VISHNU (Sanskrit, " the worker," from root msk, "to work "), a solar deity, in later Hindu mythology a god of the first importance, one of the supreme trinity with Brahma and Siva, but in the Rig Veda only a minor deity. In the Vedic scriptures his only anthropomorphic characteristics are the frequently mentioned strides that he takes, and his being a youth vast in body. His essential feature is the three strides (vi-kram) with which he traverses the universe. Two of these steps are visible to men, but the third or highest is beyond mortal sight. These steps are symbolic of the rising, culminating and setting of the Sun, or alternatively the course of the solar deity through the three divisions of the universe. To-day Vishnu is adored by the Vishnavite sects as the equal or even the superior of Brahma, and is styled the Preserver. He is represented with four arms, and black in colour; in one hand he holds a club and in the others a shell, a discus and a lotus respectively. He rides on the Garuda, half man and half bird, having the head, wings, beak and talons of an eagle, and human body and limbs, its face being white, its wings red and its body golden. In his character as preserver of men Vishnu has from time to time become incarnate to rid the world of some great evil (see also BRAHMANISM and HINDUISM).
See A. A. Macdonell, Vedic Mythology (Strassburg, 1897); Sir W. Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts, iy. 63-298; Sir M. MonierWilliams, Brahmanism and Hinduism, Hi. v. vi.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)