By Satyaraja Dasa
Reincarnation, of course, is accepted as a given in India’s mystical literature, and, according to Eastern sensibility, its truth undergirds any genuine metaphysical understanding of life. We are spirit-soul, say texts like the Bhagavad-gītā (2.13, 21, 22, among others), and not the material body. We are a quantum of energy, and energy, we learn from the natural sciences, is never created or destroyed. It continues to exist in some form. God, too, is spiritual substance, and He/She/It reincarnates as well.1 But whereas regular souls are forced to incarnate according to their karmic activity—for every action there is an equal and commensurate reaction—God appears in various forms according to His sweet will, for the sake of play (līlā) and to educate.
This paper will focus on three such incarnations of the Supreme—three of His most important manifestations—and, alongside those appearances of divinity, we will discuss three incarnations of ordinary beings who challenged the Lord and battled Him to the “death.”
The three incarnations of the Divine, in the order in which they appeared in the material world, are Nṛsiṁha, Rāma, and Krishna. Confidential wisdom texts of India describe them as Parāvastha Avatāras, or “perfect” incarnations. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.3.26), known as the “ripened fruit” of the Vedic tree of knowledge, tells us that: “…the incarnations of the Lord are innumerable, like rivulets flowing from inexhaustible sources of water.” Normally, all of these incarnations are considered equal, as just various forms of one divine being, and yet, according to the Padma Purāṇa (Uttara 226.42),2 the three mentioned here are singled out as most important, as embodying the ultimate and most complete form of divinity.
For the Gauḍīya Vaishnava tradition, this is confirmed in Rūpa Goswāmī’s Śrī Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta (1.5.16–64), where he echoes the Padma Purāṇa and adds that Krishna, in particular, is avatārī, or the source of all incarnations (Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, 1.5.303–7). We will return to this concept of Parāvastha Avatāras, with special attention to Krishna’s supreme position, after following the ongoing narrative of Jaya and Vijaya, the two gatekeepers of the spiritual world.
1. Jaya and Vijaya
As the story goes, there were once four little boys, the Kumāras, who tried to gain entrance into Paradise, the spiritual world, known in the Indic tradition as Vaikuṇṭha.3 Though they looked like five year olds, they were actually very old and spiritually very advanced—but not advanced enough. At the entrance to Paradise were two gatekeepers whose names were Jaya and Vijaya, and it was their job to allow or prevent, as the case may be, living beings who propose to enter.
Now, these four little boys, though spiritually advanced, were impersonalists.4 According to Vaishnava tradition, an impersonalist is someone who thinks of God as not having form and is thus not ready to enter the spiritual world, where one has sweet interaction and relationship with God’s form. Because of this, when the four little boys tried to enter Paradise, the gatekeepers, Jaya and Vijaya, stopped them from doing so.
As little boys often do, the Kumāras became angry for not getting their way, and they placed a curse on the two gatekeepers, forcing them to take birth in the material world.5
Immediately fearing for their own well being, Jaya and Vijaya asked the four little boys for forgiveness, and it was at that moment when the Supreme Person Himself—Vishnu—appeared on the scene to intervene on their behalf.6 Placating the small boys, Vishnu convinced them to allow Jaya and Vijaya, as penance for their offense, to, yes, take birth in the material world, but, after some time, to return to Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual realm. With that being said, the two gatekeepers lost their effulgence. Their countenances having fallen and becoming deeply saddened, they fell to the material world, taking birth as demons.7
2. Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu
We will now see Jaya and Vijaya take three births each throughout cosmic history—in each part of the world cycles, that is, in each of the initial three yugas—and then a very special birth in the fourth. Jaya becomes Hiranyaksha, Rāvaṇa, and Sishupala8 in Satya-, Treta-, and Dvāparā-yuga, respectively.9 The sequence for Vijaya similarly manifests as Hiraṇyakaśipu, Kumbhakarṇa, and Dantavakra.10 Though this might seem a little confusing, we will now see how it all plays out.
Once, millions of years ago, twins were born.11 Their names were Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu. The former means “one who loves gold and does his best to look for it, mine it, and collect it,” and the latter means “one who loves gold and soft bedding,” with the latter point subtly referring to a desire for sexual pleasure.12
In other words, both Jaya and Vijaya, in their births as Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu, were of unfortunate mentality, rascals who were always looking for material comforts as well as always challenging the Supreme Person.13 While such a mindset is normally an impediment to bhakti, or devotional service, it was in this instance the result of God’s will, as we shall see.14
Because of the elder brother Hiraṇyākṣa’s constant desire to mine for gold in the Earth, our planet gradually became unstable and detached from its position of floating in the universe. Thus, she eventually fell down into the cosmic ocean.15
Meanwhile, Hiraṇyākṣa underwent tremendous austerities and thus received the blessings of Brahmā, the first created being, who allowed him to become undefeatable by man or beast. In due course, Hiraṇyākṣa took the Earth, already loosened by his mining activity, as already noted, and plunged her into the primordial depths of the cosmic ocean. All seemed lost.
However, when procuring his boon from Brahmā, Hiraṇyākṣa had not mentioned the boar in his list of animals that would not be able to conquer him, and in light of this, Vishnu assumed just that form—Varāha Avatāra—with huge tusks and other assorted boar features. Diving down into the primordial ocean, he saved the earth as only a boar could, lifting it up with His transcendental tusks. But while in the ocean, He encountered Hiraṇyākṣa, who was ready for combat. They charged toward each other with rage. Finally, after a thousand cosmic years of battle, Hiraṇyākṣa was slain, ready for his next birth.
Although both Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu received the blessing that they would never be killed by any living being in the universe,16 Hiraṇyakaśipu asked for additional boons from Lord Brahmā. Specifically, he wanted to become totally immortal, but Brahmā said that even he could not overcome death and consequently could not grant such freedom to Hiraṇyakaśipu.
Hiraṇyakaśipu then tried to circumvent this obstacle: He asked that he not be killed by any man, animal, god or, in fact, anyone in the material universe. He also asked that he not die on land, in the air, water, nor by any weapon.17 Lastly, he asked that he not be killed in the daytime or nighttime.18 He thought that this would effectively make him unconquerable. Brahmā granted him these boons.
Now, Hiraṇyakaśipu was angry with Vishnu for killing his brother Hiraṇyākṣa and it was in his anger that he asked Lord Brahmā for the above blessings, hoping to use his invulnerability to destroy the Earth’s saintly culture and to subjugate the entire universe—what to speak of destroy Vishnu Himself.19 More, he had legions of followers to assist him in his ugly plan, and they were only too glad to carry out his orders.
“Thus the demons, being fond of disastrous activities, took Hiraṇyakaśipu’s instructions on their heads with great respect and offered him obeisances. According to his directions, they engaged in envious activities directed against all living beings.”(SB 7.2.13)
And yet, in spite of all his wealth and influence, all his endeavors to “overturn the established practices within [the] world,”20 to conquer the universe and planets of all human beings and bring them under his control, along with all his opulence and power,21 bodily strength, and enjoying all types of sense gratification as much as possible,22 ultimately he failed and was killed by the Supreme Person23—Nṛsiṁhadeva, the half-man/half-lion incarnation, battled with him and ripped him to shreds.
To fulfill the benedictions given to him by Lord Brahmā, Hiraṇyakaśipu was killed after he had been placed on Nṛsiṁha’s lap and therefore not by any created being; during dusk and therefore not during day nor night; not inside or out but on the terrace, and on the lap of the Lord; wasn’t killed by any “person” but by an incarnation of God; and not by any manmade weapon,24 but by the claws of Nṛsiṁha, the Supreme Person Himself.
3. Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa
Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa, the second incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya, were rākṣasas—demons who ate humans—and were brothers born into the family of Viśravā and Keśinī. Rāvaṇa means “one who causes trouble for others and makes others cry,”25 and it is said that he was a ten-headed monster—literally. Kumbhakarṇa, the younger brother of Rāvaṇa, means “pot-eared,” and he was called this specifically because of the shape of his ears. Kumbhakarṇa, we are told, slept a lot and upon waking had a big appetite—for people.26
The story of the two rākṣasa brothers is predominantly found in the Rāmāyaṇa—an ancient Indian epic of approximately 24,000 Sanskrit verses—and in the 9th Canto, Chapter 10 of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, among other places. In any case, the point is this: Rāvaṇa wasn’t able to control himself; he was a demon of the worst order, setting any kind and altruistic ideas aside in favor of self-aggrandizement and complete selfishness. He apparently had lusty desires for Rāma’s wife Sītā, too, who he kidnapped by subterfuge and took to Lanka.27 Kumbhakarṇa was similarly uncontrolled. He is briefly mentioned in SB 9.10.18, and in the 7th, 4th, and 9th Cantos, but it is usually only in passing.
There’s more information about Kumbhakarṇa in the Rāmāyaṇa, but even that seems negligible. Another source has Kumbhakarṇa telling Rāvaṇa that the way he abducted Sītā wasn’t proper (Narayan  2006, p. 125). That same source tells how it was difficult to arouse Kumbhakarṇa from his deep sleep28 and that if you were the one unfortunate enough to be given the task of awakening him, you would likely end up becoming his breakfast.
Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa were later killed by Lord Rāma, the incarnation of Vishnu in the Tretā age. First Kumbhakarṇa was killed, but not before he killed thousands of the monkey warriors of Hanumān’s brother’s army.29 As for Rāvaṇa, he was killed in Lanka30 when Rāma shot an arrow into his heart.31 The fatal blow had to be in his heart because he had been given a benediction that if any of his ten heads were destroyed, another would take its place.32 Interestingly, Rāvaṇa’s original nature came through after he was killed by Rāma.
“Rama’s arrows had burnt off the layers of dross, the anger, conceit, cruelty, lust, and egotism which had encrusted his real self, and now his personality came through in its pristine form…”33
To read the complete article: http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/8/9/178/htm