Vishnu Temples in Kerala
Vishnu, also known as MahaVishnu, is the second deity of the Hindu trinity. He represents Sattvaguna and is the centripetal force as it were, responsible for sustenance, protection and maintenance of the created universe.
Etymologically speaking, the word ‘Vishnu’ means ‘one who pervades, one who has entered into everything.’ So he is the transcendent as well the immanent reality of the universe. He is the inner cause and power by which things exist.
Another name of Vishnu which is extremely common and popular is Narayana. The word means:
a. one who has made the causal waters his abode;
The first interpretation has given rise to a description of Narayana which is common and popular as follows:
After the destruction of the universe of the previous cycle and before the creation of the next, Narayana, the Supreme god, falls asleep on his bed of the great serpent Sesa (also called Ananta), which is floating on the waters of the ocean ksiramudra (‘ocean of milk’). One of his legs is resting on the lap of his consort Laksmi, who is gently pressing it. When he is dreaming as it were, of the next creation, a lotus springs forth from his navel along with god Brahma seated on it. After waking up, he instructs Brahma to proceed with the act of creation.
This is a highly allegorical picture. The ocean represents causal waters from which all life springs a concept not uncommonly found in other religions also. Or, since it is ksirasamudra, the ocean of milk, it stands for the purest form of Prakrti or nature in its undifferentiated state, whiteness indicating this purity.
Out of the several equivalents of the word Apas (= water), is the word Amrta ( = nectar, signifying bliss also). Hence we can say that the Lord Narayana is floating on the ocean of bliss, which is as it should be.
The serpent Sesa or Ananta is said to have a thousand heads and is supporting the worlds on its hoods. Ananta, which literally means the ‘endless’ or ‘infinite’ actually stands for cosmic time which is infinite or endless. Created worlds come into being in time and are sustained in time. This is the meaning of the thousand hoods supporting the worlds. The thousand hoods, simply indicate the innumerable divisions of time.
The concept of the thousand hoods supporting the worlds can also lead to the interpretation that the serpent represents the cosmic space, in which everything exists.
The word Sesa is also significant. It actually means ‘the remainder’, ‘what is left over at the end’. Since creation cannot proceed out of nothing, it is to be assumed that ‘something’ is ‘left over’ (Sesa), from the previous creation, which forms the seed as it were, for the next. So, Sesa represents the totality of the Jivas or individual souls in their subtle form, left over from the previous cycle and needing more opportunities for regeneration.
Serpent also represent Kama or desire which is always left over (Sesa), even after acquisition and enjoyment of the desired object. This goes on until Moksa or final liberation. Hence, in a cosmic sense, it can stand for the desire of the Lord to proceed with the next cycle of creation after rest!
Vishnu is always described as Nilameghasyama, of a dark blue hue like that of the rain-bearing cloud. Since the infinite empty space appears as deep blue in colour, it is but proper that Vishnu the all-prevading cosmic power, be depicted as blue in colour.
The commonest form of the Vishnu icon has one face, four arms holding Sankha (conch), Cakra (discus), Gada (mace), Padma (lotus) and wears a necklace with the famous gem Kaustubha dangling on the lock of hair Srivatsa, on the left chest. He is also wearing a garland (of gems, or fragrant flowers) Vaijayanti by name.
The four arms represent the four quarters, hence, absolute power of the Lord in all directions. The Sankha represents the five elements like the earth, water etc., Cakra stands for the cosmic mind, Gada indicates the cosmic intellect and the Padma points to the evolving world. Just as the lotus is born out of water and unfolds gradually in all its glory, this world also is born out of the casual waters and evolves gradually in all its splendour. Hence the lotus stands for the evolved world. This world can be created only by a combination of the five elements, the mind and the intellect. Hence the total meaning of this symbology would be that the Lord Vishnu is the creator and master of this world.
The curl of hair, Srivatsa, represents all objects of enjoyment, the products of nature. The gem Kaustubha, resting on it, stands for the enjoyer. So this world of duality consisting of the enjoyer and the enjoyed is like an ornament for the Lord. The garland Vaijayanti is symbolical of the subtle elements (bhuta-tanmatras).
Sometimes two more weapons, Nandaka the sword (representing wisdom) and Sarnga the bow (representing the cosmic senses) are added to the arsenal of Lord Vishnu.
Article courtsey : Sri Ramakrishna Math Mylapore, Chennai.