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Varieties of the Vishnu Image

Varieties of the Vishnu Image

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What are commonly known as "Vishnu images" are, as everybody is aware, extremely common in this country, and one's first general impression of them is apt to be one of almost tiring uniformity. The figure itself is generally treated more or less schematically, with little regard to modelling on naturalistic lines in many cases, and the four attributes displayed by the several hands do not strike the casual observer as being of any very special interest. We all know that Vishnu is characterised by his mace, his lotus, his conch and his wheel (discus), or think we do, and when we see a four-armed image with these attributes we call it Vishnu and pass on. In reality, however, the matter is much more complicated than at first appears. Some years ago I wrote a pamphlet in Bengali entitled Vishnu-murti-parichaya, "The Identification of Vishnu Images," published by the well-known Bengali literary society called the Banjiya Sahitya Parishad, in which I set forth that according to the records of the Puranas and other texts, "Vishnu" is but a general term for what in reality constitute a considerable variety of different figures, to each of which a different name attaches.

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