Avatars or Avtars
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Smita Rajput Kamble, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
15th January, 2011
Avtar (as pronounced in India) is an Indian word which has existed in Hindu mythology for thousands of years. In India, most people will know the word as it depicts their gods, but may not know James Cameron's movie of the same name,pronounced differently. Its use in modern day western thinking however is close to its original meaning.
In Hindu mythology, Gods took various forms called avtars in order to perform certain tasks. For example, the lord Vishnu changed his form and took on the avtar of lord Krishna. As compared to Vishnu, Krishna has a blue complexion, a lot like Cameron's avatars. Many demons were destroyed by Krishna, Vishnu's avtar.
In another story, goddess Durga takes on the form or avtar of Kali. She must perform her duty as a Goddess, kill the demons and protect the good people. In her most destructive moments, Kali resembles a bloodthirsty skeleton.
It is a comprehensive representation of what a human can become under extraordinary pressure or provocation.
Another Hindu god, Shiva, performs yoga and meditates but in his other forms/avtars he is destructive. Stone carvings in Elephanta caves, near Mumbai in India,Shiva is depicted in all his forms including one where he has fangs, eyes ablaze, crushing the demon 'andhakar' (ignorance) under his feet.
In Greek mythology too, Gods come down to earth in various forms in order to perform tasks.
In James Cameron's movie 'Avatar', a disabled hero takes on a powerful form through some imaginative transformation and is able, through his avtar form, to perform the task of saving the troubled tribe.
One does not have to believe in mythology or see Cameron's movie to see avtars. There are avtars to be seen in daily life as humans perform extraordinary feats out of a sense of duty and love. Mother Theresa is a famous example but the extraordinary struggle of ordinary people as they fight disease, look after their children under extraordinary pressure, manage their jobs and make the impossible possible.
The more destructive aspects are also present - for eg, when a couple seperates or divorces and what was once a loving couple turns against each other in hate,court cases and ashes.
From a psychological or therapeutic point of view, avtars can be seen as a tangible, comprehensive metaphor for representing different aspects of human beings and what a human is capable of doing under pressure, or in the throes of powerful emotions- both creative and destructive.
From a human's mammalian form of feeding and nurturing (parents and carers) to adventure and extraordinary feats (Olympics etc) to the more predatory and destructive acts (abuse and violence) and eventually, crime - humans can be seen as a fascinating range of avatars/avtars.
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