“Tirumal”, “Perumal” (the dark-skinned one), “Balaji” (the powerful), “Venkateshwara” (Lord of the Venkata Hill)- there are many names for the four-armed Vishnu in the land of Tamil Sthapatis whose hands over centuries have gained fame for bringing the divine to the land of the mortals. Though the Nataraja became the universal image for Tamil bronzes, it is in the sculptures of Vishnu that “Bhakti” (devotion) of the commoners and “Shakti” (power) of the Pallava- Chola royalty, both, found a fitting expression.
Vishnu- The Primordial Preserver
Sri Vishnu’s connection with the tradition of the Panchaloha bronzes goes back to the classical Sangam poetry, where the “Anantashayi” form of Vishnu- the Lord on the coils of the Adi Shesha, deep in His yogic trance or “Yoga-Nidra” is often evoked. In this reclining form, Vishnu can be found in the temple towns of Kanchipuram, Srirangam, and Thiruvananthapuram as the “Mula-murti” or the central image of the shrine. The cosmic Vishnu form soon came to be known as “Ranganatha”- who is the sovereign ruler of the island on river Kaveri, known as Srirangam. With a meditative visage, resting on the bed of Shesha’s coils, Vishnu in these sculptures is often accompanied by goddess Lakshmi and Lord Brahma, who sits on a lotus emerging from the navel of “Padmanabha” (one who has a “Padma” or lotus emerging from his “Nabhi” or navel) Vishnu. This exquisite bronze composite tells us the story of “Pralaya” or the ultimate ending, after which Brahma begins the task of Creation.
Vishnu on Garuda is another enchanting bronze image that was perfected in the lost-wax technique, where seated on the robust shoulders of his bird-mount, in action and powerful, Vishnu as the omnipresent guardian, ensures the restless hearts of his devotees.
Dashavatara- the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu
Vishnu as the lord and preserver of the universe impeccably resonated with the political ideology of the royals who were patronizing the Sthapatis producing the marvellous Panchaloha bronzes. As a result, the concept of “Dashavatara” or 10 incarnations was adopted by the craftsmen- each bronze imbibed with a sense of strength, might and supreme sovereignty.
Among the 10 incarnations, Varaha (the boar), Narasimha (man-lion), and Hayagriva (one with the neck of a horse)- all three zoo-anthropomorphic forms, were quite popular. Vishnu as Varaha is often seen as “Bhu-Varaha”, along with Bhudevi (earth goddess), who he rescues from the netherworld. These icons are also known as “Pralaya-Varaha”, because the great boar descends when total destruction strikes, in order to save the earth and His children.
Narasimha, the ferocious lion-faced form taken by Vishnu to protect His devotee Prahlada from the atrocities of his father, the demon-king Hiranyakashyapu, is potent and expressive imagery in the Panchaloha medium. In some vigorous bronze icons, Sri Narasimha is shown tearing the body of Hiranyakashyapu- an animated and moving sculpture, which highlights the genius of the enthralling Panchaloha bronzes and their creators. Sri-Narasimha also takes a calm demeanor in images where He is shown along with goddess Lakshmi seated on his lap, and Yoga-Narasimha type bronzes, where in a yogic posture, the lion-faced lord emanates divine tranquility in spite of his fierce outward form.
“Kannan”, the dark-skinned Krishna is unquestionably the most adored form of Sri Vishnu among his devotees. The Lilas or divine plays of Krishna are recreated in bronzes of such exquisiteness, artistic intricacy, and visual rhyme that one can experience the delicate emotions of Tamil Bhakti poetry of the Alavar or Vaishnava saints just by gazing at these icons. Special mention has to be made to the “Raja-Gopala” icons, where Krishna is visualized as a regal cowherd youth, sometimes with his queens and a cow, a form which developed solely in the South Indian region.
Vishnu with his Wives
Sri Devi or Lakshmi and Bhu Devi (earth goddess), both deities ruling the sphere of auspiciousness, fecundity, and abundance are described as the counterparts of Vishnu, who is addressed as Sripati (Lord of Sri) and Bhupati (Lord of Bhu). The bronze composites of Vishnu with the great mother goddesses grace the inner sanctum of many Vaishnava shrines, where they are placed in front of the main icon and serve as the processional images or Utsava-murtis.
Vaishnava Saints and Vaishnava Symbols
Ramanuja or Ramanujacharya, the famous Vaishnava saint who popularized the worship of Vishnu during the Bhakti movement, and Andal- the great female Alavar whose devotional poetry continues to inspire affection and dedication for the divine are two saints whose bronze icons are an integral part of the Vaishnava shrines, where these devotees par excellence are revered alongside their beloved deity. The practice of deifying the devotee hints at the beauty of “Bhakti”- how true devotion to the Supreme Vishnu raises the human soul to the level of the gods.
It is not just the human beings who get exalted by being in the vicinity of Sri Vishnu. His divine “ayudha” or weapons- especially the “Sudarshana” literally “pleasant to behold” discus, is treated ritually in the Vaishnava shrines with milk, curd, honey, clarified butter, and water of the Ganges and worshipped as an extension and manifestation of the potencies of Vishnu.
Intrigued by the celestial expansiveness of Sri Vishnu? Visit Exotic India Art and bring home the glory of Vishnu in the glorious Panchaloha medium, from one of its kind online collection.
1. What are the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu?
Agni, Skanda, Padma, Garuda, Linga, Narada and Varaha Puranas mention the ten incarnations or “Dashavatara” of Lord Vishnu. They are- Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama (Rama who carries an ax), Rama, Krishna, Buddha or Balarama (they are mentioned interchangeably in different sources) and Kalki (believed to descend at the end of Kaliyuga).
2. What does Lord Vishnu hold in his four arms?
Lord Vishnu, the great preserver of the universe in Hinduism, holds the Panchajanya shankha or conch (the source of the primordial “Om” sound), Kaumudaki Gada, or mace, which like the unbeatable Time has the power to destroy all opponents. Sri Vishnu also holds a Chakra or discus named Sudarshana (literally, pleasant to behold), which is believed to have been created by Vishwakarma from the powers of Surya (Sun god). The fourth attribute of Vishnu is Kamala (lotus), the symbol of origination of life and spiritual purity.
3. Why does Lord Vishnu sleep on a snake?
Lord Vishnu can be seen in various sculptures laying on the bed of the coils of a five or seven-hooded serpent. The serpent is known as “Ananta” – the infinite one or “Adi”- the first one, “Shesha”- the remainder. He is the first being in creation and he will remain when the primordial ocean will swallow all else. In this sense, Adi Shesha is a symbol for Time itself, seated on which, Lord Vishnu looks after the past, present, and future.
4. Why is Lord Vishnu shown blue in color?
Lord Vishnu in the Hindu pantheon represents eternal power, infiniteness, and immeasurability. The vast blue sky and the deep blue ocean are the two natural elements that come close to being the cues for understanding Vishnu’s greatness. Therefore, in order to highlight his superhuman, omnipresent greatness, Sri Vishnu is shown in various mediums with a blue (sometimes black) complexion.
5. What are some other names for Lord Vishnu?
Sri Vishnu Sahastranama Stotram- a hymn containing Lord Vishnu’s thousand names describes his greatness and powers with 1000 unique epithets. Some of his divine names are- Atulya (incomparable), Dhruva (unchanging amidst all the changes), Hari (one who takes away), Madhusudana (who slew the demon Madhu), Satya (the Truth), Varuna (the Sun), Vishwakarma (who has created the “Vishwa” or Universe).
6. What are the followers of Lord Vishnu called?
A devotee of Vishnu is known as “Vaishnava”. The sect centered around worshipping Sri Vishnu as the tutelary deity is called Vaishnavism. During the Bhakti movement, the Vaishnava sect was divided into four “Sampradayas” or groups- a) Sri Sampradaya, b) Brahma Sampradaya, c) Rudra Sampradaya, and d) Kumara Sampradaya. Some other important Vaishnava sub-sects are- Bhagavatism, Pancharatra (a Tantric Vaishnava sect), and Vaikhanasa.
Vishnu is the second god in the trifecta of divinities in Hinduism; which comprises three divine beings who are answerable for the creation, upkeep, and annihilation of the world. The other two divine beings are Brahma and Shiva. Brahma is the maker of the universe and Shiva is the destroyer. Vishnu is the preserver and defender of the universe. His job is to get back to the earth in grieved times and reestablish the equilibrium of good and malevolence. Up until this point, he has been embodied multiple times, however, Hindus accept that he will be resurrected one final time close to the doomsday. The Puranas that speak about Shiva depict Brahma and Vishnu to have been created by Ardhanarishvara, that is half Shiva and half Parvati; and then again, Brahma was brought into the world from Rudra, or Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma making each other consistently in various ages (Kalpa).
In the Rig Veda, which is the holiest of the four Vedas, Vishnu is mentioned numerous times. He is especially connected with light and particularly with the Sun. In early texts, Vishnu is excluded as one of the first seven sun-oriented divine beings (Adityas), yet in later texts, he is their leader. Vishnu is portrayed as a blue-skinned God with four arms. From this time, Vishnu seems to have acquired noticeable quality, and when of the Brahmanas (critiques of the Vedas), he is viewed as the most significant of all divine beings. Two Vishnu Avatars, Rama and Krishna, are additionally the subject of the awe-inspiring tales- Ramayana and Mahabharata. A bronze Vishnu Statue in a worshiper’s house ushers in peace and prosperity when kept in the correct direction. As he is one of the five essential lords of Hinduism, he is revered as the preserver of Humanity. Without fail, Lord Vishnu faces evil, he adopts another avatar to kill evil spirits and protect justice and humankind. He is for the most part adored by the Hindus a lot. The respected soul has numerous temples across India and some in other nations too. Badrinath Temple, Jagannath Puri sanctuary, Dwarkadish sanctuary, Kesava Deo sanctuary, and Thirumala Venkateshwara temples are some of his popular temples too.
7. What are Lord Vishnu’s powers?
Lord Vishnu possesses many more noteworthy abilities than some other Hindu gods. Equivalent to Brahma or Shiva, he has godlike strength (Class 100+), and endurance in addition to a significant ability to control energies on a cosmic scope.
8. How many avatars does Lord Vishnu have?
There have been 9 avatars of Lord Vishnu at this point- Meenavathar, Machavathar, Koormaavathar, Varagaavathar, Naramsimhaavathar, Parasuramar, Ramavatharam and it is accepted that he will manifest as his 10th avatar, Kaliavatharam during the kali yuga. Thus, his ten avatars match the order of species right from the fish, turtle, and so on to a superbeing in the recent world.
9. What was Lord Vishnu’s female avatar?
Lord Vishnu took the Female Avatar during the time of Mahabharata. He valiantly took a female Avatar called Mohini and saved Devatas. Mohini is considered an extremely brave young lady who is notable for her ability to defeat asuras.
10. What are the various festivals celebrated to honor Lord Vishnu?
Some of Lord Vishnu's celebrations are Diwali, Chaturthi, Gokul Ashtami, Thulasi Viveka, Akshaya thrithi, Mangala Chaturthi, Holi, Datta Jayanthi. Diwali and Gokhula Ashtami are renowned celebrations in south India. Nag Panchami, Ram Navami, Thirumal Panchami, and Dev-Diwali are some of the celebrations of North India. Lord Vishnu is a fan of munakka, honey, chana daal and bananas. He is worshiped with an intricate feast that incorporates 56 sorts of cooked and uncooked delicious food items.
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