The Myths of Narasimha and Vamana: Two Avatars in Cosmological Perspective

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SUNY Press, Nov 8, 1991 - Religion - 321 pages
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The Sanskrit Puranas and epics are replete with stories of the avatars, incarnations of the god Visnu in various forms to rid the universe of malevolent forces and to restore the proper cosmic balance. As Narasimha, half-man half-lion, Visnu finds a loophole in the pact of invulnerability the demon Hiranaipu has received from god Brahma, and rends the demon apart with his claws. As the brahmin dwarf, Vamana, Visnu deceives the demon Bali with his diminutive appearance and thwarts Bali's attempt to gain universal sovereignty.

After carefully analyzing the myths of Vamana and Narasimha, Deborah Soifer grounds her study in the textual history of each avatar and its myth, in their religious contexts, and in the intricate cosmology of the classical period of Hinduism. Contrasting the bestial persona of Narasimha with Vamana's priestly appearance and his associations with early cosmologic themes, she finds complementarity and significance in this pair as they are viewed in the larger context of periodic cosmic destructions and recreations.

While focusing primarily on these two mythological figures, Soifer's work explores the relationship between dharma and the 'devious' acts of gods; the interplay between cosmic and 'sociocosmic' levels of reality; and the relationship between cosmology, theology, and soteriology in a religious worldview.
 

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Contents

IV
1
V
15
VI
29
VII
45
VIII
73
IX
113
X
145
XI
161
XII
193
XIII
309
XIV
317
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About the author (1991)

Deborah A. Soifer is Lecturer in the Asian Studies Program at Bowdoin College.

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