He is the one that must take form when adharm ‘plays havoc with creation’ especially for the human race or the devtas, and then He appears in the midst of creation in any form suitable to the purpose of that time, to bring back humanity to the path of dharm or duty.
The Almighty is supposed to have sixteen ‘Kalas’ and Vishnu can come with as many as required for that particular period. The Supreme Soul does not descend on earth but a part complete in itself descends on earth (just like a vessel of water taken from the ocean is complete in itself and yet does not diminish the vastness or the power of the sea).
Vishnu has no children of his own as all creation is his child. The other two Gods of the Trinity have children born of them and called their sons and daughters but Vishnu and his consort Laxmi look after all living beings and have enough to do without having any offsprings of their own.
Vishnu is also particular in granting boon and has never given a boon to an asur (the evil one) while Brahma and Shiva are very liberal in bestowing them to all and sundry who pleases them, without much thought to the consequences and consequently get even themselves into trouble. As mentioned before they have to run up to Lord Vishnu for succour.
In fact, all Vishnu’s incarnations are indirectly due to the doings of Brahma and Shiva. Praise and hymns addressed to Lord Vishnu are in plenty in the Hindu scriptures. He is deeply loved in all his incarnations on earth as He comes face to face with humanity itself. The ‘Bhagwat Puran’ mentions twenty-two or even 39 avtars, but the accepted ones are ten as written already in a previous chapter.
Vishnu is portrayed as dark in colour, or one can easily say blueish, red or yellow in his incarnations during the various yugs. He is usually depicted as sleeping over the waves of the ocean reclining on the coils of the ‘Sheshnag’ or standing on the waves of the ocean. He is usually shown with four hands, each holding his four chief attributes.
The conch shell — the discus (Sudarshan chakra), the gada (mace) and the lotus. He is shown as wearing a yellow robe tied like a beautiful dhoti on the lower limbs and a aang vastra thrown round his neck with both ends falling straight down his body. Another yellow scarf acts as a belt holding the dhoti at the waist.
The dhoti is tied in a way that if forms a long flair coming down in front of both the legs. He wears a vayjanti mala (necklace) with pearls, rubies, emeralds, sapphire and diamonds, and he wears the large beautiful diamond known as ‘Kaustube’ which had come out of the ocean when it was churned. The conch is named ‘Panchjanya’ (beautiful to look at).
The ‘lotus’ the original flower. The gada (mace or club) is named ‘Kumud’. He wears a lot of other jewellery as armlets and necklaces. A crown made of gold and earrings in the shape of a crocodile known as ‘Makerakati Kundal’. Across his chest is the holy thread called ‘Yagyapaveela’. He also has a bow named ‘Skarnga’.
In the Upnishads Vishnu Himself described the meaning of the symbols which he holds in his hands. He says that He holds the conch in one of the lower hands as a symbol of creative energy, the discus in one of the upper hands is the symbol of the mind representing dispension and liberation. The lotus in the right lower hand represents maya (illusion) that envelopes the world.
In the lower left hand is the mace which devotes strength and is also a symbol of ancient knowledge. But sometimes Vishnu is depicted with only two hands — the right held up with the ‘Sudarshan chakar’ the destroyer of evil, and in the left hand held down is the ‘conch’.
Vishnu’s consort is Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and beauty, and she opens the gate to all resources that are required by Vishnu to run the universe. She became His consort as she chose Him and came straight to his side as soon as she came out of the Ocean when it was churned.
But then Vishnu is also attributed as being the husband of Bhoo-devi (mother earth) and even in some scriptures even Saraswati and Ganga is mentioned as his wives. This actually points to the ‘Oneness of Brahma and Vishnu’.
Vishnu led a very colourful life while mingling with the devtas and humans. When the churning of the Ocean was taking place and the asurs were to be denied the ‘amrit’, He took the form of a beautiful woman named Mohini lured the asurs and made them wait while the devtas were quickly given the amrit.
Of course one asur named Rahu sensed the deception and was served the amrit as he went and sat between the Sun and the Moon. They pointed him out to Vishnu who cut him in two with His discus but he had taken a few drops of the amrit already and become immortal and thus became two — Rahu and Ketu who now come and trouble the sun and the moon and eclipse them every year.
Then once when Narad munni became arrogant due to his being so near to Narayan, Vishnu created an imaginary Kingdom in which the most beautiful daugther of the king was having her ‘Swaymver’. Narad fell in love with the princess as soon as he saw her and asked Vishnu to gave him his ‘roop’ (face figure) and Vishnu gave him a monkey’s face and the poor chap became the laughing stock of the entire gathering.
Vishnu at his handsome best was chosen by the Princess. This annoyed Narad no end until Vishnu explained everything to him and told him that as Vishnu had many faces as there are species on the earth he had not cheated him. He also told him not to be arrogant as He loved everyone the same and no one was dearer to Him than the other.
Once Vishnu’s consort Laxmi left Him in anger and went to her father ‘the ocean’ and He became very poor and distraught and moved heaven and earth to get her back. The story is told in the chapter on Laxmi.
There is much to tell about Vishnu as He came to this earth as different avatars and a little is told in the chapters of the main human avatars that have been written in this book, the rest is in the vast store house of scriptures that the Hindu ‘system of life’ holds.