VISHNU – One of Three Major Gods of Modern Hinduism

Vishnu rose from a minor role as a solar deity in the Rigveda to one of the Hindu Triad with Brahmâ and S´iva to the Absolute of the universe in Vaishnavism. Vishnu’s willingness to incarnate in time of need to restore righteousness (dharma) was the inspiring theme that made him both absolute and a compassionate giver of grace (prasâda).

Vishnu in the Rigveda was but a minor godling, whose solar activity of moving through the three regions of the universe may well have been another’s function. He was Indra’s friend and ally. When Indra slew the boar who stole the property of the asuras (demons), Vishnu carried away the dead beast, leaving the stolen property for the gods.

Mentioned several times in the hymns of the Rigveda, Vishnu’s role expanded rapidly in each succeeding age. In the Brahmanas Vishnu shared in the operation of the sacrificial ritual and appropriated a role in the triad of Agni-Indra-Sûrya, joined by Brahmâ and S´iva.

By the Purânic period, especially the Bhâgavata Purâna, Vishnu created the creator Brahmâ and either used S´iva or sent his own avatâras (incarnations) to function both as saviors and destroyers. (There are additional entries on some of the ten avatârasMatsya, Kûrma, Varâha, Narasimha, Vâmana, Paras´u-Râma, Râma, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalkin—and some of the manifestations.)

Perhaps the most unusual myth about Vishnu was his manifestation as Môhinî at the Churning of the Ocean where Vishnu appears as a beautiful goddess to deceive the asuras (demons) and allow the devas (gods) to acquire soma (the drink of immortality). During the period before each re-creation of the universe Vishnu would rest upon his serpent bed formed by Ananta (also known as S´esha) on the Milky Ocean.

The abode of Vishnu was called Vaikuntha. Vishnu was always blessed with wonderful opponents—Bali, Hiranyâksha, Hiranyakas´ipu, Râvana, and many others. Each necessitated a manifestation of power or grace, and that was freely given. Just as in the literature, among the pilgrimage sites (tîrthas) Vishnu’s sacred geography appropriated almost all of the sites of Indra and Brahmâ, until no other god, not even S´iva, had more sites of worship.

Iconographically, Vishnu usually has four arms (although there could be many more), a dark blue complexion, and royal headgear. In his hands are the conch, discus, mace, and lotus. Upon his chest is the miraculous jewel called the Kaustubha (treasure of the ocean) and a curl of hair known as S´rî-vatsa (beloved of S´rî, or fortune).

VISHNU - One of the three major gods of modern Hinduism

His vehicle is Garuda, the sun eagle, taken from Sûrya. His wife (or wives) are S´rî (fortune) and Lakshmî (thousands, or good fortune). Many see her as one, S´rî-Lakshmî, even when two images represent her presence.

There were other wives during his various incarnations, such as Bhîmî (earth) and Rukminî, principal wife of Krishna. Vishnu’s epithets demonstrate that his followers understand his many revelations as transcendent, as an incarnation (avatâra), as an emanation (vyuha) like Vasudeva or Aniruddha, as divine immanence and inner ruler, and as an idol for worship (murti).

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