Vishnu, (from the Sanskrit root 'vish', to pervade) is the second god of the Hindu triad (see Trimurti) and as the preserver of the universe represents mercy and goodness. He is said to be the cosmic ocean nara, meaning water, which was the only thing in existence before the creation of the universe. For this reason, he is also known as Narayana, or "one who moves on the waters".
Vishnu is represented as a dark man with four arms. In one hand, he holds a club, in another a conch shell (see Shankha), in the third, a discus (Chakra), and in the fourth, a lotus (Kamal). He is usually dressed in yellow robes and therefore also known as Pitambara, or "one with yellow garments". The river Ganga is said to originate from Vishnu's feet. He is also depicted as resting on a coiled serpent Seshnaga or Ananta (see Snake Worship) which floats on the cosmic ocean. According to the Mahabharata, Vishnu's abode, Vaikuntha, is made of gold and .jewels. However, he is usually depicted reclining on Seshnaga, who floats on the cosmic ocean. His vehicle is Garuda, and his weapon is the discus, Sudarshana Chakra.
Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. She is believed to have emerged from the samudra manthan, and considered to be the daughter of Bhrigu and Khyati. She is a fair woman who wears red clothes, and is always depicted as sitting or standing on a red lotus (see Kamal). She is often worshipped by herself as Sri, Bhagya Lakshmi and Dhana Lakshmi, the goddess of all things auspicious, of good fortune and wealth.
Vishnu is a very popular deity and is widely worshipped. The Vishnu Purana details the benefits of his worship. He has a 1,000 names, whose repetition is believed to bring great merit. He is also worshipped as Satyanarayana. Apart from this, there are many other vratas and festivals related to Vishnu. A variety of ammonite fossils, the shalgrama shila, is believed to be a form of Vishnu and is widely worshipped. There is also a specific arati associated with Vishnu, which eulogises him. Those who believe in the supremacy of Vishnu over Shiva are known as Vaishnava. They can be distinguished by their tilaka, which is different from that of Shiva. Vishnu as the preserver is not mentioned in the Rig Veda (see Veda). In the text, he is considered to be the manifestation of solar energy. His role as the preserver was established by the Puranas.
The Padma Purana describes him as the Supreme Being, identifying him with Brahman . It states that Vishnu, wanted to create the universe. To this end, he divided himself into three parts: from his rightside, he produced Brahma the creator; from his left, he produced Vishnu, the preserver; and from his middle, he produced Shiva, the destroyer.
Vishnu has several avataras. According to the Puranas and the Mahabharata, whenever there is an imbalance between good and evil on the earth, Vishnu, as the preserver, is born to re-establish the balance. The Bhagavata Purana, among other sources, say that there are 22 avataras of Vishnu. However, the widely accepted belief is that there are 10 avataras, known as the Dashavatara. All the 10 avataras are revered, but the seventh, Rama (see Ramayana), and eighth, Krishna, are believed to be great heroes and worshipped as gods in their own right. Of Vishnu's 10 avataras, the first four are believed to have occurred in the Krita Yuga, the fifth, sixth, and seventh in the Treta Yuga, the eighth in the Dvapara Yuga, and the ninth in the Kali Yuga. The tenth avatara has yet to appear, and it is believed that he will come at the end of the Kali Yuga. The avataras are Matsya, the fish, which appeared in the Krita Yuga. Vishnu assumed this form to save Vaivasvata, the seventh Manu, from the universal deluge that occurs after each Manvantara.
Kurma, the tortoise, assumed to act as a pivot for Mount Mandara and protect the earth during the samudra manthan.
Varaha, the boar. Hiranyaksha, a demon, had dragged the earth to the bottom of the sea. He had also obtained a boon from Brahma, ensuring that he would not be killed by any of the creatures he named. However, while doing so, Hiranyaksha omitted to name the boar. Therefore Vishnu assumed this form and dived to the depths of the ocean. After defeating the demon, he balanced the earth on the horn above his snout and surfaced safely with her. Narasimha, the man-lion. After severe penance, another demon, Hiranyakashipu, had been granted a boon by Brahma,
Vishnu according to which he would die neither by day nor at night, neither indoors or outdoors, and be killed by neither man nor beast. Considering himself invincible, he became a tyrant. In order to kill him, Vishnu assumed the form of a man-lion. He killed Hiranyakashipu at twilight on the threshold of his palace. But the demon's son Prahalada was an ardent devotee of Vishnu and won his favor. Vamana, the dwarf, was the first avatara to appear in the Treta Yuga. Vishnu assumed this fifth incarnation to subdue Mahabali, a demon king, who by performing severe austerities, controlled heaven, earth and hell. The gods were shorn of their power and significance. When Mahabali performed an important sacrifice, Vishnu turned up as Vamana, the dwarf-Brahmin son of Kashyapa and Aditi. He asked Bali to grant him as much land as he could cover in three steps. When Bali agreed, as he was bound to by custom, Vamana grew to a gigantic size, and in two.
Vishnu steps covered heaven and the earth. However, he left Patala, the netherworld for Bali, who had to offer his own head for Vishnu's third step to be completed.onam
Parashurama, 'Rama of the axe', a Brahmin, born to the sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka. His father suspected his mother of infidelity and ordered Parashurama to behead her with his axe. He did so and when his father granted him a boon in reward, he asked to have his mother back. She was deified later as an incarnation of Parvati. Parashurama was born to annihilate the Kshatriyas, who had fallen into evil and oppressive ways, led by the insolent king of Mahishmati, Kiratarjuna, who eventually killed Jamadagni. In revenge, Parashurama tried to wipe out the entire Kshatriya caste (see Varna) 21 times, but each time a few escaped. According to the Puranas, Parashurama was successful in his last attempt (see Kshatriya). He then went to the shores of the Arabian Sea and flung his bloodied axe into the ocean, which yielded up the verdant, spice-laden land of Kerala. Thereafter, he retired to meditate. He appears briefly both in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Rama, the ascetic-prince of Ayodhya, who is widely worshipped in the north as the embodiment of human perfection and the killer of the demon-king Ravana, but remains controversial for the treatment of his consort, Sita. After being kidnapped by Ravana and rescued by Rama, she had to undergo a public ordeal by fire to prove that she had been left chaste while in capture. Though Agni himself returned her with all honour to Rama, he nevertheless banished her to the forest some years later, while she was pregnant, because of the ramblings of a drunk washerman berating his own wife (see Ramayana). Krishna, the eighth incarnation. Krishna was born to destroy his evil uncle, Kansa, who had usurped the throne of Mathura. He played a crucial role in the Mahabharata and fully revealed his divinity as the expounder of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. Like Rama, Krishna is a popular deity and is widely worshipped. His death is believed to have marked the beginning of the Kali Yuga.
Buddha, the enlightened one, founder of Buddhism. The inclusion of the Buddha as one of the Dashavataras is clearly an attempt to incorporate Buddhism into Hinduism. Vishnu is believed to have taken the form of the Buddha to encourage evil people to despise the Vedas, and reject the caste system and the deities. In this way they would effect their own destruction. This incarnation appeared in the Kali Yuga.
Kalki, the rider. This tenth incarnation of Vishnu is yet to appear on earth. It is believed that Kalki will ride a white horse and wield a flaming sword with which he will destroy all evil. The coming of this fierce horseman will mark the end of this present age of evil, the Kali Yuga, after which purity will reign once again in another Treta Yuga.
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