Vishnu


Vishnu
Vishnuism, n.
/vish"nooh/, n. Hinduism.
1. (in later Hinduism) "the Preserver," the second member of the Trimurti, along with Brahma the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer.
2. (in popular Hinduism) a deity believed to have descended from heaven to earth in several incarnations, or avatars, varying in number from nine to twenty-two, but always including animals. His most important human incarnation is the Krishna of the Bhagavad-Gita.
3. "the Pervader," one of a half-dozen solar deities in the Rig-Veda, daily traversing the sky in three strides, morning, afternoon, and night.
[ < Skt visnu]

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Principal Hindu deity worshiped as the protector and preserver of the world and restorer of dharma.

He is known chiefly through his avatars, particularly Rama and Krishna. In theory, he manifests himself anytime he is needed to fight evil, and his appearances are innumerable, but in practice 10 are most common. His various names, numbering about 1,000, are repeated as acts of devotion by his worshipers.

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▪ Hindu deity
Sanskrit“The Pervader”
 one of the principal Hindu deities. Vishnu combines many lesser divine figures and local heroes, chiefly through his avatars, particularly Rama and Krishna. His appearances are innumerable; he is often said to have 10 avatars, but not always the same 10. Among the 1,000 names of Vishnu (repeated as an act of devotion by his worshippers) are Vasudeva, Narayana, and Hari.

 Vishnu was not a major deity in the Vedic period. A few Rigvedic hymns (c. 1400–1000 BCE) associate him with the Sun, and one hymn relates the legend of his three strides across the universe, which formed the basis of the myth of his avatar Vamana (Vāmana), the dwarf. Legends of figures that later became other avatars, such as the fish that saves humankind from a great flood, are also found in the early literature. By the time of the Mahabharata (the great Sanskrit epic that appeared in its final form about 400 CE), the avatars began to be identified with Vishnu. Vishnu is said to manifest a portion of himself anytime he is needed to fight evil and to protect dharma (moral and religious law). Not all avatars are wholly benevolent; some, such as Parashurama and Krishna, bring about the death of many innocent people, and the Buddha corrupts the pious antigods. Vishnu's vahana, his vehicle in the world, is the bird Garuda (Garuḍa); his heaven is called Vaikuntha.

      Temple images of Vishnu depict him either sitting, often in the company of his consorts Lakshmi (Lakṣmī) (also called Shri) and Bhumidevi (Earth), or reclining on the coils of the serpent Shesha—asleep on the cosmic ocean during the period between the periodic dissolution and re-manifestation of the world. He is also represented in a standing position and dressed in royal garments, holding in his four (sometimes two) hands the shankha (conch), chakra (discus), gada (club), or padma (lotus). On his chest is the curl of hair known as the shrivatsa mark, and around his neck he wears the auspicious jewel Kaustubha. In paintings, Vishnu is usually shown as dark-complexioned, a distinguishing feature also of several of his incarnations.

Wendy Doniger
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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