|Affiliation||Supreme Being (Vaishnavism)
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Vishnu (Sanskrit pronunciation: [vɪʂɳu]; IAST: Viṣṇu) is a major male deity in Hinduism, and the foundation of its Vaishnavism tradition. He, along with Brahma and Shiva, is part of a Hindu Trinity; however, ancient Hindu texts mention other trinities of gods or goddesses.[note 1]
In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is identical to the formless metaphysical concept called Brahman, the supreme, the Svayam Bhagavan, who takes various avatars as "the preserver, protector" whenever the world is threatened with evil, chaos and destructive forces. His avatars (incarnations) most notably include Krishna in the Mahabharata and Rama in the Ramayana. He is also known as Narayana, Jagannatha, Vasudeva, Vithoba and Hari. He is included as one of the five equivalent deities in Panchayatana puja of the Smarta Tradition of Hinduism.
In Hindu inconography, Vishnu is usually depicted as having the dark or pale blue complexion and having four arms. He holds a padma(lotus flower) in his lower left hand, Kaumodaki gada (mace) in his lower right hand, Panchajanya shankha (conch) in his upper left hand and the discus weapon (Sudarshana Chakra) in his upper right hand.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Texts
- 3 Sangam Literature
- 4 Vaishnava theology
- 5 Relations With Deities
- 6 Avatars of Vishnu
- 7 Beyond Hinduism
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 Temples
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
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 viṣṇur viṣvater vā vyaśnoter vā, "one who enters everywhere". He also writes, atha yad viṣito bhavati tad viṣnurbhavati, "that which is free from fetters and bondages is Vishnu".
Chinmayananda states that, that which pervades everything is Vishnu.
The iconography of Hindu god Vishnu has been widespread in history.
Vishnu is a Vedic deity, but a minor one in contrast to Indra, Agni and others. He is mentioned in the Brahmana layer of the Vedas, his profile rises and over the history of Indian mythology, states Jan Gonda, Vishnu becomes a divinity of the highest rank, one equivalent to the Supreme Being.
He is mentioned in various hymns of the Rigveda, a 2nd millennium BCE text, such as in its hymns 1.154.5, 1.56.3 and 10.15.3. In these hymns, the Vedic mythology asserts that Vishnu resides in that highest home where departed Atman (souls) reside, an assertion that may have been the reason for his increasing emphasis and popularity in Hindu soteriology.
In the Vedic literature, Vishnu is invoked alongside other deities, especially Indra, whom he helps in killing the symbol of evil named Vritra. His distinguishing characteristic in Vedas is his association with light. Two Rigvedic hymns in Mandala 7 refer to Vishnu. In 7.99, Vishnu is addressed as the god who separates heaven and earth, a characteristic he shares with Indra. In Rig Vedic texts, the deity or god referred to as Vishnu is Surya or Savitr (Sun god), who also bears the name Suryanarayana. Again, this a characteristic Vishnu shares with Mitra and Agni, where in different hymns, they too "brings men together" and causes all living beings to rise up and impels them to go about their daily activities. In hymn 7.99 of Rigveda, Indra-Vishnu are equivalent and produce the sun, where the hymns then assert that this sun is the source of all energy and light of all.
The Rig Veda describes Vishnu as close friend of Indra. In Vaishnava canon the Vishnu who is younger brother to Indra is identified as Vamana, Avatar of Vishnu, hence referred to as Vishnu by Vaishnavites.
In the Yajurveda, Taittiriya Aranyaka (10.13.1), Narayana sukta, Narayana is mentioned as the supreme being. The first verse of Narayana Suktam mentions the words paramam padam, which literally mean highest post and may be understood as the supreme abode for all souls. This is also known as Param Dhama, Paramapadam or Vaikuntha. Rig Veda 1.22.20 a also mentions the same paramam padam.
In the Atharvaveda, the mythology of a boar who raises goddess earth from the depths of cosmic ocean appears, but without the word Vishnu or his alternate avatar names. In post-Vedic mythology, this legend becomes one of the basis of many cosmogonic myth called the Varaha legend, with Varaha as an avatar of Vishnu.
Hymn 7.100 refers to the celebrated three steps of Vishnu(as Trivikrama) by which he strode over the universe and in three places planted his step. The Vishnu Suktam (Mandala 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 God Vishnu is/Laid as it were an eye in heaven.(trans. Griffith)
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 Trivikrama and as Urukrama, for the strides were wide.
In the Kausitaki Brahmana (7.1) Agni is called Aaradhya (instead of avama) and Visnu parardha (instead of parama),i.e., belonging to the lower and higher halves(or forming the lower and higher halves). Muller states, "Although the gods are sometimes distinctly invoked as the great and the small, the young and the old (Rig veda 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 subordinate to 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."
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In Vaishnavism-focussed Puranas, Vishnu is supreme Brahman and is described as the source of creator deity Brahma. His iconography typically shows Brahma being born in a lotus emerging from the navel of Vishnu, who then is described as creating all the forms in the universe, but not the primordial universe itself. In contrast, the Shiva-focussed Puranas describe Brahma and Vishnu to have been created by Ardhanarishvara, that is half Shiva and half Parvati; or alternatively, Brahma was born from Rudra, or Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma creating each other cyclically in different aeons (kalpa).
In Vaishnava cosmology, Vishnu's eye is at the southern celestial pole from where he watches the cosmos.
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The Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism states that Vishnu has five manifestations, as Para form called Paravasudeva; as Vyuha form called Krishna, Sankarshana, Anirudda, Pradyumna; Vibhava form; Antaryami form as Vasudeva; and the Arcavatara form.
Relations With Deities
Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity (both material and spiritual), is wife and active energy of Vishnu. She is also called Sri or Thirumagal because she is the source of eight auspicious strengths for Vishnu. When Vishnu incarnated on the Earth as the avatars Rama and Krishna, Lakshmi incarnated as his respective consorts: Sita (Rama's wife) and Rukmini (Krishna's wife). Lakshmi and Padmavati are wives of Lord Vishnu at Tirupati. In Hinduism, Lord Vishnu had incarnated as Lord Venkatachalapathi at Tirupati, although this grand form of him is not counted as one of the dasavatars.
Trimurti: Shiva and Brahma
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, preserver or protector and Shiva the destroyer or transformer." These three deities have also been called the Hindu triad or the "Great Trinity", all having the same meaning of three in One. They are the different forms or manifestations of One person the Supreme Being.
Vishnu's fusion with Shiva is known as the form Vishwanath. 'Vishwa' from Lord Vishnu and 'Nath' from Lord Shiva resulting to Vishwanath. Shiva and Vishnu are both viewed as the ultimate form of god in different Hindu denomoniations. Harihara is a composite of half Vishnu and half Shiva, and artwork related to Harihara is found from mid 1st millennium CE, such as in the cave 1 and cave 3 of the 6th-century Badami cave temples. Another half Vishnu half Shiva form, which is also called Harirudra, is mentioned in Mahabharata.
Vishnu's mount(Vahana) is Garuda, the eagle. Vishnu is commonly depicted as riding on his shoulders. Garuda is also considered as Vedas on which Lord Vishnu travels. Garuda is a sacred bird in Vaishnavism. In Garuda Purana, Garuda carries Lord Vishnu to save the Elephant Gajendra.
Avatars of Vishnu
The concept of avatar within Hinduism is most often associated with Vishnu, the preserver or sustainer aspect of God within the Hindu Trinity or Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu's avatars descend to empower the good and fight evil, thereby restoring Dharma. An oft-quoted passage from the Bhagavad Gita describes the typical role of an avatar of Vishnu:
Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil,
and for the establishment of righteousness,
I come into being age after age.— Bhagavad Gita 4.7–8
The Vishnu avatars appear in Hindu mythology whenever the cosmos is in crisis, typically because the evil has grown stronger and has thrown the cosmos out of its balance. The avatar then appears in a material form, to destroy evil and its sources, and restore the cosmic balance between the everpresent forces of good and evil.
The most known and celebrated avatars of Vishnu, within the Vaishnavism traditions of Hinduism, are Krishna, Rama, Narayana and Vasudeva. These names have extensive literature associated with them, each has its own characteristics, legends and associated arts. The Mahabharata, for example, includes Krishna, while the Ramayana includes Rama.
The Bhagavata Purana describes Vishnu's avatars as innumerable, though ten of his incarnations (Dashavatara), are celebrated therein as his major appearances. The ten major Vishnu avatars are mentioned in the Agni Purana, the Garuda Purana and the Bhagavata Purana;[note 2] thirty-nine avatars are mentioned in the Pañcaratra. The commonly accepted number of ten avatars for Vishnu was fixed well before the 10th century CE.
The ten best known avatars of Vishnu are collectively known as the Dasavatara (a Sanskrit compound meaning "ten avatars"). Five different lists are included in the Bhagavata Purana, where the difference is in the sequence of the names. Freda Matchett states that this re-sequencing by the composers may be intentional, so as to avoid implying priority or placing something definitive and limitation to the abstract.
|Matsya||Half fish-half man avatar. He saves the world from a cosmic flood, with the help of a boat made of the Vedas (knowledge), on which he also rescues Manu (progenitor of man) and all living beings. A demon steals and tries to destroy the Vedas, but Matsya finds the demon, kills him, and returns the Vedas.|||
|Kurma[note 3]||Tortoise avatar. He supports the cosmos, while the gods and demons churn the cosmic ocean with the help of serpent Vasuki to produce the nectar of immortality (just like churning milk to produce butter). The churning produces both the good and the bad, including poison and immortality nectar. Nobody wants the poison, everyone wants the immortality nectar. The demons attempt to steal the nectar, wherein Vishnu appears as enchantress Mohini avatar, for whom they all fall, and give her the nectar.|||
|Varaha||Boar avatar. He rescues goddess earth when the demon Hiranyaksha kidnaps her and hides her into the depths of cosmic ocean. The boar finds her and kills the demon, and the goddess holds onto the tusk of the boar as he lifts her back to the surface.|||
|Narasimha||Half lion-half man avatar. Demon king Hiranyakashipu becomes enormously powerful, gains special powers by which no man or animal could kill him, then bullies and persecutes people who disagree with him, including his own son. The Man-Lion avatar creatively defeats those special powers, kills Hiranyakashipu, and rescues demon's son Prahlada who opposes his own father. The legend is a part of the Hindu festival Holi folklore.|||
|Vamana||Dwarf avatar. Demon king Bali gains disproportionately enormous powers, ruling the entire universe and abusing it. The dwarf avatar approaches Bali in the form of a monk, when Bali is trying to show off by giving alms at a sacrifice. Bali offers the dwarf any riches he wants, the monk refuses and asks for three steps of land. Bali grants it to him. The dwarf grows, in his first step takes the earth, the second all of the heavens, and for the third the netherworld where Bali returns to.|||
|Parashurama||Sage with an axe avatar. The warrior class gets too powerful, and seizes other people's property for their own pleasure. The avatar appears as a sage with an axe, kills the king and all his warrior companions.|||
|Rama||Subject of Ramayana|||
|Krishna||Subject of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita|||
|Buddha||Subject of Buddhism. Some Hindu texts replace Buddha with Balarama or with Rishabhanatha, the first Tīrthankara of Jainism.||[note 4]|
|Kalki[note 5]||The last avatar appears as man with a white horse with wings, projected to end the Kali yuga, in order that the cosmos may renew and restart.|||
Thousand Names Of Vishnu
Vishnu's many names and followers are collected in Vishnu sahasranama(Vishnu's thousand names), one well-known version of which is found in Mahabharata. Bhishma recites the names before Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, praising Vishnu as the supreme god. These sahasranama are regarded as the essence of all Vedas by followers of Vaishnavism, who believe sincere chanting of Vishnusahasranama results in spiritual well-being and greater awareness of God.
The true Vaishnav, the devotee of Vishnu, is the one with whom God is thoroughly pleased. He dwells apart from Maya. Performing good deeds, he does not seek rewards. Spotlessly pure is the religion of such a Vaishnav; he has no desire for the fruits of his labors. He is absorbed in devotional worship and the singing of Kirtan, the songs of the Lord's Glory. Within his mind and body, he meditates in remembrance on the Lord of the Universe. He is kind to all creatures. He holds fast to the Naam, and inspires others to chant it. O Nanak, such a Vaishnav obtains the supreme status.
While some Hindus consider Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, Buddhists in Sri Lanka venerate Vishnu as the custodian deity of Sri Lanka and protector of Buddhism. Lord Vishnu is also known as upulvan or uthpala varna, meaning Blue Lotus coloured. Some postulate that Uthpala varna was a local deity who later merged with Vishnu while another belief is that Uthpala Varna was an early form of Vishnu before he became a supreme deity in Puranic Hinduism. According to Chronicles Mahawamsa, Chulawamsa and folklore in Sri Lanka, Buddha himself handed over the custodianship to Vishnu. Others believe that Buddha entrusted this task to Sakra(Indra) and Sakra delegated this task of custodianship to god Vishnu. In contrary to vedic Hinduism, in assimilation of Hindu god Vishnu into Sinhalese Buddhism, Vishnu becomes a mortal being and a Bodhisattva aspiring Buddhahood. Additionally, Vishnu is considered as god of home and heart representing mercy, goodness, order and stability. Many Buddhist and Hindu shrines are dedicated to Vishnu in Sri Lanka. In addition to specific Vishnu Kovils or devalayas, all Buddhist temples necessarily house shrine rooms(Devalayas) closer to the main Buddhist shrine dedicated to Vishnu.
John Holt in his groundbreaking study examines the assimilation, transformation and subordination of the Hindu deity Vishnu within the contexts of Sri Lankan history and Sinhala Buddhist religious culture. He then explores the role and rationale of medieval Sinhala kings in assimilating Visnu into Sinhala Buddhism. According to Holt, the veneration of Vishnu in Sri Lanka is evidence of a remarkable ability over many centuries, to reiterate and reinvent culture as other ethnicities have been absorbed into their own. Though the Vishnu cult in Ceylon was formally endorsed by Kandyan kings in the early 1700s, Holt states that Vishnu images and shrines are among conspicuous ruins in the medieval capital Polonnaruwa.
In Buddhist mythology, when Vishnu failed to traverse the universe in three steps, he was given the title Ardha Vishnu(Half-Vishnu) and when Vishnu banished demons from Vaishali(Vishala) in India, he became Mulu Vishnu or Whole Vishnu. The extreme significance of god Vishnu in Sinhala society is reflected in recitals of the traditional offerings to dwarfs and crossing the door frame(bahirwayanta dola pideem saha uluwahu peneema) that starts with Shri Vishnu invocation. In the recitals, mentioning of the aspiring Buddhahood of Vishnu which is of prime importance to Buddhists and wishes for him to live five thousand and more years highlight the central role of Vishnu in the psyche of Sri Lankan Buddhists.
In Japanese Buddhist pantheon, Vishnu is known as Bichūten(毘紐天).
In popular culture
4034 Vishnu is an asteroid discovered by Eleanor F. Helin.
During an excavation in an abandoned village of Russia in the Volga region, archaeologist Alexander Kozhevin excavated an ancient idol of Vishnu. The idol dates from between the 7th and 10th centuries. In the interview Kozhevin, stated that, "We may consider it incredible, but we have ground to assert that Middle-Volga region was the original land of Ancient Rus. This is a hypothesis, but a hypothesis, which requires thorough research."
The Padmanabhaswamy dedicated to Vishnu. The temple dates back to before the Sangam period and is believed to be the wealthiest place of worship in the world, with assets of gold and precious stones potentially estimated to be worth trillions of dollars.
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- Keshava Namas
- List of names of Vishnu
- Murali gana lola is a bhajan celebrating the God Vishnu's two incarnations Rama and Krishna
- The Trimurti idea of Hinduism, states Jan Gonda, "seems to have developed from ancient cosmological and ritualistic speculations about the triple character of an individual god, in the first place of Agni, whose births are three or threefold, and who is threefold light, has three bodies and three stations". Other trinities, beyond the more common "Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva", mentioned in ancient and medieval Hindu texts include: "Indra, Vishnu, Brahmanaspati", "Agni, Indra, Surya", "Agni, Vayu, Aditya", "Mahalakshmi, Mahasarasvati, and Mahakali", and others.
- Alternate lists of Vishnu avatars are found in medieval Hindu texts. For example, twenty-two avatars of Vishnu are listed numerically in chapter 1.3 of the Bhagavata Purana [BP]: Four Kumaras (Catursana) [BP 1.3.6] – the four Sons of god Brahma and exemplified the path of devotion, Varaha [BP 1.3.7], Narada [BP 1.3.8] the divine-sage who travels the worlds as a devotee of Vishnu, Nara-Narayana [BP 1.3.9] – the twin-sages, Kapila [BP 1.3.10] – a renowned sage spoken of in the Mahabharata, son of Kardama Muni and Devahuti and sometimes identified with the founder of the Samkhya school of philosophy, Dattatreya [BP 1.3.11] – the combined avatar of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He was born to the sage Atri became a great seer himself; Yajna [BP 1.3.12] – the lord of fire-sacrifice, who took was the Indra – the lord of heaven, Rishabha [BP 1.3.13] – the father of King Bharata and Bahubali, Prithu [BP 1.3.14] – the sovereign-king who milked the earth as a cow to get the world's grain and vegetation and also invented agriculture, Matsya [BP 1.3.15], Kurma [BP 1.3.16], Dhanvantari [BP 1.3.17] – the father of Ayurveda medicine and a physician to the Devas, Mohini [BP 1.3.17] – the enchantress, Narasimha [BP 1.3.18], Vamana [BP 1.3.19], Parashurama [BP 1.3.20], Vyasa [BP] 1.3.21] – the compiler of the scriptures – Vedas and writer of the scriptures Puranas and the epic Mahabharata, Rama [BP 1.3.22], Krishna [BP 1.3.23], Balarama [BP 1.3.23], Buddha [BP 1.3.24], Kalki [BP 1.3.25]
- Mohini, the female avatar of Vishnu, appears in stories about the Kurma avatar.
- Some versions include Balarama (the elder brother of Krishna) as the eighth avatar, with Krishna listed as the ninth instead of Buddha, while others replace Buddha with Balarama as the ninth avatar.Jayadeva in his Git Govinda instead adds both Balarama and Buddha,but omits Krishna as he is taken as the equivalent of Vishnu,the origin of all avatars.
- Some medieval Indian texts spell it as Kalkin.
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- Mystery of Angkor Wat Temple's Huge Stones Solved
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- 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.
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- Bhag-P 1.3 Canto 1, Chapter 3
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- "The Truth of Nanak and the Sikhs Part One", page. 353
- Wilhelm Geiger. Mahawamsa: English Translation(1908).
- Swarna Wickremeratne (2012). Buddha in Sri Lanka: Remembered Yesterdays. SUNY press. p. 226.
- John C Holt (2004). The Buddhist Vishnu:Religious transformation,politics and culture. Columbia University Press.
- Bonnie G MacDougall. Door frame crossing: English Translation.
- Vishnu & 4034 Vishnu Asteroid – Pasadena, CA – Extraterrestrial Locations on Waymarking.com
- Vishnu Temple at the Grand Canyon – The Panda's Thumb
- Ancient Vishnu idol found in Russian town" Times of India 4 Jan 2007
- Kerala's Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple may reveal more riches : South, News – India Today
- Eclectic architecture, exquisite features – The Hindu
- 'Treasure belongs to the temple and nobody else' – Rediff.com News
- 'Build a world-class museum near Padmanabha Swamy temple' – Rediff.com News
- World's Largest Gold Hoard
- Gold treasure at India temple could be the largest in the world | www.commodityonline.com | 3
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