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definitions - Vishnu

Vishnu (n.)

1.the sustainer; a Hindu divinity worshipped as the preserver of worlds

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Merriam Webster

VishnuVish"nu (vĭsh"n�), n. [Skr. Vishṇu, from vish to pervade., to extend through nature.] (Hindu Myth.) A divinity of the modern Hindu trimurti, or trinity. He is regarded as the preserver, while Brahma is the creator, and Siva the destroyer of the creation.

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-Buddha and Vishnu • Garbhodaksayi Vishnu • Gunaseelam Vishnu Temple • Ksirodakasayi Vishnu • List of names of Vishnu • Madhava (Vishnu) • Maha Vishnu • Narahar Vishnu Gadgil • Prahlad Ji Story from Sri Vishnu Purana • Pt. Vishnu Keshav Utturkar (Joshi) • Sri Siva Vishnu Temple • Sunil Vishnu • Swami Vishnu Tirtha • Swami Vishnu-devananda • Tall Tales of Vishnu Sharma • The Death of Vishnu • The Tall Tales of Vishnu Sharma • Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi • Venmani Vishnu Nambudiripad • Vishnu (disambiguation) • Vishnu (film) • Vishnu Baug Colony • Vishnu Bhagwat • Vishnu Bhikaji Kolte • Vishnu Deo • Vishnu Digambar Paluskar • Vishnu Ganesh Pingle • Vishnu Institute of Technology • Vishnu Kant Shastri • Vishnu Manchu • Vishnu Mathur • Vishnu Moreshwar Mahajani • Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande • Vishnu Prabhakar • Vishnu Puran (TV series) • Vishnu Purana • Vishnu Ramkrishna Karkare • Vishnu Sadashiv Kokje • Vishnu Sahasranamam • Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar • Vishnu Sarma • Vishnu Saxena • Vishnu Som • Vishnu Springs • Vishnu Temple, Deogarh • Vishnu Vardhan • Vishnu Vijayam • Vishnu Vishal • Vishnu maya • Vishnu sahasranama • Vishnu temple • Vishnu temples • Vishnu's Crowded Temple, India since the Great Rebellion • Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud

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Vishnu

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Vishnu

Vishnu (left) and Lakshmi on Shesha Naga, ca 1870
Devanagariविष्णु
AffiliationDeva (Trimurti)
AbodeVaikuntha
WeaponSudarshana Chakra and the Kaumodaki
ConsortLakshmi
MountGaruda

Vishnu (IAST: viṣṇu, Devanagari: विष्णु) is the Supreme God in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God.[1] He is exalted as the highest God in Śruti like the Taittiriya Shakha and the Bhagavad Gita.[2][3]

The Vishnu Sahasranama[4] declares Vishnu as Paramatma (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, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within.

In the Puranas, Vishnu is described as having the divine color of clouds (dark-blue), four-armed, holding a lotus, mace, conch and chakra (wheel). Vishnu is also described in the Bhagavad Gita as having a 'Universal Form' (Vishvarupa) which is beyond the ordinary limits of human perception.[5]

The Puranas also describe each of the Dasavatara of Vishnu. Among these ten principal avatars described, nine have occurred in the past and one will take place in the future, at the end of Kali Yuga. In the commentary of creator Brahma in Vishnu Sahasranamam, he refers to Vishnu as "Sahasrakoti Yuga Dharine", which means that these incarnations take place in all Yugas in cosmic scales. The Bhagavad Gita mentions their purpose as being to rejuvenate Dharma[6] and vanquish negative forces as also to display His divine pastimes in front of the conditioned/fallen souls. In almost all Hindu denominations, Vishnu is either worshiped directly or in the form of his ten avatars, such as Rama and Krishna.[7]

The Trimurti (English: ‘three forms’; Sanskrit: trimūrti) 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."[8][9] These three deities have been called "the Hindu triad"[10] or the "Great Trinity".[11] Of the three members of the Trimurti, the Bhagavata Purana, which espouses the Vaishnavite viewpoint, explains that the greatest benefit can be had from Vishnu.[12]

Contents

Etymology

A 13th century Cambodian statue of Vishnu

The traditional Sanskrit explanation of the name Viṣṇu involves the root viś, meaning "to settle, to enter", or also (in the Rigveda) "to pervade", and a suffix nu, translating to approximately "the All-Pervading One". An early commentator on the Vedas, Yaska, in his Nirukta, defines Vishnu as 'vishnu vishateh; one who enters everywhere', and 'yad vishito bhavati tad vishnurbhavati; that which is free from fetters and bondages is Vishnu.'

Adi Sankara in his commentary on Vishnu Sahasranama, the thousand namees of Vishnu, states derivation from this root, with a meaning "presence everywhere" ("As he pervades everything, vevesti, he is called Visnu",). Vishnu itself is the second name in the sahasranama. 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 which pervades everything is Vishnu.[13]

Characteristics

The number of auspicious qualities of Vishnu as the supreme God are countless, with the following six qualities being the most important:

  • Jñāna (Omniscience), defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously
  • Aishvarya (Sovereignty, derived from the word Ishvara), which consists in unchallenged rule over all
  • Shakti (Energy), or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible
  • Bala (Strength), which is the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue
  • Vīrya (Vigor), which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the supreme being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations
  • Tejas (Splendor), which expresses His self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by His spiritual effulgence[14]

Vishnu in Smriti and Shruti

Traditional Vaishnavite view of Vishnu in the Vedas

File:VishnuGandhara.JPG
A 4th-6th century CE Sardonyx seal representing Vishnu with a worshipper. The inscription in cursive Bactrian reads: "Mihira, Vishnu (left) and Shiva".

In the Rigveda, Vishnu is mentioned 93 times. He is frequently invoked alongside other deities, especially Indra, who he helps in killing Vritra, and with whom he drinks Soma. His companionship with Indra is reflected by his later titles Indrānuja and "Upendra", both referring to Vishnu as being the brother of Indra. Vishnu is called Upendra because he appeared in the family of Aditi (Indra's mother) in one of his incarnations, Vamana. His distinguishing characteristic in the Vedas is his association with light. This association is found because the lord is indifferent from the Divine Bhramjyoti, which is the cause of material as well as spiritual effulgence.

One celebrated act of Vishnu in the Rigveda is the 'three steps' by which he strode over the universe and in three places planted his step. The 'Vishnu Sukta' of the Rig Veda (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 Visnu 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, he was not just the representation of the sun, as he traverses in his strides both vertically and horizontally.

In hymns I.22.17, 1.154.3, 1.154.4 he strides across the earth with three steps, in VI.49.13 , VII.100.3 strides across the earth three times and in I.154.1,I.155.5,VII.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 said to have made dwelling for men possible, the three being a symbolic representation of its all-encompassing nature. This all-enveloping nature and benevolence to men were to remain the enduring attributes of Vishnu. As the triple-strider he is known as Tri-vikrama and as Uru-krama for the strides were wide.

In some Rigvedic hymns, Indra seeks the help of Vishnu in destroying Vritra, indicating that he is not sufficient to accomplish it on his own.[15] This is further supported in the Skanda purana by Atreya Rsi that Vishnu is the sole godhead and the other demigods are just his different energies.[citation needed]

In another interpretation, the characteristic of Vishnu as the supreme God appeared much earlier in the Vedic texts. For example, the following Vedic hymns express that point of view:

  • Rig Veda (7.99.1-7 and 7.100.1-7)[citation needed]
  • 10.082.06: The waters verily first retained the embryo in which all the gods were aggregated, single deposited on the navel of the unborn (creator), in which all beings abide. The reference to the navel of the unborn is an indication of reference to Vishnu.[citation needed]
  • The Rig Veda (1.22.20) states, oṃ tad viṣṇoḥ paramam padam sadā paśyanti sūrayaḥ: "Those who are entirely devoted to lord Vishnu,after death,go to the supreme spiritual planet, where they lead eternal lives under the thralldom of His superior, internal energy."[citation needed]

The foreword of P. Sankaranarayan's translation of Vishnu sahasranama, Bhavan's Book University, cites Rig Veda V.I.15b.3, for the importance of chanting Vishnu's name, "O ye who wish to gain realization of the supreme truth, utter the name of Vishnu at least once in the steadfast faith that it will lead you to such realization."

Views of Vishnu in the Vedas, according to Western Scholars of Indology

In contrast to traditional Vaishnavite position that Vishnu is the supreme deity in the Vedas, European scholars and Indologists argue that Vedas place Indra considerably in superior position to Vishnu.[16] Several hymns in Vedas explicitly subordinates Vishnu.[17]As per the English translations of the Rigveda, Vishnu always extols and lauds the Majesty of Indra. He sings the praise of Indra. The eighth mandala of Rigveda clearly says that Vishnu derived his energy from Indra. The three steps of Vishnu was possible only because he derived his energy from Indra.[17]

  • "When Viṣṇu, through thine(Indra's) energy, strode wide those three great steps of his,Then thy two beautiful Bay Steeds carried thee on.". (Rigveda 8:12:27)[18]
  • "Visnu, Varuna, Mitra sing thy (indra's) praise: In thee the Maruts' company have great delight".(Rigveda 8:15:9)[19]
  • "This majesty of his, Visnu extols and lauds, making the stalk that gives the meath flow forth with might" (Rigveda 10:113:2)[20]
  • "Step forth with wider stride, my comrade Visnu; make room, Dyaus, for the leaping of the lightning.Let us slay Vrtra, let us free the rivers let them flow loosed at the command of Indra" (Rigveda 8:89:12 [19]

However, Jon Gonda, another Western scholar, states that Vishnu, although remaining in the background of Indra's exploits, contributes by his presence, or is key to Indra's success.[21] Vishnu is more than a mere companion, equal in rank or power to Indra, or sometime the one who made Indra' success possible.[21]

Moreover, even when Vishnu is described as subordinate to Indra, such a description is found in only the hymns to Indra, but in a kathenotheistic religion like the Rig Vedas, each god, for the time being, is supreme in the mind of the devotee.[22] Vishnu is not a mere sacrificial deity; he is a God who lives in the highest celestial region, compared with those who live in the atmospheric or terrestrial regions;[23] Moreover, Vishnu is a god who is content with mere prayer, unlike almost all of the other gods who receive sacrificial offerings such as havis or soma.[23]

In the Brahmanas

Four-armed Vishnu, Pandya Dynasty, 8-9th century CE.

In the Rigveda, Shakala shakha: Aitareya Brahmana Verse 1 : "Agnir vai devānām avamo Viṣṇuḥ paramas, tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā" declares that Agni is the lowest or youngest god and Vishnu is the greatest and the oldest God.In the Brahmanas, the supremacy of Lord Vishnu is clearly announced. Here He is repeatedly addressed as "Yajnapati" or the one whom all the sacrifices are meant to please.[citation needed] Even if the sacrifices are offered to the demigods, Lord Vishnu is the one who accepts the sacrifice and allots the respective fruits to the performer.[citation needed] There is mention of one such incident where a demoniac person performs a sacrifice by abducting the rsis forcefully. The sacrifice was meant to bring about the destruction of Indra. But the rsis,who used to worship indra as a demigod were intelligent enough to alter a single pronunciation of the ved-mantra. The purpose of the entire sacrifice was reversed. When the fruit of the sacrifice was given, as in when the demon was on the verge of dying, he clearly calls out to lord 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.

Scholarly Views

Sayana writes that Aitareya Brahmana 1-1-1 ("Agnir vai devānām avamo Viṣṇuḥ paramas,tadantareṇa sarvā anyā devatā") doesn't indicate any hierarchy among gods. Even in Rigveda Samhita, where 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 ; for he represents (in the Rigveda) the sun in its daily and yearly course. The words 'avama' and 'parama' is to be understood as 'First' and 'Last' respectively. To prove this meaning to be the true one, 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).[24]

According to Indologists

Prof.Muller says "Although the gods are sometimes distinctly invoked as the great and the small, the young and the old (Rv. i. 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" .[25]

In the Upanishads

The oldest of the Upanishads, that form the philosophical culmination of the Vedas, are dated to the 7th or 8th centuries BCE. The upanishads,right from Gopal tapani upanishad to the Brhad ranya upanishad state His Godhood.The Katha-upanishad, describes Vishnu in supremacy -

He who has no understanding, who is unmindful and always impure, never reaches that place, but enters into the round of births. But he who has understanding, who is mindful and always pure, reaches indeed that place, from whence he is not born again. But he who has understanding for his charioteer (intellect), and who holds the reins of the mind, he reaches the end of his journey, and that is the highest place of Vishnu.

In the Bhagavad Gita

Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, depicts his Vishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, teaches Arjuna the nature of the Supreme being and the different processes of Yoga, ultimately culminating in devotional surrender, similar to that of the catursloki of the Bhagavata Purana.[26][27]

  • "I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the witness, the abode, the refuge, and the most dear friend. I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of everything, the resting place and the eternal seed."[28]
  • "But what need is there, Arjuna, for all this detailed knowledge? With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe."[29]
  • "If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form."[30]
  • "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not despair."[31]

In the Viṣṇu Smṛti

The Viṣṇu Smṛti (700-1000CE) is one of the latest books of the Dharmaśāstra tradition of Hinduism and also the only one which does not deal directly with the means of knowing dharma, focusing instead on the bhakti tradition and requiring daily puja to the god Viṣṇu. It is also known for its handling of the controversial subject of the practice of sati (the burning of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre).[32] The text was not actually composed by the sage Viṣṇu himself, but rather by an individual or group writing much after his death. This group brought together a collection of all of the commonly known legal maxims which were attributed to the sage Viṣṇu into one book as the Indian oral culture began to be recorded more formally.[33]

Theological attributes

Vishnu and Lakshmi riding on Vishnu's Vahana Garuda - Painting in LACMA from Rajasthan, Bundi, c.1730

Vishnu takes form as an all-inclusive deity, known as Purusha or Mahāpurusha, Paramātma [Supreme Soul], Antaryāmi [In-dweller], and he is the Sheshin [Totality] in whom all souls are contained.

Vishnu is the only Bhagavan (which in Sanskrit means "possessing bhāga Divine Glory"), as declared in the Bhagavata 1.2.11 in the verse: "vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate". The meaning of the verse is as follows: "Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan.[34]

In the Vishnu Purana (6.5.79) the personality named Parashara Rishi defines six bhagas as follows:

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

Jiva Gosvami explains the verse in his Gopala Champu (Pūrva 15.73) and Bhagavata Sandarbha 46.10:

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

Vishnu possesses six such divine glories, namely,

  • Jñāna Omniscient; defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously;
  • Aishvarya Sovereignty, which persist in unchallenged rule over all;
  • Shakti Energy, or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible;
  • Bala Strength, which is the capacity to support everything by his will and without any fatigue;
  • Virya Vigour, or valour which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the Supreme Spirit or Being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations;
  • Tèjas Resplendent, or Splendour, which expresses his self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by his spiritual effulgence; cited from Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, by Swami Tapasyananda.

However, the actual number of auspicious qualities of Vishnu is countless, with the above-mentioned six qualities being the most important. 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 Sringara 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 called Trivikrama.) The Sanskrit for "to stride" is the root kram; its reduplicated perfect tense 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.

Three forms

In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a school of Vaishnavism, the Satvata-tantra describes three different forms, or aspects, of Vishnu as Maha Vishnu, Garbhodaksayi Vishnu and Kshirodakasayi Vishnu, with each form having a different role in the maintenance of the Universe and its inhabitants:

"For material creation, Lord Krishna's plenary expansion assumes three Vishnus. The first one, Maha-Vishnu, creates the total material energy, known as the mahat-tattva. The second, Garbhodakasayi Vishnu, enters into all the universes to create diversities in each of them. The third, Kshirodakasayi Vishnu, is diffused as the all-pervading Supersoul in all the universes and is known as Paramatma. He is present even within the atoms. Anyone who knows these three Vishnus can be liberated from material entanglement."[35]

Five forms

In Sri Vaishnavism, another school, 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 Bhuma 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 which itself divides into four, Vishnu assumes four forms, which exercise different cosmic functions and controls activities of living beings.
  3. In the Vibhava form, Vishnu assume various manifestations, called Vibhavas, more popularly known as Avataras from time to time, in order to protect the virtuous, punish the 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 atom of matter[36].
  5. In the Arcavatara or Image manifestation, the Lord is easily approachable to the devotees since they cannot worship Para, Vyuha, Vibhava and Antaryami forms directly, which can only be imagined or meditated upon because they are beyond our reach. Such images can be
    1. revealed by the Lord himself, for example, a self-manifested (Swayambhu) icon (murti), e.g. The Mahavishnu Temple at Tirunelli, The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, The Tirumala Venkateswara Temple etc; or
    2. installed by devas or celestial beings such as The Guruvayur Temple installed by Vayu; or
    3. installed by humans, and consecrated according to Vaishnava Agama shastras or scriptures such as Lord Jagannath of Jagannath Temple (Puri) at Puri.[37]

See also Pañcaratra

Relationship to Lord Shiva

Vishnu (left half—blue) and Shiva (right half—white)

During the Vedic period, both Vishnu and Shiva (as identified with Rudra) played relatively minor roles, but by the time of the Brahmanas (c. 1000-700 BCE), both were gaining ascendance.[38] By the Puranic period, both deities had major sects that competed with one another for devotees.[39] Many stories developed showing different types of relationships between these two important deities.

Sectarian groups each presented their own preferred deity as supreme. Vishnu in his myths "becomes" Shiva.[40] The Vishnu Purana (4th c. CE) shows Vishnu awakening and becoming both Brahmā to create the world and Shiva to destroy it.[41] Shiva also is viewed as a manifestation of Vishnu in the Bhagavata Purana.[42] In Shaivite myths, on the other hand, Shiva comes to the fore and acts independently and alone to create, preserve, and destroy the world.[43] In one Shaivite myth of the origin of the lingam, both Vishnu and Brahmā are revealed as emanations from Shiva's manifestation as a towering pillar of flame.[44] The Śatarudrīya, a Shaivite hymn, says that Shiva is "of the form of Vishnu".[45] Differences in viewpoints between the two sects are apparent in the story of Śarabha (also spelled "Sharabha"), the name of Shiva's incarnation in the composite form of man, bird, and beast. Shiva assumed that unusual form to chastise Vishnu in his hybrid form as Narasimha, the man-lion, who killed Hiranyakashipu, an ardent devotee of Shiva.[46][47] However, Vaishnava followers including Dvaita scholars, such as Vijayindra Tirtha (1539–95) dispute this view of Narasimha based on their reading of Sattvika Puranas and Śruti texts.[48]

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).[49] This dual form, which is also called Harirudra, is mentioned in the Mahabharata.[50] An example of a collaboration story is one given to explain Shiva's epithet Mahābaleśvara, "lord of great strength" (Maha = "great", Bala = "strength", Īśvara = "lord"). This name refers to a story in which Rāvaṇa was given a linga as a boon by Shiva on the condition that he carry it always. During his travels, he stopped near the present Deoghar in Jharkhand to purify himself and asked Narada, a devotee of Vishnu in the guise of a Brahmin, to hold the linga for him, but after some time, Narada put it down on the ground and vanished. When Ravana returned, he could not move the linga, and it is said to remain there ever since.[51] The story of Gokarna in Karnataka is also similar in that Ravana, on the way to Lanka from Kailasa, gave the lingam to Ganesha to keep until he bathes, but Ganesha fits it in the earth, so the lingam is called Mahabaleshwara.

As one story goes, Shiva is enticed by the beauty and charm of Mohini, Vishnu's female avatar, and procreates with her. As a result of this union, Ayyappa or Shasta identified with Ayyanar is born.

Relations with other Deities

Vishnu with Lakshmi (Lakshmi-Narayana) at Halebidu.

Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Maya is the samvit (the primary intelligence) of Vishnu, while the other five attributes emerge from this samvit and hence Maya is his ahamata, activity, or Vishnu's Power. This power of God, Maya or Shakti, is personified and is called Shri or Lakshmi, Maya, Vishnumaya, or Mahamaya, and She is said to manifest Herself in, 1) kriyāshakti, (Creative Activity) and 2) bhütishakti (Creation) of Universe. Hence this world cannot part with his creativity i.e., ahamta, which is a feminine form which in its feminine form is called Shri or Lakshmi or Maya. He therefore needs consort Goddess Lakshmi to be with Him always, untouched by any. Thus goddess Lakshmi has to accompany Vishnu in all His incarnations.

Vishnu is also associated with Bhudevi or Prithvi, the earth goddess; Tulsi; Ganga, goddess of river Ganges and also Saraswati, goddess of learning. In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, verses 2.6.13-95 it is described that Vishnu has three wives, who constantly quarrel with each other, so that eventually, he keeps only Lakshmi, giving Ganga to Shiva and Saraswati to Brahma.

Vishnu's vehicle is Garuda, the eagle, and he is commonly depicted as riding on his shoulders. Another name of him is "Veda-Atma" or The Soul of the Vedas and Vedic truth.

As Guru Kshethram, the guru of the devas, he is the arch-enemy of Shukra, the guru of the Asuras.

Iconography

A painting of Vishnu seated on lotus
A statue of Vishnu at the Angkor Wat in Cambodia

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

  • He is to be depicted as a four-armed male-form: The four arms indicate his all-powerful and all-pervasive nature. The physical existence of Vishnu is represented by the two arms in the front while the two arms at the back represent his presence in the spiritual world. The Upanishad titled Gopal Uttartapani describes the four arms of Vishnu.
  • The color of his skin has to be new-cloud-like-blue: The blue color indicates his all-pervasive nature, blue being the color of the infinite space as well as the infinite ocean on which he resides.
  • He has the mark of sage Bhrigu's feet on his chest.[citation needed]
  • Also on his chest is the srivatsa mark, symbolising his consort Lakshmi. It is on the chest of Vishnu, where Lakshmi resides.
  • Around his neck, he wears the auspicious "Kaustubha" jewel, and a garland of flowers (vanamaalaa). It is in this jewel, on Vishnu's chest that Lakshmi dwells.
  • A crown should adorn his head: The crown symbolizes his supreme authority. This crown is sometimes depicted having a peacock feather, borrowing the iconography from image of his Krishna avataar.
  • He is to shown wearing two earrings: The earrings represent inherent opposites in creation — knowledge and ignorance; happiness and unhappiness; pleasure and pain.
  • He rests on Ananta: the immortal and infinite snake

Vishnu is always to be depicted holding the four attributes associated with him, being:

  1. A conch shell or Shankha, named "Panchajanya", held by the upper left hand, which represents Vishnu's power to create and maintain the universe. The Panchajanya represents the five elements or Panchabhoota - water, fire, air, earth and sky or space. It also represents the five airs or Pranas that are within the body and mind. The conch symbolizes that Vishnu is the primeval Divine sound of creation and universal maintenance. it also represented as Om. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna avatara states that of sound vibrations, 'He is Om'.
  2. The chakra, a sharp-spinning discus-like weapon, named "Sudarshana", held by the upper right hand, which symbolizes the purified spiritualized mind. The name Sudarshana is derived from two words - Su, which means good, superior, and Darshan, which means vision or Sight; together, it is "Superior Vision". The chakra represents destruction of one's ego in the awakening and realization of the souls original nature and god, burning away of spiritual ignorance and illusion, and developing the higher spiritual vision and insight to realize god.
  3. A mace or Gada, named "Kaumodaki", held by the lower left hand, symbolizes Vishnu's divine power is the source all spiritual, mental and physical strength. It also signifies Vishnu's power to destroy materialistic or demoniac tendencies called anarthas; within the person's consciousness that hinders them from reaching god. Vishnu's mace is the power of the Divine within us to spiritually purify and uplift us from our materialistic bonds.
  4. A lotus flower or Padma, held by the lower right hand, represents spiritual liberation, Divine perfection, purity and the unfolding of Spiritual consciousness within the individual. The lotus opening its petals in the light of the Sun is indicative of the expansion and awakening of our long dormant, original spiritual consciousness in the light of god. The lotus in Vishnu's hand symbolizes that god is the power and source from which the universe and the individual soul emerges. It represents Divine Truth or Satya, the originator of the rules of conduct or Dharma, and Divine Vedic knowledge or jnana. The lotus also symbolizes that Vishnu is the embodiment of spiritual perfection and purity. Also that He is the wellspring of these qualities and that the individual soul must seek to awaken these intrinsic Divine qualities from Vishnu by surrendering to and linking with Him.
A statue in Bangkok, Thailand depicting Vishnu mounted on his vahana Garuda

To this may be added, conventionally, the vanamaala flower garland and Vishnu's bow, the 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 is depicted in one of the following three ways:

  1. Standing upright on a lotus flower, often with Lakshmi, his consort, beside him on a similar pedestal;
  2. Reclining on the coiled-up thousand-hooded Shesha Naga, with his consort Lakshmi, seated at his feet; the assemblage rests on the "Kshira Sagar" (ocean of Milk). In this representation, Brahma is depicted as sitting on a lotus that grows out of Vishnu's navel.
  3. Riding on the back of his eagle mount, known as Garuda. Another name for Garuda is "Veda atma"; Soul of the Vedas. The flapping of his wings symbolizes the power of the Divine Truth of Vedic wisdom. Also the eagle represents the soul. Garuda carrying Vishnu symbolizes the soul or jiva atma carrying the Super soul or Param atma within it.

Avataras

File:Awatoceanofmilk01.JPG
The bas-relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk shows Vishnu in the centre, his turtle avatar Kurma below, asuras and devas to left and right, and apsaras and Indra above, from Ankor Wat

There are ten avatars of Vishnu (dashavatara) commonly considered as the most prominent[52]:

  1. Matsya, the fish.
  2. Kurma, the turtle.
  3. Varaha, the boar.
  4. Narasimha, the Man-Lion (Nara = man, simha = lion).
  5. Vamana, the Dwarf Brahmin (priest).
  6. Parashurama, A Sage,Rama with the axe, who appeared in the Treta Yuga.
  7. Rama, Sri Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya.
  8. Krishna (meaning 'dark coloured' or 'all attractive' or the Existence of Bliss,[53]), appeared in the Dwapara Yuga along with his brother Balarama. Balarama is included as the eighth Dasavatara which list Krishna as the source of all avatars, svayam bhagavan (this viewpoint is specific to Bhagavata, Gaudiya, Vallabhacarya and Nimbarka sampradayas) .[54]
  9. Buddha, the thinker. (See Gautama Buddha in Hinduism)
  10. Kalki ("Eternity", or "timeless",destroyer of time or "The Destroyer of foulness"), who is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the time period in which we currently exist.

Some versions of the above list include Hayagriva amongst the Dasavataras. Apart from the above mentioned ten principal avatars, another 22 avatars are also given in Chapter 3, Canto 1 of the Bhagavata Purana. Following this list the Bhagavatam states that as well as these avatars "the incarnations of the Lord are innumerable, like rivulets flowing from inexhaustible sources of water"[55].

Thousand names of Lord Vishnu

Vishnu sahasranama manuscript, ca1690.

Vishnu has a large number of names and followers that are collected in the Vishnu sahasranama ("Vishnu's thousand names") from within the larger work Mahabharata. The character Bhishma recites the names before Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, praising him (Vishnu) as the supreme god. These Sahasranama are regarded as 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 are:

  • Achintya (Incomprehensible, beyond understanding)
  • Acyutah (infallible)
  • Ananta (endless, eternal, infinite)
  • Balaji (another name of Vishnu)
  • Damodara (having a rope (dama) around his belly (udara): a name of Krishna)
  • Govinda (protector of the cows & brahmins; master of the senses: a name of Krishna)
  • Hari (one who takes away)
  • Hayagriva (giver of knowledge)
  • Jagannatha (Owner/Ruler of the world/universe)
  • Janardana (One who is worshiped by people for Wealth)
  • Kesava (slayer of Keshi, having long or much or handsome hair, from Atharvaveda viii , 6 , 23)
  • Krishna (born during the third epoch or yuga, his deeds range from cow protection (go rakshya) to absolving the earth of load of sins)
  • Madhava (relating to the season of spring)
  • Madhusudana (he who destroyed the demon called Madhu)
  • Narayana (said to mean "he who is the abode of nār (= ether)", i.e., the whole universe's shelter. Also means "The supreme Man who is the foundation of all men". Another meaning is "He who lays in the water".
  • Padmanabha (lotus-naveled one, from whose navel sprang the lotus which contained Brahma, who created the universe)
  • Perumal Name he is known in Tamil
  • Purushottama - The Supreme Eternal Being
  • Rama (born during the second epoch or Yuga, his deeds primarily established the ideal living principles for a man)
  • Hrishikesh (Lord of the senses or Lord within the heart; "hri" root meaning the heart)
  • Satyanarayana (a combination of satya and Narayana meaning 'protector of truth')
  • Shikhandee: He who wears a peacock feather.
  • Souryarayan (the one who destroys the evil/sins and who comforts us) described in Vishnu kautuvam.
  • Sridhara (consort of Sri = Laxmi or Ultimate wealth)
  • Siddhartha (one who attains perfection, birth name of Buddha avatar in the last epoch of Kali Yuga)
  • Sriman (the pride of Shri or Lakshmi); Often Sriman is combined with the name, Narayana , to form a compound word, Sriman Narayana.
  • Srinivasa (the abode of Shri) (also specifically referring to his form in the temple at Tirupati). Also the form of Vishnu at Tirupati is well-known as Venkateswara.
  • Trivikrama (Conqueror of the three worlds, as in Vamana avatara).
  • Vishal (Immense, The Unstoppable One).
  • Vamana (dwarfish, small or short in stature, a dwarf brahmana)
  • Vāsudeva ( "All-Pervading god", with the long vowel A; it also means "the son of Vasudeva", i.e Krishna)
  • Shreesh (Husband of Goddess Lakshmi).
  • Guruvayurappan Lord of Guruvayur (Temple made by Guru (Brihaspati) & Vayu deva)
  • Jaganath is the south eastern name of Vishnu. The word juggernaut has its origin from this name of Vishnu (The Jagannatha temple is in Puri, Orissa where every year there is a festival in which huge chariots are drawn through the city. These chariots are the vahana (vehicle) for the 3 main gods of this temple - Jagannatha, Balarama and Rukmini (Jagannatha's consort). Hundreds of men are needed to pull each of these chariots. When they start moving, they keep moving and are difficult to stop. That is the idea behind the word juggernaut which means something huge that cannot be stopped.)
  • Sohama means the most intelligent, it is strongest form of Vishnu with a thousand brains and hands

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ The Sri Vaishnava Brahmans, K. Rangachari (1931)p. 2
  2. ^ A. Berridale Keith, The Yajur Veda - Taittiriya Sanhita 1914, full text
  3. ^ The Sanhitâ of the Black Yajur Veda with the Commentary of Mâdhava ‘Achârya, Calcutta (Bibl. Indica, 10 volumes, 1854-1899)
  4. ^ Sri Vishnu Sahasaranama - Transliteration and Translation of Chanting
  5. ^ Prabhupada, AC Bhaktivedanta. "Bhagavad-gita As It Is Chapter 11 Verse 3". vedabase.net. http://vedabase.net/bg/11/3/en1. Retrieved 2008-05-10.  "see the cosmic manifestation"
  6. ^ Bhagavad Gita 4.7 "...at that time I descend Myself"
  7. ^ 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. pp. 254. ISBN 0-7007-1281-X. p. 4
  8. ^ For quotation defining the trimurti see Matchett, Freda. "The Purāṇas", in: Flood (2003), p. 139.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ For the term "Great Trinity" in relation to the Trimurti see: Jansen, p. 83.
  12. ^ http://vedabase.net/sb/1/2/23/en
  13. ^ Swami Chinmayananda's translation of Vishnu sahasranama pgs. 16-17, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
  14. ^ Tapasyananda (1991). Bhakti Schools of Vedānta. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math. ISBN 8171202268. http://books.google.com/books?id=Q_VtAAAACAAJ. 
  15. ^ http://www.payer.de/somadeva/soma024.htm
  16. ^ Page 97, ORIGINAL SANSKRIT TEXTS,Origin and History of people of India,VOL-IV, J.Muir,second ed.
  17. ^ a b Page 98, ORIGINAL SANSKRIT TEXTS,Origin and History of people of India,VOL-IV, J.Muir,second ed.
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ a b http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv08015.htm
  20. ^ http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv10113.htm
  21. ^ a b Aspects of early Visnuism, pg. 32, by Jon Gonda at http://books.google.com/books?id=b8urRsuUJ9oC&pg=PA156&dq=indra+superior+vishnu&lr=&cd=40#v=onepage&q=indra%20superior%20vishnu&f=false
  22. ^ Atman in pre-Upanishadic Vedic Literature, pg. 85 at http://books.google.com/books?id=2X2q0e-dkwMC&pg=PA84&dq=indra+vishnu+vedas&lr=&cd=190#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  23. ^ a b Atman in pre-Upanishadic Vedic Literature, pg. 86 at http://books.google.com/books?id=2X2q0e-dkwMC&pg=PA84&dq=indra+vishnu+vedas&lr=&cd=190#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  24. ^ page 1 foot note 1, Aitareya Brahmana , By Martin Haug, SUDHINDRA NATH VASU, M. B., AT THE PANINI OFFICE, BAHADURGANJ, ALLAHABAD.,1922.
  25. ^ page 533, History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature by Prof Max muller.Printed BY SPOTTISWOODE AND CO. NEW-STREET SQUARE LONDON.
  26. ^ Gupta, Ravi M. (2004). Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta: Acintyabhedabheda in Jiva Gosvami's Catursutri tika. University Of Oxford. 
  27. ^ Gupta, Ravi M. (2007). Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami's Catursutri tika. Routledge. ISBN 0415405483. 
  28. ^ http://www.vedabase.net/bg/9/18/en1 .. the basis of everything, ..the eternal seed
  29. ^ http://www.vedabase.net/bg/10/42/en1 ..I pervade the entire universe
  30. ^ http://www.vedabase.net/bg/11/12/en1 ..effulgence of the Supreme Person..
  31. ^ http://www.vedabase.net/bg/18/66/en1 ..surrender unto Me..
  32. ^ Olivelle 2007: 149-150.
  33. ^ Lariviere 1989: xxiii
  34. ^ Bhagavata Purana 1.2.11
  35. ^ Quoted from the Satvata-tantra translation by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
  36. ^ SrimAn nArAyaNa
  37. ^ "SRIVAISHNAVISM — A CONSCISE STUDY — PART III". http://www.srivaishnavan.com/tomcat/srivaish3.html. 
  38. ^ For relatively minor position in Vedic times, and rise in progress by 1000-700 BCE see: Zimmer (1946), p. 125, note 2.
  39. ^ For the rise in popularity of Shiva and Vishnu, and the role of Puranas in promoting sectarian positions, see: Flood (1996), pp. 110-111.
  40. ^ For Visnu becoming Shiva in Vaishnava myths, see: Zimmer (1946), p. 125.
  41. ^ For Vishnu Purana dating of 4th c. CE and role of Vishnu as supreme deity, see: Flood (1996), p. 111.
  42. ^ For identification of Shiva as a manifestation of Vishnu see: Bhagavata Purana 4.30.23, 5.17.22-23, 10.14.19.
  43. ^ For predominant role of Shiva in some myths, see: Zimmer (1946), p. 128.
  44. ^ For the lingodbhava myth, and Vishnu and Brahmā as emanations of Shiva, see: Zimmer (1946), pp. 128-129.
  45. ^ For translation of the epithet शिपिविष्ट (IAST: śipiviṣṭa) as "salutation to him of the form of Vishṇu" included in the fifth anuvāka, and comment that this epithet "links Śiva with Vishṇu" see: Sivaramamurti, pp. 21, 64.
  46. ^ For Śarabha as an "animal symplegma" form of Shiva, see: Kramrisch, p. 481.
  47. ^ For incarnation in composite form as man, bird, and beast to chastise Narasimha, see: Chakravarti, p. 49.
  48. ^ Sharma, B. N. Krishnamurti (2000). A history of the Dvaita school of Vedānta and its literature: from the earliest beginnings to our own times. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.. pp. 412. http://books.google.com/books?id=FVtpFMPMulcC&pg=PA412&. 
  49. ^ Chakravarti, pp. 54-55.
  50. ^ For Harirudra citation to Mbh. III.39.76f see: Hopkins (1969), p. 221.
  51. ^ For the story of Rāvaṇa and the Mahābaleśvara linga see: Chakravarti, p. 168.
  52. ^ Garuda Purana Texts 1.86.10-11
  53. ^ Vishnu sahasranama, Sankara's interpretation of the 57th name, Swami Tapasyananda's translation, pg. 51.
  54. ^ Dasavatara Page (salagram.net)
  55. ^ Bhagvata Purana, 1.3.26

References

  • Translation by Richard W. Lariviere (1989). The Nāradasmr̥ti. University of Philadelphia. 
  • Patrick Olivelle. "The Date and Provenance of the Viṣṇnu Smṛti." Indologica Taurinensia, 33 (2007): 149-163.

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