Supreme Purusa appears in many ways to amuse himself. By the word Brahman in Vedas, Shri Rama is called in direct sense. In the begining, Brahman desired Let me be many, so he appeared in many forms. Shruti says “Bhagavan didn’t enjoy (alone), so He desired a second, and therefore He transformed himself as a man (Rama) and woman (Sita) locked in embrace, and then he divided this own-self into two equal parts and became (Pati) Husband (Rama) and (Patni) wife (Sita) to sport blissfully (in divine Saket Loka).” [Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.3]

The five forms of Bhagavan

Bhagavan Sri Rama (Brahman or Ishwara) manifests himself in five forms, they are -

1. Parā - Parā is the highest form (the divyatam svaruam) of Bhagavan Sri Rama eternally present in the Parāvyoma - the topmost spiritual realm Divya-Ayodhya (the supreme Madhurya abode Saket-Loka) in Tripad-vibhuti, with his Para-shakti Sita. In Para form, he is the ‘Raja Sarvasya Lokasya’ (-Valmiki Ramayana) i.e. the supreme Lord of the entire cosmos.

The same Sri Rama manifests himself as Sri Krishna in Goloka and Para-Vasudeva Maha-Vishnu in Maha-Vaikuntha. Sri Krishna is the Shringari-Rupa of Bhagavan Sri Rama in Vrindavanam, and Sri Maha-Vishnu is the Aishvarya-Rupa of Bhagavan Sri Rama in Maha-Vaikuntha. In Tripad-vibhuti, Sri Maha-Vishnu is also known as Shri Rama-Narayana Prabhu.

2. Vyuha - Lord Sri Rama (Para-Vasudeva) assumes Vyuha forms for cosmic functions and control activities of living beings. Lord Sri Rama himself is the Paratpar-Vishnu, Bharat is Vaikunth Vishnu, Lakshmana is Ksheer-Sagar Vishnu and Shatrughna is the Shvet-dwipa Bhuma-Vishnu. These Vishnu also appear as younger brothers to serve Sri Rama whenever Lord of Saketa Sri Rama himself descends in the leela-Vibhuti (on planets in material world) as the son of Maharaja Dashratha.

Lord Sri Rama assumes the form of Vasudeva (1st Vyuha Murti), Lakshman becomes Sankarshan-Vyuha (2nd Vyuha Murti), Bharat becomes Pradyumn-Vyuha (3rd Vyuha Murti), and Shatrughna becomes Aniruddha-Vyuha (4th Vyuha Murti). The six attributes of Bhagavan, namely the three Aishvaryam (opulence or lordship), Gyaan (knowledge) and Shakti (energy) which are transcendental and the other three Balam (strength), Viryam (valor) and Tejas (splendor) are in the plane of activity. These six attributes in pair form three Vyuha forms, SankarshaNa (Gyaan and Balam), Pradyumna (Aisvaryam and Viryam), and Aniruddha (Shakthi and Tejas). Lord Vasudeva has all the six-attributes in full, and in other Vyuhas pair of attributes are dominant.

From each Vyuhas, 3 forms are manifested and thus total 12 forms of lord are manifested. Pradyumna Murti (with plenty of Lordship and valor) creates the worlds (creation) and he gave birth to Lord BrahmA, Sankarshana-Murti (with plenty of Knowledge and Strenghth) destroys the worlds (dissolution) and he appeared as Rudra, and Annirudha (with plenty of Energy and Splendour) protects the world (protection), he is also the Avatari-Purusa.

3. Vaibhava - The many Avatāras (incarnations) in different Yugas, who are seen only in particular time-period to humans. Many Vaibhava avataras are taken by different Vyuha incarnations either by Vasudeva or Sankarshana or Pradyumna or Aniruddha. And sometimes the original Personality of Godhead himself descends from Tripad-vibhuti in this Ekpad-vibhuti e.g. in case of Shri Rama-avatara, Bhagavan Shri Rama himself descends from Tripad-vibhuti.

4. Antaryāmi - The manifestation of Bhagavan Shri Rama as the indwelling soul of all souls (Jiva-atmas) is called Paramatma (the supreme soul) or Antaryami - the indwelling super soul within all souls.

5. Arcāvatāra - Image or deity manifestations of Bhagavan is called Archa-Avatāra. In ArchAvatāra form, Bhagavan becomes completely dependent on his devotee and gets various devotional services from his devotee. In Vaishnavism, through deity worship a devotee can develop personal relationship with Bhagavan and offer him various services in the mood of loving devotion. Therefore, a devotee should do worship of Archa-Avatāra as Per the instructions of one’s gurudeva and develop a personal loving relationship with Bhagavan through services and worship of the deity.

In Rasik Parampara, devotees worship Bhagavan Sri Rama in the mood of loving devotion (Raaga-Bhakti). In Rasik Parampara of Shri-Sampraday, devotion is mainly focused towards the Para-Swarupa of Lord Sri Ram i.e. Paratpar Parambrahm Saket-Bihari Sarweshwar Bhagavan Shri Ram who is the cause of all including BrahmA-VishNu-Shiva, and all the Avatāra-s are his amsha-s and Kala-s (parts and the parts of parts). The Para-swarupa of Lord Shri Rama is of a Young prince who sports along with Sita and her Sakhi-s in his Madhurya-abode Shri Saket Dhaam which is the topmost spiritual realm in the tripad-vibhuti.

Avatāra-s

Avatāra literally means “the one who descends.” All the incarnations of the Supreme Lord, including the Lord Himself, descend in the Vibuti-loka i.e. the different planets of the material world as also in different forms to fulfill particular missions. Sometimes, He comes Himself, and sometimes His different plenary portions or parts of the plenary portions, or His differentiated portions directly or indirectly empowered by Him, descend on this material world to execute certain specific functions.

अन्ते चादौ च लोकानां दृश्यसे च परंतप ॥
(श्री वाल्मीकि रामायण ६.११७.९)

antē cādau ca lōkānāṃ dṛśyasē ca paraṃtapa ॥
(Śrī Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa 6.117.9)

Lord Brahmaa says to Bhagavan Śrī Rāma :—
O' Śrī Rāma, You are seen (to exist) at the beginning and at the end of all creation.

Purusha-Avatāra

In the beginning of the creation (after the cycle of the complete dissolution of all material universes), Bhagavan Shri Rama first expanded Himself in the universal form of the Purusha incarnation. He becomes the Viraat-Purusha and sleeps on the causal ocean as Karanashayi Maha-Vishnu in whose hair-pores there are countless universes.

As Per Vishnu Purana 1.2.14-18, in the beginning of everything the all Pervading Sanatan Parabrahm Shri Rama manifests himself first as Purusha, then as Avyakta (Pradhana or Prakriti), Vyakta (Mahata, seen worlds) and Kaal (time). In the begining of creation, Shri Rama manifested Kaal (the time). This is told by Kaal himself to Bhagavan Shri Rama in Uttarkanda of Valmiki Ramayana while praising and requesting him to return to his spiritual abode.

तवाहं पूर्वके भावे पुत्रः परपुरञ्जय ।
मायासम्भावितो वीर कालः सर्वसमाहरः ॥
(श्री वाल्मीकि रामायण ७.१०४.२)

tavāhaṃ pūrvakē bhāvē putraḥ parapurañjaya ।
māyāsambhāvitō vīra kālaḥ sarvasamāharaḥ ॥
(Śrī Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa 7.104.2)

Kaal says to Bhagavan Śrī Rāma:—
“Oh parapurañjaya Śrī Rāma ! In the beginning of pūrva bhāva i.e. at the time of hiranyagarbha-Purusha or Karanashayi-Mahavishnu manifestation, I - Kala was manifested from Your Maya (Sankalpa). Thus, in a way I (Kaal) am Your son, Oh Veer (valorous Prince)!”

संक्षिप्य हि पुरा लोकान मायया स्वयमेव हि ।
महार्णवे शयानोऽपसु मां त्वं पूर्वजीजनः ॥
(श्री वाल्मीकि रामायण ७.१०४.४)

saṃkṣipya hi purā lōkāna māyayā svayamēva hi ।
mahārṇavē śayānō'pasu māṃ tvaṃ pūrvajījanaḥ ॥
(Śrī Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa 7.104.4)

Kaal says to Bhagavan Śrī Rāma that Lord Brahmaa told for You :—
“O' Shri Rama, It was You alone who annihilated all the worlds by Your Maya (Sankalpa) before the new creation and then after, You slept on the causal ocean (as Narayana). Around that time, in the beginning of creation I (Brahmaa) was born from You.”

Since, Shri Rama does not sleep on the causal ocean in the beginning, yet Brahmaa told for him that He sleeps on the causal ocean, It means He is Shri Rama who takes the form of Narayana to sleep on the causal ocean.

Thus, even Narayana (Karanashayi Vishnu) who sleeps on the causal ocean is a manifestation and amsha (portion) of Shri Rama.

नारायणोऽपिरामांशःशङ्खचक्रगदाधरः॥ (वाराह संहिता)

nārāyaṇō'pirāmāṃśaḥ-śaṅkhacakragadādharaḥ॥ (vārāha saṃhitā)

“Even Narayana also, the wielder of Shankha and Chakra is a portion only of Bhagavan Shri Rama.”

Bhagavan Vishnu also is the manifestation of Bhagavan Shri Rama.

ततस्त्वमसि दुर्धर्षात्तस्माद् भावात् सनातनात् ।
रक्षार्थं सर्वभूतानां विष्णुत्वं उपजग्मिवान् ॥
(श्री वाल्मीकि रामायण ७.१०४.९)

tatastvamasi durdharṣāttasmād bhāvāt sanātanāt ।
rakṣārthaṃ sarvabhūtānāṃ viṣṇutvaṃ upajagmivān ॥
(śrī vālmīki rāmāyaṇa 7.104.9)

“After my prayers in the begining of the creation, Oh Rama ! You forsaken Your durdharṣa (the swarupa which is difficult to be achieved for many) eternal Bhava (the eternal two armed Shri Rama form) and assumed the form of Vishnu for the sake of protection and sustenance of all the beings.”

Sri Govindraja commented on this verse Shri Rama is Para-vasudeva who assumes the form of Satva-Gunamaya Vishnu.

Thus, the four armed Vishnu is an expansion (plenary portion) of Bhagavan Shri Rama.

सर्वावतारी भगवान् रामश्चतुर्भुजोऽभवत् ॥ (कोशल-खंड)

sarvāvatārī bhagavān rāmaścaturbhujō'bhavat ॥ (kōśala-khaṃḍa)

“The source of avataras (manifestations) Bhagavan Shri Rama became the four armed Vishnu.”

So, Why do people say avataras of Vishnu in a general sense?

The word Vishnu means the all pervading one. All incarnations (with Bhagavad amasha) are assumed by the all pervading supreme one called Vishnu (or say Rama), so we say avataras of Vishnu in a general sense e.g. in Narasimha avatara, all pervading supreme Lord himself appeared from a pillar to prove the words of his devotee prahlad true that Bhagavan is all pervading.

Leela-Avataras

Lord Sri Rama has taken innumerable incarnations which can be categorised in mainly three groups - (i) Purna-Avatara, (ii) Amsa-Avatara and (iii) Kala-Avatara. These innumerable incarnations appearing from the Sarva-Karan-Karanam Brahm (the cause of all the causes) or the original personality of Godhead are like thousands of rivulets flowing from a river, they appear in different ages in the world. Among all the incarnataions, the incarnations of Bhagavan Shri Ram and Shri Krishna are the two most celebrated incarnations in Vaidik-scriptures and they both are called the Swayam-Bhagavan ( 1. रामस्तु भगवान स्वयम् - महारामायण 2. कृष्णस्तु भगवान्स्वयम् -भागवतम)!.

Sometimes the all pervading, all emcompassing supreme Brahman, the Supreme Lord Rama himself descends from the Paravyoma (Saket). And Most of the time Avataras are assumed by Bhagavan Vishnu — sometimes Bhagavan Vishnu of Vaikuntha descends, sometimes Vishnu of Ksheer-Sagar descends or sometimes Bhuma-Vishnu of Shwet-dwipa descends etc, however the primary source of all forms and all Avatara-s is Paratpar Paripurntam Parambrahm Sarveshwar Bhagavan Sri Rama only.

1. Amsha-Avatāra

Amsha Avatāras such as Matasya-Kurma-Varaha etc are portions of Purusa Bhagawan Sri Rama.

2. Kala-Avatāra

Great Jiva-s who are especially empowered with Maha-Shakti (great-potency) and personal-Avesha of Bhagavan such as great sages Narad, Sanakadik, Vyasa etc are Kala-Avatāras of Bhagavan Sri Rama; and when some Great-Jivas are empowered from the Alpa-Shakti (limited-potency) are called Vibhuti of Bhagavan.

3. Purna-Avatāra

As per Padma-Purana, there are three Purna-Avatāras who also appear in Vibhuti-Loka: Narasimha, Sri Rama and Sri Krishna.

Amsha-Avatara and Purna-Avatara are Prime avataras, there are ten (10) most Prime Avataras of Bhagavan Shri Rama, they are called Dashavatara.

Shri Rama, the original source of all avataras

दशावतार — Daśāvatāra


(The Ten Important Incarnations)

मत्स्यः कुर्म्मोवराहश्चनरसिंहोऽथवामनः ॥
रामोरामश्चकृष्णश्चबुद्धःकल्कीचतेदश ।
एतेतुविभवावस्थाब्रह्मणः परमात्मनः ॥
(श्री पद्म महा-पुराण ६.२२९.४०-4१)

matsyaḥ kurmmōvarāhaścanarasiṃhō'thavāmanaḥ ॥
rāmōrāmaścakṛṣṇaścabuddhaḥkalkīcatēdaśa ।
ētētuvibhavāvasthābrahmaṇaḥ paramātmanaḥ ॥
(Śrī Padma Mahā-Purāṇa 6.229.40-41)

“१. मत्स्य , २. कूर्म, ३. वराह, ४. नरसिंह, ५. वामन, ६. परशुराम, ७. श्रीराम, ८. श्रीकृष्ण, ९. बुद्ध, १०. कल्कि - ये दश ब्रह्म परमात्मा के विभवा-अवस्था या अवतार हैं।”

“1. Matsya , 2. Kūrma, 3. Varāha, 4. Śrī Narasiṃha, 5. Vāmana, 6. Paraśurāma, 7. Śrī Rāma, 8. Śrī Kṛṣṇa, 9. Buddha, 10. Kalki — these ten are the Vibhavā-avasthā or Avatāras (incarnations) of the Paramātma or the Supreme Brahman.”

“Among these ten incarnations, Śrī Narasiṃha, Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa are Purna (full) in six transcendental qualities, and they are the Paravastha-avatara (the most supreme state of Bhagavan).” (Śrī Padma Mahā-Purāṇa 6.229.42)

Śrī Rāma, the original personality of godhead

नृसिंह-राम-कृष्णेषु षाड्गुण्यं परिकीर्तितम्।
परावस्थास् तु ते तस्य दीपाद्-उत्पन्न-दीपवत् ॥
[पद्म-पुराण, उत्तर-खण्ड, २२९.४२]

nṛsiṃha-rāma-kṛṣṇēṣu ṣāḍguṇyaṃ parikīrtitam।
parāvasthās tu tē tasya dīpād-utpanna-dīpavat ॥
[padma-purāṇa, uttara-khaṇḍa, 229.42 ]

“Śrī Narasiṃha, Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa are decribed to be Purna (full) in six transcendental qualities, and they are the Paravastha-avatara (the most supreme state of Bhagavan). From him (Supreme Purusha Shri Rama, the original personality of godhead who is told to be present in the highest spiritual abode divine Ayodhya in padma purana), other forms of Bhagavan (Narasimha, and Krishna etc) are illuminated (manifested) as like from one candle others candles are lighted. (Each with the same intensity as the first one).”

Shri Rama, the original personality of godhead

Among these three Purna-avataras and Paravastha-avataras, there are two charming Nara-avataras (Human incarnations) i.e. Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Bhagavān Śrī Rāma appeared for 11,000 Years in Treta, and Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa appeared for around 125 years in Dvāpar Yuga. These both are Svayam-Bhagavan, Avatari and Avatara also. And, it is said in Vedas that Paratpar-Purusha is Narakriti (of human form), and he has the most beautiful red lotus eyes, He is राजीवलोचन.

सर्वेषामवताराणामवतारी रघूत्तम: ।
रामपादनखज्योत्स्ना परब्रह्मेति गीयते ।।
[अगस्त्य-संहिता]

sarvēṣāmavatārāṇāmavatārī raghūttamah ।
rāmapādanakhajyōtsnā parabrahmēti gīyatē ।।
[agastya-saṃhitā]

Lord Śrī Rāma, the best among the Raghus, is the source of all divine incarnations, he is the original personality of Godhead. The Moonlight of the nails of His feet is praised as Parabrahman by the scriptures.

पोषणं भरणाधारं शरण्यं सर्वव्यापकम्।
कारुण्यं षड्भिः पूर्णो रामस्तु भगवान स्वयम्॥
[महारामायण]

pōṣaṇaṃ bharaṇādhāraṃ śaraṇyaṃ sarvavyāpakam।
kāruṇyaṃ ṣaḍa़bhiḥ pūrṇō rāmastu bhagavāna svayam॥
[mahārāmāyaṇa]

Meaning: Due to His being sustainer of all the worlds, bestower of all the divine virtues on His devotees, the only support of the whole cosmos, the only one fit to take refuge in, all pervading, supremely compassionate and having comprehensiveness in all these six virtues, Sri Ram is ‘Bhagavan’ Himself.

In Bhagavata, Śrī Rāma is called 'Brahm-mayo Hari' and 'Sakshad-Bhagavan esha' (तस्यापि भगवानेष साक्षाद् ब्रह्ममयो हरिः। अंशाशेन चतुर्धागात् पुत्रत्वं प्रार्थितः सुरैः । रामलक्ष्मणभरतशत्रुघ्ना इति संज्ञया ॥ Bhagavatam 9.10.2) which means Sri Ram is such supreme personality (Hari) who is completely like the all encompassing supreme Brahman, in whom all forms of Brahm or Bhagavan including his all Avatara-s reside (mayam- means all forms of Brahm reside in Sri Ram), therefore 'Sri Rama is the original personality of Godhead and the original source of all the incarnations' is established from Bhagavatam. In fact, Śrī Rāmāvatar is not the manifestation of Ishwara, but the direct manifestation of the supreme Brahman himself, hence the most unique incarnation and the supreme lord himself. In Padma-Purana too, the name 'Ram' is called 'Parambrahman' itself and greater than all gods combined. Therefore 'Ramatva' (Sri Ram himself) is the most superior.

Sri Krishna is also called Bhagavan Swayam, which means He is similar to Bhagavan Sri Ram.

Some people may ask how here in "KrishNastu Bhagavan Swayam", there is identification of Sri Kṛṣṇa with Bhagavan Sri Rama, it is very much clear from Bhagavatam itself, Sri Ram is Ishta-deva and Para-swarupa for Sage Śuka-deva, therefore Śukadeva confirms only this 'Sri Krishna is none other than Bhagavan Sri Ram himself'. In whole Bhagavatam, Sage Śuka has taken Sharangati only once and in the lotus feet of Para-swarupa of Bhagavana, Raghupati Sri Rama alone. No where else Sage Shukadeva has performed SharaNAgati unto any other form of lord. In Vaidic-scriptures (also in Vaishnavism), SharaNagati (taking refuge of lord) is the most important component and the last stage of devotion. Thuerefore Sri Ram alone is the Ishta-deva for Śukadeva goswami. Sage Shukadeva also proclaimed in clear words 'Sri Ram is Sakshad Bhagavan and Brahm-mayo Hari and Aadi-Purusa (primeval lord)' in Srimad Bhagavatam!

यस्यामलं नृपसदस्सु यशोऽधुनापि गायन्त्यघघ्नमृषयो दिगिभेन्द्रपट्टम् |
तं नाकपालवसुपालकिरीटजुष्ट-पादाम्बुजं रघुपतिं शरणं प्रपद्ये॥
(श्रीमद भागवतम् ९.११.२१)

yasyāmalaḿ nṛpa-sadaḥsu yaśo 'dhunāpi
gāyanty agha-ghnam ṛṣayo dig-ibhendra-paṭṭam
taḿ nākapāla-vasupāla-kirīṭa-juṣṭa-
pādāmbujaḿ raghupatiḿ śaraṇaḿ prapadye
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 9.11.21)

Meaning: Lord Śrī Rāmacandra's spotless name and fame, which vanquish all sinful reactions, are celebrated in all directions, like the ornamental cloth of the victorious elephant that conquers all directions. Great saintly persons like Mārkaṇḍeya Ṛṣi still glorify His characteristics in the assemblies of great emperors like Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira. Similarly, all the saintly kings and all the demigods, including Lord Śiva and Lord Brahmā, worship the Lord by bowing down with their helmets. I (Śukdeva, myself) perform sharaṇAgati (take refuge) unto those lotus-feet of Raghupati (Śrī Rāma).

Sri Ram is the only personality who is glorified in Shat-Koti Ramayana-s. Therefor after considering all these, Śrī Rāma is the original personality of godhead and the supreme Brahman. Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Śrī Rāma are one and same supreme being, Sri Kṛṣṇa is the Shringari-Rupa of Bhagavan Śrī Rāma.

As Sri Rama himself is the original Avtaari-purusa (the original source) of all Avatara-s and all forms of Brahman, similarly 'Rama' Naam is also called in each universe. It means everything of Sri Rama, be it is his Rupa or Dhaama or Naam, all are very form of Para-brahman, inseparable undifferentiated one.

रामस्य नामरूपं च लीलाधामं परात्परं |
एतच्चतुष्टयं नित्यं सर्वम् सच्चिदानन्दविग्रहं ||
(वशिष्ठ संहिता)

rāmasya nāmarūpaṃ ca līlādhāmaṃ parātparaṃ |
ētaccatuṣṭayaṃ nityaṃ sarvam saccidānandavigrahaṃ ||
(vaśiṣṭha saṃhitā)

Meaning: The Naam (राम-नाम), the Rupam (राम-रूप), the exploits (लीला) and the Dhaam (राम-धाम, the abode of Lord Ram), all these of Shri Ram are the most divine, charming, beautiful, and the most superior (परात्परं, the higher than the highest). In fact, these all four are eternal (नित्यं), and very form of Sat (real, absolute)- Cit(consciousness)- Aananda (bliss, pure bliss) (सच्चिदानन्दविग्रहं).

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॥ श्रीसीतारामचंद्रार्पणमस्तु ॥