Vishnu’s Ten Incarnations

Vishnu’s Ten Incarnations
Availability: Can be backordered
South Indian Temple Wood Carving
18.0" X 72.0" X 3.0"
21.6 Kg
Item Code: RE01
Price: $1800.00
Shipping Free - 4 to 6 days
This item can be back ordered
Time required to recreate this artwork: 20 to 24 weeks
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The amount to be tendered as advance to back order this artwork: $360.00
Viewed 9013 times since 2nd Dec, 2011
This wood-panel portrays with absolute clarity, rare precision and every minute detail ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Vaishnava tradition contends Vishnu incarnating as often as required for maintaining cosmic order and for destroying the wicked and protecting righteousness. Thus, the number of his incarnations varies from ten to that in thousands. However, the most accepted number of his incarnations is ten, and sometimes twenty-four. The tradition of carving his ten incarnations on a temple’s door-lintel, and sometimes in independent reliefs on the temple’s other parts was begun around the sixth century itself. His twenty-four incarnations also comprise the theme of a few reliefs of later days and of some late eighteenth century miniatures.

Vishnu’s usually accepted ten incarnations are : Matsyavatara – Fish incarnation, Kurmavatara – Tortoise incarnation, Varahavatara – Boar incarnation, Narasimhavatara – half lion-half man incarnation, Vamanavatara – Dwarf incarnation, and his incarnations as Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and the Horse-headed Kalki. Of these first three are his incarnations in animal forms : fish, tortoise and boar; the fourth, half animal-half man, the fifth, the man but disproportionate to human anatomy, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, human beings, and the tenth, which is yet to take effect, is sometimes claimed to emerge as one riding a horse, and at other times, as one being half man-half horse. Opinions vary in regard to his incarnation as Balarama. Some texts, Vishnu Purana in particular, alternate Balarama with Buddha who they revere as Vishnu’s ninth incarnation.

On its extreme right and next to it the panel portrays respectively Vishnu’s Fish and Tortoise incarnations. The artist has carved the four-armed figure of Vishnu carrying in its upper hands the disc and goad and holding the other two in ‘abhaya’ and ‘varada’ emerging from the body of a fish, and another, exactly identical, from the body of tortoise. In his Matsyavatara Vishnu is said to have saved Manu from the great Deluge. Some traditions acclaim that as the Great Fish he had rescued the Vedas. During ocean-churning, when the ocean’s bottom was unable to contain Mount Meru : the churning rod, Vishnu incarnated as Tortoise, slipped under the Mount and held it on its back and thus churning was accomplished.

The third figure and the fourth, having normal human anatomy, except that the third has the face of the boar, and the fourth, that of the lion, both carrying the same attributes as the first two, are respectively Vishnu’s Varahavatara and Narasimhavatara. As the tradition has it, Hiranyaksha, a notorious demon, once uprooted the earth and carried her to Patala-Loka – nether world, and hid her there. Thereupon Vishnu incarnated as Boar and after killing Hiranyaksha carried the earth on his tusks and installed her back in her place. Vishnu had incarnated as Narasimha for killing the atrocious demon Hiranyakasipu who had from Brahma the boon that he would not be killed by either the man or animal. The boon did not provide immunity against Narasimha who was neither man nor animal.

Vishnu incarnated as Vamana for deluding the demon chief Mahabali. A notorious demon but a great donor, Mahabali granted him a piece of land measuring the Vamana’s three strides. Expanding his form Vishnu covered the entire cosmos in two steps, and for the third he put his foot on the demon’s body and pushed him into the nether world. Vishnu incarnated sixth time as Parasurama, a Brahmin with ‘parasu’ – battle-axe, in hand for chastising the arrogant kshatriyas who mad with power did not hesitate in targeting sages and even in killing them. Parasurama destroyed Kshatriyas twenty-one times, and thus also their ego. The wood-panel has conceived Vamana, as also Parasurama, Rama, Balarama and Krishna with normal two arms and without the disc, goad, mace or ‘abhaya’. In the panel Parasurama carries ‘parasu’, Rama, his bow, Balarama, his plough and Krishna his flute. All ten figures’ anatomy, wears, ornaments, are on Vaishnava lines. The horse-faced Kalki has been conceived as four-armed carrying in the upper two the same disc and goad as carry Vishnu’s early incarnations, though in the other two, he carries a large dagger and a steel-head to blow with.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

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