The Avatar KrishnaAs a young cowherdCredit: ISKCON

The Avatar Krishna
As a young cowherd
Credit: ISKCON

The idea of Avatar was borrowed by the West from India, more particularly Hinduism, much like the concepts of Guru and Pandit were. James Cameron adapted it for his blockbuster film of the same name and PCs the world over for the abstract representation of users in the virtual world, but with modifications. The Hindu concept is actually neither of ones extension through a transporting machine into an alien world, nor of an imaginary portrayal of one’s persona on the web. The Sanskrit word simply means ‘descent’ and has come to mean divine manifestation through incarnation.

But every soul’s reincarnation from the spiritual realms to the material world does not qualify. The incarnation of the Universal Essence (Brahma). as an anthropomorphic saviour on the physical plane, alone qualifies to be called an Avatar. In the Gita, Krishna the Avatar, assuming the deep sonorous voice of his true Self, the Universal Essence, explains when such a descent into the world becomes a painful necessity – the extraordinary embodiment of the Godhead, making it subject to all the trials and tribulations, pains and pleasures, fortunes and misfortunes of a mortal existence ( Christ on the cross), subject to all the earthly conditions, save one. The Avatar remains exempt from the Law of Karma and accumulates no effects, which would otherwise necessitate enforced rebirth under Karma’s inexorable and inflexible regime of cause and effect. Why the exemption, one may ask? Because the Law cannot touch or take into account actions that are dispassionate and made with no egotistical purpose. The Avatar’s actions are all altruistic and meant to ameliorate the sorry plight into which the material world has degenerated at the moment necessitating its incarnation.

The Avatar is in fact the Hindu counterpart or approximation for  prophet, messenger or ‘son of God’ concepts in other cultures. The difference being that the Avatar is not regarded as a representation of divinity but divinity incarnate itself, God in a human guise.

The most popular of such Avatars are Rama of the Epic Ramayan and Krishna of the epic Mahabharat, whose discourses on the battlefield become the message of the Bhagawad Gita. The Hindu pantheon also includes (apparently without permission) the Buddha, as its latest Avatar, without dwelling on his teachings or philosophy, which quite often is at variance with Hindu thought. Like other cultures, Hinduism also holds out the hope for the coming of yet another saviour. The present age is called the Age of Kali, Kaliyug, the age of vice. The Avatar to come as saviour in this age, Kalki is portrayed as a warrior on a horse with sword in hand ending evil with the apocalypse which accompanies him.

Kalki , the avatar to come.Credit: yoga-philosophy.com

Kalki , the avatar to come.
Credit: yoga-philosophy.com

Except for sages, philosophers, yogis and mystic-saints, most ordinary Hindus, while acknowledging a formless God (Nirgun) as the Universal Essence, generally engage in adulation and worship of the Avatars Rama and Krishna, while others worship the incarnated form of the Universal Energy (Shakti), depicted as a female deity riding a tiger or lion.

ShaktiCredit: shaktiwomyn.com

Shakti
Credit: shaktiwomyn.com

The Avatar is etched deeply in the Hindu psyche and arouses a range of emotions from admiration, adulation, ecstasy and love, expressed through worship, prayer, meditation, song, poetry and dance.

 The Avatar then is an extraordinary phenomenon. On the one hand it has the charm and charisma of a leading film star, breathtaking to view and irresistible to the surging mob of fans. On the other, he has also the dignity, majesty, serenity and power of a king of kings into whose audience you are ushered, overwhelmed and awestruck. He has also the compassion and humility of a saint, melting your ego like a candle in tears and the love of a mother you meet after years of yearning separation. He is also Superman with supernatural abilities he is loath to use but of which one is aware. This film star who happens to be a king, a saint and Superman, all rolled into one finally is also your best friend who arouses unbearable emotions of love and intimacy. If you can succeed in conceptualizing all these amazing attributes together in one person for a moment, then you can picture an Avatar standing before you.

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