A systematic understanding of the evolution of Hindu deities in the development of the concept of avatara

M Sukdaven

Abstract


Within the primary and secondary Hindu scriptures, especially the Vedas,
Epics and Puranas, many gods are mentioned. At times a hierarchy of deities is distinguishable,
and at other times these deities assume each others’ names and functions. Then there are some
deities that manifest themselves in other forms such as a bird, an animal, a human, or both
animal and human. These manifestations are at times clearly construed as avataras. To determine
the transformation (metamorphosis), progression and/or regression of Hindu deities from the
Vedas through to the Puranas, the researcher applied the systematic literature review
methodology. He argued that this evolution of Hindu deities is the result of changes in the
specific needs of the community in their quest for immortality. Accompanying this metamorphosis
of Hindu deities is the notion of avatara which gained significant prominence in the Bhagavad
Gita and the Puranas, although there are indications that the notion of avatara can be read into
the Vedas. Considering these complexities, the researcher defined the term avatara and traced
the origins and evolution of these Hindu deities through the various Hindu scriptures. This
study consolidated this process systematically, resulting in sufficient proof that there was a
decline in certain Vedic deities, a rise to prominence of other ‘unimportant’ deities and the
appearance of other deities not mentioned in the Vedas.

Keywords


Hinduism; Avatara; Deities

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5952/53-1-130

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ISSN 2226-2385 (online); ISSN 0028-2006 (print)


© 2014 Pieter de Waal Neethling Trust, Stellenbosch.

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