(Last Updated on : 23/02/2011)
Lord Vishnu in the Trinity of Gods occupies the highest position. The place of Lord Vishnu
in the trinity, i.e., whether he is on par with Brahma or whether he is greater than the other deities, is an often-asked question. This issue arises because the Indian Puranas
refer to the concept of the trinity of Gods- Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. According to the Vedanta Sutra based on the Taittiriya Upanishad
is the cause of origination (janma), sustenance (sthiti) and dissolution (pralaya) of the universe. In other words, what is accepted as para tattva or Supreme Being should have the threefold functions of creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. The Puranas speak of three deities- Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra- as in charge of each of the functions of creation, sustenance and destruction respectively. This would mean that Vishnu is one of the three deities in charge of protection, whereas Brahma performs the act of actual creation of the universe and Rudra is its destroyer.
Thus the issue of the position of Lord Vishnu in the trinity arises here. There are a number of questions that are brought forth here. These are- (a) whether all the three deities together constitute the Ultimate Reality; (b) whether Vishnu included in the trinity is the same as the Supreme Being; (c) whether either of the other two, viz., Brahma or Rudra is Supreme; (d) finally, whether there is a Supreme Being over and above these. These questions have engaged the attention of all the Vaishnava saints (Alvars) and the Vaishnava acharyas right from Nathamuni. Each one has discussed this theory in detail and provided an answer. Taking their stand on the authority of the scriptural texts, the Vishnu Purana
and the Pancharatra Agamas, they have established conclusively the supremacy of Vishnu and the subordinate status of the other two deities.
The most important argument advanced in support of the above conclusion is that Brahma and Rudra were created by Vishnu, whereas the latter has no such origin. Philosophically, what is created cannot be eternal and cannot, therefore, become the Ultimate Reality. The scriptural texts as well as the numerous statements found in the Puranas support this view. The Mahopanisad denies the existence of Isana (Rudra) and Brahma prior to creation. The Mundaka Upanishad
speaks of Brahma as the first deity to have been created. The Narayana Upanishad explicitly says, "From Narayana is born Brahma; from Narayana is born Rudra." The same Upanishad at the very outset points out that Narayana, on the contrary, is the one who wills to create the universe. He is, therefore, taken as the primary cause of all. This view is supported by the Mahabhdrata when it says, "When the entire universe is dissolved, what remains undestroyed is Narayana, the inner soul of the universe." The Varaha Purana
states explicitly that Narayana is the primary deity of the universe and from Him was born Brahma; and Brahma, in turn, caused Rudra. In another statement in the same Purana, it is mentioned that Narayana is the Supreme Being and from Him was born Chaturmukha Brahma. The same truth is reiterated by Tirumalisai, one of the oldest Vaishnava saints. It cannot be argued that Vishnu too is born in the same way; because the scriptural texts and the Puranas state that Vishnu is eternal (nitya) and that no one else other than Him exists in the universe eternally.
According to the theory of incarnation, the Supreme Being who is eternally existent in the paramapada incarnates Himself out of His own will in many forms for protecting the devotees. In the Ramayana the following statement is attributed to Brahma, "You, who is not subject to karma attained the form of Vishnu from your original imperishable state for the sake of providing protection to all living beings." On the basis of these authoritative statements, it is maintained that the three deities- Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra- are neither equal, nor do they together constitute one Reality. For the same reason, Brahma and Rudra are not higher deities than Vishnu. There is no other Reality over and above the three, since Vishnu is the Supreme Being and the primary cause of the entire universe.
There are many other statements found in the Mahabharata and the Puranas in support of the fact that Brahma and Rudra, unlike Vishnu, are created divine Beings and as such subjected to karma
, like the individual souls. According to the version of the epics and Puranas, some of these statements are made by these very deities. Thus, Brahma himself is stated to admit that at the time of creation he was the first to be brought into existence. Similarly, Rudra says both Brahma and himself were born out of Vishnu. In the Mahabharata it is stated repeatedly that all the devatas, including Brahma and Rudra, worship Vasudeva. It is also pointed out that Brahma attained his position and power by worshipping Vishnu over a long period. Similarly, Rudra achieved the rulership by performing sarva medha yaga, a sacrifice in which everything including oneself is offered as oblation to the Supreme Being.
There are several episodes in the Puranas to show that they too are subjected to afflictions and have sought the refuge of Vishnu in order to overcome them. One episode which is narrated in the Mahabharata refers to Chaturmukha Brahma who lost the treasure in the form of the four Vedas and got it restored by the grace of Vishnu, who took the incarnation of Hayagriva (the Lord of knowledge) for the purpose. The other episode refers to Rudra, who was cursed by Brahma because of the offence committed to him by cutting one of his four heads and he got relieved of the ill-effect of the curse only through the help of Vishnu. The Alvars and Yamuna use these Puranic episodes to prove the supremacy of Vishnu over Rudra and Brahma. Brahma and Rudra are regarded as constituting the part of the universal glory (vibhuti) of Vishnu. They are subordinate deities (dasabhuti) and they carry out their major functions of creation and destruction of the universe respectively with the knowledge and power granted to them by the Supreme Being.
Taking all these facts into consideration as revealed in the sacred texts, Vaishnavism claims that Vishnu or Narayana is the Supreme Deity (para devata). To quote the Mahabharata, "There is no other God higher than Vishnu (na visnoh paramo devah)." The Harivarhsa too states that no other deity in the universe is greater than Vishnu Narayana. Vaishnavism
, therefore, advocates the exclusive worship of Vishnu for those who aspire to attain the highest spiritual goal because Vishnu alone is capable of granting it. As the Gita clearly points out, the boons granted by other deities are of limited nature as compared to the eternal Moksha bestowed by Vishnu.