Captain Mask, he is a CHAR !
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Avatara literally means descent of a deity from his abode in suitable form for certain purpose. Beginning of this concept is found in ancient Vedic literature. In the Taittiriya Samhita Prajapati, lord-of progenys is said to have taken the form of a boar to raise the earth from boundless waters.
Number of gods took Avataras, incarnations, but in Puranic and epical religion Avatara maily means Avataras of Vishnu.
The rationale of incarnations of Vishnu is best explained in the verses seven and eight of the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna :
When ever Dharma suffers decline and Adharma is on acendency I take birth on the earth.
Age after age, for the upliftment of the good and destruction of evil, as well as to establish the order of Dharma, I incarnate again and again.
The word Dharma has a very wide connotation in Indian context. It may be law, justice, virtue, morality, religious tenets, righteous way of life. Sadhu means virtious people. Its is the duty of the Supreme Lord to see smooth functioning of the Dharma and peple following it.
But time is never constant, it moves on. The order is disturbed, goodness is in danger, the earth starts suffering from the deeds of the evil ones. Peaceful slumber of the Supreme Lord reclining on the coils of Ananta is disturbed. He shakes off his peaceful state and appear on the earth to set everything right in this or that form. Such appearance is called Avatara.
Supreme Lord never incarnate himself on earth because he is formless, nirguna nirakar Brahma. Its is always part, Ansha, of him that assumes form which is infested with all his powers. Hence the incarnations, according to Vishnu Purana, are called Anshavatar. His incarnation as Krishna wa so powerful and carried his full potency, Puranas started calling him Purnavatar, Supreme Lord himself. Poet Jayadeva in his Gita Govinda went a step further and stated that it was Krishna who took ten incarnations, Krishna and Vishnu being one and the same.
Vishnu Purana says :
Nobody knows your essence, gods worship forms which appear as your incarnations (1.4.17.)
Incarnations of Hari are virtually innumerable. Bhagavat Purana states : Just as from and inexhaustible lake thousands of streams flow on all sies so also from Hari, sum of all reality, come forth countless incarnations. The seers, lowgivers, the gods, the human races, the lords of progeny, all are parts of him. (1.3.26-27).
Manohar Laxman Varadpande, Mythology of Vishnu and His Incarnations, 2009, p.39
The ten best known avatars of Vishnu are collectively known as the Dasavatara (a Sanskrit compound meaning “ten avatars”). This list is included in the Garuda Purana (1.86.10″11).
The first four are said to have appeared in the Satya Yuga (the first of the four Yugas or ages in the time cycle described within Hinduism). The next three avatars appeared in the Treta Yuga, the eighth descent in the Dvapara Yuga and the ninth in the Kali Yuga. The tenth, Kalki, is predicted to appear at the end of the Kali Yuga.
When there is incest, adultery, atheism, hatred of religion, no more dharma, and sin everywhere, the impossible Iron Age has come; in what way the world will be saved? For the helpless, the Lord Himself will manifest as the Supreme Purusha. He will be called the Kalki incarnation and will be glorious like a lion coming down from heaven.