Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.3 - Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu

The puruṣa first creates innumerable universes, and enters each of them as the second puruṣa. When He saw there was only darkness within the universe, He filled half of the universe with water from His own perspiration and laid Himself down on that water. From His navel a stem of the lotus flower sprouted and Brahmā took birth there. Brahmā was generated from the mode of passion and Viṣṇu became the Lord of the mode of goodness. From Brahmā there is Śiva, who is in charge of the mode of darkness. All three namely, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva are incarnations of the Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. From Brahmā the other demigods like Dakṣa, Marīci, Manu and many others are incarnated to generate living entities within the universe. Though Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu acts as the source, He is equal to many seeds. Therefore, He is called a storeroom or treasure. His part is Brahmā and Brahmā’s parts are Marīci and others. By them, the Lord creates the devatās and others. The Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu is praised in the Vedas in the hymns of Garbha-stuti and His plenary portion is the Supersoul of the universe, Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu.

SB 1.3 - Various types of incarnations

There are various incarnations like the līlā incarnations of Matsya, Kūrma Varāha, Nṛsiṁha, Vāmana and others. Then there are guṇa incarnations of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. Lord Viṣṇu is non different from the Personality of Godhead. Lord Śiva is in the marginal position between the Personality of Godhead and the jīva. Brahmā is always a jīva-tattva. The highest pious living being is empowered with the potency of the Lord for creation, and he is called Brahmā. When there is no such qualified living being, the Lord Himself becomes a Brahmā. Lord Śiva is the plenary portion of the Lord, but because he is in direct touch with material nature, he is not exactly in the same transcendental position as Lord Viṣṇu. The difference between Śiva and Viṣṇu is like that between curd and milk. Curd is nothing but milk, and yet it cannot be used in place of milk.

The next incarnations are the Manus. Within one day of Brahmā there are 14 Manus. Thus there are 14 times 30 times 12 times 100 (504,000) Manus in the duration of Brahmā’s life. There are innumerable universes, with one Brahmā in each of them, and all of them are created and annihilated during the breathing time of the puruṣa. Some of the prominent Manus are: Svāyambhuva Manu, Svārociṣa Manu, Vaivasvata Manu (the present Manu) etc.

Then there are the yuga-avatāras, or the incarnations of the millennia, who each possesses a different color. The colors of the incarnations in Satya, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali yugas are respectively white, red, black (Kṛṣṇa) and yellow (Caitanya). All incarnations are mentioned in the scriptures and no impostor can be an incarnation. Apart from the direct incarnations of the Lord there are empowered incarnations. When they are directly empowered they are called incarnations, but when they are indirectly empowered they are called vibhūtis. Directly empowered incarnations are the Kumāras, Nārada, Pṛthu, Śeṣa, Ananta etc. The vibhūtis are described in the Bhagavad gītā.

SB 1.3 - Kumāras and Varāha

A list of incarnations follows. Note that the words first, second etc are only enumerating the avatāras and not indicating the exact chronology of their appearance.

(1) Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu first appeared in the material world as the Kumāras. The four Kumāras, who being situated in a vow of celibacy, underwent severe austerities for realization of the Absolute Truth. There are different names of the creations in terms of the particular types of Brahmā. The Kumāras appeared in the Kaumāra creation of the material world to teach us bhakti and the process of Brahman realization. They are empowered incarnations. They are golden in complexion and were born from Brahmā.

(2) Appearing from the nostril of Brahmā, the supreme enjoyer of all sacrifices accepted the boar incarnation and lifted the earth from the nether regions of the universe (Rasātala) during the reign of Svāyambhuva Manu. He was black in color. The function of each incarnation is always extraordinary. The boar incarnation took the earth out of the Pluto’s region of filthy matter. Though appearing as a boar, the Lord is always transcendental. Varāha appeared again in a white form during Cākṣuṣa manvantara from water to lift the earth and pierced the demon Hiraṇyākṣa with His tusks. Hiraṇyākṣa was born from Diti who was the daughter of Dakṣa, who was the son of the Pracetas during the reign of Cākṣuṣa manu. So Varāha appeared twice in a day of Brahmā. During the first time, He simply lifted the earth from the ocean, and during the second advent, He killed Hiraṇyākṣa as well.

SB 1.3 - Nārada and Nara-Nārāyaṇa

(3) In the millennium of the ṛṣis, the Lord accepted the empowered incarnation (āveśāvatāra) of Nārada, who is a great sage among the demigods. He appeared as the son of Brahmā for spreading devotion everywhere. He collected expositions of the Vedas (the Pañcarātra texts) which deal with bhakti and which inspire non fruitive action. All great devotees of the Lord all over the universe and in different planets and species of life are the disciples of Nārada. Vyāsa, the compiler of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is also one of his disciples. Nārada is the author of Nārada-pañcarātra, which is an exposition of the Vedas for the devotional service of the Lord. This work of Nārada trains the fruitive workers to achieve liberation from the bondage of karma. The materialists do not know how to obtain eternal happiness in the unconditional state. Nārada gives direction as to how to use one’s present engagement to achieve spiritual emancipation. The Bhagavad-gītā also gives the same solution of serving the Lord by the fruits of one’s labor, and this would lead one to the path of naiṣkarmya or liberation. Appearing in the first kalpa (day) of Brahmā’s life, the Kumāras and Nārada remain thru all the kalpas of Brahmā’s life.

(4) The Lord then became Nara and Nārāyaṇa, the twin sons of the wife of King Dharma. Appearing in her, he became the two sages. They are considered as one avatāra. He undertook severe and exemplary penance to control the senses. The only duty of a human being is to voluntarily accept penance for the realization of Transcendence. The Lord is very kind to the fallen souls. He comes Himself or sends His representatives to call all the conditioned souls back to Godhead. Lord Caitanya also appeared for the same purpose. The incarnation of Nārāyaṇa is still worshiped at Badarī-nārāyaṇa, on the range of Himalayas.

SB 1.3 - Kapila, Dattātreya and Yajña

(5) Lord Kapila is foremost among perfected beings. He had a brown complexion and thus was called Kapila by Brahmā. He gave an exposition on the creative elements and metaphysics to Āsuri Brāhmaṇa. There are 24 elements in all. Each and every element is explained in Sāṅkhya philosophy, which explains very lucidly by analysis of material elements.

(6) Dattātreya appeared as the son of Atri and Anasūyā. He spoke on the subject of transcendence to Alarka, Prahlāda and others. Anasūyā prayed before the lords Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva that they combine together to become her son. Thus Dattātreya was born. He is so called because the Lord being pleased with Atri said ‘I have given myself to you’.

(7) The Lord appeared as Yajña, the son of Prajāpati Ruci and his wife Ākūti. He controlled the period during the reign of the Svāyambhuva Manu and was assisted by demigods called Yamas, who were His sons. During the period of Svāyambhuva Manu there was no suitable living being who could occupy the post of Indra. The Lord Himself at that time became Indra and ruled the administration of universal affairs.

SB 1.3 - King Ṛṣabha

(8) King Ṛṣabha appeared as the son of King Nābhi and Merudevī. The Lord showed the path of perfection, which is followed by those who have fully controlled their senses and who are honored by all orders of life. The society of humans is naturally divided into eight by orders and statuses of life – the four divisions of occupation namely the intelligent class, the administrative class, the productive class and the laborer class, and the four divisions of cultural advancement namely the student life, the householder’s life, the retired life and renounced life. Out of these the sannyāsa order is considered the highest of all, and a sannyāsī is the guru of all orders and divisions of life. There are four stages of sannyāsa also – kuṭīcaka, bahūdaka, parivrājakācārya and paramahaṁsa. The paramahaṁsa stage of life is the highest stage of perfection and this was revealed by Ṛṣabha, who was white in complexion.

The Lord as Ṛṣabha instructed His sons to follow the path of perfection by tapasya, which sanctifies one’s existence and enable one to attain spiritual happiness. Foolish men seek after material sense pleasure as a substitute for real happiness, but all animals and beasts also enjoy such sense pleasure. The human form of life is meant for attaining eternal and unlimited happiness by spiritual realization. Those who have been trained for abstinence in material pleasures are called dhīra, or men undisturbed by senses. Only these dhīras can accept the orders of sannyāsa, and gradually rise to the status of paramahaṁsa, which is adored by all members of the society.

SB 1.3 - King Pṛthu and Matsya

(9) Prayed for by the sages, the Lord accepted the body of a king (Pṛthu), who cultivated the land to yield produces, and for that reason the earth was beautiful and attractive. He appeared from the right arm of King Veṇa in a golden complexion. Because he milked herbs and other things from the earth, he is considered the most desirable of the avatāras. Before Pṛthu, there was a great havoc of maladministration due to the vicious life of His father. The brāhmaṇas dethroned the king and prayed for the Lord to appear. The brāhmaṇas, however, do not occupy the royal throne because they have much more important duties for the welfare of the public.

(10) When there was a complete inundation after the period of Cākṣuṣa Manu, the Lord accepted the form of a fish (Matsya) and protected the person who would be Vaivasta Manu, keeping him up on a boat. Also the future seven sages remained in the boat. Matsya tied the boat to the pinnacle of the Himālayas and disappeared. When the waters receded, the Manu and the sages performed their respective services. Śrīdhara Svāmī says there is not always a devastation after the change of every Manu, but this illusory inundation took place to show some wonders to King Satyavrata. But Jīva Gosvāmī and Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura have given proofs from various scriptures to show that there is always a devastation after the end of each and every Manu. Matsya appeared twice in this day of Brahmā. The first time during the rule of Svāyambhuva Manu, after killing the demon Hayagrīva who had stolen the Vedas, He recovered them. At the end of Cākṣuṣa manvantara, He showed mercy to Satyavrata by putting him on a boat with other things. It should be understood that Matsya will appear at the end of every Manvantara, and thus there will be 14 appearances of Him.

SB 1.3 - Kūrma, Dhanvantari and Mohinī

(11) The Lord took the form of a tortoise (Kūrma), whose shell served as a pivot for the Mandarācala Hill, which was used as a churning rod by the demigods and demons. Once both the atheists and the theists were engaged in producing nectar from the sea so that all of them could become immortal by drinking it. This was when the Lord appeared as a tortoise. The Padma Purāṇa says that the Kūrma who held up the Mandara mountain also picked up the earth from the lower regions on the request of the devatās. Viṣṇu-dharmottara says that the Kūrma who held up the earth appeared at the beginning of the day of Brahmā and then appeared to hold up the mountain during the Cākṣuṣa era.

(12) The Lord appeared as Dhanvantari to bring a pot of nectar. He appeared once during Cākṣuṣa era holding nectar from the churning of ocean in a pot, and started the Āyurveda, and appeared again the Vaivasvata era as the son of Kāśīrāja with the name Dhanvā.

(13) The Lord allured the atheists by the charming beauty of a woman (Mohinī) and gave nectar to the demigods to drink. He appeared twice – once for bewildering the demons and once for pleasing Śiva.

SB 1.3 - Nṛsiṁha and Vāmana

(14) The Lord appeared as Nṛsiṁha and bifurcated the body of Hiraṇyakaśipu with His nails just as a woodcutter breaks erakā grass. He appeared in the Cākṣuṣa era before the churning of the ocean and the appearance of Kūrma. Kūrma, Dhanvantari, Mohinī and Nṛsiṁha appeared during the Cākṣuṣa manvantara.

(15) The Lord assumed the form of a dwarf-brāhmaṇa (Vāmana) and visited the arena of sacrifice arranged by King Bali. He simply asked for a donation of three steps of land, although at heart He was desiring to regain the kingdom of the three planetary systems, which were taken over from the demigods by Bali. The Lord can bestow upon anyone the kingdom of the universe and He can also take away the kingdom of the universe on the plea of begging a small piece of land. Vāmana appears thrice in the day of Brahmā. The first time during the Svāyambhuva era, he went to the sacrifice of the king of the demons called Vāskali, who drove Indra away from his kingdom. The Lord took three steps to recover the kingdom, and Vāskali requested to be killed by the Lord to get liberation. During the Vaivasvata era, Vāmana went to the sacrifice of Dhundhu. Dhundhu got power from Brahmā and drove the devatās from Svarga who fled to Brahma-loka. Dhundhu wanted to drive them away from Brahma-loka too and was advised by Śukrācārya to perform 100 horse sacrifices to gain entrance into Brahma-loka. Vāmana then appeared and begged three steps of land from Dhundhu. In the seventh yuga cycle of Vaivasvata era Vāmana was born to Aditi and Kaśyapa. All three forms appeared to take away land and then give them away.

SB 1.3 - Bhṛgupati and Vyāsa

(16) The Lord as Bhṛgupati annihilated the kṣatriyas 21 times being angry with them because of their rebellion against the brāhmaṇas. He appeared in a golden complexion from Reṇuka and Jamadagni in Vaivasvata era. The kṣatriyas are expected to rule the planet by the direction of the brāhmaṇas, who give direction in terms of the books of revealed knowledge. Whenever there is disobedience on the part of the kṣatriyas against the orders of the learned brāhmaṇas, they are removed by force to make way for better administration.

(17) Vyāsa appeared in the womb of Satyavatī thru Parāśara Muni, and he divided the one Veda into several branches and sub-branches, seeing that the people in general were less intelligent. Originally the Veda is one. But Vyāsadeva divided it into four, namely Sāma, Yajur, Ṛg and Atharva, and then again they were explained in different branches like the Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata. In the present age of Kali people are ignorant and the higher classes of men do not undergo the purificatory processes called saṁskāras. Thus Vyāsa divided the Vedas into various branches for the sake of the less intelligent dvija bandhus, śūdras and women. In Viṣṇu Purāṇa and other scriptures, He is considered directly the Lord. In the Nārāyaṇīya of Mahābhārata it is said a sage of the name Apāntaratamā became Vyāsa. This means he merged into the īśvara form of the Dvaipāyana or that he was an aṁśa of Viṣṇu. Because of this some say he was an āveśāvatāra. In this case a jīva merges with the Lord and performs the function of Vyāsa or an aṁśa of the Lord acting like a jīva performs the functions. In the case of Kumāras and Nārada, the Lord simply bestows special powers on a jīva.