Avatar – The One who Descends – Part One
By Subhash Marathe
By the time you get this article, Hollywood’s new offering ‘Avatar’ would be somewhere around you. Yes, it’s a movie – created at the cost of $ 200 million and upwards. Sanskrit pundits may feel happy that the mega-buck spending moguls of Hollywood are appreciating a Sanskrit word ‘avatar’, but this movie has nothing to do with the avatar of the Vedic scriptures. The man behind this movie, James Cameron explains his understanding of the word – ” Avatar is a word from the Hindu religion which means the fleshly incarnation of a divine being, like Shiva or whatever. And so in this film it’s a fleshly incarnation of a human, a living human who can put their consciousness into that body.” We would like to congratulate him for his attempt to understand this seemingly difficult concept, but would also like to put the record straight.
It is mainly Krishna (Vishnu) who descends from the world of spirit into the world of matter. And His appearance here is called avatar. The Sanskrit term avatar (“one who descends”) if often rendered into English as “incarnation” (carnis means flesh, thus ‘one who accepts a fleshly existence’). It would be a gross error to think that Krishna incarnates in a body made of physical elements. In the Bhagavad Gita material elements and God’s own spiritual nature are distinguished clearly. The material elements namely, earth,water,fire,air and ethereal space are temporary in nature and thus destructible. Krishna’s own nature called para-prakriti is invisible, eternal and infallible.
Only when the Lord descends, by His mercy the invisible becomes visible.
Cameron further states that,” And to me that was an important distinction, because it’s not like a virtual “Avatar” the way we have on SECOND LIFE (a website offering virtual existence in cyberspace) or in role playing games and that sort of thing. It’s a living, breathing biological body. So you go to sleep in your human body and wake up in the “Avatar” body. When it goes to sleep at the end of the day, you reawaken in your human body. Then you have go to sleep because you have to rest.” Well so much for the understanding of spiritual concepts presented by the entertainment industry, let us check out the truth from Vedic texts.
HOW MANY AVATARS?
God has many avatars. God as the personality remains ONE but his avatars are innumerable. In India avatars are popularly listed as ten in number called Dashavatars. Indeed these ten are particularly celebrated. They are
Matsya (the Lord’s form as a gigantic fish)
- Kurma (the turtle)
- Varaha (the boar)
- Shri Narsimha (the half-man half-lion form)
- Parashurama (the hermit who wields an axe)
- Vamana (the small brahmana boy)
- Shri Ramachandra (the Lord of Ayodhya)
- Shri Balarama (Lord Krishna’s brother)
- Buddha (the sage who cheated the atheists)
- Kalki (who will depopulate the world of all degraded, sinful men at the end of the present age of Kali).
- To be continued….
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