Incarnation as Prithu: In the ninth incarnation, the Lord, as an answer to the prayers of eminent saints, incarnated as King Pṛthu. He milked all the medicinal properties from Mother Earth, who was in the form of a cow. “O Maharishis, as a result of this, the incarnation as Emperor Pṛthu is considered very auspicious.”
Incarnation as fish (matsya): After the completion of the Chākśusa Manvantara, all oceans merged and entire land was inundated with sea waters. At that time the Lord took on the form of a fish and protected Vaivaswata Manu by keeping him on Earth, which was in the form of a boat.
Incarnation as tortoise (kurma): In the eleventh incarnation, the all pervading Mahavishnu, incarnated as a tortoise (kurma) at the time when the celestials and demons were engaged in a ferocious battle. He retained the Mandara Mountain on his back and supported it during the churning of the ocean.
Incarnation as Dhanvantri: This was the twelfth incarnation. Dhanvantri emerged from the ocean together with a pot of nectar and taught the knowledge of Ayurveda.
Incarnation as Mohini: This was the thirteenth incarnation. The Lord as Mohini enchanted the minds of the demons and ensured that the celestials (Devatas) drank nectar.
Incarnation as Narasimha: This was the fourteenth incarnation. As Narasimha He tore open, with his finger nails, the stomach and intestines of the demon king Hiranyakashipu by placing him on his thigh.
Incarnation as Vāmana: This was the fifteenth incarnation. With the intent that Heaven which was in the custody of Emperor Bali should be retrieved and handed it over to Lord Indra, the Lord went to the Yagna being conducted by the Emperor. On the pretext of seeking 3 feet of land, the Lord handed over Heaven to Lord Indra.
Incarnation as Paraśurāma: This was the sixteenth incarnation. Paraśurama was infuriated upon seeing the cruel behavior of kings who were arrogant and who totally disregarded the Vedas. He went around the Earth 21 times and freed it from all arrogant and cruel kings.
Tataḥ saptadaśe jātaḥ satyavatyāṁ parāśarāt
Cakre veda-taroḥ śākhā dṛṣṭvā puṁso ‘lpa-medhasaḥ
Incarnation as Vedavyāsa: This was the seventeenth incarnation. The Lord incarnated as Krishna dwaipāyana, the son of Maharishi Parāśara and Mother Satyavati. Seeing the dull headed humans, He segregated the vast tree called Veda and divided into various branches. Due to this work He was awarded the title of Vedavyasa. ‘Vedavyāsa’ means ‘He who has segregated the Vedas’.
Incarnation as Rāma: With the intent of destroying the demons such as Ravana, Kumbhakarna and others, the Supreme Lord incarnated for the eighteenth time as Prince Srirama. He performed many extraordinary deeds such as building a bridge across the ocean.
Incarnations as Balarama and Krishna: In the nineteenth and twentieth incarnations the Lord took birth in the lineage of Yadu. The nineteenth time He incarnated as Balarama. The twentieth incarnation was that of Srikrishna. In the form of these two brothers He reduced the burden of Mother Earth.
Incarnation as Buddha: In the twenty-first incarnation in the future period at the beginning of Kali Yuga, in order to delude the atheists, the Lord will incarnate as Buddha in the Kingdom of Magadha.
At the time when Maharishi Suta was teaching Bhāgawatam to Shounaka and other saints, the incarnation as Lord Buddha had not yet taken place. This is understood from this verse.
Incarnation as Kalki: Towards the end of Kali Yuga, when the rulers would have turned into robbers and would have usurped almost all the wealth belonging to the citizens, the Lord will incarnate as Kalki, the son of Vishnuyash. This will be the twenty-second incarnation of the Lord.
With this the twenty two incarnations of the Lord were briefly explained. We had said at first that we would be discussing twenty four incarnations of the Lord. If we add the incarnations as Hayagriva and Hamsa, which will be addressed in the future chapters, it totals to twenty four incarnations.
O Maharishis! Just like thousands of tiny streams emerge from the never ending lake filled with water, innumerable incarnations emerge from Lord Srihari, who is a personification of goodness. The Celestials, saints, emperors with commendable prowess, Manu and his descendents and various Prajapatis (leaders of people) are merely aspects/ portions of that Supreme Lord.
Ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam
Everyone is only the partial incarnations of the Supreme Lord. But Krishna is Mahavishnu himself! All these partial incarnations are taken up by the Lord to protect the world when it is unduly tortured by the demons. This takes place in every yuga (eon).
Janma guhyaṁ bhagavato ya etat prayato naraḥ
Sāyaṁ prātar gṛṇan bhaktyā duḥkha-grāmād vimucyate
The person who, with a pure mind, reads this sacred secretive scripture that contains the story of the Lord’s incarnation, twice daily, will obtain total relief from all his sufferings! He will be relieved of this bondage called samsāra (cycle of repeated re-births).
The Supreme Lord is formless. He is an embodiment of illumination (chaitanya). With the help of Mahat (cosmic intelligence) and other effectual energies (karya roopa) of the Lord’s illusory power (māya shakti), this entire world is created. However in reality this creation is contained purely within the Self (atma)!
Clouds take shelter in wind. Although the wind carries the clouds, people say that the sky carries them. Smoke is nothing but a transformation of the dust that belongs to the earth but yet this smoke is attributed to fire.
Likewise towards the Self (atma) the action of seeing (drśyatvam) is being imposed. Those who impose the ‘action of seeing’ upon the Self, which is nothing but a witness, are lacking in intelligence.
The Lord who has knowledge as His form does not have a gross body that consists of hands, legs etc. Instead He has another different body that is over and above the trigunās (three attributes) and which is not subject to transformation. It is unseen, unheard and of a subtle existence. This is called ‘subtle body’.
Om Namo Narayana.