OF LORD VISHNU
also known as the Sanatan Dharma (Eternal Religion), is essentially henotheistic in
nature; it believes in one supreme God, the Brahman,
while recognizing other Gods (and Goddesses) as
different forms or manifestations of that Supreme Being.
At the same time, interestingly, It can also be
considered as Trinitarian
because Brahman is conceived as Trimurti,
a triad of three entities: Brahma,
the Creator of the universe; Vishnu,
the Preserver (of the creations); and Shiva,
the Destroyer, symbolizing the cycle of birth, life and
death in cosmic balance.
concept of an infinite cycle of creation, destruction
and regeneration of the universe on a cosmic time scale
(1 Kalpa or Cosmic Cycle =
= 4.32 billion years = 1 day of Brahma)
is unique to the Hindu religion. So is the concept of
successive Yugas (epochs) or periods of time, such as Satya yuga (or Kreta yuga),
Treta yuga, Dwapara yuga and Kali
yuga; the world being created, destroyed and
recreated every Mahayuga,
a cycle of the four Yugas
within, in turn, a bigger cycle of creation, destruction
and recreation of the universe. The world is presently
considered to be around 5000 years into the final
432,000 year Kali
yuga phase of the current Mahayuga.
considered the peace-loving deity of the Hindu Trinity
(and the most important to many Hindus), is the
preserver of the universe and the sustainer of life on
earth on the principles of righteousness, truth and
order. The importance of Vishnu increased rapidly during
the Vedic period. From being a minor deity in early
Aryan religion, Vishnu became one of the most important
in the pantheon of gods, by the end of the Vedic period.
Vishnu, meaning ‘the All-Pervading one’ (from the
Sanskrit root ‘viś’
meaning ‘to enter or pervade’ and the suffix ‘nu’),
is considered to be omniscient and omnipotent.
Hindu mythology Vishnu resides in Vaikuntha (the abode of gods) and his vehicle is Garuda,
a giant winged eagle with a human-shaped figure and a
beaked nose. Vishnu is depicted as a dark (a dark blue
color analogous to the color of the infinite sky)
majestic kinglike figure with four hands bearing,
respectively, a conch shell (shankha),
a discus or a spinning wheel (chakra),
a club or mace (gada)
and a lotus flower (padma).
in the upper left hand, represents the primeval sound of
the five elements – air, water, fire, earth and sky
– the building blocks of creation. The chakra,
held in the upper right hand, called the ‘Sudarshan
the celestial disc of the sun for dispelling darkness
and restoring peace on earth; derived from the Sanskrit
meaning ‘good’ and ‘darshan’
meaning vision, it symbolizes a weapon for overcoming
one’s mind-set and ego to be able to visualize the
eternal truth. The gada,
held in the lower left hand, is called the ‘Kaumodaki’
and signifies the God’s absolute prowess to destroy
evil, while the padma,
in the lower right hand, symbolizes
purity, truth (satya) and knowledge (gyan); the building blocks of the rules of
most common representation of Vishnu shows him floating
on the infinite space of the cosmic ocean reclined on
the coils of the hydra-headed serpent-deity Shesh-Nag
(also known as Ananta,
the timeless). The other common depiction is of Vishnu,
with his four hands, standing on the waves. As long as
order prevails in the universe, Vishnu sleeps on the
coils of Ananta
Nag. However, when this order is disturbed Vishnu
either mounts his vehicle Garuda to go and fight the forces of evil and chaos or sends one of
(incarnations) to save the world.
notion of an Avatar
is an important aspect of Hindu mythology and theology.
It is based on the premise that whenever ignorance and
evil are ascendant and threaten the moral order, the
Supreme Being incarnates itself in some form, or
descends to earth, to defeat the forces of evil and
are differing source data in Hindu mythology and
religious scriptures (Puranas
on the number of Avatars
of Vishnu. The Garuda Purana
and the Bhagavata
Purana both mention twenty-two, with a proviso in
the latter, that the incarnations of Vishnu are many;
the Matsya Purana,
on the other hand, refers to twelve incarnations.
However, it is generally accepted that there are
ten incarnations of Vishnu. Of these ten universally
nine are said to have manifested themselves (each at a
different time and era) while the tenth is yet to appear
in this world. Each manifestation has a related legend
which essentially demonstrates the restoration of
righteousness and Dharma in the world, through the
divine intervention of Vishnu. The ten incarnations are:
(Fish) Avatar: (Satya Yuga).
the deluge before the latest re-creation of the
universe, the four Vedas (the holy scriptures) which
were required by Brahma
for the re-creation, were drowned deep in the waters. Vishnu took the form of a fish to retrieve the sacred scriptures.
Another legend has it that Vishnu
in his Matsya Avatar instructed Manu
(the progenitor of mankind in each creation) to build a
huge boat and gather samples of all species in it. The Matsya
then pulled the ark to safety through the deluge and
floods to enable Brahma
to start the work of re-creation.
or KURMA (Tortoise) Avatar: (Satya
Yuga). The gods (Devas),
suddenly lost their immortality due to the curse of a
sage, soon after the new creation of the universe.
Afraid of the Asuras
(Demons), they turned for help to Vishnu
who advised them to churn the ocean to obtain Amrita (Ambrosia), which would restore their power. The churning had
to be done with the Mandara
Mountain as the churning stick. Vishnu
then assumed the form of a Kachyup
(tortoise) to hold up the mountain on his back to enable
the churning to be done. The help of Vishnu
in restoration of immortality of the Devas
is another example of the upholding of the dominance of Dharma.
(Boar) Avatar: (Satya
Yuga). The earth (prithvi
or goddess Bhudevi)
was swamped deep under the cosmic ocean at the end of
the deluge before the re-creation of the present
universe. At this time, Hiranyaksha,
(demon) who had attained extraordinary powers through
penance, was wreaking havoc among the Devas (gods). On
the request of Brahma,
who needed the earth for his work of recreation, and of
the Devas, who needed succor from Hiranyaksha,
the form of a Varaha
(boar). He carried the earth from the bottom of the
ocean on his tusks in this Avatar; also slaying the rampaging Asura in the process.
(half-man half-lion) Avatar:
(Satya Yuga). Hiranyakashipu, a demon king and a tyrant, had through severe
penance, obtained a boon from Brahma that no
natural-born man or animal could kill him; nor could he
be killed in heaven or earth, by any weapon, either
during day or night.
He started considering himself as the supreme God
and banned the worship of gods; even trying to kill his
own son Prahlada, who was a Vishnu devotee. Vishnu
assumed the form of Narasimha
(neither man nor animal); emerged from a pillar (not
natural born); during evening (neither day nor night);
laid the demon-king across his thighs (neither heaven
nor earth) and tore his entrails out with bare claws (no
(Dwarf) Avatar: (Treta
Yuga). The legend associated with this Avatar
has it that the valorous demon- king Bali,
a descendant of Hiranyakashipu,
empowered by severe penance, defeated Indra,
the king of the Devas
and conquered the whole world. Fearing that he would
overcome all three worlds ( Swarga, Marta and Patala
or heaven, earth and the nether worlds), the Devas
appealed to Vishnu.
Taking birth in a Brahmin family and growing up to be a
for alms when the latter was performing a religious
sacrifice. Bali, in an expansive mood promised him whatever he wanted – which
was as much land as he could cover in three strides. Vishnu then covered heaven and earth in two strides to emancipate
the Devas and
to the nether world.
Avatar: (end of Satya
Yuga or in the Treta Yuga as per different
took birth as a Brahman
(priest) in this Avatar
to free the Brahmans from the depredations of the Kshatriyas (warrior caste) who had become arrogant oppressors of the
name derives from the axe-like weapon (Parsu)
he carried - a gift from Shiva.
He annihilated the Kshatriyas in battles twenty-one times. Parashuram and Rama, the
are generally depicted as living at the same time even
though the former is said to have appeared in this world
(Treta Yuga). Vishnu,
in this Avatar, incarnates himself as Rama,
king central to the Ramayana
epic. By far one of the most popular heroes (along with Krishna)
of Hindu mythology, Rama
exemplifies the ideal, son, king, father and man. The
legend, on the one hand, is a romantic exploit of good
triumphing over evil (the slaying of Ravana,
the demon-king, by Rama).
On another plane, it is a complex dissertation on love,
war, brotherhood, fidelity, societal customs and
Avatar: (Dwapara Yuga).
Vishnu, in this Avatar, incarnates himself as Krishna,
one of the central figures in the epic Mahabharata.
The epic, while being a tale of two warring clans of
cousins, the Pandavas
and the Kauravas, is also a discerning study of human nature, human
weaknesses, statesmanship, war and politics. Krishna is also the friend, philosopher and guide to Arjuna,
the Pandava prince in the Kurukshetra
war in the epic. His philosophical discourse to Arjuna on the eve of the war, in response to the latter’s
reluctance to wage war on his own kin, is revered as a
sacred Hindu scripture – the Bhagavad
(Dwapara Yuga). Balarama is
the ninth Avatar
according to Puranic
(Puranas are part of Vedic
scriptures) view. Balarama
was the elder brother of Krishna and is said to have
ably supported the latter in his fight with the evil
king Kamsa whom Krishna killed. Balarama also
killed the feared Asura
among others, thus upholding righteousness over evil.
His principal weapon was the plough (Hal).
Certain schools of thought hold the view that Balaram is not an Avatar
of Vishnu but
that of Shesh Nag
on whom Vishnu reclines. These
schools consider Gautama
Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion to be
the ninth incarnation of Vishnu.
Avatar is the tenth and final Avatar
of Vishnu. This Avatar is yet
to appear. As per prophesy, this Avatar
will manifest itself at the end of the present Kali Yuga which will also be the end of the current Mahayuga.
He will ride a white winged horse and have a blazing
sword in his hand. He will preside over the destruction
of this world and all the evil-doers in it for the next
cycle of re-creation.
careful analysis of the ten Avatars, from lower to
higher forms of life, shows a close resemblance to
modern theories of evolution.
The first three, from Matsya to Varaha,
symbolize the development of protoplasm and
invertebrates and the gradual evolution through
amphibian to the mammalian stage. The Narasimhan and the Vamana
may well depict the sub-human ape-like and incompletely
developed pre-historic man. Parashuram
indicates the evolution of the modern man with the
ability to use tools, while Rama, Krishna and Buddha
represent mans intellectual and social development.
timing of the Avatars also appears significant. While
the first four in the Satya
yuga represent the early evolution of life, the
incarnation as Rama coincides with the pinnacle of monarchy in the Treta
yuga. Similarly, notions of code of conduct and
social justice were honed in the Dwapar yuga with the advent of the Krishna Avatar.