Who is an ‘Avatar’
and why does He incarnate?
An ‘Avatar’ is defined as the
incarnation (bodily manifestation) of the Supreme Being. The
word ‘Avatar’ is derived from the Sanskrit word
‘Avataranam’ which means ‘descent’,
and usually implies a deliberate descent of the Divine into
the mortal realms to reveal the Absolute Truth to humanity
and remind them of their true divine nature. Though Avatars
may appear in different forms at different times, places and
circumstances, yet they are all the manifestations of the
One Supreme Lord.
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Avatar
of the Age, has succinctly explained the meaning and the reason
for the descent of the Avatar in the following Telugu verse:
“Avatarinchuta yanutalo Arthamemi?
Janulapai Preethi Vaatsalya Paratha thoda
Vaari Sthaayaiki Daivambu Vachchu Bhuviki
Jeeva Prajnatho baatuga Daiva prajna”
He says that Formless God takes a form and descends upon
the Earth as an expression of His boundless love and affection
towards humanity. The Avatar is an enigmatic, yet delightful
blend of individual consciousness and the Divine Consciousness.
The Avatar behaves in a human way so that mankind can feel
kinship with Him, but rises to His super-human heights so
that mankind can aspire to reach those heights.
This doctrine of Avatarhood has had a great impact on the
Hindu religious life, for, it means that God manifests Himself
in a form that can be appreciated even by the least sophisticated.
Rama and Krishna have remained prominent as beloved and adored
manifestations of the Divine for thousands of years among
The scriptures mention seven characteristics of a Divine
- Aishwarya - Unmatched splendour and prosperity
- Keerthi – Eternal fame
- Jnana – Wisdom and knowledge of the past, present
- Vairagya - Non-attachment to the material world
- Shrushti – Power of creation
- Sthithi – Power of sustenance and preservation
- Laya – Power of destruction and dissolution
In Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Sri Krishna, the Avatar of the Dwapara
Era, declares thus:
"Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya Glanirbhavathi
Abhyukthanam adharmasya Thadathmanam Srujamyaham.”
“Parithranaya Sadhunam Vinashaya
Dharma samsthapanarthaya Sambhavami Yuge Yuge"
Whenever there is a decline of Righteousness and rise of evil,
the Lord incarnates from time to time to uphold Righteousness,
to protect the Virtuous and to uproot the evil. The Avatar
appears whenever the world is passing through a spiritual
and moral crisis. The Avatar comes in order to uphold Dharma
(Righteousness) and raise the universal consciousness.
One may ask - why should the Lord Himself incarnate? Why
should He not set about the task of restoring Dharma through
the many minor gods that He has at His command? The Mughal
Emperor Akbar once posed the same question before the courtiers,
for he scoffed at the Hindu idea of the Formless adopting
a Form and descending into the world as an Avatar to save
Dharma. Birbal (the celebrated courtier in Akbar’s court,
known for his wit and wisdom) asked for a week's time to answer
the question. A few days later, when he was in the pleasure
boat of the emperor, sailing across the lake with his family,
Birbal threw overboard a doll made to look like the emperor's
little son, crying at the same time, "O, the prince has
fallen into the water!" Hearing this, immediately the
emperor jumped into the lake to rescue his son.
Birbal then disclosed that it was only a doll and that the
prince was safe. He allayed the anger of Akbar by explaining
that he had to perforce enact this drama in order to demonstrate
the truth of the Hindu belief that God takes human form to
save Dharma without commissioning some other entity to carry
out that task. Akbar could have ordered one among the many
personnel he had on board to jump in and rescue his son. But
his affection was so great and the urgency so acute that the
emperor himself plunged into the lake to save his son from
drowning. The decline in Dharma is so acute a tragedy and
the intensity of affection that the Lord has for good men
is so great that He Himself comes to the rescue.
The Triune Sai Avatar
The Divine mysteries cannot be fathomed by the human mind,
unless God himself chooses to unlock them out of His immense
love and compassion. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, in a landmark
discourse on 6th July, 1963, the Guru Poornima Day, declared
the secret behind His advent. He revealed that the Sai Avatar
is a triple incarnation of the Shiva-Shakthi Principle –
Shiva as Shirdi Sai Baba, Shiva and Parvathi embodied as Sri
Sathya Sai Baba and the Shakthi Principle that will incarnate
as Prema Sai in the Mandya District of the state of Karnataka.
Click here for
the complete text of the Guru Poornima Discourse of 6th July
Even in his childhood days, Swami used to refer to ‘The
Saint of Shirdi’ in the songs that he taught his companions.
Very few in that region had ever seen or heard about Shirdi
or Sai Baba. Little did they realize that the child in their
midst, singing and dancing so captivatingly would, in a few
years, make their village another Shirdi to which hundreds
and thousands would come seeking the same Baba!
Sai Baba of Shirdi was born in a remote village called Pathri
in Maharashtra on September 28, 1835 to the couple, Gangabhavadiya
and Devagiriamma. Gangabhavadiya, overcome with a feeling
of intense renunciation immediately after the child’s
birth, decided to retire into a forest. With Devagiriamma
religiously following her husband, the newborn was left in
nature’s care. A pious Muslim and his wife took care
of the abandoned child till He was four years of age. Then
they handed Him over to a spiritual master by name Gopalrao
Deshmukh (also known as Venkusa). For 12 years, till 1851,
Baba stayed in Sri Venkusa's ashram. One night in 1851, for
the first time, Baba came to Shirdi. However, He left after
a two month stay. He returned to Shirdi again in 1858 and
stayed there for 60 long years. Just prior to His shedding
the mortal coil in 1918, Shirdi Baba told some of his devotees
that he would reappear in the Madras Presidency in 8 years
time. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, born in 1926, declared that he
was Shirdi Baba come again.
Sathya Sai Baba invariably refers to 'my previous body' when
he speaks about Shirdi Baba. He often describes to his devotees,
how he in his previous body dealt with people and situations,
what illustrations he gave to clarify certain points, what
questions were asked, etc. Many devotees of Shirdi Baba have
had experiences confirming the unity of the two Sais.
Years ago, the Rani of Chincholi (an erstwhile kingdom in
Andhra Pradesh) went to Puttaparthi to see Bhagawan. Even
as she was entering the gate, Bhagawan told one of the close
devotees standing there: “Ask her to bring the brass
Kamandalu (a kettle-shaped container used by ascetics) that
I left at her house years ago.” The Rani Saheb herself
did not know much about it. But on a thorough search of the
heirlooms in the house, it turned out that the brass Kamandalu
which Shirdi Baba had left at their palace when he had visited
them had been carefully preserved by the elders. The Kamandalu
had the letters ‘Sa’ ‘Ba’ (the initials
of Sai Baba) in the Marathi language engraved on its surface.
Sri Dixit, the nephew of Kakasaheb Dixit, who was a close
disciple of Shirdi Baba, went to Puttaparthi to put to test
the identity of Sathya Sai Baba with Shirdi Baba. He always
carried a small photo of his uncle in his pocket. The first
thing that Bhagawan asked Dixit to do was to take out the
photograph of “My Kaka” from the pocket!