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198 CH APTER FIFTEEN Lord Viṣṇu and His Devotees Viṣṇu is the instructor of the whole world: what else should anyone learn or teach, save Him, the Supreme Spirit? —Viṣṇu Purāṇa I, 17 Worshipping and praising God is the most prominent activity of Viṣṇu bhaktas. Doing so, they place themselves in the company of all beings in a universe that owes its very existence to him. Praise to you, lotus-eyed, praise to you, Supreme Being! Praise to you, the soul of all worlds, praise to you, armed with the sharp discus. Praise to him, who created the universe as Brahmā, supports it as Viṣṇu, and destroys it as Rudra at the end of times. Praise to the one who exists in these three forms. Devas, Yakṣas, Asuras, Siddhas, Nāgas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Piśācas, Rakṣasas, men and beasts, birds, immovable things, ants and reptiles; earth, water, fire, ether and air, sound, touch and taste, sight, smell, mind intellect, ego, time and the qualities of primeval matter—of all these you are the support; you are the universe, changeless one! Knowledge and ignorance, truth and untruth, poison as well as nectar, are you. You are the deed that leads to bondage and also the deed that leads to freedom as taught by the Vedas. The enjoyer, the means and the fruits of all actions are you, O Viṣṇu. The Yogis meditate on you and to you the pious offer sacrifice. You accept the sacrificial oblations to devas and the food offered to the pitṛs, assuming the form of devas and pitṛs. The whole universe before us is your all-form; a smaller form of yours is this world of ours. Still smaller forms of you are the different kinds of beings, and what is called their inner self is an exceedingly subtle form of yours. Praise without end to the Lord Vasudeva, whom no one transcends but who transcends all!1 In those and similar words countless people praise Viṣṇu, whom they have accepted as their one and supreme Lord. The hymn mentions a few of the LOR D V IṢṆU A ND HIS DEVOT EES 199 fundamental tenets of Vaiṣṇava faith—especially the immanence of Viṣṇu in all beings and his transcendence—and we shall consider a few more, without claiming to be able to exhaust the wealth of imagery and speculation produced in the long history of the various schools of Vaiṣṇavism. Contemporary Vaiṣṇavism, the largest section of all Hindu traditions, comprising about 70 percent of Hindus today, has many sources. According to R. N. Dandekar, it did not develop primarily out of the Vedic worship of Viṣṇu but began as Vāsudevism: the cult of the deified Vṛṣṇi hero Vasudeva, and later, of his elder brother Saṁkarṣaṇa. A second source was Kṛṣṇaism, the worship of the glorified leader of the Yādavas, also venerated as Gopāla, the Protector of Cows. At some later stage Vāsudevaism and Kṛṇṣaism merged into the cult of Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa, as it is found in the Mahābhārata. Pāṇcarātra, which developed in the South, merged the cult of Nārāyaṇa with Kṛṣṇaism.2 The Mahābhārata is the most important source for early Vaiṣṇavism. The sources of Bhāgavatism, which merged with it at a later date, are the early Viṣṇu Purāṇas and the Vaiṣṇava Saṃhitās.3 Vaiṣṇavism has developed the most variegated and the richest mythology of all the schools of Hinduism. The core of Vaiṣṇavism, however, is Lord Viṣṇu as savior, a belief that, again, has found expression in countless myths. The oldest , and perhaps most basic myth of this kind is that of Viṣṇu trivikrama, “Viṣṇu who took the three steps,” later combined with a myth of one of the avatāras, Vāmana the dwarf-descent. Allusions to it are found in the Ṛgveda,4 establishing a connection of a Viṣṇu cult with the worship of the sun in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. It is embellished in the epics and Purāṇas and is designed to give a basis to the claim that Viṣṇu’s is the whole universe! Bali, the ruler of the earth, invited devas and princes to a great sacrifice. As was the custom...


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