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Vishnu is the central and major deity of the trinity – Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), Shiva (destroyer). Vishnu is the preserver or sustainer and for all practical purposes he is deemed to be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.
The name Vishnu means the “pervader”. He is the inner center, the nucleus, the cohesive point through which everything exists. According to scriptures, he is known by innumerable names and the verses are famous as Vishnu Sahasranama. The two most common representations of Vishnu show him
Either sleeping over the waves of the ocean on the coils of the serpent-deity
Standing on waves with four hands – each hand holding one of his four chief attributes.
His lower right hand represents the revolving or creative tendency. This hand holds conch, symbol of the five elements ( panchajanyam). When blown, it produces a sound that is associated with the primeval sound from which creation developed.
His upper right hand represents the cohesive tendency. This holds the discus ( sudarshana chakra) or the wheel. This has six spokes and symbolizes six-petalled lotus.
It represents the limitless controlling of all the six seasons and is the fearful weapon that severes the head if demons.
The upper left hand represents the tendency towards dispersion and liberation. This holds the lotus, symbol of the causal power of illusion from which the universe rises.
This lotus is called Padma. It is the symbol of purity and represents the unfolding of creation.It is the truth from which emerged the rules of conduct and knowledge.
The lower left hand holds Gada ( Mace), the symbol of primeval knowledge . It represents the notion of individual existence. This is named Kaumodaki and is the elemental force from which all physical and mental powers are derived.
Vishnu’s preserving, restoring and protecting powers have been manifest on earth in a variety of forms called Avatars or incarnations which are ten in number.
In all pictures Vishnu is shown blue-skinned and seen in rich ornaments and regal garments. His consort Lakshmi ( Sri) is the goddess of wealth and fortune. His place of abode is known as Vaikunta and his vehicle is Garuda, a giant-sized eagle, which is often shown as a winged, human-shaped figure having a beak-like nose. He is the infinite ocean from which the world emerges. Hence his symbol is water (Nara) and he himself is called “Narayana”- the one who dwells upon the waters.
Thus, Lord Vishnu has
First His formless aspect as the supreme
His cosmic form as the Creator and Sustainer of the world
His third aspect is as a particular incarnation
And, fourthly,His form, as chosen by the devotee for worship.