शान्ताकारं भुजगशयनं पद्मनाभं सुरेशम्।

विश्वाधारं गगनसदृशं मेघवर्णं शुभाङ्गम्॥

लक्ष्मीकान्तं कमलनयनं योगिभिर्ध्यानगम्यम्।

वन्दे वि़ष्णुं भवभयहरं सर्वलोकैकनाथम्॥

Shantakaram bhujagashayanam padmanabham suresham,

Vishavadharam gaganasadrusham meghavarnam shubhangam;

Lakshmikantam kamalanayanam yogibhirdhyanagamyam

Vande vishnum bhava-bhaya-haram sarva-lokaikanatham.

I bow to Vishnu, who has a peaceful appearance, who rests on the serpents, who has a lotus shaped naval, who is lord of the gods, who supports the universe, whose vision exceeds beyond all the skies, who is dark like a cloud, who has beautiful limbs, who is husband of goddess Lakshmi, whose eyes are like lotus, who is meditated upon by the sages, who draws away the fears and sorrows and who is the lord of all the worlds.

Vishnu is the second of the Hindu Trinity. He represents the Sattva Guna and he is responsible for the sustenance, maintenance and protection of the universe. The word Vishnu means one who pervades, one who has entered into everything. So he is the transcendent as well as the immanent reality of the universe. He is the inner cause and power by which things exist. He is the central figure in the Vaishnava cult.

The very important aspect of this god is he is not a much-venerated god in Vedic literature but in later literature, in Puranas and even today he is the most important god in the Hindu religion.

In the Vedas Vishnu distinguishes himself for the three-steps which he measures out the extent of the earth and the heavens. The significance of this act is amplified to include other functions in the epics, where Vishnu is equated with Prajapati, the creator and the supreme god. As Prajapati he encompasses Brahma, Vishnu himself as preserver, and Shiva as destroyer. As the preserver, he is the embodiment of the quality of mercy and goodness, the self-existent, all-pervading power which preserves and maintains the universe and the cosmic order.

Vishnu and Narayana

The word Narayana means the one who has made the causal waters his abode. After the destruction of the universe of the previous cycle and before the creation of the next, Narayana the supreme god, falls asleep on his bed of the great serpent Shesha (also called Ananta), which is floating on the waters of the ocean of milk called Kshirasamudra. One of his legs is resting on the lap of his consort Lakshmi, who is gently pressing it. When he is dreaming as it were, of the next creation, a lotus springs forth from his navel along with Lord Brahma seated on it. After waking up, he instructs Brahma to proceed with the act of creation.

The word Narayana has some other meanings also. They are as follows:

1.   One who is the abode of all human beings;

2.   One who has made the hearts of all human beings his abode;

3.   One who is the final goal of all human beings.

Appearance of Vishnu

Vishnu is depicted with a smiling face and four arms holding a conch- Paanchajanya, a discus-Sudarshana, a mace called Kaumudaki and a lotus respectively. Sometimes two more weapons, a sword called Nandaka and a bow called Saranga are added to the arsenal of Vishnu. He wears a necklace with the famous gem Kaustubha dangling on the lock of hair on the left chest that is called Shrivatsa. He also wears a garland of fragrant flowers, which is called Vaijayanti. Vishnu is always described as Neelameghashyama, of a dark blue hue like that of the rain bearing cloud. He is either seated on the lotus with Lakshmi, or riding on his vehicle Garuda, who is half-man and half-bird.

The principal image in a Vishnu temple is generally represented in one of the three poses, that is, standing, sitting or reclining. The standing image is called a Sthaanaka-murti, the sitting image an Aasana-murti and the reclining image a Shayana-murti. The images in each of the three poses are classified further into the Yoga, Bhoga, Vira and Aabhichaarika varieties. They are in consequence of certain slight differences in their descriptive characteristics. These varieties are intended to be worshipped by devotees with different desires and objects in view. Thus, the Yogi should worship the Yoga form. The persons who desire enjoyment should worship the Bhoga form of Vishnu. Those who desire prowess should worship the Vira form. The kings and the others who wish to conquer their enemies should worship the Aabhichaarika form of Vishnu.

The heaven of Vishnu is called Vaikuntha, and is sometimes said to be on the Mount Meru, though this is more often given as the location of Indra’s heaven. With a circumference of 80,000 miles, Vaikuntha is made entirely of gold and precious jewels. The Ganges flows through it, and is sometimes said to have its source in Vishnu’s foot. Vaikuntha contains five pools, in which grow blue, red and white lotuses. Vishnu and Lakshmi are ensconced in the middle of the white lotuses, where they both radiate like the sun.

Interpretation of appearance of Vishnu

The four arms represent the four quarters, representing absolute power of the lord in all the directions. The conch represents the five elements- earth, water, fire, wind and sky. The discus stands for the cosmic mind. The mace indicates the cosmic intellect and the lotus points to the evolving world. Just as the lotus is born from water and unfolds gradually in all its glory, this world is also born out of causal waters and evolves gradually in its entire splendor. This world can be created only by the combination of the five elements, the mind and the intellect. Hence, the total meaning of this symbology would be that Vishnu is the creator and the master of this world.

The curl of hair represents all the objects of enjoyment, the products of nature. The gem resting on it stands for the enjoyer. So, this world of duality consisting of the enjoyer and the enjoyed is like an ornament for Vishnu. The garland is symbolical of the subtle elements.

Vishnu’s Narayana form which is described earlier also requires symbolical explanation. The ocean of milk stands for the purest form of nature in its undifferentiated state. The serpent Shesha or Ananta is said to have thousand heads and is supporting the worlds on its hoods. The word Ananta literally means endless and stands for cosmic time which is endless. Created worlds come into being in time and are sustained in time. The thousand hoods indicate the innumerable division of time. The word Shesha is also significant. It means the remainder or what is left over at the end. Since creation cannot proceed out of nothing, it is said to be assumed that something is left over from the previous creation which forms the seed for the next. So Shesha represents the totality of individual souls in their subtle form, left over from the previous cycle and needing more opportunities for regeneration.

Vishnu and Shiva

An interesting aspect of Vishnu is his association with Shiva, in spite of the mutual rivalry between the cults of two gods. According to one account, Vishnu was a devotee of Shiva; but he fought with the devotees of Shiva. It is said that Vishnu tried to help king Kshuva, and had to fight with Dadhichi. Vishnu took the form of Bruhannada and went to Dadhichi to deceive him; but Dadhichi could recognize him due to a favor from Shiva, his lord.

According to another account, after the milky ocean was churned and nectar was gained, the demons tried to take it. But Vishnu chased them to the Paataala, hell. There he saw many beautiful ladies produced from the drops of nectar. As he stayed there for long, his sons began to harass the world. To punish them Shiva took the form of the bull. When the bull killed his sons, Vishnu came to fight with the bull. But when he knew who the bull was he begged for mercy.

Another story tells that the demon Shridaama conquered the three worlds and desired to grab the Shrivatsa. Vishnu propitiated Shiva and got the disc Sudarshana from him. He wanted to test the weapon and he released it on Shiva himself. The sharp weapon cut Shiva into three and the parts came to be whole persons known as Hiranyaksha, Suvarnaksha and Virupaksha. Later Vishnu killed Shridaama with the disc.

In another story, it is said that Vishnu desired to create; so he observed penance for many years. Due to the strain many streams of perspiration rolled down from his body. Seeing the streams Vishnu was amazed and shook his head in surprise. As he did so a jewel fell down from one of his ears; hence the place came to be called Manikarnika, and became famous as a holy place, with an expanse of five miles from all sides, as far as the perspiration spread. The region belonged to Shiva, the wielder of the trident. Vishnu, who practiced penance there, slept in the water of his own perspiration, along with Lakshmi. From his navel sprouted up a lotus, and thence emerged Brahma.

The curses related to Vishnu

Mythology has it that Lord Vishnu has cursed and had been cursed on many occasions. Some important stories are as follows.

  • The curse of Lakshmi: once Vishnu looked at Lakshmi and laughed for no reason. Thinking that Vishnu was making fun of her, she cursed him saying “Let your head be severed from the body.
  • At this period an Asura named Hayagreeva had done penance for thousand years and obtained several boons. One boon was that he should be killed only by a man with the head of a horse. The demon attacked the gods. Though the gods fought with him for many thousands of years they could not kill him. Even Vishnu admitted defeat.  Using the bow as a prop, he stood thinking for years. In the meanwhile, white ants began to eat the string of the bow. When the string was broken, the bow straightened with a sudden jerk and the head of Vishnu was severed from the trunk and was thrown away. Vishvakarma cut off the head of a horse and joined it to the trunk of Vishnu, who instantly rose up and killed the demon Hayagreeva.
  • The curse of sage Bhrugu: the demons defeated in the war with the gods, approached Puloma, the mother of their teacher priest Shukra, and sought protection. Puloma was the wife of sage Bhrugu. She began to do penance for the destruction of gods. Knowing this, Vishnu aimed his weapon, the Discus, at her and killed her. The sage Bhrugu suffered the grief of separation from his wife for many years. He cursed Vishnu for this separation. This curse was the reason for the incarnation of Rama in which Vishnu also suffered the grief of separation from his wife.

Wars fought by Vishnu

There are various wars in which Vishnu has participated directly or indirectly.

Some of them are as follows.

  • Madhu and Kaitabha were two demons born from the ear-wax of Vishnu. They tried to attack Brahma and Vishnu killed them.
  •  Andhaka was a notorious demon. He was the minister of Mahishasura. When a war broke out between the demons and gods, Andhaka caused havoc among the gods. At last in the fight with Vishnu Andhaka was killed.

Different names of Vishnu

The significance of the different names of Vishnu is as follows


1.   The son of Vasudeva

2.   He who dwells in all the living beings as individual soul.


One who wears a garland of wild flowers


The son of Devaki


The one who has Chakra, the discus, in his hand


1.   He who destroys birth or the journey of a soul on this earth.

2.   He who had destroyed the demon called Janana.


1.   The Isha- lord of Hrushikas- organs of senses.

2.   He, who makes the world Hrushta- delighted with his Keshas- hair.


He is the one who gives salvation.


He, whose position will never be displaced


1.   He who lifted up the earth assuming the form of a boar

2.   He who protects the heaven.

3.   He who redeemed the Vedas.


1.   Dhava means husband. Therefore, Madhava means husband of Lakshmi.

2.   He who is born of the dynasty of Madhu.

3.   He who has killed Madhu.


Vishnu is called Sheshashayi because he lives on the serpent named Shesha.


1.   Stomach is tied by a rope

2.   He bears all the worlds in his stomach.

3.   He, whose nature is Dama or self-restrained.


1.   Ka- Brahma, Isha- shiva. The lord of Brahma and Shiva.

2.   He who has killed Keshi.

3.   He who has three Keshas-heads I.e. Brahma, Vishnu and Isha.

Incarnations of Vishnu

The sanskrit word for incarnation is Avataara. This word can be derived from the root ava+tru, which means to descend from the higher place to the lower. It is believed in the Hindu religion that whenever any great calamity threatened the life of gods and men, or any evil shook the world, Vishnu came to earth in some form, animal or human, to right the wrong. This fact has been disclosed in the following verse of the Bhagavadgita.

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत।

अभ्युत्थानधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम्॥

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृतम्।

धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय संभवामि युगे युगे॥

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati Bharata,

Abhyutthaanamadharmasya tadaatmaanam srujaamyaham,

Paritranaya sadhunam vinashaya cha dushkrutam,

Dharmasamsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge.

There is no definite information as to the exact number of these incarnations. According to some there are ten, others say twenty-four and some declare them innumerable. Ten is the most commonly represented number and these incarnations are the most important ones. Of these ten, nine have already been accomplished and one is still to come. These ten incarnations are stated in the following verse.

मत्स्य:कुर्मो वराहश्च नरसिंहोऽथ वामन:।

रामो रामश्च कृष्णश्च बुद्ध: कल्कि च ते दश॥

matsyah kurmo varahashcha narasimho atha vamanah,

Ramo ramashcha krushnashcha buddhaha kalaki cha te dasha.

1.   Matsyaavataara (Fish incarnation) – The object of the first incarnation of Vishnu is to save Vivasvata, the seventh Manu and the progenitor of the human race. Vishnu took the form of a small golden fish with one horn but grew until he was forty million miles long when he predicted the deluge. He gave Vivasvata further help by towing his ship with a rope attached to his horn and by advising him to allow the ship to descend slowly with the waters rather than allowing it to become high and dry on the peak of the Himalayas.

One version of this story gives a further purpose for the incarnation. During one of the period of universal chaos, while Brahma was sleeping, the Veda, which had emerged from his mouth, was stolen by a demon called Hayagreeva. As a fish Vishnu saved Manu, and also instructed him in the true doctrine of Brahma’s eternal soul, and when Brahma awoke, Vishnu killed Hayagreeva and restored the Veda.

2.   Kurmaavatara ( Tortoise incarnation) – During one of the periodic deluges which destroyed the world in the first age some things of value were lost, the most important of which was Amruta, the cream of milk ocean, whose absence threatened the continuous existence of the universe. Accordingly Vishnu descended on earth as a tortoise to help recover these objects. Gods and demons together set about producing Amruta by churning the ocean of milk, using Mount Mandara as a churning stick. Such was the weight of Mount Mandara that the operation would have been impossible had not the tortoise lent its curved back as a pivot on which to rest it.

3.   Varahaavataara (Boar-incarnation) – Two main versions exists of Vishnu’s third incarnation, as a boar. The first version claims that Brahma and Vishnu, who were one, took the form of a boar, a water-loving creature, in order to create the world from cosmic waters. The boar having observed the lotus leaf, thought that the stem must be resting on something, so he swam down to the depths of the ocean, found the earth below and brought a piece of it to the surface.

The second version relates that Brahma had been induced by a demon called Hiranyaaksha to grant him the boon of invincibility. Under the cover of this boon the demon began to persecute men and gods and even stole the Vedas from Brahma and dragged the earth down to his dark abode under the waters. But when reciting the names of all the gods, men and animals from whose attacks he wished to be immune, the demon forgot to mention the boar. Accordingly, Vishnu took the form of a boar forty miles wide and four thousand miles high, dark in color and with a voice like the roar of thunder. He was as big as a mountain, mighty as a lion, with sharp white tusks and fiery eyes flashing like lightening. With his whole being radiating like the sun, Vishnu descended into the watery depths, killed the demon with his tusks, recovered the Vedas and released the earth, so that it once more floated on the surface.

4.   Narasimhaavataara (man-lion-incarnation) – The demon king Hiranyakashipu had obtained from Brahma the boon of immunity from attacks by man, beast and god. He also had Brahma’s assurance that he could be killed neither by day nor by night, neither inside nor outside of his house. Due to this he forbade the worship of all the gods and substituted it with worship of himself. But his son was a great devotee of Vishnu. Therefore he tortured his son Prahlada in various ways but the boy refused to give up his worship of Vishnu, claiming that Vishnu is omnipresent and omnipotent.  So Vishnu came to protect his devotee in the form of a man-lion and killed Hiranyakashipu.

Being a combination of man (the best of higher creatures) and lion (the best of lower creatures) Narasimha represents the best creation. He is especially the embodiment of valor which is a divine attribute and hence he is worshipped by rulers and warriors. His mantra is said to be very powerful, capable of destroying enemies and exorcising evil.

5.   Vamanaavataara (Dwarf incarnation) – This incarnation took place in the Treta Yuga. During this time Bali, grandson of Prahlada, became the king. Bali did all in his power to propitiate the gods by honoring them. He ruled well and was loved by his people, but as far as the gods were concerned his one defect was his great ambition. Due to this ambition he conquered the three worlds, and Indra was deprived of his heavenly kingdom. At the request of the gods, Vishnu incarnated as Vamana, a young Brahman boy, son of Aditi and Kashyapa. Relying on Bali’s reputation for generosity, Vamana approached the king and asked for a gift of three paces of land. The gift was no sooner granted than Vamana began to grow to enormous size. He then covered two paces, which covered all the earth and the heavens and thus won back for the gods the whole of Bali’s kingdom. But Bali’s merits had to be recognized and so Vamana relinquished his right to a third pace and Bali was granted dominion over the remaining area of the universe, the nether regions, called Patala. Bali was also permitted to visit his lost kingdom once in a year, and this visit is regularly celebrated in Malabaar by his devoted subjects as the festival of Onam.

6.   Parashuraamaavataara (Rama with the battle-axe) This sixth incarnation also took place in the Treta Yuga, at the time when the Kshatriyas ruled over all men, including the Brahmins. In order to restore the power of the priestly caste, Vishnu came into the world as Parashuraama. He was the youngest son of a strict Brahmin hermit Jamadagni. He exterminated the tyrannical among the Kshatriyas led by king Kaartaveerya, who were oppressing the people.

7.   Shri Rama- The seventh incarnation of Vishnu, accomplished while the sixth was still on the earth. This incarnation was designed to kill the ten-headed demon king Raavan.

8.   Krishna- Vishnu’s eighth incarnation is so popular that he is considered Purnaavataara, incarnation in toto, and all other deities are regarded as his manifestations. The main purpose of this incarnation is to kill Kamsa, a tyrannical king of Mathura. Krishna’s life falls into four main parts:

·         Childhood- when he performed great feats of strength;

·         Youth- when he dallied with the cow-girls;

·         Manhood- when he performed the task for which he was actually born;

·         Middle age- when he became the great ruler of Dwaraka and took part in the Bharata war acting as Arjuna’s charioteer and pronouncing the great teaching on the subjects of knowledge, Dharma and Bhakti i.e. Bhagavadgeeta.

9.   Buddha- this incarnation of Vishnu appeared in the Kali Yuga. He introduced a new religion Buddhism that differs from the Hindu religion.

10.   Kalki- this last incarnation is yet to come. It will usher in the end of our present age. Social and spiritual life would have degenerated to their lowest point. Truth and love will disappear from the earth; falsehood will be the common currency of social existence and sensuality the sole band between man and wife. The sacred rites will disappear; bluff will replace learning. People will revert to an animal existence and civilization will vanish. No man will live for longer than twenty-three years. In such a situation Vishnu will appear in person on the earth, riding on white horse, as Kalki. He will ride through the world, bearing a blazing sword in his hand. He will destroy the enemies of Dharma and reestablish it in all its glory.

Minor incarnations of Vishnu

There are various stories of Vishnu’s incarnations apart from the above ten incarnations. Some of these minor incarnations are explained below:

·         Dattaatreya- He was the son of the great sage Atri and his wife Anasuyaa. He was originator of certain magical rites and the creator of the Soma plant. He was the preceptor of non-Aryans. Association with people of low birth and objects of pleasure has made him ritually impure. But, learning and enlightenment had made him so pure that nothing can ever stain him. As the incarnation of Vishnu, he is shown as having three heads, four hands and accompanied by four dogs of different colors which represent the four Vedas.

The Dattaatreya concept may be an attempt at harmonizing the three cults of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It may also have been the medium through which non-Vedic cults were brought into the Hindu fold.

·         Dhanvantari- He rose from the ocean, at the time of churning, holding the pot of ambrosia in his hand. He is the originator of medical sciences. Reborn as the king of Kashi he brought medical science to the earth. He is described as a handsome person holding the pot of ambrosia and seated in front of Vishnu’s insignias.

Vedas also mention a Dhanvantari, a god associated with herbs and medicines.

·         Hayagreeva or Hayashirsha- Yajnyavalkya lost the Yajurveda as the result of his guru’s curse and performed severe penance. The Sun God pleased with his penance appeared before him as a deity with a horse head and taught him the same Veda in another form.

According to another story two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha, had stolen the Vedas and hidden them under water. Vishnu took the form of Hayagreeva, dived into the bottom of the ocean and rescued them after killing the demons.

Hayagreeva is the god of learning, akin to goddess Sarasvati. He is shown in human form, with a horse’s head, possessing four or eight arms, carrying the various weapons and emblems of Vishnu.

·         Kapila- He was the son of Kardama and Devahuti. He was a great sage who reduced to ashes the sixty thousand sons of the king Sagara, just by a mere glance. He taught Saankhya philosophy to his mother.

Kapila icons usually have the hair dressed up as a crown, a beard, four arms, two of which are in Yoga holding pitcher and the other two holding conch and discus.

·         Mohini- At the behest of the gods who had been deprived of the ambrosia by the demons during the churning of the ocean, Vishnu appeared as Mohini and successfully duped the demons and distributed the nectar among the gods.

Mohini is shown as a beautiful young woman wearing colorful garments, decorated with ornaments and carrying a vase of nectar in hand.

·         Nara-Narayana- With the purpose of Narasimhaavataara accomplished, Narasimha spilt himself into two, the lion part becoming Narayana and the human part, the sage Nara. Both the sages performed austerities.

According to another version, these sages were sons of Dharma and Ahimsa. They performed severe austerities and successfully vanquished the demon Sahasrakavacha, who had a thousand armors. These sages were reborn later as Krishna and Arjuna.

Nara-Narayana is represented either as a single person or as two persons. In the former case, the icon may have two or four arms carrying the rosary or the usual emblems of Vishnu. In the latter case, Nara may be shown as having two heads and two arms and wearing the deer skin. Narayana is depicted with the usual four arms carrying the emblems conch, discus, lotus and rosary.

·         Vyaasa- He is a cosmic entity born in every age to propagate the scriptures.

The sage Krishna-Dvaipaayana, son of Paraashara is the well-known Vyaasa of this age. He got the name since he collated all Vedic hymns and divided them into the four Vedas. He is the author of the great epic Mahabharata, the Puranas and Brahmasutras.

In images, he is shown as of slender build, dark in complexion and hair dressed up as a crown.

Paancharatra philosophy

The Paancharaatra or Bhaagavata philosophy preaches the cult of Vishnu-Narayana. It puts forth the theory that Vishnu has four aspects of manifestation:

1.   The Para or supreme

2.   Vibhaava or the incarnation

3.   Archa or icon that is the descent of Vishnu into the icon ceremonially installed and worshipped in the temples.

4.   Vyuha or emanation- They are four in number. They are: Vaasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. According to the Vaishnava mythology, while Krishna is Vaasudeva, his brother Balarama is Sankarshana. Pradyumna and Aniruddha are Krishna’s son and grandson respectively.

Later on, the Vyuhas were increased to twenty-four. Iconographically, all these Vyuhas are identical in appearance except for the arrangement of the four emblems- conch, discus, lotus and mace. All these are standing figures, with no bends in the body, possessing four arms, and adorned with the crown and other ornaments; each of them stands upon a seat of lotus- Padmaasana. The arrangement of the Shankha, the Chakra, the Gada and the Padma in the four hands of each of the twenty-four images of Vishnu according to Rupamandana is showed in the following table.

No. Name of Murti Back-right hand Back-left hand Front-right hand Front-left hand
1 Keshava Shankha Chakra Gada Padma
2 Narayana Padma Gada Chakra Shankha
3 Madhava Chakra Shankha Padma Gada
4 Govinda Gada Padma Shankha Chakra
5 Vishnu Padma Shankha Chakra Gada
6 Madhusudana Shankha Padma Gada Chakra
7 Trivikrama Gada Chakra Shankha Padma
8 Vamana Chakra Gada Padma Shankha
9 Shridhara Chakra Gada Shankha Padma
10 Hrushikesha Chakra Padma Shankha Gada
11 Padmanabha Padma Chakra Gada Shankha
12 Damodara Shankha Gada Chakra Padma
13 Sankarshana Shankha Padma Chakra Gada
14 Vaasudeva Shankha Chakra Padma Gada
15 Pradyumna Shankha Gada Padma Chakra
16 Aniruddha Gada Shankha Padma Chakra
17 Purushottama Padma Shankha Gada Chakra
18 Adhokshja Gada Shankha Chakra Padma
19 Narasimha Padma Gada Shankha Chakra
20 Achyuta Padma chakra Shankha Gada
21 Janardana Chakra Shankha Gada Padma
22 Upendra Gada Chakra Padma Shankha
23 Hari Chakra Padma Gada Shankha
24 Krishna Gada Padma Chakra Shankha


Worship of Vishnu

The Tulasi plant and lotus are considered as very important in the worship of Vishnu.

He is specially worshipped each month with different names on the twelfth day of the fortnight. The names to be used for each month are as follows:



Name of Vishnu


Vaishakha Madhusudana
Jeshtha Trivikrama
Ashadha Vaamana
Shravana Shridhara
Bhadrapada Hrushikesha
Ashvin Padmanaabha
Kartika Daamodara
Margashish Keshava
Pausha Narayana
Magha Maadhava
Falguna Govinda


One of the most important festivals dedicated to Vishnu is the Shayanotsava, when Vishnu is said to sleep for the four rainy months and the Utthaaapanotsava, when he gets up after the four months. It is said that each time the festival should last for five days.

शयनोत्थापने पञ्चदिनं कुर्यात्समुत्सवम्।

shayanotthaapane panchadinam kuryaat samutsavam.

During the period of Chaaturmaasya, i.e. the period comprising the four rainy months, all domestic rituals requiring sacrificial performance are to be given up. The reason given is that, during this period the Yadnya-Purusha-Vishnu is himself asleep; and hence he does not accept the offerings. Thus, the rites such as Chudaakarana – first cutting of the tuft of hair of the child, marriage, Upanayana etc are not to be performed. However such rites as Annapraashna – the first intake of food by a child- may be performed. At the end of this period, a golden image of Vishnu on a bed is to be given to a Brahman.

Other aspects of Vishnu commonly worshipped

·         Vishnu is worshipped as Lord Jagannaath of Puri in Orissa and the annual Rathotsav is a grand celebration attracting large crowds.

·         Paanduranga Vittala or Vithoba along with his consort Rakhumai are the presiding deities of Pandarpur in Maharashtra. The Lord appeared in this form to a devoted son Pundalika who made the Lord wait on a slab of brick until he completed his service to his aged parents.

·         In South India, He is worshipped as Ranganaatha in Srirangam, as Varadaraaja in Kanchipuram and Lord Balaji or Venkatesha in Tirupati. Srirangam is the seat of Sri Vaishnava cult. The idol at Srirangam was brought out of the ocean and given to Vibhishana by Lord Rama. But when carrying it from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka, Vibhishana placed it at Srirangam to rest a while. Legend has it that it got firmly fixed there and there stands the majestic temple of Lord Ranganatha now.  He is in his yoga sayana pose lying on the serpent bed in Yoga- with two hands, the right hand supporting the head while the left rests on the serpent bed.

Similar Yogasayana images are found in Srirangapatna of Karnataka and Tiruvanantapuram of Kerala where he is known as Padmanaabha or Anantashayana.

·         Varadaraaja, the king among the bestower of the boons, is another aspect of Vishnu which is very popular. He is also known as Karivarada. It represents that aspect of Vishnu responsible for saving Gajendra, the elephant king, from the deadly clutches of a crocodile.

He is shown as riding on his vehicle Garuda and in the act of discharging the discus. The elephant Gajendra with his foot caught by the powerful teeth of the crocodile is also shown. Sometimes a human figure with hands in curtsy is also shown near the crocodile, to represent the Gandharva who had been delivered from his curse which had resulted in his birth as crocodile.

·         Venkatesha, also known as Venkatesha, Shrinivaasa or Baalaji of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh is the most popular of all Hindu deities. As per the story Vishnu as Varaaha decided to continue his stay on earth and Garuda brought down a hill in Vaikuntha to the earth for his residence. This is the famous Tirumala hill.

The image is said to be an Udbhaavamurti- spontaneously manifested.

·         Vishvakshena or ‘the all-conquering’ aspect of Vishnu, occupies the same place in Vaishnava tradition as Ganesha in Shaiva tradition. He is worshipped at the beginning of any undertaking, to avoid obstacles. He is shown with four hands, bearing conch, discus, mace in three hands and the forth exhibiting the Tarjanimudra. The right leg usually hanging down from the pedestal.

Vishvakshena is also depicted sometimes as the gatekeeper or the chief-attendant of Vishnu. He is shown standing on a white lotus, with long matted hair and a beard. He represents the worldly sciences.

In Vedic mythology Vishnu does not find much mention. But in the later period this changed and Vishnu is the highest developed and highest worshipped deity in Hindu mythology.

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