Lord Vishnu

Lord Vishnu

Hindu gods and goddesses are phenomenal, but in due course of time Vishnu, as God of all gods, acquired supremacy, which continues till date. He is the central and the major deity of the trinity, viz., Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Though technically amongst these three chiefs gods known as creator, preserver, and destroyer, Vishnu is the Preserver, for all practical purpose he is deemed to be all-powerful, all knowing and all present.

The name Vishnu comes from the root VISH, which means, “to spread in all directions, to pervade”. He is the inner center, the core, the nucleus, and the cohesive point through which everything exists. He swells in everything, owns everything and overcomes any thing.

At the dawn of Aryan religion’s formative stage, Vishnu is found to be a god amongst so many other gods. But his rise on the scale of worship and prayer is very rapid and already before the end of the Vedic times, he rises to the highest pedestal. The form and image of Vishnu as well as its significance is explained in detail in Puranas and several other minor Upanishads.

The two most common representations of Vishnu show him either sleeping over the waves of the ocean on the coils of the serpent-deity, named Shesh Nag, or standing on waves with four hands each hand holding one of his four chief attributes.

About the four arms of Vishnu, GOPAL-UTTARTAPANI Upanishad says:

“In my lower right hand, which represents the revolving or creative tendency, I hold the conch, symbol of the five elements.

In the upper right hand, which represents the cohesive tendency I hold the discus, shining like an infant sun, symbol of the mind.

In the upper left hand, which represents the tendency towards dispersion and liberation, I hold the lotus, symbol of the causal power of illusion, from which the universe rises.

In my lower left hand, which represents the notion of individual existence, is the mace, symbol of primeval knowledge.”

Lord Vishnu

Lord Vishnu

The Conch (SHANKH) named PANCHJANYA is the fountain that evolves the five elements, i.e., water, fire, air, earth and sky or space. When blown it produces a sound that is associated with primeval sound from which creation developed.

The Discus or wheel (CHAKRA) of Vishnu named SUDARSHANA has six spokes and symbolizes six-petal lotus. It represents the limitless controlling all the six seasons and is the fearful weapon that cuts off the heads of all demons.

The Lotus of Vishnu is named PADMA. It is the symbol of purity and represents the unfolding of creation. It is the truth (SATHYA). The element from which emerge the rules of conduct (DHARMA) and knowledge (JNANA).

The Mace (GADA) of Vishnu is named KAUMODAKI. It represents the elemental force, from which all physical and mental powers are derived.

Lord VishnuIn some images where in place of Mace, the Bow, Arrows and Quiver are shown, the symbols represent as follows. The bow called SARANGA represents the ego, origin of sensorial perception which means that it is the symbol of the divine power of illusion (Maya), while the numerous Arrows of Vishnu are the senses, the fields of activity of the intellect and the Quiver is the store-house of actions.

The worshippers of Vishnu, known as VAISHNAVAS, recognize in him the Supreme Being, out of whom emerge Brahma, the active creator; Vishnu himself the preserver; and Shiva or Rudra, the destructor.

Vishnu’s preserving, restoring and protecting powers have been manifested to the world in a variety of forms, called, ‘Avatars’, in which one or more portions of his divine attributes were embodied in the shape of a human being or an animal or a human-animal combined form, possessing great and sometimes supernatural powers. All these Avatars of Vishnu appeared in the world either to correct some great evil or to affect some great good on the earth. These incarnations are ten in number, though Bhagvata Purana increases them to twenty-two and tells further that they are innumerable.

It is interesting to note the evolution of these incarnations from lower to higher forms of life and their reflection on the history of the evolution of mankind.

For example:

  Matsya, the fish incarnation symbolizes the forming of protoplasm and invertebrates
  Kurma, the tortoise symbolizes the amphibian form
  Varaha, the boar symbolizes the existence of mammals
  Narasimha, the half-man, half-animal incarnation shows the development of hands and fingers on animals and the evolution of the sub-human or ape form
  Vamana, the dwarf reflects the incomplete development of man
  Parashurama, the Rama-with-the-axe incarnation symbolizes the Stone Age. The axe symbolizes the start of the use of metal by mankind
  Rama shows the ability of mankind to live in cities and to have an administration
  Krishna (one who knows the sixty-four arts); reflects the development of the sciences
  Buddha incarnation reflects the intellectual and scientific development of man
Kalki the tenth and yet to come incarnation. In the years to come there will be a moral degradation in society and this future incarnation will save mankind

All the above incarnations are only the earthly manifestation of Vishnu, who himself is eternal, unchangeable and immutable. He is blue-skinned and in all pictures and images and he is seen in rich ornaments and regal garments. His wife is Lakshmi or Sri, the goddess of wealth and fortune. His place of abode is VAIKUNTHA (heaven) and his vehicle is Garuda, a giant-sized eagle, which often is shown as a winged human-shaped figure having a beak-like nose.

Vishnu is the infinite ocean from which the world emerges. Hence his symbol is water (Nara) and he himself is called ‘NARAYANA ‘ – the one who dwells upon the waters. He is pictured with the many-headed snake, as mentioned above, and this denotes ANANT NAG (the timeless or ageless snake). From his navel grows the lotus out of which appears Brahma, the god who created the universe.

Such is the Supreme God Vishnu, the all-pervading divinity, who descends as an Avatar (incarnation) to establish the rule of law and order of justice in each important age of the world’s history.