, one of the greatest gods of Hinduism
, also called Narayana. First mentioned in the Veda as a minor deity, his theistic cults, known as Vaishnavism, or Vishnuism, grew steadily from the first millennium B.C., absorbing numerous different traditions and minor deities. By his worshipers Vishnu is regarded as the supreme God, of whom other gods are secondary manifestations. The early epics the Mahabharata
and the Ramayana
show considerable Vaishnavite influence. The later Puranas
fully elaborate the myths of Vishnu and his avatara
(incarnations): Matsya (the fish), Kurma (the tortoise), Varaha (the boar), Narasimha (the man-lion), Vamana (the dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the ax), Rama, Krishna
, and Kalkin (who is yet to appear). Vishnu is generally depicted as dark blue in color, crowned, and bearing in his four hands his emblems—the conch, discus, mace, and lotus. His mount is the eagle Garuda, and his consort is Lakshmi, or Shri, the goddess of wealth.