"Somewhat similar are the avatars of Vishnu, who becomes incarnate in a portion of his essence on ten occasions to deliver mankind from certain great dangers.
But despite the artificial character of the Trimurti, it has retained to this day at least its theoretical validity in orthodox Hinduism, whilst it has also undoubtedly exercised considerable influence in shaping sectarian belief, in promoting feelings of toleration towards the claims of rival deities; and in a tendency towards identifying divine figures newly sprung into popular favour with one or other of the principal deities, and thus helping to bring into vogue that notion of avatars, or periodical descents or incarnations of the deity, which has become so prominent a feature of the later sectarian belief.
Certain, however, it is that at least one of his Avatars is clearly based on the Vedic conception of the sun-god, viz.
Of the ten or more Avatars, assumed by different authorities, only two have entered to any considerable extent into the religious worship of the people, viz.
The generally recognized principal Avatars do not, however, by any means constitute the only occasions of a direct intercession of the deity in worldly affairs, but - in the same way as to this day the eclipses of the sun and moon are ascribed by the ordinary Hindu to these luminaries being temporarily swallowed by the dragon Rahu (or Graha, " the seizer") - so any uncommon occurrence would be apt to be set down as a special manifestation of divine power; and any man credited with exceptional merit or achievement, or even remarkable for some strange incident connected with his life or death, might ultimately come to be looked upon as a veritable incarnation of the deity, capable of influencing the destinies of man, and might become an object of local adoration or superstitious awe and propitiatory rites to multitudes of people.
The ten Avatars of Vishnu are the most famous.
It is a plausible hypothesis that stocks which once claimed descent from animals, sans phrase, afterwards regarded the animals as avatars of Zeus.