Vishnu is one of the Trimurti or trinity of main gods in Hinduism, along with Brahma the creator and Shiva the destroyer. Vishnu's role is to maintain the balance of the universe. His wife is the goddess Lakshmi and his mount is the bird-man Garuda.
Vishnu is considered one of the most supreme of the Hindu gods.
The Avatars of Vishnu
Vishnu is generally thought to have ten Avatars in the forms of which he descends to Earth.
- Matsya, the form of a fish who warns of an incoming flood. He tells Manu, the father of mankind to prepare himself and take with him supplies and animals onboard a boat. This story is analogous to other deluge myths such as Utnapishtim's in Babylonian myth and the story of Noah's Ark.
- Kurma, the form of a turtle who bore the weight of a mountain to churn the Sea of Milk. When other gods were cursed and lost their powers, Vishnu suggests they need to drink the nectar of immortality that is beneath the Sea of Milk. Vishnu then changes into Kurma to help churn the Sea and retrieve the nectar.
- Varaha, the form of a boar. As Varaha, he fights the demon Hiranyaksha, who had taken the earth beyond the depths of the universe. Varaha battles Hiranyaksha for a millennium and comes out victorious.
- Narasimha, the form of a half-man, half-lion. Hiranyaksha's brother
Hiranyakashipu is angered by Hiranyaksha's defeat at the hands of Varaha and declares vengeance upon Vishnu. Through devotion he is granted blessings by Brahma and cannot be harmed by god, man, or animal. Thus Vishnu takes the form of Narasimha who by being half-man, half-lion is none of those and defeats Hiranyakashipu.
- Vamana, the form of a human dwarf Brahmin, or teacher. He appears when the god of thunder Indra loses his powers to the Asura, or demon, Bali. In this diminutive, dwarfish guise, Vamana requests from Bali only three steps on which to live in. When Bali agrees, Vamana suddenly grows universally huge, and takes one step on the earth, one in the heavens, and one final step on Bali's head to show him humility and restore Indra's dominion over the heavens.
- Parashurama, the form of a warrior. Parashurama is considered to be an Avesha Avatar, or secondary Avatar in which he enters the soul of a man rather than take a wholly new form. Parashurama is a warrior who learns martial arts from Shiva and brings justice to wicked kings and rulers. In some traditions it is said that Parashurama continues to live even today.
- Rama, the form of a prince and earthly king. Rama is a tremendously popular figure in Hinduism and his story arc, called the Ramayana, involves many major figures. When his wife Sita (considered to be an avatar of Lakshmi) is abducted by the evil Ravana, Rama must garner the help of the monkey-men including the great Hanuman. After waging an all-out war, Rama kills Ravana, rescues Sita, and goes on to become a great king, ruling for over a thousand years.
- Krishna, form of the divine youth. Krishna is also a hugely popular figure in Hinduism and there are countless stories of his life. He has over 16,000 wives (all avatars of Lakshmi) and is a central figure in the Hindu philosopical text the Bhagavad Gita.
- Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Many Hindus consider Buddha to have been an Avatar of Vishnu. Though Buddhism itself is generally not recognized, Buddha is admired for his devotion and self-sacrifice.
- Kalki, the savior. Kalki is the only Avatar that has yet to descend to earth. He will come on a white horse to declare the end of Kali Yuga, the current aeon we live in today. He will end all wickedness and promote the righteous.