Viṣṇu. The ‘pervader’, or perhaps, the ‘one taking different forms’, a Hindu god of little importance in the Vedas, but subsequently a major deity, and a member of the Hindu ‘trinity’ (trimūrti). He is the preserver of the universe and embodiment of goodness and mercy. For Vaiṣṇavites, he is the supreme deity, Īśvara, from whom all created things emanate. As Īśvara, he becomes incarnate (avatāra) at moments of great crisis (for list, see AVATĀRA). Īśvara is the material cause of the universe, omnipresent to it, and sustaining it in life. Through his presence, he is the refuge of all who need his help. Īśvara exists in five forms, para, vyūha, vibhava, antaryāmin, and ārcāvatāra. In his transcendent being, he is called para, as in Parabrahman, Paravāsudeva. He manifests his power through four vyūhas—Vāsudeva, Saṃkarṣana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha—thereby being able to create and being available for worship. Viṣṇu is usually depicted standing, holding weapons, or reclining on Śeṣa, the serpent. Because of his pervasive presence, images of Viṣṇu are extremely important, whether in the home or in temples—some of which have consequently evoked magnificent architecture.
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