All of us know about Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution – read it in schools. All of us also know about Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, better known as dashavatar. How many of us have seen a connection?
Connection between a scientific theory and a mythical narration of god’s incarnation? This is no joke and nor is it a concocted theory meant to superimpose scientific theories on a religious point of view. Nor is this some sort of ‘we-thought-it-first’ kind of pseudo-nationalism leading to a feel-great emotion. This is a natural outcome of what I have always maintained in my blog – every myth has a hidden meaning. There is more to it than what it says and above all, look beyond the story.
The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, talk about the forms of Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (wild boar), Narasimha (half lion half man), Vamana (dwarf man), Parashuram (angry fighting man with a war axe), Rama (the ideal man/king), Krishna (the philosopher), Buddha (the peace maker) and Kalki (messiah of the future).
If you follow the above forms, you will find a familiar sequence. Yes, it is the chronology of the evolution of mankind.
In the evolution chronology, life evolved in the waters and thus the first form of life is an aquatic animal i.e. the fish (matsya). Lord Vishnu took the form of a huge fish and towed the primordial boat carrying good people and cattle to the new world of the future through the waters of the great deluge.
This was followed by the form which could survive both in land and water, which is depicted through a turtle (kurma), which can survive both in land and water. In the Kurma incarnation Lord Vishnu takes the form of a great tortoise to support churning of the primordial ocean with the mountain, to beget the elixir of immortality. Evolution from Pisces to Amphibians is also what Darwin had proposed. Around the time amphibians evolved, tectonic movements and upheavals of great landmasses were recorded. The churning of the ocean can be seen to symbolise this movement giving rise to new landmasses. At the end of this massive upheaval of earth, mountain ranges such as the Himalayas, Andes, and the Alps were supposed to have come into existence. These mountains later made way for dense forests and rivers which became the source of survival of fast evolving species on earth.
Please note that Darwin’s theory had many intermediate stages of evolution, which is not found in the dashavatar. Instead of the stages of reptiles and birds from amphibians, the dashavatar straightaway evolves to the mammals from the stage of the amphibians giving us the nest avatar of Varaha, the wild boar. In the Varaha avatar Lord Vishnu is seen fighting and eliminating the demon in the oceans, to rescue the abducted land maiden (Bhu-devi) for the benefit of people.
Many scholars have found strange coincidence with the scientific finding that more than about 70 million years ago, the Indian land mass had torn itself from the Antarctic and moved north to join the Eurasian land mass, thus lifting up the Himalayan fold mountains. The tropical forests of the western Himalayan ranges, fed by the great river systems of Indus and Ganges later facilitated the evolution of pre-human species. They further surmise that the conquest of the demon by a wild boar could symbolically signify the end of dominance of giant reptiles (dinosaurs?) and the emergence of mammals as the leaders of life forms.
Once the mammal had evolved, the next stage of evolution was a form of human beings who resembled animals both in looks and in behaviour. This takes us the next avatar of Narasimha, where Lord Vishnu is described as a form of half lion and half man. In short, the theme is that of transition. The human evolution did have a transitional form in this period, which is aptly named by Indian anthropologists as "Rama Pithacus" and "Sugriva Pithacus". This species is supposed to have been found in the Himalayan region and they were said to have had long manes on their head and were bipeds, the first step of human form that stood on two legs, but was still animal like, and in this case the animal resembles a lion. Narasimha is supposed to have killed a demon Hiranyakashyap, father of Prahalad, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. The manner in which the demon was killed was typical to animalistic-man who was still in his savage stage.
From this stage was evolved a slightly smarter and intelligent species of mammals, i.e. the monkey clan who were short but intelligent. This brings us to the next avatar, of the Vamana avatar (the dwarf man). The way Vamana uses his cunning sense to eliminate Mahabali to gain power of earth is a case in point. Symbolically speaking, the three steps of Vamana could well symbolize the mastering of the three key aspects of the human beings at the said stage of evolution - homo-erectus (upright walking), homo-habilis (use of tools) and homo-sapiens (discriminative thinking), which distinguished humans from non-humans
The first five avatars are the symbols of Darwin’s biological evolution theory. The sequence may well represent the forms of fishes, amphibians (reptiles), mammals, advanced primates (hominids) and finally the thinking man respectively. If we look deep and go through the stories in details, they all give hints of the physical evolution of man. However, the next five avatars show the cultural evolution of man.
We will take this aspect of evolution tomorrow…..keep reading!