By Amy Underdown, London, UK
Vishnu, one of the three gods that make up the Trimurti, is immensely important in Hindu belief. This is largely because of his role alongside Brahma the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer. With Vishnu considered to be the Preserver, his duty is to maintain the balance of the entire universe, therefore meaning that everyday life in the Hindu religion is reliant on Vishnu’s overseeing of the relationship between good and evil.
Many Hindus argue that without Vishnu, the universe would therefore fall into complete disarray, which undoubtedly renders him the most powerful given the world as we know it relies on his authority. However, there is another strong school of thought which argues that Shiva the Destroyer ultimately has more power than Vishnu. This argument is founded on the principle that Shiva is capable of destroying universal creation, meaning his powers must override those of any other deity. It is also often mentioned that Shiva has the power of re-creation once this age of the universe has been destroyed, demonstrating how the lifecycle of the universe is rested in his capacity.
This debate has continued through time and is still ongoing today, with one reason for this being the many interpretations of ancient Hindu texts that have evolved over time. For example, one argument of Shaivism is that Shiva existed before Vishnu or Brahma, therefore making him more important. And yet this idea is disputed by other ancient Hindu texts (Vishnu Puran and Bhagvat Puran) which claim that the Trimurti had always existed as an energy, even prior to its true form. Not to mention that time is cyclical in Hinduism, not linear, and so ideas of ‘who came first’ are considered obsolete by some, as deities keep manifesting time and time again. There is even another myth which claims the opposite, suggesting that one form of Shiva was borne from Vishnu’s eyebrows. You can see how detailed and complex this debate truly is and with so much evidence either way, it is increasingly clear that we should never expect a clear conclusion!
Another important factor to note is that often, combinations of Vishnu and Shiva, as well as Shakti in some cases, are merged to create one all-powerful being. Perhaps this is therefore the closest thing there is to an undisputed and most powerful God of Hinduism. Shankaranarayana and Harihara are two famous examples of this, where Shiva and Vishnu are merged into a single body. This is emblematic of the stronger focus on the second and third gods in the Trimurti, as opposed to Brahma. Whilst each of the three gods are crucial to the balance of the universe in its various ages, the tendency towards Shiva and Vishnu reflects the popular nature of these gods in modern Hinduism.
And ultimately, when it comes to popularity, it is often said that Vishnu is the clear favourite. This is another reason for his unquestionable importance, as he is a very widely celebrated and worshipped figurehead of Hinduism who is greatly revered. Whilst Vishnu has his specific followers who worship him as the supreme being above all else (Vaishnavism), he is also often found within Hindu homes simply because of his ability to mediate the fallouts between humans and the evil forces around them. Therefore, despite the ongoing debate about his power over Shiva’s, Vishnu’s importance is undoubtable.