Dashavatar is NOT the Theory of Evolution
“The Dashavatar or the ten incarnation of Lord Vishnu is nothing but the theory of evolution. We had first fish, then tortoise, then boar, so on….and Buddha and then Kalki will come…See, our sages knew about evolution…So cool? Eh? Our ancestors always knew about everything…”
I asked him: “Then, why did we wait for Charles Darwin to develop the “the theory of evolution” if we already knew about it?”
“But it was true, wasn’t it?”
“No. All of these avatars are portrayed as having interacted with humans. Even during the first avatar of fish, the existence of human beings had been recorded. Then how come it can be compared with evolution theory?”
What’s more, Avatars were not strictly in chronological or evolutionary order of the occurrence. There were 24 Avatars of the Vishnu, according to Srimad Bhagvatam, the authentic scripture followed in Vaishnava tradition. Among those, third one is boar (Varaha) and 11th one is Fish (Matsya) – that itself is in clear contradiction with the evolutionary theory.
(Note: ‘Avatar’ is mostly translated into English as “incarnation”, but more accurately it is “appearance” or “manifestation”. Avatar = descent)
Bhagvatam also adds that the avatars of Vishnu are innumerable. Vishnu had taken countless avatars, partial and complete, some of the avatars multiple times. Avatars are classified as two kinds – direct (sakshat) and indirect (avesa).
From the unlimited manifestations of Vishnu, in a later stage, our sages singled out ten as representative of the rest. These ten incarnations are known in Sanskrit as “Dash-avatar.” (Dash = ten). The concept of ten avatars was introduced in Garuda Purana. Jayadeva Goswami’s 12th-century list of ten is arguably the most popular, but there are several Dashavatar lists in the Vaishnava tradition.
The most popular ten avatars are: Matsya(Fish), Kurma (Turtle), Varaha (Boar), Narasimha (Lion Man), Vamana( The Dwarf), Parashurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.
There has been different version of these ten avatars in different Puranas. Bhagavatam and Varaha Purana list Buddha among ten avatars. Some scriptures even neither mention Buddha nor Balarama in their list of Dashavatar. Vayu Puran replaces them with Dattatreya and Vedavyasa.
There are lot of contradictions and confusions in the order of occurrences.
– Parashuram extirpated Kshatriyas (warriors) many times by going around the earth. Hence the lineage of both Ikshvaku’s, to which Rama belonged, and Nimi’s, to which Sita belonged to, must have been broken. But Sage Valmiki, who wrote Ramayana, did not mention about breakage of those lineages!
– Mahabali, Prahlad’s grandson, was the king of the Asuras, at the time of the churning of the ocean. If that’s true, Narasimha Avatar (that appeared to save young boy Prahlad) has to pre-date the Kurma avatar, where Vishnu came in the form of a giant tortoise to help in the churning of the ocean.
– The people of Kerala state believe that Mahabali ruled that state. They celebrate Onam festival to commemorate King Mahabali, who attained moksha (liberation) by Vamana. But they also believe that the state was created by Parashuram from sea-bed by throwing his battle-axe! Here also order of occurrences contradicts. (Obviously either Mahabali was not a King in Kerala or Parashuram didn’t found Kerala. According to Puranas Mahabali ruled earth (Bhuloka), not just Kerala, from somewhere in Gujarat.)
We can go on and on about many contradictions. Our learnt sages did not write something stupid. So, what’s the catch here? What’s the real meaning of 10-avatars?
Puranas are written in many places, during different time-periods by many sages. There was no standardization (Check http://udaypai.in/?p=624). Their scale of time was cyclical, not linear. They followed a scale based on space-time-continuum. According to Hindu Time Cycles One Kalpa = a day of Brahma = 4.32 billion years (Incidentally, scientists estimate the age of the Earth at 4.54 billion years). Each kalpa is divided into 14 manvantara periods, each lasting 71 Yuga cycles (306,720,000 years).
Our sages stated that the ‘creation-destruction’ is a continuous process in the cosmos, the events happened in a cyclical scale, repeatedly. There is every possibility that there might have been a difference in the Kalpas and also difference in the Manvantharas. The time of avatars thus might have overlapped. There is no need that every Yuga should have an Avatar. Avatar occurs only when there is a necessity. Puranas relate to periods long before men learned to create historical records.
The Dashavatar of Vishnu shows a systematic progression of sorts that appears to mimic evolution only in some parameters. It reveals much more than evolution theory. The ten avatars basically represent a realistic progress in humanity, rather than a just a theory. It says, irrespective of time and space or water and land, everything is sustained by the Dharmic and Karmic principles. All those things are manifestation of Vishnu or there is divine presence in each and every thing.
The Dashavatar tells us that Vishnu manifested as Matsya (Fish), aquatic creature followed by proto-amphibian Kurma (turtle or tortoise). This serves as an introduction to the living beings that were primarily lived in water. It can be seen as the first stage of life.
Next comes, land dwelling life forms – the terrestrial herbivore Varah (Boar). Interestingly, boar was the first mammal to have whose teeth was at the front, and so didn’t swallow food but eat more like humans. The pig cannot live in the water; it is an animal that can live only in the land. Vishnu in this Avatar took earth out of water and placed it in the solar system.
Incidentally, Varah depicted as carrying “bhoo gola” (earth in globe form) in between his tusks in Puranas dated back to at least 5000 years ago. That means our sages knew earth was in globe shape or spherical shape. The rest of world strongly believed that “earth is flat” till 17th century when Galileo proved the Copernican theory that the earth was not the center of universe and it is globe. (This is not just coincidence – The 6th avatar Parashuram “went around the earth” 21 times. This could have been told only if the “earth” was believed to be a globe.)
The next stage was the development of Man from the beasts. Here comes, the half-man-half-lion Narasimha signifying a carnivore and/or a man more beast than human. (Nara=man, Simha=lion) The mammals or semi-amphibians gradually evolved to become human-like creatures, which could walk on two legs, used their hands to hold thing. Did you know? Narasimha appears at a time, place and setting, where each attribute is in the middle of two things (neither human nor animal, neither at home nor outside, neither day nor night).
The first four avatars of Vishnu appeared in Satya or Krita Yuga, the first of the four Yugas, also called ‘The Golden Age’. With this avatar the Yuga is ended!
Now the next three avatars appeared in Treta Yuga. We first have the pygmoid Vamana (dwarf). (Possibly a short race of humans, semi-human). Was it Homo erectus? Who knows! Could that be Neanderthals, which are known to be quite shorter than humans? Modern science says human evolution started from dwarf (Arctic/African) human beings.
In this avatar he occupies the earth sky with two feet enlarging himself unbelievably. This is another metaphor suggesting the evolution of humans towards the stage of supremacy over land and skies.
It is followed by the fully developed but jungle-dwelling man represented by Parashuram (Ram with the Axe), the complete human. This stage represents Early Man who had started using tools and weapons and quite fittingly, Parashuram is the FIRST of the ten incarnations to possess primitive arms. Parashuram is known for his anger and rage, much like the early man which existed without a proper society in place. The most primitive human beings were without rules and regulation; no disciplined life went on destroying everything.
Then comes, Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya, the refined human being. Rama was an ideal human or perfect social human- civilized man with a strong moral code. Rama accompanied by the proto-human Vanars (monkeys). Rama’s time shows that humans started living in community which marked the beginning of civil society.
Puranas say that the primitive and refined men have met. Parashuram confronted with Rama and a battle ensued between them. The disciplined human being, Rama, won the battle.
And after Parashuram, the evolution happened only in the intellectual level. Scientists say that after ape, only intellectual evolution continued.
The third Yuga – Dwapara – begins. The Man-who-can-tame-Nature appeared. Balarama- the man with a Plough. The beginning of scientific agriculture and development of variety of Agri-land. People settled down systematically as communities.
Then comes Krishna – the philosopher and the teacher. The world of humans started practicing politics. They have become advanced societies, smarter and have started enjoying music, dance and festivals. Society has become shrewd and a devious attribute is the need of the time. There have been war around and feuds within the family. (http://udaypai.in/?p=949)
Krishna is also be called ‘Trikala Jnani’ (A person aware of the past, present & Future.) That means human could take lessons or get inspired from the past or can evaluate the past, then connect it with the present and prepare for the future.
The next natural line is a drive towards consciousness. Humans finding Enlightenment. Here comes Buddha – a man who was closest to nirvana, moksha or salvation. This happened in the Kaliyuga.
The final Avatar – tenth – is Kalki, yet to come. He is also known as ‘Khadgi’ – the man with weapon. He refers to the techno-humanoid man of tomorrow wielding mechanical contraptions. Kalki or holocaust will come when adharma (non-righteousness) overtakes the whole world in the millennia to come, advanced humans with great powers of destructions (Bombs or cyber, whatever). He will come riding the steed of fire perhaps hinting at the technological advancement yet to come.
C. Mackenzie Brown, Professor of Religion at Trinity University, Texas, writes prodigiously about “avataric evolutionism”—the idea that Vishnu’s ten incarnations anticipated Darwinian evolution.
However, ages before Lamarck and Darwin, it was held in India that man has passed through 84 lakhs births as plants, animals, inferior species and then came the ancestors of developed man existing today (Padma Purana ). This process is generally progressive, although reversals are admitted.
Interestingly, Charles Darwin’s concept of “Tree of Life” also points to the possibility of all the races having common ancestral origins. This forms the basis for the later developments of evolution theories. In fact even genome mapping also points to this fact strongly with sound scientific proofs. Our sages wrote that everything had only one ancestor – Lord Brahma.
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