Avatar – An introduction
The term Avatāra (अवतार) in Sanskrit means 1) Descent, alighting; descending or going down into; 2) Form, manifestation; 3) Descent of a deity upon earth, incarnation in general.
The Vedas, the Puranas, the Epics and the Bhagavadgita acknowledge the incarnations of Vishnu as an essential and important function of creation to ensure the order and regularity of the worlds and keep the chaos and demonic forces under control.
An incarnation of God is also different in many respects from a manifestation (vibhuti) or an aspect (amsa) of God. Practically, everything is a manifestation of God. A manifestation may or may not be aware of its divine nature. Its purpose may be limited in scope and influence, and it may represent only some qualities or aspects of God such as his knowledge, intelligence, power, wealth, beauty, aura, grace, etc. Secondly, a manifestation of God may happen with or without a form, not necessarily upon earth, whereas an incarnation always happens upon earth and in corporeal form only.
Technically, all living beings are incarnations of God only, since the soul or the Self is an aspect of Brahman and identical to him in all aspects. However, there is a fundamental difference. The incarnations of God are full-fledged. He manifests all his power and knows inherently his divine purpose upon earth. In contrast, the living beings are subject to the impurities of egoism, delusion and attachments.
With the above introduction, let us now study a wonderful Sloka which depicts the qualities of Lord Rama, the seventh Avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Pl. Listen to a wonderful recitation of the Sloka by the young Carnatic Musician Sri. Ashwath Narayanan in Ragamalika as a Virutham (approx 9 mts).
शान्तं शाश्वतमप्रमेयमनघं निर्वाणशान्तिप्रदं
ब्रह्माशम्भुफणीन्द्रसेव्यमनिशं वेदान्तवेद्यं विभुम्।
रामाख्यं जगदीश्वरं सुरगुरुं मायामनुष्यं हरिं
वन्देऽहं करुणाकरं रघुवरं भूपालचूडामणिम्॥
SAntaM SaSvatam apramEyaM anaghaM nirvANa SAntipradaM
brahmASambhuphaNIndra sEvyaM aniSaM vEdAnta vEdyaM vibhuM !
rAmAkhyaM jagdISvaraM suraguruM mAyAmanuSyaM hariM
vandEhaM karunAkaraM raghuvaraM bhUpAlacUDAmaNiM !!
Meaning in Tamil
முழுமையும் முக்தியும் தரும்
மூவரும் போற்றிடும் முதல்வனாய்
மறை புகட்டும் பரம்பொருளாய்
மாயவனால் மனிதனாக அவதரித்த
ராமனே ! கருணைக்கடலே !
ரகு குல நாயகனே,
மன்னவரில் மாணிக்கமே !
Meaning in English
1. SAntaM SaSvatam apramEyaM anaghaM - him, the embodiment of tranquility, the eternal one, the causeless one, sinless one.
2. nirvANa SAntipradaM - him who confers liberation and peace.
3. brahmAviShNu phaNIndra sEvyaM aniSaM - the lord to whom Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva offer service.
4. vEdAnta vEdyaM vibhuM - the one knowable through Vedas, the Cosmic one.
5. rAmAkhyaM jagdISvaraM suraguruM mAyAmanuSyaM hariM - named Rama, the lord of the world, the preceptor of gods, the one incarnated by Hari as a man as an act of Maya.
6. vandEhaM karunAkaraM - I bow down to him, the ocean of mercy.
7. raghuvaraM bhUpAlacUDAmaNiM - the scion of Raghus, and a crest jewel among kings.