Vishnu, the Supreme Being, is the preserver, the protector of the good and the guardian of dharma. Seated on Adi Shesha, the many-hooded serpent, in the primeval waters, he watches over his devotees and rewards the pious. And whenever dharma is in danger, he incarnates himself on earth to rid it of evil.
Beginning with an investigation of the possible non-Vedic, Dravidian origins of Vishnu, this book describes his form, aspects and attributes and his avatars or incarnations: Matsya, the fish; Kurma, the tortoise; Varaha, the boar; Narasimha, the man-lion; Vamana, the dwarf; parashurama; Rama; Krishna; and Kalki, the final destroyer. Combining the skill of a storyteller with the insight of a scholar, Nanditha Krishna has brought to glorious life perhaps the most powerful and revered god in the Hindu pantheon.
About the Author
An art historian based in Chennai, Nanditha Krishan is the director of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and its constituents-the C.P. Art Center, the C.P. Ramaswami Institute of Indological Research, the Saraswati Kendra for Children, and the C.P.R. Environmental Education Center. Her books include The Art and Iconography of Vishnu Narayana; The Arts and Crafts of Tamilnadu; Manuscript Paintings of the Saraswati Mahal Library, Tanjore; Balaji Venkateshwara-Lord of Tirumala Tirupati and Ganesha (with her mother, Shakuntala Jagannathan).
The Supreme God of the Hindus is Brahman, the absolute Universal Soul. The entire cosmos is a manifestation of him and it is from him that all forms of life evolved. He is formless, without qualities, neither male nor female and infinite, without beginning or end. He is found within us and around us, and the goal of every Hindu is to shake off the karmic cycle of birth, death and rebirth and attain moksha (nirvana or liberation), which is unity with the Supreme Soul.
To make the formless or Nirguna Brahman comprehensible to the average person, he takes the form of the Saguna Brahman with form and attributes. This is the great god Ishwara, on whom we can fix our minds, pray and meditate. When Ishwara creates the universe, he is called Brahma; when he protects, he is called Vishnu; and when he destroys evil, he is called Shiva. The three together form the Trinity or Trimurti who control the universe and its functions. But whereas Brahma the Creator is less an object of popular worship and is, rather, associated with the development of philosophy, Shiva and Vishnu claim large cult followings and, along with Devi and a few other gods such as Ganesha and Kartika, are the popular deities of contemporary Hinduism.
In popular Hinduism, Vishnu is the Preserver, the protector of the good and the guardian of Dharma, the law of righteousness and the moral order. He is Narayana (the rsting-place of souls), Parama Bhagavata (the Supreme Being) and Aja (the Unborn One). He is benevolent and reigns in vaikuntha, the highest heaven and the goal of the pious. As protector, he is regarded as a bhoga murti, one who rewards his devotees. In an age of materialism, this increases his popularity several-fold.
Vishnu may be depicted as standing or seated, astride or beside his vehicle, Garuda, the eagle. He may also be depicted as Narayana, resting or seated on his couch Adi Shesha or Ananta, the many-hooded serpent, in the primeval waters. He is generally four-armed, holding the shankha (conch), chakra (discus), gada (club) and padma (lotus), although certain forms of Vishnu may have more, or less, arms and attributes. His consort is Lakshmi or Shridevi, the goddess of prosperity, who emerged from the primordial waters, seated on the lotus and holding a lotus. Sometimes Vishnu is depicted with a second consort, Bhudevi or the earth mother.
The most important aspect of Vishnu is his ability to incarnate himself on earth whenever Dharma is in danger, to save good from evil. The incarnation may be human, anthropomorphic or animal. In popular perception Vishnu has ten incarnations, of which the last is yet to be born. O the incarnations, two -Rama and Krishna-are the subjects of India's two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and command their own devotees. Their popularity has contributed greatly to the growth of Vishnu and the Vaishnava sect.
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