The term avatāra is derived from the Sanskrit ava√tṝ, cross down or descend, and refers to a deity’s “descent” to earth, commonly called an “incarnation.” Although the word avatāra does not appear in the verses themselves, Bhagavadgītā 4.7–8 expresses the basic rationale for divine intervention in the world:
yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata /
adhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṃ sṛjāmyaham //
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṃ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām /
dharmasaṃsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge //
Whenever dharma declines and adharma flourishes,
then I create myself, O Bhārata.
For protecting good people and destroying evil,
for establishing dharma,
I come into being in age after age.
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