God’s Lila, Understanding the Collective Impact of Avatara

Article of the Month - Dec 2014

This article by Nitin Kumar

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One evening, after having propitiated the fire god Agni with milk offerings, the great sage Kashyapa was seated in deep meditation inside his sacrificial hall. At that moment his wife Diti, stung by the arrows of Kamadeva approached him saying: "Oh Learned One!, just like an elephant crushes a banana tree, so is Kama the god of love tormenting me. Please confer your favor on me. Satisfy my desire; indeed, an entreaty of the distressed to the great ones is never fruitless."

Diti was besides herself with desire. Sage Kashyapa replied to her in a soothing tone saying, "Devi! I am ready to comply with your desire at the earliest. Who would not satisfy his wife who is but his better half? A man is able to move around freely only because his wife is there to look after his house. A man cannot repay his wife’s debts in this life or the next. But please wait for some time before I satisfy your desire."

Kashyapa then explained to his wife that there were four factors why he couldn’t satisfy her at the present moment:

1). He was seated in meditation.

2). According to the scriptures, conjugal acts are forbidden in the evenings (and mornings, being allowed only in the nights).



3). The time of twilight (sandhya) was approaching. This is the time when the great God Shiva roams arounds the world riding His bull, surrounded by His ghost companions. Bhagawan Shiva witnesses everything with His three eyes. Hence, nothing in the world remains hidden from him. Out of respect to His presence, one should refrain from this act during those moments.

4). Lastly, I am disinclined (According to the scriptures, if either partner is disinclined, the other should refrain).

Though she was thus instructed in the ways of dharma, Diti, whose senses were thoroughly overwhelmed by passion, caught hold of her husband’s garment. Kashyapa, realising that it was God’s will, agreed to his wife’s request and they both entered a secluded area.

Later, he took a bath, performed pranayama and meditating silently on the pure, eternal light, repeated internally the Gayatri Mantra. Diti too, now that her passion had subsided, was ashamed that she had transgressed dharma. She approached sage Kashyapa with her face cast down and said: " Oh Noble Brahmin! I have committed a fault against Bhagawan Shiva; but I hope that he will not destroy my impending child. I bow to the Great Lord Shiva. We women are treated compassionately even by ruthless hunters, what then to say of Bhagawan Shiva?"

Her husband, who had completed his evening rituals, spoke to his wife who was trembling greatly with fear and was desirous of obtaining the good of her progeny. He said: "Lady! your mind was impure with desire. The time also was not right. You did not obey my order and also you disrespected the gods. As a consequence, you will beget two wicked sons, who will make the whole world cry out with their atrocities. When their activities will cross all limits, the ever compassionate Bhagawan Vishnu will descend to take avatara and kill your two sons."

On hearing this, Diti said: "This is what I too want, that my sons should meet death directly at the hands of the glorious Bhagawan Vishnu."

Prahlad (The Child Saint)

Kashyapa continued, "On account of your repentance at your act, and due to the great respect you have shown for Bhagawan Shiva and Vishnu, one of your grandsons (Prahlada) will be a great bhakta who will be a source of inspiration for all generations to come." 

Diti was delighted on hearing that her grandson would be a great bhakta of Bhagwan Vishnu. She felt even more delighted at the prediction that both her sons would meet their ends at the hands of Bhagawan Vishnu Himself.

As she bore the seed of her husband and the day of delivery neared, the sun lost its lustre, engulfing the world in darkness. Even the gods felt helpless at the unfolding events. They immediately rushed to Brahma Ji and asked him to protect them from the embryos in Diti’s womb, whose darkness was consuming the world, much like fire consumes fuel. Brahma Ji laughed out aloud and replied to the gods in a sweet and reassuring voice: "You need not worry. The two sons of Diti are none other than two individuals named Jay and Vijay, who were at one time gatekeepers of Vaikuntha, the residence of the Supreme God Vishnu."

How Jay and Vijaya Fell from Vaikuntha

Once it so happened that goddess Lakshmi was out of Vaikuntha. When she returned, the two gatekeepers asked her to wait outside because Vishnu Ji was in yoga nidra. This obviously annoyed Lakshmi Ji. She felt insulted, that she, being the mistress of the house, was made to wait outside by the gatekeepers who were, after all, her servants. She later complained to the Lord, telling Him how His gatekeepers had stopped her from entering His chamber.

Bhagawan Vishnu asked her to forbear a little. He pointed that it would not be seemly if He banished them at her instigation. People would accuse Him of being ruled by His wife. "I will banish Jay and Vijay the day they insult a sage," He promised. Lakshmi Ji was calmed by these words because she always obeys the Lord.

Four Saints

Soon after this incident, four saints, known by the common name ‘Sanatkumaras’, came to visit Vaikuntha. The Sanatkumaras are highly accomplished saints who view this whole world as a manifestation of God and are beyond all duality. Despite being older, they always maintain the appearance of five-year olds and go around without clothes. They too were stopped by Jay and Vijay, who laughed and made fun of them. Even though they knew the Sanatkumaras very well, because of God’s will, at that moment, they treated the Kumaras as mere children.

So, Jay and Vijay tried to block their access to Bhagawan Vishnu. It was God’s design that the great Sanatkumaras become angry at this intervention. Interestingly, the Bhagavata Purana, from where this story is taken, refers to anger as ‘kamanuja’, meaning the younger brother of kama (desire), just like Lakshmana is called Ramanuja. Anger follows desire, just like Lakshmana follows Rama (Bhagavatam 3.15.19). So, the Sanatkumaras, prevented from their desire of seeing Bhagawan Vishnu, were overcome by kamanuja when Jay-Vijay misbehaved with them. Their eyes reddened a little and they said: "You behave like ordinary men and hence do not deserve to live in this spiritual world." The Sanatkumaras then cursed Jay and Vijay saying: "Go where material people live (i.e. the earth). That is where you deserve to live."

Srimad Bhagavata Purana - In Two Volumes

Meanwhile, hearing the commotion, Vishnu Ji emerged from his abode. Seeing the great saints he welcomed them with reverence saying, "The curse you have given to these two is most appropriate." Here we see an example of the Lord’s tact. People should never side with their servants on such occasions. They should first pacify the enraged guests.

Bhagawan continued, "Despite being my attendants, these two did not understand My priorities. They go against my wishes when they show disrespect to brahmins. That is why it is proper for you to have cursed them. Respected Sirs! I consider saints My all-in-all. It is because the saints sing My virtues that Devi Lakshmi accepts Me. It is because of you that I live in Vaikuntha and am known as God. It is through your mouths that I eat. Indeed, I do not as much relish the offerings poured into the sacrificial fires as I do food dripping with ghee offered to brahmins. It is the dust of the holy feet of brahmins that I wear on my crown. Brahmins, milk-bearing cows and protection-less beings, all three are my own body. Those who look upon any of these three as different from Myself, are torn with rage by Yamadutas, the servants of death. I am won over by those who look upon even harsh speaking brahmins as Myself and honour those brahmins with a joyous heart (what then to say of people who revere virtuous brahmins like Sanatkumaras).

It is My principle, with regard to those who serve Me, that I consider their mistakes to be Mine. Therefore, while my two attendants will descend three times to the earth as demons, I will follow them even more, i.e., I will descend four times."

The following is the distribution of Jay-Vijay’s descent and Bhagawan Vishnu’s avatars (lit. descent):

1). Varaha Avatar for killing Hiranyaksha

Varaha Avataar of Lord Vishnu

2). Narasimha Avatar for killing Hiranyakashipu

3). Rama Avatar for killing Ravana


Lord Rama Killing Ravana

4). Krishna Avatar for killing Shishupala.

Shishupalavadham (Canto 2)

Bhagwan concluded: "Four times will I go for their salvation and bring them back to My abode."

The Purpose of Avatar

Thus here we see the entire causal life-cycle of Bhagawan’s avatar. It is never for one single purpose but to fulfil many functions at the same time. For example, through His Varaha Avatar, God accomplished the following objectives:

1). Never leaving His bhaktas in distress. Bhagawan Vishnu followed Jay-Vijay all the way to earth, after they had fallen from Vaikuntha.

2). Born as evil demons, these two wrecked havoc on innocent people. By killing them, Bhagwan restored dharma and fulfilled the promise made by him in the Gita (4.7).

3). By killing them with His own hands, He ensured for them a glorious death.

4). By manifesting Himself in the lowly body of a ‘varaha’, Bhagwan Vishnu reminded us of the sacredness of all life.

5). Indeed, any of Bhagwan’s lilas takes into account the collective karma of all creatures.

Additionally, through the events leading upto to Bhagawan Vishnu’s avatar (Diti-Kashyap dialogue, conduct of Jai-Vijay etc), we are also instructed in the subtle nuances of dharma, which in the process, help us lead a richer, more fruitful life.


References & Further Reading:

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