and was one of the first physical beings of this world. Born as a fish in the Satya Yuga or Golden Age, it’s said that he rescued the first man in creation from a great flood that covered the world.
2. Kurma (The Tortoise)
The second incarnation of Vishnu was that of Kurma, the giant tortoise. Also born during the Satya Yuga, he appeared on the scene when the original Angels and Demons were attempting to churn the ocean in order to reach an elixir of immortality hidden away at the bottom. The Angels and Demons were using a mountain as a churning staff, and just as the mountain began to sink into the ocean, Lord Vishnu took the form of a Kurma to carry the weight of the mountain on his back.
3. Varaha (The Boar)
Varaha, the great boar came to Earth’s aid to save it from an incredibly powerful demon. The demon was so powerful that he stole the earth from it’s place in the sky and carried it to the bottom of the cosmic ocean. Vishnu incarnated as Varaha and fought the demon in a battle that lasted a thousand years. Once the enemy was vanquished, Varaha gently rested the earth between his mighty tusks and carried her back to her resting place in the sky once again restoring order and balance.
4. Narasimha (The Lion Man)
Vishnu was born as Narasimha the Man-lion. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, he was born half-man and half-lion at the end of the. This was the last of Vishnu’s incarnations to be born during this age of man. Narasimha defies the laws of nature and seeks to overpower mortals who attempt to find immortality in unnatural ways.
He specifically came into being when a mighty evil Demon became upset with his son praying to Vishnu and tried to hurt him. The Demon had received a boon (a wish) that he could not be killed by man or animal, inside or out, day or night, on earth or the stars, with a weapon either living or inanimate. So Vishnu manifested as Narasimha. With the body of a man, and the head and claws of a lion, he and killed the demon using his claws under a courtyard threshold of his home at exactly dusk, while he lays on his lap. Therefore finding a loophole in the boon allowing him to protect the young boy.
5. Vamana (The Dwarf)
Vamana was the first of Vishnu’s incarnations to be born during the. He is also the first of Vishnu’s incarnations to be fully human. The story goes that a great king grew in power and extend his kingdom over all the three worlds. To restore order, Vishnu was born as Vamana, a gentle dwarf of incredible intelligence and power. He approached the king during a great festival when he could not refuse a request, and respectfully asked him if he could have three paces of land. The king humored him and granted his request. At that moment, Vamana grew to the size of the world and took three giant steps. He stepped over heaven on his first step, and hell on his second step. The king realized Vamana was Vishnu and out of respect and honor offered his head as the third place for Vamana to place his foot. Vamana did just that and in doing so granted the king immortality.
6. Parashurama (The Lumberjack)
Parashurama is the original lumberjack. He got his famous axe after a penance to Lordwhere he also received a boon of immortality. Parashurama is the first warrior-saint with training both in meditation and warfare and is bound by both codes of honor. Once a great king and his army visited Parashurama’s father at his monastery, and his father fed them all with the milk of the divine cow he had in his possession. The greedy king wanted the incredible animal and demanded the cow for himself, his father refused, and the evil king took it by force destroying the ashram and Parashurama’s entire family. In revenge Parashurama destroyed the evil king and his entire family and took a vow to destroy every evil warrior on earth. After 21 generations of destruction, he halted and continued on the rest of his immortality in meditation and prayer.
Now we are starting to get closer to the most popular of Vishnu’s avatars. The seventh incarnation of Vishnu was Lord Rama, also considered to be the perfect man. The story and life of Rama is pretty well known with the typical defeat of a demon and an incredible saving of the day. Rama is most famous for being honorable and heroic, even giving up his right to rule his kingdom and going into exile because his father asked it of him. Some other famous characters in Rama’s life are his brother Lakshman, his wife Sita, and his best buddy Hanuman.
The most famous of all of Vishnu’s incarnations is Lord Krishna. The first of the incarnations to be born in the Dwapara Yuga. He is the origin of the famous Bhagavad Gita and essentially created the foundation of yoga off of which Patajali’s Yoga Sutra’s is based. He is famous for destroying countless evil kings and demons, and being a key figure in the Mahabharata and the Battle of Kurukshetra. The appearance of Krishna was to usher in and lay the foundation of principles in the Gita to help mankind through the Kali Yuga or Stone Age.
Buddha is typically thought to be the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Originally born an Indian prince with the name Siddhartha, he became world renowned as Gautama Buddha when he became a monk and attained enlightenment. Buddha (literally translating to enlightenment) is said to have incarnated in this form to bring about social change, setting a new standard for the life of a yogi. He is also said to have changed the tradition of animal sacrifice in India and taught new forms of prayer through mindfulness.
And the best is yet to come!