Henotheism is fundamentally the essence of Hinduism, which is also known as the Sanatan Dharma (Eternal Religion). This means that Hinduism believes in one ultimate God, the Brahman, but also recognises various gods and goddesses as distinct forms or manifestations of that Supreme Being. Brahman is thought of as Trimurti, which is a triad of three entities: Brahma, the Creator of the universe; Vishnu, the Preserver (of the creations); and Shiva, the Destroyer, symbolising the cycle of birth, life, and death in cosmic balance. At the same time, interestingly, it can also be considered to be Trinitarian. The reason for this is that Brahman is conceived of as Trimurti.
The Hindu religion is the only one that teaches of an unending cycle of creation, destruction, and regeneration of the universe on a cosmic time scale (1 Kalpa or Cosmic Cycle = 1000 Chaturyugas = 4.32 billion years = 1 day of Brahma). This concept is based on the Hindu belief that 1 Kalpa = 1000 Chaturyugas. It is also the concept of successive Yugas, which are epochs or periods of time, such as Satya yuga (or Kreta yuga), Treta yuga, Dwapara yuga, and Kali yuga; the world being created, destroyed, and recreated every Mahayuga, which is a cycle of the four Yugas within, in turn, a bigger cycle of creation, destruction, and recreation of the universe. At this point in time, it is generally agreed that the earth has been existing for around 5000 years in the last 432,000 year Kali yuga phase of the current Mahayuga.
The third and last member of the Hindu trinity, Vishnu, is revered by many Hindus as the most significant god because of his role as the protector of the cosmos and the one who ensures that life continues to exist on earth according to the ideals of righteousness, truth, and order. During the time of the Vedas, the significance of Vishnu skyrocketed to new heights. By the time the Vedic era came to a conclusion, Vishnu had risen from his position as a minor god in early Aryan religion to one of the most significant positions in the pantheon of gods. The name Vishnu, which derives from the Sanskrit root ‘vi’, which means ‘to enter or permeate,’ and the suffix ‘nu,’ means “the All-Pervading one,” and it is believed that Vishnu is both omniscient and omnipotent.
According to Hindu mythology, the deity Vishnu dwells in Vaikuntha, also known as the home of the gods, and his chariot is Garuda, a gigantic winged eagle that has a human-like form and a beaked snout. Vishnu is typically portrayed as a majestic kinglike figure that is dark in colour (a dark blue colour that is analogous to the colour of the infinite sky) and has four hands that, respectively, hold a conch shell (shankha), a discus or a spinning wheel (chakra), a club or mace (gada), and a lotus flower (padma) (padma).
The shankha, which is played by placing the left hand on top of the right, is meant to evoke the primordial sound of the five elements—air, water, fire, earth, and sky—which are the fundamental components of creation. The chakra that is held in the upper right hand and is called the “Sudarshan chakra” is the celestial disc of the sun for dispelling darkness and restoring peace on earth. It is derived from the Sanskrit words “su” meaning “good” and “darshan” meaning “vision,” and it represents a weapon for overcoming one’s mind-set and ego in order to be able to visualise the eternal truth. The gada, which is held in the lower left hand, is known as the “Kaumodaki,” and it represents the absolute prowess of God to destroy evil. On the other hand, the padma, which is held in the lower right hand, symbolises purity, truth (satya), and knowledge (gyan); these are the fundamental components that make up the rules of conduct (dharma).
The most famous image of Vishnu has him reclining on the coils of the hydra-headed snake god Shesh-Nag while he floats over the vast emptiness of the cosmic ocean (also known as Ananta, the timeless). Vishnu is also often shown as having four hands as he is standing on waves. This is another prevalent portrayal. Vishnu will continue to snooze on the coils of Ananta Nag so long as order is maintained throughout the cosmos. When this order is disrupted, however, Vishnu either rides his chariot Garuda and goes to battle the forces of evil and chaos, or he sends one of his Avatars (also known as incarnations) to rescue the universe.
Both Hindu mythology and Hindu religion place a significant emphasis on the concept of an Avatar. It is predicated on the idea that anytime ignorance and evil are in the ascendancy and threaten the moral order, the Supreme Being either incarnates itself in some form or comes to earth in order to vanquish the forces of evil and restore balance. This idea forms the foundation of the theory.
In Hindu mythology and the sacred books known as the Puranas and the Upanishads, the number of incarnations or Avatars that Vishnu has had varies depending on the source. The Garuda Purana and the Bhagavata Purana both describe twenty-two incarnations of Vishnu, with the Bhagavata Purana adding the caveat that there are many more incarnations of Vishnu. On the other hand, the Matsya Purana only mentions twelve incarnations of Vishnu. On the other hand, the existence of 10 different incarnations of Vishnu is a widely held belief. It is believed that nine of these 10 Avatars have already presented themselves (each at a distinct period of time and history), whereas the tenth Avatar has not yet made their appearance in this planet. Each manifestation is associated with a particular mythology that, at its core, illustrates how the divine intervention of Vishnu brought about the reestablishment of justice and dharma in the universe. The following are the 10 incarnations:
- MATSYA (Fish) Avatar: (Satya Yuga). During the great flood that occurred just before the most recent re-creation of the cosmos, the four Vedas, which are considered to be the holiest writings in Hinduism, were submerged to such a depth that they were lost forever. To fetch the holy writings, Vishnu transformed himself into a fish and swam across the ocean. According to one alternative mythology, Vishnu, when he was incarnated as the Matsya Avatar, gave the instruction to Manu, the father of humanity in each creation, to construct a massive boat and collect representatives of all species in it. The Matsya were responsible for guiding the ark to safety through the oncoming deluge and floods so that Brahma could begin the process of recreating the world.
- Avatar of the KACHYUP or the KURMA (Tortoise): (Satya Yuga). Soon after the cosmos was first created, a wise man placed a curse on it that caused the gods, also known as devas, to abruptly lose their ability to live forever. They went to Vishnu for assistance since they were terrified of the Asuras, and he gave them the advice that they should churn the ocean in order to acquire Amrita (Ambrosia), which would restore their strength. The Mandara Mountain was required to be used as the churning stick in order to complete the process. After then, Vishnu took the shape of a kachyup, also known as a tortoise, in order to carry the mountain on his back while the churning process was carried out. The assistance provided by Vishnu in the process of restoring the immortality of the Devas is an additional illustration of the supremacy that Dharma maintains.
- VARAHA (Boar) Avatar: (Satya Yuga). At the conclusion of the flood, before the re-creation of the cosmos as we know it, the earth, also known as prithvi or the goddess Bhudevi, was submerged to a great depth inside the cosmic ocean. At this time, an Asura named Hiranyaksha was spreading havoc among the Devas. Hiranyaksha had achieved incredible abilities via penance, and he used these powers to his advantage (gods). Vishnu took the shape of a Varaha in response to a request from Brahma, who required the earth for his work in the realm of enjoyment, as well as a request from the Devas, who need assistance in dealing with Hiranyaksha (boar). During this incarnation of Avatar, he used his tusks to lift the world from the depths of the ocean, while simultaneously putting an end to the rampage of an Asura.
- Avatar: NARASIMHA, the Half-Man, Half-Lion NARASIMHA (Satya Yuga). Hiranyakashipu, a demon king and a tyrant, had performed severe penance in order to obtain a boon from Brahma that no natural-born man or animal could kill him; nor could he be killed in heaven or on earth, by any weapon, either during the day or the night. Additionally, he could not be killed by any means, regardless of whether it was day or night. He began to believe in himself as the highest deity and forbade the worship of other deities; he even made an attempt to assassinate his own son Prahlada, who was a follower of Vishnu. Vishnu took the form of Narasimha, which is neither human nor animal; emerged from a pillar, which means he was not naturally born; appeared in the evening, which means it was neither day nor night; laid the demon-king across his thighs, which means it was neither heaven nor earth; and tore his entrails out with bare claws (no weapon).
- VAMANA (Dwarf) Avatar: (Treta Yuga). According to the mythology that is linked with this Avatar, the courageous demon king Bali, who was a descendant of Hiranyakashipu, became strengthened by hard penance, and then proceeded to vanquish Indra, the monarch of the Devas, and to conquer the whole universe. The Devas prayed to Vishnu because they were concerned that he would eventually triumph over all three realms (Swarga, Marta, and Patala, also known as heaven, earth, and the underworld). Vishnu, who had been born into a Brahmin household and had grown up to be a dwarf, went to Bali for charity as Bali was conducting a holy sacrifice. Vishnu asked Bali for money. Bali, in the spirit of generosity, offered him whatever it was that he desired, which turned out to be as much land as he could traverse in three strides. After then, Vishnu took two steps that encompassed both heaven and earth in order to set the Devas free and cast Bali into the underworld.
- PARASHURAM Avatar: (end of Satya Yuga or in the Treta Yuga as per different scholars). In this incarnation of Vishnu, he assumed the form of a Brahman, or a priest, in order to save the Brahmans from the atrocities committed by the Kshatriyas, or military caste, who had evolved into haughty oppressors of the Brahmans. His name comes from the Parsu, an axe-like weapon that was a gift from Shiva and was carried by him at all times. In twenty-one different fights, he slew all of the Kshatriya warriors. It is common practise to show Parashuram and Rama, the seventh Avatar, as having lived during the same period of time. This is done despite the fact that it is believed that Parashuram entered this planet before Rama.
- RAMA Avatar: (Treta Yuga). In this incarnation of Vishnu, he takes the form of Rama, the Kshatriya monarch who plays a pivotal role in the epic of the same name. Rama is by far one of the most famous figures in Hindu mythology, and he is tied for first place with Krishna in terms of popularity. Rama embodies the perfect son, monarch, parent, and man. On the one hand, the mythology depicts a heroic struggle between good and evil that ends with the victory of good (the slaying of Ravana, the demon-king, by Rama). On a another level, it is a complicated dissertation on topics such as love, war, fraternity, and loyalty, as well as society conventions and traditions, etc.
- KRISHNA Avatar: (Dwapara Yuga). In this incarnation of Vishnu, the god takes the form of Krishna, one of the most important characters in the Indian epic the Mahabharata. In addition to being a story of two feuding clans of cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the epic is also a perceptive study of human nature, human frailties, statesmanship, conflict resolution, and politics. In the epic of the Kurukshetra battle, Arjuna, a prince of the Pandava family, looks on Krishna as his buddy, philosopher, and advisor throughout the conflict. His philosophic talk to Arjuna on the eve of the war, in response to the latter’s hesitation to wage war on his own family, is treasured as a holy Hindu book and is known as the Bhagavad Gita. It was delivered to Arjuna on the battlefield.
- BALARAMA Avatar: (Dwapara Yuga). According to the idea expressed in the Puranas, which constitute a component of the canon of Vedic literature, Balarama is the ninth Avatar. Balarama was Krishna’s older brother, and legend has it that he was a formidable ally to Krishna during the latter’s conflict with the wicked monarch Kamsa, whom Krishna ultimately vanquished. Along with many others, Balarama put an end to the dreaded Asura (devil) Dhenuka, so demonstrating that good may triumph over evil. The plough was his primary instrument of warfare (Hal).
BUDDHA Avatar: (Kali Yuga). According to the beliefs of certain schools of thought, Balaram is not an Avatar of Vishnu but rather the Avatar of Shesh Nag, the serpent upon which Vishnu reclines. According to these schools of thought, Gautama Buddha, the originator of the Buddhist faith, was really an incarnation of the god Vishnu.
- The tenth and last incarnation of Vishnu is known as the KALKI Avatar. This Avatar has not yet made its debut. In accordance with the prophecies, this Avatar will make their appearance at the end of the current Kali Yuga, which will also mark the conclusion of the Mahayuga. He will be armed with a sword that is on fire and will be riding a white horse with wings. During the next cycle of re-creation, he will serve as the overseer of the process that wipes out this planet along with all of the wicked people that live in it.
An examination of the 10 Avatars, beginning with the most basic forms of life and progressing to the most complex, reveals striking parallels to contemporary explanations of evolution. The first three, from Matsya to Varaha, represent the progression of protoplasm and invertebrates, as well as the progressive evolution from the stage of amphibians to that of mammals. Both the Narasimhan and the Vamana might represent a sub-human or ape-like ancestor of early man who was only partially formed at the time. While Rama, Krishna, and Buddha are symbols of man’s intellectual and social progress, Parashuram illustrates the development of modern man’s capacity to utilise tools. Parashuram also represents the evolution of contemporary man.
It also seems that the time of the Avatars has some significance. The first four incarnations take place during the Satya yuga and reflect the early stages of the development of life. The incarnation that takes place during the Treta yuga as Rama corresponds with the zenith of monarchy. With the arrival of the Krishna Avatar during the Dwapar yuga, similar concepts such as a code of conduct and social justice were developed and refined.