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Historical origins of Dashavatara ?


I was wondering about the historical origins of the Dashavatara concept in
mythology- when (and by whom) did the ten avataras of Vishnu become "fixed"
and popular? I dont seem to find any trace of exactly ten avataras in the
Ramayana, and certainly Krishna himself seems to allude that there will be
many avataras (Yada yada hi dharmasya ...), not just ten.

Also, it appears that only Sri Narasimha, Rama and Krishna are popularly
worshipped. Why is it that the rest (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Parashurama
etc) are not widely worshipped?

Another interesting fact seems to be that Buddha is generally taken to be the
ninth avatara (although some traditions seem to hold Balarama as the ninth,
"proxy" avatara). Is there any basis in literature (Upanishads etc) for this?
Both Jayadava in his song, Dashavatara, and Madhva(?) in Davadasha Stotram
refer to Buddha as one of the avataras.


     Suresh Kumar

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