|Affiliation||Bhagavan (Trimurti), Supreme God|
|Abode||Vaikuntha, Ksheera Sagara|
|Mantra||Om Namo Narayanaya, Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, Om Vishnave Namaha|
|Weapon||Sudarshana Chakra and Kaumodaki Mace|
Vishnu (Sanskrit: विष्णु) is a Vedic Supreme God (including his different avatars) in Hinduism, and is venerated as the Supreme Being in Vaishnavism. Vishnu is also known as Narayana and Hari (See Keshava Namas) and is venerated as Purushottama or Supreme Purusha in ancient sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas and the Puranas. He is the Supreme Purusha of Purusha Sukta. The Vishnu Sahasranama, (the thousand names of Vishnu) of the Mahabharata 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, sustains and governs the universe and originates and develops all elements within.
Vaishnavism sees Vishnu as the Supreme God, and venerates him as the Supreme Being. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as just one of the five primary forms of God, namely Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya and Ganesha; who are all seen as equal reflections of the one Brahman, rather than as distinct beings. His supreme status is declared in Hindu sacred texts; the Vedas the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavata Purana and other Sattva Puranas which all declare Vishnu as Supreme God. Vishnu incarnates on Earth from time to time, as an avatar, to eradicate evil forces, to restore the dharma and to liberate the worthy ones or devotees from the cycle of births and deaths.
In Hindu sacred texts, Vishnu is described as having the divine blue colour 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 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' (Vishvarupa or Viraat Purusha) which is beyond the ordinary limits of human perception or imagination.
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. Vishnu's other abode within the material universe is Ksheera Sagara (the ocean of milk), where he reclines and rests on Ananta Shesha. It is the topmost realm in the material universe, even higher than Satyaloka where Brahma resides. Vishnu manages and sustains the universe from here. Hence, Ksheera Sagara is also sometimes known as local Vaikuntha of the material universe, which is approachable by devas (gods) in order to meet Vishnu in the event of any emergency or disturbance in the equilibrium of the universe.
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. The Puranabharti, 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, 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 to vanquish those negative forces of evil that threaten dharma, and also to display His divine nature in front of fallen 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." These three deities have been called "the Hindu triad" or the "Great Trinity". Of the three members of the Trimurti, the Bhagavata Purana, which espouses the Vaishnavite viewpoint, claims that the greatest benefit can be had from worshipping Vishnu.
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". 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".
Vishnu itself is the second 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."
The number of auspicious qualities of Vishnu as the supreme god is countless, but the following six are the most important:
- Jnana (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 (Power or Energy), which is the capacity to make the impossible possible
- Bala (Strength), which is the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue
- Virya (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
Sacred texts - Smriti and Shruti 
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.
Smriti refers to all the knowledge derived and inculcated after Shruti had been received. Smriti is not 'divine' in origin, but was 'remembered' by later rishis (seers) by transcendental means and passed down though their followers. It includes the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana which are Sattva Puranas.These both declare Vishnu as Para Brahman Supreme Lord who creates unlimited universes and enters each one of them as Lord of Universe.
Vishnu engages in the creation of 14 worlds within the universe as Brahma when he deliberately accepts rajas guna. Vishnu sustains, maintains and preserves the universe as Vishnu when he accepts sattva guna and annihilates the universe at the end of maha-kalpa as Shiva or Rudra when he accepts tamas guna. According to this reference, the holy Trimurti is not different from Vishnu.
Vishnu is also venerated as Mukunda which means Supreme 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.
In the Yajurveda, Taittiryia Aranyaka (10-13-1), Narayana sukta, Lord Narayana is mentioned as the supreme being. The first verse of Narayana sukta mentions the words "paramam padam" which literally means "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 and Lord Narayana. This perhaps is an indication that Narayana and Vishnu are alternate names for the same god, establishing his supremacy. Narayana is also one of the thousand names of Vishnu as mentioned in the Vishnu Sahasranama. 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.
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 attributes incur his creator (Brahma)'s wrath, who along with Shiva, start by giving boons to demons or asuras such as Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashyapu and Ravana, who are then able to defeat Indra in wars between the devas and asuras. These received boons made the demonic 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), and then as a half-man, half-animal (Varaha the pig-faced, human-bodied Lord and Narasimha the Lord with lion face and claws and human body). Later Vishnu appears as human beings (Vamana the short-heighted person), Parashuram, Ram, Krishna, Balarama or Buddha and finally as Kalki avatar for performing his task of protecting his devotees from the asuras or anti-God, anti-religious entities. Ravana is the greatest of Shiva's devotees, but is slain by Vishnu, who appears before him as Lord Rama, the son of Dasharatha.
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. Next, Shiva is the Son of Brahma as per Bhagavata Purana. Instead Vishnu takes various avatars to slay or defeat those demons. Since Shiva and Brahma cannot distinguish between good and evil beings, they have to entrust this responsibility to Vishnu. Finally, Vishnu never grants a wish to evil beings.
Vishnu's actions lowered Indra's ranking among Hindu deities and led to the ascendancy of Vishnu.
Few temples are dedicated to the Sun or Suryanarayana, nor indeed Indra, nor does Indra figure largely in the Hindu religion.
Indra was almost completely absent from the deities considered as the chief or most important deity. Suryanarayana, a minor deity, was also absent.
In the Rigveda, Vishnu is mentioned 93 times. He is frequently invoked alongside other deities, especially Indra, whom he helps in killing Vritra 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. In Vaishnava canon the 'Vishnu' who is subordinate to Indra is identified as Vamana, Vishnu's fifth avatar, and who is different from the Supreme God who is referred to as Vishnu by Vaishnavites. 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. Vishnu is content with mere prayer, unlike almost all of the other gods who receive sacrificial offerings such as havis which is clarified butter or ghee, or soma.
An alternate translation is provided by Wilson 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)
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)
Wilson offers an alternate translation for Rigveda 10:113:2:
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 bore the name Suryanarayana. By contrast the 'Vishnu' referred to in 'Vishnu Puranam', 'Vishnu Sahasranamam' and 'Purusha Sooktham' is Lord Narayana , the Consort of Lakshmi. The Vaishnavites make a further distinction by extolling the qualities of Vishnu by highlighting his differences from other deities such as Shiva, Brahma or Surya.
Three steps 
Hymn 7.100 refers to the celebrated 'three steps' of Vishnu 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, 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.
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 that: 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 was meant to destroy Indra. But the rishis, who worshipped Indra as a demigod, altered one pronunciation of the ved-mantra, reversing the purpose of the sacrifice. When the fruit of the sacrifice was given and the demon was 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. Vishnu belongs to Satriyan group and is not a Brahmana.
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). 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 'Agnis role is neglected.
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."
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).
The following verse suggests Rudra gaining his strength from worship of Viṣṇu.
Vishnu Smriti 
The Vishnu Smriti, Viṣṇu Smṛti (700–1000 AD) 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). 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.
Theological attributes 
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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 nondual substance Brahman, Paramātma and Bhagavan."
- aiśvaryasya samagrasya vīryasya yaśasaḥ śriyaḥ
- jñāna-vairāgyayoś caiva ṣannāḥ bhaga itīṇganā
- jñāna-śakti-balaiśvarya-vīrya-tejām.sy aśeṣataḥ
- bhagavac-chabda-vācyāni vinā heyair guṇādibhiḥ
- "The substantives of the word bhagavat (bhagavat-śabda-vācyāni) are unlimited (aśes.atah.) knowledge (jñāna), energies (śakti), strength (bala), opulence (aiśvarya), heroism (vīrya), splendor (tejas), without (vinā) objectionable (heyair) qualities (guṇādibhiḥ)."
The actual number of Vishnu's auspicious qualities is countless, although his six most-important "divine glories" are:
- Jnana (Omniscience); to know about all beings simultaneously;
- Aishvarya (Sovereignty), the unchallenged rule over all;
- Shakti (Energy), the capacity to make the impossible possible;
- Bala (Strength), the capacity to support everything by his will and without fatigue;
- Virya (Vigour), the power to retain immateriality as the Supreme Spirit or Being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations;
- Tejas (Splendor), which expresses self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by spiritual effulgence; cited from Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, by Swami Tapasyananda.
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 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.
Five forms 
- See also Pañcaratra
In Sri Vaishnavism, another school dating from around the 10th century AD, Vishnu assumes five forms:
- 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).
- In the Vyuha form, Vishnu assumes four forms, which exercise different cosmic functions and controls activities of living beings.
- 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.
- In the Antaryami; "Dwelling within" or "Suksma Vasudeva" form, Vishnu exists within the souls of all living beings and in every substance.
- 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
- 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 Venkateswara Temple etc.; or
- installed by devas or celestial beings such as such as Guruvayur Temple installed by Vayu; or
- installed by humans, and consecrated according to Vaishnava Agama shastras or scriptures such as Lord Jagannath of Jagannath Temple (Puri) at Puri.
Relations with deities 
The Trimurti are inseparable and in complete harmony in view of their common vision and universal good.
There is no concept of disagreement among the gods, and they are ideal in all respects. However, ordinary men and sectarian groups, not knowing this equilibrium and their sacred relationship, in later ages wove stories in the vernacular presenting their preferred deity as Supreme and as "sthala puranas" for the multitude of temples. These have nothing to do with the recognised original Puranas and other ancient Scriptures.
Although their names were mentioned in the Vedas, both Vishnu and Shiva played relatively minor roles, but by the time of the Brahmanas,(commentaries on the four Vedas), both were gaining ascendance. By the Puranic period, both deities had major sects of devotees, creating a schism.
Both Brahma and Devas played supportive roles in this story by keeping company with Vishnu in his incarnated forms. Hanuman is the 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 consort, with his idol appearing temples of Rama, Krishna and Narasimha, i.e. all of Vishnu's avatars, is considered by Vaishnavas.
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). This dual form, which is also called Harirudra, is mentioned in the Mahabharata.
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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 Lakshmi is his ahamata, activity, or Vishnu's Power.[clarification needed] This power of God, Maya or Shakti, is personified and has multiple names: 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 consort are Varahavataram (Bhudevi)or Bhumi, Ramavataram Sita, Krishnavataram (Radha and Rukmini) and Venkateswara (Padmavathi Vedavati).
Vishnu's vehicle is Garuda, the eagle. Vishnu is commonly depicted as riding on his shoulders. Another name of Vishnu is Veda-Atma, or The Soul of the Vedas and Vedic truth.
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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:
- He has four arms and is male: The four arms indicate his all-powerful and all-pervasive nature. His physical existence 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 Gopal Uttartapani describes the four arms.
- The srivatsa mark is on his chest, symbolising his consort Lakshmi.
- He wears the auspicious "Kaustubha" jewel around his neck and a garland of flowers (vanamaalaa). Lakshmi dwells in this jewel, on Vishnu's chest.
- A crown adorns his head: The crown symbolizes his supreme authority. This crown sometimes includes a peacock feather, borrowing from his Krishna avatar.
- He wears 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 four attributes:
- A conch shell or Shankha, named Panchajanya, is held by the upper left hand. It represents Vishnu's power to create and maintain the universe. 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 continuity. It also represented as Om. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna avatara states that of sound vibrations, 'He is Om'.
- The chakra, a sharp-spinning discus-like weapon, named "Sudarshana", is held by the upper right hand. It 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 ego in the awakening and realization of the soul's original nature and god, burning away spiritual ignorance and illusion, and developing higher spiritual vision and insight to realize god.
- A mace or Gada, named "Kaumodaki", is held by the lower right hand. It symbolizes that Vishnu's divine power is the source of all spiritual, mental and physical strength. It also signifies Vishnu's power to destroy materialistic or demonic tendencies (anarthas) that prevent people from reaching god. Vishnu's mace is the power of the Divine within us to spiritually purify and uplift us from our materialistic bonds.
- A lotus flower or Padma is held by the lower left hand. It 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 symbolizes that god is the power and source from which the universe and the individual soul emerges. It also 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 and 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.
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:
- Standing on a lotus flower, often with Lakshmi, his consort, beside him on a similar pedestal.
- Reclining on the coiled-up thousand-hooded Shesha Naga, with 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.
- 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.
Vishnu reclining on the Shesha Naga with his consort Lakshmi massaging his feet.
Ten avatars (dashavatara) of Vishnu are the most prominent:
- Matsya, the fish that kills Damanaka to save the vedas and saves mankind.
- Kurma, the turtle that helps the Devas and Asuras churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality.
- Varaha, the boar that rescues the Earth and kills Hiranyaksha
- Narasimha, the half-lion half human, who defeats the demon Hiranyakashapu -nara(man), simha (lion).
- Vamana, the dwarf that grows into a giant to save the world from King Bali.
- Parashurama, A Sage, Rama with the axe, who appeared in the Treta Yuga. He killed Kartavirya Arjuna's army and clan and then killed all the ksatriyas 21 times.
- Rama, Sri Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya who killed Demon King Raavana.
- Krishna , a king of ancient Dwarka and (meaning 'dark coloured' or 'all attractive' or the Existence of Bliss) who played a major role in Mahabharata together with his brother Balarama who is an avatar of Shesha his eternal servant.
Some versions of the above list include Hayagriva among the Dashavataras. 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".
Thousand names of Vishnu 
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Vishnu's many names and followers 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 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 are:
- Achintya—Incomprehensible, beyond understanding, also interpreted as remover of all worries from devotees
- Amar—immortal, deathless
- Ananta—endless, eternal, infinite
- Anirudha—One who is uncontrollable & unstoppable, one amongst the quadruple form (Chatur-Vyuha) of Lord Vishnu (i.e Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha)
- Damodara—One who was tied with a cord (daama) around his waist (udara) in Krishna avatara by his mother Yasoda, One who has entire universe as his abode
- Govinda—One who is attainable by Vedic chanting, one who is finally known by vedas, Protector of cows
- Hari—One who takes away (all the pains & the material existence of his devotees and destroys sansara for them i.e. gives them moksha)
- Hayagriva—horse-necked incarnation taken to save vedas
- Jagannatha or Juggernaut —owner/Ruler of the world/universe
- Janardana—one who is worshiped for Wealth
- Keshava—one whose Kesa (hair) is long, uncut and beautiful, one who destroyed the asura or demon Keshi in the Krishna avatara, one who is himself the three: kah Brahma; ah Vishnu and Isha Shiva
- Krishna—born during the third epoch or yuga, his deeds range from cow protection (go rakshya) to absolving the earth of sins
- Madhava—Husband (Dhava) of Lakshmi (Ma i.e. Mother), Lord of Knowledge
- Madhusudana—Destroyer of demons Madhu-Kaitabh in order to rescue Brahma
- Narayana—The final refuge of all Nara (Jivas), one who resides (ayana) in all the jivas (nara), one who rests (ayana) on water (nara) within the universe
- Padmanabha—lotus-naveled one, from whose navel sprang the lotus which contained Brahma, who created the universe
- Parthasarathy—charioteer of Arjuna/Partha
- Perumal, Thirumaal and Maalavan Tamil language—language names
- Purushottama—Supreme Eternal Being, Purush + Uttam = Purushottama means Supreme Purusha or Supreme God
- Ram—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—combination of satya and Narayana meaning 'protector of truth'
- Shikhandee—He who wears a peacock feather.
- Suryanarayan—the one who destroys the evil/sins and who comforts us) described in Vishnu kautuvam, Onw whose form is Sun
- Sridhara—One who sustains Lakshmi (Shri), One on whose chest resides Lakshmi
- 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—who measured the entire universe in three footsteps in Vamana avatara
- Vishal—immense, The Unstoppable One
- Vamana—who took Vamana avatara to help Indra
- Vāsudeva—One who resides in all living beings and in turn all living beings reside in him, one amongst the quadruple form (Chatur-Vyuha) of Lord Vishnu (i.e Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha); it also means "the son of Vasudeva", i.e. Krishna
- Shree-esh—one who has Shree or Lakshmi as his consort / Husband of Goddess Lakshmi
- Guruvayurappan—Lord of Guruvayur (Temple made by Guru (Brihaspati) & Vayu deva)
- Jagannath—something huge that cannot be stopped
- Sohama—the most intelligent: the strongest form of Vishnu with a thousand brains and hands and lambdike
According to the Siddhartha-samhita there are twenty-four forms of Lord Vishnu. The twenty-four forms are
See also 
- Keshava Namas
- Great Architect of the Universe
- List of names of Vishnu
- Bhagavata Purana (12.13.16): Just as the river Ganges is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Achyuta (Vishnu) the supreme among gods and Lord Shambhu (Shiva) the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Bhagavata Purana is the greatest of all Puranas.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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
- The Sri Vaishnava Brahmans, K. Rangachari (1931)p. 2
- As categorized in Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, 236.18–21
- Bhagavad Gita Ch.4 Shloka.8
- Prabhupada, AC Bhaktivedanta. "Bhagavad-gita As It Is Chapter 11 Verse 3". vedabase.net. Retrieved 2008-05-10. "see the cosmic manifestation"
- "Sapthagiri". Tirumala.org. 2010-11-19. Retrieved 2013-03-05.
- 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.
- Bhagavad Gita 4.7 "...at that time I descend Myself"
- For quotation defining the trimurti see Matchett, Freda. "The Purāṇas", in: Flood (2003), p. 139.
- 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.
- 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.
- For the term "Great Trinity" in relation to the Trimurti see: Jansen, p. 83.
- "Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1 Chapter 2 Verse 23". Vedabase.net. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- Swami Chinmayananda's translation of Vishnu sahasranama pgs. 16–17, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
- Tapasyananda (1991). Bhakti Schools of Vedānta. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math. ISBN 81-7120-226-8.
- Bhagavata Purana Canto 2 Chapter 10 Verse 10
- Vishnu Purana 1.2.61-63
- Bhagavata Purana Canto 2 Chapter 5 Verse 16-18
- Bhagavata Purana Canto 11 Chapter 4 Verse 5
- Name 515 in Vishnu Sahasranama
- "Sri Vishnu Sahasaranama – Transliteration and Translation of Chanting". Swami-krishnananda.org. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1980). Advanced History of India, Allied Publishers, New Delhi.
- Atman in Pre-Upanisadic Vedic Literature – H. G Narahari – Google Books. Books.google.com. Vishnu at Google Books
- Regveda Volume 4 page 269
- "Rig Veda: Rig-Veda Book 1: HYMN CLIV. Viṣṇu". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- Regveda Volume 6 pages 318–319
- Regveda Volume 2
- Aitareya Brahmana , By Martin Haug, SUDHINDRA NATH VASU, M. B., AT THE PANINI OFFICE, BAHADURGANJ, ALLAHABAD.,1922. page 1 note 1
- History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature by Prof Max muller. Printed by Spottiwoode and Co. New-Street Square London. page 533
- "RV 2 38". Flaez.ch. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- "Rigveda 2:38. Savitar". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- "Rigveda Sam.hita_: Devana_gari script and English Translation, Man.d.ala 2". Srivaishnava.org. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- "Rigveda Volume 2" (PDF). p. 308. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- "Regveda 7:40". Flaez.ch. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- "Rigveda 7:40. Viśvedevas". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- Olivelle, Patrick (2007). "The Date and Provenance of the Viṣnu Smṛti". Indologica Taurinensia (33): 149–150.
- Lariviere 1989: xxiii
- Bhagavata Purana 1.2.11
- "SrimAn nArAyaNa". Sriranganatha.tripod.com. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
- "SRIVAISHNAVISM — A CONSCISE STUDY — PART III".
- For relatively minor position in Vedic times, and rise in progress by 1000–700 BCE see: Zimmer (1946), p. 125, note 2.
- For the rise in popularity of Shiva and Vishnu, and the role of Puranas in promoting sectarian positions, see: Flood (1996), pp. 110–111.
- Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1977) Reprint 1980, Advanced History of India, Allied Publishers, New Delhi.
- Chakravarti, pp. 54–55.
- For Harirudra citation to Mahabharata 3:39:76f see: Hopkins (1969), p. 221.
- Dallapiccola, Anna L. Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend Thames & Hudson, London, ISBN 0-500-51088-1
- Garuda Purana Texts 1.86.10–11
Further reading 
- Translation by Richard W. Lariviere (1989). The Nāradasmr̥ti. University of Philadelphia.
- Patrick Olivelle. "The Date and Provenance of the Viṣṇu Smṛti." Indologica Taurinensia, 33 (2007): 149–163.
- Devdutt Pattanaik (2011). 7 Secrets of Vishnu. westland ltd. ISBN 978-93-80658-68-1.
- Vishnu, the god of Preservation, by Dr. C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar
- BBC Religion & Ethics – Who is Vishnu (bbc.co.uk)