Darwin, Linneaus and the Dashavatar
How did we, as humans, come into existence? We’ve all come across this theory- we are the descendants of the apes. This is what Darwin suggests, the process of Evolution. Simply put, Evolution is a process where there are minor changes in the genetic structure of a species over a prolonged period, leading to variations and deviations that in turn lead to the birth of a new species.
Let us briefly look at animal evolution and classification: firstly Pisces, secondly amphibians, thirdly reptiles, fourthly Aves, and finally Mammals. Carl Linneaus was the one to come up with this system. But funnily, this isn’t the first classification of animals in history. One can observe the very same transitions in the Dashavatar depictions through the Vishnu Puranas as well.
Lord Vishnu is well known for his ten avatars (Dashavatar). And while moving from one avatar to another, one can observe the slow transition of Evolution. The Dashavatrs are as follows: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki (Kalki is yet to be recorded).
The animals living in the water came into existence first. This was followed by animals that could live on both water and land, the animals that could crawl on grounds and climb trees, to the animals that could fly, finally followed by animals that could walk on land.
If you know the meaning behind the names of the Vishnu avatars, you can already draw the similarities between the two.
Now, let us look at all the Dashavatars and their corresponding transition in the process of human Evolution.
This is the first avatar of Lord Vishnu. In this form, he is believed to have saved the world from a massive flood. In Sanskrit, Matsya translates to “fish.” This avatar comes first shows that it was the sea life that came before everything else, especially the fishes (Pisces).
This is the second avatar of Lord Vishnu. In this incarnation, he saves the world from Asuras by being associated with the story of churning the ocean of milk. Kurma in Sanskrit translates to “tortoise.” Tortoise belongs to the class of amphibians, the animals that are more advanced than fish and can live on both lands and in water. This form showcases the transition from sea life to land life.
This is the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu. he is believed to have saved the world from a demon named Hiranyaksha when he dragged the earth to the bottom of the sea. Varaha means “boar.” Though the origination of boars is unclear, it is believed to be the precedent of the pigs. Boars have an indirect link with dinosaurs, which are next in line after amphibians. Reptiles have a direct connection with dinosaurs, with similar fossil structures and genetic properties.
This is the fourth form. Narasimha is a fierce incarnation who ends religious persecutions and destroys evil, thereby protecting Dharma. Narasimha means “man-lion.” Along with other cat family species, Lions are believed to be the descendants of Proailurus lemanensis, which means the “first-cat.” Four-legged creatures, including the dog family and the cat family, are the next in line in this process.
Vamana is the fifth incarnation of Vishnu, who has taken three steps that measured the three worlds: earth, heaven, and the space between the two. He is also said to have outwitted the demon king Bali. Vamana, showcased in his original stature, is depicted as a deformed dwarf or as a Brahmachari (monastic student). This deformed dwarf is similar to the characteristics of Homo habilis. This species had short legs and possessed primate features. Vamana avatar marks the beginning of human Evolution in the Dashavataras.
Parashurama is the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is thought to be an executor of evil and unchaste thoughts and also an avenger. Parashurama is a Sanskrit name that translates to “Rama with an ax.” Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis are two species with relation to Parashurama. They both have human-like body proportions. The latter is believed to have used tools such as axes. This is the next step in human Evolution, right before Homo sapiens.
Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu. You know the details of his story all-the most ideal gentleman who killed the ten-faced demon Ravana. When it comes to human Evolution, Rama marks the birth of intellectual and mannered humans. Lord Rama was a human-like the present humans- Homo sapiens.
Lord Krishna is the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu and arguably, the most popular avatar. From his birth to his transcendence, every part of his life sets an example to us. His story provides us with life lessons of “duty” and “Dharma.” On comparing with human Evolution, his existence answers questions of our existence and the purpose of our living.
He is the ninth and the latest form of Lord Vishnu. There are debates concerning whether Buddha is an avatar of Lord Vishnu or not. In certain states, Vithoba and Jagannatha are considered to be the ninth form and not Buddha. Due to this confusion, I cannot comment much about the relations to the process of Evolution.
The final and the tenth avatar of Lord Vishnu is Kalki. Kalki has not yet come into existence. Legends say that he will appear towards the end of Kali Yuga when only chaos and evil prevail, and Dharma has lost all its meaning. At a time like this, he will bring an end to the Kali Yuga and begin Satya Yuga, thus restarting the cycle of existence.
Most of the mythologies across the world bear similar similarities. What science is trying to prove today has already been told and written in myths and legends worldwide. This is a testament to the notion that maybe ancient humans did possess more knowledge than us. Let us wait for Lord Kalki to appear and answer all our unanswered questions.