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HINDUISM

VISHNU

"Give thy mind to me, and give me thy heart, and thy sacrifice, and thy adoration. This is my word of promise: thou shalt in truth come to me, for thou art dear to me. Leave all things behind, and come to me for thy salvation. I will make thee free from the bondage of sins. Fear no more".
                 Bhagavad Gita18:62,65,66

In Trimurti belief, He is the second aspect of God.He is thought as the preserver of the universe while two other major Hindu gods or Trimurti are Brahma and Shiva, are regarded respectively, as the creator and destroyer of the universe. For Vaishnavas, He is the only Ultimate Reality or God, as is Shiva for Shaivites.
 He is worshipped as the protector and preserver of the world and restorer of dharma(moral order).  He is known chiefly through his avatars (incarnations), particularly Rama, Krishna and Buddha. 
In theory, Vishnu manifests a portion of himself anytime he is needed to fight evil, and his appearances are innumerable; but in practice, ten incarnations are most commonly recognized. 
 In the ancient Vedas, the body of literature known as the Veda, Vishnu is ranked among the lesser gods and is usually associated with the major Vedic god Indra who in the epics and Puranas fights against dragons and demonic forces. These latter writings emerge during the later development of Hinduism.
It is throughout this literature and especially through incarnations that Vishnu is raised to higher rankings within the Hindu pantheon. He becomes the prominent second god of the Trimurti.

In some Puranic literature Vishnu is said to be eternal, an all-pervading spirit, and associated with the primeval waters that are believed to have been omnipresent before the creation of the universe.

The concept of Vishnu being the preserver of the world came relatively late in Hinduism. Presumedly it sprang from two other beliefs: that men attain salvation by faithfully following predetermined paths of duty, and that powers of good and evil (gods and demons) are in contention for domination over the world. When these powers are upset Vishnu, it is further believed, descends to earth, or his avatar, to equalized the powers. Further it is thought that ten such incarnations or reincarnations of Vishnu will occur. Nine descents are said to have already occurred, the tenth is yet to come. Rama and Krishna were the seventh and eighth.

Another interesting speculation concerning Vishnu's role as preserver among many modern scholars is that it is characteristic of the practitioners of Hinduism to raise local legendary heroes to gods in the Hindu pantheon.

Vishnu is portrayed as blue or black shinned and has four arms. He has a thousand names and their repetition is an act of devotion.

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Shaligrama

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The shaligrama is the most sacred stone worshipped by vaishnavas and is used to worship Vishnu in an abstract form (i.e., God without form) as a saligrama. Use of the shaligrama is similar to the use of lingam, an abstract symbol of Shiva. The stone is an ammonite fossil found in river Gandaki (Near Muktinath) in Nepal. According to Hindu tradition this stone is the shelter for a small insect known as vajra-keeta that cuts through the shaligrama stone and stays inside it, in reality the Saligram stones are actually fossils of common ammonites that lived hundreds of million years ago when the Himalayas was an ocean floor.

The marks made by the shell of the ammonite gives the shaligrama a special significance, with the pattern often representing that of Sudarshan Chakra (the Discus of Lord Vishnu).
Shaligrams come in different colors, such as red, blue, yellow, black, greeen. The yellow and blue varities are considered more sacred while the black ones are more common. Shaligrams of different shapes are often associated with different incarnations of Lord Vishnu (such as Narasimha Avatar, Kurma Avatar and so on).
According to vaishnavas the shaligram is the dewelling place of Lord Vishnu and any one who keeps it must worship it daily, he must also adhere to strict rules such as not touching the shaligrama without bathing, never placing the shaligrama on the ground, avoiding non-vaishnavaite (or non-satvic) food and not indulging in bad practices. A broken or damaged shaligrama is not to be worshipped under any circumstance. Lord Krishna himself mentions the qualities of shaligrama to Yudhishtra in Mahabharata.
Not all shaligramas are considered auspicious, some are very sacred, some are even considered to bring bad luck, infamy, disease, while others are considered to bring good luck, money, peace and so on. Therefore care must be taken before obtaining any shaligram for household worship. Temples can use any kind of shaligrams (good or bad) in their rituals.
The place where shaligrama stone is found is itself known by that name and is one of the 108 sacred pilgrimage places for the vaishnavas outside India. In fact such is the auspiciousness of this place that the Puranas mention that any stone from this land is equally sacred to shaligrama.

DASAVATARA

Vaishnava Priest
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