Avatar or Avatara (Sanskrit: अवतार, IAST Avatāra), often translated into English as incarnation, literally means descent (avatarati) and usually implies a deliberate descent from higher spiritual realms to lower realms of existence for special purposes. (Wikipedia)I admit I know very little about Hinduism and the following is just my creative view on Link's role as a heroic iconic symbol to Zelda fans everywhere. While Link's main purpose is the role of a hero he also serves the role of an avatar who returns to remind the people of Hyrule the source of their origin and purpose in life.
Note: Plot spoilers ahead.
[A shot of Link's Shield from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess]
Last week my 11 year old brother-in-law asked me what the bird on the Triforce emblem on my wallet meant as we were discussing Zelda on our way into town. I explained to him that the the emblem (click here to view my nerdy wallet) is the Royal Family crest of Hyrule consisting of a red phoenix-like bird and the Triforce. The phoenix wings also doubles as rays of glory and power emanating from the sacred artifact.
I, as well as most other Zelda fans, have probably wondered why a phoenix (which as I recall the bird does not appear in any of the games) would be used as the Royal Family crest. I believe the phoenix represents Link's spirit as the Hylian Avatar destined to return to the land in times of trouble and except for direct sequel titles, every single Link in the series is a different incarnation of this eternal spirit. They each come into the story, save the day, and then disappear into legend. Their main purpose is that of defeating the current evil but they each serve another specific purpose which only Link can fulfill.
My religious studies professor, Rabbi Rami, explained to us that a role of an avatar is to remind us that we are all character's in God's play which consists of ALL of Reality. In Hinduism, Avatars descend to remind us that even though we are characters in God's cosmic dream we are really much more, and we can shake off this illusion (maya) of duality which states that the Self and the Universe is separate. Avatars act as guides to help awaken our Atman (soul or True Self) to this illusion.
The symbolism of Link as an active force against the illusion found in this dreamlike state is best expressed in the 1993 Gameboy Zelda title, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Link goes on a voyage across the sea and shipwrecks on the island of Koholint. After recovering his sword he is visited by an owl which explain to him that he can only leave after awakening "the guardian of Koholint—the Wind Fish who is dreaming in a giant egg on top of Tal Tal Mountain" (Wikipedia). Link fights his way through dungeons collecting sacred musical instruments to awaken the guardian spirit. The Nightmare, the spirit keeping the Wind Fish asleep, explains during the final battle why it is preventing the Wind Fish from awakening.
- "We were born of nightmares... To take over this world, we made the Wind Fish sleep endlessly! If the Wind Fish doesn't wake up, this island will never disappear! We would have been the masters of this place...But you had to come here and disrupt our plans! Heh heh! You can never defeat us!!! Let's rumble!"
- — The Nightmare
- Link, the Hylian Avatar, descends into the dreamworld (reality) to battle the illusion that keeps the Wind Fish asleep, but even as Link fights to awaken another he is unaware that he is also asleep. Once he defeats The Nightmare both Link and the Wind Fish awaken revealing that the entire island of Koholint and its inhabitants were all a part of the Wind Fish's dream.
Link, the Hylian Avatar, is reborn in the land of Hyrule in times of trouble to help those in need and guide them back to their True Selves. Even though heroes may die they will arise from the ashes in a flame of holy fire consuming the veil of illusion keeping us from discovering our True Self. The hero's flame is passed on from generation to generation glowing brighter with each pass. What will you pass on? What courage will you add to the torch passed on to us? Will you seek out your true nature?