God has created this world. He has no beginning or end. To fulfill His objectives, God takes different bodily forms to come in this world. Those forms are called Avatar.
What is an Avatar?
In the spiritual context, Avatar is a concept generally from Hinduism. It is the appearance of a superhuman or a deity on the earth in a bodily form. The deity takes birth in this world with a specific objective, mostly to free the world from the wrongdoers.
For example, Ram and Krishna are the avatars of Lord Vishnu in Hinduism.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is a sense of connection with something or someone higher than ourselves. That higher self can be God or His avatar.
Spirituality helps us to achieve harmony, happiness and abundance in our life by following these Avatars. Avatar Spirituality is the crux of the Hindu religion.
Avatar Spirituality in Hinduism
Hinduism has many deities, so there are several interesting anecdotes explaining avatar spirituality.
Avatars of Vishnu: There are ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. It is collectively called Dashavtara.
In Matsya avatar, Vishnu appears as half fish and half man. The objective is to save the world from the demon and re-establish life.
In ‘Kurma’ avatar, the lord appears as a tortoise to help churn the cosmic ocean along with the serpent Vasuki. This churning produces many good and bad objects like the nectar of immortality and the poison.
In ‘Varah’ avatar, Vishnu appears as a boar to rescue the earth from the ocean. It is believed that the demon Hirananayaksh had kidnapped and hid the earth in the ocean. The boar lifts the earth on its tusks and brings it back to surface.
In ‘Narsimha’ avatar, Vishnu appears as half man and half lion to kill the demon Hiranyakashyapu. The demon had become very powerful because any man or animal could not kill him. He used to torture his subjects and his son Prahlad for disagreeing with him. Vishnu appeared as Narasimha to save Prahlad.
In ‘Vaman’ avatar, the lord appears as a dwarf monk to test the king Bali. The king had won the heaven, earth and the underworld with his powers. He was benevolent but used to boast of the same. To get the heaven for the rightful occupants, Vishnu asked for three steps of land. He measured the earth and heaven in two steps. The king realized his mistake and offered his head for the third step.
In ‘Parshuram’ avatar, Vishnu appears as a sage with an axe. He kills the warrior clan because they had become very powerful and used to trouble others for their pleasure.
As ‘Ram’, lord Vishnu took birth with the primary objective to kill the demon called Ravana. The life story of Ram is mentioned in the epic Ramayan.
As ‘Krishna’, lord Vishnu appeared again in a human form to free the world from wrongdoers like the demon Kansa and to help Pandavas in the Mahabharat war. During the war, Krishna gave the sermon of Bhagwad Gita (a sacred scripture) to the pandava Arjun. The sermon of Gita is regarded to have spiritual significance for mankind.
Gautam Buddha is also considered an avatar of Lord Vishnu in Hinduism.
In the ‘Kalki’ avatar, Lord Vishnu will be born on earth again when the Kali Yug (the fourth stage) of the world is about to end, to free the world from sinners.
Avatars of Shiva: As per Shiva Puran, Lord Shiva appeared as Virbhadra and Sharbha (the human-lion- bird) to calm down the Narsimha avatar of Vishnu described earlier.
The deity Hanuman is considered to be an avatar of Lord Shiva. Hanuman had helped Lord Vishnu in the avatar of Ram in the fight against the demon Ravana.
Avatars of Ganesha: As per Ganesh Puran, there are four avatars of Lord Ganesha. Each Yug has one avatar, and each avatar has a specific mount. Lion is the mount of Mohotkata. Mayuresvara’ s mount is a peacock. Dhumraketu has a horse as the mount whereas rat is the mount of Gajanan.
Avatars of Shakti: As per Hindu texts there are five avatars of Shakti. Sati is the first wife of Lord Shiva. Parvati is considered as the consort of Shiva after Sati. It is said that the objective of Sati and Parvati was to make Lord Shiva participate in worldly affairs whereas the other avatars of Shakti viz. Kali, Durga and Tripura Sundari took birth with the purpose of killing demons.
Avatars of Lakshmi: An interesting fact is that, since Lakshmi is the consort of Lord Vishnu, her avatar Sita was the consort of Ram, an avatar of Vishnu. Similarly, Radha, the divine lover of Krishna, is also the avatar of Lakshmi. Krishna’s wives Rukmini and Satyabhama are Lakshmi’s avatars too.
Avatar Spirituality in Sikhism
The concept of avatars also exists in Sikhism. The holy book named Dasam Granth, written by the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, mentions avatars.
It says that Lord Vishnu had 24 avatars and Brahma has seven avatars. The avatar spirituality in Sikhism denies the belief that avatar happens to save the world from the wrongdoers. It believes that humankind is its own savior.
Christian view about avatars
Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the human God. They don’t believe in avatar spirituality, instead they consider Christ as an incarnation.
An incarnation happens in the form of real flesh and blood, like in the case of Christ. Whereas, in an avatar, the flesh is like a garment worn from outside.
The incarnation is permanent and final. Christ would not appear again. Unlike incarnations, an avatar goes back to its original form and reappear again in a new form in the future.
Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection divides between the old-time and the new time. An avatar restores peace in the world by killing the wrongdoer.
Views about avatar in Islam
Like Christianity, Islam also doesn’t believe in avatar spirituality. Islam believes only in prophets. It considers the prophet as the individual who is in contact with God. Adam was the first of the five prophets and Muhammad the last. There would be no other prophet. As per the doctrines of Islam, the divine should never be worshiped as a human.
Avatars and Buddhism
Buddhism doesn’t believe in the incarnation and avatar spirituality. Buddhists believe that anyone comes to this world only by karma. They believe in Buddhas (the enlightened teachers) who have attained liberation. They also believe in Bodhisattvas, beings who take birth to help others and have completed their karma cycle.
Avatar Spirituality in Fiction
Since time immemorial, various media have been used to communicate about spirituality. Earlier, every bit of knowledge was conveyed orally from one generation to the next. Then came the written scriptures, dance, drama etc. Now movies and cartoon series are used to represent the concept.
‘Avatar’ the movie
The movie by James Cameroon is excellent, both cinematically and thematically. He conveys that God is feminine, and nature is infused with the same divine spirit. The movie portrays that nature and God is one. It depicts ‘Patheism.’ The word is made up of two Greek words, ‘Pan, which means all and ‘Theos’ that means God.
The movie derives the spiritual beliefs from other traditions. For example, the Na’vi concept is borrowed from Native American spirituality that is also described in Hinduism.
Na’vi is the indigenous tribe of Pandora. The great mother of Na’vi is Eywa. In the movie, trees exist as a channel between the Na’vi and Eywa. The movie shows holy places of Na’vi clan. These holy places are depicted as trees. ‘Avatar’ teaches us the value of protecting our planet and also conveys the spiritual dimensions of nature and deeming it worthy of worship.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
It is a TV cartoon series. The lead character, Aang, is the twelve-year-old avatar re-incarnated being with the power to bend all four elements. The four elements are:-
a) Air Nomads: Their society is located around temples. They follow spiritual traditions in their daily lives.
b) Water Tribes: They worship the Moon and the Ocean stream because the Moon has the power to pull the tides in the ocean.
c) Earth Kingdom: The members of this kingdom are not spiritual, but they have small shrines in honor of previous avatars.
d) Fire Nation: Like the Earth Kingdom, mostly these members are also not interested in spirituality.
Aang’s physical journey to master these elements mirrors his spiritual journey towards enlightenment. The series portrays that only attending to his spiritual understanding, Aang can defeat injustice. Similarly, Hinduism has adopted five essential elements of life.
Most of the religions, faiths and philosophies believe that God sends His representative to uplift the mankind through the strengthening of spirituality. We call these representatives, ‘Avatars’. These avatars guide us towards our devotion to the divine. This can be attained by imbibing divine qualities.