There are a variety of Vishnu Vidyas, both Agamic and Smarta. Vishnu is the main deity of these vidyas, and is worshiped in different forms. Vishnu is found in the Veda as the pervasive power subordinated to Indra. However the Puranic Maha Vishnu is a combination of Vishnu, Aditya, Suparna of the Veda.
Though Vishnu worship is very old, there has been a lot of synthetic development in Vaishnava traditions in the past millennium in every dimension, Vedanta, Bhakti and Karma, both in depth and breadth.
In the recent centuries Vaishnava took more bhakti-form, but it has a rich tradition based on Mantra Sastra. And Vaishnava Vidyas as we see today are mantra vidyas which externally appear as bhakti schools. In fact Bhakti is bhava pradhana while mantra Vidya is upasana pradhana. The Pancaratra texts expound the Mantra Sastra underlying Vaishnava and the various Vaishnava mantra vidyas.
There are five forms in which Vishnu is worshiped: Arca, Vibhava, Vyuha, Antaryami and Para. Every form is said to be one of these. Arca is the form suited for arcana or worship, includes incarnations like Venkateswara and murti’s. Vibhava is the form through which the glory of the lord can be known and praised. Vyuha is the four-fold forms of Sankarshana, Vasudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. Antaryami is the pervasive form. Para is the eternal, un-manifest form. In these forms, He is worshiped as residing in Vaikuntha, Ksheera Sagara, in the hearts of all beings and descending in different forms.
There are different Vidyas in Vaishnava, like Narayana, Vishnu, Govinda, Vasudeva, His various incarnations.
Vishnu is praised as having four hands, holding Sankha, Cakra, Gada and Padma, sleeping on the coils of Ananta, in the ocean of sweet milk. Lakshmi is His consort. All these are yogic symbols, some pertaining to Kundalini Yoga and some to Mantra Yoga. Moreover, there are different Mantra Vidyas under the umbrella of Vishnu Vidya, such as Sudarsana (the Cakra), Ananta and Suparna.
Vishnu is pervasive energy. He is called sthiti karaka, the one who causes all the states of existence. In fact in many aspects like pervasiveness and representing the causal energy, Vishnu is extremely similar to Devi. Owing to this, they are said to be siblings. Similarity is sibling relation and complementariness is consort relation. This is why Vishnu and Devi are said to be siblings while Devi is said to be Siva’s consort.
The following are some of the popular Vishnu Vidyas.
The ten famous incarnations of Vishnu, are forms of worship. There are said to be fifty one incarnations, major and minor put together. Out of them twenty one are important. They include those like Vyasa Maharshi too. Out of these, ten are major. There are a few variations and versions in the list of ten avataras. One of them is Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. Another school enlists Balarama instead of Buddha.
All these forms, major and minor, are worshiped to some extent. However only some of them are developed as full fledged Mantra Vidyas.
Gayatri Vidya employs a set of mudras, which include Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Simhakranta and Mahakranta (basically pervading/occupying – the way Vamana did). These five imply the first five of the ten incarnations. There are also mala mantras/stotras to worship all the ten forms. All the ten forms are worshiped in idol and yantra forms, with appropriate mantras. These yantras are installed for different purposes.
Some Major Vishnu Vidyas
The incarnation in which Vishnu assumes a form with human-like upper half and fish-like lower half. Vishnu is worshiped in this form, though not widely. Matsya yantra, a yantra is inspired by the power of worship of Vishnu in this form, is installed in houses and buildings for various purposes. This is one of the many manifestations of worship of Vishnu in Matsya form. Matysa Rupa Vishnu Vidya is also practiced, though not widely these days.
This is the amphibian or turtle incarnation in which Vishnu bore the Mandara Mountain when it was employed to churn the ocean of milk. This form too, is worshiped rarely in the recent times. Kurma Yantra is installed for wellbeing.
Varaha is the great boar form in which Vishnu upheld the earth after the apocalypse, for the new cycle of creation.
This is a relatively more popular form, and widely worshiped. Vishnu is not only worshiped in Varaha form of Vishnu but combinations of forms, such as Varaha-Narasimha.
Devi is also worshiped in Varaha form, and called Varahi.
Narasimha is a very widely worshiped form of Vishnu. It is in this form that He slays Hiranyakashipa.
This is a terrible form. However He is said to shower boundless grace when worshiped in this form. Nrsimha tapini Upanishad praises Him as “stuhi srutan garta sadam yuvanam mrganna bheemamupahatnum ugram”, the terrible beast that resides in a cave. Since He is a lion form, it is said that He is the lion that resides in the secret cave of heart (this is the grand cave, Aho bila) – with whose presence no small animal (worldly pains, weaknesses and difficulties) will dare to come near. The kshetras or abodes in which He is worshiped in this form, are usually caves too.
As a granter of all boons, remover of difficulties, granter of peace, purity, bliss and siddhi, Narasimha is worshiped in multiple ways for multiple purposes. There are a variety of Mantra Vidyas in Narasimha, such as Yoga Narasimha, Lakshmi Narasimha, Ugra Narasimha. They also belong to different chandas, such as Gayatri, Anushtub, and Ashtakshari, used for different purposes.
Vamana is the short Brahmin kid form in which Vishnu eliminates Bali’s kingship on earth. He asks for three steps of land and occupies earth and ether, presenting a cosmic form. He is called Trivikrama, as He expands and pervades all the three worlds.
However Vamana is not widely worshiped with the name Vamana /Trivikrama, though the name appears multiple times in any worship of Vishnu. However Vedic Suparna is said to be the original form of Puranic Vamana (Suparna Sukta begins as – “Asya Vamasya Palitasya HotuH”). Thus this form is worshiped right from Vedic tradition.
It is when Vishnu took the form of Vamana, that He is born to Aditi, and came to be known as Aditya. It is also because of this that He is called Upendra, the younger brother of Indra. These epithets in Veda came to be explained in Purana through these stories. Short stature (Vamana) and pervasive nature (Trivikrama, Vishnu) of Suparna took the form of Puranic Vamana. The bird-form of Suparna took the form of Puranic Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. This is an example of how the Mantra Sastra of Veda is explained through Puranic symbolism.
More than being worshiped as a deity, Parasu Rama is known as the giver of a variety of Astra Vidyas (this is explained through the fact that He taught astra vidyas to those like Bhishma of Mahabharata). Kartaveerya is a Mantra Vidya too, and Parasu Rama is a set of those. He is the son of Renuka. Renuka is said to be Chinnamasta, a Sakta vidya. Again, Chinnamasta is Vajra Vairocani – the consort of Vajra wielding Indra. Thus the entire set of symbols is found in perfect correlation.
Rama is one of the most developed and practiced Vidyas today. Rama vidya is said to be Taraka, the one that helps us cross the ocean of happening/occurring. Rama is called Taraka Brahman. Rama is a Para Vidya, and an umbrella of Vidyas in fact.
Rama is a comprehensive Vidya. On one side, Rama is similar to Tara, a Sakta Vidya in that both are Taraka. On another side, owing to the completeness and beauty Rama is said to be similar to Sri Vidya.
Rama and Ramayana is also said to be the Puranic expression of the Vedic Gayatri Vidya. The similarity is striking too, with Rama the Surya Vamsa king being meditated on. There are 24 syllables of Gayatri corresponding to the 24 cosmic principles of Sankhya, and Ramayana has 24 sargas and 24000 slokas in all. The beejas corresponding to various Vedic Devatas are also found in correlation with Rama Taraka Vidya. Rama Taraka Vidya praises Rama as associated with Jambavan, Hanuman, Sugreeva, Angada, Lakshmana, Bharata, Satrughna, Sita. These correspond to various Vedic deities like Manyu, Vayu, Rudra (all the three being Hanuman), Surya (Sugreeva), Indra (Angada), Sri (Sita, Sakti). Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna together form Vishnu with Sankha, Cakra and Ananta. The entire set of symbols is expounded in Veda in the form of Gayatri Vidya, with Savita as the object of meditation.
Rama Taraka uses Bhuvaneswari/Taraka beeja.
Anjaneya is a set of powerful Mantra Vidyas. Hanuman of Ramayana is a combination of aspects of three Vedic deities, Rudra, Manyu and Vayu – who represent Destruction, Anger and Strength respectively. The Anjaneya mula derives from Manyu Sukta of RigVeda.
Besides having monkey-form and also being terrible, Hanuman is said to be extremely attractive and handsome. He is called Sundara. In fact, Sundara Kanda of Ramayana is named so, because it is the story of Hanuman. This too, has to do with the nature of Mantra Vidya – bliss is the aspect of Maya beeja which corresponds to Ananda maya kosa, and this beeja is central to Anjaneya vidya.
Hanuman is given the highest position only after Vishnu, in some Vaishnava schools like that of Madhvacarya.
In Vedanta, Hanuman-Rama is said to be the jiva-Para symbolism.
There are multiple vidyas in Anjaneya, or multiple forms in which He is worshiped – Panca mukhi, Abhaya, Veera and so on. One is said to achieve every siddhi with the worship of Hanuman.
Krishna is another comprehensive Vishnu Vidya. The way we find correspondences between Rama, Gayatri Vidya and Sankhya darsana, we find correspondences between Krishna, Matangi Vidya and Yoga darsana.
Rama and Krishna are the only Purna or complete incarnations of Vishnu, the remaining incarnations being amsa or partial. There are 16 kalas or aspects of divine. Only these two incarnations have all the 16 aspects. In the case of Ramayana, the 16 are shared between Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna. It is not so in the case of Krishna, and He represents all the aspects Himself. Thus He is said to be the most complete of all the incarnations. This is also the reason why, Krishna Vidyas will not have too many associate deities/symbols mentioned. This is unlike Rama Taraka where all the associate deities are mentioned.
Manmatha is said to be the son of Krishna/Vishnu. This is because the Lord sustains desire in world for the cosmic sport. Another dimension to this is that Manmatha/Kamaraja beeja is central to Krishna Vidya.
Vishnu is called Gopta and Gopati in Vishnu Sahasra. While Gopati means the ruler of dawn, Gopta means the ruler/protector of the universe (Goptri is the corresponding epithet of Devi). From this word, the one who is ruled by Him came to be coined as Gopi. Gopi jana vallabha, a very popular and powerful name of Krishna, comes thus. He is also Ila pati, the lord of revelation. The names Gopati, Gopala, Ila pati reflect His nature as the giver of knowledge. The name Yogeeswara implies the Vidya to follow Yoga darsana.
Krishna of Vaishnava is very similar to Matangi of Sakta. Their names Syam and Syamala for Krishna and Matangi, at the first sight, indicate their similarity. Some of the similarities:
- Krishna is the lord of knowledge, jnana sakti. This is evident from His names like Ilapati and Gopati. Matangi is Mantrini the giver of knowledge. In the triplet of Lalita-Syamala-Varahi, Syamala represents Jnana Sakti. Matangi Vidya uses Vak-bija the most.
- Krishna is Yogiswara. Yoga symbolism in Matangi Vidya is indicated through Her name Nakuli (Nakuli means mongoose, an enemy of snakes. The way Subrahmanya’s vehicle peacock and Vishnu’s vehicle Garuda with their nature of enmity with snakes are yogic symbols, Nakuli too is.).
- In Vamacara chanting is done with Tambula in the mouth. Moreover the Mother is praised as Tambula purita mukhi, the one whose mouth is always red because of chewing Tambula. Syamala is said to give the boon of great poetry when worshiped as Ucchistha Candali. In Krishna worship in Vallabha tradition, Tambula is offered as naivedya, to indicate this in a more satvic way.
In general any form of the Lord with His consorts represents Prakriti-Purusha relation. For instance Rama-Sita, Siva-Gauri. In case of Radha-Krishna, it is more of jiva-para than prakriti-Purusha relation. Radha is seen more as uttama jiva rather than as Prakriti Herself. In fact in Vaishnava Sri does not assume as much importance as Sakti in Saiva-Sakta traditions. This is because Vishnu Himself is the pervasive energy, and also the immutable Brahman. Vishnu is not represented as the mutable-immutable dual. Thus it can be understood that He is a combination of Sakti and Siva if we should take parallel to Saiva-Sakta traditions. Though Siva and Sakti are inseparable, immutable and pervasive energy are represented as two halves of Brahman. In Vaishnava they are not only inseparable but not explained in terms of two halves. It is just the One.
There are multiple Krishna Vidyas, such as Gopala, Santana Gopala, Bala Krishna, Jagaduru Krishna.
Hayagriva is the horse-headed form of Vishnu, in which He protects the Veda and teaches it to Brahma.
Vishnu is generally worshiped as black in hue, but in Hayagriva form He is crystal-white. He is said to be the origin and goal of all forms of knowledge. There is an exclusive text Hayagriva Pancaratra that deals with Mantra Vidyas of Hayagriva.
Venkateswara as the name implies, is the destroyer of sins (Vaen-kata). He is an arca-avatara, meaning incarnation meant for worship. The sole purpose of this incarnation remains showing grace over His devotees, unlike many other incarnations where He descends to control Adharma.
Sudarsana (cakra) is a powerful astra Vidya in Vaishnava. Sudarsana is Vishnu’s weapon. In Mahabharata Agni gives it to Sri Krishna during Khandava Dahana. From Purana we have examples like Ambarisha who practiced this Vidya. In Ramayana Sudarsana takes the form of Satrughna (as the name suggests evidently that it is the weapon that destroys the enemies).