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Episode 2 The Significance of Dasavathara

Saroja Ramanujam mami recently shared a detailed interpretation about Dasavathara. It was an interesting interpretation which led to a series of thoughts in my mind.

Thanks to Facebook and Orkut for making such connections possible.

So here her post. I wanted to keep it part of my blog so that I can revisit anytime.

Hayagreevaasura took the Vedas when Brahma was supposed to be sleeping and hid them under the sea. Lord Vishnu assuming the form of a large fish retrieved them. Now, Haygreevaasura represents the men of wicked or perverted intellect who influence on others and cause the extinction of the wisdom of the Vedas. The word hayaa in Sanskrit has, besides horse, another meaning, a class of men,

kaashta thulya vapur dhrshtah mithyaachaarascha nirbhayah
Of strong build like wood , corrupt and fearless.

Vedas being immersed in the ocean , Wisdom and Dharma submerged in adharma due to the absence of the guidance of the Vedas require Divine Grace in the form of pure intellect. sarvajna which is represented by Mahaamathsya the Great Fish, which becomes all pervading, sarvavyaapi, in order to protect Dharma and Vedas.

Yathaa mahaamathsyah ubhe koole anusancharathi poorvam cha aparam cha
 –Brihadhaaranyaka Upanishad.

When the intellect is limited it is full of doubt and confusion, running here and there like a small fish swimming alternately between the two banks of the river. But the same intellect, when it becomes all pervading, being established in Brahman, absolute reality, is firm and unaffected by the cross currents of samsaara, transmigratory existence: Mahaan chaasau mathsyascha naadheyena srothasaa ahaaryah and saves the world from destruction.

Amrthamathana the churning for nectar signifies the emergence of wisdom jnaana by churning the mind. The ocean of milk is the mind full of turbulence inside but complacent on the surface out of tamas ,inertia. Snakes stand for desires and Vaasuki ,the king of snakes is the king of all desires, mumukshutwa, desire for moksha. The lord helps at every step, carrying the mountain, supporting it on His back, churning along with them and entering into them to give them strength and enthusiasm. This implies that we need His guidance in all our ventures, at every stage of spiritual progress. The anaadhi vaasanaas, the impressions gathered through several lives which are the root cause of samsara, have to be expelled first, which is the Halaahala the fierce poison that comes out of the Milky Ocean at first. This is swallowed by Siva, who is the god of destruction. This mathana, churning , is happening all the time, mind being agitated by the good and bad impulses when both come to surface one by one. The good things that came out of the ocean like Airaavatha the divine elephant, Uchchaisravas the divine horse, the kalpavriksha, wish-giving tree are all the various powers that come during the spiritual discipline. Devaas were warned against aspiring for these as they impede progress.

The word Hiranya means gold and aksha eyes. The one who has his eyes on the gold is a hiranyaaksha. The hiranyabuddhi in contrast with bhagavatbuddhi denotes a materialistic outlook which envelopes the whole world eclipsing bhagavatbuddhi - the spiritual outlook. Mahaavaraaha, the Big Boar is also vrishaakapi, dharma incarnate. Bhaagaavthapuraana describes the Varaaha as Yajnavaraaha, the embodiment of yajna. This idea is also presented in Bhagavadgita in chapter 3, where the Absolute Reality Brahman is said to be established in yajna. Thus, Mahaavaraaha alone could save the world from Hiranyabuddhi.

The earth was described as looking like a small ball on the tusk of the Varaaha implying that for those with bhagavatbuddhi the material world is thuchcha, of no value. The oceans were only knee deep for the Varaaha, the wild boar, who was fierce looking for the wicked but gentle to the devotees

Hiranyaaksha and his brother Hiranyakasipu(kasipu meaning food and clothing) stand for materialism.It is said that both of them were the guards at the gate of Vaikunta the abode of Lord Vishnu and were cursed to be born as Asuraas. They take birth as brothers for three times. Even though the Lord killed them both in one incarnation when they were born as Ravana, Kumbhakarna and as Sisupaala and Dhanthavakra. He needed two incarnations - Varaaha and Nrsimha to kill them as Hiranyaaksha and Hiranyakasipu, who personify madha, arrogance, and krodha, anger respectively.

Of the six internal enemies of man,
Ravana stands for kaama, desire,
Kumbhakarna for moha, delusion and
Sisupaala and Dhanthavakra represent maathsarya envy and lobha, avarice.

This shows that it is more difficult to conquer anger and arrogance than the others.

Prahlaadha denotes bhagavatbhakthi which is hindered by hiranyabuddhi. When the true devotee is persecuted by the materialistic world the Lord manifests as a man-lion for the protection of His bhaktha. Hiranyakasipu’s boons signify the dhvandhva, the pair of opposites, the presence of which can never destroy the enemy within and without. The desire for gold, represented by Hirnyakasipu can only be quelled a dhvandhvaatheetha, the intellect that has transcended the pairs of opposites, sukha-duhka, joy and sorrow, laabha- alaabha, gain and loss, Jaya –ajaya , success and failure. Nrsimha is described as na mrgam na maanusham , which does not mean that He is half man and half lion but that He is indescribable, being the Supreme Reality.

Vamana is the jnanaswarupa - the embodiment of wisdom. Before the emergence of jnana, all virtues like dharma and dhana serve only to swell the pride of the doer. But when the heart is filled with devotion, there arises jnana in a diminutive form as a vamana. Even a devotee could become inflated with pride over his services and offerings to the Lord, forgetting that what he offers has been given to him by the Lord Himself. This is the initial stage of bhakthi which, when ripened into self surrender ,attains the attitude vasudevassarvam - seeing everything in Him and Him in everything. Then the jnana becomes all encompassing like Trivikrama.

Parasurama signifies the yogi who has rooted out the inner enemies like kaama and krodha which are portrayed by the kshatriyas. When sattwa rises to the surface there is peace ,denoted by the gift of the earth to Kasyapa. The axe of Parasurama is viveka and vairagya - discrimination and detachment, armed with which one can conquer the inner foes. The incarnation comes to an end on the occasion of the meeting between Parasurama and Rama when the Lord assumes back His powers.

Dasaratha- meaning one with ten chariots, represents man carried away by the ten Indriyas - sense organs, and his wives Kausalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra stand for bhakti, karma, and jnana respectively. Rama as Valmiki says, was vigrahavan dharmah - dharma incarnate. Dharma has its root in Vedas and the purport of the Vedas is Paramatma, the Supreme Self. So, Rama is thus shown to be none other than the Lord. Lakshmana denotes Artha, the second purushartha which should always follow dharma ,the first. Bharatha implies Moksha, and satrugna indicates the third purushartha, Kama which must be always about Moksha, the fourth purushartha.

When the man , Dasaratha gets attached to karma, without jnana, he becomes bound by it desire motivated karma, Kaikeyi is instrumental in banishing dharma, Rama from the kingdom. The reluctance of Dasaratha to do so denotes the conscience of man which makes him guilty of doing something he should not do but bound by his attachment and desire he becomes week and succumbs to the temptation as a result of which he faces destruction.

Sita and Rama are the jivatma and Paramatma as depicted in Upanishad as two birds which are one in reality.

Dvaa suparnaa sayujaa sakhaayaa
Of which one wanders away from the other eating fruits sour and sweet while the other simply looks on from above

Thayorekah pippalam svaadhu atthi anasnan anyah abhichaakasithi
When the former, jiva, climbs up and while eating the fruits and nearing the other realizes that it is just the shadow of the one above, the Paramatma
Merging with it becomes free from sukha and duhkha and enjoys infinite bliss.

Sita relinquishing the comforts of the royal palace accompanied Rama to the forest which shows that the real happiness of the jiva is to be with the Paramatma and not in enjoying the sensual pleasures which are mixed with sorrow. As long as the jiva remains with the Lord it is enjoying infinite bliss. But the moment the jiva is tempted by the pleasures of the world, like the desire of Sita for the golden deer it gets separated from the Lord when the ten indriyas represented by the ten headed Ravana carries the jiva away and the jiva is imprisoned in Lanka which is the sarira and becomes surrounded by the sorrows of the samsara, the rakshasis of Asokavana. The jiva never realizes that the world is asokavana, a garden without sorrow in reality and only due to the ignorance of the jiva it appears as a sokavana, a forest of sorrow until the acharya helps to unite the jiva with the Lord.

The golden deer stands for the desires of the world, the most dangerous being that of gold, wealth. Once it enters the heart, one is carried far away into the land of demons, surrounded by the sea of samsara. Hanuman coming to the rescue of the grieving Sita signifies the acharya who is instrumental in uniting the jiva with Isvara, the Lord. The ordeal of entering the fire for Sita is the anthahkaranasuddhi, purification of the mind and intellect through bhakti when the ignorance is destroyed and the jiva gains back its original state. Vibheeshana, the good brother of Ravana stands for sattva, while Ravana depicts rajas and Kumbhakarna, tamas. With the help of sattva , rajas and thamas, metaphorically portrayed as rakshasaas, are conquered.

Lakshmana, was supposed to be the incarnation of Adhisesha, the thousand-hooded serpent who served as the bed of Lord Narayana. He never leaves the Lord. Sesha means one who is the property of and dependent on the seshi for whose purpose he exists. The lord is the seshi and all beings are His seshas. Of them Adhisesha as his name indicates is the oldest because he existed with The Lord forever. The thousand-hooded serpent is only our mind with thousand thoughts and when they are all with the Lord it becomes Adhisesha.

Thus the epic Ramayana was a drama enacted by the divine in order to teach man how to live. Rama lived like a man, expressed His feelings like a man but His divinity could be discernible to those who had insight like Vasishta and Visvamitra. Even when Rama was depicted as being engrossed with the grief of separation from Sita it only indicates that the Lord is as sorrowful, if not more, when a jiva goes astray and takes the necessary steps at the right time to bring it back into the fold. Thus even His retribution is for redemption.

It is difficult to distinguish Balaramaavathaara from that of Krishna as Balarama was the elder brother of Krishna and they were together in all their exploits. Balarama being the incarnation of Adhisesha has been elevated to the status of being the eighth avatar because of his superhuman powers and hence considered to be Samkarshana, one of the four vyuha forms of Lord Narayana. The plough and the mace, the weapons of Balarama are viveka and vairagya respectively, by which he ploughs the mind and breaks the shackles of desire.

It is a voluminous task to point out the allegorical significance of the Krishnaavathaara because from His birth Krishna proved to be the Jagatguru each and every episode of His life is pregnant with meaning.As Krishna Himself says in the Gita:

janma karma cha me dhivyam evam yo vetthi tatthvathah
It is very rare to find someone who has perfectly understood My birth and deeds

It requires an insight to understand the greatness of the Krishnaavathaara. He says in Gita:

avajaananthi maam moodaah maanusheem thnumaasritham
They are fools who consider Me as a mortal and superimpose on Me the common failings of men

Krishna never lived, felt and acted like an ordinary human being. The Divinity was manifest through out and hence it is not proper to judge His doings from our standards. The popular saying that one should live as Rama did but act like Krishna said is a misconception. He manifested Himself in Devaki and was not born to Devaki and His childhood exploits of killing the asuras depict only the destruction of evil impulses in man. Later His punishing the Kauravas and helping the Pandavas only means that the Lord will always be on the side of dharma and being the karmaphaladhatha. He sees to it that the miscreants suffer the result of their actions. This is the meaning of Krishna’s words in Mahabharatha:

aham Pandava pakshapaathi
I am partial to Pandavas.

The word Krishna itself has deep significance

krishirbhoorvaachakah nasthu nirvrthivaachakah nithaantham nirvthah krishnah ithi vishnoh krishnanama

krsh means the earth and nakaara stand for infinite happiness and hence Lord Vishnu is known as Krishna. Brahman is defined as sat,chit,ananda and among the incarnations Rama represents the sat aspect, Vamana the cit and Krishna the ananda. Everything about Krishna is nothing but pure unalloyed joy.

Nothing much is known about kalki incarnation as it is yet to take place. As He is supposed to destroy evil forces by wielding a sword, it could possibly mean jnana asi, sword of wisdom, which kills the ajnana, ignorance,root cause of all evil.