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38: Mythical Timeline of Dashavataras

The problem - rather, one of the problems, for there are several many as I have mentioned earlier too - one of the problems with reading and contemplating about the Hindu mythology is the circular nature of time (see my earlier posts on this subject).

Agreed that this gives an excellent opportunity for poets and other creative beings to twist and turn the storyline, and to have characters from different eons pop suddenly out of nowhere and spice up the narratives. And that is how you suddenly have Bhima from Dwapar Yuga picking up Hanuman's Treta Yuga-old tail in Mahabharata. You also have Vishnu and Indra sharing the spoils of a sport once in the vedas as two brothers (as sons of Aditi, daughter of Daksha, who is himself the son of Brahma), and then afterwards a later-dated purana declaring vehemantly that Vishnu is the creator of all, including Brahma, Daksha, and Indra. Beat that!

Yet, with all these creative freedoms, you will agree with me that when mythology itself means that the boundaries of time are sketchy and blurred at best, and that you have to second guess the timing of every occurance, this adds more confusion to the already shaky world view. The whole era of myths seems to be suspended in a space-time continuum, bobbing up and down without any direction - no arrow of time!

There are very few areas where some semblense of chronology is available. For instance, take the Vishnu Maha-Dashavataras or great incarnations. You know for sure that Matsya came first, and then Kurma, and then Varaha, followed by Narasimha, and so on. However it is not clear when exactly each one happened and how much time went by between two consecutive ones. You can only infer based on side supports. Like, it appears that Varaha and Narasimha must have happened close to each other, as the antagonists in these two - Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapu - were twin brothers and so must be close.

So it appears that this is the flow of the mythical time as compared to the ten maha-avataras of Vishnu:

1. Matysa (fish)

This has Vivasvan Manu as the protagonist of the story. Manu is the son of Vivasvan, son of Kashyapa and Aditi, daughter of Daksha Prajapati - who is the son of Brahma. So I am guessing that this must pretty early on - close to when the world was formed by Brahma at the beginning. Manu is saved by the fish during the deluge / flood and then the world is re-populated.

2. Kurma (tortoise)

When the Devas (Adityas - or sons of Aditi like Indra, Savitr, Varuna, etc.) were at war with Daityas and Danavas (sons of Diti and Danu) and were facing a hard time at that, Vishnu suggested to Devas to churn the ocean of milk. This is the famous story of Samudra manthan. He also agreed to take the form of a giant tortoise to support the stirring staff (mount Mandara). Since Vivasvan and Adityas are supposedly brothers, the timing of this avatara must be immediately after the events of the earlier avatara.

3. Varaha (wild boar)

The antagonist of this story is Hiranyaksha - one of the Daityas - son of Diti (sister of Aditi). The story talks about a deluge that Hiranyaksha created by pushing the Earth under water. I am not sure if this flood is the same as what Manu encountered and survived, but maybe it is a different one. In any case, the mythical time for this story is close to the earlier stories in Krita yuga.

4. Narasimha (man lion)

Hiranyaksha's twin brother Hiranyakashipu sought revenge of his brother's death, but in the end met his own end at the hands (nails) of Vishnu's Narasimha (half-man half-lion) avatara. So again, this must be close at heels to the story of Varaha. This is said to be the last avatara of Satya / Krita yuga.

5. Vamana (young student)

Vishnu's first full human avatara - albeit that of a young boy - is that of Vamana. Now this avatara was to get rid of the Daitya King Bali, under whose able leadership the Daityas and Danavas had forged a very formidable war front and army against the Devas. Bali was the grandson of Hiranyakashipu of the earlier story (Hiranyakashipu --> Prahlada --> Veerochana --> Bali). So there must be a gap of at least two generations (100-150 years?) between the fourth and the fifth avatara as against the earlier stories, which seem to have happened one after the other. In some puranas, this is also given as the first avatara of Treta yuga. So the gap may be much wider - by a couple of hundred thousand years.

6. Parashurama (brahmin king)

Bhargava rama or Parashurama - the first sovereign king of the new world - is the only avatara in which Vishnu is still supposed to be lingering around due to his unfinished business with Kalki that is yet to come. In any case, Parashurama is famous for killing Haihaya Kshatriyas 21 times over and over again. The events of this story must have happened somewhere halfway through Treta yuga.

7. Ramachandra (purushottama - 'great man')

The historical accuracy of the two epics of Hindu Mythology is a topic that requires more studied opinion than mine, but for the purpose of this writeup, it suffices to consider that Ramachandra's avatara and his war with the Lankan overlord Ravana is considered to have happened during the final eons of Treta yuga.

8. Krishna / Balarama (the poorna-purusha - the 'complete man')

Krishna and Balarama are the avatara that happened in the end of Dwapar yuga. So it seems there was a gap of two into 432,000 years (i.e 864,000 years - mythical years that is - don't get me into a discussion on the historical perspectives of these) between the seventh and the eighth avatara. Some say Krishna was Vishnu's avatara, and Balarama was Adi Sesha's avatara. Some say Balarama was born out of a white hair of Vishnu's body while Krishna was born out of a dark hair. In any case, these two were brothers and walked the Earth together before the beginning of the Kali Yuga.

9. Buddha (the wise)

This is the first avatara in Kali yuga, and also seems to be the only one where some actual historical personage can be traced to the incarnation. However the inclusion of Buddha in the list itself is quite controversial. In some lists Balarama is considered the 8th one, and Krishna the 9th one. In Maharashtra where I come from, Vithoba is considered the 9th avatar. In any case, if we include Buddha, then most scholars peg Buddha's historical time arond 486and 483 BCE i.e. about 2,500 years ago from your and my time.

10. Kalki (time / destroyer)

Kalki is supposed to be the final avatara, and this is one avatara that is yet to come. Kalki Bhagwan is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga i.e. about 430,000 years from now. So Kalki will come in the age of darkness, destroy the barbarians and thieves, and will re-establish righteousness on the Earth - which will eventually mark the beginning of Satya yuga again and the next cycle of Maha Yugas.


So there. We have a complete listing with the mythical timeline - first four avatars in Krita Yuga, the next three in Treta Yuga, then Krishna Balarama in Dwapara Yuga and then the last two in Kali Yuga, with one yet to happen.

Now this list is according to Vishnu Purana and other Puranas where the main deity is Vishnu (like Garuda Purana) and in most cases the mythical timeline - for once - matches with one another. If you look at some other sources, I am not sure if the timeline will match with this one. Good luck with that!

More later,
- Shreekant
01 May 2011

Comments

Naveen said…
Shree,

Love your Blog.. Love the info in it. Came across it while browsing for 'Chiranjeevis' of the creation' and read it fully since.

I have one small observation though, if you are open to it.

As you know, Hinduism and Numerology are intertwined so beautifully, that one can not tell one from the other. I am ofcourse, in awe of you understanding of the timelines about Kalpas, Manavatras, yuga sandhis that you have so wonderfully mentioned in your other posts.

But if you look at them carefully, assuming the age of kaliyuga to be 1, Dwarapa's age is 2, Treta's age is 3 and the first or the Krita Yuga's age is 4.

Similarly Dharma had 4 legs in Krita yuga, 3 in Treta, 2 in Dwapara and wobbling pathetically on one leg in the current Kaliyuga.

Anything and Everything in hinduism, is either directly or conversely related to the number 10.

Similar is the case of the 10 Prajapathis ( the topic on which you went to, in beautiful depths) and also the 10 avatars.

Coming to Dasavathars, It is said, that 4 took place is Krita Yug, 3 in Treta, 2 in Dwapara and 1 in Kaliyug ( yet to be, I think!!)

By that theory, Kaliyuga cannot have 2 avatars, for it cannot bear the lord twice in Kaliyuga (the era of sin).

In the earlier versions of Dasavataara, Either MOhini or Balarama were listed as one of the avatars, like you mentioned in your post. Buddha was clearly a later or a relatively modern addition, keeping in mind its popularity and/ or since the basic principles of buddhism were offshoots of Hinduism.

Any thoughts?

-- Naveen
Naveen said…
Shree,

Love your Blog.. Love the info in it. Came across it while browsing for 'Chiranjeevis' of the creation' and read it fully since.

I have one small observation though, if you are open to it.

As you know, Hinduism and Numerology are intertwined so beautifully, that one can not tell one from the other. I am ofcourse, in awe of you understanding of the timelines about Kalpas, Manavatras, yuga sandhis that you have so wonderfully mentioned in your other posts.

But if you look at them carefully, assuming the age of kaliyuga to be 1, Dwarapa's age is 2, Treta's age is 3 and the first or the Krita Yuga's age is 4.

Similarly Dharma had 4 legs in Krita yuga, 3 in Treta, 2 in Dwapara and wobbling pathetically on one leg in the current Kaliyuga.

Anything and Everything in hinduism, is either directly or conversely related to the number 10.

Similar is the case of the 10 Prajapathis ( the topic on which you went to, in beautiful depths) and also the 10 avatars.

Coming to Dasavathars, It is said, that 4 took place is Krita Yug, 3 in Treta, 2 in Dwapara and 1 in Kaliyug ( yet to be, I think!!)

By that theory, Kaliyuga cannot have 2 avatars, for it cannot bear the lord twice in Kaliyuga (the era of sin).

In the earlier versions of Dasavataara, Either MOhini or Balarama were listed as one of the avatars, like you mentioned in your post. Buddha was clearly a later or a relatively modern addition, keeping in mind its popularity and/ or since the basic principles of buddhism were offshoots of Hinduism.

Any thoughts?

-- Naveen
Naveen,

Thanks for your excellent comment and insight. As I said earlier, Buddha is clearly a new addition. It is quite ironic that for the man who spent his life fighting the basic idol worship was himself idolized after his death. Not only that, he was brought in the same line as that of Vishnu by adding him as the 9th Avatar.

In most cases Balaram and Krishna make it up to 9 Avatars already, and we are left with Kalki Bhagwan in the Kali-yug.

There is a temple of Kalki in Jaipur, right across the famous Hawa mahal. Kalki's white winged horse in this temple has a gap in his hind hoof. It is said that slowly and steadily this gap is getting filled, and once it fills completely, Kalki Bhagwan will reveal himself and destroy the evil from this world.

So I tend to visit this temple whenever I am in Jaipur, just to check if the gap is still there or has got filled - you never know! It is always better to be prepared :)

Best
Shreekant
Yatin Diwakar said…
Considering the life spans of humans n the krita yuga (100,000 years), the four avatars there can be spaced wide enough, not just 100-150 years.
a lot of people seem to have turned up to your blog because of chiranjeevis. Including me :)
Bhavin Desai said…
Shree & Naveen,
I enjoyed the blog written by you Shree and the little known but "once-you-realize-it-its-so-obvious" fact of No. 10 by naveen... just one small thing i would like to add to naveens opinion on 9 avtaars excluding Buddha,. I agree to the fact, how ever i wouldn't consider mohini in it, because in the Krita Yuga, as you said there are four avataar viz., Matsya, Kurma, Varaha & Narsimha. And mohini's avtaar is placed alongside Kurma during the great churning of the sea.
But what i would like you guys to give me an opnion on my theory that MAYBE Matsya was an avtaar of the last Kali Yuga???? Because he is the only avtaar (except the yet to come Kalki) that "preserves" the pious & non-corrupted mankind from total annihilation! So if we remove the two avtaars (Matsya & Buddha) we can replace them with Mohini & Balram respectively. So what do you guys think??
The Yogi said…
Hi Shreekant,

feel very happy reading these posts and that there are fellow Indians who would indulge in these "mythical" fantasies as many like to believe them to be.

One thing though.. I would urge you to read a book called 'The Holy Science' written by Sri Yukteswarji, Guru of the Sri Paramahansa Yogananda the author of Autobiography of a Yogi. This book gives a bold and honest view on how the yuga system were corrupted at the end of the Dwapara / beggining of the Kali Yuga primarily due to many high vedic scholars of the Pandava court renouncing all and walking away with the Pandavas towards the end. Later priests, who were nt so bright, couldnt come to terms with the fact that they were facing the onslaught of kali age and thus interpreted the Yugas in the devas year instead of normal human years as is applicable to our loka/dimension. This leads to the number of years as currently given by many texts. Human life is monitored by human laws and human years, not devic years.
Aji m p said…
I have one doubt. Vamana was the fifth avatar who approached Bali. Bali was the ruler of Kerala. But it was told that Kerala was created by Parashurama who was the sixth avatar. How is it possible
Excellent question Aji. I think it would depend on what you consider as the land created by Parashurama. Please see my earlier posts on him - "Chiranjeevi 3" and "How Chitpavan Brahmins got their name".

Typically 'Parashurama Bhoomi" is considered to be the current land of Konkan. This is the 30-mile wide stretch along the Western Ghats to the WEST. There was always the peninsula descending in the South, but the warrior seer seems to have stretched its width, not length. So Kerala was there already in the South. But a new land of Malabar and Kokan could have got created due to Rama's intervention.
Vedant Pophale said…
Hello Shreekant, Wonderful post!
While the Dashavataras we know in an order which you posted, they did not came to be in the same order.
Looking into the Manvantaras and Kalpas, we know that the current Kalpa (A day of Brahma) is called Shwet Varah Kalpa, because Varah was actually the first avatar. I will post below what I think the order is chronologically.
1. Varah - The Earth was submerged into the primeval waters by Hiranyaksha and it was rescued by Varah, hence the start of the new Kalpa is called Shwet Varah Kalpa.
2. Narsimha - Since Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were brothers, it is natural for a brother to take revenge. And as soon as Hiranyaksha was killed, I guess Hiranyakashipu went on to perform a penance that would grant him the boon.
3. Kurma - Now, we know the Samudra Manthan happened with the Asuras and Devas coming together. Asuras were lead by Bali, and Bali being the great grandson of Hiranyakashipu, it is quite well plausible that this happened over many centuries.
4. Vaman - We know from the Vedas that Trivikrama and Vaman are the same, so following the story from Vedas, Bali must have ruled the 3 worlds after the Samudra Manthan and that is how Vaman avatar came into being.
5. Matsya - Matsya avatar helped Vaivasvat Manu from the great deluge. Vaivasvat Manu is the 7th Manu. Varah Kalpa started with Swayambhu Manu.
6. Parshuram - Parshuram was technically the first human avatar (if we consider Vaman as Trivikrama, it is another form of Vishnu) In Treta Yuga.
7. Ram - We know the account of Parshuram meeting Ram in Ramayan and we know Ramayan happened in 24th Chaturyuga.
8. Krishna - Though Parshuram marks his presence in this avatar too, he is known to be a Chiranjeevi. Mahabharat is supposed to have happened in 28th Chaturyuga (the current one)
9. Buddha - We have historical proves of his existence, and it is a later addition into the Avatars of Vishnu.
10. Kalki - Which is yet to happen.
Vedant, that sounds like a good plan. Only that most sources consider Matysa to be the first avatar. But your comment is a different perspective too. Keep writing. Best, S.

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