Jai Sri Hari to all the beautiful souls. By divine SRI HARI’s and SRI NARAYANA’S Grace I am able to write my first Blog on him on his B’day. I am sharing here the short summary of my understanding of these symbols.
Meaning of Vishnu
The name Vishnu is taken from the word “Vish” which means to spread in all directions and therefore he comprises of the entire Universe which is ever-expanding. The word Vishnu means ‘one who pervades, one who has entered into everything’. As a god who has the responsibility of maintenance, Vishnu requires lots of wealth; his consort, therefore, is Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth. The vehicle of Vishnu is a bird (eagle or hawk) or a half man half bird named Garuda, whose name means “Wings of Speech”, a figure of great strength, power, and piousness.
The first adhyaya of Agni Purana begins with saying that Lord Vishnu is the foremost of male being. But Vishnu took the form of a female – Mohini to trick the asuras and make sure the gods get a share of the Amrita during Samudra Manthan.
It is believed that as Mohini, Vishnu has a son with Shiva who is known as Harihara (also known as Ayyappa).
Lord Vishnu is the middle one of the Hindu Trinity –Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Each of the Trinity is associated with one of the three states of consciousness and three states of relative conditions (gunas- sattva, rajas, and tamas).
The Vishnu Purana talks about the six divine attributes that are present in the Husband of Goddess Lakshmi collectively called Ṣaḍ-aiśvaryas.
Those six divine qualities or traits of Lord Vishnu are :
Jñāna (knowledge) : LordVishnu has complete knowledge of each and everything in existence. His knowledge is not limited by space or time. He is always aware of everything in the past, present, and future.
Bala (strength): Lord Vishnu possesses unparalleled strength. He can lift mountains just by a mere thought.
Aiśvarya (command): He has full command over His entire creation. Everything happens according to His will, without any hindrance whatsoever.
Vīrya (valour): Lord Vishnu is Vīra, a hero of unmatched valour. No one can defeat Him in a duel, except Himself. [Vīrya can also be understood as a tendency to be unaffected by external factors].
Śakti (ability): Lord Vishnu is Sarva-śaktimān. He is fully capable of doing everything that others can do. At the same time, He can also do that which others cannot.
Tējas (independence): Lord Vishnu is independent of everything other than Him. He does not need the assistance of someone other than Himself for doing anything.
Five forms of Vishnu
Para Form – Para is the highest form of Vishnu found only in Sri Vaikunta also called Moksha, along with his consort Lakshmi, and surrounded by liberated souls like Ananta, Garuda, and a host of Muktas (liberated souls).
Vyuha form – Vishnu assumes four forms, which exercise different cosmic functions and controls activities of living beings.
Vibhava form – Vishnu assumes various manifestations, called Vibhavas, more popularly known as Avatar from time to time, to protect the virtuous, punish evil-doers and re-establish righteousness.
Antaryami form – “Dwelling within” or “Suksma Vasudeva” form, Vishnu exists within the souls of all living beings and in every substance.
Arcavatara or Image manifestation – Sri Vishnu is visible and therefore easily approachable by devotees since Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, and Antaryami forms can only be imagined visualised or meditated upon because they are beyond our the reach of our physical perception.
Avatars of Vishnu
Lord Vishnu has taken many Avatars for different purposes. His ten avatar (Dashavatara) is popular among Hindus around the world.
The color of his skin has to be is new-cloud-like-blue: The blue color indicates his all-pervasive nature, blue being the color of the infinite sky as well as the infinite ocean on in which he resides and the infinite, formless, pervasive substance of the spatial universe, symbolizing his nature of limitless brilliance that pervades all universes.
A crown should adorns his head: The crown symbolizes his supreme authority.
His brows are like a well-strung bow, his nose slender and shapely like the petals of champak flower, the serene, cool, gentle smile, pure like cow’s milk, dancing on his full and well-shaped red lips lights up the whole world.
His form is enchanting and auspicious (divya mangala vigraha); radiant like the Sharad -full moon; his eyes glow like blue lotus blossoming amidst the pool of clear water.
He is to shown wearing two earrings: The earrings represent inherent opposites in creation – knowledge, and ignorance; happiness and unhappiness; pleasure and pain.
His chin firm and well proportioned; his throat bright and sound shaped like a conch; the tilaka adorning his forehead between the brows is luminous like a crescent moon in a clear cloudless sky.
According to yoga the yogic theory, the throat is the seat of Vishuddha chakra – the center of extreme purity – which symbolizes pure consciousness, and creativity. It is the center associated with the faculty of higher discrimination, and with the formless space. The throat is also the center where pashyanti vak the formless speech manifests as audible sound (sabda). The garlands around the throat of Vishnu symbolize the display of manifestation (of duality) surrounding the formless nirguna. Vanamala is Vishnu-maya, the power of illusion of the One who pervades all existence.
His chest is adorned with srivatsa locks of hair, the brilliantly shining kaustubha gem, and rows of forest-flower garlands (vanamala).
He is adorned with armlets, garlands, jewels, diadem, and (makara-kundala) earrings shaped like Makara (Vahana of Goddess Ganga and Lord Varuna).
He has the mark of sage Bhrigu’s feet on his chest.
Four arms represent the fulfillment of manifestations in all spheres of life. They symbolize domain over four directions of space and thus the absolute power over all universe.
The Four Hands of Vishnu
In one of the backhands, he holds the milky white conch shell, or sankha, that spreads the primordial sound of Om.
In the other hand, he holds a discus, or chakra: a reminder of the cycle of time, which is also a lethal weapon that he uses against evil.
The other hand hold a lotus, or padma, which stands for a glorious existence.
The fourth holds a mace, or gada, that indicates punishment for indiscipline.
In the case of Vishnu, the four arms are also said to represent three fundamental functions or tendencies [creative tendency (shristi), the cohesive tendency (sthithi); and, dispersion and liberation(laya)] and fourth being the notion of individual-existence (ahamkara) from which all individualized forms arise. His arms are long, strong and supple like the elephant’s trunk; his chest wide, strong and healthy.
He is adorned with golden-hue–silk garments (pitambara); he is richly and tastefully ornamented; and he is the very embodiment of all the grace, beauty and joy of the universe.
His feet bear the auspicious signs of a celestial standard, a royal parasol.
The symbolism of Lord Vishnu
Also on his chest is the Srivatsa mark, symbolizing his consort Lakshmi. It is, in fact, a lock of hair situated on his right chest, curling towards the right. Its color resembles that of the jasmine; (shukla varna dakshinavarta romavali) .Vishnu is thus Srivatsankita, the one who bears the sign of Srivatsa. It is said to symbolize Vishnu’s yogic powers (yoga shakti). It also represents the source of the natural world, the basic nature (pradhana).
In the earlier depictions of the Vishnu’s image, Srivatsa was indicated as a small-sized triangle (in the form of three leaves) on his right chest. In the images of the later periods, Srivatsa is in the form of small-sized Lakshmi (Vyuha – Lakshmi) with two arms. Some say it is meant to suggest that in this form, the jagrat state, Lakshmi the energy, is differentiated from Vishnu (the Purusha).
He rests on Ananta: the immortal and infinite snake. His feet bear the auspicious signs of a celestial standard, a royal parasol.
The most common representations of Vishnu are as standing (sthanaka) in sama-bhanga on a lotus-pedestal (padma), or as seated (asana) relaxed and comfortable. He is also represented as Yoga-Narayana seated in yogic posture on a pedestal of white lotus. The other most common depiction of Vishnu is as reclining (shayana) on the coils of Shesha -also known as Adhi-Shesh.
Ayudha generally translates to weapons; but, in shilpa-sastra, the term indicates whatever objects the idol holds in his or her hands.
Shri Vishnu in each of his four hands holds an Ayudha, an attribute: Shankha (conch), cChakra (discus), Gada (mace) and Padma (lotus).
The Shankha (conch), is the symbol of the origin of existence. It is associated with water – the first element, the source of all life. It has the form of multiple spirals evolving from a point to ever-increasing spheres. When blown, it produces a sound associated with the primal sound Om from which creation expanded. Shankha represents the creative (shristi) aspect of Vishnu. The Shankha that Vishnu holds is named pancha-janya, born of five; and it represents the pure-notion of individual existence (sattvika ahamkara) from which evolved the principles of five elements (bhutas).
The discus Sudarshana-chakra, beauteous to behold has six spokes equivalent to six petals of a lotus. Its nature is to revolve. It represents the universal mind, the will to multiply. (Vishnu purana 1-22-68). Chakra represents the cohesive (sthithi) aspect of Vishnu.
The chakra is in the design of a wheel. The wheel is symbolic of life, ever –renewing itself in a cycle of time. The wheel of radiance symbolizes the Sun. Its six spokes represent the six seasons, the six cycles of the year. The nave, in which the spokes are set, the centre, represents changeless and motionless reality .The spin of the wheel creates the illusion of duality, the Maya.
The gada, mace, named Kaumudikii is that which dazzles and intoxicates the mind. It is called the stupefier of the mind (Vishnu purana 1.22.69).The mace in Vishnu’s hands is the symbol of primal knowledge (adya-vidya).
The mace Kaumudiki is often referred to as the female, the dazzler who destroys all that opposes it. Kaumudiki is compared to Kali the power of time. Nothing can conquer the time. (Krshna Upanishad -23).
The Lotus, the immaculate flower rising from the depths of water, ever remote from the shore and unfolding in all its glory represents the evolving universe, the expansion of creation. It evolves from the formless endlessness of casual waters. The lotus is the symbol of purity, spiritual wealth, abundance, growth and fertility. It is sometimes taken as the emblem of six transcendental powers (bhaga: jnana, shakthi, bala, aishvarya, virya and tejas) which characterizes divinity (bhagavan).
The Vishnu is at times endowed with a bow and a set of arrows. His bow is Saranga, and hence he is Saranga-pani the one who holds the sarangi. The bow targets the distant and the unknown.
The sharp and blazing sword Nandaka (source of joy) represents sharp incisive intellect whose substance is wisdom (vidya) (Vishnu Purana 1.22-74). The flaming sword is the powerful weapon which destroys ignorance. The sheath which holds –hides the sword of knowledge is avidya. It represents darkness which is also an attribute of the divinity. The sword shines forth when it is drawn out of the sheath.
On the chest of Vishnu shines a brilliant gem Kaustubha, the treasure of the ocean. The Jewel represents consciousness, which manifests itself in all that shines: the sun, the moon, the fire and the speech.
On the waist of Vishnu there is:
Kīrtimukha, also Kīrttimukha, a bahuvrihi compound translating to “glorious face” is the name of a swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, The Kirtimukha is symbolic of our thoughtless pursuit of worldly possessions and pleasures,The Kirtimukha is a personification of ‘glory’ aka pride, arrogance, in short, ego. The kirtimukha serves as a reminder to everybody that ego is essentially self destructive. Ego sustains itself by consuming everything in the person it in whom it resides. Kirtimukha is thus a threshold guardian to maturity, to the deepening of wisdom. The Kirtimukha mask is present in all of us.
Garuda, the golden eagle is represented as a half-human and a half-bird of immense size and strength, equal in splendor to Agni. Vishnu rides Garuda in his jagrat (wakeful) state after the creative process is set in motion. Garuda means wings of speech, ‘whose wings transport from one word to another with the speed of light’. Garuda as three Vedas carries Vishnu the Yajna-pathi, with Rig (rhythm); Sama (sound); and Yajur (substance) all of which are elements of speech as also the ritual. Garuda, the son of Kashyapa (vision) is hailed as the personification of courage. ‘The triad beautiful triad of the wings is courage itself, made into a bird‘ (shatapatha Brahmana: 126.96.36.199).
Sesha the Serpent
Sesha, the primordial serpent, whose other name is Anantha, represents the non-evolved form of nature (prakrti). Vishnu sleeps in yoga-Nidra on Sesha floating on water, until he wills the next cycle of creation.
The Pose Dedicated to Lord Vishnu
Vishnu is often depicted as reclining on Sheshanaga: a coiled, many-headed snake floating on cosmic waters that represent the peaceful universe. This pose symbolizes the calm and patience needed to face your fears and worries, represented here by the poisonous snake. The message here is that you should not let fear overpower you and disturb your peace.
As he resides in Vaikuntha, he is also known as the Lord of Vaikuntha or Vaikunthapati.
Vishnu in Your World
Learning the peace and love that radiates from the teachings and incarnations of Lord Vishnu should inspire all whom to become aware to and practice loving-kindness and spread peace as we walk about this world. As Vishnu is known as to be a god who does not lose patience even in uneven circumstances, be also ready to help others and never lose patience.
Om Namo Narayana
Acknowledging the Divine in every individual..
From various sources: vedicfeed, wikipedia, and sanskritnews.
I am grateful to Mansi Drivedi, Priyanka Om and Google Baba.