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This is not an antique set but a recent one, handcrafted in copper by master South Indian artisans in traditional style. It is indeed rare to find such miniature statues crafted with such skilled workmanship. These statues are created on the lines of how Vishnu’s dashavatara are depicted in old Mysore and Tanjore paintings.
That this set is created in accordance with an old school of Vaishnava thought is endorsed by the fact that statue of Buddha was not created to be a part of the set. Reason being that while certain texts and even Puranas consider Buddha to be an incarnation of Vishnu, such notion is rejected by orthodox Vaishnavism of South India, like Sri Vaishnavism. Since these sects based their philosophy on the Vedas, they didn’t deem it correct to consider Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu as Buddhist philosophy is opposed to both Vedas and the concept of Bhagwan, both of which are central to Vaishnava thought.
However some Vaishnava sects regard Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu and Buddha’s opposition to Vedas is explained that Vishnu himself propagated a false philosophy to take Vedas away from those who misinterpreted them. For example Jayadeva, the 12th century Sanskrit poet-devotee, acknowledges in his poem on Dashavatara that Vishnu incarnated as Buddha when he saw animals being ritualistically mass slaughtered and felt compassion for them.
A brief on incarnations of Vishnu will be helpful in appreciating this amazing set of copper figurines.
Vishnu is one of the names of the Supreme who incarnates time and again to protect Dharma - that keeps all the worlds functioning as they should - whenever it is threatened by powerful, autocratic demons. He eliminates them by any means, fair or unfair and re-establishes nature in its original cycle. He delivers the righteous from the clutches of the unrighteous.
Vishnu assumed the form of Matsya near the end of the Universe when Brahma’s (creator) day got over and Pralaya (dissolution), which is Brahma’s night was imminent. All the worlds were set to submerge in cosmic waters.
Right at this time, when Brahma was drowsy he started murmuring the Veda unconsciously. A demon called Hayagreeva noticed this and started imbibing the Vedas as Brahma uttered them and digested the entire Veda this way. Armed with knowledge of Vedas this demon could now control the next creation.
Seeing this, Lord Vishnu immediately assumed Matsya Avatara and manifested in the water held between the palms of his devotee-king Satyavrata, who at that time was standing in the middle of a river offering water-oblations to gods. The Matsya requested Satyavrata to carry it along as it feared predators. Satyavrata took the fish to his hermitage but by the next morning it had outgrown its vessel. Satyavrata put it in a small water body and it soon outgrew that too and this went on. When the king finally released the Matsya in the ocean it requested the king not to leave it for it feared predators.
The king was bewildered but then he realised that the fish was none other than Lord Vishnu. Vishnu appeared and blessed him to be the Manu (progenitor of humans) for the next Manvantara (a type of time-cycle in Hindu scriptures). He instructed him to gather the seeds of all creation and then wait for him at a given spot, along with Saptarshis (seven celestial sages) and Vaasuki (king of serpents) after seven days when Pralaya begins.
The Matsya then swam away looking for the demon Hayagreeva and slew him after finding him hiding in the nether regions of the Universe.
At the advent of Pralaya torrential rains started pouring and oceans began to lose their boundaries. Satyavrata, along with seeds of beings, Saptarshis and Vasuki waited for Lord Matsya at the designated spot. They soon saw the gigantic fish approaching them, which had by now grown a big horn on its forehead. It illuminated everything around with the radiance of its body. A huge boat appeared before Satyavrata and Vishnu instructed him to tie it to his horn using the serpent Vasuki as rope and then get on it with others.
Thus Lord Matsya traversed the cosmic waters for full duration of Pralaya and safeguarded everything that was needed for the next creation. He also imparted supreme knowledge of the Brahman to Satyavrata during this time. This knowledge came to be known as Matsya Purana.
Devas (gods) and Daityas (demons) were ever at fight with each other.
Once sage Durvasa cursed Devas and as a result they lost their wealth, status and vigour and became vulnerable to Daityas. They approached Brahma for help who led them to Lord Vishnu.
Vishnu suggested that Devas obtain Amritam (nectar of immortality) by churning Ksheer Sagara (cosmic ocean). He assured them that in the process of obtaining Amritam they would gain all that they have lost and Amritam will bestow immortality on them. However he warned them that it would be a momentous task and they will need to partner with Daityas as presently they were incapable of undertaking it by themselves. So he asked Devas to come to a temporary truce with Daityas by offering them an equal share in all that was obtained from the churning.
He did assure them though that while Daityas will invest equal toil in the Manthana (churning) they will still not get anything since their own nature will deprive them of the fruits of their effort. Lord Vishnu also advised them to use mount Mandara as their churning rod and request Vasuki to become the rope for a share in Amritam.
The Devas did all and soon both Devas and Daityas started Sagara Manthan (churning of the ocean).
However there was a problem. Mount Mandara had no base to rest onto and as churning progressed it slipped from the coils of Vasuki and sank. This was a problem no one had envisaged and neither Devas nor Daityas had the capacity to lift Mandara back up. They looked helplessly and it seemed all their effort so far stood wasted.
At that time sage Narada advised Indra (king of gods) to call upon Lord Vishnu for help. Thus all the gods headed by Indra beseeched Vishnu in unison.
Lord Vishnu manifested in the ocean as a huge Kurma and went under the sinking Mandara stopping it on his back. He brought Mandara back to the surface for Devas and Daityas to resume churning.
The two gate-keepers of Lord Vishnu - Jaya and Vijaya - were cursed by Sanatkumaras (the four eternal child sages) to fall from Vaikuntham, the abode of Vishnu. However when Jaya and Vijaya pleaded the curse was limited to a choice between fourteen births on earth as devotees of Vishnu or three births as his enemies. They chose the latter as they thought they would have to spend less time away from their Lord, so what if as enemies.
The two were born as demons Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu in their first birth. They were deemed natural Vishnu-haters. Hiranyaksha, the younger of the two was very aggressive and rowdy. He was merciless to the rishis and was a terror to the devas.
A new Kalpa (a type of time-cycle in Hindu scriptures) had just started and Brahma was in the process of creating worlds and beings. Everything was submerged under cosmic waters. At this moment suddenly Prithvi (earth) sunk to nether worlds under the water and was captured by Hiranyaksha.
Meanwhile Brahma created Manu and Shatarupa from his mind and commanded them to create progeny. However they pointed to Brahma that earth was lost in the cosmic waters and there was no place for them to procreate. Brahma was shocked at this and finding the situation beyond his power, he meditated on Lord Vishnu. While he was meditating a miniature Varaha (boar) sprang from his nostril.
To Brahma’s surprise the Varaha grew to cosmic proportions right before his eyes and dashed into waters to hunt for Prithvi.
Meanwhile puffed by his achievement of capturing Prithvi, Hiranyaksha thought of subduing the gods and he first invited Varuna (the god of waters) to a duel. Varuna admitted that he was powerless to fight him and suggested that only Lord Vishnu could give him a befitting duel. Hiranyaksha went in search of Vishnu and met sage Narada en route who informed him that Vishnu had assumed the form of a gigantic Varaha and had already found earth which he is now carrying up from the netherworlds.
Hiranyaksha ran towards Rasatala (one of the seven netherworlds) and saw a huge Varaha rushing towards the surface carrying earth on his snout supported with his tusks.
He challenged Lord Varaha to a duel but Vishnu ignored him till he reached the surface and safely established earth in her sphere. Varaha then turned to confront Hiranyaksha.
After a fierce duel between the two, Varaha killed Hiranyaksha.
Hiranyakashipu (Hiranyaksha’s elder brother) was furious to know that his brother was slain by Vishnu. His hatred for Lord Vishnu grew manyfolds and he vowed to avenge Hiranyaksha’s death.
He offered severe penance to Lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe. When Brahma appeared and invited Hiranyakashipu to ask for a boon he promptly requested power to kill Vishnu. Brahma said his own origin was Lord Vishnu so he could not grant that boon. He also told Hiranyakashipu that he was unable to grant him immortality if that was the next boon he had in mind.
Hiranyakashipu therefore requested a boon that he may not be killed either inside a house or outside, neither in day nor night, neither on earth nor in sky, neither by man nor animal and that he may not be killed by any of Brahma’s creation.
Brahma granted this boon and left.
Hiranyakashipu thought he had achieved immortality with skilful play of words and he declared himself God. He acquired lordship over everything including Elements (earth, water, fire, air, space) and the Devas.
However when Hiranyakashipu was doing his penance, Devas had attacked his palace and carried away his wife Kayadhu who was pregnant at that time. Indra intended to kill the child to deny an heir to the demon. On his way Indra met sage Narada, the great Vishnu-devotee. He convinced Indra to spare the child and took Kayadhu to his hermitage.
It was during this time that the child in Kayadhu’s womb subconsciously imbibed devotion to Vishnu in Narada’s ashram. When he was born he was already a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. He was named Prahlada.
When Hiranyakashipu had returned from his penance Narada handed over Kayadhu and Prahlada to him.
As the child Prahlada grew up he found that his father didn’t welcome his views. Father and son were in direct opposition to each other as Prahlada felt Vishnu alone was God while Hiranyakashipu had declared himself God.
Gradually matters got serious and Hiranyakashipu ordered that Prahlada be killed when he failed to convince him to acknowledge his supremacy. However Prahlada couldn’t be killed due to Lord Vishnu’s grace and each of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to eliminate him were frustrated.
Finally he decided to kill Prahlada himself. While attempting so he asked him as to where Vishnu was. Prahlada replied that he saw Vishnu everywhere. When Hiranyakashipu pointed at a random pillar and asked him if Vishnu was in it also, Prahlada affirmed it.
Mad with rage Hiranyakashipu attacked the pillar and out of it came an unimaginable being. His face was that of lion’s but the rest of the body was human. It was a very powerful, ferocious being. He was Narasimha. Neither man nor animal.
Unpurturbed, Hiranyakashipu leaped towards Lord Narasimha. The two fought for a while before Narasimha scooped him up and took him to the threshold of his palace (neither inside nor outside). He placed the demon on his thighs (neither earth nor sky) and pierced open his stomach with his nails . It was exactly dusk at that moment, neither day nor night.
Thus Vishnu slew Hiranyakashipu while meeting all the conditions of Brahma’s boon.
Vamana (The Dwarf)
Devas got Amritam from Sagara Manthan with Vishnu’s help. Daityas who were denied attacked Devas in frustration but were easily subdued. Indra personally beheaded their king Bali.
Shukracharya the preceptor of Daityas however revived Bali with the help of Mritsanjivani Vidya (art of reviving the dead) that he was a master in. He vowed to teach Devas a lesson and had Bali perform a Yagya (Vedic ritual) called Vishwajit. It was a continuous Yagya in which Bali kept giving away loads of wealth to anyone deserving who came to request such.
As a result Bali acquired immense power and prosperity. He attacked Devas with renewed confidence and vigour and drove them out of Swarga (heaven).
Bali became the lord of the three worlds ruling from Indra’s seat. He ruled justly and his generosity was unparalleled too. He was a very righteous Daitya. Bali’s goodness however threatened the fabric of the Universe as the worlds came under the power of Daityas. The worlds which were meant for other creations of Brahma were acquired by Daityas.
Aditi, the mother of the devas was very distressed at the plight of her sons. She approached her husband Rishi Kashyapa who advised her to call upon Lord Vishnu for help. Aditi undertook a difficult thirteen-day vow to please the Lord and on the thirteenth day Vishnu appeared before her. He blessed her that he will be born as her son and will put an end to her woes.
In due time Lord Vishnu was born to Aditi. He grew up with a dwarfish height and was therefore called Vamana (dwarf). He then proceeded to sacrificial arena of king Bali where he was doing the Vishwajeet Yagya.
When the assembly at the Yagya saw Vamana everyone including Bali were mesmerised with his aura and personality. Bali rushed to the brahmin Vamana and after offering him due respect invited him to ask for anything he wished. Vamana however requested just that much land that he could measure with his three strides.
While Bali was surprised at this humble request and implored Vamana to ask for more, Shukracharya sensed mischief and rightly guessed that it was actually Vishnu who had come as Vamana. He warned Bali of dire consequences if he granted Vamana’s request.
Bali however was unperturbed and proceeded to grant Vamana his request. A persistent Shukracharya turned into a small worm and blocked the orifice of the water-pot with which Bali was to formally give away the requested land by pouring water on Vamana’s outstretched hand. Vamana divined Shukracharya’s plot and inserted a straw in the orifice, pretending to clear the blockage, thereby causing him to lose one of his eyes. Thereafter Shukracharya left the arena in rage.
As soon as Bali completed the ritual of giving the land, Vamana started growing. He grew and grew and seemed to permeate the entire Universe. Vamana had become Virat Purusha. He then started measuring with his stride. With one he measured the regions on and below the earth and with the other he measured all the celestial regions up-till Brahma’s.
Vamana asked Bali for space to measure with his third stride. King Bali, the ever righteous, humbly requested Vishnu to end his third stride on his head. Vishnu agreed and in doing so he pushed Bali back to nether regions which were the rightful abodes of the Daityas.
Vishnu decreed that Bali shall be the Indra in the next Manvantara. He also blessed him that he would ever rule nether regions undisturbed and he will personally guard the regions ruled by Bali.
There was a time when Kshatriya (warrior) race had become very powerful and unrestrained. There was a sea of Kshatriyas dominating the earth, which were determined, corrupt and had ruthless agendas. They had acquired great merit and fame with their bravery and righteous conduct but their very number threatened a stable existence. The earth staggered under their overly ambitious marches. She was terrified of their greedy advances.
A portion of Vishnu’s might was then born as Parashurama to Renuka and Sage Jamadagni. Though he was born a brahmin, a series of events led him in confrontation with the most powerful kshatriya king of that time, Kartviryarjuna, who was invincible. He was a devotee of Lord Dattatreya who had blessed him with thousand arms each of which could wield weapons.
Parashurama killed Kartviryarjuna with a divine Parashu (axe) which Lord Shiva granted him as a boon. He sliced all his arms and then beheaded him. This led Kartviryarjuna’s sons to kill Sage Jamadagni while he was meditating to avenge their father’s killing. Parashurama was not in the hermitage at that time.
Seeing her husband slaughtered, Renuka wailed and screamed Parashurama’s name while beating her chest. Parashurama heard and rushed to the spot. He saw his father killed and his mother wailing piteously, beating her chest. Enraged Parashurama took a terrible vow of wiping out twenty one generations of Kshatriyas from earth as it was that many times his mother beat her chest before his eyes.
He set out on a mission to slay the Kshatriyas thereafter. He killed without discrimination. He repeated this for twenty one generations of Kshatriyas, wiping them off the face of the earth each time.
Finally he offered oblation to his dead father with the blood of the Kshatriyas he slew and completing his vow he gave away the earth he had won to Sage Kashyapa.
Vishnu was born as Rama when Devas headed by Brahma appealed to him to protect them from the torments of Rakshsha king Ravana. Ravana had all the gods and nature under his dominion, thanks to the boons he obtained from Brahma after severe penance.
Vishnu descended as Rama accompanied with all his glory and attributes. His consort Devi Lakshmi was born as Sita, who became Rama’s wife. His couch, the serpent Adi Sesha, Shankha (conch) and Chakra (disc) were born as his younger brothers - Lakshamana, Bharata and Shatrughna respectively.
As Rama Lord Vishnu not only destroyed Ravana but exemplified a code of conduct that is unparalleled in any royal history of any king. He was an ideal son, brother, husband, friend and above all an ideal king, true protector of Dharma. India still remembers his unblemished rule as Ram Rajya. He is considered the best among kings and knowers of behavioural restraint and therefore reverentially called Maryada Purushottama.
The story of Rama is enshrined in Ramayana, an epic poem written by Sage Valmiki. Rama is revered not only in India but abroad as well in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal and such.
Merely chanting the name of Rama deepens ones self.
A stage was once again set in the world when Adharma stood against Dharma. Many powerful Daityas of the yore were born as prestigious kings on the earth. They tormented everyone like never before. Kings like Jarasandha, Shishupala, Narakasura, The Hundred Kaurava brothers, Kamsa and his demon associates, Paundraka, Dantavakra etc. were threatening the world in their lust to dominate.
To uphold Dharma Vishnu descended as Krishna with his entourage of Devas who were born as independent kings or Krishna’s associates. He systematically destroyed these Adharmic kings and once again delivered the world from unsurpassable evil.
There are volumes of scriptures full of events of Krishnavatara, foremost among which are the Mahabharata, Harivamsha Purana and Bhagvat Purana.
Krishna is the darling of India, adored across its length and breadth. He is considered as complete descent of Lord Vishnu and often referred to as Purnavatara. He is romantic, compassionate, handsome, philosophical, vile, brave, witty, omniscient, omnipotent, in short supreme Brahman himself who walked among mortals as a mortal.
This is an incarnation that Lord Vishnu will take in future but which is foretold in authoritative texts like Bhagvat Purana, Vishnu Purana etc.
The present age will deteriorate hopelessly and men will become vilest of the vile. Rakshasas and Daityas will seem like Devas before the despicable humans of that time and Adharma will replace Dharma. Earth will fie upon her sons and refuse to yield. Skies will no longer be clear, water will lose its inherent purity and planets will stagger along their paths. Men will be wretched, selfish creatures devoid of beauty, health and strength.
At that time Lord Vishnu will be born as Kalki. He is conceived of as a brahmin, knower of the Vedas who will ride a horse and wield a large sword. He will fight
the population of that time and will easily overcome the evil weaklings that men will have reduced to.
Thereafter Lord Kalki will re-establish Dharma and revive Vedic knowledge among the very few that will remain, who will rebuild the world.