Vishnu Hindu God, Preserver, 10 Avatars Incarnations
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The Hindu God Vishnu - The Preserver


Who is the Hindu God Vishnu?

The Hindu God Vishnu is one of the principal Hindu deities, worshiped as the protector and preserver of the world and restorer of dharma (moral order). He is known chiefly through his avatars (incarnations), particularly The Hindu God Krishna, and Rama. Vishnu manifests a portion of himself anytime he is needed to fight evil to uphold the moral order, and his appearances are innumerable. But in practice there are 24 avatars with 10 incarnations that are most commonly recognized.

If the world is threatened by forces that look to destabilize the balance of the world, Vishnu takes the form of an avatar to destroy the threat, thus restoring equilibrium to the universe.


~The essence of Vishnu's role is captured perfectly in this excerpt of the Bhagavad Gita 4.7-8~

"Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth. For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being age after age."




Infographic Symbolism of Lord Vishnu

Lord Vishnu Infographic of Symbolism


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Brass Statue of Lord BrahmaBronze Statue of Lord Vishnu holding up a conch in one handBrass Statue of Lord Shiva holding up a conch in one hand

What is the Trimurti?

Vishnu is one of the three principal deities of Hinduism along with Shiva and Brahma. Together they make the up the Trimurti of Hinduism. Each God is responsible for one aspect of the endless cycle of life in the universe with:

  • Brahma "The Creator" responsible for creation (Rajas)
  • Vishnu "The Preserver" for maintaining balance and goodness (Sattva)
  • Shiva "The Destroyer" for destruction (Tamas) and decay paving the way for renewal and rebirth.




"Only the unlearned deem myself (Vishnu) and Shiva to be distinct; he, I, and Brahma and one, assuming different names for the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe. We, as the triune Self, pervade all creatures; the wise therefore regard all others as themselves."

~Vishnu explains the Nature of the Trinity (Trimurti)~



Who worships Vishnu? What is Vaishnavism?

Vishnu is worshipped as the supreme Lord in the Hindu sect of Vaishnavism. Vaishnavism is the largest Hindu denomination with two thirds of all Hindus considering themselves as a Vaishanava or Vaishnavite. The other major sects that comprise the four major sects of Hinduism are Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. The Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Vedas and the Agamas are all Vaishnavite texts with the Vedas to be considered their most holy and revered scripture.



Bronze Vishnu Statue with tilak on his forehead

It is easy to distinguish a Vaishnavite as they mark their foreheads with a tilaka which is a parabolic, U shaped mark with a line beneath it that forms a Y. The Vaishnavite style Tilaka is called a Urdhva Pundra.





Bronze statue of Lord Visnu standing with large clubBronze Statue of Lord Vishnu Seated holding up a conch in one handBrass Statue of Lord Vishnu reclining on Ananta Shesha holding a club

Vishnu Iconography, How is Vishnu portrayed in statuary?

Vishnu iconography shows him with dark blue, almost black skin, richly covered in jewels and most often having 4 arms. He is shown in 3 major poses in sculpture;

  • Standing holding a conch (shankha), discus (chakra) and his large club (gada)
  • Seated in the lalistana seated position with one leg tucked up and the other hanging down again holding a conch, discus and his large club
  • Reclining on the vast ocean of milk on the coils of a large serpent known as Ananta Shesha. In this pose it is believed that the Hindu God Brahma was born from the naval of Vishnu.




Where do you place your Vishnu statue (murti) in your home?

One should devote an entire room to construct a Vishnu mandir; however, if this is not available you can simply choose a quiet corner of a room somewhere in the house. According to the Vastu Shastra (traditional Hindu architecture), the home altar room should always be the northeastern most room in the home & the shrine itself should be in the northeastern most corner of that room chosen as this aids with the flow of proper energy or chakra.

The Vishnu murti must then be cleaned and kept on a table or altar of some sort. The Vishnu murti must then be shown respect by installing him on a special table decorated with incense, flowers and food. It is important that Vishnu never has his back towards anyone in the room.

Click here to learn more about how to set up a home mandir



What Objects Does Vishnu Hold?

statue of Lord Vishnu holding a club

Club or Kaumodaki

Vishnu's weapon, the Kaumodaki, is the club or mace (gada), represents the elemental force from which all physical and mental powers derive. It is one of the oldest known weapons and is a symbol of strength and power. The club is considered the most powerful of Vishnu's weapons and makes him utterly invincible. Most often Vishnu holds the club in his lower left hand resting against his hip.

Statue of Lord Vishnu holding up a conch in
one hand

Conch or Shankha

Vishnu holds a conch or shankha in his upper left hand. The shankha is the sacred symbol of Lord Vishnu. The conch represents "Om", the first sound of creation and also the beginning of matter, since sound and matter are considered to be synonymous. It is a water symbol and is associated with snakes and female fertility. It can be used as a trumpet to be blown at the start of a puja in temples and in homes. The sound is used during puja to bath Vishnu in sound and purify him and those worshipping him.

statue of Lord Vishnu holding a discus

Discus or Sudarshana Chakra

Vishnu holds a Sudarshana Chakra or discus in his upper right hand. The Sudarshana Chakra is a spinning disk weapon that Vishnu uses to destroy demons. The discus is referred to as "the wheel of time" and is thought to represent the sun. Vishnu, like Shiva, was originally a minor deity with only five out to 1,028 hymns in the Rig Veda addressed to him. He seems to have been derived from a solar deity. The discus is a vestige of his solar origins.

wooden wall panel of blooming lotus flower

Lotus or Padma

Vishnu sometimes holds a lotus in his lower right hand. The Lotus is associated with water, fertility, and the creation myth in which Brahma comes forth from the lotus growing in the navel of the sleeping god Vishnu.
Alternatively Vishnu can have his right hand raised with his palm open in the abhaya mudra. This is a hand position granting his devotees his divine protection. Or his right hand can be resting on his hip.




What are other distinguishing symbols of Vishnu?

statue of Lord Vishnu with srivatsa mark on chest

Srivatsa mark

Srivatsa means "Beloved of Sri" or Beloved of Lakshmi. It is a mark on Vishnu"s breast where his wife, the goddess Lakshmi resides. It is also a sign of Vishnu"s immortality. In bronze sculpture the Srivatsa symbol is depicted as an inverted triangle on the right side of Vishnu"s chest.

statue of Lord Vishnu with Kaustubha jewel around his neck

Kaustubha

Vishnu wears a magnificent jewel known as Kaustubha gem around his neck. It is believed that in the beginning of time when the devas and asuras were churning the ocean of milk that 14 treasured jewels (Ratnas) emerged from the ocean. The fourth jewel that appeared was the Kaustubha jewel. It represents pure consciousness. Lord Vishnu is the only being believed to be able to wear the Kaustubha jewel as it would cause all others to be overcome with a greed to carry the jewel forever. In sculpture Vishnu is shown wearing a large Kaustubha gem on a necklace.

Tulsi Plant or Holy Basil

Tulsi or Holy Basil is considered to be the holiest of all plants and is believed to be "the manifestation of god in the plant kingdom" by Vaishnavites. Someone who cares for a tulsi plant by watering it is believed to be on the path to mohksha or union with god and gains the divine grace of Lord Vishnu by this simple act. Many Hindus plant tulsi near their homes in a special planter known as a Tulsi Vrindavan as an act of respect and worship.
Hindus regard tulsi of an earthly manifestation of the Hindu Goddess Tulsi who is believed to be an avatar of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi and thus she is the consort of Lord Vishnu.




Statue of goddess Lakshmi holding lotus flowers

Who is Vishnu's Wife Lakshmi?

Vishnu is believed to have had three wives:

  1. Lakshmi the Hindu Goddess of wealth and fortune
  2. Saraswati the Hindu Goddess of Wisdom
  3. Ganga the river goddess


However, the constant quarreling between his three wives caused him to send Ganga to Shiva and Saraswati to Brahma. Thus, Lakshmi is considered to be his wife and consort. In all of Vishnu's incarnations, Lakshmi is believed to have taken a form to accompany him on his journey. She has taken the form of mother earth or Bhumi-Devi and as Sita and Radha.
He lives with Lakshmi on Mount Meru in the city of Vaikuntha surrounded by wealth where everything is covered with resplendent gold and decorated with jewels. Where the lakes are filled with lotus flowers and natural beauty abounds.



Statue of Lord Vishnu riding his vehicle Garuda

Who is Vishnu's Vehicle Garuda?

The Hindu God Garuda, the giant eagle or kite, is Vishnu's vehicle or vahana. Garuda the Eagle is the King of Birds. He enables Vishnu to travel to many different realms and to Vaikuntha where he lives. He helps Vishnu on his numerous quests to uphold the dharma.
In sculpture he is portrayed as a half bird half human figure with a beaklike nose with his feathered wings outstretched. Curled around his arms and legs are an assortment of nagas snakes that he hunts to eat. He is often shown kneeling with his hands held in front of him in the anjali mudra or namaste hand position in a pose of adoration for his Lord Vishnu.



Ananta Shesha The King of Serpents Shesha Naag

Who is the Serpent Shesha?

Shesha is the enormous, thousand-headed snake. He is the King of Serpents that bears the weight of the earth on his head. Traditionally, it was believed that earthquakes were caused whenever the snake moved. Shesha floats on the cosmic ocean of milk with Lord Vishnu reclining on the coil of his tail. Shesha survives even when the entire universe is destroyed. Hence, it is also called Ananta Shesha (eternal). He also is referred to as Sheshanaga or Adishesha. Shesha accompanies Lord Vishnu in every incarnation.
In sculpture Vishnu is often portrayed laying upon or seated upon his coiled body with 5 heads looming above him.



Lord Vishnu's Family Tree

Lord Vishnu's Family Tree and Avatars



Why Did Vishnu Come To Earth In Incarnations?

Hindu God Vishnu, The Preserver, arrived on Earth in incarnations either to prevent a great evil or to effect good upon the Earth. Lord Vishnu has had 24 re-incarnations who came to earth to destroy evil rulers and kings.




Who Are Vishnu's 24 Avatars or Incarnations?

Vishnu's preserving, restoring, and protecting powers have been manifested in the world in a series of 23 earthly incarnations known as avatars. The avatars arrive either to prevent a great evil or to effect good upon the earth. The most important are Rama, fearless upholder of the law of dharma and Krishna, the youthful hero of the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu's final and 24th avatar, Kalki, is expected to arrive at a time when the earth is at the end of its present cycle, with the purpose of destroying the world and subsequently recreating it.

Of these 24 avatars 10 of them are the most widely observed and are known as the dashavatara, dasa meaning 10.

bronze statue of the first avatar of Vishni Adi Purish

1. Adi Purush The source of all creation in the universe

Adi Purush is the first and the primary avatar of Lord Vishnu. Also known as Lord Narayana, he is depicted laying on the curls of a serpent. He is the source of all creation in the universe. The all-powerful; it is from his navel that the lotus sprouts, where Brahma resides.



2. Four Kumars Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sanat Kumara

3. Narada Often considered as the messenger of the gods

4. Nara Narayana The two twin sage avatars of Lord Vishnu

5. Kapila The founder the Samkhya School of Philosophy



Dattatraya the sixth avatar of Vishnu

6. Dattatraya The Master of Yoga

Dattatreya is also known as Trimurti. He is depicted as a saint with three heads, each representing Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, and six hands. He is a combined representation of the three deities in Hinduism.



7. Yajna Also known as Yajneshwara, he is the personification of Yajna

8. Rishabha The founder of Jainism

9. Prithu The first sacred king



Dhanvantari the tenth avatar of Vishnu

10. Dhanvantari The god of Ayurveda

Dhanavantari is the god who emerged, holding a pot of Amrit (nectar of immortality) in his hand, after the gods and the demons finished churning the ocean. He is worshipped for gaining sound health.



11. Mohini The female avatar of Vishnu



Hayagreeva the twelfth avatar of Vishnu

12. Hayagreeva Worshipped as the god of wisdom and knowledge

Hayagreevahas a fair man's body, with the head of a horse. He restored to light and wisdom, and defeated darkness, by retrieving the Vedas that had been stolen by demons known as Madhu and Kaitaba.



13. Vyasa The author of Mahabharata





Lord Vishnu and his ten dashavatara



Matsya the Fish Avatar of Vishnu

14. The 1st Dashavatara of Vishnu: Matsya the Fish Saved Humanity and the Sacred Veda Text from the Flood

The first avatar, Matsya the fish, was taken by Vishnu at the end of the last Kalpa or age, when there was a deluge that destroyed the world. Choosing a sage, Rishi Satyavrata, Lord Vishnu commanded him to gather together the seven great sages, samples of the birds, animals, plants and seeds and wait in a boat. The gigantic golden fish then dragged the boat through the turbulent oceans all through the long night till the storm ended and Brahma created the present world. The story is very similar to the story of Noah and the arc from the old testament of the Bible.


Kurma the Turtle Avatar of Vishnu

15. The 2nd Dashavatara of Vishnu: Kurma the Turtle Helped Create the World by Supporting it on His Back

Vishnu's second avatar was Kurma the tortoise sent to help the Devas (heavenly beings or lesser gods). Obtain the nectar of immortality which the Asuras (demons) also sought. The Devas and Asuras churned the ocean to get this nectar, using a giant snake, Vasuki, as the churning rope and Mount Mandara as the churning rod. To prevent the mountain from sinking into the ocean, Vishnu as a giant tortoise supported the mountain under water until the nectar of immorality emerged which Vishnu gave to the Devas alone.


Varaha the Boar Avatar of Vishnu

16. The 3rd Dashavatara of Vishnu: Varaha the Boar Raised the Earth out of Water with His Tusks

At the end of the last deluge in the last Kalpa or age, Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth) sank to the bottom of the ocean. Vishnu, taking the form of a large boar, Varaha, dived into the ocean and carried the goddess out of the ocean supported by his two tusks and his massive snout.


Varaha the Boar Avatar of Vishnu

17. The 4th Dashavatara of Vishnu: Narasimha Half-Man, Half Lion Destroyed a Tyrant Demon King

In order to destroy Bali, king of demons, Vishnu took the form of a midget, Vamana. He appeared during a huge yajna or sacrifice being conducted by the king when the latter was arrogantly distributing gifts to all who asked it to show his power and wealth. Vamana asked for just three feet of land, measured by own large feet. With the first foot Vamana, exploding in size changing from the midget into the immense god Vishnu, covered the earth. With the second he covered the heavens. When there was no place for the third foot to land, Bali, to show his humility before the god Vishnu, offered his head for Vishnu's third foot. Vishnu third foot pushed him down into the nether regions but Bali's act of humility before Vishnu was glorified throughout the ages.


Vamana the Dwarf Avatar of Vishnu

18. The 5th Dashavatara of Vishnu: Vamana The Dwarf

In the Rig Veda, Vamana (the dwarf) appears when the demon king Bali ruled the universe and the gods lost their power. One day, Vamana visited the court of Bali and begged for as much land as he could cover in three steps. Laughing at the dwarf, Bali granted the wish. The dwarf then assumed the form of a giant. He took the whole earth with the first step and the entire middle world with the second step. With the third step, Vamana sent Bali down to rule the underworld.


Varaha the Boar Avatar of Vishnu

19. The 6th Dashavatara of Vishnu Parashurama the Brahmin Destroyed the Warrior Caste

When the Kings of the earth became autocratic and started to harm ordinary people and sages in the forest, Vishnu took the Avatar of Parasurama and destroyed all the princes who were harassing the people.


Lord Rama the Perfect Man Avatar of Vishnu

20. The 7th Dashavatara of Vishnu Lord Rama The Hero of the Ramayana

Lord Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu and a major deity of Hinduism. He is considered supreme in some traditions. He is the central figure of the ancient Hindu epic "Ramayana" and is known as King of Ayodhya, the city believed to be Rama's birthplace. According to the Ramayana, Rama's father was King Dasaratha and his mother was Queen Kausalya. Rama was born at the end of the Second Age, sent by the gods to do battle with the multi-headed demon Ravana. Rama is often depicted with blue skin, standing with a bow and arrow.


Varaha the Boar Avatar of Vishnu

21. The 8th Dashavatara of Vishnu Lord Krishna (The Divine Statesman)

Lord Krishna (the divine statesman) is the eighth avatar of Vishnu and is one of the most widely revered deities in Hinduism. He was a cowherd (sometimes depicted as a charioteer or statesman) who shrewdly changed rules. According to legend, the famous poem, the Bhagavad Gita, is spoken by Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield. Krishna is depicted in a variety of forms because there are so many stories surrounding him. The most common story describes Krishna as a divine lover who plays the flute; he is also described in his child form. In paintings, Krishna often has blue skin and wears a crown of peacock feathers with a yellow loincloth.


Balarama Avatar of Vishnu

22. The 9th Dashavatara of Vishnu Balarama (Krishna's Elder Brother)

Balarama is said to be the elder brother of Krishna. It is believed that he engaged in many adventures alongside his brother. Balarama is rarely worshiped independently, but stories always focus on his prodigious strength. In visual representations, he is usually shown with pale skin in contrast to Krishna's blue skin.


Buddha The Enlightened One Avatar of Vishnu

23. Buddha The Enlightened One

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In a number of versions of the mythology, Lord Buddha is thought to be the ninth incarnation. However, this was an addition that came after the dasavatara was already established. When the priesthood became arrogant and priests used rituals to exploit the people. Vishnu took the Avatar of the Buddha to purify Hindu practices of excessive ritualism. He taught that all sorrow stemmed from attachments and desires. He also advocated a Middle path consisting of the eight fold path.


Kalki the Horse Avatar of Vishnu

24. The 10th Dashavatara of Vishnu Kalki the Horse Yet to Come to the Earth

Kalki (meaning "eternity" or "mighty warrior") is the last incarnation of The Hindu God Vishnu. He is not expected to appear until the end of Kali Yuga, the current time period. Kalki will come, it is believed, to rid the world of oppression by unrighteous rulers. It is said that he will appear riding a white horse and carrying a fiery sword.




Other Aspects of Vishnu

Vishnu has also taken on other manifestations. These aspects of Vishnu are very popular in certain cities and worshipped by millions of devotees.​ Vishnu is typically worshipped in these various aspects, and seldom in his own form.

  1. Lord Jagannatha of Puri
  2. Lord Panduranga of Pandharpur
  3. Lord Ranganatha of Kanchipuram
  4. Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram known as Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh
  5. Lord Venkateswara also known as Balaji of Tirumala
  6. Lord Srinivasa of Srirangam
  7. Lord Satyanarayana: The Lord of truth (Sathya). He is worshipped in the households on specific occasions as a part of a penance (vratam).






Harihara: Half Vishnu, Half Shiva

Harihara is the fused representation of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara) from the Hindu tradition. Also known as Shankaranarayana ("Shankara" is Shiva, and "Narayana" is Vishnu) like Brahmanarayana (Half represents Brahma and half represents Vishnu), Harihara is thus revered by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites as a form of the Supreme God.

Masterpiece Triple Metal Harihara Statue

25" Masterpiece Triple Metal Harihara Statue

This unique statue is much like the Ardhanari statute where Shiva shares his body with Parvati. In this statue Shiva and Vishnu share the same bodies. Shiva is on the right side of the sculpture. He holds an ax in his upper right hand while the 2nd right hand he is in the varada mudra which is granting boons to all his devotees. Shiva is wearing the skin of a tiger for leggings. Vishnu is on the left side. He holds a conch shell up in his upper right hand with his 2nd right hand resting on his leg. The conch represents "Om", the first sound of creation and also the beginning of matter, since sound and matter are consider to be synonymous.




Vishnu Temples

Below are listed four of the most popular Vishnu Temples that are responsible for Vishnu's popularity.

  1. Angkor Wat, Cambodiais the largest temple in the world dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
  2. Lord Panduranga of Pandharpur
  3. Venlateswara Temple, Tirumala also known as Tirupati Balaji Temple, is one of the richest temples in India. It is visited by 40 million people each year.
  4. Badrinath Temple, Badrinath is open for just six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), because of extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.
  5. Jagannath Temple, Puri is famous for its annual Ratha yatra, or chariot festival, in which the three principal deities are pulled on huge and elaborately decorated temple cars.






74" Masterpiece Bronze Statue of Lord Vishnu

Bronze Vishnu with Avatars & Ashtalakshmi

Bronze Statue of Hindu God Vishnu with Avatars & Ashtalakshmi 74

Vishnu is a masterpiece! His huge form dominates the sculpture. He holds a fly whisk, conch shell, discus and a large gada or club. Flanking him are Hanuman and his vehcile, Garuda. Both stand with their hands pressed together in the anjali mudra or the Namaste hand position. Garuda, Hanuman and Vishnu's large club were all cast separately and can be removed from the sculpture. Surrounding the lotus base Vishnu stands upon are the 8 forms of Vishnu's wife, Lakshmi called Ashtalakshmi.




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Learn About Hindu Gods & Goddesses


Shiva

Vishnu

Ganesh

Parvati

Lakshmi

Saraswati

Nataraja

Krishna

Brahma

Kali

Durga

Shakti

Murugan

Hanuman

Patanjali

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