In the Vaishnava sect of the Hindu religion, the incarnation of God is an important belief. Isvara, the highest God, appears on earth in the form of Vishnu in order to preserve Truth, destroy evil, and maintain balance in the world. Vishnu's role is to preserve the cosmic order. When Vishnu appears on earth in any avatar, it is a sign that the world is in trouble and needs help. Other Hindus believe that only certain aspects of the God manifest in the form of avatars. The Vaishnava tradition points to ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, although these may or may not be all-inclusive.
1. Matsya, the giant fish: A young fish suddenly appeared in Manu's hands. He advised Manu to build a boat, in preparation of a huge flood. When the flood came, the fish appeared from the ocean and pulled the boat to the top of a large mountain. In this way, Manu was able to save seven Vedic rishis, the Vedas, and many plants, seeds, and animals.
2. Kurma, the giant tortoise: Indra, lord of the heavens, was cursed by a sage and called on Vishnu to help him. Vishnu advised him to churn the ocean of milk and command the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) to gather the elixir of life from the milk. Using Vasuki the serpent, the mountain Meru, and Vishnu in the form of a tortoise, the companions churned the ocean.
3.Varaha, the giant boar: The Mahabharata tells how the earth sank into the cosmic depths and Vishnu, in the form of a wild boar, raised up the earth with his large, powerful tusks.
4. Narasimha, the half-man and half-lion: In his fourth incarnation, Vishnu appeared in the body of a half-man and half-lion. Vishnu then defeated and killed Hiranyakasipu, the brother of Hiranyaksha, who had gained immortality, grown arrogant and cruel, mistreated the people, and defied the gods.
5. Vamana, infinity in a dwarf body: To aid Indra and defeat Mahabali (a demon king), Vishnu appeared as Vamana, a dwarf Brahmana. Vamana vanquished the king and banished him to the nether world.
6. Parashurama, the warrior with invincible axe: In this incarnation, Vishnu appeared as a human warrior. After performing penance to Shiva, he was granted an invincible axe. When a king named Kartavirya Arjuna stole a cow from his father, Parashurama defeated the king's army and then killed the king. The king's sons killed Parashurama's father in retaliation, and Parashurama killed all the Kshatriya (warrior) kings in turn.
7. Rama, the prince of Ayodhya: The Ramayana tells the story of Rama, another incarnation of Vishnu. Rama and his wife, Sita, lived a simple life in the forests of Dandarakanya. Sita was kidnapped by King Ravana. Rama rescued her by building a bridge with the help of a monkey army. Rama killed Ravana and freed Sita. The couple returned to Ayodhya and Rama was crowned King.
8. Balarama, the elder brother of Lord Krishna: Balarama, the elder brother of Lord Krishna, grew up to be a cowherd. When his uncle sent demons to kill him and Krishna, Balarama killed them. During the Kurukshetra war, Balarama trained Duryodhana and Bhima to fight with maces. He did not participate in the war, however.
9. Krishna, the Sutradhar of the Mahabharata: Krishna lived a remarkable life, performing miracles and acts of heroism. He killed his uncle, Kamsa, who tried to murder him and his brother, Balarama. Krishna became a philosopher and adviser to the Pandavas during the Mahabharata war but did not fight himself.
10. Kalki: A common belief is that Vishnu, at the end of the Kaliyuga, will return in the form of Kalki, riding a special white horse and carrying an invisible sword, and defeat all the evil rulers on earth.