Vishnu, a Deity or Concept of Universal Nature

Anton Sebastian Private Collection

Vishnu is the “preserver” of the Cosmos or Universe in the Hindu Trinity  (Trimurti) which includes Brahma  (the Creator) and Shiva (the Destroyer).  In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is identical to a formless metaphysical essence called Brahman behind reality of unchanging Universal Principle  in Hindu philosophy. Vishnu is a Vedic or Aryan deity associated with nature or the universe when compared to personified gods of Dravidian origin. However in the Vedas, the sacred books of the Aryans he takes a  less prominent when compared to Indra, Agni and other nature gods. Vishnu is mentioned in only 5 out of 1028 hymns of the Rigveda  and he is also mentioned less in the other hymns. As a preserver of the universe he is described in the Vedic literature as the one who supports heaven and earth. 

In Rigveda, Indra-Vishnu are equivalent and produce the sun, with the verses asserting that this sun is the source of all energy and light for all. In other hymns of the Rigveda, Vishnu is described as a close friend of Indra. In the Athara Veda, the mythology of a boar who raises goddess earth from the depths of cosmic ocean appears, the word Vishnu or his alternate avatar names are not mentioned. In post-Vedic mythology, this legend becomes the basis of many cosmogonic myths called with Varaha as an avatar of Vishnu.

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection

The “three strides of Vishnu” is the most iconic Hindu art  seen commonly in temples, where his leg is shown symbolizing a huge step.  Several hymns of the Rigveda repeat the mighty deed of Vishnu called the Trivikrama, which has been one of the mythologies in Hinduism since the Vedic times. It is an inspiration for Hindu art and sculpture in numerous Hindu temples such as at the Ellora Caves, which depict the Trivikrama legend through the Vamana, the avatar of Vishnu. Trivikrama refers to the celebrated three steps or “three strides” of Vishnu. Initially taking the form of a small insignificant being, he goes on to undertake the task of establishing his reach to cover the earth, and then the third stride to cover the heaven.

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection

Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity (both material and spiritual), is the wife and active energy of Vishnu. Harihara is a philosophical and artistic composite of half Vishnu and half Shiva is found from 1st millennium CE in the cave 1 and cave 3 of the 6th-century Badami cave temples. Vishnu’s

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection

mount (Vahana) is the sacred eagle Garuda which carries his lord on his shoulders. Garuda is as sacred in Vaishnavism just as much as Nandi is to Shiva.


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