Vishnu, a Deity or Concept of Universal Nature

VISHNU-1-581x1024
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.

HINDU ART & SCULPTURE FROM ANTIQUES INTERNATIONAL

Hinduism & Science, Compliment or Controversy

Devotion is the origin and motivation for most religious art. In Hinduism this concept is propagated beyond leaps and bounds with hundreds of gods generating thousands of myths, thus captivating not only the devotees but also artisans and artists mainly in the East. The beauty of Hindu Art not only does feast the eye, but also generates a thousand philosophical thoughts beyond what the eye can contend, but only the mind. The metaphysics of what these gods and goddesses mean to Hindu faith and religion is the generative power of Hindu Art. The Hindu Art remains as the philosophical expression of Hindu religion.

Anton Sebastian Private Hindu Art Collection
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

In the concept of Trimurti consisting of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, lies history of the universe (creation, preservation and destruction). When modern physics states that ‘matter cannot be created or destroyed’ how does one compromise with Hinduism, theology and science? In a similar manner one wonders how is theory of evolution is compatible Christian version of the creation of man? Truth is that we do not have to compare or compromise as the logical explanation for this may be beyond our intellect. Albert Einstein believed the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world”—a question that could not be answered “simply with yes or no.” He conceded that, “the problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.

Fear is often behind the generation of faith where as in science we are prompted to question this faith. Perhaps, philosophy may help to bridge between God and Science. Whereas science (Scientia; Latin) is knowledge or knowing, philosophy on the other hand is love  (philos; Greek) for knowing (Sophia; Greek). John Ruskin says (“The Eagle’s Nest,” 1872) that in science you must not talk before you know and in art you must not talk before you do. Likewise, in philosophy you must not talk before you think: knowing is not enough to find a solution for everything. Spinoza claimed that the third kind of knowledge, intuition, is the highest attainable faculty of human mind . More specifically, he defined this as the ability for the human intellect to intuit knowledge based upon its accumulated understanding of the world around them.

Indus Seal: prototype Shiva

Science is the explanation or interpretation of what we observe whereas theology is the study of power behind what we observe: in this instance, the God. Creation by Brahma is a mythology to suit human faith and devotion, just as much as the scientific theory of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. We know all about Wind, Fire and Sun through science but do not know how they were originally created. Hence the Aryans created the nature gods Indra, Agni and Surya to appease these forces that could destroy man. The pre-Aryans or proto-Dravidians were probably ahead in the making of gods. Not only did they visualise the gods to be more of objects of nature than the nature itself as opposed to the later Aryans. The Dravidians also produced the images of the god in forms such as lord of the beast or Pasupathi, prototype of Shiva or his representation of creative power, the Linga. They recognised motherhood as protection and caring, hence their images of her. This was the beginnings of Hindu religious art.

In Hinduism procreation is an important theme exemplified by the Linga and Yoni, the procreative engines of human race. They implicitly represent the major gods Shiva and Shakti. Most primary gods in Hinduism have their consorts underpinning this principle. Again, Shiva is represented in Hindu imagery as Ardhanarishvara, a God who is half woman, reminding the us the equal power of genders in Hindu philosophy. The Hindu Art as we see today is an emanation all the philosophy that this religion has generated through millennia. For science may be only be trasient for what is proved today may be disproved tomorrow.

Anton Sebastian Hindu Art Collection 

PRIVATE HINDU ART COLLECTION by Anton Sebastian