Text & Images Of Vishnu

Vishnu, major god of Hinduism and Indian mythology, popularly regarded as the preserver of the universe. In the ancient body of literature called the Veda, the sacred literature of the Aryan invaders, Vishnu ranks with the numerous lesser gods and is usually associated with the major Vedic god Indra in battles against demonic forces. In the epics and Puranas-writings belonging to subsequent periods in the development of Hinduism-Vishnu (especially in his incarnations) becomes prominent. Some Puranic literature refers to him as the eternal, all-pervading spirit and associates him with the primeval waters believed to have been omnipresent before the creation of the world. So regarded, Vishnu is depicted frequently in human form, sleeping on the great serpent Shesha and floating on the waters.

The Preserver
The concept of Vishnu as preserver is comparatively late. It is based chiefly on two beliefs: humans may attain salvation by faithfully following predetermined paths of duty, and good and evil powers (gods and demons) contend for dominion over the world. Occasionally, the balance of power is upset in favor of evil, and then Vishnu is believed to descend to earth in a mortal form (his avatar) to save humankind or the world. Ten such avatars (descents or incarnations) are commonly recognized, of which Rama and Krishna are the most important. Nine descents are thought to have already occurred; the tenth and last is yet to come. Scholars believe that Vishnu's role as preserver (or redeemer) arose from the characteristic practice of assimilating local legendary heroes and gods into the Hindu pantheon by attributing their deeds to one of the major Hindu deities.
Representation
Vishnu is depicted as dark blue or black (his avatars appear in other colors). Normally, he is depicted with four arms: One hand holds a lotus; a second holds a conch; a third holds a discus (which always returns by itself after being thrown); and the fourth carries a mace. The petals of the lotus are believed to symbolize the unfolding of creation; the conch is said to symbolize that from which all existence originates; and the discus and the mace reputedly were obtained by Vishnu as rewards for defeating the God Indra. Vishnu is said to possess also a special sword called Nadaka and a special bow called Sarnga. His wife is Goddess Lakshmi (also known as Shri), goddess of beauty and fortune. He rides a huge creature, half bird and half man, called Gandara. His home is in a heaven called Vaikuntha (where the Ganges River is believed to flow from its source at Vishnu's feet). The god has a thousand names, the repetition of which is regarded as an act of devotion.

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