I was awakened by an early morning notification of Scientific American article remembering Charles Darwin on his 210th Birthday. Although the central theme of the article was defending Evolutionary Science and busting it’s opponent viz. the creationist theory, it made an important point that evolutionary science is mainly based on observations rather than intelligent design.
A lot of popular cultures around the world have a creationist view of the origin and the history of the world, though Scientific evidence backs the other one i.e. evolutionary science. Though Indian culture has some parallels in creationism as mentioned in Rigveda, where the four varnas emanate from different parts of the body of the primal being called as ‘Purusha’, while all the other animals and Vedas originate from the amalgam of ‘Purusha’ and ‘Viraj’ i.e. the primeval egg. There is also a concept of Hiranyagarbha, which is the origin of Bramha, the creator of the world, while another text mentions the being called ‘Prajapati’ who creates and maintains social orders.
However, a careful examination of Puranas and Itihasas viz. Ramayana and Mahabharata point towards the evolutionary standpoint of Indian culture; the most popular one being the Dashavtaras or the ten manifestations of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe.
The ten stages of Evolution
According to Bhagavata Purana, Hayagriva, a demon, steals Vedas at the end of a cycle of the Universe, also called Kalpa. Vishnu takes the form of a Fish i.e. Matsya and saves the Vedas, thus ushering a new civilization. Evolutionary theory agrees that life began somewhere in the ocean. Later on, due to some reason, the cosmic ocean was churned using a mountain on the back of a tortoise, which was the Kurma avatar of Vishnu. This signifies the evolution of the amphibian creatures like a tortoise.
After this, to save the earth from a demon called as Hiranyaksha, Vishnu manifests as Varaha i.e. wild boar, signifying the evolution of mammals. Following him, Hiranyaksha’s brother Hiranyakashyapu unleashes terror and in order to kill him, Vishnu manifests as Narasimha, the half lion-half man signifying the transition from animal nature to human nature.
Furthermore, three generations down the line from Hiranyakashyapu, the entire planet was conquered by his great-grandson, Bali. In order to retain it, Vishnu manifested as ‘Vamana’ allegorically, a dwarf man in the evolutionary order.
With the growth of the human race, there was an increase in violence amongst them. In order to vanquish violent beings, Vishnu manifested as Parashurama, resembling the paleolithic man. However, society needed to move from this chaos to order and discipline. Hence, Vishnu descended as Ram, thus signifying the emergence of a civilized orderly man.
However, mankind had not yet reached its ultimate potential. It was Krishna, the eighth and the most colorful manifestation of Vishnu, who helped mankind to reach its ultimate potential with his Bhagavad Gita.
This man with ultimate potential was followed by a fully enlightened avatar of Gautama the Buddha, signifying the evolution of mankind to its ultimate realization. and what will follow is the Kalki Avatar, who will be the superhuman being to complete the entire cycle of Evolution.
Somewhere in this process mentioned above, you might be pondering upon the absence of the ape-man. This reminds us of the presence of ‘vanaras’; most famous of them being Hanuman from Ramayana.
Indian mythology and History, with its myriads of characters and stories, seem perplexing. However, closer observation and reflection reveals its all-inclusive nature, where every kind of thought process and Scientific endeavor finds a place, be it the Intellectual design of Creationism or the observational science of evolutionary biology.
P.S. Please note that Darwinian theory does not vouch for the simultaneous evolution of all life forms. Each creature evolves by its own individual pace. However, every phase of evolution has a dominant trait or life form for e.g. during Matsya times, there might have been other life forms as well but, the dominant life form was aquatic. Evolutionary sciences, employ Statistical theory, which is a science of aggregates and it holds true at aggregate levels and not individual life forms.