The Avatar

An ‘Avatar’ is defined as the incarnation (bodily manifestation) of the Supreme Being. The word ‘Avatar’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Avataranam’ which means ‘descent’, and usually implies a deliberate descent of the Divine into the mortal realms to reveal the Absolute Truth to humanity and remind them of their true divine nature. Though Avatars may appear in different forms at different times, places and circumstances, yet they are all the manifestations of the One Supreme Lord.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Avatar of the Age, has succinctly explained the meaning and the reason for the descent of the Avatar in the following Telugu verse:

Avatarinchuta yanutalo Arthamemi?
Janulapai Preethi Vaatsalya Paratha thoda
Vaari Sthaayaiki Daivambu Vachchu Bhuviki
Jeeva Prajnatho baatuga Daiva prajna

He says that the Formless God takes a form and descends upon the Earth as an expression of His boundless love and affection towards humanity. The Avatar is an enigmatic, yet delightful blend of individual consciousness and the Divine Consciousness. The Avatar behaves in a human way so that mankind can feel kinship with Him, but rises to His super-human heights so that mankind can aspire to reach those heights.

This doctrine of Avatarhood has had a great impact on the Hindu religious life, for, it means that God manifests Himself in a form that can be appreciated even by the least sophisticated. Rama and Krishna have remained prominent as beloved and adored manifestations of the Divine for thousands of years among Hindus.

The scriptures mention seven characteristics of a Divine incarnation:

  1. Aishwarya - Unmatched splendour and prosperity
  2. Keerthi – Eternal fame
  3. Jnana – Wisdom and knowledge of the past, present and future
  4. Vairagya - Non-attachment to the material world
  5. Shrushti – Power of creation
  6. Sthithi – Power of sustenance and preservation
  7. Laya – Power of destruction and dissolution

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna, the Avatar of the Dwapara Era, declares thus:

Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya Glanirbhavathi Bharatha
Abhyukthanam adharmasya Thadathmanam Srujamyaham.

Parithranaya Sadhunam Vinashaya cha Dhushkrutham
Dharma samsthapanarthaya Sambhavami Yuge Yuge

Whenever there is a decline of Righteousness and rise of evil, the Lord incarnates from time to time to uphold Righteousness, to protect the Virtuous and to uproot the evil. The Avatar appears whenever the world is passing through a spiritual and moral crisis. The Avatar comes in order to uphold Dharma (Righteousness) and raise the universal consciousness.

One may ask – why should the Lord Himself incarnate? Why should He not set about the task of restoring Dharma through the many minor gods that He has at His command? The Mughal Emperor Akbar once posed the same question before the courtiers, for he scoffed at the Hindu idea of the Formless adopting a Form and descending into the world as an Avatar to save Dharma. Birbal (the celebrated courtier in Akbar’s court, known for his wit and wisdom) asked for a week’s time to answer the question. A few days later, when he was in the pleasure boat of the emperor, sailing across the lake with his family, Birbal threw overboard a doll made to look like the emperor’s little son, crying at the same time, “O, the prince has fallen into the water!” Hearing this, immediately the emperor jumped into the lake to rescue his son.

Birbal then disclosed that it was only a doll and that the prince was safe. He allayed the anger of Akbar by explaining that he had to perforce enact this drama in order to demonstrate the truth of the Hindu belief that God takes human form to save Dharma without commissioning some other entity to carry out that task. Akbar could have ordered one among the many personnel he had on board to jump in and rescue his son. But his affection was so great and the urgency so acute that the emperor himself plunged into the lake to save his son from drowning. The decline in Dharma is so acute a tragedy and the intensity of affection that the Lord has for good men is so great that He Himself comes to the rescue.

The Triune Sai Avatar

The Divine mysteries cannot be fathomed by the human mind, unless God himself chooses to unlock them out of His immense love and compassion. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, in a landmark discourse on 6th July, 1963, the Guru Poornima Day, declared the secret behind His advent. He revealed that the Sai Avatar is a triple incarnation of the Shiva-Shakthi Principle – Shiva as Shirdi Sai Baba, Shiva and Parvathi embodied as Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the Shakthi Principle that will incarnate as Prema Sai in the Mandya District of the state of Karnataka.

Click here for the complete text of the Guru Purnima Discourse of July 6, 1963.

Even in his childhood days, Swami used to refer to ‘The Saint of Shirdi’ in the songs that he taught his companions. Very few in that region had ever seen or heard about Shirdi or Sai Baba. Little did they realize that the child in their midst, singing and dancing so captivatingly would, in a few years, make their village another Shirdi to which hundreds and thousands would come seeking the same Baba!

Sai Baba of Shirdi was born in a remote village called Pathri in Maharashtra on September 28, 1835 to the couple, Gangabhavadiya and Devagiriamma. Gangabhavadiya, overcome with a feeling of intense renunciation immediately after the child’s birth, decided to retire into a forest. With Devagiriamma religiously following her husband, the newborn was left in nature’s care. A pious Muslim and his wife took care of the abandoned child till He was four years of age. Then they handed Him over to a spiritual master by name Gopalrao Deshmukh (also known as Venkusa). For 12 years, till 1851, Baba stayed in Sri Venkusa’s ashram. One night in 1851, for the first time, Baba came to Shirdi. However, He left after a two month stay. He returned to Shirdi again in 1858 and stayed there for 60 long years. Just prior to His shedding the mortal coil in 1918, Shirdi Baba told some of his devotees that he would reappear in the Madras Presidency in 8 years time. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, born in 1926, declared that he was Shirdi Baba come again.

Sathya Sai Baba invariably refers to ‘my previous body’ when he speaks about Shirdi Baba. He often describes to his devotees, how he in his previous body dealt with people and situations, what illustrations he gave to clarify certain points, what questions were asked, etc. Many devotees of Shirdi Baba have had experiences confirming the unity of the two Sais.

Years ago, the Rani of Chincholi (an erstwhile kingdom in Andhra Pradesh) went to Puttaparthi to see Bhagawan. Even as she was entering the gate, Bhagawan told one of the close devotees standing there: “Ask her to bring the brass Kamandalu (a kettle-shaped container used by ascetics) that I left at her house years ago.” The Rani Saheb herself did not know much about it. But on a thorough search of the heirlooms in the house, it turned out that the brass Kamandalu which Shirdi Baba had left at their palace when he had visited them had been carefully preserved by the elders. The Kamandalu had the letters ‘Sa’ ‘Ba’ (the initials of Sai Baba) in the Marathi language engraved on its surface.

Sri Dixit, the nephew of Kakasaheb Dixit, who was a close disciple of Shirdi Baba, went to Puttaparthi to put to test the identity of Sathya Sai Baba with Shirdi Baba. He always carried a small photo of his uncle in his pocket. The first thing that Bhagawan asked Dixit to do was to take out the photograph of “My Kaka” from the pocket!

continue reading: The Birth