Continuing the sequential list of the more prominent incarnations of Godhead, we come to those who are relatively more contemporary.
He took the form of a fish during the world-devastating flood of the “Cākṣuṣa” era, and protected the lord of humans, Vaivasvata Manu, be keeping him up on a boat.
In the form of a tortoise his shell provided the foundation for Mt. Manara when the gods and demons were churning the ocean. This was the eleventh incarnation of the All-Powerful.
Dhānvantari was the twelfth. And then in the thirteenth, as a woman, she gave nectar to the gods while charming the others with her allure.
The eleventh, twelfth and thirteen incarnations all happened in relatively rapid succession during the churning of the ocean. Dhānvantari is the incarnation of Godhead who delivered medical science to humanity. The thirteenth usually is addressed by the name Mohinī.
The fourteenth was the Man-Lion, Nārasiṁha. His claws split open the powerful demon-god, like a carpenter splitting wood.
In the fifteenth incarnation he became the dwarf, Vāmana. He went to Bali’s ritual court to peacefully beg three steps of land, to reclaim the three worlds.
The sixteenth avatār saw that the kings began to hate moral guidance and so protected the earth by annihilating all the militias twenty one times.
His name is Bhṛgupati, also known as Paraśurāma.
Then, becoming the seventeenth, he entered the womb of Satyavatī through Parāśara, to present the many branches of the tree of knowledge (Veda) in a way which less intellectual commoners could grasp.
His name is Vyāsa.
After that, he assumed the role of a human king and, for the sake of the gods, performed many heroic deeds like controlling the ocean.
The name of this eighteenth incarnation is Rāma.
The nineteenth and twentieth, known as Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, were born in the Vṛṣṇi family. The All-Attractive removed the earth’s burden.
This “Rāma” is the short form of Balarāma, who advented as Kṛṣṇa’s brother.
Then, as the age of Kali comes in, he will bewilder those who dislike the godly. He will be named Buddha, the son of Añjanā of Gayā.
This is in future tense relative to the storyline. Suta spoke these words to the sakes more than a dozen centuries before Buddha, the twenty-first avatār.
When the age of Kali draws to a close and almost all the rulers are criminals he will take birth to protect the world with the name Kalki, son of Viṣṇu Yaśā.
Suta’s list of primary incarnations of the Purusha thus closes with twenty one. This is not a complete list.
O sages, Hari is a vast sea of being. Inexhaustible thousands of rivers and lakes flow from this sea. Likewise, his avatars are beyond counting.
You should know that all the sages, gods, progenitors, and the original lords of mankind and their extremely powerful descendants are portions of Hari.
All of them are fragments or portions of the Purusha, and incarnate in various ages to protect the world whenever it is disturbed by the enemies of the gods. But Kṛṣṇa is different. He is the All-Attractive One himself.
With this, Suta concludes his list of the incarnations of Godhead, answering in summary one of the original inquiries of the sages, “tell us about the incarnations of the All-Attractive.”
He first described that the fundamental incarnation of Godhead is Purusha, who exists in three facets: outside the universes, inside each universe, and inside each particle – including each soul. Then he said that innumerable incarnations spring from the Purusha to assist the development and well-being of the world, and he gave a chronological list of twenty-one prominent instances of such incarnations.
This list included various types of incarnations. Some – like The Kumara, Narada, and Vyāsa – are aveśa incarnations. Aveśa means “dressed.” They are individual souls who are “dressed” in the supernatural powers of God and therefore act as incarnations on his behalf. Others – like the Man-Lion, the Dwarf, and Rāma – are more literally incarnations of Godhead.
Then Suta reminded us that the list cannot be complete and said that all extremely powerful entities are incarnations of Godhead. This is a third type of avatār, called vibhūti. It is more distant than aveśa from being a literal “incarnation.”
Suta has given a list which may seem to lump together at least three different grades of incarnations. He mentions Kṛṣṇa in the same breath as Narada or Buddha and others. Suta wants to correct any possible misunderstanding, so makes an explicit statement with the help of the word tu: “but.” In all languages, “but” is an important word, marking the topic at hand as being a sharp contrast to the previous. When we see this word in Sanksrit it calls our attention to an important topic that stands out in contrast to the other subjects around it. Suta says, “ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ, kṛṣṇas TU bhagavān svayam.” It means, “All of the many personalities I have just mentioned are fragments, or fragments of fragments, of the Purusha incarnation. BUT Kṛṣṇa is the All-Attractive himself.”
Remember that Purusha is the first incarnation of bhagavān, the All-Attractive Supreme Entity. All of the incarnations we have just heard enumerated by Suta are incarnations of that incarnation of bhagavān. Kṛṣṇa belongs on this list because he accesses the material domain via his own expanded conduit: through the Purusha’s into the particle-pervading Supersoul and out into materially tangible reality. But equally, Kṛṣṇa does not belong on this list, because everyone else on it is a fragment or partial fragment of Bhagavān’s Purusha incarnation, but Kṛṣṇa is Bhagavān himself.
A child comes down a slide, but the slide does not produce the child. Similarly Kṛṣṇa comes down into our domain through the Purusha. Unlike other incarnations, however, Kṛṣṇa does not originate from the Purusha at the “top of the slide.” Rather the Purusha emanates from Kṛṣṇa, and is then utilized by him to advent within our conceptual space as an avatār.
Is Kṛṣṇa an incarnation? Yes in a sense, but he is an incarnation of himself. Kṛṣṇa is the original All-Attractive supreme entity. Suta, selected as the most authoritative sage among sages, has made this declaration.
The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam will, in the course of its 18,000 verses, expand upon the amazing details of almost all of the incarnations just listed, especially focusing all upon the All-Attractive original Godhead, Kṛṣṇa.
A person who carefully recites this list of confidential incarnations of the All-Attractive in a spirit of devotion in the morning and evening gets freed from all misery.