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As you can see in the Rig Veda Anukramani I provided in my answer here, Book 1 Hymn 154 of the Rig Veda is addressed to Vishnu. Here is one of the verses from that hymn:

  1. Let the hymn lift itself as strength to Viṣṇu, the Bull far-striding, dwelling on the mountains, Him who alone with triple step hath measured this common dwelling-place, long, far extended.

The "triple step" part is presumably a reference to Vishnu's incarnation as Vamana the dwarf. But my question is, why is Vishnu referred to in this hymn as a bull? Vishnu has taken numerous incarnations, but I'm not familiar with any bull incarnation.

The only other time I know of where Vishnu has been referred to as a bull is in the Yuddha Kanda of the Ramayana, where Brahma reveals to Rama who he really is and tells him about the various incarnations of Vishnu, as I discuss in this question. In the course of doing that, Brahma says this: "In the form of the Vedas, you are the great Bull with hundred heads (rules) and thousand horns (precepts)." Is that a reference to the same bull?

Are there any other scriptures which refer to Vishnu as a bull or describe a bull incarnation of Vishnu?

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    Post the sanskrit verse if possible. In general, vedas are likened with mountains (giri) and dharma is likened to a bull. So the dharma pervading and encapsulated by the veda is a representation of the lord.
    – user1195
    Nov 27, 2017 at 17:22

2 Answers 2

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Yes Vishnu had taken the form of a mighty bull to save the Shiva along with Bramha as charioteer, during the fight with Tripurasura.

When Shiva is about to engage in fighting tripurasura, the chariot he was riding fell down and Shiva was defeated and neither siva nor bramha were able to pull it up. Then looking at the despondency of the devathas, the Supreme Lord Vishnu took the bull form and lifted the chariot carrying both siva and bramha by the horns and made a mighty sound.

Just by the sound of the Lord Vishnu in the Bull form the demons become terrified..This is incident which is mentioned in HariVamsa purana and Matsya purana..

Here are excerpts, Sanskrit version of Hari Vamsa purana

tato madhye divyashabdaH prAdurAsInmahIpate |
R^iShINAM brahmaputrANAM mahatAmapi bhArata ||3-133-62
sa eSha sha~NkarasyAgre ratho bhUmiM pratiShThitaH |
ajeyo jayyatAM prAptaH sarvalokasya pashyataH ||3-133-63

O king! As Shiva was thus fighting the tripurAsuras, a loud noise came from the sky. In front of Maharishis, who are sons of Brahma, and Shankara, the chariot fell to the ground. In this manner, Lord Shiva, who is known to be undefeatable, was defeated in front of the whole universe to see.

tasminnipatite rAjanrathAnAM pravare rathe |
nipetuH sarvabhUtAni bhUtale vasudhAdhipa ||3-133-64
vicheluH parvatAgrANi chelushchaiva mahAdrumAH |
vichukShubhuH samudrAshcha na rejushcha disho dasha ||3-133-65

Along with that best chariot of chariots, all the living entities fell down to the earth. Due to the impact of this fall, even great mountains and biggest of trees swayed; oceans got agitated; and there was no light in the horizons of any of the ten directions.

vR^iddhAshcha brAhmaNAstatra jepushcha paramaM japam |
yattadbrahmamayaM tejaH sarvatra vijayaiShiNAm ||3-133-66
shAntyarthaM sarvabhUtAnAmiha loke paratra cha |
samAdhAyAtmanA.a.atmAnaM yogaprAptena hetunA ||3-133-67
rathantareNa sAmnAtha brahmabhUtena bhArata |
tejasA jvalayanviShNostryakShasya cha mahAtmanaH ||3-133-68
sarveShAM chaiva devAnAM balinAM kAmarUpiNAm |
R^iShINAM tapasA.a.aDhyAnAM vasatAM vijane vane ||3-133-69

Mature (in knowledge, conduct, austerity, and splendor) brAhmaNas, at this juncture, performed a great japa, directed towards tEjas, which is of the form of brahmam. They, wishing victory (for the Devas), and wishing tranquility for all beings in this world and the next, with their yogic prowess and in their minds, worshiped the Supreme. (As a result of such worship), they - the wishful Devas, and the Rishis who perform austerities in secluded forests - made the divine tEjas of Vishnu shine inside the powerful three-eyed lord.

atha viShNurmahAyogI sarvatodR^ishya tattvataH |
vR^iSharUpaM samAsthAya projjahAra rathottamam||3-133-70
samAkrAntaM devagaNaiH samagrabalapauruShaiH |
balavAMstolayitvA tu viShANAbhyAM mahAbalaH |
nanAda prANayogena mathyamAna ivArnavaH ||3-133-71
tR^itIyaM vAyuviShayaM samAkramya viShANavAn |
nanAda balavAnnAdaM samudra iva parvaNi ||3-133-72
tato nAdena vitrastA daiteyA yuddhadurmadAH |
punaste kR^itasannAhA yuyudhuH sumahAbalAH ||3-133-73

Then, Lord Vishnu, whose form is transcendental (aprAkRta), unseen by anyone, assumed the form of a Bull. With that form, He lifted up that chariot, which is unequal in power, surrounded by hordes of Devas. He (Lord Vishnu) of magnificent prowess, bearing the chariot with his horns, controlling with His breath (prANayOga), made a sound as if to churn up the ocean. Just by the sound of the One with great potency, which sounded like the ocean during parva time (full moon?), the demons, who were (until then) ferocious by their desire for war, became very afraid.

then, the description of Shiva destroying the Tripura with the arrows comes. At the end of this chapter, the following is said:

hate cha tripure devairvAcho harShAtkileritAH |
sarvA~njahIti shatrUMstvaM pravR^idhdAnpuruShottama ||3-133-82
viShNureva mahayogI yogena prasmayanniva |
stUyate brahmasadR^ishairR^iShibhiH sha~NkareNa cha |
brahmaNA sahitairdevaiH saMpannabalapauruShaiH ||3-133-83

After the three cities were destroyed thus, the following words were spoken by the Devas, in their delight: "Our dear Purushottama! May you destroy all the enemies who have become great (in might)!". Thus praised, Vishnu, who is mahAyOgI, and who is always smiling due to his Yoga, alone is (fit to be) worshipped by (i) Rishis who are comparable to Brahma, (ii) Shankara, and (iii) other Devas who are possessed of various powers, along with (iv) Brahma.

-Here are the reference from Mahabharata Karna Parva

In consequence, however, of the pressure caused by the weight of Soma, Agni, and Vishnu that were in that shaft, as also of the pressure caused by the weight of Brahman and Rudra and the latter's bow, that car seemed to sink. Then Narayana, issuing out of the point of that shaft, assumed the form of a bull and raised that large car. (MahAbHArata, Karna Parva, Chapter 34)

Refer here for more details on Sanskrit verses.

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    Vishnu being a bull in later scriptures doesn't answer the question why he is called a bull in the rig veda. the answer from user808 is only a hate-rant against Siva.
    – S K
    Nov 27, 2017 at 17:03
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    Well, @SK this user has deleted his account. Saying anything to him is like saying to a dead body. :P Nov 27, 2017 at 17:05
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    Wow thats a nice find! Oct 3, 2018 at 16:34
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    Never heard this before this is nice information!
    – Viraj
    Sep 19, 2019 at 7:15
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* From the Puranic Point Of View.:

  • Lord Vishnu as Bull.

During the Tripura Dahan episode, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a bull to stabilize the chariot made of Sun, Moon, Seshnaag, etc which couldn't handle the the weight of Bhagawan Shiva.

Sri Linga Purana 1.72.:

28-31. Eulogised by the sages and saluted by the bards the shining splendid lord, the bestower of boons occupied the chariot glancing at the charioteer. The groups of Apsarases, skilled in dancing, danced in his presence (to honour him). When he got into the chariot, evolved out of the different material, the horse originating from the Vedas fell headlong over the earth. The lord Dharaṇīdhara (uplifter of the earth i.e., Viṣṇu), assuming the form of a leading bull lifted up the chariot for a while and tried to stabilise it. But at the next moment even that leading bull slipped down to the earth on his knees.

  • As a Mountain Dweller.:

Then after the destruction of Tripuras, in the same chapter only, Lord Vishnu asked the boon to be Bhagawan Shiva's Vahan. Which he granted happily.

  1. Lord Viṣṇu also bowed down to Maheśvara. Joining his palms together in reverence he said thus to the three-eyed lord accompanied by Umā.

174-175. “O lord, be pleased with me. O lord of Devas, obeisance be to you. I perpetually desire to be your vehicle. I wish for your devotion as well as my efficiency to bear you. O Śankara, the bestower of boons, I wish for omniscience and all-pervasiveness.

Sūta said:

On hearing their submission Parameśvara, Mahādeva, Bhava engaged them respectively in charioteership and the position of vehicle.

Again,

Sri Padma Puran 6.71.195b-196a,197a.:

He is Nārāyaṇa. He is the vechicle of Śankara in the form of a goat. He is the guard of Śiva (Kailāsa) in the form of a goat (mesha/rama).

...

He has Śivā (i.e. Pārvatī) mounted upon him.

So, as Lord Rudra's Gana, he dwells on Mountain.

* From The Vedic/Yogic Point Of View.:

Mata Uma = Lord Vishnu.

Rudra Hridaya Upanishad.:

Rudra is the embodiment of all Devas. All devas are merely different manifestations of Sri Rudra Himself. On the right side of Rudra, there is the sun, then the four-headed Brahma, and then three Agnis (fires). On the left side, there exist Sri Umadevi, and also Vishnu and Soma (moon). (Rudra hridhaya upanishad).

Uma Herself is the form of Vishnu. Vishnu Himself is the form of the moon. Therefore, those who worship Lord Vishnu, worship Siva Himself. And those who worship Siva, worship Lord Vishnu. Those who envy and hate Sri Rudra, are actually hating Sri Vishnu. Those who decry Lord Siva, decry Vishnu Himself. (Rudra hridhaya upanishad).

Rudra is the generator of the seed. Vishnu is the embryo of the seed. Siva Himself is Brahma and Brahma Himself is Agni. Rudra is full of Brahma and Vishnu. The whole world is full of Agni and Soma. The masculine gender is Lord Siva. The feminine gender is Sri Bhavani Devi. All the mobile and immobile creation of this universe, is filled up with Uma and Rudra. The Vyakta is Sri Uma, and the Avyakta is Lord Siva. (Rudra hridaya upanishad).

  • Being a Bull.:

As a Nourisher, Lord Vishnu is generally considered as a Cow, as Mother Cow nourishes us with her milk and milk products.

Atharva Veda X:10:30-32.:

“The Cow is Heaven, the Cow is Earth, the Cow is Vishnu, Lord of Life. The Sādhyas and the Vasus have drunk the out-pourings of the Cow. When these, Sādhyas and Vasus, have drunk the out-pourings of the Cow, They in the Bright One's dwelling-place pay adoration to her milk. For Soma some have milked her: some worship the fatness she hath poured. They who have given a cow to him who hath this knowledge have gone up to the THIRD region of the sky”.

RV 2.1.3.:

"Hero of Heroes, Agni! Thou art Indra, thou art Viṣṇu of the Mighty Stride, adorable: Thou, Brahmaṇaspati, the Brahman finding wealth: thou, O Sustainer, with thy wisdom tendest us".

Rig Veda 10:5:7.:

Agni, our first-born of Holy Order, the Milch-cow and the Bull in life's beginning”.

Shatapatha Brahmana 1:7:3:8.:

“That (offering) then is certainly made to 'Agni,' for, indeed, Agni is THAT god;--his are these names: Sarva, as the eastern people call him; Bhava, as the Bâhîkas (call him); Pasûnâm pati ('lord of beasts,' Pasupati), Rudra, Agni. The name Agni, doubtless, is the most peaceful, and the other names of his are not peaceful: hence it is offered to (him under the name of) 'Agni,' and to (him as) the Svishtakrit”.

Mahabharata 13:14:157.:

“Among all domestic animals, thou (Rudra) art the bull that is worshipped by all people”.

So, though normally, Vishnu/Uma is Cow and as being Rudra in Ardhanarishwara form he is also Bull.

  • Mountain Dweller.:

Our Spine is called Mount Meru or Meru Danda.:

Uttara Gita 2:13.:

Like the backbone of a Veena, or harp, the long tract of bone with many joints that stretches from the seat right up to the head of a human being is called the Meru-Danda (spinal cord). There is a minute aperture or hole that passes right through this Meru-Danda from the Muladhara to the head; it is through this hole that there passes a Nadi which the yogis called the Brahma-Nadi or Susumna”.

Narayana Suktam verse(s) 12.: Taittiriya Aranyaka 10.13.2.12.:

"Paramatman dwells in the middle of that flame (Sushuma Nādi). (Although He is thus limited) still He (Narayana) is the four-faced creator Brahmā, Siva, Hari (Vishnu), Indra, the material and efficient cause of the Universe and the Supreme Self-luminous Pure Consciousness".

Kalika Upanishad.:

At the base of the root one should remember the divine triangle, the treasure of all effulgence. She brings the crest of the fire (Sushuma Nādi) upward. She is shining like a lightning bolt in the middle of a blue cloud. She is as slender as a nīvāra parrot and yellow like a shining atom. The Supreme Soul is situated in the middle of that crest (Sushuma Nādi), That is Brahma, that is Shiva, that is Indra, that is imperishable Supreme Self, That is very same Viṣṇu, that same is life-force that same is time, that same is fire, that same is moon. One who thus meditates on the Kundalini is thus freed from all the sins.

So, Vishnu/Uma dwells in Mountain/Spine as Kundalini to reach Rudra in Sahasrara.

I hope this clarifies all your queries. Prd..

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