We all know the common story about the ten avatars that the Indian God Vishnu takes to protect the world, but more on that in just a minute.
When I was making a drawing of Ravana, I wanted to originally draw him with ten hands playing the Veena. But ten hands for one instrument seemed excessive. So I thought I’d make each hand play a separate instrument, but that looked a bit awkward. Then I had a flash of an image with something related to each of the ten avatars of Vishnu in Ravana’s ten hands. While that made an interesting image, that made no sense at all. Why would Ravana of all people pay homage to Vishnu’s avatars? And then it hit me, I could just draw a ten-armed Vishnu with each arm paying homage to each of the ten avatars.
And so I started off sketching the figure and the various arms, but then I hit upon another problem. Seven of the avatars were human or humanoid and could have arms, but the first three were animals. How was I supposed to have meaningful arms for these?
This I sort of managed to address by giving them humanoid-like hands or just using their limbs as-is.
Then came the dilemma of how to make each hand unique enough to be identifiable. So here’s what I did from the last avatar backwards: Kalki-sword in hand Krishna-considered chakra but settled on flute Balarama-plough Rama-bow Parashurama-axe Vamana-umbrella Narasimha-was a bit of a puzzle, because the avatar doesn’t hold anything, the nails are supposed to be the weapons. Briefly considered intestines of Hiranyakashipu but felt that would be too gory Varaha-this one was a little challenging since this was essentially a wild boar whose hand isnt supposed to be articulate. The story has the wild boar carrying the earth to safety on its snout so I settled on the earth on its hoof. Kurma-this was even more challenging since a tortoise’s hand is even less articulate. In the story, the tortoise carries the mountain Mandhara on its mountain, so I settled on a tortoise arm carrying a mountain. Matsya-this was the most challenging, since fish have no hands and I didn’t want to make a tentacled cthulu-esqe monster. In the end I settled on a mer-man type arm to give the semblance of an aquatic creature carrying the vedas that were stolen by the demon Hayagriva from Brahma.
Then came another dilemma - some count Balarama as one of the ten avatars and some count Buddha as one of the ten avatars. Which would I follow? In the end I decided upon Balarama because his plough-in-hand was a lot more interesting visually.