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Five of the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu




Deccan (900-1190)


Five of the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu




111.5 x 42 x 24.5 cm


Gift of the National Museum of India, inv. 1971.Eb.3


Archeology and World Cultures

This fragment was part of an architectural ensemble dedicated to Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism. In the Hindu doctrine Vishnu is a benevolent deity, always willing to extend protection to those who seek it. To accomplish this, he embodies different avatars, or incarnations. In Sanskrit, the term avatara means “coming down,” and refers to the manifestation of a deity on earth in different forms, including human beings and mythical animals. Ten avatars are of primary importance in the case of Vishnu, five of which are represented here from the top left corner, descending on small plinths: Matsya (the fish), Varaha (the boar), Vamana (the dwarf), Rama (hero of the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic) and the Buddha (the ascetic prince). In south Indian temples, several of these incarnations are worshipped as deities in their own right. Also represented here on the bottom are, from right to left, Lakshmi (Vishnu’s consort), the personification of Vishnu’s weapon (the bow), Ananta (the snake – one Vishnu’s vehicles), and below the three figures, the personification of Vishnu’s club and a seated donor.

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