Special: Background information to the Dashaavatara Choreography


In this blog entry you will find some background information about the choreographical structure and the "myths between the lines" in Guru Debaprasad Das' Odissi choreography of the Dashaavatara (the ten incarnations of Vishnu). 

The text source of Gitagovinda is given in Sanskrit (Devanagari and Roman transcript) and with English and Japanese translation. Thank you, Miki Nonaka San for your distribution of the Japanese translation! <3

Due to technical reasons only the information about the first three (out of ten) avatars are given. Please leave me your name and mail address and I will send you the complete document as a PDF for free.


first poem of Gītagovinda byJayadeva (12th century)

Sanskrit text & Englisch translation
according to
Lee Siegel in: Gītagovinda. Lovesongs of
Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa by Jayadeva;
New York University Press, JCC Foundatiion, 1st ed. 2009.
「ヒンドゥー教の聖典二篇 ギータ・ゴーヴィンダ デーヴィー・マーハートミャ」
小倉◻︎靖 横地◻︎優子◻︎訳注
Myths according to the edition and
translation by
Barbara Stoler Miller in: Love Song of the dark Lord. Jayadeva's Gītagovinda;
Columbia University Press, New York, 1977.


Since 2005 I've been learning Odissi, the classical dance style from East-India, with Gudrun Märtins in Hamburg, Germany, and with Sangeeta Dash in Pondicherry, India. With this paper, I would like to introduce one of my favourite dance items, the "Dashavatara" (choreographed by Guru Devaprasad Das), in a slightly different way by giving background information in form of the text sources in Sanskrit with English (by Lee Siegel) and Japanese (by Yasushi Ogura) translation as well as the myths (according to Barbara Stoler Miller), which are carried along between the lines of the original poem.

The textual basis for this dance is a poem, named Gītagovinda, written by the poet Jayadeva at the end of the 12th century. In this extensive work, the stories about the life of Krishna are told in a loving, but sometimes frighteningly detailled manner. >>The mundane and cosmic levels of his activity are interwoven in the narratives to encompass elements from various sources in a complex mythic structure.[1]The basic account includes Krishna's miraculous birth, his concealment among cowherds to protect him from his demonic uncle Kaṁsa, his childhood pranks and miraculous deeds in the cowherd's village, his youthful sexual play in the forrest with the cowherdesses of Vraja [and, above all, his deep love of cosmic power in relation to Rādhā], his destruction of demons, his defeat and killing of Kaṁsa, his role in the Bharata war as the cunning and unscrupulous counsellor-cousin of the five Pāṇḍava brothers, and his violent death. In the Bhagavadgītā, he teaches a syncretic religion of devotion to his Pāṇḍava companion Arjuna and reveals himself to be the all-God, who is called Vishnu[according to the texts of Mahābhārata and Bhagavadgītā]<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 17-18).

The first song of the Gītagovinda is honoring Kṛṣṇa[2](also named as Keśava [3], Jagadīśa [4]or Hari[5]) and tells the story of Dashāvatara (the ten avatars), or Dashavidharūpa (the ten fold form), the story of how he reincarnates in ten different forms/ avatars into the world to support what is good. >>The ten forms of Jagadīśa are a variant of the ten incarnations of Vishnu; in Purāṇic literature Krishna instead of Balarāma is usually the eights incarnation. The incarnations were originally independent legends that came to venter non Vishnu as the preserver of order when it is imperiled. Various aspects of the legends are emphasised in different texts. The content of Gītagovinda is not traceable to any single source.[...]In the terminology of Indian esthetics, the song of invocation to Krishna's tenfold form expresses the mood of wonder (adbhutarasa), whose presence is essential to Jayadeva's religious transformation of the mood of erotic love (śṛṅgārarasa).<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 20-21)

The ten avatars are: Mīnaśarīra, Kacchaparūpa, Śūkararūpa, Naraharirūpa, Vāmanarūpa, Bhṛgupatirūpa, Rāmaśarīra, Haladhararūpa, Buddhaśarīra and Kalkiśarīra. This concept of the ten avatars reminds of the biological and historical evolution of life and civilisation on earth. Thus the first incarnations show the transition of life from water to land and from there to man. The latter describes various forms of society from archaic, militant or rude forms to a form that develop compassion and love for humans and animals. According to the myths[6]we are today living in the time of the ninth incarnation, of Buddhaśarīra, and the tenth incarnation has not yet appeared.

In the following (according the original poem), the individual incarnations will be shown in separate stanzas. For each incarnation, there are other legends and myths that can be found through allusions "between the lines", which are given below.

The dance Dashavatara, choreographed by Guru Devaprasad Das and set in the rāga Kalian and in the five-beat tāla Ardha Jhampa, begins with a summary / introductory tribute (which is originally the last stanza as a part of the first song's epilog):

वेदानूद्धरते जगन्निवहते भूगोलमुद्बिभ्रते

दैत्यं दारयते बलिं छलयते क्षत्रक्षयं कूर्वते ।

पौलस्त्यं जयते हलं कलयते करुण्यमातन्वते

म्लेच्छान्मूर्च्छयते दशाकृतिकृते कृषणय तुभ्यं नमः ।।

Vedān uddharate, jagan nivahate,

bhūgolam udbibhrate,

daityaṃ dārayate, Baliṃ chalayate,

kṣatrakṣayaṃ kurvate,

Paulastyaṃ jayate, halaṃ kalayate,

kāruṇyaṃ ātanvate,

mlecchān mūrchayate, daśākṛtikṛte

Kṛṣṇāya tubhyaṃ namaḥ.

Preserving the Veda, supporting the world,

lifting the globe,

eviscerating the demon Hiránya-Káshipu,

bilking Bali, exterminating the warriors,

Conquering Rávana, wielding a plow, showing compassion,

and slaughtering the barbarians:

Homage to you, Krishna, in all your incarnations!









For each stanza in the choreography follows a short rhythmic sequence, so called bol, in which the incarnation is already shown more abstractly, before the story is told with the dance techniques of Abhinaya (theatre/ story telling dance). This is distinguishing for the choreography of Guru Debaprasad Das, whereas in other choreographies (although set in the same rāga and tāla) the bol may appear after the respecting part of Abhinaya.

[1] >>The main sources for Krishna's legend in early Sanskrit literature are the Mahābhārata and certain Purāṇas, but the origins of many of his epithets and characteristics are found in Vedic literature.<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 52)

[2]>>KṚṢṆA is anglicized as Krishna[in this text]to render recurring reference to the hero of the Gītagovinda less artificial for English readers[...]; it literally means "black," or "dark." It is a prominent name of the epic hero who is identified with Vishnu in the Mahābhārata and who is counted as one of the standard incarnations of Vishnu[one of the principal deities of Hindu's diverse pantheon][...]In the Gītagovinda, Krishna is Jadadīśa, the cosmic power of the Dark Age. His relationship with Rādhā is set in the context of his youthful adventures among the cowherds[...]. << (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 23)

[3]>>KEŚAVA[...]means "long-haired." It is traditionally related to Krishna's killing of the horse-demon Keśin. Like Hari, it refers ambiguously to Vishnu and Krishna in epic and Purāṇic literature.<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 20)

[4]>>JAGADĪŚA[...] means "Lord of the World." In the refrain of the song of invocation, it indicates Krishna's supremacy. In the Jagannātha cult of Orissa, which probably provided the context for the composition of the Gītagovinda, Krishna is identified with the composite Buddhist-Śaivite-Vaishnavite form of Jagannātha.<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 20)

[5]>>HARI[...]literally means "the tawny one," but Vaishnava commentators interpret it to mean "the destroyer of pain," derived from the Sanskrit root √hṛ. Hari is a common name of Vishnu in his cosmic form and his various incarnations in the epics and Purāṇas. It is probably borrowed from the Vedic name of Indra, whose characteristics Vishnu and Krishna absorb. [...]The ambiguity of reference in the name Har reflects the identification of Krishna, as Jagadīśa, with the cosmic form and function of Vishnu.<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 20)

[6]see e.g. Mahābhārata III.188-89; Bhāgavata Purāṇa I.3.25

マツヤ - 魚

प्रलयपयोधिजले धृ‌तवानसि वेदम् ।

विहितवहित्रचरित्रमखेदम् ।।

केशव धृतमीनशरीरा जय जगदीश हरे ।।

pralayapayodhijale dhṛtavān asi Vedam

vihitavahitracaritram akhedam ---

Keshava dhṛtaMīnaśarīra!

jaya Jagadīśa Hare!

In the deluge of dissolution, undaunted you behaved

Like a sailing ship that the Veda would be saved ---

Keshava-Krishna incarnate as the Fish!

Hosanna to the Lord of the World, Hari-Krishna!






The myth between the lines:

>>MĪNAŚARĪRA, the Fish-form, more commonly called Matsyāvatāra. The ancient myth of the deluge and man's rescue by a giant fish, which is told in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (I.8.1-6), is the basis for later versions. The Gītagovinda refers to the theft of the Vedas [7]from Brahmā by a sea demon[Hayagriva]as the former is entering the sleep of cosmic dissolution. Hari takes on the form of a fish and, by means of the deluge, destroys the demon and recovers the Vedas [8]. << (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 21)

[7]the four Vedas are religious texts which form the basis of all Hindu traditions. The modern scholarship dates the oldest layers of the Vedas to ca. 15th cent. BCE. According to the view of the Hindu traditions, the Vedas are eternal or created by God.

[8] see Matsya Purāṇa I.29; Bhāgavata Purāṇa VIII.24.; according to Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 53

カッチャパ - 亀

क्षितिरतिविपुलतरे तव तिष्ठति पृष्ठे ।

धरणिधरणकिणचक्रगरिष्ठे ।।

केशव धृतकच्छपरूप जय जगदीश हरे ।।

kṣitir ativipulatare tava tiṣṭhati pṛṣṭhe

dharaṇidharaṇakinacakragariṣṭhe ---

Keśava dhṛtaKacchaparūpa!

jaya Jagadīśa Hare!

The earth was uplifted on your back, a shell

Circle-scarred and venerated well ---

Keshava-Krishna incarnate as the Tortoise!

Hosanna to the Lord of the World, Hari-Krishna!





The myth between the lines:

>>KACCHAPARŪPA, the Tortoise-form. The Gītagovinda refers to the creative power of the giant tortoise in relation to earth, an association that is made in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (VII.5.1.5). This form is better known as Kūrmāvatara, for supporting Mt. Mandara when the gods and demons churn the sea to obtain the elixir of immortality.<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 21)

This myth is described in later versions as such[9]: During the periodically recurring floods, some valuable things got lost, including (as the main) amrita - the cream of the milk ocean, whose absence led into questioning the existence of the world. So, gods and demons sought together and decided to whip the ocean of milk. They used the mountain Mandara as a churning stick and the giant snake Vasuki as a churning rope. However, since the mountain was so heavy that it would immediately sink into the ground when it was turned, Krishna's help in the form of a tortoise was needed. With her shield, the mountain had a good turntable and the project succeeded: All the treasures re-emerged from the floods, only the shell of the turtle was drawn by circular scars.

[9]see Gītagovinda I.23; Māhabhārata I.16.10-11; Bhāgavata Purāṇa XII.13.2.

ヴァラーハ - 猪

वसति दशनशिखरे धरणी तव लग्ना ।

शशिनि कलङ्ककलेव निमग्ना ।।

केशव धृतशूकररूप जय जगदीश हरे ।।

vasati daśanaśikhare dharaṇī tava lagnā,

śaśini kalaṅkakal"eva nimagnā ---

Keśava dhṛtaŚūkararūpa!

jaya Jagadīśa Hare!

Like darkness of a crescent moon was the world

Resting on your tusk, pointed and up-curled ---

Keshava-Krishna incarnate as the Boar!

Hosanna to the Lord of the World, Hari-Krishna!




The myth between the lines:

>>ŚŪKARARŪPA, the Boar-form, another name for Varāhāvatāra. The giant boar rescues the earth by raising it out of the ocean depth on one of his tusk.<< (Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 21)

In later versions you find slightly different myths of the third incarnation as a boar. One of them reports that Krishna, as a water-loving boar, discovers a lotus leaf and searches for the ground from which this leaf has been originated. So he plunged into the depths of the eternal mud and brought the earth on its tusk to the surface [10].

[10]see Atharva Veda XII.1.48 (sūkara); Viṣṇu Purāṇa V.29.23 (śūkara) Bhāgavata Purāṇa III.18-19 (śūkara); according to Barbara Stoler Miller 1977, p. 53-54