Myth of Lord Vishnu!
It’s fascinating to see how a minor Vedic God like Vishnu was elevated to a supreme God Lord Vishnu! A mere companion of Indra in Rig Veda, Vishnu was adorned with entirely new character to make him a preserver of the universe who incarnates from time to time to eradicate the evil forces and restore the religion!
He is a God who has surpassed his original humble character in the later mythologies! Lord Vishnu has become a part of Hindu trinity…Brahma-Vishnu- Mahesh, with such constant elevations to attain present position, surpassing the divinity of the Vedic God’s like Indra, Varuna and Mitra!
Vaishnavism is a cult that worships Vishnu as a supreme God. His abode is sea-floor where he is in half-sleep on the coil of Shesh Naga (serpent) with his consort Laxmi sitting at his feet.
To know how Vishnu reached to this high status, let’s have a brief look at his history right from Rigveda’s to Purana’s.
In Rig Veda Vishnu appears as a mere companion, assistant of supreme Vedic God Indra. There are only three Sukta’s (Verses) dedicated to him. He also is seen in a form of sun-bird who crosses the whole universe in his three steps.
In Rig Veda there is no mention of his consort Laxmi. His abode also is not mentioned anywhere. “Shri” a Goddess mentioned in a Shri Sukta, a later addition in Rig Veda, is thought to be Laxmi, but the scholars believe Laxmi never was a Vedic Goddess, but was assimilated from the Non-Vedic tradition in later course. "Shri" has nothing to do with Laxmi, as far as Veda;s are concerned!
In Rig Veda we can notice that the task of incarnations is ascribed to Prajapati, not Vishnu! Mention of three incarnations in Rig Veda, those later on were attributed to Vishnu, originally were of Prajapati. Lord Prajapati seems to have been completely vanished from the Vedic tradition as we do not find any mention of Prajapati in later Vedic literature.
Vishnu's another name is Narayana, but Narayana was a different God or seer and had Dravidian origins. The name “Narayana” cannot be derived from any Sanskrit root but Dravidian. In Mahabharata Krishna clearly tells Arjuna that in the past birth himself was Narayana, a seer, and Arjuna a “Nar” (Male), his pupil. He doesn’t seem to relate himself with Vishnu anywhere in Mahabharata. Still people believe Krishna being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, which is unhistorical.
In Satvat (Clan of Krishna) originated a cult that was famous and widely spread till first century BC, known as “Pancharatra”, worship of five elements like Vasudeva, Pradhumna, Sankarshana, Balarama and Aniruddha. This cult was non-Vedic and devotional in nature, and here too Vishnu finds no mention in Pancharatra philosophy or rituals.
The Pancharatra Cult was famous, so much so that a Garuda (Eagle) pillar dedicated to Lord Vasudeva was erected by Greek Ambassador Heliodorus near Vidisha in first century BC. From the inscription on the pillar it proves that Vasudeva (of Pancharatra cult) worship was prevalent in those times. Vishnu as a supreme God was not emerged till that period.
We find Vishnu appearing as a supreme God only in Gupta period, fourth century till sixth century AD. Gupta era is very significant, not just from the point of epitome of political power they achieved but from socio-religious point of view as well. In Gupta era newly developed Sanskrit language started getting eminence over other Prakrit languages. Most of the Purana’s and ancient epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata were recomposed in Sanskrit during this period.
Vishnu and Laxmi were coined together to create a new divine couple. The task of incarnations that was dedicated to Prajapati was now conferred upon Vishnu. The Vaishnav cult borrowed “devotion” (Bhakti) from Pancharatra cult. They borrowed idol worship from Shaivait religion, which in fact was anti-Vedic practice. Idol worship was never a part of Vedic tradition.
The fact should be understood that prior to Gupta period, not on a single coin or inscription God Vishnu and his consort Laxmi is mentioned.
What could be the purpose? Was it a new religious revolution to bring forward a minor Vedic God to be idolized when Vedic tradition doesn’t allow idol worship? The fact is otherwise. The elevation of Vishnu was required to subjugate spread of the Shavait tradition that had survived through the millenniums. Also because of spread of the Buddhism Vedic fire sacrificial rituals had become extinct. Because of the wave of Buddhism the violence in Vedic fire sacrifices were being attacked. The complexities of the Vedic rituals and huge expenditures and huge time it consumed made it difficult to find hosts.
Vedic people had to find an alternative without losing their own identity. It was obvious that to the masses idol worship was too simple to follow. In Buddhism also Idol worship had entered by then. To have something new for livelihood, that could attract immediate attention and acceptance of the masses, Vedic people had no choice but to adopt to the popular tract. Hence Vishnu was chosen from Veda’s to adorn him entirely new character.
To do this all popular ancient cults and hero’s been needed to be assimilated in the character of Vishnu! Idea of incarnations, originally belonging to Prajapati came to their rescue. Right from Rama to Krishna (later on even Lord Buddha), almost all originally Non-Vedic personalities of the ancient past, were gradually consolidated with Vishnu as his incarnations.
Lord Shiva worship was a main hurdle in the way of Vedic people. To divert people from Shiva to Vishnu was not an easy task. Many Shaivait shrines like Pandharpur and Tirupati were hijacked with the help of the rulers to convert them to Vaishnavait shrines. New myths needed to be created to justify such transformation and it was done in the course of the time.
The Vaishnavait Bhakti (Devotion) cult thus was originated and began spreading from north to south. Main reason behind decline of Buddhism in India can be attributed to the rise of Vishnu. Most of the hero’s of the past were preached being incarnations of Vishnu, thus making Vishnu even popular. Vishnu offered what people needed. Many of non-Vedic God’s this or that way was associated with Vishnu. Though actual Vishnu shrines are very few in India, only because such assimilations, a picture got created that Vaishnavait cult were popular in India.
Thus Vishnu was made a supreme God for the Vedic’s when Shiva too remained highly revered God for the non-Vedic people. The tussle between Shaivaits and Vaishnavaits has seen bloodbath, deceit and hateful propaganda’s in the past.
Vishnu was gradually elevated and adjusted in the concept of the trinity; Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh…creator, preserver and destroyer…let us not forget here that Brahma is only one God in Indian mythology that has no origin. He is, though labeled as the creator, is a hardly worshiped God anywhere in India. The fact from the mythologies is Shiva was only God responsible for creation, preservation and destruction. There is no Brahma or Vishnu to partake his responsibilities. But in an order to demean Shiva, to pose him in destroyer form, to elevate Vishnu, what term would suit other than preserver to Vishnu? Thus modifications were made through the Purana’s to establish rule of the Vishnu thus creating a wider rift between Indian societies. The attempt, if we look back at the religious history of India, has been too successful!
Why Vishnu was chosen over other supreme Vedic Gods like Indra or Varuna? The characteristics of Indra and Varuna or other supreme Vedic God could not be used as they were already known to the masses. All religious texts, including Buddhist or Jainist, are full of their mention. They had turned already very minor Gods in the eyes of the people. Giving them new look, new character would be highly impossible. Hence an obscure God was needed to be chosen, polished, glorified with newly invented myths while associating him with the popular hero’s of the past. Meticulously this was done in Gupta era.
In later era, after tenth century AD, when conflict between two religions, Vedic and Non-Vedic, reached to the violent levels, unity of Vishnu and Shiva was proposed by many saints. It succeeded to some extent, though the religious differences never could be bridged. The philosophy of both the religions has been distinctly different. Vishnu shrines are rare in India whereas Shaivism maintains its supremacy with millions of Shiva and his consort’s shrines.
However Vishnu has been proved as rescuer of Vedic people, if not of the rest of the masses!