The Dasavatara Stotra is a hymn to Lord Vishnu. It is the first section in the Gita-Govindam of Sri Jayadeva.
Sri Jayadeva was the court poet of King Lakshmanasena who ruled in Bengal in the twelfth century. His mastery of the Sanskrit language was matched by his proficiency in both music and dancing. He was a mystic and a devotee of Sri Krishna.
Jayadeva's only known work, Gita-Govindam, embodies the great wealth of his devotion and mystical experience. It is a great poetical masterpiece in twelve cantos of mellifluous verses and songs in Sanskrit, set to music and adapted to representation through dance. The theme of it is the love of Radha and Krishna, symbolizing the longing and striving of the individual, for communion with god, culminating in their blissful union. The language and the imagery expresses the most intense form of love in all its moods and phases. The first section sings of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The text, transliteration, and translation of it are given here.
Incarnation is a special manifestation of God for a specific purpose. The scriptures tell us that the incarnations are innumerable. Some of these are described in detail and the others are left to the imagination of the devotee. The general principle is that wherever some thing grand, beautiful, or glorious is seen, it is to be understood as embodying a part of God's glory.
In the Bhagavata, twenty-four incarnations are enumerated and described. These include Kapila, the great rishi and founder of the Sankhya school of philosophy, and Rishabha whom the Jains revere as their first prophet. By extending the analogy, all the great sages, whose lives and teachings have reinforced spirituality should be considered an incarnations, descents, or embodiments of God's glory. All incarnations have a common purpose, the protection of the good, the destruction of evil and the establishment of dharma. Jayadeva enumerates ten of them. They are: (1) Matsya, the Fish; (2) Kurma, the Tortoise; (3)Varaha, the Boar; (4) Narasimha, the Man-lion; (5) Vamana, the Dwarf; (6) Parasurama; (7) Rama; (8)Balarama; (9) Buddha; and (10) Kalki.
In the Fish incarnation the primary purpose was the recovery of the Vedas, which had been stolen by a demon and hidden in the waters. This required the destruction of the demon. This symbolizes the restoration of true knowledge, subverted by egoism, which has to be destroyed in the process.
The second incarnation is the Tortoise. The gods and demons undertook the churning of the milk-ocean with the mount Meru as the churn to obtain the nectar of immortality. They found the churn sinking into the ocean and were unable to hold it up. then God appeared as the great Tortoise on whose back the mountain could rest and allow the process of churning to proceed, bringing up different products, and ultimately, the nectar of immortality.
When we proceed to churn the ocean of experience with the churn of knowledge, in search of reality, we find that knowledge itself requires a base to prove its validity. The attempt to find an ultimate base on which to erect our structure of reasoning can end in an infinite regress, unless it rests on the immovable, al-sufficient, all-sustaining basis of self-evident truth symbolized by the Tortoise form of God.
The third is the Boar. God incarnated this time to lift up the earth which had been taken away into the regions of darkness, under the waters, by Hiranyaksha, a demon. The demon was destroyed and the earth was retrieved. In both the Vishnupurana and the Bhagavata, the Boar form of God is identified with sacrifice. And sacrifice, in its turn, is non-different from God Himself. This can be understood as illustrating that stability or order, as contrasted with instability or chaos, can be achieved only through sacrifice, which is again based on the Absolute.
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