Hindu Pantheon-Vishnu Avatars

Analysis and Conclusions: Incarnations of Lord Vishnu

V. Krishnakumar, N. M. Krishnakumar

  1. The multiple forms of Horus
  2. Classification of Shiva
  3. Bahubali and origin of Jainism
  4. The incarnations of Lord Vishnu
  5. Arjuna’s penance of Mahabalipuram
  6. Varadaraja Perumal

The incarnations of Lord Vishnu: 

The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu might have evolved over a period of time. The current list is Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Trivikrama, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. Instead of Buddha some Vaishnavas in South India have Haladhara (Balarama?).

The number it self is not unique because there are many more incarnations as in Bhagavata Mahapurana, Book 1, Chapter 3. We discuss all of them as follows:

  1. The four Kumaras who maintained celibacy
  2. The divine Boar lifting the sunken earth from the ocean in order to proceed with the work of creation
  3. Sage Narada
  4. Sons of Dharma’s better half, Nara and Narayana who are respectively Arjuna and Krishna
  5. Kapila who was the tutor of Asuri
  6. As son of Atri
  7. Akuti or Yajna whose son is Yama
  8. Reshabhadeva
  9. Pruthu

10. Following a deluge he took the form of fish, rescued Vaivaswatha Manu by placing him on a boat shaped earth. Vaivaswatha means son of Sun god.

11. Kurma or tortoise which supported the mount Mandara on its back when gods and demons churned the ocean

12. Dhanvantari emerged from ocean with a jar of nectar, he is god of medicine

13. He is an enchanting woman who gave nectars to god and prevented the demons from sharing it.

14. Narasimha

15. Vamana-Trivikrama-UAP

16. Parashurama

17. Vyasa, son of Satyawati

18. Rama

19. Balarama, brother of Krishna

20. Krishna

21. Buddha

22. Kalki

We have an Egyptian counterpart for this:

  1. The four sons of Horus, who were the mortuary deities formed a tetrad, p.76 of [5] may map to the four Kumaras.
  2. The picture of a god lifting a globe from water on p.17 in [5] and the god Nun lifting a globe from the waters of creation on p.117 of [5] may map to the divine Boar lifting the sunken earth from the ocean in order to proceed with the work of creation. According to [5] the globe represents the Sun, but the analogy stands if we imagine it to be earth, that is allusions to ‘water’ and ‘creation’. We have an alternative comparison for this boar avatar of Vishnu. Seth took the form of a huge boar and appeared before Re, while Re was looking into the eyes Horus during the battle. Seth also injured the eye of Horus. From the viewpoint of Seth worshippers he can be worshipped as a boar; his opponent Horus can be mapped to Hiranyaksha, meaning the ‘one with a golden eye’. The epithet ‘one with golden eye’ also has an Egyptian counterpart, which is the ‘eye of Horus’, that is considered to be sacred. Or alternatively, Osiris can be Hiranyaksha: ‘one with the golden eye’; incidentally, Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam, India has golden eyes. We have compared Ranganatha to Osiris earlier.
  3. What is interesting here is that Arjuna and Krishna are the sons of the wife of Dharma. The question is why are they not sons of Dharma? We guess they must have been born after his death, in which case this perfectly matches the Osiris story: Horus is the son of Osiris, born after his death to his wife Isis. We have mapped Horus to the human Arjuna who is Nara and also to Lord Krishna who is Narayana in our earlier articles. We have also mapped Osiris to Dharma, both being lords of the netherworld.
  4. Geb, father of Osiris corresponds to this as Osiris is mapped to Yama in [7].
  5. The word Reshep in Egyptian mythology resembles Reshabhadeva
  6. Geb in Egyptian mythology is the earth god, he maps to Pruthu the emperor from whom the earth got its name Prithvi.

10. Nun, who represents the element water in Egyptian mythology, lifts the boat from the water of creation, see picture on p.117 in [5]. The boat contained the Sun god along with seven deities [5]. This is similar to Vishnu in the form of fish lifting the Sun god’s son on a boat shaped earth, from deluge.  Ashby compares Nun with Nara-Narayana on p. 527 in [4].

11. The picture on p.107 of [5] contains god Hapy in dual form representing the Upper and the Lower Egypt, the symbols of which are respectively the vulture and the snake. The action looks like churning. It may be symbolic of two distinct groups churning, the followers of Seth and Horus respectively. Alternatively the Egyptian scarab looks like the Kurma.

12. The Egyptian goddess Bastet, holding the ointment jar may map to Dhanvantari. Alternatively the milk of the goddess Isis of Egypt is believed to have healing powers.

13. Isis is the enchanting Egyptian goddess who is considered as Aphrodite by the Greeks.

14. We have already compared the Egyptian god Bes to Narasimha in an earlier article. Also Tefnut, the Egyptian lion headed goddess may map to this.

15. We have compared Seth to Trivikrama in an earlier article on Mahabali.

16. We will be comparing Parashurama to Horus of Egyptian mythology in a later article on Gudimallam.

17. We map Horus to Vyasa. This is justified as follows: the other name of Vyasa that is ‘Krishnadwaipayana’, means ‘a dark complexioned person born on an island’. Horus was dark and born in a swamp [1]. Vyasa’s mother Satyavati had two peculiar attributes: she was emanating perfume from her body and was a virgin after delivery, both are the attributes of goddess Isis of Egypt who was the mother of Horus. Further, Satyavati means ‘true of speech’ which is also an attribute of Isis. Also, Parashara, the father of Vyasa, merged into the world of wolves after death [66], while Osiris who was the father of Horus, was worshipped as a wolf in Asyut [65].

18. Rama is compared to Osiris in a future article, though the mapping is not that significant.

19. Balarama is compared to Seth, since he supported Duryodhana who is mapped to Seth, and he is the brother of Krishna who is mapped to Horus.

20. Horus is compared to Krishna, as discussed in an earlier article in the context of killing Narakasura.

21. Osiris, was worshipped as a tree, as was Buddha.

22. –

Thus we could map a significant number of Vishnu’s avatars to Egyptian gods.

It may be noted that the mapping of these Egyptian gods to their Indian counterparts might have preceded their grouping under Lord Vishnu. Therefore, one may find a pair of adversaries in the Egyptian mapping to two of the avatars of Vishnu. This problem is natural when two or more gods are amalgamated into one. In fact, such a process of amalgamation may lead to the invention of reconciliatory stories, as we will be showing one such story in a different article.

Egyptian mythology also has grouped sets of ten gods namely:Nun, Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys and Horus, where Nun is not counted. Eight of them (shown in bold) are there in the mapping shown above.

Even the choice of ten in Hindu mythology looks quite varied as illustrated by the following two examples:

  • The Vishnu idol in Banavasi, in its ‘Prabhavali’ (arch of the idol), has only the first four of the ten incarnations of Vishnu listed above, namely: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and Narasimha. The next six are saints in Padmasana posture.
  • The Vishnu idol of Galaganatha temple, Karnataka, India has the first six incarnations namely: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Trivikrama and Parashurama, while the other four are saints in Padmasana posture.


[1] J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, A study in Magic and Religion, 3rd Edition, Macmillan and Co. London, 1914

[4] Muata Ashby, The African origins of Civilization, Religion, Yoga Mysticism, and Ethics Philosophy, 2nd Edition, ISBN 1-884564-50-X, 2005

[5] Richard H Wilkinson, The Complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London, 2003

[7] David Frawley, Gods, sages and Kings, Vedic secrets of ancient civilization, MLBD, New Delhi, 1993

[65] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asyut

[66] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parashara

[87] http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/


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3 Responses to Hindu Pantheon-Vishnu Avatars

  1. Narasimha says:

    I like this

  2. Shylesh S R says:

    Well articulated & detailed content!!!!!!!!!!!

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