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Vishnu

Vishnu

Known as the preserver, Vishnu is one of three supreme Hindu deities, along with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu's role is to protect humans and to restore order to the world. His presence is found in every object and force in creation, and some Hindus recognize him as the divine being from which all things come. Vishnu appears in a number of Hindu texts, including the Rig-Veda, the Mαhabharata, and the Ramayana.

deity god or goddess

Early Roles. In the Vedas, a collection of ancient sacred texts that includes the Rig-Veda, Vishnu is only a minor god. Associated with the power of light, he floated on the surface of the primeval ocean on top of a thousand-headed snake called Shesha. Vishnu's most famous feat in the Vedas was to take the three steps that measured the extent of the world, an act that was part of creation. Some stories credit Vishnu with a major role in creation; others say he assisted the god Indra. Early myths also portray Vishnu as a messenger between humans and the gods. Over time, the character of Vishnu combined the attributes of a number of heroes and gods, and he eventually became one of the most important and popular Hindu deities.


Forms of Vishnu. According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu comes to earth in a variety of animal and human forms called avatars. These avatars are incarnations of the god that contain part of his divine spirit and power. Hindus believe that an avatar of Vishnu appears whenever the world or humans are in danger, and in this way, the god helps to overcome evil, bring justice, and restore order.

Vishnu had ten principal avatars. The first, Matsya, was a fish that saved the first human, Manu, from a great flood by leading his ship to safety. Kurma, the second avatar, was the tortoise that recovered some precious objects that the gods had lost during another great flood. Also saved from the flood was Lakshmi, a goddess of fortune and beauty who became Vishnu's wife. Vishnu appeared on earth a third time as Varaha, the boar. Varaha rid the world of a demon giant named Hiranyaksha, who had dragged the earth to the bottom of the ocean and threatened to keep it there. After a thousand-year struggle, Varaha killed the demon.

primeval from the earliest times

attribute quality, property, or power of a being or thing

incarnation appearance of a god, spirit, or soul in earthly form

Vishnu's fourth avatar, the man lion Narasinha, freed the world from another demon, Hiranyakashipu, who had forbidden worship of the gods. When the evil king Bali gained control of the


*see Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

world, Vishnu appeared on earth a fifth time as Vamana, the dwarf. Vamana persuaded Bali to give him whatever land he could cover in three steps. The dwarf then changed into a giant, and his steps extended over both heaven and earth. Vishnu's sixth avatar was Parasurama, a young man who freed the Hindu priests from a class of warriors known as the Kshatriyas.

Vishnu's most popular and well-known avatars were Rama and Krishna, the great heroes of the epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Rama, the seventh avatar, saved humans from the demon king Ravana, while Krishna rid the world of many demons and took part in a long struggle against the forces of evil. The ninth avatar of Vishnu was the Buddha, the religious leader whose beliefs weakened the opponents of the gods and who founded the Buddhist faith. Vishnu's tenth avatar, Kalki, has not yet arrived on earth. He will come one day, mounted on a white horse, to oversee the final destruction of the wicked, restore purity, renew creation, and bring forth a new era of harmony and order.

See also Animals in Mythology; Brahma; Buddhism and Mythology; Devils and Demons; Floods; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Mahabharata, The; Rama; Ramayana, The; Rig-Veda; Shiva; Vedas.

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Vishnu

Vishnu Major god of Hinduism; one of the supreme triad of gods, along with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu was mentioned as a sun god in the Vedas (c.1500–c.1200 bc). Over the next 1000 years or more, his importance grew and he became an amalgam of local cultic gods and heroes. In mythology, Vishnu is worshipped as a preserver and restorer. According to Hindu tradition, he reigns in heaven with his wife, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. From time to time, he comes into the world to fight evil, assuming a different incarnation each time. His incarnations have included Rama and Krishna. In art, Vishnu is depicted as a young man with four hands holding a shell, discus, mace, and lotus.

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Vishnu

Vish·nu / ˈvishnoō/ Hinduism a god, originally a minor Vedic god, now regarded by his worshipers as the supreme deity and savior, by others as the preserver of the cosmos in a triad with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu is considered by Hindus to have had nine earthly incarnations or avatars, including Rama, Krishna, and the historical Buddha; the tenth avatar will herald the end of the world. DERIVATIVES: Vish·nu·ism / -ˌizəm/ n. Vish·nu·ite / -ˌīt/ n. & adj.

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Vishnu

Vishnu a god, originally a minor Vedic god, now regarded by his worshippers as the supreme deity and saviour, by others as the preserver of the cosmos in a triad with Brahma and Shiva. His consort is Lakshmi, his mount the eagle Garuda. Vishnu is considered by Hindus to have had nine earthly incarnations or avatars, including Rama, Krishna, and the historical Buddha; the tenth avatar will herald the end of the world.

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Vishnu

Vishnu (Hindu god): see VIṢṆU.

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Vishnu

Vishnu •Manu • Vishnu • Ainu • ingénue •parvenu

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Vishnu

VISHNU

Now one of the two principal gods of hinduism, but originally a solar deity of no great importance in the Vedas. Later he was identified with Vāsudeva, a non-Aryan hero, and with Nārāyana, a cosmic deity, and came to be worshipped as the Supreme God, the Creator and Preserver of the world. He is represented sleeping in the primeval ocean on the thousand-headed snake Śea, while Brahmā, the demiurge, is born from a lotus that springs from his navel. He is usually depicted as four-armed, bearing in his hands the conch, the discus, the mace, and the lotus, which are his emblems, and riding on the eagle, Garua. His spouse, Lakmī, is the goddess of wealth. Vishnu is believed to have manifested himself by his descent (avatāra ) in different forms to save mankind. His descent in the form of Krishna is celebrated in the Bhagavad Gītā and later in the Vishnu and Bhāgavata Purāas.

[b. griffiths]

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Vishnu

Vishnu (vĬsh´nōō), one of the greatest gods of Hinduism, also called Narayana. First mentioned in the Veda as a minor deity, his theistic cults, known as Vaishnavism, or Vishnuism, grew steadily from the first millennium BC, absorbing numerous different traditions and minor deities. By his worshipers Vishnu is regarded as the supreme God, of whom other gods are secondary manifestations. The early epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana show considerable Vaishnavite influence. The later Puranas fully elaborate the myths of Vishnu and his avatara (incarnations): Matsya (the fish), Kurma (the tortoise), Varaha (the boar), Narasimha (the man-lion), Vamana (the dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the ax), Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalkin (who is yet to appear). Vishnu is generally depicted as dark blue in color, crowned, and bearing in his four hands his emblems—the conch, discus, mace, and lotus. His mount is the eagle Garuda, and his consort is Lakshmi, or Shri, the goddess of wealth.

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Vishnu

Vishnu

Nationality/Culture

Hindu

Pronunciation

VISH-noo

Alternate Names

Narayana, Rama, Krishna

Appears In

The Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana

Lineage

None

Character Overview

Known as the preserver, Vishnu is one of three supreme Hindu deities, along with Brahma (pronounced BRAH-muh) and Shiva (pronounced SHEE-vuh). Vishnu's role is to protect humans and to restore order to the world. His presence is found in every object and force in creation, and some Hindus recognize him as the divine being from which all things come. Vishnu appears in a number of Hindu texts, including the Vedas, the Mahabharata (pronounced muh-hah-BAHR-ruh-tuh), and the Ramayana (pronounced rah-MAY-yah-nuh).

Major Myths

Associated with the power of light, Vishnu floated on the surface of the ancient ocean on top of a thousand-headed snake called Shesha. Vishnu's most famous feat in the Vedas was to take the three steps that measured the extent of the world, an act that was part of creation. Some stories credit Vishnu with a major role in creation; others say he assisted the god Indra (pronounced IN-druh).

According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu comes to earth in a variety of animal and human forms called avatars. These avatars are embodiments of the god that contain part of his divine spirit and power. Hindus believe that an avatar of Vishnu appears whenever the world or humans are in danger, and in this way, the god helps to overcome evil, bring justice, and restore order.

Vishnu had ten principal avatars. The first, Matsya (pronounced MAHT-see-yah), was a fish that saved the first human, Manu (pronounced MAN-oo), from a great flood by leading his ship to safety. Kurma (pronounced KOOR-muh), the second avatar, was the tortoise that recovered some precious objects that the gods had lost during another great flood. Also saved from the flood was Lakshmi (pronounced LAHK-shmee), a goddess of fortune and beauty who became Vishnu's wife. Vishnu appeared on earth a third time as Varaha (pronounced VAH-rah-hah), the boar. Varaha rid the world of a demon giant named Hiranyaksha (pronounced HAHR-nah-kahsh), who had dragged the earth to the bottom of the ocean and threatened to keep it there. After a thousand-year struggle, Varaha killed the demon.

Vishnu's fourth avatar, the man-lion Narasimha (pronounced nah-rah-SIM-hah), freed the world from another demon, Hiranyakashipu, who had forbidden worship of the gods. When the evil King Vali (pronounced VAH-lee) gained control of the world, Vishnu appeared on earth a fifth time as Vamana (pronounced vuh-MAH-nah), the dwarf. Vamana persuaded Vali to give him whatever land he could cover in three steps. The dwarf then changed into a giant, and his steps extended over both heaven and earth. Vishnu's sixth avatar was Parasurama (pronounced pah-ruh-soo-RAH-muh), a young man who freed the Hindu priests from a class of warriors known as the Kshatriyas.

Lakshmi, Wife of Vishnu

Vishnu's consort, or wife, is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, love, and beauty. One of her symbols is the lotus blossom, which in Hinduism is associated with creation, purity, and spiritual power. Lakshmi is called the “daughter of the sea” because in Indian mythology she arose from the ocean, like the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Lakshmi has other incarnations: she is Sita, the wife of Rama (an avatar of Vishnu) in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, and she is Rukmini, the wife of Krishna, another avatar of Vishnu. Hindus believe that marriage continues through many lifetimes, hence Vishnu and Lakshmi remain married through their many incarnations.

Vishnu's most popular and well-known avatars were Rama (pronounced RAH-muh) and Krishna (pronounced KRISH-nuh), the great heroes of the epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Rama, the seventh avatar, saved humans from the demon king Ravana (pronounced RAH-vuh-nuh), while Krishna rid the world of many demons and took part in a long struggle against the forces of evil. The ninth avatar of Vishnu was the Buddha (pronounced BOO-duh), the religious leader whose beliefs weakened the opponents of the gods and who founded the Buddhist faith. Vishnu's tenth avatar, Kalki (pronounced KAHL-kee), has not yet arrived on earth. He will come one day, mounted on a white horse, to oversee the final destruction of the wicked, restore purity, renew creation, and bring forth a new era of harmony and order.

Vishnu in Context

Vishnu's rise in popularity over the centuries reflects the changing nature of Hinduism. In the Vedas, a collection of ancient sacred texts, Vishnu is only a minor god. Early myths also portray Vishnu as a messenger between humans and the gods. Over time, the character of Vishnu combined the traits of a number of heroes and gods, and by the time the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were written, Vishnu was seen as one of the most important and popular Hindu deities.

Key Themes and Symbols

Vishnu's main duty in nearly all myths related to his many forms is the protection of humankind. This is shown when he aided Manu before the flood, and when he fought off demons as both Rama and Krishna. Another theme found throughout the myths of Vishnu is death and rebirth: Vishnu is born into the world in various forms over the ages, and after he accomplishes his goal he disappears from the human world until he is once again needed.

Vishnu in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Vishnu is one of the most popular gods in Hindu art and culture, and is represented in many different forms. Most often, he is depicted as having blue skin and four arms, each holding an item: a conch shell, a club or mace, a lotus flower, and a disc-shaped weapon called a chakram. Vishnu is also often depicted in the form of Krishna, as he appears in much of the Mahabharata. In the form of Hinduism known as Vaishnavism, the most popular type of Hinduism practiced today, Vishnu is seen as the one supreme god.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Vishnu has ten well-known avatars that figure prominently in Hindu myth. Why do you think Hindus view these ten avatars as aspects of the same god, Vishnu, instead of ten different gods? Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research one other major world religion that combines multiple forms within a single deity. What are the functions of the different forms of the deity? Why do you think religions use this symbolism?

SEE ALSO Animals in Mythology; Brahma; Buddhism and Mythology; Devils and Demons; Floods; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Mahabharata, The; Ramayana, The; Shiva

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"Vishnu." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vishnu." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vishnu

"Vishnu." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Mythology. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vishnu

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Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
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