Incarnation in Hinduism
Avatara, means to descent (especially the descent of a deity from heaven, or appearance of any deity upon earth (but more particularly the incarnations of Vishnu in the ten principal forms. In addition, any new or unexpected appearance is also called Avatara, as well as any distinguished person in the language of respect is called an Avatara or incarnation of a deity.(1)
Avatar in Sanskrit refers to the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form to counteract some particular evil in the world. The term usually refers to the ten appearances of Vishnu. However,the number of Vishnu’s avatars is sometimes extended or their identities changed, according to local preferences. Thus, Krishna is in some areas elevated to the rank of a deity and his half-brother, Balarama, included as an avatar.(2)
In Hinduism, an avatar is the bodily incarnation of a deity on earth. A Hindu god can incarnate in one place at a time and as a full avatar in many places simultaneously through partial avatars. The avatar appears to the devotee in whatever form the worshiper envisions, which, according to Hindu belief could be Muhammad (peace be upon him), Krishna, Buddha or any other personal god.(3)
The Purpose of Incarnation in Hinduism
The purpose of the avatar’s manifestation is to restore dharma or righteousness to the cosmic and social order. Dharma encompasses behaviors such as duty, ritual, law, morality, ethics and good deeds, etc.while any unnatural or immoral act or belief is called adharma.(4)
When we compare the purpose of Prophethood in Islam with the purpose of incarnation in Hinduism, we find them generally similar in many points. But Islam makes this purpose amongst the duties and missions of the Prophets and Messengers who are human being but they were chosen by Allah (Glory be to Him) for guiding people to the right path while Hindus believethat God Himself incarnates into Human or animal form to achieve these noble purposes.
Avatars are most often associated with the god Vishnu, one of the members of the Hindu “Trinity” or Trimurti(although any Hindu god may manifest as an avatar). Vishnu is considered the maintainer or preserver, as opposed to the other members, Brahma the creator and Shiva the destroyer. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu has incarnated as innumerable avatars in unlimited universes.(5)
The principal avatars are those of Vishnu. Vaishnavas (worshipers of Vishnu) normally recognize ten avatars, although figures such as Gandhi and Jesus are recognized as avatars by some.
The ten avatars of Vishnu are:
Matsya – The Fish
Kurma – The Tortoise
Varaha – The Boar
Narasimha – The Man-Lion
Vamana – The Dwarf
Parasurama – Rama with the Axe
Rama of Ayodhya (Ramachandra)
According to Hindu philosophy God came down many times from sky to the earth in the shape of human being or in the shape of an animal in order to introduce people to His teachings and when God incarnated into the human form He was called Avtar and His all qualities and habits were like humans. Thus, He carried out His duties as a god and taught the people His wisdom as a wise person.(7)
Some extraordinary and odd stories have been mentioned regarding every incarnation, one of them is that a devil in ancient times gained some extraordinary powers through some spiritual exercises and snatched a Hindu divine scripture namely the Anant Veda from Brahma and threw it into the water then God incarnated into the shape of a fish and dived into the water and brought the Veda back.(8)
The story says that a devil snatched the book from Brahma, the question is that how can a devil snatch the book from Brahma? Was the devil more powerful than Brahma? Is not the devil a creation of Brahma? If devil is more powerful than the devil would be the Hindu god not Brahma. Also why will god need an incarnation while He is the Omnipotent?
In addition, the idea of incarnation of Hindu god is not confined to the human form, but it includes turtle and pig along with the human form.
I think that the manifestation of God in these disgusting forms is incompatible with the glory of divinity and greatness of God. On the other hand, we find Islam describes God with all good qualities and declares that He is far from every bad quality and ugly nature.
Even we find in our modern days that some Hindu brothers worship tortoise believing this creature as the manifestation of a Hindu god and worthy of worship because it was an incarnation of god as was reported in a news report of BBC from the Indian state Orissa.
The news report says: “Officials in the Indian state of Orissa have filed a case against a priest for illegally keeping a rare turtle under the belief that it is a god.”(9)
The news added that the distinctive markings of the turtle apparently convinced villagers that it was an incarnation of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Orissa state. In Hindu mythology, sea turtles are believed to be an incarnation of the god. The soft-shelled creature was found by Ramesh Patra in a river in Kendrapara district and is being kept in a water tank on the premises of the local temple. Hundreds of people from the nearby villages have been flocking to the temple to catch a glimpse of the “divine turtle” since it arrived.(10)
The case was filed after local officials, who had gone to rescue the turtle on Thursday, were chased away by irate villagers, who believed the creature will bring peace and prosperity to their community.
Earlier, activists of a local non-governmental organization tried in vain to convince villagers about the need to release the turtle.(11)
The Concept of Incarnation from an Islamic Point of View
Islam recognizes the appearance of angels in human form in more than one context. Also Islam verifies the appearance of demons (Satan) in many bodily forms. If we analyze the Hindu concept of incarnation according to the Islamic perspective, we can conclude that Hinduism may have mistaken the appearance of angels and demons in the physical form for the appearance of God in a physical form.
Perhaps, the angels appeared to perform some tasks on the earth by the order of Allah (Glory be to Him), but some Hindu monks thought that God Himself appeared to him or perhaps, demon (Satan) appeared in some physical form to mislead people but the Hindu Rishis thought them god.
In addition, some Hindus believe in three gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Maha Dev. However,some of them have interpreted that the three gods are in fact the equities and powers of the same one God, as He is called Brahma because He creates and He is called Vishnu because He protects the creation and He is called Mahadev because He is the destroyer of the world.(12)
However, Hindu philosophy does not answer, if the same entity is called Brahma, Vishnu and Mahadev, how every one of them can have wife and children. As the power or quality of something or some person is an inseparable part of its entity that has no independent physical existence.
Muslims believe that Allah (Glory be to Him) has appointed prophets and messengers to invite people to the right path and guide them to the truth and honesty.
Perhaps, the philosophy of incarnation has led Hindu society to many evils in both belief and practice. Many persons in Hindu community get the position of god and Avtar due to the concept of Avtar and incarnation. Many Hindu holy men were caught in recent months who were involved in many ethical, social and financial corruptions. In addition, the door of paganism became widely open for the Hindu people when they believed that God might incarnate into a person, animal,or object. Many examples for this phenomenon are found in Indian daily newspapers.
The appearance of god in the form of a human being or in the shape of an animal is totally contradicting the greatness of God, because every human being and animal during their birth undergoes a series of natural procedures. At first, it becomes sperm then turns into a shape similar to the leech and the embryo lives on menstrual blood. Then it is delivered through the vulva of a female. When it is born, it needs to eat, drink and sleep, and to relieve nature. This kind of need if it matches the position of a creation, it never matches the greatness of the Creator.
It is clear that the philosophy of prophethood and messengership is more evident, more appropriate, more reasonable, purer and closer to the plain logic than the concept of incarnation or Avtar. Also the philosophy of prophethood does not have the negative results which have been seen in the philosophy of incarnation or Avatar.
(1) ASanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Amen House, London E.C-4,1960, p.99.
(2)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/45474/avatar (Last accessed on 7-12-2014)
(3)http://www.gotquestions.org/avatar-hinduism.html(Last accessed on 7-12-2014)
(7)Mirza Muhammad KazimBirlas Muradabadi, At-Tathlith, Matba`aGulzarHusni, Mumbai, 1896, vol. 3,p.380.
(12) Mirza Muhammad Hasan Qateel, Haft Tamasha, Munshi Naval Kishor, 1875, p.11 .