When we talk of evolution, the first thought that comes to our mind is, as to how man has evolved from the monkey.

A person with a deeper insight would to think of, as to how life evolved on earth from a single cell organism to what we are today.
In the Indian knowledge system this evolution process is called Parinama or change. While in the western sciences evolution is a linear upwardly inclined movement of life. In the Indian thought, Parinama is a cycle of creation, evolution, sustenance, to destruction of life, world and universe for re-creation once again.
This Parinama is from the very moment of the creation of the universe i.e. from the Big Bang of the universe to the dissolution of the universe by its retracting back into its primordial cosmic egg form called in the Indian texts as Hiranyagarba the Golden Womb.
In this subject capsule, we look at the Indian concept of Parinama from the Vedic and Puranic texts. We look at the origin of life on earth and its evolution through the Dasavatara concept of Vishnu. The very word Avatara in the Samskrt language means, “to come down” or “to descend”.

Matsya – A fish As the legend goes, when the world was to be engulfed by a Pralaya, dissolution, the Rishi are taken to safety by Vishnu in the form of a large fish.
The fish here is symbolic of life emerging from waters.
Kurma – A tortoise At a time when there was a tug of war between the Deva, equated with the divine forces and the Asura equated with the demonic forces, they used a mountain for churning the ocean. When this mountain kept slipping, Vishnu in the form of a large tortoise supported the mountain  and this allowed the Deva and Asura to complete their churning of the ocean from which emerged the good and bad of the Universe.
The tortoise here is symbolic of an amphibious life.
Varaha – A Boar Later in time, when the Earth is held under the oppression of Hiranyaksha, an Asura, a demonic power, Vishnu in the form of a boar, bores through and releases the Earth from captivity.
Boar is here symbolic of land based forms of life.
Narasimha – A Beast, man lion Soon after, Vishnu emerges in the form of a ferocious half man – half lion to wipe out Hiranyakashipu, another Asura, whohad terrorised the world.
This beast like form is symbolic of man living like a savage.
Vamana – A dwarf As a dwarf Vamana, Vishnu humbles the ego of another Asura called Mahabali.
This form is symbolic of man in his early stages of evolution where thinking and learning sets in.
Parashurama – A hunter As Parashurama, a hunter, this form of Vishnu highlights the phase of mankind where man lived by hunting and as a forest dweller.
Rama – A leader The Rama form of Vishnu and the good governance of Rama, showcases the stage when man started living by rules as a disciplined society.
Balarama – A farmer Vishnu as Balarama, the bearer of a plough, is symbolic of the stage when man took to organized farming, irrigation, cattle rearing and trade as an industry.
Krishna – A strategist Vishnu as Krishna, highlights the stage when man after the setting in of societal living, industrialization and trade starts to strategize to improve his position.
Kalki – A horse rider This is an avatar of Vishnu which is yet to come but when it does, is expected to herald the dissolution of the world. In this as a horse rider, Vishnu symbolizes the speed and power which eventually are believed to become the cause of the destruction of the world.

The Dasavatara concept of Vishnu which has been written in our Puranic texts about 5000 years back itself are in the same sequence as espoused by Charles Darwin about a 100 years back.

When the world is looking for answers for present and future problems from the past experiences, the Indian view point as to how Parinama i.e. evolution has been taking place and shall continue to take place, should give us interesting insights as to how we can look at evolution as a wholistic concept and not limit ourselves to the thought of evolution from monkey to man alone.

Evolution vs Parinama
While history talks of the evolution of human civilisation of a few 1000 years, the Purana record events of the last 13 billion years or more, from the time of the Big Bang.
To understand this from a simple perspective, let us compare the lifetime of this Universe, from its creation till the present times, symbolically with our everyday calendar of a year, starting from 1st January to 31st December.

If the Big Bang, creation of the Universe is placed at the start of the year on 1st of January, in this calendar.

The Earth forms on December 1st.

Basic life forms starts on earth on December 25th.

It is on 30th December that the, Homo-sapiens, Homo-erectus, primordial early man evolves on earth.

In the scale of such a calendar, it is only on December 31st morning, 8 am, that man builds the pyramids of Egypt which are about 5000 years old today.

It is from this 8am to 12 midnight of Dec 31st, the moment equivalent of the present, i.e. this 16 hour period, that the modern history has been writing about.

In stark contrast to this, the Purana deals with the events of the full 365 days of the calendar from January 1st, when the creation, Big Bang occurred. This is the fundamental difference between modern history and the Puranic legends.

In this intervening period between January 1st and December1st many other galaxies, suns and planets formed and dissolved, life has sprouted on them, lived on them and died on them. These Puranic legends speak of them, offer us glimpses through stories of those suns, those galaxies, those planets.

This process of evolution is known as Parinama in the Indian knowledge system.