Vishnu is the preserver of life among the Hindu Trinity. He incarnates to uphold truth, righteousness and order on the earth.
The 10 Avatars
There are 10 incarnations of Vishnu. These are:
- Matsaya (fish avatar)
- Koorma (tortoise avatar)
- Varaha (boar avatar)
- Narasimha (the man-lion avatar)
- Vaamana (the dwarf avatar)
- Parasurama (the angry sage avatar)
- Lord Rama
- Lord Krishna
- Balaram (Krishna’s elder brother)
- Kalki, the final future avatar
Vishnu’s Four hands
Vishnu’s four hands hold the “sankha” or conch, “chakra” or discus, “padma” or lotus and “gada” or mace. The conch signifies sounding out the primordial Om sound. The Sudharshan chakra is used as a lethal weapon against evil-doers. The lotus stands for a glorious and peaceful existence. The mace punishes the undisciplined.
The Lord of Truth
Vishnu’s navel gives birth to a lotus housing the lord of creation, Brahma. Vishnu’s seat is the fiercesome, many-headed Sheshnag snake. These are the embodiments of the Vishnu, who upholds the virtue of truth.
The Deity of Peace
Vishnu is depicted resting on the Sheshnag snake. This is symbolic of patience and calm in the midst of worries and the fear that the snake represents. The underlying meaning of this depiction is that one should never be overpowered or disturbed by fear.
Garuda, the Vehicle
Vishnu travels on the Garuda eagle, which is the king among birds. Garuda is empowered with speed and courage and assures fearlessness in the face of calamity.
Vishnu’s devout followers are known as Vaishnavas. Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and wealth, is his consort.