Who is Vishnu?
Vishnu is the second god in the Hindu Trimurti. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of the universe.
His role is to return to the earth in troubled times and restore the balance of good and evil. So far, he has been incarnated nine times, but Hindus believe that he will be reincarnated one last time close to the end of this world.
He is mentioned in the Churning of the Milky Ocean.
Vishnu’s worshippers, usually called Vaishnava, consider him the greatest god. They regard the other gods as lesser or demi gods. Vaishnava worship only Vishnu. Vishnu monotheism is called Vaishnavism.
What does Vishnu look like?
Vishnu is represented with a human body, often with blue coloured skin and with four arms. His hands always carry four objects in them, representing the things he is responsible for. The objects symbolize many more meanings than are presented here:
- The conch: the sound this produces ‘Om’, represents the primeval sound of creation
- The chakra, or discus: symbolizes the mind
- The lotus flower: an example of glorious existence and liberation
- The mace: represents mental and physical strength
Vishnu is usually represented in two positions.
- Standing upright on a lotus flower with Lakshmi, his consort, close by him
- Reclining on the coils of a serpent, with Lakshmi massaging his feet. They are surrounded by the Milky Ocean.
Vishnu rides on the King of Birds, Garuda, who is an eagle.
What are Vishnu’s incarnations?
The scriptures speak of the 10 Avatars of Vishnu – different incarnations that take the form of divine intervention provided by Vishnu during the various stages of human evolution. The “dasavatara” (ten avatars) is meant to re-establish dharma or righteousness and destroy tyranny and injustice on earth. The last Avatar is yet to appear on this earth.
- Matsya (fish) – Some Hindus believe that this is the similar to the biblical representation of Noah
- Kurma (turtle) – Churning of the Ocean
- Varaha (pig/boar) – In this avatar, Vishnu recovered the stolen Vedas
- Narasimha (half lion, half man) – Vishnu managed to vanquish a demon who had gained immunity from attacks from man, beast or god
- Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow) – In this story, the evil demon Bali had taken over the earth and had pushed all of the gods from the heavens as well. Vishnu took the form of a dwarf, who tricked Bali into giving him as much of Bali’s empire as he could cover in three steps. Vishnu as Vamana grew so large that with one step he had covered the earth, with the second the heavens, thus returning the ownership to the gods.
- Parasurama (fierce man/hunter) – Vishnu rids the earth of irreligious and sinful monarchs
- Rama (greatest warrior/ideal man) – As Rama, he kills the demon King Ravana, who abducted his wife Sita
- Krishna (mentally advanced man) – Krishna is the hero of the Mahabharata, an epic poem. He also delivered his famous message, known as the Baghavad Gita.
- Buddha (the all knowing one) – who appeared in the 5th century BCE. In some traditions, Balarama replaces Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu.
- Kalki (the mighty warrior) – Expected towards the end of this present age of decline, as a person on earth, seated on a white horse.
He is particularly associated with light and especially with the Sun. In early texts, Vishnu is not included as one of the original seven solar gods (Adityas), but in later texts he is mentioned as leading them.
Two of Vishnu’s incarnations, Rama and Krishna, are also the subject of the epic stories Ramayana and Mahabharata, respectively. From this time, Vishnu appears to have gained more prominence, and by the time of the Brahmanas (commentaries of the Vedas), he is regarded as the most important of all gods.