Vishnu

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Vishnu
Protection and sustenance
Bhagavan Vishnu.jpg
Devanagariविष्णु
Sanskrit Transliterationviṣṇu
Tamil scriptவிஷ்ணு
AffiliationSupreme Being, Trimurti
AbodeVaikuntha, Ksheera Sagara
Mantra(Om Vishnave Namah)(Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaye)(Om Namo Narayanaye)(Om Sri Hari Vishnu)(Hari Om)
WeaponSudarshana Chakra, Kaumodaki Mace, Panchajanya Shankha
ConsortLakshmi (Shri)
MountGaruda
TextsBhagavata Purana, Bhagavad Gita, Vishnu Purana
 
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Vishnu
Protection and sustenance
Bhagavan Vishnu.jpg
Devanagariविष्णु
Sanskrit Transliterationviṣṇu
Tamil scriptவிஷ்ணு
AffiliationSupreme Being, Trimurti
AbodeVaikuntha, Ksheera Sagara
Mantra(Om Vishnave Namah)(Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaye)(Om Namo Narayanaye)(Om Sri Hari Vishnu)(Hari Om)
WeaponSudarshana Chakra, Kaumodaki Mace, Panchajanya Shankha
ConsortLakshmi (Shri)
MountGaruda
TextsBhagavata Purana, Bhagavad Gita, Vishnu Purana
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Hinduism
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Vishnu is the Supreme God of Vaishnavism,[1][2] one of the three main sects of Hinduism[3][4] and Purushottama or Supreme Purusha in ancient sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita.[5] Vishnu is also known as Narayana and Hari. The Vishnu Sahasranama declares Vishnu as Paramatman (supreme soul) and Parameshwara (supreme God). It describes Vishnu as the all-pervading essence of all beings, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, the creator and destroyer of all existences, one who supports, preserves, sustains and governs the universe and originates and develops all elements within. Though he is usually depicted as blue, some other depictions of Vishnu exist as green-bodied, and in the Kurma Purana he is described as colorless and with red eyes.[6]

In Hindu sacred texts, Vishnu is usually described as having the divine blue color of water-filled clouds and as having four arms. He is depicted as holding a padma (lotus flower) in the lower left hand, a unique type of mace used in warfare known as a Kaumodaki gada in the lower right hand, a Panchajanya shankha (conch) in the upper left hand and a discus weapon Sudarshana Chakra in the upper right hand. Vishnu is also described in the Bhagavad Gita as having a 'Universal Form' (Vishvaroopa or Viraata Purusha) which is beyond the ordinary limits of human perception or imagination.[7]

Vishnu's eternal and supreme abode beyond the material universe is called Vaikuntha, which is also known as Paramdhama, the realm of eternal bliss and happiness and the final or highest place for liberated souls who have attained Moksha. Vaikuntha is situated beyond the material universe and hence, cannot be perceived or measured by material science or logic.[8] Vishnu's other abode within the material universe is Ksheera Sagara (the ocean of milk), where he reclines and rests on Ananta Shesha, (the king of the serpent deities, commonly shown with thousand heads). In almost all Hindu denominations, Vishnu is either worshipped directly or in the form of his ten avatars, the most famous of whom are Rama and Krishna.[9] The Puranabharati, an ancient text, describes these as the dashavatara, or the ten avatars of Vishnu. Among the ten described, nine have occurred in the past and one will take place in the future as Lord Kalki, at the end of Kali Yuga, (the fourth and final stage in the cycle of yugas that the world goes through). These incarnations take place in all Yugas in cosmic scales; the avatars and their stories show that gods are indeed unimaginable, unthinkable and inconceivable. The Bhagavad Gita mentions their purpose as being to rejuvenate Dharma,[10] to vanquish those negative forces of evil that threaten dharma and also to display His divine nature in front of all souls.

The Trimurti (three forms) is a concept in Hinduism "in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer."[11][12] These three deities have also been called "the Hindu triad"[13] or the "Great Trinity",[14] all having the same meaning of three in One. They are the different forms or manifestation of One person the Supreme Being or Narayana. [15]

Vishnu is also venerated as Mukunda,[16] which means God who is the giver of mukti or moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirths) to his devotees or the worthy ones who deserve salvation from the material world.

Name[edit]

A 13th-century Cambodian statue of Vishnu
A 4th–6th century CE Sardonyx seal representing Vishnu with a worshipper. The inscription in cursive Bactrian reads: "Mihira, Vishnu (left) and Shiva".
12th century stone sculpture of God Vishnu flanked by two apsaras one with a fan (left) and the other with Tambura (right).

The traditional explanation of the name Vishnu involves the root viś, meaning "to settle" (cognate with Latin vicus, English -wich "village," Slavic: vas -ves), or also (in the Rigveda) "to enter into, to pervade," glossing the name as "the All-Pervading One".[citation needed] Yaska, an early commentator on the Vedas, in his Nirukta, (etymological interpretation), defines Vishnu as vishnu vishateh "one who enters everywhere". He also writes, yad vishito bhavati tad vishnurbhavati, "that which is free from fetters and bondages is Vishnu".[citation needed]

Shiva itself is the twenty-seventh and the six hundredth name in the Vishnu Sahasranama, the thousand names of Vishnu. Adi Sankara in his commentary on the Sahasranama states derivation from viś, with a meaning "presence everywhere" ("As he pervades everything, vevesti, he is called Vishnu"). Adi Sankara states (regarding Vishnu Purana, 3.1.45): "The Power of the Supreme Being has entered within the universe. The root viś means 'enter into'." Swami Chinmayananda, in his translation of Vishnu Sahasranama further elaborates on that verse: "The root vis means to enter. The entire world of things and beings is pervaded by Him and the Upanishad emphatically insists in its mantra 'whatever that is there is the world of change.' Hence, it means that He is not limited by space, time or substance. Chinmayananda states that that which pervades everything is Vishnu."[17]

Sacred texts - Shruti and Smriti[edit]

Shruti is considered to be solely of divine origin. It is preserved as a whole, instead of verse by verse. It includes the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda) the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads with commentaries on them.

Smṛti refers to all the knowledge derived and inculcated after Shruti had been received. Smrti is not 'divine' in origin, but was 'remembered' by later Rishis (sages by insight, who were the scribes) by transcendental means and passed down though their followers. It includes the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana which are Sattva Puranas.[18] These both declare Vishnu as Para Brahman Supreme Lord who creates unlimited universes and enters each one of them as Lord of Universe.

Shruti[edit]

Vaishnava canon[edit]

The Vaishnava canon presents Vishnu as the supreme being, rather than another name for the Sun God, who also bore the name Suryanarayana and is considered only as a form of Vishnu.

Vedas[edit]

In the Yajurveda, Taittiryia Aranyaka (10-13-1), Narayana sookta, Lord Narayana is mentioned as the supreme being. The first verse of Narayana Sookta mentions the words "paramam padam", which literally mean "highest post" and may be understood as the "supreme abode for all souls". This is also known as Paramdhama, Paramapadam, or Vaikuntha. Rigveda 1:22:20a also mentions the same "paramam padam". This special status is not given to any deity in the Vedas apart from Lord Vishnu/Narayana.[citation needed] Narayana is one of the thousand names of Vishnu as mentioned in the Vishnu Sahasranama.[19] It describes Vishnu as the All-Pervading essence of all beings, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within. This illustrates the omnipresent characteristic of Vishnu. Vishnu governs the aspect of preservation and sustenance of the universe, so he is called "Preserver of the universe".

Vishnu is the Supreme God who takes manifest forms or avatars across various ages or periods to save humanity from evil beings, demons or Asuras, who became powerful after receiving boons from Brahma and Shiva. According to the extant Hindu texts and traditions, Lord Vishnu is considered to be resident in the direction of the "Makara Rashi" (the "Shravana Nakshatra"), which is about coincident with the Capricorn constellation.[20] In some of the extant Puranas, and Vaishnava traditions, Vishnu's eye is considered to be situated at the infinitely distant Southern Celestial Pole.[21]

Following the defeat of Indra and his displacement as the Lord of Heaven or Swarga, Vishnu takes his incarnations or avatars to Earth to save mankind, thus taking the place of the Supreme God, winning recognition by Shaivites and Smarthas.

In the Puranas, Indra frequently appears proud and haughty. These bad qualities are temporarily removed when Brahma and/or Shiva give boons to Asuras or Rakshasas such as Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashyapu and Ravana, who are then able to defeat Indra in wars between Devas and Asuras. The received boons often made Asuras virtually indestructible.

Indra has no option but to seek help from Vishnu. Indra prays before Vishnu for protection and the Supreme Lord obliges him by taking avatars and generating himself on Earth in various forms, first as a water-dweller (Matsya, fish), then as an amphibious creature (Koorma avatar or Tortoise), then as a half-man-half-animal (Varaha the pig-faced, human-bodied Lord, and Narasimha the Lord with lion's face and claws and a human body). Later, Vishnu appears as human beings (Vamana the short-heighted person), Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Balarama and finally as Kalki for performing his task of protecting his devotees from demons and anti-religious entities. For example, Ravana is the greatest of Shiva's devotees, but is slain by Vishnu, who appears before him as Lord Rama, the son of Dasharatha.[22]

Vishnu's supremacy is attested by his victories over those very powerful entities who are themselves devotees of other Gods such as Brahma or Shiva. It is further attested by the accepted iconography and sculptures of Vishnu in reclining position as producing Brahma emerging from his navel. Brahma the creator is thus created in turn by Vishnu out of his own person. Instead Vishnu takes various avatars to slay or defeat those demons. But it is to be noted that Vishnu also provided boons to Akrurasura, a bear faced demon who was destroyed by Lord Shiva.[22][23]

Vishnu's actions lowered Indra's ranking among Hindu deities and led to the ascendancy of Vishnu.[22]

Few temples are dedicated to the Sun or Suryanarayana, nor indeed Indra, nor does Indra figure largely in the Hindu religion.

Indra is almost completely absent from the deities considered as the chief or most important deity.

Rigveda[edit]

In the Rigveda, Vishnu is mentioned 93 times. He is frequently invoked alongside other deities, especially Indra, whom he helps in killing Vrutra and with whom he drinks Soma. His distinguishing characteristic in the Vedas is his association with light. Two Rigvedic hymns in Mandala 7 are dedicated to Vishnu. In 7.99, Vishnu is addressed as the god who separates heaven and earth, a characteristic he shares with Indra.

The Rigveda describes Vishnu as subordinate to Indra as Vamana. In Vaishnava canon the 'Vishnu' who is subordinate to Indra is identified as Vamana, Avatar of Vishnu, hence referred to as Vishnu by Vaishnavites.[22][24] Vishnu is not a mere sacrificial deity; he is the Supreme God who lives in the highest celestial region, contrasted against those who live in the atmospheric or terrestrial regions. Vishnu is content with mere prayer, unlike almost all of the other gods who receive sacrificial offerings such as Havis, which is given using clarified butter, or Soma.[24] The general view[citation needed] is that Vedas place Indra in a superior position to Vishnu's Avatar of Vamana. Vamana helps Indra by restoring his Kingdom as mentioned in the Vamana Purana.

An alternate translation is provided by Wilson[25] according to Sayana:

When Thy (younger brother) Viṣṇu (Vamana) by (his) strength stepped his three paces, then verily thy beloved horses bore thee. (Rigveda 8:12:27)[25]

Wilson mentions Griffith's possible translation as a footnote. However the following verse from Rigveda renders the above translation by Wilson more probable.

Him whose three places that are filled with sweetness, imperishable, joy as it may list them, Who verily alone upholds the threefold, the earth, the heaven, and all living creatures. (Rigveda 1:154:4)[26]

Wilson offers an alternate translation for Rigveda 10:113:2:[27]

Viṣṇu offering the portion of Soma, glorifies by his own vigor that greatness of his. Indra, the lord of wealth, with the associated gods having slain Vr.tra, became deserving of honour. (Rigveda 10:113:2)

This verse sees Vishnu as one who is glorified by his own strength, while Indra became deserving of honor after having slain Vrtra only in association with other gods.

However Vishnu's praise for other gods does not imply worship. Wilson translates:

Viṣṇu, the mighty giver of dwellings praises thee, and Mitra and Varuna; the company of Maruts imitates thee in exhilaration. (Rigveda 8:15:9) (page 280)[25]

The following verses show categorically Vishnu as distinguished from other gods in Rigveda.

He who presents (offering) to Viṣṇu, the ancient, the creator, the recent, the self-born; he who celebrates the great birth of that mighty one; he verily possessed of abundance, attains (the station) that is to be sought (by all). (Rigveda 1:156:2) (page 98)[28]

No being that is or that has been born, divine Viṣṇu, has attained the utmost limit of thy magnitude, by which thou hast upheld the vast and beautiful heaven, and sustained the eastern horizon of Earth.(Rigveda 7:99:2) (page 196)[25]

The divine Viṣṇu, the best of the doers of good deeds, who came to the pious instituter of rite (Indra), to assist (at its celebration), knowing (the desires of the worshiper), and present at the three connected period (of worship), shows favor to the Arya, and admits the author of the ceremony to a share of the sacrifice. (Rigveda 1:156:5) (page 99)[28]

Jan Gonda, the late Indologist, states that Vishnu, although remaining in the background of Indra's exploits, contributes by his presence, or is key to Indra's success. Vishnu is more than a mere companion, equal in rank or power to Indra, or sometime the one who made Indra's success possible.

Descriptions of Vishnu as subordinate to Indra are found in only the hymns to Indra, but in a kathenotheistic religion like that of the Rigveda, each god, for a time, is supreme in the mind of the devotee.

In the Rig Vedic texts, the deity or god referred to as Vishnu is the Sun God, who also bears the name 'Suryanarayana'. By contrast, the 'Vishnu' referred to in 'Vishnu Puranam', 'Vishnu Sahasranamam' and 'Purusha Sooktham' is Lord Narayana, the Consort of Lakshmi. Vaishnavites make a further distinction by extolling the qualities of Vishnu by highlighting his differences from other deities such as Shiva,[citation needed] Brahma or Surya.[22]

Three steps[edit]

Hymn 7.100 refers to the celebrated 'three steps' of Vishnu (as Trivikrama) by which he strode over the universe and in three places planted his step. The 'Vishnu Sukta' (RV 1.154) says that the first and second of Vishnu's strides (those encompassing the earth and air) are visible to men and the third is in the heights of heaven (sky). This last place is described as Vishnu's supreme abode in RV 1.22.20:

The princes evermore behold / that loftiest place where Vishnu is / Laid as it were an eye in heaven.(trans. Griffith)

Griffith's "princes" are the sūri, either "inciters" or lords of a sacrifice, or priests charged with pressing the Soma. The verse is quoted as expressing Vishnu's supremacy by Vaishnavites.

Though such solar aspects have been associated with Vishnu by tradition as well as modern-scholarship,[citation needed] he was not just the representation of the sun, as he moves both vertically and horizontally.

In hymns 1.22.17, 1.154.3, 1.154.4 he strides across the earth with three steps, in 6.49.13, 7.100.3 strides across the earth three times and in 1.154.1, 1.155.5,7.29.7 he strides vertically, with the final step in the heavens. The same Veda also says he strode wide and created space in the cosmos for Indra to fight Vritra. By his stride he made dwelling for men possible, the three forming a symbolic representation of the dwelling's all-encompassing nature. This nature and benevolence to men were Vishnu's enduring attributes. As the triple-strider he is known as Tri-vikrama and as Uru-krama, for the strides were wide.

Brahmanas[edit]

The Brahmanas are commentaries on the Vedas and form part of the Shruti literature. They are concerned with the detail of the proper performance of rituals. In the Rigveda, Shakala Shakha: Aitareya Brahmana Verse 1 declares: agnir vai devānām avamo viṣṇuḥ paramas, tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā - Agni is the lowest or youngest god and Vishnu is the greatest and the oldest God.

The Brahmanas assert the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, addressing him as "Yajnapati", the one whom all sacrifices are meant to please. Lord Vishnu accepts all sacrifices to the demigods and allots the respective fruits to the performer In one incident, a demonic person performs a sacrifice by abducting the Rishis (sages), who meditate by constantly chanting God's name. The sacrifice is meant to destroy Indra. But the rishis, who worship Indra as a demigod, alter one pronunciation of the Vedamantra, reversing the purpose of the sacrifice. When the fruit of the sacrifice is given and the demon is on the verge of dying, he calls to Vishnu, whom he addresses as Supreme Godhead and "the father of all living entities including himself".

Aitareya Brahmana 1:1:1 mentions Vishnu as the Supreme God. But in the Vaishnava canon, in different ages, with Vishnu in different avatars, his relationship with the asuras or demons, was always adversarial. The asuras always caused harm, while the sages and devas or celestial beings, did penance and called to Vishnu for protection. Vishnu always obliged by taking an avatar to vanquish the asuras. In the Vaishnava canon, Vishnu never gave or granted any boons to the asuras, distinguishing him from the gods Shiva and Brahma, who did. He is the only God called upon to save good beings by defeating or killing the asuras.[22]

Sayana writes that in Aitareya Brahmana 1:1:1 the declaration agnir vai devānām avamo viṣṇuḥ paramas,tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā does not indicate any hierarchy among gods. Even in Rigveda Samhita, avama and parama are not applied to denote rank and dignity, but only to mark place and locality.

In Rigveda 1:108:9,: yadindrāghnī avamasyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ madhyamasyāṃ paramasyāmuta sthaḥ | i.e., in the lowest place, the middle (place), and the highest (place). Agni, the fire, has, among the gods, the lowest place; for he resides with man on the earth; while the other gods are either in the air, or in the sky. Vishnu occupies the highest place, representing the sun. The words avama and parama are understood as 'First' and 'Last' respectively. To support this claim, Sayana adduces the mantra (1,4. As'val. Sr. S. 4, 2), agnir mukham prathamo devatanam samgathanam uttamo vishnur asit, i.e., Agni was the first of the deities assembled, (and) Vishnu the last.

In the Kausitaki Brahmana (7.1) Agni is called Avarardhya (instead of avama), and Visnu parardhya(instead of parama),i.e., belonging to the lower and higher halves (or forming the lower and higher halves).[29] The Vishnu Purana gives tremendous importance to the worship of Vishnu and mentions that sacrifices are to begin only with both the lighting of fire or 'Agni', pouring of sacrificial offerings to Vishnu in 'Agni' so that those offerings reach and are accepted by Vishnu. Worship of Vishnu through Yagnyas (or Homams) and other rituals, will not achieve the desired result if Agni's role is neglected.[22]

Muller says "Although the gods are sometimes distinctly invoked as the great and the small, the young and the old (Rigveda 1:27:13), this is only an attempt to find the most comprehensive expression for the divine powers, and nowhere is any of the gods represented as the slave of others. It would be easy to find, in the numerous hymns of the Veda, passages in which almost every single god is represented as supreme and absolute."[30]

However this notion is not completely correct as per the following verses, which shows Rigveda describe one or more gods as subject to other god(s).

Him whose high law not Varuna nor Indra, not Mitra, Aryaman, nor Rudra breaketh, Nor evil-hearted fiends, here for my welfare him I invoke, God Savitar, with worship. (Rigveda 2.038.09)[31][32]

I invite to this place, with reverential salutations, for my good, that divine Savita, whose functions neither Indra, nor Varun.a, nor Mitra nor Aryaman nor Rudra nor the enemies (of the gods), impede. (Rigveda 2.038.09)[33][34]

The following verse suggests Rudra gaining his strength from worship of Viṣṇu.

With offerings I propitiate the branches of this swift-moving God, the bounteous Visnu. Hence Rudra gained his Rudra-strength: O Asvins, ye sought the house that hath celestial viands. (Rigveda 7.040.05)[35][36]

Smriti[edit]

Vishnu Smriti[edit]

Vishnu and Lakshmi riding on Vishnu's Vahana Garuda – Painting from Rajasthan, Bundi, c. 1730 (in Los Angeles County Museum of Art )

The Vishnu Smṛti, is one of the later books of the Dharmashastra tradition of Hinduism and the only one that focuses on the bhakti tradition and the required daily puja to Vishnu, rather than the means of knowing dharma. It is also known for its handling of the controversial subject of the practice of sati (self-immolation of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre).[37] The text was composed by an individual or group, writing long after Vishnu's death. The author(s) created a collection of the commonly known legal maxims that were attributed to Vishnu into one book, as Indian oral culture began to be recorded more formally.[38]

Bhagavata Purana[edit]

Vishnu is the only Bhagavan as declared in the Bhagavata 1:2:11 in the verse: vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate, translated as "Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this non-dual substance as Brahman, Paramātma and Bhagavan."[39]

Vishnu Purana[edit]

In the Vishnu Purana (6:5:79) the personality named Parashara Rishi defines six bhagas:

aiśvaryasya samagrasya vīryasya yaśasaḥ śriyaḥ
jñāna-vairāgyayoś caiva ṣannāḥ bhaga itīṇganā

Jiva Gosvami explains the verse in Gopala Champu (Pūrva 15:73) and Bhagavata Sandarbha 46:10:

jñāna-śakti-balaiśvarya-vīrya-tejām.sy aśeṣataḥ
bhagavac-chabda-vācyāni vinā heyair guṇādibhiḥ
"The substantives of the word bhagavat (bhagavat-śabda-vācyāni) are unlimited (aśeṣataḥ) knowledge (jñāna), energies (śakti), strength (bala), opulence (aiśvarya), heroism (vīrya), splendor (tejas), without (vinā) objectionable (heyair) qualities (guṇādibhiḥ)."

Theological attributes[edit]

The actual number of Vishnu's auspicious qualities is countless, although his six most-important "divine glories" are:

Other important qualities attributed to Vishnu are Gambhirya (inestimatable grandeur), Audarya (generosity), and Karunya (compassion). Natya Shastra lists Vishnu as the presiding deity of the Sṛngara rasa.

The Rigveda says: Vishnu can travel in three strides. The first stride is the Earth. The second stride is the visible sky. The third stride cannot be seen by men and is the heaven where the gods and the righteous dead live. (This feature of three strides also appears in the story of his avatar Vamana/Trivikrama.) The Sanskrit for "to stride" is the root kram; its reduplicated perfect is chakram (guņa grade) or chakra (zero-grade), and in the Rigveda he is called by epithets such as vi-chakra-māņas = "he who has made 3 strides". The Sanskrit word chakra also means "wheel". That may have suggested the idea of Vishnu carrying a chakra.

Vishnu (Beikthano in Burmese) on his mount, the garuda, in the traditional Burmese depiction.

Five forms[edit]

See also Pañcaratra

In Shree Vaishnavism, another school dating from around the 10th century AD, Vishnu assumes five forms:

  1. In the Para Form, Para is the highest form of Vishnu found only in Sri Vaikunta also called Moksha, along with his consort Lakshmi, (and Bhumi Devi and Nila devi, avatars of Lakshmi) and surrounded by liberated souls like Ananta, Garuda, and a host of Muktas (liberated souls).
  2. In the Vyuha form, Vishnu assumes four forms, which exercise different cosmic functions and controls activities of living beings.
  3. In the Vibhava form, Vishnu assumes various manifestations, called Vibhavas, more popularly known as Avataras from time to time, to protect the virtuous, punish evil-doers and re-establish righteousness.
  4. In the Antaryami; "Dwelling within" or "Suksma Vasudeva" form, Vishnu exists within the souls of all living beings and in every substance.[41]
  5. In the Arcavatara or Image manifestation, Vishnu is visible and therefore easily approachable by devotees since Para, Vyuha, Vibhava and Antaryami forms can only be imagined or meditated upon because they are beyond our reach. Such images can be
    1. Revealed by Vishnu, for example, a self-manifested (Swayambhu) icon (murti), e.g. The Mahavishnu Temple at Tirunelli, The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, The Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple, etc.; or
    2. Installed by Devas or celestial beings such as such as Guruvayur Temple installed by Vayu; or
    3. Installed by humans, and consecrated according to Vaishnava Agama shastras or scriptures such as Lord Jagannatha of Jagannath Temple (Puri) at Puri.[42]

Relations with deities[edit]

Shiva[edit]

Rama with Sita coronation ceremony after return from Lanka
Rama with Sita on the throne, their children Lava and Kusha on their laps. Behind the throne, Lakshamana, Bharata and Shatrughna stand. Hanuman bows to Rama before the throne. Valmiki to the left

The three gods of the Trimurti are inseparable and in harmony in view of their common vision and universal good. They are perfectly ideal in all respects.

Both Apsaras and Devas played supportive roles in this story by keeping company with Vishnu in his incarnated forms. Hanuman is a vanara who is completely dedicated to Rama. He gives Vishnu company and obeys his command, while playing an important part in Rama's life. He is regarded in Vaishnava canon because it is through blessings that Hanuman is born. Thus, Hanuman, Vishnu's constant companion, with his idol appearing temples of Rama, Krishna and Narasimha, i.e. all of Vishnu's avatars, is considered by Vaishnavas.[43]

Syncretic forces produced stories in which the two deities were shown in cooperative relationships and combined forms. Harihara is the name of a combined deity form of both Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara).[44] This dual form, which is also called Harirudra, is mentioned in the Mahabharata.[45]

Lakshmi[edit]

Vishnu with Lakshmi (Lakshmi-Narayana) at Halebidu.

Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth (also known as Maya). The Samvit (the primary intelligence/dark matter) of the universe is Vishnu, while the other five attributes emerge from this samvit and hence Maya or dark energy of the universe is Lakshmee is his ahamata, activity, or Vishnu's Power.This power of God, Maya or Shakti, is personified and has multiple names: Parvathi, Saraswathi, Shree, Lakshmi, Maya, Vishnumaya or Mahamaya. She is said to manifest as Kriyashakti, (Creative Activity) and Bhutishakti (Creation). This world requires Vishnu's creativity. He therefore needs Lakshmi to always be with Him. Her various avatars as Lord Vishnu's consorts are Varahavataram (Bhoodevi) or Bhoomi, Ramavataram Seeta, Krishnavataram (Radha and Rukmini) and Venkateshwara (Padmavathi Vedavati).

Garuda[edit]

Vishnu's mount (Vahana) is Garuda, the eagle. Vishnu is commonly depicted as riding on his shoulders.

Iconography[edit]

According to various Puranas, Vishnu is the ultimate omnipresent reality and is shapeless and omnipresent. However, a strict iconography governs his representation, whether in pictures, icons, or idols:

Vishnu is always to be depicted holding four attributes:

To this may be added, conventionally, the vanamaala flower garland, Vishnu's bow (Shaarnga) and his sword Nandaka. A verse of the Vishnu Sahasranama stotram states;vanamālī gadhī shārngī shanki chakri cha nandaki / shrīmān nārāyaņo vişņo vāsudevo abhirakşatu//; translation: Protect us Oh Lord Narayana who wears the forest garland,who has the mace, conch, sword and the wheel. And who is called Vishnu and the Vasudeva.

In general, Vishnu's body is depicted in one of the following three ways:

Avatars[edit]

Ten avatars of Vishnu (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Balaram, Parshurama, Rama and Narasimha). Painting from Jaipur, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Ten avatars (dashavatara) of Vishnu are the most prominent:[47][48] Apart from the most prominent incarnations there are believed to more.

The most commonly believed incarnations of Vishnu are:

  1. Matsya, the fish that kills Damanaka to save the vedas and also saves Manu from a great flood that submerges the entire Earth.
  2. Kurma, the turtle that helps the Devas and Asuras churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality.
  3. Varaha, the boar that rescues the Earth and kills Hiranyaksha.
  4. Narasimha, the half-lion half human, who defeats the demon Hiranyakashapu.
  5. Vamana, the dwarf that grows into a giant to save the world from King Bali.
  6. Parashurama, "Rama of the battle axe", a sage who appeared in the Treta Yuga. He killed Kartavirya Arjuna's army and clan and then killed all the ksatriyas 21 times.
  7. Rama, the prince and king of Ayodhya who killed Demon King Raavan.
  8. Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Together with his brother Balarama an avatar of Shesha his dearest servant.
  9. Vishishtadvaita proponents consider Balarama is the ninth avatar of Vishnu. According to some, Buddha is the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Prince of wisdom from Kapilavastu.
  10. Kalki, the tenth Avatar of Vishnu and said to be the harbinger of the end Kali Yuga.

Some versions of the above list include Hayagreeva among the Dashavataras while some include Buddha as ninth avatar of Vishnu. Another 22 avatars are given in Chapter 3, Canto 1 of the Bhagavata Purana, although it states that "the incarnations of the Lord are innumerable, like rivulets flowing from inexhaustible sources of water".

Beyond Hinduism[edit]

Sikhism[edit]

Guru Granth Sahib of Sikhism mentions Vishnu, one verse goes:-

The true Vaishnaav, the devotee of Vishnu, is the one with whom God is thoroughly pleased. He dwells apart from Maya. Performing good deeds, he does not seek rewards. Spotlessly pure is the religion of such a Vaishnaav; he has no desire for the fruits of his labors. He is absorbed in devotional worship and the singing of Kirtan, the songs of the Lord’s Glory. Within his mind and body, he meditates in remembrance on the Lord of the Universe. He is kind to all creatures. He holds fast to the Naam, and inspires others to chant it. O Nanak, such a Vaishnaav obtains the supreme status.[49]

Others[edit]

James Freeman Clarke,[50] Richard Leviton,[51] James Cowles Prichard,[52] and others have noted the similarities between Vishnu and Ancient Egyptian God' Horus.

During an excavation in an abandoned village of Russia in the Volga region, archaeologist Alexander Kozhevin excavated an ancient idol of Vishnu. The idol dates from between the 7th and 10th centuries. In the interview Kozhevin, stated that, "We may consider it incredible, but we have ground to assert that Middle-Volga region was the original land of Ancient Rus. This is a hypothesis, but a hypothesis, which requires thorough research."[53]

Thousand names of Vishnu[edit]

Vishnu sahasranama manuscript, c. 1690.

Vishnu's many names and followers are collected in the Vishnu Sahasranama, (Vishnu's thousand names) from within the larger work Mahabharata. The character Bheeshma recites the names before Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, praising him (Vishnu) as the supreme god. These Sahasranama are regarded as the essence of all Vedas by followers of Vaishnavism, who believe sincere chanting of Vishnu Sahasranama results in spiritual well-being and a greater awareness of God.

The names are generally derived from the Anantakalyanagunas (meaning: infinite auspicious attributes). Some names of Vishnu are:

According to the Siddhartha-samhita there are twenty-four forms of Lord Vishnu. The twenty-four forms are

See also[edit]

Media related to Vishnu at Wikimedia Commons

References[edit]

  1. ^ Linga Purana (1.1.13) : devasya Rudrasya Paramatmana - Lord Shiva also called Rudra is the supreme of all the devas (gods).
  2. ^ Linga Purana (1.12.25) : Mahadevo Brahman Parameshwara - Lord Shiva is the Brahman, the eternal reality and Parameshwara, the supreme among the devas (god).
  3. ^ Bhagavata Purana (12.12.56): "narayanam devam adevam isam - Lord Narayana (Vishnu), the Supreme Controller and the ultimate Soul of all existence, beyond whom there is no other god.
  4. ^ Bhagavata Purana (12.13.16): Just as the river Ganges is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Achyuta (Vishnu or Narayana) the supreme among deities (devas) and Lord Shambhu (Shiva) the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Bhagavata Purana is the greatest of all Puranas.
  5. ^ Bhagavad Gita (15.18): Because I am transcendental, beyond both the fallible and the infallible, and because I am the greatest, I am celebrated both in the world and in the Vedas as that Supreme Person (Purushottama)
  6. ^ Laghu_Bhagavatmrita
  7. ^ Prabhupada, AC Bhaktivedanta. "Bhagavad-gita As It Is Chapter 11 Verse 3". vedabase.net. Retrieved 2008-05-10.  "see the cosmic manifestation"
  8. ^ "Sapthagiri". Tirumala.org. 2010-11-19. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  9. ^ Matchett, Freda (2000). Krsna, Lord or Avatara? the relationship between Krsna and Visnu: in the context of the Avatara myth as presented by the Harivamsa, the Visnupurana and the Bhagavatapurana. Surrey: Routledge. p. 254. ISBN 0-7007-1281-X. 
  10. ^ Bhagavad Gita 4.7 "... at that time I descend Myself"
  11. ^ For quotation defining the trimurti see Matchett, Freda. "The Purāṇas", in: Flood (2003), p. 139.
  12. ^ For the Trimurti system having Brahma as the creator, Vishnu as the maintainer or preserver, and Shiva as the transformer or destroyer see: Zimmer (1972) p. 124.
  13. ^ For definition of trimurti as "the unified form" of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva and use of the phrase "the Hindu triad" see: Apte, p. 485.
  14. ^ For the term "Great Trinity" in relation to the Trimurti see: Jansen, p. 83.
  15. ^ "Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1 Chapter 2 Verse 23". Vedabase.net. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  16. ^ Name 515 in Vishnu Sahasranama
  17. ^ Swami Chinmayananda's translation of Vishnu sahasranama pgs. 16–17, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
  18. ^ As categorized in Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, 236.18–21
  19. ^ "Sri Vishnu Sahasaranama – Transliteration and Translation of Chanting". Swami-krishnananda.org. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  20. ^ Hart De Fouw; Robert Svoboda (2003). Light on Life: An Introduction to the Astrology of India. ISBN 9780940985698. Retrieved 2013-10-16. 
  21. ^ White, David Gordon (2010-07-15). Sinister Yogis. ISBN 9780226895154. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1980). Advanced History of India, Allied Publishers, New Delhi.
  23. ^ This story is told in Vishnu agama and is quoted in Moore's Hindu Pantheon pp.19-20.
  24. ^ a b H. G Narahari (2007). Atman in Pre-Upanisadic Vedic Literature. Read Books. p. 86. Retrieved 2013-10-16. 
  25. ^ a b c d Regveda Volume 4 page 269
  26. ^ "Rig Veda: Rig-Veda Book 1: HYMN CLIV. Viṣṇu". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  27. ^ Regveda Volume 6 pages 318–319
  28. ^ a b Regveda Volume 2
  29. ^ Aitareya Brahmana , By Martin Haug, SUDHINDRA NATH VASU, M. B., AT THE PANINI OFFICE, BAHADURGANJ, ALLAHABAD.,1922. page 1 note 1
  30. ^ History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature by Prof Max muller. Printed by Spottiwoode and Co. New-Street Square London. page 533
  31. ^ "RV 2 38". Flaez.ch. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  32. ^ "Rigveda 2:38. Savitar". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  33. ^ "Rigveda Sam.hita_: Devana_gari script and English Translation, Man.d.ala 2". Srivaishnava.org. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  34. ^ "Rigveda Volume 2" (PDF). p. 308. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  35. ^ "Regveda 7:40". Flaez.ch. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  36. ^ "Rigveda 7:40. Viśvedevas". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  37. ^ Olivelle, Patrick (2007). "The Date and Provenance of the Viṣnu Smṛti". Indologica Taurinensia (33): 149–150. 
  38. ^ Lariviere 1989: xxiii
  39. ^ Bhagavata Purana 1.2.11
  40. ^ Tapasyananda (1991). Bhakti Schools of Vedānta. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math. ISBN 81-7120-226-8. 
  41. ^ "SrimAn nArAyaNa". Sriranganatha.tripod.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  42. ^ "SRIVAISHNAVISM — A CONSCISE STUDY — PART III". 
  43. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1977) Reprint 1980, Advanced History of India, Allied Publishers, New Delhi.
  44. ^ Chakravarti, pp. 54–55.
  45. ^ For Harirudra citation to Mahabharata 3:39:76f see: Hopkins (1969), p. 221.
  46. ^ Dallapiccola, Anna L. Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend Thames & Hudson, London, ISBN 0-500-51088-1
  47. ^ Garuda Purana Texts 1.86.10–11
  48. ^ http://hinduism.about.com/od/art/ss/10avatars.htm
  49. ^ "The Truth of Nanak and the Sikhs Part One", page. 353
  50. ^ Richard Leviton (1871). Ten Great Religions: an Essay in Comparative Theology. Trübner & Company. p. 247. 
  51. ^ Richard Leviton (2002). What's Beyond That Star: A Chronicle of Geomythic Adventure. Clairview Books. p. 160. 
  52. ^ James Cowles Prichard (1819). An Analysis of the Egyptian Mythology: To which is Subjoined a Critical Examination of the Remains of Egyptian Chronology. J. and A. Arch. p. 285. 
  53. ^ "Ancient Vishnu idol found in Russian town" Times of India 4 Jan 2007

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]