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Avatar, a word in Hinduism, is a deity which comes down to earth in a human form, an animal form or a partly human and partly animal form. Rama was an avatar of Vishnu, one of the three main gods of the Hindus. Similarly, Gautama Buddha was also an avatar. Both of these avatars had human form, but avatars of the Hindu mythology have also appeared in animal form. For example, Matsya had the form of a fish and Varaha had the form of a boar.
According to Hindu mythology, the important avatars of god Vishnu are named below:
Several Hindu scriptures have details and stories about Vishnu's avatars. These texts also tell that Vishnu will appear again the Kalki avatar. The following stories are of the avatars that appeared in animal forms or partly animal and partly human forms.
Matsya is the first avatar of Vishnu, in the form of a big fish. Sometimes, it is said that he took the form of a half-man and half-fish. There is a story about this in Hindu mythology. The story tells about a very wicked demon (an asura) who snatched the Vedas, the holy books of the Hindus, and went deep inside the sea. At this point, Vishnu came as the Matsya (fish) avatar, who went deep into the sea and brought back the Vedas. He gave the Vedas to Manu. The Hindu scriptures say that Manu was the first man in the world. He may also be compared with Noah.
Kurma is the second avatar of Vishnu, in the form of a tortoise. Kurma is a word in the Sanskrit language that means a tortoise. This avatar of Vishnu is a symbol of strength and stability.
Varaha was the third avatar of Vishnu, in the form of a black boar. Varaha is a word in the Sanskrit language that means a boar. The Hindu scriptures tell a story about this avatar. There was a demon (a daitya) named Hiranyaksha. He threw the earth (called prithivi by the Hindus) into the waters of the ocean. The earth was about to sink in the ocean. At this point, Vishnu took the form of a black boar, entered the water and carried the earth on its body. Thus Vishnu, as Varaha, saved the earth from destruction.
Narashimha was the fourth avatar of Vishnu, in the form of a man with the head of a lion. This avatar of Vishnu is also a symbol of great strength.
All other avatars of Vishnu after Narashimha avatar were in the form of human beings.
Although the avatars of Vishnu are the most important in the Hindu mythology, there are stories about avatars of other deities, like of Shiva, Ganesha and Devi.