Shri Vishnu

Vishnu (Devanagari: विष्णु), (honorific: Bhagavan Vishnu), is the Supreme God in Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God, and his supreme status is declared in the Hindu sacred texts like Yajurveda, the Rigveda and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Vishnu Sahasranama 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 sense perception.

The Puranas also describe each of the dasavatara of Vishnu. Among these ten principal avatars described, nine of them 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 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.

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." These three deities have been called "the Hindu triad" or the "Great Trinity".

Etymology

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 states derivation from this root, with a meaning "presence everywhere" ("As he pervades everything, vevesti, he is called Visnu"). 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.

Iconography

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 sky as well as the infinite ocean on which he resides.
  • He has the mark of sage Bhrigu's feet on his chest.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Avatars

There are ten avatars of Vishnu (dashavatara) commonly considered as the most prominent[26]:

  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, Rama with the axe, who appeared in the Treta Yuga.
  7. Rama, Sri Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya.
  8. Balarama, Sri Balaramar, The Elder Brother of Sri Krishna.
  9. Krishna (meaning 'dark coloured' or 'all attractive' or the Existence of Bliss,), 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).
  10. Buddha, the thinker. (See Gautama Buddha in Hinduism)
  11. Kalki ("Eternity", or "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 given in Chapter 3, Canto 1 of the Srimad Bhagavatam. 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".

There has also been some comparison between the avatars of Vishnu and Darwin's Theory of Evolution, as the incarnations generally mirror increasing phylogenetic sophistication in keeping with the theory's proposal of terrestrial reptiles and mammals evolving from aquatic and amphibian life.

Thousand names of Lord Vishnu

Vishnu has a large number of names, 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 (Inomprehensible, beyond understanding)
  • Acyutah (infallible)
  • Ananta (endless, eternal, infinite)
  • 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 world'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 Supereme Eternal Being
  • Rama (born during the second epoch of yuga, his deeds primarily established the ideal living principles of 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')
  • 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).

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