Hinduism is among the world’s oldest religions and boasts over 900 million followers around the globe. The Hindu religion teaches that there is one God, Brahman, who created and is present in everything. However, Hindus worship many other lesser deities as well, the most important of which are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Hindus believe that Brahman’s work on Earth is done and this triumvirate has taken over Brahman’s role of creating, maintaining and destroying the world.
Brahma takes on the role of the creator of the universe and Shiva takes on the role of destroyer. Vishnu preserves and protects the universe by returning to the earth in times of trouble and restoring the delicate balance between good and evil.
The god Vishnu is referred to as male and has returned to the Earth nine times as various different incarnations. It is believed that he will be reincarnated one last time close to the end of this world.
Vishnu’s worshippers called Vaishnava worship only him and consider him the greatest god, superior to all other lesser gods.
Within the Hindu religion, Vishnu is represented as a human body, often with four arms and blue skin. In his four hands, he always carries four objects, which represent the areas that he is responsible for. In one hand he carries a conch shell, the sound of which represents the primeval sound of creation.
On the second hand, he grasps the chakra, or discus, which symbolizes the mind. On the third hand is the lotus flower, which represents glorious existence and liberation. In his fourth hand, he clutches the mace, which represents mental and physical strength. These are just a few of the most generally accepted meanings that are associated with the items that Vishnu carries there are many more.
You are most likely to see Vishu represented in one of two positions. He is often shown standing on a lotus flower with Lakshmi, his female companion and the goddess of success and wealth, close at his side. He may also be represented reclining on the coils of a serpent, while Kashmi massages his feet. They are typically shown surrounded by the Milky Ocean.
Milky Ocean and the Story of Vishnu
The Milky Ocean is important in the story of Vishnu because in Hindu mythology it is closely related to the gods defeating the demons and becoming immortal. In this story, Vishnu is the one who advises the other gods to start churning the Milky Ocean in order to bring to the surface a number of lost treasures, including the elixir of immortality and Lakshmi herself. Lakshmi and the elixir help the gods to defeat the demons who had taken over the universe.
Vishnu tricked the demons into helping the gods to churn the mighty ocean by offering them a share of the treasures. At Vishnu’s command, the gods and demons used Mount Madura as a churning stick and Vasuki, a giant serpent as a rope. The gods held the tail end of the snake, while the demons held the head of the furious creature. With the serpent coiled tightly around the mountain, they alternated pulling on the rope, causing the mountain to begin to rotate in the water. However, as the gods and demons churned the water, the mountain began to sink into the soft sand bed of the ocean.
Vishnu’s nine incarnations
This is where one of Vishnu’s nine incarnations appears to save the day. At the gods’ request, Vishnu is incarnated as a turtle. He uses his turtle shell as a foundation stone, placing the mountain on his back, which allowed the churning to continue. According to Hindu mythology, some say it took over a thousand years of churning before any of the treasure rose to the surface.
When the elixir of immortality did finally surface, the demons were eager to grab it for themselves. However, Vishnu once again is prepared to save the day. He assumes the form of Mohini, a woman whose beauty captivates all of the demons. With her perfect beauty serving as a distraction, Mohini quickly replaces the elixir with alcohol before returning it to the demons, keeping the precious liquid for the gods.
The inspiring story of the churning of the Milky Ocean is not just one of Vishnu preserving and protecting the universe. It could also be considered somewhat of a love story. Along with the elixir, the churning also brought to the surface the other treasure, Lakshmi. Lakshmi appeared as a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower. With all of the gods before her, Lakshmi chose the god that she felt was most worthy of her beauty and companionship. This god was Vishnu and the pair have been inseparable ever since.