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Vishnu

Vishnu is the second god in the Hindu triumvirate (orTrimurti). The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Brahma and Shiva.

Brahma is the creator of the universe and Shiva is the destroyer. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of the universe.

His role is to return to the earth in troubled times and restore the balance of good and evil. So far, he has been incarnated nine times, but Hindus believe that he will be reincarnated one last time close to the end of this world.

Vishnu’s worshippers, usually called Vaishnava, consider him the greatest god. They regard the other gods as lesser or demi gods. Vaishnava worship only Vishnu. Vishnu monotheism is called Vaishnavism.

What do the ancient texts say about Vishnu?

In the Rig Veda, which is the holiest of the four Vedas, Vishnu is mentioned numerous times alongside other gods, such as Indra.

He is particularly associated with light and especially with the Sun. In early texts, Vishnu is not included as one of the original seven solar gods (Adityas), but in later texts he is mentioned as leading them.
Vishnu ©
From this time, Vishnu appears to have gained more prominence, and by the time of the Brahmanas (commentaries of the Vedas), he is regarded as the most important of all gods.

Two of Vishnu’s incarnations, Rama and Krishna, are also the subject of the epic stories Ramayana and Mahabharata, respectively.

What does Vishnu look like?

Vishnu is represented with a human body, often with blue coloured skin and with four arms. His hands always carry four objects in them, representing the things he is responsible for. The objects symbolise many more meanings than are presented here:
•The conch: the sound this produces ‘Om’, represents the primeval sound of creation
•The chakra, or discus: symbolises the mind
•The lotus flower: an example of glorious existence and liberation
•The mace: represents mental and physical strength

Vishnu is usually represented in two positions.
•Standing upright on a lotus flower with Lakshmi, his consort, close by him
•Reclining on the coils of a serpent, with Lakshmi massaging his feet. They are surrounded by the Milky Ocean.

Vishnu rides on the King of Birds, Garuda, who is an eagle.

What are Vishnu’s incarnations?

Vishnu has appeared in various incarnations nine times on this earth, with the tenth predicted.
1.Matsya (fish) •Some Hindus believe that this is the similar to the biblical representation of Noah

2.Kurma (turtle) •Churning of the Ocean

3.Varaha (pig/boar) •In this avatar, Vishnu recovered the stolen Vedas

4.Narasimha (half lion, half man) •Vishnu managed to vanquish a demon who had gained immunity from attacks from man, beast or god

5.Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow) •In this story, the evil demon Bali had taken over the earth and had pushed all of the gods from the heavens as well. Vishnu took the form of a dwarf, who tricked Bali into giving him as much of Bali’s empire as he could cover in three steps. Vishnu as Vamana grew so large that with one step he had covered the earth, with the second the heavens, thus returning the ownership to the gods.

6.Parasurama (fierce man/hunter) •Vishnu rids the earth of irreligious and sinful monarchs

7.Rama (greatest warrior/ideal man) •As Rama, he kills the demon King Ravana, who abducted his wife Sita

8.Krishna (mentally advanced man) •Krishna is the hero of the Mahabharata, an epic poem. He also delivered his famous message, known as the Baghavad Gita.

9.Buddha (the all knowing one) •who appeared in the 5th century BCE. In some traditions, Balarama replaces Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu.

10.Kalki • Expected towards the end of this present age of decline, as a person on earth, seated on a white horse.

Vishnu’s incarnation as the fish Matsya ©
Vishnu in Hindu mythology

The churning of the Milky Ocean is the story that explains how the gods finally defeated the demons and became immortal.

In the story, Vishnu advised the other gods to churn the Milky Ocean in order to recover a number of lost treasures, including the elixir of immortality and Lakshmi, the goddess of success and wealth. Both of these items would enable the gods to defeat the demons who had taken taken over the universe.

Knowing the gods would be unable to churn the great ocean themselves, Vishnu struck a deal with the demons. He told them they would get a share of the treasures, including the elixir of immortality, if they helped to churn. They agreed.

Vishnu told the gods and demons they should use Mount Madura as a churning stick, and the giant serpent, Vasuki, as a rope.

Vishnu managed to persuade the demons to hold the head of the snake, which was spitting furiously, while the gods held the tail end. The serpent was then coiled around the mountain. Each side alternately pulled the rope then allowed it to relax, causing the mountain to rotate in the water.

Before they could regain the treasures, however, there were many problems they had to face.

As the gods and demons churned, the mountain began to sink into the soft sand bed of the sea.

At the request of the gods, Vishnu incarnated as a turtle. He placed the mountain on his back to act as a foundation stone, thus allowing the churning to continue. Some reports say it was churned for a thousand years before anything came up.

When the elixir of immortality finally rose to the surface, the demons rushed to grab it.

But Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, a beautiful woman who captivated all the demons. By sleight of hand she changed the elixir for alcohol and returned the precious liquid to the gods.

The churning also brought Lakshmi forth from the ocean. She came as a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower. Seeing all the gods before her, she chose the god she felt was most worthy of her. Vishnu and she have been inseparable since.

Lakshmi

Lakshmi is the consort of the god Vishnu. She is one of the most popular goddesses of Hindu mythology and is known as the goddess of wealth and purity.

What does Lakshmi look like?

Lakshmi is commonly portrayed as a beautiful woman with four arms, standing on a lotus flower. There is usually one, or sometimes two elephants behind her, anointing her with water. She is often depicted sitting beneath Vishnu, massaging his feet.

The rebirth of Lakshmi

One of the most compelling stories in Hindu mythology is that of the Churning of the Milky Ocean. It is the story of the gods versus the demons and their fight to gain immortality. It also tells of the rebirth of Lakshmi.

Indra, the warrior god, was given the responsibility of protecting the world against the demons. He had protected it successfully for many years, and the goddess Lakshmi’s presence had made him sure of success.

One day, a wise sage offered Indra a garland of sacred flowers. In his arrogance, Indra threw the flowers to the floor. According to Hindu belief, this disply of arrogance upset Lakshmi, who left the world of the gods and entered into the Milky Ocean.

Without her, the gods were no longer blessed with success or fortune.

The world became darker, people became greedy, and no offerings were made to the gods. The gods began to lose their power and the asuras (demons) took control.

Indra asked Vishnu what should be done. He told Indra that the gods would need to churn the Milky Ocean to regain Lakshmi and her blessings. He then told them the Ocean held other treasures which would also help them. This included the elixir of life, a potion bestowing immortality, which would enable them to defeat the demons.

The story of the Churning of the Ocean tells of how the gods worked together to churn the ocean. They churned for many years, but it was 1,000 years before anything rose to the surface.

Finally, the treasures began to rise to the surface. Among them, a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower. This was Lakshmi, who had returned to the world. With her presence, the gods eventually defeated the demons and chased them out of the world.
The sacred lotus flower representing Lakshmi ©

This story highlights the good fortune and success that Lakshmi bestows upon those who work hard and seek help sincerely. It also demonstrates that during times of success, one must never become complacent or arrogant, as success has a way of getting away from people.

Worshipping Lakshmi

Hindus believe that anybody who worships Lakshmi sincerely, and not in greed, will be blessed with fortune and success. It is said that Lakshmi resides in places of hard work, virtue and bravery, but leaves whenever these qualities are not apparent any more.

Lakshmi is particularly worshipped during the festival of Diwali. This festival commemorates the epic story, Ramayana. Ramayana is the legend of Lord Rama’s battle with the demon Ravana, in which Lakshmi features.

In the story of Ramayana, Sita is married to Lord Rama. Hindus believe Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi. The story tells us that Rama had been cast out of his rightful kingdom, and had gone to live in a forest with his wife and brother.

The battle between Rama and the demon Ravana begins when Ravana abducts Sita from the forest. The epic follows the story of Rama defeating the demon, and his eventual return to his kingdom.

As the three heroes, Rama, his brother Lakshman and Sita, returned home, people lit candles to guide their way in the dark. In honour of this, on the second day of Diwali people light candles in their homes to guide Lakshmi, in the hope that she will bestow good fortune on their home for the coming year.

After worshipping Lakshmi on Diwali, many Hindus gamble and spend profusely, believing that Lakshmi has bestowed good fortune upon them.

In addition to this, two days before Diwali, a festival called Dhantares is celebrated to seek more blessings from her. During this time Hindus buy gold and silver and start new business ventures.

Hindus worship Lakshmi at home as well as in the temple. Friday is believed to be the most auspicious day for her worship.

Shiva

Shiva is the third god in the Hindu triumvirate. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Brahma and Vishnu.

Brahma is the creator of the universe while Vishnu is the preserver of it. Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to re-create it.

Hindus believe his powers of destruction and recreation are used even now to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, paving the way for beneficial change. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not arbitrary, but constructive. Shiva is therefore seen as the source of both good and evil and is regarded as the one who combines many contradictory elements.

Shiva is known to have untamed passion, which leads him to extremes in behaviour. Sometimes he is an ascetic, abstaining from all wordly pleasures. At others he is a hedonist.

It is Shiva’s relationship with his wife, Parvati which brings him balance. Their union allows him to be an ascetic and a lover, but within the bounds of marriage.

Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are members of the Shaivism sect.

What does Shiva look like?
Shiva ©
In his representations as a man, Shiva always has a blue face and throat. Strictly speaking his body is white, but images often show him with a blue body too.

Shiva is represented with the following features:
•A third eye •The extra eye represents the wisdom and insight that Shiva has. It is also believed to be the source of his untamed energy. On one occasion, when Shiva was distracted in the midst of worship by the love god, Kama, Shiva opened his third eye in anger. Kama was consumed by the fire that poured forth, and only returned to life when Parvati intervened.

•A cobra necklace •This signifies Shiva’s power over the most dangerous creatures in the world. Some traditions also say that the snake represents Shiva’s power of destruction and recreation. The snake sheds its skin to make way for new, smooth skin.

•The vibhuti •The vibhuti are three lines drawn horizontally across the forehead in white ash. They represent Shiva’s all-pervading nature, his superhuman power and wealth. Also, they cover up his powerful third eye. Members of Shaivism often draw vibhuti lines across their forehead.

•The trident •The three-pronged trident represents the three functions of the Hindu triumvirate.

While other gods are depicted in lavish surroundings, Shiva is dressed in simple animal skin and in austere settings, usually in a yogic position. Parvati, whenever she is present, is always at the side of Shiva. Their relationship is one of equality.

Even though Shiva is the destroyer, he is usually represented as smiling and tranquil.

Other representations

Shiva is sometimes represented as half man, half woman. His figure is split half way down the body, one half showing his body and the second half that of Parvati’s.

Shiva is also represented by Shiva linga. This is a phallic statue, representing the raw power of Shiva and his masculinity. Hindus believe it represents the seed of the universe, demonstrating Shiva’s quality of creation. Worshippers of Shiva celebrate Mahashivratri, a festival at which the Shiva linga is bathed in water, milk and honey and worshipped.

Who is he linked with?

Shiva’s consort is Devi, the Mother-goddess. Devi has taken on many forms in the past, including Kali, the goddess of death, and Sati, the goddess of marital felicity. Her best known incarnation is Parvati, Shiva’s eternal wife.

Hindus believe Shiva and Parvati live in the Kailash mountains in the Himalayas.

Lord of the dance

Dance is an important art form in India, and Shiva is believed to be the master of it. He is often called the Lord of Dance. The rhythm of dance is a metaphor for the balance in the universe which Shiva is believed to hold so masterfully.

His most important dance is the Tandav. This is the cosmic dance of death, which he performs at the end of an age, to destroy the universe.

According to one Hindu legend, Shiva almost signalled the end of this universe by performing this dangerous dance before its time. This is the story.

One day, the father of the goddess Sati decided to hold a prayer ceremony. At this prayer ceremony, all the gods would be invited and offerings would be made to them.

But Shiva had married Sati against the wishes of her father and he was not invited. Sati was deeply offended on behalf of her husband.

In anger, Sati prayed intensely and jumped into the sacred fire that was burning on the day of the ceremony.

During this time, Shiva had been in the midst of deep meditation. But when Sati jumped into the fire, he awoke in great anger, realising what his wife had done.

The story becomes less certain at this point, but it is believed that Shiva started the cosmic dance of death. The whole universe was about to be destroyed before it was time.

The gods who were present at the prayer ceremony were very concerned. In order to pacify him, they scattered the ashes of Sati over him. This did the trick. He calmed down and did not complete the dance. But he went into meditation for many years, deeply upset over the death of his wife, ignoring all his godly duties.

It was not until Sati was reborn as Parvati that Shiva finally came out of meditation. Through her love and patience, she taught him about family life and the importance of moderation.

Shiva and Parvati are held up as the perfect example of marital bliss by many Hindus, and one is rarely depicted without the other.

Who is Brahma?

Brahma is the first god in the Hindu triumvirate, or trimurti. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Vishnu and Shiva.

Vishnu is the preserver of the universe, while Shiva’s role is to destroy it in order to re-create.

Brahma’s job was creation of the world and all creatures. His name should not be confused with Brahman, who is the supreme God force present within all things.

Brahma is the least worshipped god in Hinduism today. There are only two temples in the whole of India devoted to him, compared with the many thousands devoted to the other two.

What does Brahma look like?
Brahma, 1820 British engraving ©
Brahma has four heads and it is believed that from these heads came the four Vedas (the most ancient religious texts for Hindus). Some also believe that the caste system, or four varnas, came from different part of Brahma’s body.

He has four arms and is usually depicted with a beard.

Brahma’s consort is Saraswati, goddess of knowledge.

Why is Brahma not worshipped so much?

There are a number of stories in the Hindu mythology which point to why he is rarely worshipped. These are two of them.

The first view is that Brahma created a woman in order to aid him with his job of creation. She was called Shatarupa.

She was so beautiful that Brahma became infatuated with her, and gazed at her wherever she went. This caused her extreme embarrassment and Shatarupa tried to turn from his gaze.

But in every direction she moved, Brahma sprouted a head until he had developed four. Finally, Shatarupa grew so frustrated that she jumped to try to avoid his gaze. Brahma, in his obsession, sprouted a fifth head on top of all.

It is also said in some sources that Shatarupa kept changing her form. She became every creature on earth to avoid Brahma. He however, changed his form to the male version of whatever she was and thus every animal community in the world was created.

Lord Shiva admonished Brahma for demonstrating behaviour of an incestuous nature and chopped off his fifth head for ‘unholy’ behaviour. Since Brahma had distracted his mind from the soul and towards the cravings of the flesh, Shiva’s curse was that people should not worship Brahma.

As a form of repentance, it is said that Brahma has been continually reciting the four Vedas since this time, one from each of his four heads.

A second view of why Brahma is not worshipped, and a more sympathetic one, is that Brahma’s role as the creator is over. It is left to Vishnu to preserve the world and Shiva to continue its path of cosmic reincarnation.

Atman

Atman means ‘eternal self’. The atman refers to the real self beyond ego or false self. It is often referred to as ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ and indicates our true self or essence which underlies our existence.

There are many interesting perspectives on the self in Hinduism ranging from the self as eternal servant of God to the self as being identified with God. The understanding of the self as eternal supports the idea of reincarnation in that the same eternal being can inhabit temporary bodies.

The idea of atman entails the idea of the self as a spiritual rather than material being and thus there is a strong dimension of Hinduism which emphasises detachment from the material world and promotes practices such as asceticism. Thus it could be said that in this world, a spiritual being, the atman, has a human experience rather than a human being having a spiritual experience.

Guru

The terms guru and acharya refer to a teacher or master of a tradition. The basic meaning is of a teacher who teaches through example and conveys knowledge and wisdom to his disciples. The disciple in turn might become a teacher and so the lineage continues through the generations. One story that captures the spirit of the teacher is that a mother asks the teacher to stop her son eating sugar for he eats too much of it. The master tells her to come back in a week. She returns and he tells the child to do as his mother says and the child obeys. Asked by the mother why he delayed for a week, he replied ‘a week ago I had not stopped eating sugar!’

Gurus are generally very highly revered and can become the focus of devotion (bhakti) in some traditions. A fundamentally important teaching is that spiritual understanding is conveyed from teacher to disciple through a lineage and when one guru passes away he or she is usually replaced by a successor. One guru could have more than one successor which leads to a multiplication of traditions.

Brahman

Brahman is a Sanskrit word which refers to a transcendent power beyond the universe. As such, it is sometimes translated as ‘God’ although the two concepts are not identical. Brahman is the power which upholds and supports everything. According to some Hindus this power is identified with the self (atman) while others regard it as distinct from the self.

Most Hindus agree that Brahman pervades everything although they do not worship Brahman. Some Hindus regard a particular deity or deities as manifestations of Brahman.

God

Most Hindus believe in God but what this means varies in different traditions. The Sanskrit words Bhagavan and Ishvara mean ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ and indicate an absolute reality who creates, sustains and destroys the universe over and over again. It is too simplistic to define Hinduism as belief in many gods or ‘polytheism’. Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. God, being unlimited, can have unlimited forms and expressions.

God can be approached in a number of ways and a devoted person can relate to God as a majestic king, as a parent figure, as a friend, as a child, as a beautiful woman, or even as a ferocious Goddess. Each person can relate to God in a particular form, the ishta devata or desired form of God. Thus, one person might be drawn towards Shiva, another towards Krishna, and another towards Kali. Many Hindus believe that all the different deities are aspects of a single, transcendent power.

In the history of Hinduism, God is conceptualised in different ways, as an all knowing and all pervading spirit, as the creator and force within all beings, their ‘inner controller’ (antaryamin) and as wholly transcendent. There are two main ideas about Bhagavan or Ishvara:

1.Bhagavan is an impersonal energy. Ultimately God is beyond language and anything that can be said about God cannot capture the reality. Followers of the Advaita Vedanta tradition (based on the teachings of Adi Shankara) maintain that the soul and God are ultimately identical and liberation is achieved once this has been realised. This teaching is called non-dualism or advaita because it claims there is no distinction between the soul and the ultimate reality.

2.Bhagavan is a person. God can be understood as a supreme person with qualities of love and compassion towards creatures. On this theistic view the soul remains distinct from the Lord even in liberation. The supreme Lord expresses himself through the many gods and goddesses. The theologian Ramanuja (also in the wider Vedanta tradition as Shankara) makes a distinction between the essence of God and his energies.

We can know the energies of God but not his essence. Devotion (bhakti) is the best way to understand God in this teaching.

For convenience Hindus are often classified into the three most popular Hindu denominations, called paramparas in Sanskrit. These paramparas are defined by their attraction to a particular form of God (called ishta or devata):

•Vaishnavas focus on Vishnu and his incarnations (avatara, avatars). The Vaishanavas believe that God incarnates into the world in different forms such as Krishna and Rama in order to restore dharma.

This is considered to be the most popular Hindu denomination.

•Shaivas focus on Shiva, particularly in his form of the linga although other forms such as the dancing Shiva are also worshipped. The Shaiva Siddhanta tradition believes that Shiva performs five acts of creation, maintenance, destruction, concealing himself, revealing himself through grace.

•Shaktas focus on the Goddess in her gentle forms such as Lakshmi, Parvati, and Sarasvati, or in her ferocious forms such as Durga and Kali.



  • Narasimhaye: If you are able to talk to your or sister and your girl cousins, you will be able to speak to any girl you like. Don't be shy. Try to be confident in
  • arjun: sir please help me I cannot talk to any girl I'm not frank and I am very afraid of doing things I think what the world will think I don't have confide
  • Narasimhaye: I meant do Puja , not pika sorry.