Vishnu – Dwadashanamas – Part One

01 Oct


(1) Vishnu in the Vaishnava tradition is the Supreme God, the all-pervading essence of all beings, and one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe. And, yet it would be rather incorrect to regard Vishnu as a single deity standing all by itself. Vishnu is the culmination or convergence of several gods; and is in fact a comprehensive manifestation of numerous gods.

(2) The saga of Vishnu’s evolution, expansion and his ultimate supremacy is truly fascinating. In the early Rig Veda he is one of the lesser gods; and he soon evolves, expands in the Vishnu Sukta, where he transcends into a brilliantly shining divine being that pervades and protects all existence. The virtues and powers of major Vedic gods Indra, Surya and Soma merge into Vishnu. By extension, Agni who is a form of Surya; Visvakarma (maker of all things) who too is regarded a form of Surya (RV10.170.4), and Vayu the complement of Indra all merge into Vishnu. They all are identified with Vishnu; and come to be known as forms of Vishnu. The Brahmana texts elevate Vishnu to far greater heights. Here Vishnu is celebrated as the supreme god into whom all gods including the very symbol of Vedic spirit Agni merge. Vishnu is regarded the source of all gods; all other gods derive their glory and splendour from Vishnu; and are emanations of his expressions.

(3) In the later texts, the ancient divinities Narayana merges into Vishnu; and become indistinguishable from Vishnu. Towards the end of Mahabharata, Vasudeva-Krishna joins the stream and is regarded as Vishnu. Then there is the transcendental aspect of Vishnu as Para-Vasudeva .That is followed by the prominent members of vrishni yadava clan (vyuha) – Krishna’s brother, son and grandson- as also their subdivisions , all regarded as various aspects of Vishnu. True to his name, Vishnu enlarged infinitely (vyapad vishnuhuh). The Puranas and the texts of the Bhakthi-cult wove elaborate and highly creative legends glorifying the Supremacy of Vishnu and rejoicing his countless manifestations, avatars. In the later ages, gods such as Srinivasa, Venkateshwara, Ranganatha, Padmanabha, Satyanarayana and other were all regarded not merely as forms of Vishnu, each with certain special affiliations, but as Vishnu himself.

Around these major forms of Vishnu, whole pantheon of minor and supporting deities took form; each assigned a specific aspect of Vishnu.

(4) Thus, like the proverbial inverted- tree with its roots in the air; and its branches and sub-branches spreading, flourishing elaborately downwards, the all encompassing Vishnu branched out, expanded and permeated the entire universe with his limitless expressions. All things merge in him; and all things emanate from him.

The awe-inspiring Vishva-roopa spectacle presented in Bhagavad-Gita is a colossal demonstration of the same principle.

(5) When we talk of Vishnu, we do not refer to a single deity but to Vishnu-tatva the all encompassing core-principle, the ever flowing stream of bliss (rasa) that pervades all existence.

A. Vishnu

In Rig Veda

1.1. Vishnu in the early Rig Veda is one of the thirty-three Devas; and is classified among gods of celestial region (dyusthana devatha) along with Varuna, Savitar and Pushan. Just about five or six suktas are devoted to him. He is ranked among the lesser- gods but is associated with the major god Indra.  In early texts, Vishnu is not one of the seven solar deities (Adithyas), but later he is their chief.

1.2. He is described as a young and a handsome person with a huge and a lustrous body (brhat sarirah yasya sah – RV 1.155.18) He resembles Surya and has rays in his appearance. He has big-feet (urugaaya) and moves in huge strides (uru-krama).He lives and wonders in the mountains (girisha, giristhah) just as a mighty lion that lives atop a forested hill. He is ever active, full of youth (yuva) and energy. But, he is not flippant or childish (akumarah)… (RV 1.155.18)

1.3. Vishnu initially had a lower position to that of Indra. He is Indranuja and Upendra, the younger brother of Indra. He is also the close friend of Indra (Indrasya yujyah sakhah) (RV 1.154.4); and often partakes Soma drink in the company of Indra. Vishnu helped Indra in vanquishing Vrtra and in destroying ninety-nine fort-cities of Shambara (RV 7.99.5).

1.4. The six riks forming the first portion of the Vishnu Sukta (RV 1.154) are most significant in the evolution; and the ever expanding glory and splendor of Vishnu. The significance of this Sukta is enormous. The Sukta not only sets up the identity of Vishnu with Surya the sun but also goes beyond to state that Vishnu is the very source of all gods and the savior of all existence.

The essential nature of Vishnu, as he evolves rapidly in Vishnu Sukta of Rig Veda, is his association with light, brilliance and his omnipresence.

1.5. The first six riks of Vishnu Sukta (RV 1.154) revealed to sage Medhaatithi son of sage Kanva is the first Sukta in Rig Veda to be addressed entirely to Vishnu. The Sukta   describes with awe and wonder the most celebrated three strides (Tri vikramana) of Vishnu (idam vishnum vichakrame). It said that the first and second of Vishnu’s strides (those encompassing the earth and air) were visible and the third was in the heights of heaven (space) (RV 1.155.1).This last stride is described as Vishnu’s supreme abode (paramam padam)   which only the wise (Suri) behold in their hearts, like the brilliantly shining sky. With those three great strides Vishnu came to be addressed as Tri-vikrama and as Uru-krama.

1.6. There are several interpretations to these three colossal strides of Vishnu. To start with, Vishnu is identified with Surya; and the strides are the path traversed by sun in morning (samarohana), noon (Vishnu pada) and evening (gayasiras). The three strides are also said to represent the three realms of earth (bhu), mid-air (bhuvah) and outer- space (suvah); as also wakefulness, dream and sleep. Vishnu, with these strides, is also said to have recovered for the Devas the worlds we see (iman lokan); the Vedic corpus; and the very speech system.

1.7. Yaska-charya opines, when Surya shines forth with the brilliance of his rays he becomes Vishnu. Yaska_charya in his glossary Nirukta (12, 19) concurs with the argument of two of his predecessors- Sakapuni and Aurnavabha- the three strides of Vishnu could refer to the three realms of earth, the mid-region and the heavens traversed by Surya. He says the three regions represent the three forms of Surya – as fire on earth (prithviagni), the lightening (vidyut) in the mid-region and as the burning energy (Surya) in the heavens.

1.8. Yaska-charya says that with the first step Vishnu pervades all creation through his energy; with the second he enters all creation by light; and with the third he encompasses all things and beings.   He concludes that since Surya pervades (vashir, vyapta), enters (praveshena)   and encompasses (vivis) all the three regions with his splendor and energy, he indeed is Vishnu. The realms are his manifestations when Vishnu is called Surya.

1.9. Another hymn (1-155-6) of Rig Veda suggests Vishnu set in motion the wheel of time (kaala chakra). consisting ninety-four elements : Samvathsara (year-1);Aayana (Half-year: 2);Ritu (seasons -5);Maasa (months-12); Paksha (fortnights-24);Aho-ratri (solar days-30);Yama( roughly hours or parts of the day- 8); and Lagnas in each day(12).  The chakra in the hands of Vishnu is also regarded as the solar splendor (RV 5-63-4).It also denotes the cyclical nature of time.

With the identification of Vishnu with Surya, Vishnu is hailed as the soul (atman) of the universe. The virtues and powers of Surya merged with that of Vishnu.

1.10. Though Vishnu was identified with Surya, the sun, his movement across the space was both vertical and horizontal. The second mantra of the ‘Vishnu Sukta‘ says that the three enormous strides of Vishnu created space; empowered gods to secure and permeate all the three realms; and with that all the regions of the universe dwell in peace. It also enabled habitation of earth by human beings (jeevate no rajamsi RV. 9.88.41).

This all enveloping nature and benevolence towards all existence became in the later texts the substance for enlarging upon the enduring and endearing attributes of Vishnu.

1.11. A mantra in Rig Veda (6.69.8) says that Vishnu along with Indra took the famous three strides for the sake of all beings. Even elsewhere in Rig Veda, Indra, Indra-Vishnu, Vishnu are all used together, suggesting Indra and Vishnu are one. In this process, Vishnu, in place of Indra, became the lord of the universe. The attributes and titles that once applied to Indra were transferred to Vishnu. Not merely that; Indra-nila azure sky-blue as that of sapphire or emerald associated with Indra the lord of blue-sky and of dark clouds , now became the body-color of Vishnu . In the later legends of the Puranas, Nara and Narayana; Arjuna and Vasudeva-Krishna preserve the old association between Indra and Vishnu. Indra is called Hari and Vishnu is Upendra.

In a similar manner, with the fall of the mighty Varuna, the first of the Great Kings, his kingship initially passes on to Indra while his spiritual powers are inherited by Prajapathi. In the next phase, Vishnu and Prajapathi together inherit Varuna’s glory and majesty. The powers and attributes that were once associated with Varuna are divided into two distinct spheres; Vishnu the power of creation and encompassing all existence; and, Prajapathi the symbolic spiritual power. In the Brahmana texts both Vishnu and Prajapathi are identified with Yajna.

Indra too had a brief span of life as the premier god; and he did not become a Supreme God. Instead, he had to yield place to another god. Eventually, Indra surrenders to Vishnu the newly emerging super- god; and bequeaths to him most of his powers and virtues. Similarly Prajapathi who was not endowed with any other special powers pales into insignificance just as his two predecessors – Varuna and Dayus. Prajapathi loses his power and authority over creation, sustenance and ordered existence to Vishnu. Prajapathi merges into Vishnu just as the other gods

 As regards Agni and other gods : Agni is the devatha of earth-realm (bhu), Indra is of the mid regions (bhuvar) and Surya is celestial realms (suvah); and Vishnu as tripat   (pervade three regions) encompasses all the three. Vishnu is thus said to symbolize the essence (rasa) of all existence.

By extension, Agni who is a form of Surya; Visvakarma (maker of all things) who too is regarded a form of Surya (RV10.170.4), and Vayu the complement of Indra all merge into Vishnu. They all are identified with Vishnu; and come to be known as forms of Vishnu.

In a similar move, along with Agni , Soma  too was identified with Vishnu  .

Vishnu (until then a minor god)   emerges as the all compassing god, the god of all gods.  The virtuous attributes and powers of all other gods are transferred to the incomparable God Vishnu. Into Vishnu all the gods merge; and in him they find their identities.

Thus , by the end of Rig Veda,its until then major gods such as Varuna, Prajapathi, Surya, Indra and Soma all merged  into Vishnu. Eventually, it is Vishnu (neither Varuna nor Prajapathi nor  Indra nor Agni nor Soma  ) that is revered as the omniscient and omnipresent Godhead; he is ‘ashrutkarna’ ‘whose ears hear all things; and Svayambhuva – Self-existent or Self manifested.

1.12. There are sufficient indications in the Rig Veda and Vishnu Sukta in particular about the virtues of Vishnu: his compassion, being the savior of all existence, the protector of those in distress, his powers, valor etc (RV 6: 49; 13; 7: 100, 1; 155). He is also hailed as the protector of the fetus (bruna), bestower of progeny (RV 7:36), friend (bandhu) of the good people (1. 154.1), a compassionate protector (3, 55, 10) etc.

His all-enveloping nature and benevolence towards all existence were expanded and glorified in the later texts. Vishnu’s three great strides and his act of rescuing the Devas, their lore, their values etc inspired the development of series of avatars.  The puranas enlarged upon the enduring and endearing attributes of Vishnu. The legends of the Vamana- King Bali; and the celestial Boar were woven around the hymns of Vishnu Sukta.

1.12. Yaska_charya explains, the term Vishnu is derived from the root “vishair” which brings forth the sense of pervasion (paryaptha). Vishnu literally means that which pervades (vyapad vishnuhuh). He explains, the essence of the term Vishnu is its brilliance, universal pervasion and omnipresence. That essential nature of Vishnu is brought forth through several expressions: Vishnu is ‘Vishnu vishateh ‘ one who enters everywhere; he is veveshti vyapnoti vishvam yah, the one who enters and covers the whole universe, or is omnipresent; and ‘yad vishito bhavati tad vishnurbhavati, that which is free from fetters and bondages is Vishnu.’ In other words, Vishnu is not limited by space, time or substance. The Vishnu Sukta thus elevates Vishnu to sublime heights and regards him as the omnipresent dimension of the Supreme Lord.

1.13. With that, Vishnu at once emerged as the omnipresent divine-principle supporting and sustaining all the realms (bhuvanani vishvah); and as the spiritual source of the highest order. The Vedic seers urge the aspirants to celebrate the glory and magnificence of Vishnu the friend (bandhu) who is praised widely (urugaya). Vishnu, they say, is the ever flowing stream of bliss; and pray to him for spiritual enlightenment and bliss. For, though Vishnu is cosmic in nature, he dwells (jivase) in each being as its essence, spirit and strength (RV 1.155.16)

Behold the glorious achievements of Vishnu, who is the close friend of Indra and who established a cosmic order for protection of all beings in all the realms

(RV 1.154.4)

‘May I attain his favorite path in which god – seeking men delight – (the path) of Vishnu with giant strides, in whose exalted station is a (perpetual) flow of felicity – for he is truly a friend (to all).’

(RV: 1.154.5)

 1.14. Thus, by the end of Rig Veda, Vishnu swiftly and gracefully strode across, evolved into the ever flowing stream of bliss, the very essence that protects and pervades all existence with its brilliance.

In the Brahmanas

2.1. Vishnu is elevated to far greater heights in the Brahmana texts.

The Brahmanas are centered on the yajna. The Taittiriya and Aitareya Brahmanas hail Vishnu as the Yajna-purusha and identify him with yajna (yajno vai Vishnuhuh) — (AB: 1.15.4), (TB: 2.1.83). He is the protector and preserver of the yajna (TB is the Yajna pathi (master of yajna) whom all the sacrifices are meant to please.

2.2. It is said the Devas derive their power (shakthi), pervasion (vyapthi) and position (pada) from Vishnu, as he is the very source of all gods. He is the Supreme God (AB: 1:1:1).

2.3. Devas gained the realm of earth, thanks to the prowess of Vishnu and therefore Aitareya Brahmana (1.30.19) declares Vishnu as the guardian and protector of the gods (devanam dvarapah). Vishnu  is the face (Vishnu mukhah vai devaha) and the comprehensive image of all gods (vishnur sarva devatah).

2.4. While Vishnu is Aditya (Sun), the gods are his brilliant rays. It is said the primary meaning of the term Deva “to shine” (div to shine divyati) was thus derived.

2.5. Satapatha Brahmana (14, 1, 1 and 5) declares Vishnu as the best and the foremost (sresta) among all the gods. Aitareya Brahmana (1:1:1)praises Vishnu as the greatest or oldest god (parama), higher than Indra and higher than Agni the least or the youngest among gods (avama). All other gods are ranked in between (tadantarena sarva anya devata).

This is an astounding statement.

Agni, in Rig Veda, occupied a very special position. The Rig Veda opens with a rik in salutation to Agni (Agni meele purohitam … RV. 1.1.1). Agni is not merely the principal deity, he is also the chief priest who conducts the yajna; he is the mantra; he is the yajna; he is the offering; he is the one that receives the offerings. Rig Veda often refers to Agni as the Rishi (RV.9.66.20); the first and the foremost among the Rishis (1.31.1; 3.21.3); he is the knower-of everything (10.91.3) and the one that pervades all life and existence.He is the enjoyer, devour (sarva baksha), digester, heat, lust and passion. He spreads, takes over and rules. Agni is the fire of life, the subtle energy in all beings and the fire of inner awakening. He is the symbol of life, wisdom, knowledge, compassion and lordship.  Agni is the symbol of Paramatman and all the other gods are different aspects or manifestations of Agni.He is the Vedic symbol of the Supreme.

Similarly, Indra is the most prominent god in Rig Veda. He is the first among the gods and is described as “Yo jata eva prathamo manasvan” he who from his very birth is the first among the Devas, the lord of the universe etc. More hymns are addressed to Indra than to any other deity in the Rig Veda, with the exception of Agni. For; he was revered for his beneficent character, as the bestower of rain and the cause of fertility. He was feared as the awful ruler of the storm and wielder of lightning and thunder.

Considering the Brahmanas’ preoccupation is with the Yajna, it is surprising Agni was relegated to such low position in those texts. There is no explanation anywhere how or why such an amazing turn – around came about. From then on Vishnu is regarded the Supreme Lord of the universe.

In the Upanishads

3.1. The Kathopanishad regarded as one among the major ten Upanishads states that the final destination of one’s spiritual journey is the abode of Vishnu (tad vishno paramam padam)… he who holds the reins of the mind, he reaches the end of his journey, and that is the highest place of Vishnu.

The other Upanishads like Maitri Upanishad regarded Vishnu as the Supreme Being.

3.2. It appears; therefore, by the time of later Upanishads Vishnu was regarded the highest divinity, the core-principle of existence and the very purpose of spiritual pursuit.

Only those Vedic gods whose characters were not explicitly known, and who offered significant traits to be developed into rich and complex mythology survived and flourished. For instance; Vishnu and Rudra were minor gods, but their profile indicated traits which could be expanded and enriched veraciously. Let’s take the case of Vishnu; he had the nucleus of ‘tri-pada-vikrama’ the collasal figure measuring the universe with his three enormous strides; his solar nature; lustrous body; his friendship with Indra; vague references to his unparallel valor;– all these were excellent material for developing him into concrete mythological supreme god…From Indra he imbibed the demon-killing valor; from Surya and Savitr the brilliance and sheen associated with gold; from Mitra the kindly  , compassionate and benevolent attitudes towards all existence; and , from Bhaga the fortune bestowing generosity. From solar gods in general he inherited associations with Devayana; and consequently his roles as a savior……The component Vedic gods disappear one after another, after bequeathing their virtues to their successor. They last only so long as their living trait remains relevant to the spiritual needs or material aspirations of the society. “

Excerpts from ‘The Indian Theogony’ by Dr. Sukumari Bahttacharji (Cambridge University Press, 1970)

Yoga Narayana Vishnu

Continued in Part Two

 Narayana, Krishna and  Para-Vasudeva 


— Trivikrama

(i) The Rig Veda does not of course offer the iconographic details of Trivikrama. Those forms and details were evolved at a much later period. There are numerous forms of Trivikrama depictions. In the puranas, the gigantic Trivikrama image got entwined with the legend of the dwarfish Vamana. The Vaikhanasa-agama (ch.58) offers a detailed account of Trivikrama measuring out the three realms. He is depicted in three variations:

(i) with left-leg lifted up to the level of the knee of the right leg (which is placed firmly on the ground) to signify act of measuring the earth;(2) left leg lifted up to the level of the navel (nabhi) to signify occupation of the mid-regions; and, (3) left leg raised to the level of forehead, to signify occupation of celestial regions and beyond. The images of Trivikrama are to be scaled in superior (uttama) dasa-tala measure.

(ii) Sometimes, Trivikrama is depicted with  six  arms ; and also with  two or four arms (as in Badami caves); or with eight arms (as in Mamallapuram) holding a variety of ayudhas. But there is no uniformity among the texts about the ayudhas.


(iii)According to Vishnudharmattara (85; 55-77) the face must be lifted up to blow the conch held in two hands; and the eyes must be wide open. The other hands should carry cudgel (danda), noose (pasha), discus (chakra), mace (gadha), sword (khadga) and lotus (padma).The well known image of Trivikrama at Mamallapuram carries a different set of ayudhas, such as bow, arrow, shield etc along with the usual ones.

(iv) Trivikrama, as a form of Vishnu, is usually visualized in dark complexion, like that of a ‘water bearing cloud’ wearing a red garment. At times, his body is depicted in red color. He is richly ornamented. His huge form must evoke awe , reverence and wonder in the hearts of the viewers.

Vamana holding an umbrella as also king Bali and several deities are shown separately in the same panel.

— Vishnu

(i) As mentioned earlier, there are no specific indications in the Rig Veda about the iconographic features of Vishnu. The Vishnu of Rig Veda is essentially a shining blissful spiritual source; he is yet unattached. His associations with his consort Lakshmi, Ananta sepent, water etc were all yet to come about. But centuries later most elaborate iconographic systems were developed depicting Vishnu in varieties of forms, postures and dispositions along with his entourage. Among the various texts devoted to Vishnu-iconography, the 5th century Vaishnava texts Brahmiya Chitra-karma sastram and Vishnudharmottara present graphic details of Vishnu icon. Generally, Vishnu is depicted either as standing (sthanaka), seated (asana) or lying down (sayana); and there are numerous variations in each type of depiction. The image of Vishnu is made with eight, four or two arms. (Please click here for details).

(ii) The general features of Vishnu the God of godsas depicted in texts are: His head should be in the form of an umbrella, his neck like conch, his ears like sukthi; he should have high nose, strong thighs and arms. His chest must bear Srivatsa crest symbolizing Lakshmi his divine consort; and also the foot-print of sage Brighu. He should be richly adorned with a beautiful crown, set of ear-rings, garlands of flowers (Vanamaala) and the Kaustubha gem. His complexion should be new-cloud-like-blue as of the limitless sky symbolizing his infinite nature, and he should be clad in yellow robes. His serene and gracious countenance should be lit up with blissful gentle smile uplifting the hearts of the devotees.

(iii) But usually, Vishnu is depicted with four arms representing his presence in the transactional and spiritual worlds.  The two hands on the right side display the abhaya mudra or lotus, and discus; and, his hands on the left hold the conch and mace. And, in case he is made with only two arms, then the right hand bestows peace and hope (shanthi-kara-dakshina hastha) and the left holds the conch. This is how the image of the Lord Vishnu is to be made for prosperity. 

When Vishnu is two armed and carries discus and mace, he is known as Loka-paala-VishnuMost of such images are believed to be of the Kushana period ( first to third century); and, are  usually small in size , easily  carried.

two armed Vishnuclitwo-armed-kushana-vishnu

(iv) Vishnudharmottara (part 44.1-21) presents a unique portrayal of the four-faced Vishnu (chatur -mukhi Vishnu). It mentions that the image of Vishnu, the god of gods, should be made with four faces and eight arms. The Eastern face (turned towards the viewer should be a peaceful (saumya) human face representing Vasudeva and the virtue (guna) of bala (power). The face to the right, the Southern face, should be Narasimha representing Sankarshana and jnana (knowledge).The face to the left , the North face, should be Varaha (the celestial boar) representing Pradyumna and aishwarya ( wealth, prosperity) . And, the face to the back, the west face,should be Kapila (raudra or ferocious) representing Aniruddha and shakthi (strength).

[According to Vaikhanasa ideology, the four aspects of Vishnu -Purusha, Satya, Achyuta and Aniruddha– are identified with Dharma (virtue), Jnana (wisdom), Aishvarya (sovereignty) and vairagya (dispassion). Of the four faces of Vishnu, Purusha is to the East; Satya to the South; Achyuta to the west; and Aniruddha to the North.  Purusha facing east is fair in complexion, wearing yellow garments.Satya to the South is collyrium (kajal) Blue hued (?)  ; wearing red garments.Achuyuta located to the west of Vishnu is golden colored; wearing dark blue garments. And Aniruddha located to the north of Vishnu is coral colored.]

Four faced Vishnu Kashmir c.10th century

There is another representation of Vishnu as Caturmurti – with four faces and four hands (not eight hands).The specimens of this type of depictions, now, are mostly in public and private museums outside India. One such Caturmurti is in   Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, USA   ; and the other is in MuZéO collection Paris France.  Both are estimated to belong to mid 8th century; and both are from Kashmir region.


Caturmurti in a musem at LA USA   Caturmurti in a museum at Paris France

In these images, the crown on Vishnu’s head is surrounded by a large and a prominent discus (chakra) . Vishnu has placed his upper-right-hand on the head of Chakra-purusha who is short, stout and potbellied resembling a Yaksha. Similarly Vishnu’s upper-left-hand too is placed on the head of another short figure.  His normal right-hand holds a lotus, while his normal-left-hand holds a mace (perhaps). These are rare representations of Vishnu; and one hardly gets to see them in present-day India.

There are also depictions of Vishnu with ten arms holding several Ayudhas and served by Sesha , Garuda and other celestial beings

South Indian, late 19th c, Vishnu

There is also a description of Asta-bhuja Vishnu, the Vishnu with eight arms. Of the eight hands the four on the right side must have the sword (nandaka), mace(kaumodaki), arrow and abhaya -hastha mudra of assurance and protection (the fingers raised and the palm facing the devotees); and the four hands on the left side esha and hold the bow(saranga), buckler, discus (sudarshana) and conch (panchjanya).

The same text mentions that Vishnu should be mounted on Garuda, bedecked in rich ornaments, long garland of forest- flowers (vanamala) with Kaustubha gem adorning his chest. He should be clothed in splendid yellow (pitambara) garments. His complexion should resemble water-laden fresh clouds.

Sources and References

Brahmiya Chitrakarma Sastram by Prof G Gnanananda

Vaidika Sahitya Charitre by Dr. NS Anantarangachar

Vishnu Sukta by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao

Trivikrama and Vishnu drawings from

Other pictures from internet


Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Vishnu


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26 responses to “Vishnu – Dwadashanamas – Part One

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Dear Sir,

    It takes more than many life times to study all the scriptures which you have mentioned. I have never read any book which amalgamates all the information available and present an unbiased version, as you have done here. It gave immnse pleasure and happiness to read this literature.

    Kind Regards

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 7:58 am

      Dear Vikram Narayan , Thank you. I am delighted you read ; and you liked it. Please read the other installments too. Regards

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 7:58 am

    is smbolic of the becoming aspect pf a human being
    siva is the being aspect of the humans..
    the being of vishnu personifies the bcoming …

    the bali..vamana incident talks about a very interseting human aspect of
    feeling small and feeling big..
    both are consisitent locations in the human psyche
    both dosowned and some confused mix is present..
    i am the mico and i am the macro….

    like the alice in the wonderland
    she had two mushrooms
    one when she ate
    she beacame big
    and the other made her small
    she kept one on the right and the other on the left
    she learnt that the left and the right judicial mix is the key to
    the right sizing..of humility and pride …

    the siva vishnu amalgamation
    in the form of mohini siva combine off spring ..iyyappa
    is the collective representaion of
    non differentition in the being and becoming…

    both the calls of human..
    i come form the saivite ttadition and to me the
    being processess of life takes predominance over the becoming aspects..
    thpugh there is a constant struggle..
    do you know of some who follow a form of combination of siva and vishnu….

    once i went througha personal process relating to
    (years back when
    i was with my guru who has mixed with the cosmos now)
    purusha sukhta
    i have tried to understand this
    purusha who offerred himself as a sacrifice
    if health permits plaese help me unedrstand this through your work
    and with your grace i may find a meaning in this experience…

    may god give you peace ,tranqulity and immense understanding of life…


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

      Dear Shri Sampath, Wow…Your comments say pithily more than the verbose post. Reg. Purusha, I have written few things about Narayana, Purusha and Purusha Sukta in the next part of the article. Kindly go through. I am not sure if all that makes sense. Regarding Shiva – Vishnu persuation, let me think about that.

      As regards what you said in the second tranche of your comments, I reckon I am greatly benefitted by this exercise. But for such prompting I lacked the need, motivation and the discipline to organize and put down my rambling thoughts on certain subjects. The awareness that someone is spending time, patience and enduring pain to read your post puts me on guard; I try to write in a readable manner, to present cogently; and also to check- cross check facts and references .Sometimes , comments ,observations , further queries do help greatly to expand or revise what I had written already.

      You have been too kind. I am just a clue-less old guy.

      The Benediction at the end was lovely. I cherish it. Thank you.

      May god give you peace, tranquility and immense understanding of life…

      Warm Regar

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 19, 2015 at 8:00 am

        Dear Shri Sampath, Your comment on ‘being and becoming’ was interesting.

        There are similarities and differences between Vishistadvaita and Kashmir Shaivism.

        In the latter, Shiva (in place of Narayana) is at the centre of the matrix of Being and Becoming – there is only one Being, Shiva, who is the nature and existence of all beings, the infinite light or prakasha of universal consciousness. The Shakti is not external or independent of Shiva –consciousness; it is like heat being one with fire. Shakti is also said to mirror the Shiva principle. The external world is a reflection of Shiva consciousness (Pratibimbavada).

        Shiva is Purusha, the underlying Self of the universe, from whom emanates the Prakriti-Shakti the manifest world; and into Shiva everything dissolves back.

        Among the differences, Trika is not crowded with the embodied representations of Shiva aspects (murtis). Trika also does not lay high emphasis on devotional worship of Shiva images, though it counts the path of Grace gained through total surrender to Sambu-Shiva as the third means.

        The other method it talks about is anavopaya, disciplining the ego or anava throughmeditative practices, or through saktopaya energizing the Chakras along the Kundalini path.

        Its premier path is pratyabighna recognizing what is already there, the most obvious, you are Shiva; shedding the inhibitions of the mind, ego etc that mislead to wrong identifications. Abhinavgupta says, there is nothing to recognize for that consciousness is already present.

        Thank you for the observation.


  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Sreenivas ji,

    A nice post.You have done the research thereby saving our time in search of all these in different texts which would have been quite impossible for people like me.

    May Lord Vishnu shower the blessings on you for this noble effort.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

      Dear Citylover , Thank you Sir. I am delighted you found it readable. Grateful for the blessing. Please read the next parts too. Regards

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Respected Sir

    Thank you so much of this magnificent article on Vishnu. As Vikram Narayan has said we could not have digested information from all the sources that you have mentioned.

    Just some thoughts and some questions that came to me:

    Many scholars have sequenced the Vedas as early or late and I suppose there is some evidence for that. I am ignorant as to their methods. Yet, the question that comes up is can we really sequence it when we all accept that it was Veda Vyasa who compiled it. That is he put the stanzas./verses/riks in a particular order, or he organized the material transmitted for centuries by earlier sages in a particular way. Is it possible to say that the codification and symbolism became more complex as time went on? The CORE IDEA that the ONE permeates and upholds everything remains the same through all the complex personifications leading to stories/puranas. The ONE is given names and attributes that we slowly construe as different deities Indra, Vishnu, Shiva or Agni as the case may be. Is this the reason why they are conflated or equated in different verses and the process changed again? Then, the “evolution” becomes only our way of understanding or misunderstanding, giving it a linear dimension in time. Like the story of the six blind men and the elephant who described the tail, trunk or leg of an elephant, we describe different deities – – – I may be totally off the mark, I dont know —-

    Thank you for your patient understanding of beginners like me

    With regards and best wishes

    Padma Raghavan

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Dear padma raghavan , Thank you for reading the post. We all of us are beginners.

      The first question is interesting and a tough one too. I am not sure I know the right answer. Let me try

      Can we really sequence Vedas when we all accept that it was Veda Vyasa who compiled it?

      According to traditional belief, the Veda was only one and it was classified into parts at a later age. It is said, the Vedas were for a considerable period referred to as ‘trayi’ meaning a triad or a set of three. That classification was made, it is explained, in order to suit the requirements of those participating/conducting the yajna. The mantras recited by the ritviks called hotru in order to invite and invoke the deities were classified as Rig Veda; those mantras recited by the advaryu the priests who submit offerings to Agni and who actively conduct the yajna were classified into Yajur Veda; and those mantras sung by udgatru say at the time of Soma-yaga etc were classified into Sama Veda. There is however no reference to Vyasa in this context.

      The priest who supervises the yajna and ensures its proper conduct is designated the Brahma; and he of course had to be well acquitted with all the three divisions of the Veda. The Brahma was termed as the representative of the fourth division named Atharva Veda.

      There is a substantial overlap among the four Veda Samhitas .The source Book is the Rig Veda. Nearly about fifty percent of the mantras in Yajur Veda and thirty percent of the mantras in Atharva Veda are from Rig Veda. As regards Sama Veda, almost ninety percent of its mantras are from Rig Veda Samhita. The total number of all mantras in all the four divisions, including repetitions, is about twenty thousand.

      There was perhaps no single or central authority which decreed that the groups should be grouped in this manner. This arrangement has come down as a matter of tradition. But, the task of dividing the Vedic corpus into four divisions is ascribed to sage Vyasa (termed Veda Vyasa, meaning the arranger of the Veda texts). And, not much is known about this Vyasa; there is much debate surrounding his identity and whether Vyasa did actually undertake this task. There is also discussion on whether Vyasa was the name of a one person or whether it was a title shared by many across the generations.

      It is believed that four disciples of Vyasa (Paila, Vaishampayana, Jaimini and Sumantu) were associated with him in the task of re-arranging the Veda Books. (Vishnu Purana 3- 4-8,9)

      An interesting fall out of this arrangement is that the practice of conducting yaga , yajna and such other rituals pre-dates the composition of Rig Veda as it has come down to us. In other words, yajnas were being conducted by the Vedic people even prior to what is generally termed as the ‘Vedic Age’; and the relevant mantras were rearranged into Books at a much later age.

      As regards the question of chronology that you mentioned, it is hard to determine whether the rearranging of all the four Samhitas came about at the same time or whether the process was spread out in stages over a long period.. The traditional view is that all the four Vedas are equally ancient, since the majority of the mantras in all the four Vedas emanated from a common source.

      However, some attempts have been made to work out a time-frame/chronology; and, as always there are more than two opinions on that question too.

      Since Brahmana texts refer to Vedas as four and as being sacred, it is accepted that Samhitas preceded the Brahmanas.

      In the absence of external evidences, all scholars delved deep into Rig Veda Samhita and subjected its text to intense study and scrutiny from various angles, including grammar, etymology, language, style, usage of terms etc. Based on such studies, many scholars (mainly the western scholars) opine that the ten Books of the Rig Veda were compiled at different points of time. , The Rig Veda Books from number two to number seven (popularly termed as Family Books- please click here for details) were compiled in the first stage. That was followed by the Ninth Book and then the Tenth Book. And, what we know as the First Book was compiled last. Generally, when someone says “early ‘or ‘late’ Veda, you may assume they are referring to this sequence.

      The Indian scholars however argue that all the ten Books were compiled in one stage..They point out that the mantras across the books overlap; the mantras of the “early books” also appear in the “later books”. They surmise that the compilers might have started with simpler mantras and then moved on to more complicated ones. Well, of course, this too is disputed.

      In any case, all appear to agree that Rig Veda is the oldest Book; and has been carefully preserved.

      As regards your second question, let me admit I did not quite get it clearly. I presume it relates to the nature of God according to Rig Veda .Please correct me if I am wrong.

      Though Rig Veda mentions many deities, it does show a tendency to extol a God as the greatest among all the divine entities. It views God as the ultimate Reality. Rig-Veda regards the God as both the Impersonal and the Personal: The Nasadiya Sukta states that the Supreme Being is Un-manifest and Manifest. He is the Jagat_pati, the Lord of the Universe, of all beings. He is the sustainer and the protector. The Purusha-Sukta (Rig Veda 5.10.90) proclaims that this Universe is God. He is the cause of the world. He encompasses the whole cosmos and transcends it to infinity. He is the supreme and the solitary divinity. Yaska-charya says ‘Eka atma bahuda stuyate’; one Reality is addressed in many ways. Though Rig Veda basically follows Sagunopasana, it does contain seeds of monism.

      Thank you for asking.


      • sreenivasaraos

        March 19, 2015 at 8:10 am

        Although I read your response some days ago, I am replying only now as I have some time. Sorry for the delay Sir.

        As you have stated all the vedas come from one eternal source. This is why I feel that it may be erroneous to sequence them as early or late. The very fact that many sections overlap may be a pointer to avoid this confusion of “dating” and might have been done deliberately by the compilers. The last paragraph of your reply gives many sources or texts for the nature of God. I feel all the statements are equally true, one does not cancel out the other

        Padma raghavan

  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Dear Shri Sampath, that act of clipping a head was perhaps symbolic clipping of his inflated sense of ego.

    No Sir, I have not published anything in print. Over the years, I used to write something or other occassionally just to take my mind off the day-to-day work and the drudgery. I kept that aside. The thought of publishing those jottings never crossed my mind. When I sometimes relooked at them, I could recognize that I was not saying anything new or precious; and not many would be interested in the stuff. I reckoned the world would learn to live on even if those hastily written notes did not see daylight. I was often tempted to destroy the old heap, but used to hold back saying ‘let me look at it once more’.

    Some years back we shifted from Bombay; and I had to be away from Bombay at that time. When we later met in our home at Bangalore, my wife complained that she had a lot of trouble in getting the things packed; too many old and useless things. And she said she had to threw away many of those useless things including some old papers. When I heard that, it brought me a strange sort of relief.

    Now, I occasionally post something or the other when someone asks me a question; and, which, understandably, not many, including the ones that asked the question, care to read. A luminous star in the Sulekha-horizon once called a ‘guy who writes about the dead that do not contradict’. When I come to think of that I reckon it is a rather fair assessment. If you say you liked reading what I posted, that is because you are a very generous person.

    Please keep talking.


  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Dear padma raghavan ,I am glad you read. The classifications were done in order to serve certain purposes. I am not sure if it could be said that it was done deliberately to avoid the question of age the text. That issue might have been the farthest from the minds of the compilers.

    Please read the other parts of the article as also the symbolism of the Vishnu image.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 8:12 am

      Sir, I have yet to read the other parts of your article. I will surely do so and may be ask mor questions!!

      Thanks and regards

      Padma Raghavan

  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Dear Dr. D. Srinivasan, You are most welcome to reach the articles to wider circle of readers.

    Thank you also for the comments and for agreeing with the contents. The appreciation coming from an erudite scholar well trained in Vaikhanasa philosophy and way of life is truly very re-assuring. I value your approval very highly.

    Earlier I posted a series of articles on Evolution of Vishnu .Please check :

    But, with the revision (downward) of Sulekha the fonts, alignment , spacing and the look of the articles have all changed for worse. I might not be easy to read. Yet ; please try.And also read the comments.

    I may have to post them again , as the Sulekha Editor does not allow Editing.


  8. Vijay

    May 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Dear Sreenivas sir,
    Thank you for such an interesting article with abundant references and deep insights.

    I requested you for a clarification in your article “Agni and Soma interplay” regarding the veda vaakhyam “Yajno vai vishnu:, Vishnur vai yajna:”.

    I am raising the same query here since the topic of discussion here is Vishnu itself.

    The vaakhyams “Yajno vai vishnu:, Vishnur vai yajna:” do anywhere occur consecutively (since I consider them as two separate quotes) in any text ?
    I have seen “Yajno vai vishnu:” quoted in Taittiriya samhita, Taittiriya Brahmana etc…& also “Vishnur vai yajna:” in Aitareya brahmana. But, no where I didn’t see these two lines occuring consecutively in any text.

    Can you please throw light on this topic and also cite reference, if any ?


    • sreenivasaraos

      May 30, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      Dear Shri Vijay,
      1. As said earlier, the expression Vajno vai Vishnuhu appears in many texts: Kausitaki Brahmana (4.2); Kausitaki Brahmana (18.28); Aitareya Brahmana (3.4); Taitteriya (1.7.4); Vajasaneyi samhita (; Satapatha Brahman ( etc.

      2. Panchavimsati Brahmana (vii 5,6) uses Makha instead of Yajna
      — Yajno vai makhah I yat pravargyam pravinjati yajnasyva tach chhirrah pratidadahati II

      3. Aitareya Brahmana (1.1)
      Agnir vai devanam avamo I Vishnuh paramah I tadantarena sarva anya devatah II

      4. Satapatha Brahmana :
      Sa yah sa Vishnur yajnah sa \ sa yah sa yajno ‘sau sa Adityah \ tad ha idam yaio Vishnur na iasdka samyantum \ tad idam apy atarhi naiva …

      But, I have not come across the two expression repeated in succession. Sorry. You may have to consult someone more knowledgeable and knows it truly.

      Pardon me I have not been of much help.
      Cheers and Regards

      [BTW, thanks for the good word.]

  9. Vijay

    June 2, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Dear Sreenivas,

    Thank you for the bunch of references. I was keen on that two sentences as I have heard them on many occasions. Once again wish you for your work and efforts.


  10. keshav kashyap

    July 7, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Hi Sir ,

    My ancestors own a Paravasudeva Temple which is very rare of its kind , but i didnt find much information about sri paravasudeva anywhere i referred to ,

    can you help me to know more about sri paravasudeva


    • sreenivasaraos

      July 7, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Dear Keshav

      Thanks for the visit.

      Please read further. Please see Parts Two . Three and Four of this series.

      Let me have your comments.



  11. SimpleHuman

    May 9, 2017 at 8:47 am

    When I saw the statue of Horus, Osiris and Isis, Garuda, Vishnu and Lakshmi came to me. Horus look like a birdman like Garuda.

    • sreenivasaraos

      May 9, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Dear SH , Thank you for the visit. Regarding Horus, Osiris and Isis, I am not so sure. The appearances might perhaps be there ; but, the context and symbolism are entirely different. In any case, I have desisted from straying into comparative mythologies , just to lessen the tedium .Regards

  12. Jay

    June 11, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Hi Sreenivasa Rao sir,
    I have been periodically interested in spiritual growth. Recently, I started to review the meaning of the Vishnu Sahasranama. I came across your post as I was attempting to learn more about the name Para-Vasudeva. After reading part 4, I went back to read 1, 2, and 3. Now, I am very eager to read and learn more of our vedas, upanishads. I do not know sanskrit. How and where do I start? Can you please provide guidance?

    • sreenivasaraos

      June 11, 2017 at 3:23 am

      Dear Jay

      Thank you for the visit; and, for the interest you evinced

      I appreciate your candour

      There is, of course, a vast body of literature, in various forms and languages, on these subjects. And, as you mentioned, it is a problem of over abundance; not knowing from where to start. Some years back, I also faced a similar problem. Then, I stared writing down, for my own understanding, a series of articles, in order to gain a perspective of things. I thought I could share with others what I had learnt. Hence, I posted them on the net.

      Let me, at the outset, mention that I am not a scholar of any sort; and, I had no formal training in these subjects. I am mostly – what you might call – a self-taught. Therefore, the articles I posted here are circumscribed by the limitations of my understanding. And, therefore, I could at times be wrong. Please, therefore, do not take these writings as totally authoritative. And, yet I assure that it is a fairly good place to begin with. You may thereafter branch out into various texts depending upon your interests and the degree of your persistence.

      1. The Rig-Veda, the oldest known text, is of course, a good place to start with. You may commence from the series of seven articles starting with Rig Veda – its Society (1/7). These articles written in simple language, avoiding technical terms , cover certain aspects of Rig-Veda , such as : its society; its world view; its gods and goddesses ,their nature; the origin and the disappearance of certain gods etc .

      That is followed by
      Rig Veda, its worldview

      2. You may then, read about Rishis of the Rig Veda and oral traditions of the Vedas , which gives some idea about the structure of Rig-Veda and its authors

      3. An article (in two parts) of special interest would be the one on the Position of women in the Rig-Veda society

      4. As regards the Upanishads, the first article in the short series “Who was Uddalaka Aruni?” is truly a good place to start with

      There are articles on various other philosophers like Mahidasa, Bodhayana et al

      5. You may then read about Samkhya the oldest of our philosophies and also about Varuna the premier Vedic god

      6. There are a whole series of articles on Buddha and Buddhism

      This tedium would, of course, take a lot of time and patience. Do not rush. Go at your pace and inclination.

      Please keep talking

      Best of Luck


      • Jay

        June 14, 2017 at 5:41 pm

        Thank you sir for your guidance. You are very humble. I pray to God for your good health and prosperity so you are able to continue this beautiful work. I am starting to read per your guidance today. I hope you will be able to answer questions that I may have.
        Please accept my namaskarams,


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