Avatar at the Asian

There you go again, Hollywood, stealing from ancient Hindu lore.

The word “avatar” comes from Sanskrit avatara, literally meaning “descent.” It referred, originally, to the incarnations of the great deity Vishnu. When humankind was threatened with disorder and violence Vishnu would take on an appropriate form and descend to earth to set things right.

There are usually thought to be ten incarnations, and they include animal or part-animal forms such as The Tortoise and The Man-Lion, and human forms such as The Dwarf, Rama, and Krishna.

You can see the avatars of Vishnu in sculptures in the Asian Art Museum. Along the upper border of a slab bearing an elaborately carved image of Vishnu are tiny representations of all ten standard avatars. (This sculpture is displayed in Gallery 2.)

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The left upper slab:
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Even closer — can you spot the Fish and Tortoise?
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There are other sculptures showing individual avatars, such as The Boar (Gallery 3):
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The Man-Lion (Gallery 2):
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Rama (Gallery 4):
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and Krishna (Gallery 4):
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Also, some of the avatars of Vishnu have a female equivalent. Examples of these, too, can be seen in the museum, such as two female equivalents of The Boar (the first is in Gallery 2, the second in Gallery 4):

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4 Responses to “Avatar at the Asian”

  1. sfmike  on December 23rd, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Actually, any of those statues would probably fit quite well into the fantasy world of Pandora in the movie “Avatar.” And your note, “When humankind was threatened with disorder and violence Vishnu would take on an appropriate form and descend to earth to set things right” pretty much describes the simple plot of the film.

  2. Ana  on December 28th, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Could anyone count how many crosses between virtual reality and mythology has Hollywood produced just yet?

    It’s a trend! Jolly, blasted thing…

  3. Ana  on December 28th, 2009 at 10:32 am

    On a happier note…

    Your posting could not have come at a better moment: the sculpture are wonderful, of course… and make unhoped for illustration to a book I have only just put down. Krishna [amused?] beggars belief!

  4. pamie  on January 21st, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Without Asian culture and art, the western world aka Hollywood would be sterile and boring. Even all religions are of Asia region.


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