Chaubis Avtar (Punjabi: ਚੌਬੀਸ ਅਵਤਾਰ), meaning Twenty Four Incarnations, is a composition in Dasam Granth containing history of 24 incarnations of Vishnu. It is traditionally and historically attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. The composition covers 30% of the Dasam Granth containing 5571 verses with longest sub compositions being Krishna Avtar and Rama avtar, having 2492 and 864 verses each. Kalki avtar chapter contains 586 Verses.
The Chaubis Avtar is part of all five known major historical variants of Dasam Granth, but they are sequenced differently in these editions.
The text is notable for naming Jaina Arihanta as an avatar of Vishnu who practiced asceticism, forbade Yajna and Himsa. The text names Buddha as the 23rd avatar of Vishnu, adds Brahma also as avatar of Vishnu, the last two in a manner similar to the Puranas tradition of Hinduism. However, unlike many regional Hindu texts, the Chaubis Avtar avatar mentions many more Vishnu avatars. The verses and composition is martial, stating that avatar of Vishnu appears in the world to restore good and defeat evil, but asserts that these avatars are not God, but agents of the God that is never born nor dies. The predominant part of the text is in Braj language of north India.
List of 24 Avatars
Guru Gobind Singh gives the life account of following Avatars in granth:
Machh (Matsya), Kachh (Kurma), Nar (Nara in Nara-Narayana), Narayan (Narayana in Nara-Narayana), Maha Mohini (Mohini), Bairaha (Varaha), Nar Singha (Narasimha), Baman (Vamana), Parshuram (Parashurama), Bramma (Brahma), Balram (Balarama), Jalandhar (Jalandhara), Bishan (Vishnu), Sheshayi (Shesha), Arihant Dev (Arihanta), Manu Raja (Manu), Dhanvantari (Dhanvantari), Suraj (Surya), Chandar (Chandra), Ram (Rama), Kishan (Krishna), Nar (Arjuna), Buddh (Buddha,) Kalki (Kalki) and Girish(Girish)
Historicity of Composition
Per internal references of Dasam Granth, Krishna Avtar was composed in Vikram Samvat 1745/ 1688 AD at Paonta Sahib when Guru Gobind Singh was residing there where Rama Avtar was finished at Anandpur Sahib in 1755.
Following are historical references of 18th century serves as evidences that Guru Gobind Singh had written this composition at Anandpur as well as at Paunta Sahib:
Letter to Mata Sundri, Bhai Mani Singh: The letter was written by Bhai Mani Singh to Mata Sundri, after 5 years of demise of Guru Gobind Singh. This manuscript provides evidence of writing of Krishna Avtar by Guru Gobind Singh also includes 303 Charitars and Shastar Nam Mala. This manuscript was written before compilation of dasam granth during collections of various compositions. Among critics Gyani Harnam Singh Balabh believes that only 303 Charitars were written by Guru Gobind Singh among 404 Charitars in Charitropakhyan. Parchi Gobind Singh - Bava Sevadas: This manuscript was finished sometime in the second quarter of the eighteenth century (around 1741) by Seva Das, an Udasi. He mentioned famous quote from Rama Avtar, a composition within Chaubis Avtar. Mahima Parkash, Sarup Das Bhalla: This book was completed by Sarup Das, who belonged to lineage of Guru Amar Das, in 1776. He had access to the complete Dasam Granth and mentioned that Chaubis Avtar was written by Guru Gobind Singh.
Relation with Puranas
Compared to Puranic literature, the major difference is that Chaubis Avtar believes in monotheism, preaches almighty is beyond Birth and treats all incarnations as agents working for God.
Krishna Avtar was written on the basis of Dasam Skand of Srimad Bhagwat Puraan, with many sanctifications and comments by poet.
Among different versions of Ramayana, Guru Gobind Singh also wrote his version under the title Rama Avtar.
The two avatars of Vishnu, Rama and Krishna, comprise the longest part of the Chaubis Avtar. Modern era scholars state that verse 863 of the Rama Avatar section of the text rejects worship of particular gods, reject the scriptures of both Hinduism and Islam, and instead reveres the "Sword-bearing lord" (Asipani). The verse, translates Robin Rinehart, states, "Since I grabbed hold of your feet, I lower my eyes before no one else. The Puranas speak of Ram, and the Quran of Rahim, but I don't believe in either of them". Similarly, in verse 434 of Krishna Avatar of the text reveres Mahakal, and asserts that "I will not first honor Ganesha", nor meditate of Krishna or Vishnu, and "I am absorbed in contemplation of His feet. Mahakal is my protector." The verses in the text, states Rinehart, praise Hindu goddesses (Devi) such as Chandi and Durga.
The framework of the Devi-related verses in the text, according to Harjot Oberoi, are the 6th-century Devi Mahatmya and the 12th-century Devi-Bhagavata Purana Hindu texts, which describe and revere the divine feminine. The theological import, states Oberoi, is not about deity reincarnation, but accepting the masculine and feminine dimension of Ultimate Reality. These verses on fierce goddesses Durga and Chandi have been interpreted in martial context, by many Sikh commentators, as meant to symbolize sword and to inspire Sikh warriors heading into battle during the Mughal Empire persecution.