Dasavatara Stotram of Swami Desikan

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This stotram was composed by SrI vedâta desika when he worshipped the Lord in the daśâvatâra sannidhi in śrîrangam. The first Slokam is introductory in nature, and SrI deśika offers obeisance to Lord ranganâtha and Mother ranganâyâki whose ten divine incarnations he is going to cover in the stotram. The next ten Slokams are devoted to the ten incarnations, one for each incarnation. The twelfth Slokam summarizes all the ten incarnations in one Slokam, and the thirteenth and last Slokam is a phala-Sruti.

The most striking aspect of this stotra for me was the poetic side of SrI deśika that comes out so vividly in this composition. When this statement is made, it is not to diminish the importance of the devotional fervor in the stotra in any way. In praising the poetic gift of Sri deśika, one writer has remarked that SrI deśika could compose a thousand pâśurams in praise of SrI ṛanganâtha’s pâduka-s with ease in one night, whereas no other poet would have found it easy to compose more than a handful of Sloka-s on the topic of ‘sandals’. This is the poet that is revealed to us when we go through the daśâvatâra stotram. Especially in the description of the first few incarnations, this poetic expression is striking.

In his description of the matsya incarnation, the poet describes the beauty of the eyes of the Lord thus - wherever He goes as a fish in the waters looking for the lost veda-s, His eyes look like a traveling lotus garden. The huge waves that He creates as He travels collide with each other and this looks like a swing in the waters. And Our Lord is having fun enjoying this ride in this swing as He is looking for the veda-s.

In the kūrma avatara, SrI deśikan imagines the Lord in the form of a tortoise enjoying the massage by the mandâra mountain as it is used in churning the ocean while supported on His back. This massage makes the Lord feel so comforted that He falls asleep. His deep breathing results in the huge waves which again serve the Lord as the water-bed on which He is present with His Consort, blessing all of us.

The poet describes the sound emanating from the nose of the Lord in the varâha incarnation (ghur-ghuraih) as reverberating across the worlds and purifying them. The Lord takes this incarnation to retrieve the lost Earth from the ocean, and once He has retrieved Mother Earth, He has Her firmly seated on His canine teeth as He is rising out of the Ocean. She is enjoying the firm seating on His canine teeth and creating all the forms from brahma all the way down to the grass and all other beings as She is enjoying the ride.

When the Lord appeared as nṛsimha in the pillar in hiranyakaśipu’s palace, the pillar became the ‘mother’ of the Lord, who Himself is the Father of brahma. Thus the pillar managed to lose its sterility, and now became the grandmother of brahma! Given that brahma himself is called the pitâmahan (grandfather), now the pillar became the grandmother for the grandfather also. (How lucky is the pillar that had the good fortune to give birth to the Lord!). Since the Lord did not know He had to appear in the pillar (until prahlâda so wished), He did not have His weapons for the slaying of hiraṇyakaśipu. This is just as well, because His nails obviously are more powerful than His other weapons!

As the foot of the Lord in His vâmana incarnation keeps growing, SrI deśika imagines that His feet are carrying mahâbali’s fame (for fulfilling His words to the Lord happily) like the soldier announcing a victorious king’s arrival. The Ganges river that resulted from brahma’s washing of the Lord’s Holy feet as it flowed down to earth looked like a white victory flag for the Lord.

The second aspect of the stotra that is noticeable is the description of the incarnations of the Lord using strikingly extreme aspects of the avatâra as if to illustrate that the Lord is all extremes at the same time. In the description of the parasurâma and râma incarnations, SrI deśika first points out the extreme capability or actions that they either did or are capable of, and then takes us down to the other extreme of their actions as if to contrast the two extremes. Thus he first points out that Parśurâma destroyed 21 generations of kshatriya-s as a revenge for the slaying of his father, and captured the whole world for himself. At the other extreme, He sacrificed all his possessions in one swoop to Sage Kaśyapa. In râma incarnation, SrI râma was capable of draining the whole ocean with the heat of His arrows. The power of His arrows is far more, and is many times more tortuous than the agni that devours the world mercilessly at the time of pralaya. This same Lord râma has as His vow the protection of those who surrender to Him just once.

The above are some instances in the daśâvatâra stotram where SrI deśika has lost himself intensely in the bhagavad-anubhava as he is describing the different incarnations. In addition to the descriptions of the above incarnations, the stotram also has one Sloka each that is devoted to the balarâma, kṛshṇa and kalki incarnations.

Originally when I had the desire to go through each of the deśika stotra-s and share a high-level summary of each, I had planned not to include the samskṛt version of any Sloka or present detailed meanings. However, in the twelfth Sloka in this stotram svâmi deśikan summarizes all the ten incarnations in one Sloka. So I am including this Sloka and its meaning briefly.

ईच्छा-मीन विहार-कच्छप महा-पोत्रिन् यदृच्छा-हरे
रक्षा-वामन रोष-राम करुणा-काकुत्स्थ हेला-हरिन्  |
क्रीडा-वल्लव कल्क-वाहन-दशा-कल्किन् इति प्रत्यहं
जल्पन्तः पुरुषाः पुनन्ति भुवनं पुण्यौघ पण्यापणाः ||

Oh Lord! Those who speak your name daily as the One who took the form of a fish by your own free will, incarnated as a tortoise for the purposes of having fun, took the form of a big boar, appeared as Lord nṛsimha when no one (including you) expected it, took the incarnation of vâmana just for protecting everyone (through the contact with your feet), presented yourself as the angry paraśurâma and also as râma - the personification of kindness and mercy, had the sport with the plough in the balarâma avatâra and as the cowherd in your kṛshṇa incarnation, and will ride the white horse in your kalki incarnation, make this world pure by the store-house of puṇya that they have accumulated, and are like the store where we can get all the puṇya we need (i.e., by merely associating with them).

SrI deśika again gives vent to his poetic sentiments in describing these noble souls as shop-keepers from whom we can get all the puṇya that we want by associating with them. In the concluding Sloka, Sri deśika points out that even the desire to chant this stotram will lead to sarasvati-katâksham, in addition to the spiritual development, purity of thought, and all kinds fame.

As in the case of the previous write-up on SrI hayagrîva stotram, it is hoped that this high level description of the daśâvatâra stotram gives the desire to look at the detailed meanings of the stotram, chant it regularly, and be blessed by our Lord and our âcârya.

—dâsan kṛshṇamâcâryan