It is pretty well-known that the thousand divine Names of Lord Vishnu as enunciated by Bhishmacharya are encapsulated in Rama-nama itself, which is indeed very potent. In a similar vein, our elders and purvacharyas have recommended the recitation of the following sloka for meditating on the ten glorious avataras of Lord Vishnu.
vedaan uddharate jagannivahate bhoogolamudvibhrate
daityam daarayate balm chalayate kshatrakshayam kurvate,
paulastyam jayate ha/am kalayate kaarunyamaatanvate
mlecchaan moorechayate dasaakritikrite krishnaaya tubhyam namah.
Salutations to Sri Krishna in the ten avataras — who redeemed the Vedas (Matsya), who bore the universe (Kurma), who restored the earth (Varaha), who tore the asura (Nrisimha), who deceived Bali (Trivikrama), who destroyed the Kshatriya clan (Parasurama), who killed Ravana (Rama), who wielded the plough (Balarama), who spread compassion (Krishna) and who will vanquish the sinners (Kalki).
The ten Avataras
It goes to the credit of the name Govinda to contain within itself the essence of all the ten avataras of Lord Vishnu. Let us go into its elucidation.
Matsya Avatara: At one point of time, Brahma was puffed up with pride due to the fact that he was the creator and hence was superior to Indra, Siva and other gods and so they had to pay obeisance to him. Naturally, it made the rest seethe with discontent. One day when Brahma was yawning, it chanced that an Asura, Sankhan by name, entered his mouth, grasped the Vedas and hid himself in the depths of the ocean. Bereft of the Vedas, Brahma was powerless. Realising his folly, he went to Lord Vishnu and requested for pardon and help. The rest is history. The Lord, incarnating as a huge fish, dived into the deep ocean and rescued the Vedas after killing the Asura. How is the Govinda-nama relevant here? Gaavah vindayateeti govindah — here, gaavah refers to the Vedas, which are of the essence of sound. The Lord restored the Vedas to Brahma and hence is Govinda (vind— to attain).
Kurma Avatara: During the churning of the Milky Ocean, Vasuki the serpent was the rope and Mandara mountain was the churning rod. In this laborious process, the mountain kept slipping time and again. Out of compassion, Lord Vishnu incarnated as the Tortoise and, going under the mountain, took its burden upon His shell, after which the churning went on smoothly. Gobhih vindateeti govindah— He incarnated in deference to the oral request (godhih) of the Devas and Asuras.
VarahaAvatara: Once Hiranyaksha, who was all-powerful due to the powers he obtained from his penance, pushed Bhoomidevi into the depths of the ocean. At that time, Lord Vishnu took the form of a white Boar, vanquished Hiranyaksha, rescued mother Earth and reinstated her to her former glory. Gaam vindateeti govindah — He made earth (gaam) attain her position.
Nrisimha Avatara: Govinda refers to jvala Nrisimha, who, by His fiery flames, reduced to ashes the three crore-strong army of Hiranyakasipu, the Asura. As we all know, the Lord incarnated as Nrisimha to prove the truth in the child devotee Prahlada’s statement that Lord Narayana alone was omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. He emerged in all His fiery fury right from that pillar which Hiranyakasipu struck with the palm of his hand. Like fireflies falling into the fire of their own accord and dying, the huge army of the Asura king was engulfed in the fiery flames of Jvala Nrisimha. Goshu vindayateeti govindah — He is Govinda as He made the army rush and fall into the flames of jvala Nrisimha of its own accord.
Vamana Avatara: In deference to the request of Indra who was overpowered by emperor Bali who reigned supreme at one point of time, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a young Brahmachari Vamana. He entered the yagasala and begged for three steps of land from the mighty emperor who readily obliged, not paying heed to his acharya’s words of caution and restraint. Soon the young lad grew into the lofty Trivikrama and the entire universe was measured by His two steps. Only the emperor’s head was left for His third step and
Bali was thus pushed to the nether world (patala loka). Gaah charanaaravindasambandham vindayateeti govindah — Trivikrama.
Parasurama Avatara: Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parasurama and took a vow to erase the Kshatriya race totally from the face of the earth to avenge the death of his father jamadagni. He succeeded in annihilating twenty one generations of Kshatriyas. Gavi (in the earth) vindateeti (terrorises) —as a one-man army, He was a terror on earth for the Kshatriya clan.
Rama Avatara: The name Govinda means Sitarama who incarnated on earth to alleviate the sufferings of siddhas, gandharvas and yakshas, who were tormented by Ravana, whose death was to be only at the hands of a human being. They approached Lord Vishnu and performed saranagati at His lotus Feet. To protect the saranagatas was His prime duty and hence He incarnated on earth (gaam) as Rama, a human being. Gaam— learning all the arts of astras, sastras and Vedantas, gaam — reaching the siddhasrama of Visvamitra, reaching Ayodhya along with Sitadevi, accepting the kingdom to satisfy His father’s wishes, and then reaching the forest to obey His father’s command and Kaikeyi’s wish; making Bharata attain the kingdom while at Chitrakuta, affording protection to Kakasura, making the monkeys build a bridge over the ocean, reaching Lanka, making Vibhishana attain the kingdom of Lanka by vanquishing Ravana and finally returning back to Ayodhya and attaining the rulership of the kingdom. All these are meant by the name Govinda (gaam vindateeti govindah).
Balarama Avatara: Balarama, as Govinda, protected the earth from Asuras during his sojourn on earth (gaam) under the pretext of visiting holy places (teertha yatra).
Krishna Avatara: We all know that Sri Krishna is also known as Govinda. When Bhoomidevi was tormented by the evil kings, She approached Brahma, who, along with Indra and Siva, went to Lord Vishnu for succour. Lord Vishnu incarnated on earth as Dvarakanatha, as Vasudeva’s son, destroyed the evil kings and protected the earth (gaam vindati). Hence He is Govinda, Under the pretext of teaching (gitopadesa) Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Krishna as Govinda has taught us, who are incapable of understanding the import of the Vedas and Upanishads. Krishna has drawn the nectarean milk of Gita from the cows of the Upanishads for the sake of child Arjuna, who represents the whole of humanity. Krishna as Govinda advocates the easy way of prapatti (saranam vraja) and assures us of His protection (aham tvaam sarva paapebhyo mokshayishyaami). He is the protector of the entire universe.
In the Lord’s Avataras as Rama and Krishna, Adisesha incarnated along with Him, to be of help in all possible ways. But in the Krishna Avatara, Garuda, the king of birds (vihagesvara), who is an embodiment of the Vedas (vedaatmaa), incarnated as the son of Vinata and rendered assistance to Krishna as His vehicle, whenever needed. Hence Govinda means one who had the soul of the Vedas (go), Garuda (vim) as His vahana ie. Sri Krishna.
Kalki Avatara: The Lord who is going to protect this earth from destruction caused by the complete degradation of all moral values, non¬performance of one’s ordained duties and total disregard for samskaras which would result in the entire humanity roaming as mere beasts, is Govinda. as Kalki on His horse.
All Upanishads declare in unequivocal terms that the supreme Lord is none other than Sriman Narayana, who has His permanent abode in Vaikuntha (gobhib vindateeti) and He is Govinda.
All discourses on Ramayana, Mababharata, Vishnupurana conclude with the chant “Govineia¬nama sankeertanam”, to which the audience responds, “Govinda, Govinda” with full-throated fervour. One wonders at the relevance of Govinda¬nama in Srimad Ramayana, The reason is that our purvacharyas and elders declared that, by reciting Govinda-nama, one acquires the merits of meditating and reciting the ten Avataras of Lord Vishnu. One more point in this regard is that, when we do sankalpa before performing any karma, instead of beginning with “Narayana Narayana Narayana” and then stating that in a particular year of a particular month on a paksha in a tithi on a particular day under a particular asterism, to please Sriman Narayana we do this karma’, we begin by saying “Govinda Govinda Govinda, asya sree bhagavatah” . This goes to prove that we are in fact meditating on the ten Avataras at that particular time and thereby asking the Lord to protect us as He did when he took those incarnations. Whatever has been taught by elders has been given in a concise manner here. Hence it follows that we have to recite this Govinda-nama as often as possible and thereby receive the blessings of the -Lord from all His Avataras.
English adaptation of Tamil text by HH 44th Jiyar of Sri Ahobila Muth by Anuradha Shridharan