Hinduism, descent of a god into the world of human beings for the duration
of a human life span. Avatar is similar to the Christian concept of incarnation
but is different in two significant ways. First, a Hindu god can become incarnate
in many places at the same time through "partial" avatars (amshas),
while the main form from which the avatars emanate remains entirely "full"
and can converse with the "partial" forms. Second, the avatars do not fully
participate in human suffering or lose the knowledge and power of their divine
nature. The god Vishnu is most famous for his numerous avatars, which include
Krishna, Rama, and the Buddha, but other gods, such as Shiva, also have avatars.
Many charismatic leaders, such as the Indian mystics Chaitanya and Ramakrishna,
have been regarded as avatars. Contributed
By: Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty Encarta®
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