Before the days of cable television in India and ‘serial’ serials, one of the most common ways of entertaining oneself was either by books, comics or really basic videogames that ran on cell batteries. In those days like many young people in India, I took an interest in comics from Amar Chitra Katha. Till date I feel that I’ve learnt more from these comic books than from my school notebooks. ACK created pictorial depictions of Hindu mythology, folk tales not only from every corner of India but also from around the world, tales from different religious sects etc. It was a delight to see what every new issue would bring! From these comic books, I developed a keen interest in Hindu mythology particularly those pertaining to the Hindu Gods Vishnu & Krishna. It was such a treat to first lay my hands on the double digest issue about the Dashavatara – the 10 avatars or reincarnations of Lord Vishnu. It fascinated me to no end to read about each & every one of the avatars of Vishnu – and one fine day (I was about 15 then and had probably read that issue more times than anything else I could lay my hands on) it struck me that these avatars seemed to follow a familiar pattern. And how! There was this song that was being sung for my school’s foundation day celebrations the lyrics of which went as such –
How did Charlie make a monkey out of you
Don’t you think you should be living in the zoo
Don’t you know that it’s a lie
When it comes, it’s your turn to die…
You’ll find out you’re not a monkey but a fool!
I didn’t get it then when I was in the 7th grade but in high school something brought it all together. I used to sing this song a lot purely because it was highly entertaining with its reference to one’s brother being a chimpanzee and father being a gorilla and checking one’s derriere for a tail!! The choir teacher mentioned that it was a song ridiculing Charles Darwin and his theory of the origin of the species! The first chapter in my high school biology book mentions this great individual in big italics and bad illustration. I was told that Christians didn’t like this theory as it was against the bible and hence against God him/herself. Believers of the creationist theory and indeed most Christian communities for a long time were unwilling to believe in this theory. Darwin postulated that life on earth evolved in a certain order. First there were single celled organisms that evolved into marine life and then into amphibians and reptiles and then into mammals who in turn were further divided into herbivores, carnivores and omnivores… and amongst these mammals there were monkeys who evolved into apes and eventually into homo sapiens!
One might wonder where Hindu mythology comes into it. Well it seems that Hindu mythology had perhaps recognised this pattern a long time ago. The Dashavatara are the proof of it. As can be interpreted in the 6 days of creation where its stated that God created man in 6 days – first day he made the universe, then he created the stars & the planets, then plants and animals and birds and all life and then on the 6th day he created in his own image – Man! I believe that as per this theory when God created the woman, he might have just been referring to gender differentiation where male & female had to copulate to create more of its own. Perhaps being able to self propagate had its own disadvantages, not to mention a warped social order 😀.
If one reads the Dashavatara, you can easily see that the incarnations follow the pattern of the evolution of life and of man. The first avatar was that of a fish (Matsya Avatar) and interestingly enough the story of this avatar has an uncanny resemblance to the story of Noah & the great flood! Science reveals to us that the earth has had alternating periods of Ice Ages and warmer climes. There have been great floods in the planet’s history. In this incarnation the Fish saved Manu, the son of the Sun and one of each species of animals and birds from the deluge so that life could begin afresh after the waters had subsided.
This was followed by the Kurma avatar where he was a Tortoise churning nectar on his back. This nectar was said to bring life. Perhaps it’s a reference to the primordial soup! The tortoise in my mind represents the evolution of amphibians & reptiles on our planet…crawling out from the soup! (strange images crawling in my head)
The next one was that of a boar – Varaha avatar. Varaha had rescued Mother Earth from the bottom of the cosmic ocean. The mammals had arrived and saved the planet as well!
This was followed by my personal favourite Narsimha/Narsingha avatar where he is half man & half lion. Maybe this avatar represented the half beast & half man form of the apes?!
Then this was followed by the Vamana avatar where he is a short statured sage who conquers the three worlds-earth, heaven & the netherlands in 3 steps. Science states that the first hominids were not tall and in fact they were about 2-3 feet in height!
Then there was the warrior Parsurama – this avatar who freed the world from warriors who were terrorising much of the world and this perhaps marks the arrival of the modern homosapiens! Lord Rama was the seventh incarnation who is considered to be the Ideal man and human being. Lord Krishna the eighth incarnation waged a relentless battle against evil and his story is encompassed in the great Epic the Mahabharata. Lord Buddha or the enlightened one was the next avatar and he spread the message of non-violence, love and the Middle Path. The last incarnation Kalki will appear at the end of the current epoch or the Kalyuga and it’s said that this avatar will eradicate corruption allowing humanitarianism to prevail.
The theory of evolution or the 6 days of creation and the Dashavatars may not be the same but they hold such similar ideas that it’s a wonder nobody has actually studied this in greater detail or perhaps I’m just unaware of the academic worlds latest pursuits! It’s an idea too amazing to have gone unnoticed for so long. It’s so fascinating how the great flood is mentioned in Hindu mythology as well as in the bible. Darwin’s theory only seems to affirm what the ancient world has been telling us all this while. It’s right in front of our eyes and sometimes I fear that we will no longer be able to decipher these texts or we will lose the sense of wonder in discovery of such seemingly small similarities.