Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Carita | Book 1 Chapter 4
Descriptions of the Avatāras
After hearing this extraordinary narration in its entirety, Śrī Dāmodara Paṇḍita's heart was much enlivened, and he said to Murāri Gupta, "Now kindly relate the epic of Nṛhari.
"Amongst the avatāras of Śrī Hari who have graced the earth planet, which of them are especially famous by virtue of their unique pastimes? Also, what are the various kinds of avatāras? Please describe them in order."
Hearing the words of the eminent brāhmaṇa, Śrī Murāri was greatly satisfied and replied, "Kindly hear me attentively."
Now I shall describe the plenary avatāras of Śrī Hari who due to their pure devotional qualities are celebrated as devotional forms of Īśvara.
The first to appear among them was the best of the twice-born, Śrī Mādhava Purī Prabhu. The second expansion of the Lord, named Śrī Advaita Ācārya, was a model of all saintly qualities.
Śrī Candra Śekhara Ācārya was a ray of the moon-god. He became the disciple of both Śrī Mādhavendra Purī and Śrī Advaita Ācārya, and was widely renowned on earth as Ācārya Ratna, the jewel-like teacher.
Śrī Nārada descended as Śrī Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, and a Gandharva descended as Śrī Mukuṇḍa, the physician and superlative singer.
As described by the brāhmaṇa Nāgadaṣṭa, Śrī Haridāsa Thākura was the expansion of a sage from an ancient time. Please hear of this.
The exalted sage and great ascetic of the name Śrīmān Rāma was very affectionate to his son. He lived in a place of pilgrimage for vaiṣṇavas in the southern part of Bhārata.
Once, his son washed a Tulasī leaf and placed it on the auspicious foodstuffs which had been prepared for offering to the family Deity. That leaf fell to the ground, but without washing it, the boy replaced it on the offering and gave it to his father. Śrī Rāma Mahāmuni then offered it to the Supreme Lord. For this reason the muni was later obliged to take birth in a family of Yāvanas.
Śrī Haridāsa was the very breath of dharma. He was extremely intelligent, peaceful, perceptive and learned in all spiritual matters. Moreover, it is positively ascertained that this glorious devotee was also a plenary portion of Lord Brahmā.
Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu is the plenary portion of Śrī Baladeva. Although the greatest of the great, he appears as an avadhūta, and a great mystic. But He is actually the Supreme Lord Himself, the origin of all emanations.
Even Bṛhaspati himself with a hundred years at his disposal could hardly attempt to describe Śrī Nityānanda’s character and activities.
When Bṛhaspati, the matchless master of the art of eloquence, is unable to delineate the qualities of Lord Nityānanda, then what to speak of insignificant living beings such as ourselves. He is second only to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and is more dear to Lord Gaurāṅga than His own life-breath.
Hundreds of other demigods took birth on the earth as powerful philosopher-sages, descending as plenary portions of their original forms . One cannot even venture to count them.
There are two other classes of avatāras declared in the śāstras. The former are the yuga-avatāras, who appear to teach the process of self-realization for the four ages; the latter are the kārya-avatāras, who appear to accomplish a specific mission.
The yuga-avatāras are described as those who appear from age to age in order to establish the principles of religion. Now hear of them in the order in which they appear.
In Satya-yuga, the age of truthfulness, meditation was the sole means for mankind to execute self-realization. For that purpose, the white avatāra, Śukla, descended in a four-armed form with matted locks.
Appearing as bright and as cooling as a thousand moons, the sage, absorbed in constant trance, showed through His example the path of meditation for all men.
In the next age, Tretā, the practice of fire sacrifice alone conferred all spiritual benefits on man. At that time the Lord appeared as Yajña, sacrifice personified. He held Śruk and Śruva, the sacrificial spoons, and other paraphernalia for sacrifice.
Together with the priests of the sacrifice, the victorious Lord Janārdana, who is the enjoyer of the fruits of sacrifice, performed yajña Himself and thus taught that process to all people.
In the age of Dvāpara, pūjā, (worship of the Lord's arca-vigraha), was the appropriate process of self-realization for mankind. Knowing this, Śrī Viṣṇu Himself incarnated as Mahārāja Prthu.
That virtuous soul regulated the people by His rule. He performed worship of the Lord and thereby engaged the minds of all men in this same worship.
But in the age of Kali which is filled with quarrel, the chanting of the names of Śrī Hari confers all spiritual benefit. It showers welfare upon all living beings. The Lord's name is possessed of all His potencies. Śrī Nāma is the Lord, Himself, and in this form Lord Kṇa bestows the highest transcendental bliss.
Thus considering the situation, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu personally took birth on the earth, and thereby brought joy to men of virtue.
Filled with bliss, He chanted the names of Hari and thus induced others to also chant. These are the yuga-avatāras for the four ages. Now hear of the others, the kārya-avatāras, who descend to perform specific missions.
Descending in the form of Śrī Matsya, the Fish avatāra, the Lord saved the Vedas from the waters of universal devastation. In His form of Śrī Kūrma, the Tortoise avatāra, He held up the Mandāra mountain in order to award nectar to the demigods. In His form of Śrī Varāha-deva, the Boar avatāra, the Lord lifted up the earth and replaced it in its position in the universe. And in His form of Śrī Narasimha, the Man-lion avatāra, the Lord tore asunder the chest of the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu, thus protecting the devoted Prahlāda.
Descending as Śrī Vāmana-deva, a child brāhmaṇa, the Lord took away the opulence of the three worlds from the powerful demon Balī. As Śrī Paraśurāma, He descended in the lineage of the sage Bhṛgu. Delighting in fighting with an axe, He won the earth by defeating the arrogant kings and then gave it in charity to the brāhmaṇa Kaśyapa. Next Śrī Viṣṇu, sole savior of the universe, descended as Śrī Rāma and slew the ten-headed man-eating Rākṣasa named Rāvaṇa. Thus all of the worlds became filled with Viṣṇu's fame.
When Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa descended, He removed the heavy burden of warring armies from the earth. He is the original form of Śrī Hari, replete with all potencies.
As Śrī Buddha-deva, the Lord made an illusion to bewilder the so-called followers of the Vedas, and in the form of Śrī Kalki, He annihilated the degraded mleccha populace, who had fallen from the path of the Vedas.
Thus do the greatest of sages describe the kārya-avatāras of Nhari, who are of many kinds, who perform many activities and appear in many forms.
Thus ends the Fourth Sarga entitled "Descriptions of the Avatāras," in the First Prakrama of the great poem Śrī Caitanya Carita.