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Human Evolution and The Ten Avatars 


WE differ from each other by just a fraction of a per cent, according to the scientists who have successfully deconstructed the human genome. The basic chemistry is almost the same among different species. For instance, what sets us apart from mice is only a few hundred genes. No wonder, then, that Hindu mythology is replete with stories of what seem like `freaks' of nature - mutations and semi-mutations as reflected in exotic creatures. Even the story of evolution as enumerated in the Vedas and other scriptures is startlingly in tune with modern scientific theories.

Biologists describe evolution itself as the continuous adaptation of organisms or species to the environment by the integrating agencies of selection, hybridisation, inbreeding and mutation. All life began in the water and only after millions of years did some forms adapt to land. Let's take a look at the ten avatars of Vishnu. His abode is in the mythical ocean of milk, an oblique reference to the cosmos; he reclines on the coils of the Adisesha. the five-headed primeval serpent, each of its heads symbolising each of the five elements, the panchabhootha - Earth, water, energy, air and sky.

In his Matsya or fish avatar, the first, Vishnu saves the world from the deluge. His rescue of the saptarishis, the seven saints, ensured the survival and propagation of the species. As Kurma or the divine tortoise, an amphibian in the second avatar, Vishnu lent his back to be used as the pivot on which the gods and the asuras placed the rod with which they churned the ocean to recover some of the precious things lost in the deluge.

The third incarnation was that of Varaha or the wild boar, an unrefined land animal that rescued the earth from the waters after it had been dragged down by the demon Hiranyaksa. The fourth is an interesting mutation: Half-animal (lion), half-man, the Narasimha avatar. He freed the world from the oppression of Hiranyakasipu, the demon-father of Prahlada.

As Vamana, the dwarf-like man, Vishnu in his fifth incarnation restored the power of the gods which had been undermined by the penance and devotion of King Bali. As Parasurama in his sixth avatar, he delivered humankind from the oppression of the kshatriya rulers - Parasurama did that 21 times with the help of his axe, a basic tool - in a crude version of Rama.

As Sri Rama, the maryada purusha or ideal human, evolution reached a point of refinement, both biological and civilisational. Here too, Rama as Vishnu's seventh incarnation yet again destroys a wicked force personified by Ravana.

But it is as Krishna, the eighth avatar, that Vishnu steals hearts and minds. That's why it is referred to as the perfect avatar. The Lord becomes the eternal lover when he cavorts with the gopis in Vrindavan; but he also becomes the serious and eternal philosopher and guide when he advises Arjuna on the battlefield at Kurukshetra. This is immortalised as the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of God, a do-it-yourself manual on how to attain self-knowledge and realisation. Although Krishna is the `author' of the Gita, he is at once both its substance and its goal.

In his incarnation as Krishna, the Lord reveals the universe that is within each one of us. Little Krishna's mother Yashoda asks him to open his mouth to check if he's eaten mud as his companions complain he has. When Krishna opens his mouth wide, what she sees takes Yashoda aback: She sees the entire cosmos there - not just the earth but other worlds as well. She could also see another face and mouth with all the worlds therein too, and still another within it, and so on without end, revealing the infinite nature of all existence.

Buddha has been included as the ninth avatar, an enlightened being who realised this truth and who advocated non-violence and equality. Meanwhile, we await the final and tenth avatar, that of Kalki on a white steed, who will help us re-establish virtue in the Kali Yuga.

We are all part of the universe, each one of us. We are constantly seeking out our origins, both in outer space and inside our own bodies, as we have done in the human genome project. What the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures and Krishna's revelation of the cosmos tell us is that the universe is, in fact, within our grasp - right within us, as the eternal `I'. We just have to realise it.


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