Vishnu is one of the most important deities in Nepal. He is a resplendent and benevolent savior whose primary function is to maintain cosmic order and preserve the universe. Like other deities he has many manifestations but few of his are wrathfull. In Nepal one of his most popular forms is as the Supreme Lord or Universal Monarch, a majestic being in standing pose displaying, his four symbolic attributes-mace, discus, lotus, and conch shell. He is often accompanied by one or both wives, Lakshml and Saraswati, and his mount Garucla, a composite bird-man.
At other times as "Vishnu-Seated-on-Garuda" (Garudasana Vishnu), the god soars through the heavens observing the affairs of the universe. In still another mythic depiction Vishnu reclines on the serpent Ananta or Shesha afloat in the primordial ocean, drowsing between cyclical destructions of the universe before rousing to fashion it anew. This manifestation is known by many names, such as "Narayana Lying on the Water" (Jalashayana Naravana) or simply, "Sleeping Vishnu." It is particularly well-represented by the dramatic seventh-century colossal stone sculpture lying in a pool at Budhanilakantha on the northern outskirts of' Kathmandu.
Vishnu, or "Narayan"-the name preferred by Nepalis-has incarnated himself through the ages in various guises to combat disruptive evil influences which threaten the universe. Known as avatars ("descent forms"), his incarnations traditionally are ten in number (Dashavatara) and include various animal shapes (fish, turtle, boar), a Man-Lion, a dwarf, the Buddha, the gods Rama, Balarama, and Krishna, and--still to come Vishnu on, or as, the white horse, Kalki.
Images of Vishnu are preferred for worship but he may also he worshiped in the shape of his footprints or as the fossil mollusk known as shaligram. The basil plant (tulasi) is also sacred to Vishnu and implies his presence.
Nepal, 13th-14th century, Stone, Object SS 283, 54.4 cm
Supreme Loard Vishnu
The manifestation of Vishnu as the Supreme Lord is especially popular in Nepal. For centuries it has been rendered in countless sculptures such as these. Dominating the composition, Vishnu stands serenely erect between his principal spouse, Lakshmi, and his companion and mount, Garuda.They are intentionally smaller to emphasize Vishnu's importance. Each figure stands on a lotus blossom whose tendrils surround them. Each deity's head is encircled with a flaming halo while a larger Circle of Radiance encompasses all. In keeping with the omnipresence of the serpent in Nepalese culture, a tiny one is tucked into Vishnu's sash (opposite image) and a pair of them coil around the stem of Vishnu's lotus pedestal (image above).
In both sculptures, Vishnu, crowned and regally ornamented, wears the sacred thread over his left shoulder and looped under his sash. In his upper hands he displays the weapons, discus and mace (chakra, gada) and in the lower ones lotus (padma)-symbolized by its seed-and conch shell (shankha). Lakshmi, in queenly dress, holds a full-blown pink lotus in one hand and a symbolic lotus in the other which is extended in the charity gesture. The snake-wreathed Garuda, human except for his cape-like wings, presses his palms together in a reverential gesture.
There are twenty-four variations of the Supreme Vishnu each identified by the arrangement of the four hand-held attributes. When the attributes are arranged as in these two sculptures the god is named Shridhara. Another variation is Keshava Narayana whose presumed presence in the courtyard temple inspires one of the names of the palace quadrangle -now thev Museum-Keshav Narayan Chowk. In accordance with the arrangement of
attributes, however, the image actually represents the Trivikrama variation.