“O ! Kesava !, Who took the ten different forms !
Hail Hari ! Lord of the Universe!”
Dasavataram of Lord Maha Vishnu

The Dasavatara Stotra is a hymn in salutation to the ten incarnations of Lord Maha Vishnu. The Stotra forms the first section of Gita Govinda, the masterpiece work of Sri Jayadeva. He was a court poet of King Lakshmanasena, who ruled Bengal during the 12th Century. Sri Jayadeva was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and a mystic. His mastery of Sanskrit language was matched by his extraordinary talent in music and dancing.

The theme of Gita Govindam is the love of Radha Devi and Sri Krishna, symbolizing the longing and striving of the individual, for communion with God, culminating in their blissful union.

Incarnation is a special manifestation of God for the protection of the good, the destruction of evil and the establishment of Dharma. Holy scriptures, such as Bhagavata Purana enumerate 24 incornations, including Kapila, the great sage and founder of the Sankhya school of philosophy, and Rishabha, whom the Jains revere as their first prophet.

Worship of the incarnation and contemplation of His attributes are for most men and women the best preparation for unitive knowledge of Godhead.

Sri Jayadeva in the Dasavatara Stotra enumerates the ten incornations of the Lord. Sri Krishna Chaitanya, the great Vaishnavite saint from the 15th Century took inspiration from his songs.

In the Sri Krishna temple of Guruvayoor in Kerala, Jayadeva’s songs are sung daily in Carnatic Music ragas. In Nepal, they are sung during the Spring festivals. Guru Arjun Singh included two of Jayadeva’s songs in Adi Guru Grantha, the holy scripture of the Sikhs.

Dasavatara Stotra Lyrics, Translation and Purport:

“Pralaya-payodhijale dhrtavanasi
Kesava dhrta minasarira
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava!, in the form of Fish (minasarira), In the waters of deluge, You held the Vedas like a vessel undeflected from its course. To preserve the knowledge of Vedas, You took the incornation of Fish! Hail Hari, Lord of the universe!

Purport: The first avatara signifies the restoration of true knowledge (Vedas), recovered from the deluge of egoism, which has to be destroyed in the process.

“Ksitirati-vipulatare tava tisthati prsthe
Kesava dhrta kacchaparupa
jaya jagagadisa hare!”

O Kesava!, in the form of Tortoise (kacchaparupa), On the ample expanse of your back rests the world, creating circular marks. Hail Hari ! Lord of the universe!

Purport: The incarnation of God in the Tortoise form during the churning of the Ocean, signifies that the churning of the ocean of experience with the churn of knowledge, towards the Absolute can rest only on the immovable, all-sufficient, all-sustaining basis of self-evident truth, symbolized by the Tortoise avatara.

“vasati dasanasikhare dharani tava lagna
sasini kalankakaleva nimagna
Kesava dhrta sukararupa
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava!, in the form of the Boar (sukarupa)! The earth rests in peace on the tip of your tusk, like the dary marking on the disk of the moon. Hail Hari ! Lord of the universe!

Purport: The Boar avatara is identified with sacrifice both in the Vishnupurana and Bhagavata. As sacrifice (of worldly affairs) is essential for the stability of mind for contemplation on God, it is symbolized by the Boar form of the Lord.

“tava kara kamalavare nakhamadbhutasrngam
dalita hiranyakasipu varabhrngam
Kesava dhrta naraharirupa
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava!, in the form of Man-Lion (naraharirupa)! The sharp nails on your hands became wonderful claws that tore up the body of demon Hiranyakasipu (To protect Prahlada). Hail Hari! Lord of the universe!

Purport: This avatara illustrates that a true devotee is fearless (as Prahlada) and God comes to his rescue even in the midst of terror.

“chalayasi vikramane balim adbhutavamana
kesava dhrta vamanarupa
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava!, in the form of the Dwarf, Vamana ! You artfully defeated Bali, the mighty king of the world. Ganga, the purifier of the world has come out from your toe-nails. Hail Hari! Lord of the universe!

Purport: The Dwarf avatara shows that valor (as exemplified by King Bali) can find its fulfilment only in complete surrender to God.

“ksatriyarudhiramaye jagadapagata papam
snapayasi payasi samitabhavatapam
kesava dhrta bhrgupatirupa
jaya jagadisa hare.”

O Kesava!, in the form of the Lord of Bhrigus (Parasurama), You have gotten rid of the tyrannous rulers, thus cleansing it of the sin and destroying the anguish of the world. Hail Hari! Lord of the universe!

Purport: When the rulers, endowed with power for protection of the subjects, had however degenerated into an oppressive tyranny, it had to be crushed ruthlessly. This is illustrated by the Parasurama avatara.

“vitarasi diksu rane dikpathiamaniyam
dasamukha-mauli-balim ramaniyam
kesava dhrta ramasarira
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava!, in the form of Lord Sri Rama! To uphold dharma, You scattered the ten heads of demon Ravana splendidly in the four directions, rendering the guardians there of resplendent! O Kesava! You assumed the form of Rama! Hail Hari! Lord of the universe!

Purport: The Sri Rama avatara is an ideal demonstration of how a man can rise to divinity, by unswerving adherence to dharma, in all its details.

“vahasi vapusi visade vasanamjaladabham
kesava dhrta-haladhararupa
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava!, in the form of Balarama, the bearer of the plough! You wear on your radiant body a garment of the color of the cloud, blue like the Yamuna river, flowing as if in fear of your plough! O Kesava! You assumed the form of Balarama. Hail Hari! Lord of the universe.

“nindasi yajnavidhe-rahaha srutijatam
sadaya-hrdaya darsitapasughatam
kesava dhrta buddhasarira
jaya jagadisa hare.”

O Kesava!, in the form of Buddha, the enlightened! Out of compassion of Your heart you have condemned the ritualistic portion of the Vedas ordaining the killing of animals. Hail Hari! Lord of the universe!

Purport: At a time, when the people were steeped in ignorance and scriptures where inaccessible to them, and the ones who had access to the scriptures were more concerned with the form and rituals than with the spirit of the teachings, God incarnated as Buddha, the embodiment of compassion.

“mleeccha-nivaha-nidhane kalayasi karavalam
dhumaketumiva kimapi karalam
kesava dhrta kalkisarira
jaya jagadisa hare”

O Kesava, in the form of the fierce Kalki! For the destruction of the wicked, You carry a comet like sword in hand, trailing a train of disaster to them. Hail Hari! Lord of the universe!

Purport: The yet to be avatara is Kalki, the mighty warrior, born in a pious family, to rid the world of the oppression of its unrighteous rulers.