He came in flesh to save humankind and show God’s love. He is beloved by his millions of devoted disciples, who tell stories of his exploits on earth and worship him as God.

His name is Krishna. To some he is an appearance of the Hindu deity Vishnu. To others he is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

In Hindu theology, an avatar (Sanskrit for “descent”) is an appearance of a deity in animal or human form. In the Hindu scripture the Baghavad Gita 4:1-8, Krishna declares that he is continually appearing in the world: “I come into being by my own mysterious power …. For protection of the good, and for destruction of evil-doers, to make a firm footing for the right, I come into being in age after age” (see http://intyoga.online.fr/bg_idx.htm).

In later Hindu scriptures, such as the Puranas, a list developed of 10 avatars of Vishnu (see http://hinduminds.healthekids.net/course.phtml?course_id=539):

1. The fish avatar Matsya saved Manu, the Hindu “Noah,” from a flood.
2. The tortoise avatar Kurma churned the nectar of immortality from a sea of milk.
3. The boar Varaha saved the earth from drowning by lifting it from the sea by his tusks.
4. The Man-Lion Narasimha saved the gods by killing the demon Hiranyakashipu.
5. The dwarf Vamana took back the world from the demon Bali.
6. Parasurama wielded an axe to destroy the Ksatriyas and restore the Brahmins to their rightful place.
7. Rama rescued his wife, Sita, and defeated the demon Ravana.
8. Krishna defeated the evil king Kamsa.
9. The Buddha purified Hinduism and restored compassion to the world.
10. In the age to come, the avatar Kalkhi, riding on a white horse and wielding a sword of flame, will restore the cosmic order by destroying the wicked.

The Bhagavata Purana lists 22 avatars, but also teaches that the actual number is limitless. The most beloved avatars of Vishnu are Rama and Krishna. In fact, some devotees of Krishna, such as the followers of the Hare Krishna movement or ISKON, believe that Krishna is the Supreme Deity rather than merely an avatar (see http://www.iskcon.com/index.html).

Perhaps the most beloved avatar is Krishna. In the epic poem the Mahabharata, he is a warrior who engages in many adventures. In the folk tales of the Puranas, he is playful and precocious. He is portrayed as an adorable fat infant, and as a flute-playing youth flirting with the cowmaids.

His erotic adventures rival the dalliances of Solomon. In Hindu art, Krisha is shown with blue or black skin (see http://www.urday.com/puranas.htm).
The most influential portrayal of Krishna is in the portion of the Mahabharata called the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Glorious One). The Gita is situated in an epic battle between two clans. Krishna appears as a chariot driver and instructs the warrior Arjuna on his duty (see http://home.earthlink.net/~shubhrasudha/lopa3.html)

Then Krishna reveals his true glory (9:4, 17, 18; 10:8). “By me is pervaded all this universe … All beings rest in me … I am the father of this world, the mother, the establisher … the goal, supporter, lord, witness, the dwelling place, refuge, friend …I am the origin of all, from me all comes forth.”

After Arjuna declares that Krisha is the Supreme Brahman (God), he implores Krishna to show his true form. Krishna declares (10:19-20, 40, 42): “My divine manifestations are marvelous … there is no end to my extent. I am the soul that abides in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning and the middle of beings and the very end, too …. There is no end to my divine manifestations … I support this entire world with a single fraction of myself.”

In the season of Advent which prepares for the birth of Jesus, Christians will note similarities to their claim that God was incarnate (“enfleshed”) in Christ. The Gospel of John says (1:14), “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Colossians 1:19 says, “For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

Unlike the Hindu notion of multiple avatars, the Christian claim is that Jesus is the unique Incarnation of God.

James Browning is senior pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.

For further study:
Geoffrey Parrinder, Avatar and Incarnation: The Divine in Human Form in the World’s Religions

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