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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

Vaikuntha Vishnu at Masroor

I am back, after two whole weeks offline! It has been rather difficult to get back to writing, with so many thoughts churning inside my head, but, making a monumental effort, here I am, continuing with the last place I wrote about before I left – the Masroor Rock Cut Temples.

We saw this image at Masroor, and neither the guide, nor friends I asked after I returned, had any clue as to who it was. The figure looks male, but what about the side faces? Those were definitely not human! I had seen something similar in a Vishwaroopa figure of Vishnu, but that one had many more faces. Besides, who were those two at the bottom he had his hands on?

It turns out that I was partly right. This is indeed Vishnu, but known as Vaikuntha Vishnu, or Vaikuntha Chaturmurthi. The three heads we can see are – human, boar (varaha) and lion (narasimha); and the fourth, Kapila or demoniac head isn’t visible. Though there are many explanations of the significance of this icon, the one thing that stands out is the universality of Vishnu, the lord of all creatures – be it human, animal, semi-human, or even demoniac.

What about those two figures on the side? Those, it turns out, are anthropomorphic representations of his weapons – the Gada (mace) and Chakra (disc). On the left is Gada Devi (depicted as a woman), and on the right, Chakrapurusha (male). In his other two hands, he must have once held the lotus and Conch, but they are no longer visible. Also, the tiny indentation between his feet might have once represented Bhu Devi, or goddess earth.

Interestingly, this representation is most often seen in Kashmir, and earliest such icons are from the Gupta period (6th century CE). Masroor, being in Himachal, is close enough to Kashmir, to have been influenced by its traditions and iconography. Vaikuntha Vishnu worship was also prevalent in Central India (the Lakshman temple in Khajuraho for example) during the 10th century. The Masroor temples date back to the 7th and 8th centuries, fitting into this period. It would be interesting to trace the route sculptures and religions iconography travelled across the country, wouldn’t it?

This sculpture is sadly, too weathered and damaged to see and appreciate the details. Click here, and head to the website of the National Museum, Delhi, to see a beautiful representation of Vaikuntha Vishnu from the 9th Century AD. Hover on the image to see details.

You can also see this representation at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (or the Prince of Wales Museum) Mumbai, both, in the sculpture as well as Bronze Gallery.

So, why did I choose to begin my writing with this icon? The reason is a course I have recently joined – the PG Diploma in Indian Aesthetics at Jnanapravaha, Mumbai. The lectures I have attended so far have been remarkably thought provoking, and my Wandering Mind has found many more paths to wander on. The very first lecture I attended opened my eyes to this beautiful concept of Vaikuntha Vishnu, and it seemed only appropriate that I begin my post with it, before moving on to the next site we visited on my #summertrip.


  1. Ah, you too are attending this course - how lucky you are :-)

    1. Yes, Anuradha! I too have joined this... and am really enjoying it! next time you are here, you should attend one of the public lectures they have...

  2. Interesting information. Good luck on your course.

  3. So nice to see another post from you! I hope you continue to enjoy the course you are taking - it is certainly a perfect fit with the work you do for your blog.

    1. Thank you so much, Natalie!! One of the reasons I chose this course was because the content fit in with what I usually write.... though the first few lectures have brought up so many interesting thoughts, I dont know what to write about... plus, I want to revisit and rewrite all that I have written about earlier!!


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