The treatise deals with the concept which men entertain the divine or supernatural powers on the one hand and on the other, that sense of dependence of human being on those powers which find expression in various forms of worship.
Visnu is a great God of the Hindu Pantheon. In the Hindu religion, Visnu, though a deity of highest importance in the Braha-manas, epics and Puranas, occupies but a subordinate position in the Rgveda.
In the Rgveda, He is celebrated in several hymns. His anthropomorphic traits are frequently mentioned.
Visnu appeared on earth in several forms. He took incarnations such as Matsya (fish), Karma, (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Paragurama (Rama with axe), Rama (Raghava Rama), Krsna-Balararna, Buddha and Kalki as a saviour of the mankind or as a destroyer of demons or evil forces.
Sri or Laksmi either in her individual capacity or dependant as consort of Visnu has gained unprecedented popularity with other goddesses. She as Visnu Sakti established herself among the vaisnavas.
The role played by Visnu in the religious life of the people of India ever the ages has been alienated in this volume in a lucid manner.
Shri Muralidhar Mohanty was born in a small village of Bhandaripokhari, Orissa in the year 1931. An avid reader of ancient literature and vedic culture during his school days he joined Department of Culture of Government of Orissa at an early age. The author had spent most of his life in the temple city of Bhubaneswar which is an intriguing amalgam of the old and the new, a place of fusion of traditional Indian art in its many temples and monuments. How-ever the vedic culture that dominated the landscape of Orissa drew the author and prompted him to attempt this work on Visnu Cult. The subject is very close to his heart.
The present volume "Origin and Development of Visnu Cult" is the outcome of my continuous and untiring research for several years. The detailed data incorporated here are drawn from the sources like the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads, Epics and Puranas which virtually are the bases of ancient Indian religions and culture. To signify the importance of these ancient texts and their utility wherever necessary, some essential but interesting mythological stories have been delineated. The miraculous exploits of the cult-hero Visnu, His nature, character and rise to the highest status in the Brahmanical religion, superseding the other main gods have been explained lucidly. Visnu himself and his incarnations created from time to time as the circumstances demanded to set the disrupted socio-religious order of the human society in order have been instrumental over the ages. His benevolent and malevolent activities for the benefit of the celetial human, animal and herbal worlds subsequently supplemented with complicated philosophy, ritualistic pattern to maintain austerity and discipline, interesting myths and legends, a vast mass of literature, His icons symbolising the embodiment of unlimited power, His temples for worship have been as the panacea for the society which comprises heterogenous comunities with diverse religious system and multi-faceted cultural phenomena. The readers, I hope, will have a fair idea about omnipotent cult, the nature and character of all-pervasive Visnu and his incarnations. The treatise will enkindle in the memory of the long continuing tradition pertaining to the cult-hero Visnu. To the research scholars in the line this I feel, will be a good companion.
I greatly owe my thanks and gratitude to Dr. H.C. Das for his constant encouragement and guidance in preparation of the manuscript. Sri. N.K. Das, a colleague and now a Deupty Secretary to Goverment of Orissa deserves my sincere thanks for unstinted help including supply of relevant books from the Secretariat Library for the work. I am thankful to Dr. (Mrs.) Snigdha Tripathy, Epigraphist and Numismatics of the Orissa State Museum for her benign help. I express my gratefulness to Dr. P.K. Rath, Ex-Librarian and to Sri M.K. Samal, present Librarian of the State Museum, Orissa for providing the reference books and journals whenever requested. I am obliged to Sri B.C. Routray, stenographer and Sri S.K. Bose, typist of Orissa State Museum for typing and re-typing the manuscript with zeal. I extend my sincere thanks to Sri S.K. Pattnaik, Photographer of the State Museum for providing most of the photographs illustrated in the book. Also I am sincerely thankful to Sri. A.P. Mishra, Photo Journalist and Sri Lokhande, Senior Photographer, A.S.I., Bhubaneswar Circle for supply of a few photographs. My thanks are due to my wife, sons and daughters for constant encouragement and help in preparing the manuscript.
Last but not the least, my thanks and gratitude are accorded to Dr. R.S. Shukla of the M/s Pratibha Prakashan, Delhi, for bringing out the book in record time.
The treatise, "Origin and Development of Visnu Cult" deals with on the one hand, the concept which men entertain the divine or supernatural powers and on the other, that sense of dependence of human being on those powers which find expression in various forms of worship. Visnu is a great God of the Hindu pantheon. The term Visnu is derived from the root Vis i.e. to pervade. In the Hindu religion, Visnu, though a deity of highest importance in the Brahmanas, epics and Puranas, occupies but a subordinate position in the Rgveda. He is stated to be the second of the Hindu trinity and is conceived to be the Universal protection whereas Brahma and Siva the two other important gods are held to be responsible for the universal creation and destruction. In fact, He is however, a vedic god mentioned in the four vedas.
Visnu in the Rgveda is not the first rank of God. But his personality is by no means unimportant. According to Rgveda, He is celebrated in several hymns. His name occurs more than 100 times in this text. His anthropomorphic traits are frequently mentioned.
The essential feature of His character is His three strides which together are known as Vikrama. With three steps he taversed the whole universe. This was a natural development of the benevolent vedic God who takes his three steps for the benefit of mankind, and is known as Trivikrama. In the Rgveda (1.22.20) his highest step is like an eye fixed in the heaven which shines brightly. It is his dear abode where the pious gods rejoice.
Of his three steps two are visible to men and the third one or highest step is beyond the flight of birds or mortal ken (RV 1.155.5). Visnu's path on earth or firmament is within the mortal observation but not the third which is in the heaven.
In the Satapatha Brahmana (188.8.131.52) and Taittiriya Samhita (184.108.40.206) and Taittiriya Brahmana (220.127.116.11) Visnu assumes the form of dwarf in order to acquire. Some earth for the gods from the Asuras. This myth of dwarf incarnation is traced more elaborately from the epic and Puranas. "The moment which seems to have been in operation during this process of elevation was reverence for the third step or the mysterious highest abode of Visnu, beyond the ken of all."
Visnu rose in importance as preserver of the Unviverse during the epic and Purana period. Bhagavata Purana gives raan elaborate account of dwarf, the son of Aditi and Kasyapa to proceed to the king Bali's palace to beg some land.
The commentators interpret the three stride as follows, "One regards him as a god, who in what are called his three strides, is manifested in a three-fold form as Agni on earth, as Indra or Vayu in the atmosphere and as the Sun in heaven". Others interpret Visnu's three strides as the rising culmination and setting of the sun".
So are as his three strides, Rgveda says that Visnu has established the heaven and the earth. In order to contain all the worlds in his strides, he made Indra, and the atmosphere wide stretched out the worlds, produced sun, the dawn and the fire, so as to receive homage from Varuna. The greatness of Visnu as having no limits within the ken of present or future beings has been described.
In other passage (RV VIII.15.9) Visnu celebrates Indra with songs. According to one verse (RV VI.49.13) He thrice traversed the earthly-spaces for men in distress. He traversed the earth to provide men dwelling (RV VII.100.4). He also traversed the earthly space for wide-stepping existence (1.155.4). In accompanying Indra He took vast strides and stretched out the world for the existence of men (RV VI.69.5,6).
According to the Atharvaveda Visnu is said to bestow heat on the sacrifice. In the Brahmanas, Visnu's head, when cut off, becomes the sun. Thus though Visnu is no longer clearly connected with natural phenomenas, the evidence appears to justify the inference that he was originally conceived as the sun, not in his general character but as the personified swiftly moving luminary, which with vast strides traverses the whole universe. This explanation would be borne out by the derivation from the root Vis.
According to Aitareya Brahmaria, Agni is the lowest and youngest among all the gods, whereas Visnu is the highest. The Satapatha Brahmana (XIV.1.1) and Taittiriya Aranyaka state that the gods for gaining splendour, glory, and food, the gods in course of sacrifice of dwarf incarnation is traced more elaborately from the epic and Puranas. "The moment which seems to have been in operation during this process of elevation was reverence for the third step or the mysterious highest abode of Visnu, beyond the ken of all."
According to Aitareya Brahmaria, Agni is the lowest and youngest among all the gods, whereas Visnu is the highest. The Satapatha Brahmana (XIV.1.1) and Taittiriya Aranyaka state that the gods for gaining splendour, glory, and food, the gods in course of sacrifice proposed that he who by his deeds reach the end of the sacrifice first should attain the topmost position among them. Visnu could do so, as a result He became the higest of the gods.
In Rgveda (VII.100.6) different forms of Visnu are spoken of, "do not conceal from us this form, since thou didst assume another form in battle". He is further said to be the protector of embryo (RV. VII.36.6) and is invoked along with other deities to promote conception (RV. X.184.1).
The other aspects of Visnu are applicable in respect of the gods in general. In one verse of Rgveda (1.156.5) Visnu is stated as beneficent. He is innocent and bountiful (RV. V111.25.12) He is libral (VII.40.5) a guardian (RV. 111.55.10). He is undiscernible (RV.1.22.16). He is an innoxious and generous deliverer (RV. 1.155.4), He alone can sustain the three worlds heaven, earth, and all the beings (1.154.4).
Further, the Kathopanisad (III.9) speaks that the progress of the human soul is compared to a journey and the end of the path which he traverses is called the highest place of Visnu (paraman padam). This is the goal and the abode of eternal bliss. The word (paramani padam) has been used, so as to elevate to the dignity of the supereme being. Sometime after Visnu came to be worshipped as household god, His seven steps, in connection with the marriage ceremony are recorded in the Apastamba Grhyasutra, Hiranyakesin and Paraskara Grhyasutra.
In the epics and Puranas, Visnu has become a Supreme Deity. In the Mahabharata He is called as Prajapati (creator) and the Supreme God and as such, He has three conditions (avastha) i.e. Brahama the active creator, who springs from the lotus grew from Visnu's naval while He was sleeping afloat upon the waters. It is also stated that visnu himself is the preserver in an Avatara or incarnate form as Krsna. Siva or Rudra, the destructive power who is said to be sprang from his fore-head. According to Mahabharata chapter 65 and 66 of Bhisma Parva, the Supreme spirit is addressed as Narayana and is identified with Vasudeva. Visnu as preserver and restorer is a very popular deity. The worship is offered to this cheerful character. Mahabharata has given description of Vaikuntha, the heaven of Visnu.
According to the Padma Purana, Visnu is the Supreme cause identified with Brahma and his special work is the preservation. In the beginning, the great Visnu desiring to create the whole world, became three fold i.e. the creator, preserver and also destroyer. To create this world, the Supreme Spirit produced from the right side of his body himself as Brahma, to preserve the world he produced Visnu from the left side of his body and then He produced Siva from the middle part of his body. There is no difference between these three. Visnu Purana says that Visnu produced this world which exists in Him. Therefore, he is the cause of its continuance and cessation and He is the world. Bhagavata Purana speaks, Visnu as the greatest among the three gods. Varaha Purana speaks that Visnu desiring for preservation of the universe, created Narayana from the substance of His own body. Narayana is identical with Brahma the Supreme. Matsya Purana has shown the reason for the manifold and varied appearance of Visnu.
Although visnu is lauded in small number of hymns in Rgveda. He is a very important God in the Puranic age and thereafter, He is above all the gods, though is the second member of the later Hindu Trinity.
Visnu is called as Narayana-Visnu who is the supreme deity and He has numerous manifestations. The epic and Puranas do not differentiate between Narayana and Visnu. Both the names refer to the same god who is considered highest by the worshippers and designated variously as Bhagavatas, Pancharatras, Ekantins, Sattvatas and Vaisnavas.
Satapatha Brahmana speaks Narayana as a non-vedic deity. As he was born from the sacrifice, the Vasus, the Rudras and the Adityas rendered morning, midday and evening offerings and He alone remained in the place. By means of sacrifice, Narayana was placed in all the worlds, the gods, the Vedas, the vital airs etc. and all things were placed in Him. According to epic myth, Narayana is associated with companion such as Nara-Narayana. The Sun god is identified with Visnu. In the Bhagavata Gita (10th Adhyaya) Sri Bhagavana has statoed His glory and greatness.
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