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Re: Historical origins of Dashavatara ? -- another question

In article <2rr2vl$m6r@ucunix.san.uc.edu> susarla@great-gray.owlnet.rice.edu (H. Krishna Susarla) writes:
> Why is it said, then, that Vishnu only has 10 avataras. What distinguishes them
> from other incarnations (like Balrama, or Lakshmana??)??

There are a couple of things here. Vishnu is said, according to some 
traditions, to have two different kinds of avataras. One is where he
"inspires", in a sense, a human being in a divine manner, by imparting
them with a portion of himself.  These types are exemplified by Balarama,
Parashurama, etc.  (Also, it should be noted that Balarama and Lakshmana
are sometimes considered avataras of Ananta, Vishnu's divine assistant
who bodily accompanies him wherever he is.)

The second kind of avataras are the vibhava avataras, such as Krishna,
Rama, and Narasimha, which are the Lord himself who has descended to grace
the world.

In short, there are an infinite number of manifestations of the Lord.
To the jnani, everything will appear to be a vibhuti of the Lord. In 
terms of what are considered avataras, they are also innumerable. 
The Dashavatara theory dates from around the 12th century, since it
isn't mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana (9th-10th c.), which lists 
over 20 avataras, nor by early Sri Vaishnava teachers. The earliest
Sri Vaishnava reference that I know of is by Vedanta Desika (13th-14th c.),
who composed the Dashavatara Stotram. I would wager that the number 10
gained currency a century or two before his time and consequently 
spread across India.


P.S. In some counts, Balarama is considered one of the 10 incarnations.
This tradition is older than the one that includes the Buddha among the ten.

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