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Religious Studies

Hinduism: beliefs about God


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10 avatars of Vishnu

Vishnu in the centre of his ten avatars

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Hindus believe that sometimes a god will appear on the earth in living form.

Such an appearance is called an avatar. Perhaps the best English translation of avatar is 'incarnation', however avatar also conveys the belief that God has the ability to take any form and will descend to earth at times when there has been a decline in goodness, and evil is influencing human actions.

  • For whenever the law of righteousness (dharma)
  • Withers away, and lawlessness (adharma) raises its head,
  • Then do I generate myself on earth
  • For the protection of the good,
  • For the destruction of evildoers
  • For the setting up of righteousness
  • I come into being, age after age.

Bhagavad Gita, 4: 7 - 8

The principal avatars are those of Vishnu [Vishnu: A Hindu god. With Brahma and Shiva forms the Trimurti. ]. Vaishnavas (worshippers of Vishnu) normally recognise ten avatars, although figures such as Gandhi and Jesus are recognised as avatars by some. The tenth avatar, Kalki, is yet to appear on earth.

The ten avatars of Vishnu are:

  1. Matsya - The Fish
  2. Kurma - The Tortoise
  3. Varaha - The Boar
  4. Narasimha - The Man-Lion
  5. Vamana - The Dwarf
  6. Parasurama - Rama with the Axe
  7. Rama of Ayodhya (Ramachandra)
  8. Krishna
  9. Buddha
  10. Kalki


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