The entire philosophy, culture and tradition of the Hindu religion flows from the concept of the three gods, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu and Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.
In this book the author has presented a study of Vishnu and his incarnations. The philosophy of Vaishnavism, interpretation of the various symbols and ornaments of Vishnu and his attendant deities are ably described and interpreted in simple language. The book deals not only with the major incarnations but also with the less known ones like Mohini, Dattatreya, Pradyumna, and others. The myths connected with the various incarnations add to the interest of the book which has been illustrated with photographs of Indian temple sculptures.
The Fusion of the Vedic Sun-god, Vishnu, with the cosmic deity, Narayana, and the Epic-hero, Vasudeva-Krishna, led to unlimited possibilities for the philosopher, and iconographer and the narrator. The very sequence of the Vaishnava incarnations from the fish (the typical animal of water, the prime source of all life), through the amphibious tortoise, followed successively by the Boar (a mammal, equally at home on the land and the marshes) and the Man-lion (part animal and part man) and finally, emerging from the Vamana (human dwarf) to the evolved anthropomorphic forms, is significantly suggestive of the evolutionary process of cosmic creation. Further, round the emanatory forms of Vishnu were woven some of the most enchanting legends, the representations of which in graphic and plastic arts are charming and full of human interest as they are pregnant with symbolical meaning. Among the most interesting legends is that of Mohini. When nothing availed the gods against the demons, Vishnu came to their rescue and incarnated himself in the form of Mohini, the enchantress. Mohini so captivated the demons by her ravishing beauty and feminine charms as to delude them of their share of the amrita (ambrosia), thus fulfilling the supreme divine mission. A similar idea is beautifully expressed by the incarnation of Vamana. To curb the pride of the demon-king Bali who had conquered the three worlds and become a vicious menace, Vishnu took the form of a puny vatuka and begged for just three paces of land, which the haughty demon-king readily granted. Of land, which the haughty demon-king readily granted. As soon as the grant of the gift was pronounce, the puny vatuka transformed himself into a mighty giant and in three gigantic strides (Trivikrama) claimed the entire universe and pushed the demon-king down to the nether world. The less known incarnation of Mandhata also illustrates the fall of excessive pride, while the popular stories of Rama and Krishna incarnations, like many others, express the fundamental laws of the eternal struggle of the good and the evil through the instrument of the divine will. The human element is never lost sight of in any of these and is pronouncedly emphasized in the stories explaining the birth of Dattatreya, which indeed rank among the best narratives of the world.
Dr. Shakti M. Gupta has delved deep in the fountains of Hindu mythology and narrated the legends of the Vaishnava incarnations and brought out their significance in a racy and masterly style, for which she is known through her earlier publication, Plant myths and traditions of India. The book is a welcome addition to the few readable titles in the Hindu myths and is sure to delight the general reader and stimulate the serious student and the scholar.
Vishnu and His Incarnations, chosen by Dr. Shakti M. Gupta as the theme of this book, is to my mind of topical interest in more than one respect. The concept of Vishnu and his nine major incarnations that have already taken place and the projection of the next one provide a clue to the understanding of the changes lie on earth has gone through and the shape it may take in future. As the author herself has stated, Vishnu is the cohesive force (Sattva), which holds life and matter together. He symbolizes continuity of lie and culture and maintains the supremacy of His protection over forces of darkness and destruction.
Incarnation is the appearance on Earth of the same God-the same Almighty, transcendental in time, space and culture-in a form which lends meaning to contemporary thought and life. The forms in which He is described to have appeared in the pre-historic era supports the scientific interpretation of the long story of the world. Life grew and grows by continuous process of changes from a very simple ancestral form of life, age by age, through gulfs of time at which imagination reels, toward forms of beings and human civilizations takes you through the same stages which are revealed by the discoveries of experts in this field.
First comes the Fish form (Matsya Avatara). Then comes the tortoise Form (Kurma Avatara), followed by the land-based animal incarnation (Varaha Avatara), the half-human and half-animal Man-lion incarnation (Narasimha Avatara). The first human incarnation is the diminutive person Vamana who by his sharp intellect defeats the large and powerful Demon oppressor, Bali. Coming to the historic era, the purpose and place of incarnation has been explained by one of the incarnations, Krishna himself in Gita, the song celestial, in these words:
"I take the human form in order to assist my devotees and when I am born the darkness and unrighteousness are dispelled. I destroy sin and help the good to hoist the flag of Righteousness (Dharma). I destroy the hoards of evil-ones and establish the sages on the throne of honour. I re-establish in society Righteousness (Dharma) as well as Truth (Satya)".
Widespread belief in this sequence and purpose of incarnations has had a tremendous influence in conditioning the Indian mind and development through several centuries. Organic evolution of life has, in the past, been the subject of much bitter controversy. There was a time when belief in Organic evolution of life was regarded as incompatible with sound Christian, Jewish and Muslim doctrines. Not so with the Hindu doctrines governed by belief in the varying incarnations of god.
Emphasis on Righteous conduct (Dharma) and the recurring Mission of God to appear on Earth in the form of a Prophet when called upon to set the erring humanity back to the righteous path, enjoins reverence to the Prophets, whenever and wherever they are born on Earth. This is the belief embedded in the subconsciousness of the Indian mind-certainly of the Hindu masses-and has influenced in varying degrees the followers of other Faiths. If I may say so, the belief in the oneness of God and his varied manifestations lends support to the understanding of some of the epoch-making events in the recent experiences of India.
All the religions of the world co-exist in India. There is an almost bewildering diversity of languages, customs, habits and levels of economic development of her people. Nevertheless, there is a unity in this diversity, which is of enduring and continuing character. it is the commonly shared human values and proper reactions at crucial moments of her history that has enabled India to march towards her cherished goal for the establishment of a Democratic, Secular and Egalitarian order of society.
The narration of Vishnu and His incarnations, in the captivating style of a seasoned story-writer, by Dr. Shakti M. Gupta, conveys a great messages. Millions of people should profit by the philosophy of universal reverence for the Prophets of the world, already born or yet to come, in the setting of the time and place where he may fulfill His mission.
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