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CHAPTER II.

The Sect of Vishnu.—Vishnu.—The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth Avatars.

The SECT Of VISHNU.

I Have, in a former page, stated, that the Hindus of the Brahminical religion are divided into six great religious sects, viz. the Vishnaivas, Saivas, Saurias, Ganapatyas, Sactis, and the Bhagavatis; and as the deities worshipped by these six sects may be given, with greater clearness as well as conciseness, under the heads of the sects to which they belong, I have adopted that plan, as far as I conveniently could, in preference to describing them according to the rank which they respectively occupy in the Hindu mythology.

VISHNU

Is the second-named of the Trimerti or Hindu Triad, and the preserving spirit of the supreme deity—Brahm. This god is represented of a black or blue colour, with four arms; in which he holds a club, to shew that he punishes the wicked; the chank, or wreathed shell, blown on days of rejoicing, and at a period of worship; the chukra or discus, the emblem of his universal domination; and the lotus, or water-lily, the type of his creative power. He is variously described: sometimes seated on a throne of the sacred lotus, with his favourite wife, Lakshmi, in his arms; or standing on a lotus pedestal between his two wives, Lakshmi and Satyavama (fig. 1, plate 4); at others reclining on a leaf of that flower, or on the serpent Ananta, or eternity, floating on the surface of the primeval waters (fig. 1, plate 5); or riding on Garuda (his celestial vahan or vehicle), which is represented as a youth with the wings and beak of a bird (fig. 5, plate 4).

As each of the deities of the Triad is occasionally seen possessing the attributes of the others, Vishnu is found sometimes as the Creator, and at others, as the god of Destruction, as well as the Preserver. In one of the hypotheses respecting the creation of the world, he appears in his creative attribute, giving birth to Brahma, who is springing from his navel to execute his high behests, in producing the elements, and forming the system of the world (fig. 1, plate 5). In his tenth incarnation, or the kalki avatar (which is yet to come), it is fabled that he will appear at the end of the kali yug as an armed warrior, mounted on a white horse, furnished with wings and adorned with jewels; waving over his head, with one hand, the sword of destruction, and holding in the other a discus, or, as Mr. Maurice has imagined, a ring, or emblem of the perpetually revolving cycles of time. The horse is represented holding up the right foreleg ; and the Brahmans say, that when he stamps on the earth with that, the present period will close, and the dissolution of nature take place.'

Mr. Holwell, in his historical events, has described the world as resting on the head of a serpent, which is supported on the back of a tortoise. Another writer has farther explained this, by informing us, that "the sins of the sages increasing, the Kalki will set down his right foot to punish their sins, and therewith press the earth so hard, that the serpent Seesha shall not be able to bear it; and the tortoise, feeling the unusual burthen, shall fall into the deep, and so rid himself of his load; and by that means, all the wicked inhabitants of the world will be destroyed."

No sanguinary sacrifices are offered to Vishnu. He is considered as a household god, and is extensively worshipped. His wives are Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and beauty (fig. 6, plate 4), and Satyavama.

The heaven of Vishnu is thus described by Mr. Ward, from the Mahabharata: "This heaven, called Vaikunt'ha, is entirely of gold, and is eighty thousand miles in circumference. All its edifices are composed of jewels. The pillars of this heaven, and all the ornaments of the buildings, are of

* Fig. 3, plate 13, is a representation of this avatar, from a compartment in the temple of Rama, which differs in some points from the description just given.

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precious stones. The crystal waters of the Ganges fall from the higher heavens on the head of Druvu, and from thence into the bunches of hair on the heads of seven Rishis in this heaven; and from thence they fall and form a river, Vaikunt'ha. Here are also fine pools of water, containing blue, red, and white water-lilies, the flowers of some of which contain one hundred petals, and others a thousand; gardens of nymphseas, &c. &c. On a seat, as glorious as the meridian sun, sitting on water-lilies, is Vishnu; and on his right hand the goddess Lakshmi. From the body of Lakshmi the fragrance of the lotus extends eight hundred miles. This goddess shines like a continued blaze of lightning. The D6varshis and Rajarshis constantly celebrate the praise of Vishnu and Lakshmi, and meditate on their divine forms. The Bramharshis chaunt the Veda. The glorified Vishnaivas approach Vishnu, and constantly serve him. The gods are also frequently employed in celebrating the praises of Vishnu."

Vishnu had a thousand names; and many avatars or incarnations are ascribed to him, in which he is represented in various forms, to save the world; to restore the lost Veda, or sacred writings; to destroy the giants; and to punish the wicked. Ten of these avatars compose a large portion of the Hindu mythology. Nine of them are already past, but the tenth is yet to come, in which the dissolution of the world will take place. An avatar is a descent of the Deity, in some manifest shape, upon earth. Thus in the first avatar, Vishnu appeared as a fish; in the second, as a tortoise; in the third, as a boar; in the fourth, in the compound character of a manlion, and in the others in human forms. It is to be observed, that the Varaha avatar, commonly described as the third, is placed as the second and most important avatar in some of the Puranas, which appear to have multiplied, and carried back to an earlier period, the incarnations of Vishnu: the first and second being in them made the tenth and eleventh avatars. The principal incarnations of this Deity are, however, usually known as they will be found described in the following pages.

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