40. The Unlimited Forms Of The Divine Revealed!


“The light of one candle being communicated to other candles, although it burns separately in them, is the same in its quality. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda who exhibits Himself equally in the same mobile manner in His various manifestations.”  Brahma Samhita, text 46.


It seems that as we browse through the internet and the media we see the word avatara is increasingly used in a number of ways. But often it is in ways that have nothing to do with its real meaning. Or we also find that an increasing number of people are referring themselves as avataras of God. So let us really understand what the word means and how it is referred in relation to its real purpose, or how to discern who is really an avatara.

First of all the word avatara actually means a form of God when He descends into this material world. There are many such forms listed in the Vedic texts, which will be discussed in this article. Many times they are referred to as incarnations of God. But the word incarnation is not proper either because it actually means when someone or something reincarnates, or takes another material body of flesh and blood.

However, people use the word incarnation in this context quite often anyway. But God does not take such a material form. His form is always spiritual, transcendental to the norms and laws of material nature. And He descends from the spiritual strata as He is, or in a form to do a specific activity, mission, or carry out a particular purpose. For this reason, the Supreme has many names, according to His forms and activities that He displays in His cosmic creation.

As mentioned in the Puranas and other portions of the Vedic literature, the Supreme Being descends in various forms, called avataras. Each avatara has a specific objective, but primarily they help maintain the world and guide the living beings in life, and attract them back to the spiritual domain.

To dispel the power of the illusory energy, the Lord maintains all of the planets in the universe and assumes roles or incarnations to perform pastimes to reclaim those in the mode of goodness. In this way, throughout the many millions of universes in which the Supreme Being appears, the purpose is to bring society to its senses, at least those who are in the higher grades of consciousness and are receptive to understanding their spiritual relation with Him.

He also sends His pure representative and instructions in the authorised scripture to guide people. In either case, the purpose is the same, to point the suffering living beings back toward the spiritual reality. Only there can the living beings find the true happiness for which they are hankering. That kind of happiness is not found in any part of the material universe.

The source of the various avataras within this cosmic creation is the Lord of the universe, namely Garbhodakashayi Vishnu. The form of the Lord that descends to the material world to create is called an avatara. All expansions of Lord Krishna are residents of the spiritual world who are also called avataras when they descend into the material world.

There are six kinds of incarnations of Krishna, which include those of Vishnu (purusha-avataras), pastime incarnations (lila-avataras), incarnations that control the modes of nature (guna-avataras), incarnations of Manu (manvantara-avataras), incarnations in different millenniums (yuga-avataras), and the empowered individuals (shaktyavesha-avataras).

However, Lord Krishna Himself descends to this world once in a day of Brahma to manifest His transcendental pastimes. All other incarnations are potentially situated in the body of the primeval Lord Krishna. Thus, according to one’s opinion, one may address Him as any one of the incarnations. This is because all of the plenary expansions of the Supreme exist within the body of the original person.

Thus, He can expand Himself as one flame from a candle lights another, but all such flames come from the original. Some say that Krishna is directly Nara-Narayana. Others say that He is Vamana, or the incarnation of Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, the Supersoul.

However, as it is explained, none of these statements is impossible. Everything is possible in Krishna, for He is the primeval Lord.


From Krishna comes innumerable incarnations, the most prominent of which are the lila-avatars, such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Rama, etc. We will describe most of these later.

There are also the qualitative incarnations  ( guna avatars )who are in charge of the modes of material nature, such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, along with the Manus and the yuga-avatars.

The time and reason for these incarnations is that whenever and wherever there is a decline of religion and a rise in irreligion, at that time Lord Krishna manifests Himself. In this way, in order to protect the sadhus (the pious), destroy the envious, and reestablish the principles of religion, He advents Himself millennium after millennium.

Let us remember that Lord Maha-Vishnu is resting in His yoga-nidra trance ( meditative transcendental sleep), in which He manifests the material energy. He is also the source of the other incarnations of the Supreme who appear in the material world. So you could say that the Lord is like a sleeping person who creates a separate world in His imagination and then enters His own dream and sees Himself within it.

Even though there are so many incarnations of the Supreme Being and plenary expansions of Him who appear in this world, we have to be aware of how to distinguish who is and who is not an incarnation.

As in other ages, an incarnation is accepted according to the directions in the scriptures. In all descriptions of an incarnation the scripture will provide the name of the father and the name of the place of birth in which the incarnation will appear. Such descriptions will also elaborate on His bodily symptoms and activities.

Therefore, we must be able to recognise the characteristics of an incarnation of God by the descriptions and must not be whimsical about accepting someone as an incarnation, or even a representative of the Supreme.

An actual incarnation of God never proclaims that He is God or an incarnation. The great Vedic texts have already recorded the characteristics of all the avataras.

Whenever Lord Krishna desires to manifest His incarnation on earth, He first sends His respectable predecessors. These take the form of the incarnations of His father, mother, and spiritual master. They appear first in order to prepare the way for the Supreme Being’s appearance. These people, however, are the Lord’s great devotees who serve Him by participating in His pastimes.

Thus, though the Lord personally has nothing to do with this material existence, He comes to earth and imitates material life just to expand the varieties of ecstatic enjoyment for His devotees. In this way, Krishna, the original Soul of all living beings, has appeared as an ordinary human being for the benefit of the whole universe and out of His causeless mercy.

This He has done by the strength of His own spiritual potency. Not only do the devotees enjoy Krishna’s pastimes, but He also enjoys His transcendental activities in various forms in this material world, which cleanse away all the unhappiness of those who joyfully chant His glories.

In this way, Lord Krishna appears in each universe. When His activities are finished in one universe, He begins His pastimes in another. Thus, His eternal pastimes go on like this in the universes as long as the material manifestation continues. Furthermore, His eternally liberated associates also follow Him from one universe to another to accompany Him in His blissful pastimes.

The Supreme is also joined by those devotees who are nearly perfect in their spiritual consciousness. By joining the Lord’s pastimes in another universe, and by their personal association with the Lord and His pure devotees, they can complete the necessary qualifications for entering directly into the spiritual atmosphere. This is how the Supreme Being displays the eternal pastimes of the spiritual domain within the material creation and attracts the materially conditioned souls.

In this way, the consecutive pastimes of Krishna are manifest in one of the innumerable universes moment after moment. There is no possibility of counting the universes, but in any case some pastime of the Lord is being manifest at every moment in one universe or another.


Lord Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead, and all other forms of Godhead are Lord Krishna’s plenary portions and integrated parts. Balarama is the first plenary manifestation of Lord Krishna.  From Balarama expands Sankarshana, Vasudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

From Sankarshana there is an expansion of Narayana, and from Narayana there is a second quadruple expansion of Sankarshana, Vasudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

From second Sankarshana ( Maha Sankarshana) comes Maha-Vishnu – the first purusha-avatara.

maha vishnu

Maha-Vishnu is the creator of the aggregate material energy. Garbhodakasayi Vishnu, is an expansion of Pradyumna; and the third purusa Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, is an expansion of Aniruddha.

Maha-Vishnu lies on the Causal Ocean which appears in one corner of the spiritual world. He manifests the mahat tattva or the sum total of material energy. It is into this mahat tattva that He exhales all of the seedlike universes through the pores of His skin.

These seedlike universes then expand as the different material elements form coverings around them. Each of the coverings is ten times thicker than the previous covering and form a shell-like covering. When Maha-Visnu impregnates the living entities by His glance into the material nature it begins to manifest its various energies.

When the universes have thus developed in the womb of material nature, Maha-Vishnu expands as Garbhodakashai Vishnu, Who enters into each universe with the living entities of that particular universe and thus activates each universe by His presence. He lies down on Ananta Shesa ( gigantic thousand headed snake) who lies on the Garbha -Casual  ocean, which is the perspiration from the Lord’s body and half fills the universe.


From His navel comes a lotus bud which is the total form of the living entities’ fruitive activity. The lotus grows dissipating the darkness of the universe. On top of the lotus Brahma, the first living being appears. Situated on the lotus, Brahma could not understand anything. He began entering the stem and climbed down to find its origin.

Not finding anything, Brahma again returned to the top of the lotus where he heard the word ta-pa (austerity). Hearing the sound Brahma underwent penance for one thousand celestial years (6x30x12x1000 earthly years).

Being very pleased with Brahma’s austerity, the Lord manifested the Vaikuntha ( spiritual) planets to him. Seeing Vaikuntha, Brahma became very happy and bowed to the Lord. Being very pleased with Brahma the Lord reveals how to create the universe.

To maintain the universe Garbhodakashayi Vishnu expands as Kshirodakashai Vishnu, Who is the all-pervading Supersoul (Paramatma). By His entering into every atom He maintains the whole universe.


God’s energies can also be divided into three: His energy of thinking, feeling and acting. When He exhibits His thinking energy, He is the Supreme Lord; when He exhibits His feeling energy, He is Lord Vasudeva; when He exhibits His acting energy, He is Sankarsana Balarama. Without His thinking, feeling and acting, there would be no possibility of creation.

Although there is no creation in the spiritual world – for there the planets are beginningless – there is creation in the material world. In either case, however, both the spiritual and material worlds are manifestations of the energy of acting, in which God acts in the form of Sankarsana and Balarama. 

Lila-avataras (pastime avataras)

There are twenty-four main lila-avataras of the Supreme Being who appear throughout the ages. They all have specific forms or bodily features, and particular purposes for appearing. These are listed in the various Vedic texts, especially the Puranas, and their many pastimes are explained in detail therein. We will only give a short summary of each of the main avataras, however we would encourage everyone to delve more deeply into the Puranas to read these pastimes more extensively.

The four Kumaras pay King Prthu a visit.

The first listed of these incarnations are the four sons of Brahma, the Kumaras. They took a vow of celibacy and underwent severe austerities for realisation of the Absolute Truth. They are considered empowered incarnations, or shaktyavesha-avataras, whose mission was to teach the process of spiritual development. Knowledge of spiritual truth had disappeared from the previous universal devastation and they helped re-establish it.


Lord Varaha was the second incarnation who appeared in the form of a huge boar. He lifted the earth out of the nether regions of the filthy waters of the universe, which was a suitable activity for a boar. He did this to counter the nefarious activities of the demons who had put the earth planet into jeopardy.


The third incarnation was the empowered avatara known as the sage among the demigods, Devarshi Narada Muni. He collected expositions of the Vedas which dealt with the process of devotional service to Lord Krishna, and authored the great classic Narada-pancharatra. He also traveled throughout the universe singing His praises and giving instruction on bhakti-yoga and how to attain real happiness. Thus, he has many disciples all over the creation. Narada Muni had once been taught the science of loving service to the Supreme during the Lord’s Hamsavatara incarnation, the swan-like form of the Supreme, who had been very much pleased by Narada.

nara narayana

In the fourth incarnation, the Lord became the twin sons known as Nara and Narayana. They were born of Murti, the wife of King Dharma. They underwent severe austerities in the area of Badarikashrama in the Himalayas to demonstrate the process of controlling the senses for spiritual advancement. The celestial beauties who were the companions of Cupid went to distract Narayana from His vows, but were unsuccessful when they could see many other beautiful women like them emanating from the Supreme Being. Everything comes from the Supreme, who remains unattached to all His manifestations.


The fifth incarnation was Lord Kapila, the foremost among perfected beings. He explained for the first time the system of the Sankhya philosophy and the way of understanding the Truth by the analysis of material elements. He was the son of the sage Kardama Muni and his wife Devahuti. He also gave great expositions to his mother on the science of devotional service to the Supreme Lord. By that means she became cleansed of all material tendencies and achieved liberation. This spiritual knowledge is provided in detail in the Bhagavata Purana.

The sixth incarnation was born as Dattatreya, the son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya, both of whom had prayed for an incarnation to be their son. Dattatreya spoke on the subject of transcendence to Alarka, Prahlada, Yadu, Haihaya, and others.

The seventh incarnation was Yajna, the son of Ruchi and his wife Akuti. During the time of Svayambhuva Manu there was no living entity qualified to take the post of Indra, the King of Heaven, Indraloka. So Yajna took up the post of Indra and was assisted by His own sons, such as Yama, the lord of death, and other demigods to rule the administration over universal affairs.


King Rishabha was the eighth incarnation, who appeared as the son of King Nabhi and his wife Merudevi. Again He demonstrated the path of spiritual perfection by performing yoga and instructing His sons in the process of tapasya, austerities for spiritual development. This path sanctifies one’s existence and leads to eternal spiritual happiness. This is followed by those who have fully controlled their senses and are honored by all orders of life.


The Lord also appeared as the Hayagriva incarnation in a golden color during a sacrifice performed by Brahma. When He breathed, all of the sweet sounds of the Vedas came out of His nostrils.


The tenth incarnation was Hamsa – the Swan form. Due to bewilderment, Brahma, could not answer some questions put forward by his sons. At that time the Lord appeared as a swan and answered the questions.


The eleventh incarnation of the Supreme was Prishnigarbha – the four armed form of the Lord who appeared before prince Dhruva. He created the planet known as Dhruvaloka ( the Polar star ) for the habitation of Dhruva Maharaja.


The twelfth incarnation was Prithu, who accepted the body of a king. He had been prayed for by the brahmana priests to counteract the problems that had been brought on by impious activities of the previous king, Vena. Prithu made various arrangements to cultivate the land to yield various forms of produce. Although King Vena was bound for hell due to the reactions of his misdeeds and the curse of the brahmanas, he was delivered by Prithu.

After the time of the Chakshusha Manu there was a complete inundation over the whole world by water. Manu had been warned about this flood and built a ship in which he and his family survived. The Lord accepted the form of a huge fish to protect Vaivashvata Manu and guide the ship to safety on a huge mountain peak. This was the Matsya avatara. After the period of each Manu there is a devastation by water over the earth.

The Lord then appears to show special favor to His devotees and protect them from the devastation and allow society to start anew. In this way, He protects all of the living entities as well as the Vedas from destruction. After the last flood, Manu and his family and the surviving living creatures again repopulated the earth. Local people of Uttarakhand in Northern India identify the Nanda Devi mountain as the one in the story of the flood.


The thirteenth incarnation of the Supreme was in the form of a huge tortoise, Kurma, whose main mission was to act as a pivot for the Mandara Hill, which was being used as a churning rod between the demons and demigods. The scheme was that the demons and demigods wanted to produce a nectar from the ocean by this churning action which would make them immortal. Each side wanted to be the first to get it, and the back of Lord Kurma was the resting place for the hill. As the mountain moved back and forth on the back of Kurma while He was partially asleep, He felt it as an itching sensation.


Mohini murti, the most beautiful feminine form of the Lord was the fourteenth. The Lord tricked the demons by appearing in the form of a beautiful woman and asked the demons for the nectar and distributed it to the demigods.


In the fifteenth incarnation the Lord appeared as Dhanvantari who produced the nectar that came from the churning action. He is considered the lord of good health. It is He who inaugurated the medical science in the universe. The Lord accepted the thirteenth incarnation by becoming Rohini, the most beautiful woman who allured the demons away from the pot of nectar and gave it to the demigods. Thus, the Lord prevented the havoc that would have taken place if the demons had gotten the nectar and became immortal.


In the sixteenth incarnation the Lord appeared as Narashimhadeva, the half-man half-lion form that displayed the anger and power of the Supreme Being when one of His devotees was in peril. The Lord placed the demon Hiranyakashipu on His lap and with His long fingernails tore apart the body of the atheist who had threatened the life of his son, Prahlada, who was a staunch devotee of the Lord. This is one of the most popular stories described in the Puranas.


In the seventeenth avatara, the Lord as Vamana assumed the form of a dwarf-brahmana. He appeared as the youngest son of His mother, Aditi. He visited the sacrificial arena of Bali Maharaja on the pretense of asking for a measly three steps of land. Bali quickly agreed, thinking that this dwarf could not take up much land. However, when Vamana took two steps, His body became so gigantic that it covered the whole universe. There was no where else to place His third step, so Bali, understanding that this was the Supreme Being, offered his own head. Thus, Vamana humbled Bali, who then became qualified to be given his own planet.


In the eighteenth incarnation, the Lord accepted the mighty form of Parashurama and annihilated the wicked class of warrior kings twenty-one times in order to free the earth of the burden of these nefarious rulers. In this way, He could establish a noble administration.


The nineteenth incarnation was Srila Vyasadeva, who appeared as the son of Parashara Muni and his wife Satyavati. His mission was to divide the one Veda into various branches and sub-branches so the people who are less intelligent can more easily understand them. He then composed the more important Vedic texts, culminating in his own commentary of the Vedic writing in the form of the Srimad-Bhagavata. In this way, the one Veda became the four main samhitas, namely the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas. Then came the Brahmana texts, the Vedanta Sutras, the Mahabharata, and then the Puranas, of which Vyasadeva considered the Bhagavat Purana the most important and complete.

It is also explained that the Bhagavat Purana is the literary incarnation of God, which is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and is all-blissful and all-perfect. Sri Vyasadeva offered it to his son after extracting the cream of all Vedic literature. This Bhagavat Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krishna to His own abode. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of this age of Kali can get light from this Purana.

Vishnu Purana (3.4.2-5) explains further about Vyasadevain that a different empowered individual soul takes the position of Vyasadeva in each incarnation as a shaktyavesha-avatara. However, in this particular divya-yuga, or cycle of the four ages, Lord Narayana Himself appears as Shrila Krishna-Dvaipayana Vyasa to divide the Vedic literature into various branches, and is not simply an empowered living entity.


In the twentieth incarnation, the Lord appeared as King Rama. In order to please the demigods and mankind, He displayed His superhuman powers as the ideal king and killed the demon King Ravana. This is one of the most popular stories in all of India that make up the great Vedic epic known as the Ramayana. Lord Rama appeared in the family of Maharaja Ikshvaku as the son of Maharaja Dasaratha, with His internal potency and wife, Sita. Under the order of Dasaratha, Lord Rama had gone to the forest to live with Sita and His brother Laxmana.

While in the forest, Sita was kidnaped by the demon Ravana, which made way for the telling of the Ramayana. Being aggrieved, Rama went to search for Sita. With red-hot eyes, He looked all over India and on to the city of Ravana, which was on present day Sri Lanka. All of the aquatics in the ocean were being burnt by the heat in His angry eyes, so the ocean gave way to Him. During the course of battle, proud Ravana was killed by the arrow from Lord Rama, who was then reunited with Sita.


In the twenty-first and twenty-second incarnations, the Lord advented Himself as Lord Krishna and His brother Lord Balarama in the Yadu dynasty near the end of Dvapara-yuga. He displayed wonderful pastimes to invoke the attraction of the people and, again, to relieve the burden of the world of numerous demons and atheists. Lord Krishna is directly the original Personality of Godhead, and Balarama is the first plenary expansion of the Lord. From the original Lord Balarama comes all the other expansions of the Divine.


The next incarnation of the Lord appeared in the beginning of Kali-yuga as Lord Buddha, the son of Anjana, for the purpose of deluding the envious who had misused the Vedic path, and to preach a simple system of nonviolence. At the time people in general were falling away from the proper execution of the Vedic system and had misused the Vedic recommendation of sacrifice and began offering and consuming animals. Buddha denounced all such actions and taught people simply to follow him and his teachings. Thus, he fooled the faithless people who then believed in Lord Buddha and gave up the misuse of the Vedic system.


The twenty-fourth and final incarnation of the Supreme will appear at the end of Kali-yuga, at the conjunction of the next yuga. He will take His birth as the Kalki incarnation, the son of VishnuYasha in the village of Shambala, when the rulers of earth will have degenerated into common thieves and plunderers. At the time there will be no topics on the subject of God, nor any knowledge of religion. Then, rather than trying to teach or show the way of progress when people will be too retarded and slow minded to understand philosophy, He will simply slaughter the foolish rogues who wander the earth. This will take place about 427,000 years from now.

As is summarised in the Bhagavata Purana (1.3.28), all of these incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord. However, as explained, krishnas tu bhagavan svayam, Lord Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Although learned men discuss the birth and activities of the Supreme unborn, Lord of the heart, the foolish who have a poor fund of knowledge cannot understand the transcendental nature of the forms, names, and activities of the Supreme Being, who is playing like an actor in a drama. However, only those who render favourable service to Lord Krishna can know the creator of the universe in His full glory, power and transcendence.


There are three guna-avataras, or incarnations of the qualitative modes of nature, and these are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.


The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu, resides within the material world as the sattva-guna-avatara ( controlling deity of Goodness). Lord Siva is the tamo-guna-avatara ( controlling deity of Ignorance), and Lord Brahma is the rajo-guna-avatara ( controlling deity of Passion), but although Lord Vishnu is among them, He is not in the same category.

For the purpose of creation, Brahma is manifested, and for annihilation there is Lord Shiva. As far as the spiritual entrance into the material world is concerned, all beings are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, but under the covering of different material qualities they have different names.

Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva are qualitative incarnations of Vishnu, as guna-avataras, and Vishnu with them accepts control of the quality of goodness; therefore He is also a qualitative incarnation like Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma. Actually the different names exist for different directions, otherwise the origin is one only. Lord Vishnu is deva-deva, the chief of all the demigods.


The Manus appear for certain durations during a day of Brahma. Brahma’s day is calculated as 4,300,000 years (the time of one cycle of the four yugas) times 1,000. Within one day of Brahma there are 14 Manus.

The list of the 14 Manus in this universe are as follows: Yajna is Svayambhuva Manu, Vibhu is Svarocisha Manu, Satyasena is Uttama Manu, Hari is Tamasa Manu, Vaikuntha is Raivata Manu, Ajita is Ckakshusha Manu, Vamana is Vaivasvata Manu (the Manu of the present age), Sarvabhauma is Savarni Manu, Rishabha is Daksha-savarni Manu, Vishvaksena is Brahma-savarni Manu, Dharmasetu is Dharma-savarni Manu, Sudhama is Rudra-savarni Manu, Yogesvara is Deva-savarni Manu, and Brihadbhanu is Indra-savarni Manu. These fourteen Manus cover the 4,320,000,000 solar years of one day of Brahma.


To understand more completely how long these Manus reign we can consider the following information. For example, there are four ages, namely Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapara-yuga, and Kali-yuga, which comprise a divya-yuga, one set of the four yugas.

Let’s remember that Satya-yuga lasts 1,728,000 years, Treta-yuga 1,296,000 years, Dvapara-yuga 864,000 years, and Kali-yuga 432,000 years. That is a total of 4,320,000 years. A day of Brahma, called a kalpa, lasts for 1,000 of these cycles, and is thus 4,320,000,000 solar years.

There are 14 Manus in each day of Brahma. Each Manu is said to exist for one manvantara, which is a period of time lasting 71 divya-yugas. Therefore, each Manu exists for roughly 306,720,000 years. Additionally, Brahma lives for 100 years, composed of 365 of such days in a year. Let’s remember also that we are talking about beings who do not live in the same dimension as we do, and are thus free from the same influences of time and matter with which we must contend.

From further analysis we can also discover the age of the earth from these Vedic calculations. The present Manu is the seventh in line, called Vaivasvata Manu, the son of Vivasvan. Twenty-seven divya-yugas, or cycles of the four yugas, of his age have now passed. So 27 divya-yugas means 116,640,000 years.

It is scheduled that at the end of the Dvapara-yuga of the twenty-eighth divya-yuga of the seventh Manu, Lord Krishna appears on earth with the full paraphernalia of His eternal spiritual abode, named Vrajadhama or Goloka Vrindavana. Brahma’s day consists of 4,320,000,000 years. Six of these Manus appear and disappear before Lord Krishna takes birth. This means that 1,975,320,000 years of the day of Brahma have gone by before the appearance of Lord Krishna. 

Therefore, this is also the age of the earth in this particular day of Brahma by these Vedic calculations. Science is sometimes surprised that such lengths of time were part of the ancient Vedic conception of the universe.


Getting back to the various incarnations of the Supreme, we now come to the yuga-vataras. The yuga-vataras are divided by the millenniums in which they appear. They appear in a particular color according to the yuga.

In Satya-yuga the color is white, in Treta-yuga the color is red, in Dvapara-yuga it is black, and in Kali-yuga the color is yellow or golden. For an example, in Dvapara-yuga Lord Krishna was a blackish color while in Kali-yuga Lord Chaitanya had a golden complexion.

In Satya-yuga the people were generally quite advanced in spiritual knowledge and could meditate upon Krishna very easily. During the time in the white incarnation, the Lord taught religion and meditation, and in this way showed His mercy to the people of that era. In the Lord’s reddish incarnation during the Treta-yuga, He taught the process of performing great rituals and religious sacrifices.

In Dvapara-yuga, the Lord appeared in His blackish form as Krishna and induced people to worship Him directly. Then in Kali-yuga the Lord appears with a golden complexion as His own devotee, showing others the spiritual process for this age. Accompanied by His personal associates, He introduces the process of hari-nama-sankirtan, or the congregational singing and chanting of the Lord’s holy names, specifically in the form of the Hare Krishna mantra:

hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare

hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare


He personally chants and dances in ecstatic love of God. Through this process He delivers this love of God to all. Whatever spiritual results are attained through the other processes in the previous three yugas can easily be achieved in Kali-yuga by the chanting of the holy names of Krishna. It is the easiest process for becoming freed from material existence and reaching the transcendental kingdom.


The last kind of avataras are what is called the shaktyavesha-avataras. These are the living beings who are empowered by the Supreme to act in certain ways or accomplish a particular mission. Such avataras include the four Kumaras, Narada Muni, Lord Parashurama, and Lord Brahma.

Lord Sheshanaga in the spiritual Vaikuntha worlds and His expansion as Lord Ananta in the material world are also empowered incarnations. The power of knowledge was given to the Kumaras. The power of devotion to the Lord was given to Narada. Brahma was, of course, empowered with the ability to create. Parashurama was given the power to kill the many rogues and thieves who were on the planet at His time. Whenever the Lord is present in someone by a portion of His various potencies, that living entity is considered a shaktyavesha-avatara – a living being invested with special power.

It is through these many incarnations that the Lord maintains the universe and provides guidance to the living beings within it. It is also through these descriptions that we can understand that not just anyone can call themselves an incarnation of God, without being verified by Vedic descriptions.

To understand this knowledge is an important part in perceiving the plan behind the universe and our purpose in it, and it provides great benefits for all who hear it. As it is explained in the Bhagavata Purana (8.23.30), “If one hears about the uncommon activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His various incarnations, he is certainly elevated to the higher planetary systems or even brought directly back to Godhead, the spiritual domain.”

By Stephen Knapp

(Artwork copyright Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International – www.krishna.com. Used with permission)


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