Many Kapilas and the Kapila Avatāra: Plurality of Traditions and Multiplicity of Interpretations

How to Cite

Knut A. Jacobsen. (2022). Many Kapilas and the Kapila Avatāra: Plurality of Traditions and Multiplicity of Interpretations: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 26(1), 155–163. Retrieved from


Kapila is a name of several mythological figures of early Indian religion. Kapila is known as the name of a yakṣa, of a divine or mythological ascetic, and of several human ascetics, Brahmin priests and others. Historical temples to a yakṣa named Kapila are found several places in India. The yakṣa Kapila gave name to a temple in the city of Kampil and Kapila is one of the dvārapāla yakṣas in the Kurukṣetra region. But at both places the identity of the yakṣa has been forgotten by the current inhabitants, who now associate the place with the ascetic Kapila. These two examples of the identity of a yakṣa called Kapila having been transferred to an ascetic called Kapila illustrates some of the difficulties of understanding the history of mythological figures associated with the name Kapila.
These mythological figures have a complex history, which has given rise to many quite contradictory interpretations, both in Indian religions and in contemporary academic scholarship. Some consider Kapila a human person, others a deity of non-Vedic origin, and others again think of him as a Vedic divinity of mythological origin and an avatāra of Viṣṇu. Several figures and persons with the name
Kapila are found in the written sources of religions in India. The most famous of these Kapilas are the one associated with Sāṃkhya and Yoga and the one considered a Viṣṇu avatāra, but any academic arguments about Kapila need to consider the full picture

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