What are the implied meanings of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu?

Ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu 
Ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu


1. Personages and parts of Lord Vishnu

A. Personages: ‘Four personages of Lord Vishnu have been described in the Vishnu Puran, the first reclines on Shesh, the second nurtures creation, the third assumes an incarnation and reinstates Righteousness (Dharma) and the fourth destroys unrighteousness and demons.

B. Parts: Lord Vishnu has four main parts. With one He becomes the unmanifest Brahma, with the second Prajapati like Marich etc., with the third He is the time (kal) and with the fourth He is in the form of animate and inanimate creation. Thus in these four ways He exists in creation.’

2. The ten incarnations (dashavtar)

All information regarding incarnations with regard to why they are assumed, their mission, types, characteristics, etc. are given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 7 – Supreme God, God, Incarnations and Deities.’ Here information only on the ten main incarnations of Lord Vishnu has been given.

Date of birth
according to
the Hindu
gy (%)
of the
Ability (%)
1. Matsya
  (The fish)
Third day
(trutiya) of the
bright fortnight
of Chaitra
(Matsya Puran)
Eleventh day
(ekadashi) of
the bright
fortnight of
(Varaha Puran)
Satya 20 20 40 50 10
2. Kurma
Full moon day
(pournima) of
Satya 30 30 30 50 20
3. Varaha
Third day
(trutiya) of the
bright fortnight
of Bhadrapad
Satya 40 40 20 50 30
4. Narsinha
Fourteenth day
of the bright
fortnight of
Satya 45 45 Sarasvati 20 50 30
5. Vaman
Twelfth day
(dvadashi) of
the bright
fortnight of
Satya 50 50 Brahm-
20 50 30
6. Parshu-
Third day
(trutiya) of the
bright fortnight
of Vaishakh
Treta 65 65 Bhumi 20 50 30
7. Rama Ninth day
(navami) of the
bright fortnight
of Chaitra
Treta 75 75 Sita 20 50 30
8. Krushna
Eighth day
(ashtami) of the
bright fortnight
of Shravan
Dvapar 100 100 The
eight and
ten great
20 50 30
9. Buddha Ninth day
(navami) of the
bright fortnight
of Ashvin
Kali 50 70 25 50 25
10. Kalki        * Kali 80 100 15 50 35

* At the end of the Kaliyug on the third day of the bright fortnight of Shravan the incarnation, Kalki will be born (Kalki Puran).

2.1 Matsya (The fish)

This is totally an idea from the Vedas.

A. Mission

  • Protecting the seed of creation at the time of dissolution of the universe (pralay). This is preserved at the time of every dissolution of the universe by the fish incarnation. The universe is then recreated from that seed by the next tortoise incarnation, Kurma.
  • Slaying of the demons Hayagriv (Bhagvat Puran), Shankhasur (Skand Puran).

B. Idols

  • Complete form of a fish
  • The torso is that of a man. Its four hands hold four instruments of Lord Vishnu.

C. Implied meaning: Just as a fish swims against the stream of a river, that is towards its origin so also a seeker should go to his place of origin, that is, to The Supreme God. This is what It teaches us.

2.2 Kurma (The tortoise)

A. Mission

  • Creation: ‘Assuming the form of a tortoise Prajapati created progeny. This was His duty (karma). His name Kurma was later derived from the word karma. Further He was also referred to as Kashyap. Kashyap was Prajapati, the creator of progeny. Since the entire creation was derived from Kashyap He was believed to be Kurma. From this, one will realise that the mission in the tortoise form was basically that of Prajapati. After the post-Brahman era Vishnu came into prominence overshadowing Prajapati and all the latter’s actions were attributed to Vishnu. Thus the Kurma incarnation became the second incarnation of Vishnu.
  • Supporting all functions: At the time of churning of the ocean (samudramanthan) the tortoise who supported the Mandar mountain vibrating with the sweat of deities and demons on Its back was the unrealisable Adikachchapa (Kurma incarnation) and It considered the churning of the mountain on Its back as mere scratching of Its body.

B. Idols: Idols of Nrusinha (the man-lion) and Varaha (the boar) are found all over India in abundance; however there are very few of the Kurma incarnation found separately.’

C. Implied meaning: Just as the tortoise withdraws its four limbs, head and tail into its shell so also one should control the six foes of the soul (shadripu).

2.3 Varaha (The boar)

A. Mission

  • Destruction of demons: A demon called Hiranyaksha abducted the earth and took it to hell (patal). Vishnu then assumed the form of a boar, retrieved the earth from hell with Its tusks and installed it on the head of the serpent, Shesh. It then slew Hiranyaksha. Vishnu assumed this incarnation at the beginning of the Varaha kalpa. (Vayu Puran 23.100-109)
  • Imparting spiritual knowledge: In this incarnation Vishnu preached Spirituality to Sanatkumar and narrated the Varahopanishad to Rubhu.

B. Idols: According to the text Vaikhanas Agam the idols are of the following types.

  • Yadnyavaraha: It is seated on a throne with the deity Shridevi on one side and Bhudevi on the other.
  • Pralayvaraha: Only Bhudevi is beside It.
  • Nruvaraha: The body is that of a man and the head that of a boar. Some idols also wield Vishnu’s instruments in Their hands.

C. Implied meaning

  • Varaha is a one tusked wild boar. The boar does not accept defeat even at the cost of its life. Similarly a seeker too should not give up spiritual practice even if on the verge of death when doing so.
  • The seventh chakra of the spiritual energy flow system (kundalini) is called Ekadanta or Narayan.

2.4 Narsinha/Nrusinha (The man-lion)

A. Mission

  • Slaying the demon Hiranyakashipu
  • Lakshmi-Narsinha is the family deity of some. Narsinha is the family deity of the royal family of Vijaynagar.

B. Idols:The body is that of a man and the head that of a ferocious lion.

C. Implied meaning of some incidents

  • Manifestation of Narsinha from a pillar shows the existence of The Lord in animate as well as inanimate creation.
  • Hiranyakashipu signifies ignorance. Narsinha slew him by tearing open his abdomen thus liberating the embodied soul situated in the chakra of spiritual energy (kundalini) at the level of the navel.

D. Ritualistic worship: Since it is difficult to tolerate the radiance of Nrusinha, He is worshipped after the back of His idol is adorned with eyes, whiskers, etc. Similarly the eyes of Balaji of Tirupati are half open as one cannot tolerate His radiance. A sacrifice (balî) of a goat is offered to Nrusinha.

E. Nara-Narayan: Nara was created from the human part of Narsinha and Narayan from the face of a lion (Kalika Puran 29). Refer point ‘Nara-Narayan’.

2.5 Vaman (The dwarf)

Vaman is the son of Kashyap and Aditi. His other name is Urukram. Urukram means one having a wide stride.

A. Mission:He kept Bali a demon king, in bondage.

B. Idols

  • Idols of Vaman:Short, with a paunch, the facial expression of a child, adorning the sacred thread holding an umbrella in one hand and a baton with the other.
  • Trivikram: An expansive form

C. Implied meaning: The three footsteps that Vaman asked King Bali for, describe the all pervading nature of Vishnu. With His three footsteps Vaman encompassed the earth, space and the sky (or the earth, heaven and hell). (Refer point ‘Vishnu’s advance (Vishnukram) ’.)

2.6 Parshuram

One comes across stories about Parshuram in the Ramayan, the Mahabharat and in some Purans. There is no separate mythological text (Puran) about Him unlike the incarnations preceding Him.

A. Parents: Sage Jamadagni of the Bhrugu dynasty and Renuka were the parents of Parshuram. Renuka was the daughter of a Kshatriya (warrior). However Jamadagni being a Brahman Parshuram too became a Brahman. The ashram of Sage Jamadagni was situated on the banks of the river Narmada. Parshuram was born there in the nineteenth Tretayug (in the transitional period between the Treta and Dvaparyugs according to the Mahabharat). Renu means particles of earth. Renuka undertook spiritual practice of the water element. Hence she could fetch water in pots made of wet clay. Jamadagni had done spiritual practice of the fire element. Jamat is a type of fire. Jamat also means a resolve made with a definite purpose.

B. Mission

  • Slaying of unrighteous Kshatriyas (warriors): ‘Valmiki has referred to Him not as a slayer of Kshatriyas but of kings. From this an inference can be made that Parshuram did not kill all Kshatriyas, but only those Kshatriya kings who were evil.’

    Kartavirya abducted the divine wish-fulfilling cow (kamadhenu) and her calf from Sage Jamadagni’s ashram. This incident occurred in Parshuram’s absence. On His return, realising what had happened, He vowed to slay Kartavirya. In the ensuing battle between the two on the banks of the river Narmada, Parshuram slew Kartavirya. Thereafter complying with His father’s directives He embarked on a pilgrimage and to undertake austerities.

    After Parshuram left, to avenge Kartavirya’s death, Haihayas beheaded Sage Jamadagni. When this news reached Parshuram He returned to the ashram. There were twenty-one injuries made with arrows on the dead body of Jamadagni. Seeing them Parshuram instantly pledged that ‘He would circumambulate the earth twenty-one times to punish and rid the earth of evil Kshatriyas and Haihayas because of the slaying of a Brahman by them.’ According to this vow He would slay the unrighteous Kshatriyas and then retreat for penance to the Mahendra mountain. When there was an upsurge in evil warriors He would return and slay them. He completed twenty-one such missions. He fought the last battle on the Samantpanchak. There He washed His axe (parshu) soaked with the blood of the Kshatriyas and laid it down.

  • Erecting temples of deities of territories (kshetrapaldevata): While circumbulating the earth twenty-one times He established one hundred and eight seats of pilgrimage with divine energy (tirthakshetra), that is temples of deities of territories (kshetrapaldevata). Before that saints only knew about these places but had not erected temples or established holy seats (piths) there.

C. Characteristics

  • अग्रत: चतुरो वेदा: पृष्‍ठत: सशरं धनु: ।
    इदं ब्राह्‍मं इदं क्षात्रं शापादपि शरादपि ।।

    Meaning: Parshuram who is verbally well versed with the four Vedas and sports the bow and arrow upon His back (that is the one who has the radiance of both the Brahman and the Kshatriya) will vanquish the one who dares to obstruct Him either with a curse or an arrow.

  • Imparting energy to Rama: Once hearing about the fame of Rama (the son of Dasharath) in order to test His bravery Parshuram obstructed His way. Then He offered His bow to Rama and told Him to bend it and mount an arrow onto it. When Rama complied and asked where He should shoot an arrow, Parshuram told Him, ‘Nullify My activity on this land of Kashyap.’ Rama obliged Him. Then Parshuram gifted that bow to Rama and thus imparted His energy of destroying evildoers to Rama.
  • The best archery teacher: After laying down His arms He gave up His feeling of hatred for Kshatriyas (warriors) and began teaching archery to both Brahmans (priests) as well as Kshatriyas with equality. Great archers from the Mahabharat such as Bhishmacharya, Dronacharya, etc. were all disciples of Parshuram.
  • Generous: Due to His mission of destroying the Kshatriyas He became the master of the entire earth. As a result He also acquired the privilege to perform the Ashvamedh sacrificial fire (yadnya). So He first bathed in all the places of pilgrimage, circumambulated the earth thrice and then performed the sacrificial fire. The altar (vedi) of the sacrificial fire was made of gold and was ten vave (the distance between arms extended sideways) long and nine vave high. At the end of the sacrificial fire Parshuram offered the entire land which He had acquired to the officiating priest of the sacrificial fire, Kashyap.
  • Creation of new land: Kashyap realised that as long as Parshuram continued to live on earth the Kshatriyas would not prosper. Hence He told Parshuram ‘The land which you have offered to Me in the sacrifice now belongs to Me. You have no right to stay on My land anymore.’ So making the sea recede Parshuram created His own new territory. The area from Vaitarana to Kanyakumari is referred to as Parshuram’s territory (Parshuramkshetra).
  • Creation of Brahmans: Since there were no Brahmans in the new land created by Him the pure-minded Parshuram killed everyone there, cremated them and made them pure Brahmans.
  • He is one of the seven immortal ones (saptachiranjiva); however the Mahabharat states that during the manvantar (a period of time) He will renounce His body.

D. ‘The territory of Parshuram: The Salher mountain is situated at the northern end of the Sahyadri range. Over there, there is a fort from the middle ages with a temple of Parshuram at its peak. Two footsteps four times the size of the footstep of an average person are engraved in the earth at a distance of 100 feet to the north of the temple. They are designed in the stance adopted by a person while shooting an arrow from a bow. It is said that Parshuram shot an arrow into the ocean from here and made it recede.

An ancient temple of Parshuram is located in the Kangada district of Punjab. In the Konkan there is one on a mountain situated five miles from Chiplun. The temple has three idols standing in a row, their names being Kama, Parshuram and Kal. The idol of Parshuram is a little taller than the others. The three idols are arranged such that they represent Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively.’

E. Idols: The body of the idol is huge like that of Bhim. It has matted hair locks and sports a bow on the shoulder and an axe in the hand.

F. Ritualistic worship: Parshuram being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is worshipped as a deity worthy of worship. His birthday (jayanti) which falls on the third day (trutiya) of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Vaishakh is celebrated both as a vowed religious observance (vrat) and a religious festival (utsav).

2.7 Rama

Information on Rama is given in ‘Rama’.

2.8 Krushna

Information on Krushna is given in ‘Krushna’. Krushna being an absolute incarnation (purnavtar) is not referred to as an incarnation but as Lord Vishnu Himself who has assumed an incarnation.

2.9 Buddha

A. Since the seventh and eighth centuries to depict the connection between Hinduism and Buddhism according to the principle of ‘not opposing anyone (सर्वेषाम्‌ अविरोधेण)’ Gautam Buddha came to be known as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was born on the ninth day (navami) of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Ashvin. Buddha stopped the concept of offering sacrifices in a sacrificial fire (yadnya) and spread the message of truth and non-violence.

B. ‘His reign is said to be from the time of the incarnation of Krushna to that of Kalki scheduled to occur at the end of the Kaliyug. In other words, God is always existing but can be realised only through purified intellect (buddhi) which is acquired by remaining in the holy company (satsang) of saints and seekers. Hence He is referred to as an incarnation.’ – Saint.

2.10 Kalki

A. Birth:‘He is the tenth or twenty-first incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He will be born on the third day (trutiya) of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Shravan at the end of the Kaliyug to a Brahman named Vishnuyashas in the village Shambal of Kikat. His lineage (gotra) will be Parashar.

B. Mission: He will embark on the conquest of the earth on His horse named Devdatta. He will destroy the evil and unrighteous and reinstate Righteousness (Dharma). He will destroy His enemies, the evildoers and rule the world. The priest Yadnyavalkya will assist Him in this mission and finally at the age of twenty-five He will renounce His body at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The Bhavishya Kalki Puran predicts that after this the Krutyug (Satyayug) will commence.

Various holy texts such as the Vishnu Puran (4.24.98), the Shrimadbhagvat (1.3.25), the Matsya Puran, the MahabharatVanaparva (190. 96-97), etc. predict the future exactly like the Kalki Puran.

C. Idols: The Hayshirsha Pancharatra and the Agni Puran describe the image of Kalki in two different ways – one with two arms and the other with four arms. The Chaturvarga Chintamani describes His idol with two arms as –

खड्‌गोद्यतकर: क्रुध्‍दो हयारूढो महाबल: ।
म्‍लेंच्‍छोच्‍छेदकर: कल्‍की व्‍दिभुज: परीकीर्तित: ।।

Meaning: Kalki wields a sword in one hand, is seated on a horse, is mighty, is the destroyer of evildoers and has two arms.’

|| Shri Vishnave Namaha ||


What does the lotus in the hand of Lord Vishnu symbolize?

Lord Vishnu with Lakshmi

Lord Vishnu with Lakshmi


1. Science behind the idol

Idols of Vishnu can be traced from the 2nd to the 8th century.

1.1 Instruments, ornaments, the family and their scientific meaning

Part of the
body / family
Instrument /
Name Complexion Mission /
1. Head Crown Kutastha Sattva
2. Ears Earrings The perishable
(kshar) and
3. Neck Garland of
Vaijayanti* Five
The Primal
Energy (Adya),
the Invincible
4. Chest
  A. Footprint of
His devotee
of a tuber
Love for
  B. Diamond Koustubh Red Radiance
5. Hand
  A. 1. Conch Payanchajanya Of the full
Brahman in the
form of a word
present in the
five cosmic
elements or the
of a war
       2. The posture
  B. Discus** Sudarshan Of a
The weapon
which can be
flung or
operated from
a distance
  C. Mace (placed
near the right
Koumodaki Of
The weapon
used when the
enemy is close,
the Primal
(Adividya), the
form of the
intellect (Mahat
principle), the
  D. Padma
Serenity (shanti).
  E. Bow Sharanhga The Primal
6. Family
  A. Wife Lakshmi*** Golden Divine Energy
       Wife Pushti Of the
Divine Energy
  B. Serpent Anant Of a
Pure particles
  C. Vehicle Garud Of a

* An energy. Vaijayanti (वैजयंती) = vai (वै) + jayanti (जयंती). Vai means numerous eras (yugs) and jayanti means chains. The one adorning the necklace of Vaijayanti is the one wearing the chains of the eras around His neck and the one beyond time, that is Lord Vishnu.

** The rotating discus is the Great Illusion. The finger about which it rotates is stationary and represents Brahman. .

*** The Divine Energy which is constantly engaged in destroying the mind and distressing energy. Lakshmi is seated at His feet. [Parvati is seated on Shiva’s lap. Shiva – Parvati seated together imply the dissolution of duality, that is the state of non-duality (advait).]

1.2 Sheshashayi Vishnu (Padmanabh)

One of the famous forms of Vishnu is that of Sheshashayi Vishnu wherein He reclines on the serpent named Shesh. Lakshmi is seated at His feet. There is a lotus emerging from His navel. Lord Brahma is seated on the lotus and the earth is supported on Shesh’s head. Such is the form of Sheshashayi Vishnu. The implied meaning of this form is as follows.

  • 1. Shesh: Shesh means the reserve or remnant. After subtraction of one number from another the result is the remainder. When a particle starts disintegrating, that particle which is the most subtle and which cannot disintegrate further means the core of the paramanu (atom), is called Shesh. The three most subtle particles in it are dhan (proton), run (electron) and udasin (neutron). [Shesh can absorb the 108 (narayan) frequencies coming from the region of the stars (nakshatralok) and can also bring about changes in them.]
  • 2. The earth: The earth is made up of minute particles. The existence of every particle is dependent on the serpent (Shesh) within its core. The earth is held on Shesh’s head implies that Shesh is supporting the earth.
  • 3. Vishnu: Vishnu is the radiance from the dhan, run and udasin frequencies from Shesh.
  • 4. Lakshmi: If Vishnu is the form of dhan frequencies then Lakshmi is that of run frequencies. In other words the feminine form of Vishnu is Lakshmi.
  • 5. The lotus: The lotus is a symbol of creation. The energy which emanates from Vishnu’s navel, that is from the Para mode of speech is depicted as a lotus. This energy of creation is not derived from Vishnu alone but from the union of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Vishnu is also named Padmanabh due to the lotus (padma) which springs from His navel (nabhi).
  • The Sahasrar chakra, the last in the Path of Activation of Spiritual Energy (Kundaliniyoga) is also called Sahasradal. The lotus in Lord Vishnu’s hand symbolises that He can endow the highest spiritual experience from the Path of Yoga.
  • 6. Lord Brahma: The spiritual experience arising from the lotus, that is from the energy of creation is called Brahmadev or Brahma.

The twenty-four Names of Vishnu given under point ‘2. Some other Names’ differ only with respect to the order of the instruments held in the hands of the idols. Otherwise the idols are the same.


What does the idol of Lord Vitthal with His hands on the waist signify?

Lord Vitthal and Rukmini

Lord Vitthal and Rukmini


1. Comparison of various forms of Vishnu and His family

Principle %
(God = 100%)
energy %
tion %
enance %
olution %
1. Vishnu,
100 10 2 96 2
2. Ardha-
100 50 10 90 0
3. Narad,
70 10 10 70 20
4. Hanuman* 60 70 10 70 20
5. Vitthal 50 50 10 80 10
6. Vyankatesh
50 50 10 60 30
7. Garud 20 10 20 60 20
8. Jai-Vijay 20 10 20 60 20
9. Messengers
    of Vishnu
10 10 10 70 20
10. Attendant
10 10 10 40 50
11. Average
1/10000 1/10000 10 30 60
12. Shaligram
     (a sacred
1/10 lakh 1/10 lakh 10 30 60
13. Average
     piece of
1/1 crore 1/1 crore 10 30 60

* Although Hanuman is an incarnation of Lord Shiva, He being a great devotee of Lord Rama, the Vishnu principle in Him is very high.

2. Narad

2.1. Birth

He was born in space before the other deities. He is the son of Lord Brahma. (For more information on Narad refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 7 – Supreme God, God, Incarnations and deities, point – Prajapati’.)

2.2. Characteristics


  • A tuft of hair on the head (shendi).
  • A musical instrument called the vina (a stringed musical instrument) around His neck. With the pull of one string of the vina, particles of nourishment are generated. These are collected by Lord Vishnu. Vaishnavites believe that the universe was created by the sound of the vina. Shaivites believe that the same occurred by the sound generated through Shiva’s small hourglass shaped drum (damaru).
  • Always wandering about in the three regions.
  • He can wander anywhere in the universe from the deities to the demons that is from heaven to hell along the path of Vishnu at any time within a fraction of a second. (Refer point ‘2 D’.)


  • Humourous nature
  • Instigates others but only to assist The Lord’s mission and to reduce defects like ego, etc. in others.


  • Constantly chanting the Name Narayan
  • Constantly in communion with Lord Vishnu
  • He is Lord Vishnu’s close disciple, that is one who has merged into the Omniscient Vishnu.

2.3. Mission

A. Guidance to seekers

B. He is called a devarshi (saint of a certain heavenly order). Narad is the son of Lord Brahma. He helps in the accomplishment of The Lord’s mission. Brahman means worthy of spiritual experience. Narad gets spiritual experiences and gives them to others; hence He is referred to as a great sage (mahamuni). A sage is the one who speaks only on Spirituality.

C. Getting rid of defects like ego in others

D. Composition of holy texts: The Naradbhaktisutras, Narad Puran, Naradsanhita and Naradpancharatra are written by Him.

3. Tumbaru

He is the son of Kashyap and Pracha. Some of his characteristics are as follows:

  • He is a celestial musician (gandharva).
  • He has the countenance of a horse.
  • He is the master of the two Hindu lunar months, Madhu and Madhav (Chaitra and Vaishakh). In the month of Chaitra he accompanies the Sun deity (Surya) in His chariot.
  • The main singer in the royal court of the deities Indra and Kuber
  • Player of the vina (a stringed musical instrument): The name of the vina is Kalavati.
  • The tanpura (tambora – a stringed musical instrument) has acquired its name from him.
  • On special occasions he also visits the earth.
  • His wife is Rambha and his daughters Manovati and Sukesha.

4. Viththal

4.1. Origin

‘The word Viththal has varied origins. According to one late ‘Sadhak’ it was derived from the word Vishthal. Vishthal is a place far-off in a forest. It thus implies that Lord Viththal is a deity who resides in the forest.

One ‘Sadhak’  says that the variation of Vishnu in Kannada becomes Bitti and Viththal is derived from this variation. According to the variation in the Aryan-Prakrut language it becomes Viththu. Another ‘Sadhak’ too gives the same opinion.

Late Vishnubuva Jog narrates the origin based on Saint Tukaram’s devotional song (abhang) ‘Vicha kela thoba (वीचा केला ठोबा)’ as vi-vid (वि-विद्‌) means to know or devotional knowledge and thoba means an idol. Thus Vithoba becomes an icon of spiritual knowledge.

4.2. The second Name

Vithoba is also known as Pandurang. One cannot tell how this Name was derived as actually Pandurang is a Name of the fair complexioned Shiva. In Kannada this becomes Pandarange. So one ‘Sadhak’ opines that the abode of Pandurang or Pandarang is Pandharpur.’ Several people wonder how He is named Pandurang (white in colour) despite His idol being dark complexioned. Besides the point above the answer is that to a true devotee His idol appears white through the subtle visual organs.

Viththal is worshipped on the first and Pandurang on the second ekadashi (eleventh day) of the two ekadashis celebrated in a Hindu lunar month.

4.3. The consort (Divine Energy)

Consorts of deities are their Energies. They are of two types, saviour and destroyer. Viththal being the deity of sustenance both His Energies, that is consorts, are associated with creation and sustenance. Rai and Rukmini are Viththal’s consorts.

  • Rai: Rai is a particle of earth. It represents the procreative potential of the earth. [Shirish is the flower borne by mustard (rai) plant.] Rai is also known as Padmavati or Padubai. Padmakosh means the uterus.
  • Rukmini (Rakhumai): Rukmini means the form of a snake hole or a conch. These also represent the uterus.

4.4. Science behind the idol

Viththal’s idol is dark complexioned with protruding eyes and stands on a brick with hands held on the waist. When Pundalik served his parents Lord Viththal was appeased and appeared before him. At that time to avoid any lapse in service towards his parents, Pundalik threw a brick and asked The Lord to stand on it. The Lord stood watching his service with admiration. This idol is different from idols of other deities which wield either a weapon or bestow a blessing with the hand. It depicts Viththal observing everything as a spectator (sakshibhav). The sense organs lie above and the motor organs below the waist. Hands on the waist means the one with the motor organs within His control.

5. Vyankatesh (Balaji)

Lord Vyankatesh

Lord Vyankatesh


Vyankatesh has several Names – Vyankoba, Venkatraman, Venkatadhvari, Venkatadri, Shrinivas, Balaji, etc. Another Name is Tirupati. Tiru means Shri, a title which implies opulence. So Tirupati means Shripati Vishnu. Since the radiance of Balaji of Tirupati cannot be easily tolerated, His eyes are half closed. Lakshmi is not beside Vyankatesh. Her temple is situated below the mountain in the village Tiruchanur. Here She is called Padmavati or Almelumang (Alamelumang). The shepherds call Padmavati, Padubai. She is also described as Vishnupriya.

6. Garud



‘The Garud has acquired a great deal of importance in the Vaishnavite sect. It is considered a major deity from the family of Vishnu. Just as Nandi (the bull) is present in the service of Lord Shiva, so also is Garud (the eagle) in the service of Lord Vishnu. In several temples of Lord Vishnu, a special pillar is erected. This is called Garud’s pillar (Garudkhamb). This idol of Garud in front of Lord Vishnu is usually made of black stone and is rarely of wood. The idol has a human form but a beak and wings of a bird. It stands in a posture with hands folded in obeisance (namaskar). When Garud has four arms it is called Vainateya. Another of its names is Arishtanemi.

A. The Garud science (Garudvidya): In Sanskrut literature there is a science called the science of snakes (sarpavidya). The science of poisons (vishvidya) is a synonym. Shri Shankaracharya has named it the garudvidya. The science of snakes is used to charm snakes. Garud is the deity of this science.’ The one who knows this science is called a snake charmer (garudi).

B. Garud Gayatri: The worship of Garud is present since ancient times. The Garud Gayatri has been described in the Mahanarayan Upanishad (3.15) as –

तत्‍पुरुषाय विद्महे । सुपर्णपक्षाय धीमहि । तन्‍नो गरुड: प्रचोदयात्‌ ।।

Meaning: We are quite familiar with the Absolute Being in the form of an eagle. We meditate on that golden-winged Garud. May he inspire our intellect benevolently.

7. Jai-Vijay

Once the two of them had a quarrel over sharing of the offerings (dakshina) given to them. At that time Jai cursed Vijay saying “You will become a crocodile”. Vijay retaliated and cursed that Jai would become an elephant. Thereafter both repented for what they had done and surrendered to Lord Vishnu who promised them that He would uplift them after they had undergone the curse. By the influence of the curse they came to be born on the banks of the river Gandaki, one as a crocodile and the other as an elephant. Once in the Hindu lunar month of Kartik, when the elephant entered the river for a bath the crocodile held its leg. The elephant then fervently prayed to Lord Vishnu for his deliverance. Lord Vishnu manifested there, released both of them from the bondages of the curse and took them to His divine abode (Vishnulok).

Once when Sage Sanak along with other sages had gone to pay obeisance to Lord Vishnu, Jai and Vijay stopped Them. As a result, the sages cursed them as “You two will be born as demons”. When they pleaded for mitigation of the curse the sages replied, “After three births you will be liberated and will return to Vaikunth”. To undergo this curse Jai and Vijay were later born as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravan and Kumbhakarna and Shishupal and Vakradanta respectively. Each time they were slain by one of Vishnu’s incarnations and finally after three births they returned to Vaikunth.

8. Messengers of Vishnu (Vishnudut)

‘Vishnu too has messengers like the deity of death, Yama. They protect the devotees of Vishnu and after their death take them to His divine abode (Vishnulok).These messengers always reside in Vaikunth. They too wield a conch, a discus and a mace in their hands like Lord Vishnu. The fourth hand holds a baton. A necklace of tulsi leaves adorns their neck. Even Lord Yama respects them.’

9. Shaligram

‘It is a sacred stone, a symbol of Lord Vishnu. In Nepal, situated at a distance of 300 miles from Pashupatinath is a place called Muktanath. This stone is found there in the river Gandaki. Besides there is also a mountain of this stone. Idols are sculpted from this stone. It is also customary to carve yantras on it. The genuineness of these stones is tested based on certain types of circles and openings existing on them. Sometimes the stone has a fine gold line on it. The genuine shaligram is always heavier than stone because it is non-porous like marble. As a result its erosion too is less. (The banalinga of Lord Shankar is similar to this.)

The colour of a Shaligram varies. Its name is derived from its colour – 1. White – Vasudev, 2. Blue – Hiranyagarbha, 3. Black – Vishnu, 4. Red – Pradyumna, 5. Dark green – Shri Narayan, 6. Dark blue – Nrusinha or Vaman and 7. A shaligram with twelve circles on it is called Anant.

89 such varieties of a shaligram are known. A shaligram is kept either in milk or rice. If this increases its form and weight then it is considered suitable for regular ritualistic worship (puja). In some South Indian temples of Lord Vishnu, a necklace of shaligram adorns the neck of the idol of The Lord. Vaishnavites belonging to the Madhva sect, in fact, consider the Shaligram to be superior to even the idol of Lord Vishnu. In the ritualistic worship of the fivefold family of deities (panchayatan puja) the shaligram is used as a representative of Lord Vishnu. Followers of the Madhva sect partake of the holy water (tirtha) offered to the shaligram instead of a mixture of milk, curd, clarified butter (ghee), urine and dung of cow (panchagavya) as atonement (prayashchitta).’

10. The consort

Information on the main Divine Energy (Shakti) of Lord Vishnu, that is Lakshmi and also others is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 18 – Divine Energy (Shakti)’. Some of the incarnations that Lakshmi assumed when Vishnu incarnated are given in the table below.

Incarnations of Vishnu Incarnations of Lakshmi
1. Vaman Kamalasambhav Lakshmi
2. Parshuram The earth
3. Rama Sita
4. Krushna Rukmini

Lakshmi sits at the feet of Her master, Vishnu because He holds His devotees and not Lakshmi close to His bosom! Lakshmi looks after the spiritual and worldly needs of these devotees of Vishnu (or rather Vishnu Himself does so using Her as a medium).

Why should one chant specific Name of Lord Vishnu for accomplishing a particular mission?


Lord Vishnu


1. Origin and meaning

‘Yaska has derived this word from vish (विष्‌) which means to be constantly active (Nirukta 12.19). Yaska has also opined that the word Vishnu has also been derived from vish (विश्‌) which means to pervade and based on this Sayanacharya too has given its meaning as vast or all pervading (the commentary of point 1.154.1 and 5 of the Rugveda). In accordance with this meaning a commentary on the Vishnusahasranam says -‘चराचरेषु भूतेषु वेशनाव्‍दिष्‍णुरुच्‍यते|’

Meaning: He is called Vishnu because He pervades all the animate and inanimate creation.’

2. Some other Names

The famous verse of Lord Vishnu is the Vishnusahasranam (विष्‍णुसहस्रनाम). Amidst chanting of these thousand Names Lord Vishnu is ritualistically worshipped with an offering of tulsi leaves or lotus flowers while sipping water through the palm (achaman).

During the ritual of sandhya the twenty-four Names recited are – Keshav, Narayan, Madhav, Govind, Vishnu, Madhusudan, Trivikram, Vaman, Shridhar, Hruíhikesh, Padmanabh, Damodar, Sankarshan, Vasudev, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Puruíhottam, Adhokshaj, Narsinha, Achyut, Janardan, Upendra, Hari and Shrikrushna. Although all these Names belong to Lord Vishnu, yet according to the rule that sound, touch, form, taste, fragrance and energy coexist with a word how a different energy is generated by chanting each of these Names will be understood from the following lines of a verse.

औषधे चिन्‍तयेव्‍दिष्‍णुं भोजने च जनार्दनम्‌।
शयने पद्मनाभं च विवाहे च प्रजापतिम्‌ ।।१।।
युध्‍दे चक्रधरं देवं प्रवासे च त्रिविक्रमम्‌ ।
नारायणं तनुत्‍यागे श्रीधरं प्रियसंगमे ।।२।।
दु:स्‍वप्‍ने स्‍मर गोविन्‍दं संकटे मधुसूदनम्‌ ।
कानने नारसिंहं च पावके जलशायिनम्‌ ।।३।।
जलमध्‍ये वराहं च पर्वते रघुनन्‍दनम्‌ ।
गमने वामनं चैव सर्वकार्येषु माधवम ।।४।।

Meaning: One should contemplate on Vishnu when consuming medicines, Janardan when eating, Padmanabh when sleeping, Prajapati during a marriage ceremony, Lord Chakradhar (Vishnu / Krushna) when fighting a battle, Trivikram during a journey, Narayan at the time of death, Shridhar during intercourse between spouses, Govind in case of a bad dream, Madhusudan in a calamity, Narsinha in the forest, the form of Vishnu in the celestial ocean (kshirasagar) when threatened by fire, His Varaha incarnation when there is fear of drowning, Raghunandan when there is fear of fall from a mountain and Madhav when performing day-to-day chores.

One will realise from the following examples why certain Names of Lord Vishnu are used for a particular mission.

  • Since Prajapati created the universe and is responsible for procreation during a marriage ceremony His Name is chanted.
  • During a fight the Name of Vishnu who sports a discus (chakra), Chakradhari should be chanted.
  • Since the lion is the king of the forest if one chants the Name of Narsinha (the man-lion incarnation) in the forest one is protected.
  • The Varaha (boar) incarnation of Lord Vishnu lifted the earth from the waters and placed it on the head of the serpent, Shesh. Hence when there is fear of drowning this Name should be chanted.

A. Bhagvan

The six attributes namely wealth, Righteousness (Dharma), success, opulence, spiritual knowledge and detachment are referred to as ‘bhag’. The one who possesses these attributes is called Bhagvan. In the Bhagvat sect Lord Shrikrushna and Vishnu are referred to as Bhagvan.

B. Narayan

‘This is a deity from the post Rugvedic period. The word narayan (नारायण) has been derived from nar (नार) [naraha (नारा:)] = apa (आप) meaning the absolute water element and ayan (अयन) meaning a place. Thus it means that the one who lives in the apa element is Narayan. The water mentioned above should not be considered as mere water. Before the earth came into existence everything was in the form of the apa element. Later it is from this that the universe was created. The origin of what we refer to as water occurred through a physical process much later. The all pervading energy which was present in the very beginning is the one referred to as water in this context. So, that principle from which the universe has been created is Narayan.’

Nara’ refers to mankind and ‘ayan’ to its ultimate stage is another definition of Narayan.

  • Synonymous words in the Narayaniya sect and other philosophies
    Narayaniya sect Other philosophies
A. Name Sahasrashirshapurush, (The thousand-headed
 Being) (Tripad)
B. Forms
  1. Unmanifest form He is Supreme, beyond the three components
(guns). He is called the
tripad nectar (amrut)
Supreme Brahman
Supreme God
  2. Manifest form
भूमिं विश्वतो वृत्‍वा अत्‍यतिष्‍ठत्‌
दशाङ्‍गुलम्‌ means the space equivalent to the
width of ten index fingers
remaining after
encompassing all the regions of the universe.
Brahman, God (ishvar)
  3. Vast (virat) form Conception from the vast form occurs in Prakruti Apa (absolute water),
form of the
universal intellect
(Mahat principle),
the Great Illusion
(yoni), Prakruti
C. Energy Narayani The female deity (devi),
spiritual energy (kundalini)
D. Creation of the universe
  1. From what? Tinkling of the vina (a stringed musical
instrument) strings of
Sage Narad
Akash (absolute ether)
  2. Characteristics Sound (nada) Word (shabda)


  • Sheshashayi: ‘This is one form of Narayan. He reclines on the serpent (nag) who is the king of hell (patal). In the word “patalam (पातालम्‌)” the word alam (आलम्‌ ) is derived from the Tamil language and refers to water. Water is not called alam in Sanskrut. Nag is the name of a Dravidian tribe and Shesh was probably their ancient king or family deity.
  • Shvetadipa: Just as Vishnu’s abode is Vaikunth, Shiva’s is Kailas, so also Narayan’s abode is Shvetadipa.
  • Nara-Narayan: This is considered as a pair of deities. Both of them are friends and have originated from the same principle. This idea was probably derived from the Vedic verse “Dva suparna” (Rugveda 1.164.20). This verse means : There are two birds seated on a tree. Both of them are beautifully winged, close friends living together. One of them tastes sweet fruits of that tree. The second however does not eat but merely adopts the stance of a spectator. Thus in the above quote the one feasting on the fruit is nara (man) and the spectator is Narayan.’
    Nara Narayan
1. Components (guns) Composed of guns (sagun) Beyond components (nirgun)
2. Spiritual meaning The embodied soul or the
Great Illusion (Maya)
Shiva or Brahman
3. Idol Has two arms Has four arms
4. Incarnation Arjun Krushna

  • Navanarayan and Navanath: The Navanarayans nurture the nine serpents (nag) in the universal spiritual energy system (vishva kundalini).‘The group of nine saints from the Nath sect constitutes the Navanaths. The holy text Navanathbhaktisar enumerates the couplets of the Navanaths and the Navanarayans whose respective incarnations they are:
Navanath Whose
Navanath Whose
1. Matsyendra Narayan 6. Nag Avirhotra
2. Goraksha Hari 7. Bhartruhari Drumil
3. Jalandhar Antariksha 8. Revan Chamas
4. Kanif Prabuddha 9. Gahini Karbhajan
5. Charpati Pippalayan  

  • From the various compositions about the Navanaths it appears that though some Names of saints correspond, there is no uniformity. The concept of the Navanaths probably originated from the school of thought that the Navanaths are the presiding deities of the nine openings in the body (navadvar). Later the one who felt drawn to particular Naths must have included them in the nine saints and published his list of Navanaths. The list of Navanaths is similar to that of the six Manus, the seven great sages (Saptarshi), Ashtachap, Navanarayans, the sixty-three saints (Tamil Shaivites), etc. In the Shaiva sect the Navanaths hail from the Adinath (that is Shiva) lineage.’
  • Idol of Narayan: ‘According to the Dravidians Narayan was considered as a form of Lord Shiva. This idea of unity of Narayan and Shiva will be clear after seeing the idols of Narayan at Shivasamudram, Shrirangam and Shrirangapattanam in India. In South India, Narayan Himself is called Shriranga or Ranganath. Among the three places of pilgrimage mentioned above, Shivasamudram is basically a Shaivite place of pilgrimage. The characteristic of Narayan’s idol is that it is always in a reclining posture. However it is not asleep as its eyes are half open.’
  • Narayani : In the Vaishnav sect the Mahanarayan radiance [spiritual energy (kundalini)] in the body is referred to as Narayani.

C. Vasudev

Vasaha (वास:) means life, sustenance or stability. The deity bestowing this is known as Vasudev (वासुदेव).

सर्वाणि तत्र भूतानि वसन्‍ति परमात्‍मनि ।
भूतेषु च स सर्वात्‍मा वासुदेवस्‍तत: स्‍मृत: ।।

Meaning: He is referred to as Vasudev (vas means to stay) because all objects created from the five elements reside within Him and vice versa.

D. Sankarshan

Samyak (सम्‍यक्‌) and karshan (कर्षण) constitute the Name Sankarshan (संकर्षण). Sankarshan thus means the one who attracts unhappiness or illness and guides one to the level of equanimity. He is the one who attracts or gets rid of any kind of inappropriate frequencies and transforms them into appropriate ones.

E. Kiritdhari

Kiritdhari means adorning a crown (Kirit). Among the superior deities Lord Shiva does not wear a crown. It is in this context that Vishnu is said to be wearing a crown.

F. Lakshmipati

Vishnu’s feminine form is called Lakshmi. Laksham means concentration. The one who can be acquired with concentration is called Lakshmipati (Master of Lakshmi).

G. Hari and Shrihari

1. Hari: ‘यस्‍य अनुग्रह्य इच्‍छामि तस्‍य सर्वं हराम्‍यहम्‌ ।’
Meaning: Whenever I bestow My grace on someone, I take everything (including unhappiness) from him. (Hence My Name is Hari.)

2. Shrihari: Shri refers to attributes such as energy, beauty, virtues, etc. Vishnu’s form along with Shri is Shrihari.

Why are tulsi leaves offered to Sri Vishnu?



Ritualistic worship of Vishnu is prevalent since the Vedic period. The greatest Vaishnav is Shiva and the greatest Shaiva is Vishnu because They worship each other.

1. According to the Vaishnavite doctrines

‘Vishnu is also worshipped in sixteen steps (shodashopachar puja) like the other deities. Tulsi leaves are essential for His worship. If lotuses are available, it is even better. Khir (a sweet delicacy made from milk and rice or vermicelli) or shira (a sweet delicacy made from semolina, pure clarified butter and sugar) is Vishnu’s favourite holy sacrament (naivedya). The main ritualistic worship is performed as follows: The worship should be done throughout the year using a different Name every month. It should be done on the twelfth day (dvadashi) of the Hindu lunar month. Keshav in the month of Margashirsha, Narayan in Poush, Madhav in Magh, Govind in Phalgun, Vishnu in Chaitra, Madhusudan in Vaishakh, Trivikram in Jyeshtha, Vaman in Ashadh, Shridhar in Shravan, Hrushikesh in Bhadrapad, Padmanabh in Ashvin and Damodar in Kartik should be the Names used in the worship. The idol made of gold should be draped in white cloth and installed on a pot (kalash). Every substance in the worship should be offered chanting the twelve letter mantra, “Om Namo Bhagvate Vasudevaya (ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय ।)”. The flowers and fruits offered every month should be different.’

Some information as to why a different Name should be used every month, why the idol should be of gold, clothing white, different flowers and fruits should be offered every month will be obtained from point ‘2.1 Why are tulsi leaves offered to Vishnu?’ and point ‘3. Vishnu and time’.

Since devotees have humanised Vishnu a great deal, as part of His worship the doors of a Vishnu temple are kept closed with the reasoning that He is eating, sleeping, etc.

2. Tulsi

‘Tulsi’ is a sacred plant. The plant grows to a height of two to three feet. There are two varieties – the black (krushna) and the white. This plant has vertical springs which bear small flowers. Most probably its root name is tulas (तुळस) and tulsi (तुलसी) is its Sanskrut version.

नरा नार्यश्च तां दृष्‍ट्‌वा तुलनां दातुमक्षमा: ।
तेन नाम्‍ना च तुलसी तां वदन्‍ति पुराविद: ।। – ब्रह्‍मवैवर्त पुराण, प्रकृतिखंड १५

Meaning: Man saw this plant but could not compare it to any other. Hence archaeologists began calling it tulsi. – Brahmavaivarta Puran, Prakrutikhand 15

If one worships Vishnu without tulsi leaves then it is in vain because without offering tulsi leaves or without sprinkling food with water using them, Vishnu does not partake of the offering. Looking at, touching, meditating upon, praying to, worshipping, planting or eating tulsi leaves can cleanse one of sins committed in several births in the bygone eras. It is said that all deities reside in this plant right from the roots to the shoots.’

2.1 Why are tulsi leaves offered to Vishnu?: Commonly it is said that in the ritualistic worship of a deity, it is offered its favourite item; for example, Ganapati likes red flowers, Shankar bel and Vishnu tulsi. Then a story as to why that deity likes that particular substance is narrated. In reality superior deities like Shankar, Vishnu, Ganapati do not have any likes or dislikes. Yet the reason for offering certain substances to certain deities is as follows.

One of the objectives of ritualistic worship is that the idol which is to be worshipped should get charged with divine consciousness (chaitanya) and that it should help one in making spiritual progress. In order to generate that divine consciousness, the substance which is offered to that idol has more ability to attract the pure particles (pavitrakas) [most subtle spiritual particles] of that deity, from as far as the maha region as compared to other substances. Red flowers have the ability to attract the pure particles of Ganapati, bel of Shankar, tulsi of Vishnu, etc. Hence tulsi leaves are offered to Vishnu. A tulsi plant is planted on a pedestal in front of the house and tulsi is even wedded to Krushna.

2.2 Yatha Haristhatha Haraha (यथा हरिस्‍तथा हर: ।)

Meaning : Vishnu and Shiva are one and the same.

The similarity with respect to ritualistic worship is as follows: According to the time, the qualities of a substance change. On the eleventh day of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik (Kartiki ekadashi), tulsi leaves can absorb the pure particles of Shiva and bel those of Vishnu. Hence on that day Shankar is offered tulsi and Vishnu is offered bel. The psychological explanation for this is that this is done to illustrate the non-duality (advait) between Hari (Vishnu) and Har (Shankar).

2.3 An icon of detachment (vairagya): A tulsi plant symbolises detachment. Once when performing the ritual of tula (weighing with food grain, gems, etc.) of Shrikrushna despite putting diamonds, precious stones, gold, etc. in one pan, the other pan with Krushna seated on it refused to balance it. Finally only after a tulsi leaf was placed on all the wealth did the pan balance. Through this incident Krushna taught that He could be won over only with detachment and not with wealth. ‘Placing tulsi leaves on the house’ depicts sacrifice of the home.

3. Vishnu and time

On a certain day, date (tithi) and month the frequencies of a particular deity reach the earth in greater quantities. That day is considered as the day for that deity. For instance Monday for Shiva, Thursday for Datta, the fourth day (chaturthi) of the Hindu lunar month for Ganesh, the eleventh day (ekadashi) of the Hindu lunar month for Vishnu, etc. If one considers the months then on the eleventh day of the Hindu lunar months of Ashadh and Kartik the Vishnu frequencies are more than in any other month; hence ekadashis assume great significance with respect toVishnu. On this day if one fasts and increases one’s sattvik (sattva predominant) nature then one can absorb Vishnu frequencies in a greater quantity.

4. Some mantras

4.1 Chanting of ‘Hare Rama’ (हरे राम)

The Kalisantaran Upanishad is a part of the Krushnayajurveda. Its other name is Harinamopanishad. This Upanishad was narrated by Lord Brahma to Sage Narad towards the culmination of the Dvaparyug. In short, it says mere chanting of Lord Narayan’s Name eliminates the ill effects due to the influence of Kali. This mantra consists of sixteen words –

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krushna Hare Krushna Krushna Krushna Hare Hare
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे।
हरे कृष्‍ण हरे कृष्‍ण कृष्‍ण कृष्‍ण हरे हरे ।।

These sixteen words are associated with the sixteen kalas of the embodied soul. Thus it is a mantra which destroys the covering of the embodied soul. Some sects worshipping Lord Krushna chant the second half of the mantra first.’

4.2 ‘Om namo Narayanaya (ॐ नमो नारायणाय)’, ‘Om namo Bhagvate Vasudevaya (ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय ।)’ and ‘Om namo Ramaya (ॐ नमो रामाय)’

These are taken from Kriyayogasar, a Vaishnavite sub-(upa) Puran. ‘Om namo Narayanaya’, the eight letter mantra is named Narayan mantra. A synonym for it is mantraraj. This mantra is believed to symbolise the eight images of Vishnu, namely the five cosmic elements, the sun, the moon and the host performing the sacrificial fire (yadnya), as also the eight matras of the Omkar. The Vaishnavite saint, Ramanujacharya was initiated with this mantra.’

4.3 Vishnu Gayatri

नारायणाय विद्महे । वासुदेवाय धीमहि । तन्‍नो विष्‍णु: प्रचोदयात्‌ ।।

Meaning : We are quite familiar with Narayan. We meditate on Vasudev. May that Vishnu inspire our intellect benevolently.

5. Sandalwood paste (gandha)

To represent the 108 (narayan) frequencies emerging from The God principle (Isham) the Vaishnavites apply sandalwood paste on their foreheads vertically. Shaivites on the other hand apply holy ash (bhasma) horizontally to represent the 360 frequencies revolving around the earth.

[For more information on ritualistic worship refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 7 – Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.]

6. Sects

6.1 Narayaniya

Its other names are Pacharatra, Satvat, Ekantik. Narayan in this context is originally Savita Suryanarayan. He is also known as Yadnyanarayan. Sage Narayan is His human form. After performing the Sarvamedh sacrificial fire (yadnya) Sage Narayan became the Supreme Soul pervading the entire universe, Narayan. Nara, Narayan, Hari and Krushna are His four idols. Nara-Narayan perform austerities in Badrikashram. Since Sage Narayan performed the Sarvamedha sacrificial fire for five nights, this sect is called ‘Pacharatra dharma’. This being its origin according to the Vaishnavite sect the Narayaniya or Pacharatra dharma is totally Vedic. This sect is not against sacrificial fires but against the violence that is the sacrifice of living beings involved in them. The Vedas, Aranyakas, Sankhyas, Yogas and Pacharatra are the five components of this sect. The Absolute Being (Purush) beyond the three components or the knower of the soul (kshetradnya) is the soul pervading the cosmic elements. The manifest form of the Absolute Being beyond the three components is itself called the unmanifest Great Illusion (Prakruti). It manifests the Absolute Truth (sat) as the cause (karan) and the non-truth (asat) as His mission (karya). Ritualistic worship of deities, ancestors and the five great sacrificial fires are advocated by this sect. He inspires one to undertake rituals to appease deities or ancestors. When performing this He should be remembered in lieu of the deity or the ancestor. His main special characteristic is devotion without expectation (nishkam bhakti). This sect propounds the faith that The Lord assumes incarnations to destroy evildoers who torment society. Though in this sect devotion is given prime importance yet it is based on the school of thought of materialism (pravrutti) and not that of detachment (nivrutti). In the present times this sect has dwindled to a large extent.

Vyuhavad (philosophy of constellation of deities) of the Satvat or Bhagvat sect: The Shantiparva of the Mahabharat describes the Narayaniya sect. This sect was first preached by The Lord to Arjun and then to Sage Narad (Mahabharat Shantiparva 346.10-11; 348.6-8). Later Sage Narad formulated the doctrine of the array in the Narayaniya sect. Vasudev, Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha together were the four parts of the doctrine. Here Vasudev is The Supreme God and the Creator of the universe. At the beginning of the kalpa (period of time) when Lord Vasudev creates an universe along with the unmanifest basic Great Illusion (Prakruti), He also creates Sankarshan, a particular embodied soul. The mind manifests through the union of Sankarshan and the Great Illusion. The mind itself is Pradyumna. It is from Pradyumna that Aniruddha, ego, is generated. From the latter are created the cosmic elements and their components. Lord Brahma too is created at that time and along with the elements He creates the universe consisting of living beings.

6.2. Ramanuj

Adi Shankaracharya preached the philosophy of total non-duality known as advait or purnadvait. It can be summarised as: ‘Only The Supreme God (Parmatma or Parabrahman) is the ultimate truth. The embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and The Supreme God are one and the same. The apparent difference seen in the objects composed of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) is false. This distinction is experienced because of the Great Illusion (Maya) or nescience (avidya). It is only through spiritual knowledge that the Final Liberation (Moksha) is attained. Hence acquisition of absolute spiritual knowledge of non-duality rather than devotion or love should be considered to be the ultimate target’. This concept was unacceptable to the Vaishnav teachers, so they propounded their doctrines as, ‘The embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and the universe are in reality both attributes of The Supreme God. It is through them that the non-dual form of The Lord manifests itself’.

6.3 Sanak (Nimbarka)

Refer point ‘6.9. Comparison between some sects’.

6.4 Brahman (Svatantrata-Svatantravad) – the philosophy of independent existence

Madhvacharya was the propounder of this sect. Both the Sankhya philosophy and this sect advocate duality; however according to the Sankhyas the Absolute Being (Purush) and the Great Illusion (Prakruti) are two separate entities which are eternal and the absolute truth, while in Madhvacharya’s philosophy of duality, two principles – the independent and the dependent exist. For example, Sri Vishnu is independent while the embodied soul (jiva) and the gross universe are dependent. The relationship between Brahman and the embodied soul is that of a master and a servant. Madhvacharya preaches two kinds of spiritual practice, study of the scriptures being the first and meditation, the second. By the first type of spiritual practice indirect spiritual knowledge (aparoksha dnyan) is acquired and by the second, as a result of remaining engrossed in continuous remembrance of The Lord, one attains Liberation (Mukti). After acquiring indirect spiritual knowledge, intense devotion is generated. Devotion is a kind of flow of love. Followers of this sect believe that it develops spontaneously after Self-realisation (sakshatkar). They treat the followers of the Shaiva sect with equality. Between other Vaishnavite and Shaivite sects however there is some amount of animosity. This sect has spread in Karnataka.

6.5 Pushti (Grace of The Lord)

Vallabhacharya’s commentary on the ‘Brahmasutra’ is known as ‘Anubhashya’ and thus formulated the theory of pure non-duality ‘shuddhadvait’ (shuddha advait). According to Him, Brahman Itself is the unparalleled principle. All other living and non-living beings are indistinct from It and hence are permanent. Since The Lord cannot remain in only one state He divided Himself into the Great Illusion (Prakruti), the embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and the Omniscient Soul. Just as sparks fly off from fire so also these three principles have emerged from Him. It is only because of His wish that the Great Illusion lacks Absolute Consciousness (Chit) and Bliss (Anand) and the embodied soul doing spiritual practice lacks Bliss; however the third principle is in the form of the Absolute Truth (Sat), Absolute Consciousness and Bliss. Actually the world is imperishable and eternal. However due to the Great Illusion of Vishnu it is created (avirbhav) and destroyed (tirobhav). (Tirohit means dissolved or obscure). The Great Illusion being The Lord’s Divine Energy (Shakti) both the Energy as well as the possessor of that Energy are not distinct from each other. The embodied soul under the sway of the Great Illusion cannot attain knowledge about the Final Liberation (Moksha) without the grace of The Lord. This grace, is referred to as‘pushti’. On account of this grace devotion and spiritual emotion (bhav) are enhanced and the embodied soul merges into the absolute principle. In this sect more importance is given to the theory of materialism (pravrutti) than to detachment (nivrutti).

6.6 Mahanubhav

About 800 years back Chakradharswami founded this sect. According to Him the embodied soul, the universe, worldly life and The Lord are four independent, permanent aspects. Both spiritual knowledge and devotion play a role in this sect. Poetry like the Lilacharitra are famous in the sect. This sect had a large following in Maharashtra, in India.

6.7 Varkari

Saints have blessed us, and the temple (the Bhagvat sect) is complete
Lord Dnyaneshvar laid the foundation to raise the temple,
Nama was the musician who spread it far and wide,
Janardan and Eknath hoisted the flag of Bhagvat,
Carry on your devotion steadily,
Now Tuka has become the dome.

The presiding deity of this sect founded by Saint Dnyaneshvar seven hundred years ago, is Viththal. The spiritual practice of this sect consists of wearing a mala (a kind of rosary) of tulsi seeds, fasting on the eleventh days (ekadashis) of the months of the Hindu lunar calendar, reading or listening to the Haripath and Dnyaneshvari, a pilgrimage (vari) to Pandharpur on Ashadhi and Kartiki ekadashis, etc. This sect is widespread in Maharashtra.

6.8 Samarth

This was founded by Samarth Ramdas Swami in the sixteenth century. Spiritual practice is more important than politics saying thus, He advocated the importance of politics for protection of one’s own religion and prosperity, after following Spirituality. Narration of stories of Hari, politics, continued vigilance and intervention are the fourfold doctrines of this sect. He guided Shivaji Maharaj in the latter’s mission of reinstatement of Righteousness (Dharma) both through spiritual and worldly guidance. Rama and Maruti were His deities of worship. Dasbodh is a holy text of this sect. This sect is widespread in Maharashtra.

6.9 Comparison between some sects

Name of the
Advait Ramanuj Sanak
1. Founder Shankar-
2. Birth of
700-800 1016 or
1197 1479
3. Birth
place of
Near Udupi,
4. Name of
the philo-
(total non-
(duality –
Dvait (duality) Shuddhadvait
or shuddha
advait (pure
5. School of
objects are
only beca-
use of the
Brahman is
all pervad-
Both the
soul doing
and the
universe are
attributes of
The Lord.
It is through
them that
the nondual
Lord acqu-
ires a
embodied soul,
the universe
and God
are distinct
from each
other (hence
dual). The
between the
soul and
the universe
and their very
existence is
on The
Lord’s wish
[hence non-
There is a
between the
soul, The
Supreme soul
and the Great
Without the
grace of The
Lord, the
soul in the
Great Illusion
cannot attain
about the
6. Spiritual
A. Main
Path of
Path of
Spiritual emo-
tions of
Serenity, a
servitor, a
friend, motherly
affection and
Study of the
control over
the mind
control over
the senses
surrender and
Path of
grace of
The Lord.
B. The
Vishnu Bal-
C. Method
of appli-
cation of
A vertical
Application of
with a black
spot in the
Two vertical
stripes of
A black line
with a mixture
of sandalwood
paste and holy
ash (bhasma)
in its centre
and a spot of
turmeric over
7. Propa-
out India
In the outskirts
of Mathura
and in Bangal
South India Gujarat

* Based on Panch Upasanapanth, pages 167 – 186.

Why is Lord Vishnu called as foremost Guru?



1. Mission and special characteristics

God created the universe through the five deities (principles) – Prajapati, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu and Minakshi. These five deities have all the characteristics of God besides Their own. Sheshashayi, Anantshayani is Lord Vishnu’s unmanifest (nirgun) form in the Vaishnav sect and is a representation of The Supreme God. Vishnu who loves His devotees is God and the one along with Lakshmi is the Great Illusion (Maya). [In the Shaiva sect, Shiva in the nirbij superconscious state is His unmanifest form or The Supreme God. Shiva in meditation is God and the one in a dancing pose or the one playing a game of dice (saripat) with Parvati is the Great Illusion.] The characteristics correspond to the respective form. The other characteristics of Lord Vishnu are given below.

A. The deity of nourishment (annarasadevata) [the one who nurtures all living beings]

Annaad (अन्‍न – अद्‌) means that which feeds on living beings and that which living beings feed on is referred to as food. There are quotes like ‘ओषधं अन्‍नम्‌ ।’ and ‘ओषधे चिन्‍तयेत्‌ विष्‍णुम्‌ ।’. ओषध means food, ओषं means oja (precursor of divine energy) and dh-dhru (ध-धृ) means to bear. So oushadh (औषध) means that which carries the radiance in the body. In the verse Vishnusahasranam, vaidya meaning doctor is one of the Names of Lord Vishnu.

B. The one who loves His devotees (bhaktavatsal)

‘Mythologists have greatly glorified Vishnu’s love for His devotees. It was He who rushed to the rescue of the king elephant Gajendra in a crisis and led him to salvation. It is He who assumed the form of Mohini and acquired the nectar (amrut) for the deities during the battle between deities and demons. It was He who placed Dhruv in the infallible position. He alone manifested from a pillar as Nrusinha (the man-lion) for the sake of Prahlad. Sage Durvas had cursed Lord Vishnu’s devotee Ambarish that he would be reborn ten times. For the sake of His disciple’s welfare The Lord took this curse upon Himself. He took the burden of spiritual and worldy problems of His devotees, upon Himself.’

C. The one who often gives promises and remains true to His word

  • न मे भक्‍त: प्रणश्‍यति । – श्रीमद्‌भगवद्‌गीता ९:३१
    Meaning: My devotee never perishes.
    Shrimadbhagvadgita 9:31
  • यदा यदा हि धर्मस्‍य ग्‍लानिर्भवति भारत ।
    अभ्‍युत्‍थानमधर्मस्‍य तदात्‍मानं सृजाम्‍यहम्‌ ।। – श्रीमद्‌भगवद्‌गीता ४:७
    Meaning: Whenever there is a deterioration of Righteousness (Dharma) and unrighteousness (adharma) reaches the zenith, I assume an incarnation. – Shrimadbhagvadgita 4:7

D. The one who maintains the balance of the universe

In the Kaliyug man’s temperament is more tama predominant. So, to maintain the balance of the universe it is necessary to increase the sattva component. To increase devotion and decrease the tama component He accomplishes His mission of destroying the evil in society.

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्‍कृताम्‌ ।
धर्मसंस्‍थापनार्थाय संभवामि युगे युगे ।। – श्रीमद्‌भगवद्‌गीता ४:८

Meaning: To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants as well as to re-establish the principle of Righteousness, I incarnate, era after era. – Shrimadbhagvadgita 4:8

E. The stable deity

Vishnu functions without leaving His seat because He exists wherever there are particles of nourishment (annarasa) that is in water, on land, in wood, stone, etc. in other words everywhere.

F. The foremost Guru

It was Vishnu who started the tradition of the Guru and the disciple. Narayan is the first Guru and Narad, the son of Lord Brahma the first disciple. Since the Guru’s very mission is to take His disciple to the Final Liberation (Moksha), it is said that one must seek knowledge from Sadashiv and the Final Liberation from Janardan, that is Vishnu (‘ज्ञानं इच्‍छेत्‌ सदाशिवात्‌ मोक्षं इच्‍छेत्‌ जनार्दनात्‌ ।’). (According to the Shaiva sect the Guru-disciple tradition began with Lord Shiva, His first disciple being Vishnu or Parvati.)

G. The one who converts gross medicine into the subtle aerial form

The book ‘Bruhad Nighantu Ratnakar’ give information on the Ayurveda, the science of medicines. The following five types of medicines have been mentioned in it. 1. Medicines from grass, 2. Medicines from the forest, 3. Medicines from living organisms (e.g. algae), 4. Medicines from water and 5. Medicines from the earth. Vishnu converts all these medicines into an aerial form. Consequently medicines in the aerial form are quickly absorbed into the blood stream and therefore into the body cells, that too by mere inhalation.

H. Physical features

  • Complexion: Vishnu has a blue complexion. The blue dot seen during meditation and that of the most subtle divine blue water (nil toya) is that of Vishnu’s blue complexion.
  • Garment draped around the waist: It is called a pitambar and is yellow (pit) in colour.

I. Path of Activation of Spiritual Energy (Kundaliniyoga) and Vishnu

The Vishnu gland is situated close to the Anahat chakra.

J. Principle, ability and manifest energy

  • Principle: 100 % [God (Ishvar) = 100 %]
  • Ability: The basic functions are creation, sustenance and dissolution. With reference to Vishnu they are 2%, 96% and 2% respectively.
  • Manifest energy: Like God, Vishnu too utilises only 10% of His energy to carry out His mission. This energy is referred to as the manifest energy. That energy which is dormant is called unmanifest energy. If according to the mission more energy is required then the manifest energy is more.

2. The abode, Vishnu’s region (Vishnulok; Vaikunth), Vishnu’s advance (Vishnukram) and the Path of Vishnu (Vishnumarg)

A. The abode

Vishnu lives only with His devotees. It can be explained in flowery language as follows: Vishnu’s abode is in Vishnu’s region (Vaikunth). Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife is the daughter of the king of hell (patal). Hence Vishnu goes and lives in the celestial ocean (kshirasagar). Yet His real abode is where His devotees sing His glory.

नाहं वसामि वैकुंठे योगिनां हृदये रवौ ।
मद्‌भक्‍ता: यत्र गायन्‍ति तत्र तिष्‍ठामि नारद ।।

Meaning: O Narad, I neither live in Vaikunth nor in the hearts of yogis. I reside wherever My devotees sing My glory.

B. Vishnu’s region (Vishnulok; Vaikunth)

That from which all impurity has disappeared is Vaikunth. Vaikunth means Blissful. Vaikunth itself is the region of Lord Vishnu (विकुंठा – विगत: कुंठ: यस्‍मात्‌ ।). It is above the seven heavens and is divinely beautiful. Jai-Vijay are the gatekeepers of Vaikunth and allow only devotees of Lord Vishnu to enter it. A river named Viraja flows through Vaikunth. Devotees of Vishnu who live in Vaikunth sit on the banks of this river and undertake spiritual practice. Since Vishnu possesses the basic components of all foods, splendour of all sorts is present in His region. There are also musicians who play stringed musical instruments. The celestial musicians (gandharvas), demigods (yakshas) and celestial singers (kinnars) go to Vishnu and sing. However the demigods consider Shiva as their main deity.

C. Vishnu’s advance (Vishnukram)

‘In the Brahman age Vishnu’s three footsteps have been clearly associated with the earth, space and akash (absolute ether). This is referred to as Vishnu’s advance.’ Space is the part between two regions, (for example between the earth and heaven). Akash is a hollow, even the hollow between two most subtle particles.

D. Path of Vishnu (Vishnumarg) – Path of The Creator

In the vast universe there is a ‘zero stress nature (shunya marg) ’ extending from the Vishnu region to patal (hell). That itself is referred to as the Path of Vishnu. If one travels upon it there is no friction. Narad can travel along this path; hence He is able to reach the earth or hell from Vishnu’s region within a moment.