Tales of Vishnu
(IBH, Jan. 1, 1999)
Vishnu, the Preserver, is the second of the Hindu triad. Whenever evil is on the ascendant, Vishnu descends on earth to uphold righteousness and to destroy evil. The tales of these descents or avatars told in various puranas have contributed in no small measure to make Vishnu the most popular of Hindu deities. His worshippers are called Vaishnavas. Of the eighteen major puranas, six are known as the Vaishnava Puranas as they eulogize Vishnu and depict him as the Supreme Self. In the Vedas, Vishnu is sometimes referred to as a deputy of Indra. In the Rig Veda, only five hymns are devoted to him, as against the two hundred and fifty devoted to Indra. However, Vishnu eventually overshadowed Indra and shot into prominence as the God of the gods. According to some scholars, the identification of Vishnu with Vasudeva-Krishna, the deified Yadava hero, contributed significantly to the rise of Vishnu as the greatest of the gods in the hierarchy of the Hindu pantheon. In fact, Vasudeva-Krishna came to be considered the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Vishnu is more a love-inspiring than a fear-inspiring deity. The Bhagavata Purana, from which these tales are adapted, abounds in narratives of the benevolent acts of Vishnu. Although he is kind and sympathetic, he is never taken in by the apparent devotion of evil men. Even when they succeed in wresting favors from other gods, Vishnu maneuvers to bring about their destruction without falsifying the boons given to them by the gods.