It is said that Lord Vishnu incarnates on earth from time to time to eradicate evil forces and to restore Dharma. Dashavatara is a sanskrit word which refers to ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. Four of Lord Vishnu’s Avatars are in the form of animals.
The first four avatars of Lord Vishnu appeared in Golden age which is called as the Satya or Krita Yuga. The next three appeared in Treta Yuga. The eighth and ninth avatars of Lord Vishnu appeared in Dwapara Yuga and the tenth Kalki avatar will appear at at the end of Kali Yuga, which is the one we are currently living in.
Here is the list of Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations.
1. Matsya Avatar – Matsya avatar was taken by Lord Vishnu in Satya Yuga. Vishnu takes the avatar of fish to save Manu from the deluge (also called Pralaya), after which he takes his boat to the new world along with one of every species of plant and animal, gathered in massive cyclone.
2. Kurma Avatar – Kurma Avatar of Lord Vishnu was from Satya Yuga. Kurma Avatar was in form of a tortoise. In order to get Amrita, Devas and Asuras were churning the ocean of milk. They were using Mandara mount as the churning staff. At that time Mandara mount started to sink then Vishnu took the form of tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain.
3. Varaha – The third Avatar of Lord Vishnu was Varaha. Varaha is also called boar. Boar is a land animal. The Avatar of Varaha was also from Satya Yuga. Vishnu has taken the Varaha’s Avatar to defeat Hiranyaksha, who had taken the earth and carried it to the bottom of cosmic ocean. It is believed that battle between Varaha and Hiranyaksha have lasted for a thousand years. In the end of the battle, Varaha won and carried the earth out of ocean and restored it to its place in universe.
4. Narsimha – Narsimha was the last Avatar of Lord Vishnu in Satya Yuga. Narsimha Avatar was in form of half man and half lion.Vishnu has taken this Avatar to kill the rakshasa Hiranyakashipu who was granted a powerful boon from Lord Brahma, not allowing him to be killed by man or animal, inside or out, day or night, on earth or the stars, with a weapon either living or inanimate. Therefore, Vishnu took the form of Narsimha who was not completely a man and not completely an animal. He then disembowels the rakshasa at the courtyard threshold of his house, at dusk, with his claws, while he lay on his thighs.
5. Vamana – Vamana, the fifth Avatar of Vishnu was a dwarf from the Treta Yuga. He was the first Avatar of Vishnu to be appeared as a human. Bali, with devotion and penance was able to defeat Indra, the god of firmament.The gods appealed to Vishnu for protection and he descended as a boy Vamana. During a yagya of the King, Vamana approached him and Bali promised him for whatever he asked. Vamana asked for three paces of land. Bali agreed, and the dwarf then changed his size to that of a giant. He stepped over heaven in his first stride, and the netherworld with the second. Bali realised that Vamana was Avatar of Vishnu and then in defence the king offered him his head as a third place for Vamana to place his foot. The avatar did so and thus granted Bali immortality.
6. Parashurama – Sixth Avatar of Vishnu was Parashurama from the Treta Yuga. He received an axe after a penance to Shiva. Once King Kartavirya Arjuna and his army visited the father of Parashurama at his ashram, and the saint was able to feed them with the divine cow Kamdhenu. The king asked the Jamadagni for his cow but he refused to give his cow. Then the King took the cow by force and destroyed the ashram. Then the Parshurama killed the king and destroyed his army. In revenge, the sons of Kartavirya killed Jamadagni. Parashurama took a vow to kill every Kshatriya on earth and filled five lakes with their blood. To halt him, Rishi Rucheeka, grandfather of Parshurama has to appear before him.
7. Rama – Lord Vishnu’s seventh Avatar was Lord Rama from the Treta Yuga. Rama was the Prince and King of Ayodhya. Vishnu took Rama’s Avatar to kill the demon King of Lanka, Ravana.
8. Krishna – Krishna Avatar of Vishnu was from Dwapara Yuga. He was the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudev. He appeared alongside his elder brother Balarama. Balrama is regarded generally as an avatar of Shesha. However, Balarama is included as the eighth avatar of Vishnu in the Sri Vaishnava lists, where Buddha is omitted and Krishna appears as the ninth avatar in this list.
9. Buddha – Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is generally included as an Avatar of Vishnu. some view praises him as a compassionate teacher who preached the path of non-violence.
10. Kalki – The tenth Avatar of Lord Vishnu will be Kalki. It is believed that Kalki Avatar of Vishnu will appear at the end of Kali Yuga. He will be atop a white horse and his sword will be drawn, blazing like a comet. He will destroy all evil at the end of Kali Yuga.