Vishnu (Hindi: (विष्णु) is a form of God, whom Hindus pray to. For Vaishnavites, He is the only Ultimate Reality or God. In Trimurti belief, He is the second aspect of God in the Trimurti (also called the Hindu Trinity), along with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu means, "The All-Pervading One,", another name for the one Supreme Being. Known as the Preserver, He is most famously identified with his avatars, or incarnations of God, most especially Krishna and Rama.
- Followers of Vaishnavism, unlike Smartas, do not believe that Vishnu is one of many personal forms of God or Saguna Brahman but believe Him to be the only Ultimate Reality (i.e., Brahman) exclusively. A Smarta, on the other hand, would consider Vishnu and Shiva to be the same but different aspects of the same Supreme Being. See Ishta-Deva for greater discussion.
- Unlike Shaivism, the other denomination of Hinduism, Vaishnavism believes that God incarnates periodically for the establishment of righteousness, protection of good and destruction of evil; see avatar for more information.
- Smartas who follow Advaita philosophy, believe that aspects of God such as Vishnu or Shiva are personal attributes of the impersonal Brahman, God without attributes. All Hindus however, recognize that Vishnu is not limited to personal characteristics as typically depicted in the displayed image and is beyond any personal characteristics and can transcend all attributes.(This view is similar to the view of God in Semitic religions such as Islam or Judaism.) However, the Semitic religions hold that God has no personal characteristics. Hindus, on the other hand, believe that God can transcend all personal characteristics yet can also have personal characteristics for the grace of the embodied human devotee. Personal characteristics are way for the devotee to focus on God.
- Hindus believe that if we can hear the voice of God similar to how Judaeo-Christian religions believe that God communicates, then it is not neccessarily wrong to view a form of God so long as it is recognized that God is not limited to a particular form.
- Hindus also worship Vishnu as an abstract form (i.e., God without form) as a saligrama. Use of the saligrama is similar as the lingam is used for Shiva
- The term "Hindu god" should not be equated with Vishnu and is confused with Deva.
- Devas, or demigods, are celestial beings similar to angels as discussed in Judaeo-Christian traditions.
Theological attributes and more
Vishnu is the all-inclusive deity, known as purusha or mahä Purusha, Paramätma [Supreme Soul] Antaryämi [In-dweller] and He is the Shèshin [Totality] in whom all souls are contained. He is Bhagavat or Bhagavan where bhâga is Divine Glory,
Vishnu possesses six such divine glories, namely,
- Jñäna Omniscient; defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously;
- Aishvarya Sovereignty,which persist in unchallenged rule over all;
- Shakti Energy, or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible;
- Bala Strength, which is the capacity to support everything by His will and without any fatigue;
- Virya Vigour, or valour which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the Supreme Spirit or Being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations;
- Tèjas Resplendent, or Splendour, which expresses His self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by His spiritual effulgence.; cited from Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, by Swami Tapasyananda.
However, the actual number of auspicious qualities of Vishnu are countless, with the above-mentioned six qualities being the most important. Other important qualities attributed to God are Gambhirya (inestimatable grandeur), Audarya (generosity), and Karunya (compassion.)
Relations with other Deities
Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Shakti is the samvit (the primary intelligence) of God, while the other five attributes emerge from this samvid and hence Shakti is God's ahamata (personality and activity) or God's Power personified. Thus this Shakti of God is personified in mythological lore and is called Shri or Lakshmi, and She is said to manifest herself in, 1) kriyäshakti, (Creative Activity) and 2) bhütishakti (Creation) of God. Hence Vishnu cannot part with His own personality or creativity i.e., ahamta, which in its feminine form is called Sri or Lakshmi. He therefore needs his consort Goddess Lakshmi to be with Him always, untouched by any. Thus Lakshmi has to accompany Vishnu in all His incarnations.
His mount is Garuda, the eagle. He, along with the rishis, helped broker the truce between Vritra and Indra.
- Vishnu is usually depicted as a four-armed humanoid with blue skin, often sitting or resting on a lotus flower. He also has a shapeless, omnipresent form called Hari.
- Note that while Vishnu is commonly portrayed with human features, Swami Tapasyananda, in his book, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, reminds readers that Vishnu pervades everything and is not anthropomorphic. Attributing anthrompormorphic characteristics to Vishnu is a common misconception held by non-Hindus. Vishnu has no particular material form but can manifest in any form, and is a center of all force, power, will, auspiciousness, goodness, beauty, grace, responsiveness, etc.
- Vishnu is the Supreme God of Vaishnavism, or Vishnu monotheism.
- It is believed that He manifested Himself as a human being in ten Avatars. He is frequently worshipped in the form of these avatars.
It is not clearly known when or how the worship of Vishnu began. In the Vedas, and the information on Aryan beliefs, Vishnu is listed as a lesser god, strongly associated with Indra. However, Shukavak N. Dasa, a Vaishnavite scholar, in reference,  (http://www.sanskrit.org/Ramanuja/Ramanuja&vaishna.html), has commentated that Srivaishnavites would note that the praise of Indra and other devas in the Vedas, are not intended for the particular deity, but for the Supreme Being, Vishnu, who is the inner soul for such deity. They further note that the various deities addressed in the hymns are simply different forms of this one Supreme Being. Additionally, he mentions Vaishnavites' citation of Rig Veda 1.22.20, for the supremacy of Vishnu, which states, "As the blazing sun pervades the entire sky like an eye fixed in the heavens, so the divine seers eternally perceive that supreme abode of Vishnu." Also, the foreword of P. Sankaranarayan's translation of Vishnu sahasranama, Bhavan's Book University, cites Rig Veda V.I.15b.3, for the importance of chanting Vishnu's name by stating, "O ye who wish to gain realization of the supreme truth, utter the name of Vishnu at least once in the steadfast faith that it will lead you to such realization." Nevertheless, it was only later in Hindu history that Vishnu became a member of the Trimurti and hence is one of the most important forms of God in contemporary Hinduism.
- Om Namo Narayana, a mantra
- Purusha Sukta, a Vedic hymn said to describe Vishnu.
- Vishnu sahasranama, a hymn describing the 1000 names of Vishnu.
An ancient statue of Vishnu as Narasimha, his fourth avatara
Vishnu has a number of names, collected in the Vishnu sahasranama ("Vishnu's thousand names"), which occurs in the Mahabharata. In Vishnu Sahasranama, however, Vishnu is praised as the Supreme God.
The names are generally derived from the anantakalyanagunas (infinite auspicious attributes) of the Lord. Fourteen of Vishnu's names have a special status:
Other important names:
Dhanvantari is an avatar of Vishnu. One of the most famous Hindu saints, Shri Raghavendra Swami was a Vaishnavist monotheist.
Theological beliefs and philosophy
Major branches of Vaishnavism include Srivaishnavism, (espoused by Ramanuja) who advocated Vishishtadvaita, Dvaita (espoused by Madhvacharya or Madhva and Gaudiya Vaishnavism (espoused by Shri Chaityana.) Please also see the article on Vaishnavism
The Hare Krishna movement or ISKCON adheres to Gaudiya Vaishnavism school.