Vishnu’s eighteenth incarnation is Lord Rama. This is well known avatar and the famous epic Ramayana is based on this incarnation. Ramayana is a typical example how one should rule his country. Ramayana has seven chapters (kanda) consisting of 24000 verses. There are contradictory opinions on the number of chapters. The seventh chapter, uttarakanda is said to be a later addition. Ramayana opens with a question posed by sage Valmiki, the author of Ramayana to Narada that describes the qualities of Lord Rama in a nut shell. Valmiki wants to know a person with the following qualities: full of virtues, the possessor of prowess and knows what is right, conscious of services done, truthful speech, firm in resolutions, possessor of right conduct, friendly to all living beings, man of knowledge, lovable appearance, who has subdued his senses and conquered anger and a man of splendor. Narada tells Valmiki about Rama and Ramayana unfolds.
His nineteenth incarnation is Balarama. He is the elder brother of Lord Krishna. It is generally accepted that Sesha, the well known snake on which Narayana lies down (anantha sayanam) is incarnated as Balarama. He is considered as an embodiment of wisdom and knowledge. Balarama is also known as Sankarshana. It is also said that both Balarama and Krishna are of same identity with different bodily forms. At the time of Balarama’s death, it is said that a huge snake went out his body through his mouth. When Baladeva (another name for Balarama) appeared as the seventh child in the womb of Devaki, she could understand that this was a divine child. Even Kamsa could sense His potency and was scared, thinking he may have been tricked by the prophecy that he will be killed only by the eighth child of Devaki. At this time Krishna instructed Yogamaya, His internal potency, to transfer the unborn child from the womb of Devaki to that of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva, who was hiding from Kamsa in the house of Nanda Maharaja in Gokulam. This is how Balarama escaped death from the hands of Kamsa. Balarama and Krishna co-existed at the same time.
Twentieth incarnation of Vishnu is Sri Krishna, the Supreme Master and His masterly teaching to the world is Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which has 700 verses placed in 18 chapters. Gits is the condensed version of entire Upanishads. Srimad Bhagavata has 18000 verses in 12 kandas revolves around Sri Krishna is another epic like Ramayana. Srimad Bhagavata also begins with a dialogue involving sage Narada. The epic begins by saying ‘We sing the glory of Sri Krishna, who is all truth, all consciousness and bliss and who is responsible for the creation, sustenance and destruction.” Srimad Bhagavata teaches how one should lead life. Krishna teaches in detail through Bhagavad Gita, the quality life one can lead to attain final liberation. The whole epic is full of sastras and disciplines of life. Narayaneeyam is another mini epic singing the praise of Lord Krishna. It consists of 1036 verses in 100 canots and is called a condensed version of Bhagavata. Narayaneeyam is authored by Melputhur Narayana Bhattadri at his 27th year. Most of the verses are in praise of Lord Krishna.
In Kali yug (the current period), it is said that Vishnu incarnated as Buddha (21st incarnation), though there are divergent views on this. But Srimad Bhagavata (I.iii.25) says “When Kali sets in, He will be born in Magadha (North Bihar, India) as Buddha, son of Ajna, with a view to deluding the enemies of gods. Buddha means the enlightened one. Buddha walked out of his palace and searched for truth for six years. His teachings were based mainly on the following ‘four noble truths’. 1. Life is full of sufferings. 2. Our passion is the cause for miseries. 3. Renouncing self-centered desires is the only way out to escape from sufferings. 4. There is an eight fold path to attain this. It is the combination of understanding, thought, speech, conduct, vocation, effort, mindfulness and meditation. Zen mediation is the discovery of Buddhism.
Vihnu’s twenty second incarnation is yet to come in the form of Kalki. Srimad Bhagavata (I.iii.25) “then again, towards the end of Kali yug, when the kings mostly turn into robbers, the Lord of the universe will take descent as Lord Kalki in the descent of Vishnuyasha.”
In some instances, it can be observed that two incarnations ran concurrently. Krishna and Balarama; Parasurama and Rama are the typical examples. Vishnu is the Supreme Lord and He can take whatever shapes and forms He likes. Secondly, the second form can also be considered as maya of the Lord. Valmiki Ramayana (Balakanda – 29.9) says “Therefore, assuming the semblance of dwarf by establishing contact with Maya, the energy which veils your true nature and invest you with a seemingly human or mortal character for the sake of doing good to gods, be pleased to serve our best interest.” Every incarnation personifies one attribute of the Brahman and conveys to the world how miseries can be overcome.
Incarnation of Vishnu concluded.