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Most people only know of occasions in which two different incarnations of Vishnu met, for instance the encounter of Rama and Parashurama as described in the Bala Kanda of the Ramayana. What is not as well known, however, is that Vishnu's incarnation Krishna once met Vishnu himself! The story is described in both the Harivamsa and the Srimad Bhagavatam.

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Once when Arjuna was visiting Dwaraka, he saw a Brahmana complain that all his sons were dying as soon as they were born. So Arjuna offered to stand guard and prevent any more of his children from being taken away by Yama god of death. But when the next child was born, it magically floated up into the sky. Arjuna was baffled by this, and he asked for Krishna's help in retrieving the Brahmana's sons from the afterlife. Krishna obliged and took Arjuna in his chariot. They left the realms of Man until they came to a region of darkness. Krishna cut through the darkness with the illumination of his Sudarshana Chakra, and soon they entered the brilliance of Brahman, after which they finally encountered Vishnu himself. Vishnu explained that he was the one who took away the Brahmin's sons, just to get Krishna and Arjuna to come there, as they were the next births of his incarnation Narayana and his twin brother Nara (whom I discuss here and here). Finally Krishna and Arjuna returned to Dwaraka with the Brahmana's sons restored to life.

But my question isn't about the story of how they met Vishnu, but rather about how Vishnu looked. Here is how the Srimad Bhagavatam describes him:

Arjuna then saw the omnipresent and omnipotent Supreme Personality of Godhead, Mahā-Viṣṇu, sitting at ease on the serpent bed. His bluish complexion was the color of a dense rain cloud, He wore a beautiful yellow garment, His face looked charming, His broad eyes were most attractive, and He had eight long, handsome arms. His profuse locks of hair were bathed on all sides in the brilliance reflected from the clusters of precious jewels decorating His crown and earrings. He wore the Kaustubha gem, the mark of Śrīvatsa and a garland of forest flowers. Serving that topmost of all Lords were His personal attendants, headed by Sunanda and Nanda; His cakra and other weapons in their personified forms; His consort potencies Puṣṭi, Śrī, Kīrti and Ajā; and all His various mystic powers.

My question is, why is Vishnu described as having eight arms? He is usually described in Hindu scripture as having four arms, not eight.

Is this one of Vishnu's manifestations, like the famous Vyuha forms of Vishnu discussed in Pancharatra texts? Are there any other scriptures that describe an eight-armed form of Vishnu?

EDIT: I found another verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam that mentions Vishnu having eight arms. It's from the Narayana Kavacham, a famous prayer to Vishnu that I discuss in this answer:

The Supreme Lord, who sits on the back of the bird Garuḍa, touching him with His lotus feet, holds eight weapons — the conchshell, disc, shield, sword, club, arrows, bow and ropes. May that Supreme Personality of Godhead protect me at all times with His eight arms. He is all-powerful because He fully possesses the eight mystic powers.

  • Keshav, what about His Vishwa viraat swaroop. I think it had also had 8 or more arms. – Aby Mar 10 '15 at 7:23
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    @Aby Well, the Vishwaroopa is a Sahasrashirsha form of Vishnu, the kind of form described in the Purusha Sukta and in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata; see my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6534/36 So the Vishwarupa would have 1000 arms, whereas here Vishnu is described as only having eight. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 10 '15 at 12:56
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    Hi Keshav, This is because I am very poor at understanding this question, but could you explain, why shouldn't he have eight arms? Why is it such a surprise He can have as many arms as He wants isn't it? He is God!! He is not limited to any one particular form. Is it like Sri Vishnu always has only four arms or thousand. Nothing in between? Thanks – Sai Mar 10 '15 at 16:56
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    @Creator Sahasraksha means a thousand eyes, from Sahasra meaning 1000 and Aksha meaning eye. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 10 '15 at 19:03
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    @Sai Yes, of course Vishnu is omnipotent, so he can assume any form he likes. But he has some established forms that he generally uses for specific purposes. Like he assumes the thousand-armed Aniruddha form when he gives birth to Brahma, as I discuss in this question: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6534/36 And in Vaikuntha he generally has his natural four-armed form. So it just seems odd that in this instance he would choose to give himself eight arms, unless that's an established form that I'm not aware of. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 10 '15 at 19:12
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Why Lord Vishnu had eight arms? Well, being the supreme Lord can have 2,4,8,32,... thousands of hands.

There is temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu (one of the 108 divya desams) in Kanchi, where Lord Vishnu is called Astabhujar, the Lord having eight arms. The Sthala purana says, He took this form to subdue and control Goddess Kali who on instigation by Saraswati was keen to disturb Lord Brahma's Yagna.

Lord first protected the Yagna performed by Brahma, from the wrath of saraswati, by obstructing the flow of goddess saraswati in the form of Vegavati river (another Divya Desam called Yathokthakari temple)

Next, when, goddess Sarawati out of frustation, sent Goddess Kali to disturb Lord Brahma's Yagna. Lord Vishnu took the eight handed form and subdued Goddess Kali and also a few other creatures and demons sent by saraswati, thereby protected the yagna of Lord Brahma.

Once Brahma completed the yagna, successfully, due to the grace of Lord Vishnu, Lord Vishnu himself emerged as Lord Varadaraja (the famous temple of kanchi)

Also, there many famous temples where Lord Narasimha has 16, 32 etc arms.

The page here provides more details.

  • Yeah, of course Vishnu can have as many hands as he wants to. But does the fact that he assumed an eight-armed form when he fought Kali have any relation to him having an eight-armed form when Krishna and Arjuna saw him? Are there any scriptures that describe Vishnu having an eight-armed form in Vaikuntha? – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 28 '15 at 17:56
  • By the way, the Wikipedia article said that Saraswati sent a snake, not Kali, although of course Kali could have turned into a snake: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashtabujakaram – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 28 '15 at 17:58
  • @Keshav - Well, it was goddess Kali for sure. Maybe she also sent some snake, i am not sure. But, Goddess Kali i am pretty sure. Now, coming any relation ship between the eight handed form in Vaikuntha and defeating Kali, i am not sure. Maybe some well versed Srivaishnavas might explain? Now, it is not Paramapadam or Sri Vaikuntam which was visited by Lord Krishna and Arjuna, It should be considered as Kshree sagaram or Sveta dweepam where Lord reclines on Adisesha. – user808 Mar 28 '15 at 18:10
  • @Keshav - Because, whereever Lord Vishnu is, that place in general is called Vaikuntha. e.g. Tirumala, SriRangam etc are considered bhu loka vaikuntam. But, it is not the Paramapada-Vaikuntham where the Supreme Para-Vasudeva resides with all his infinite paraphernalia. – user808 Mar 28 '15 at 18:11
  • If you're in contact with some well-versed Sri Vaishnavas, I'd appreciate if you could ask them. Anyway, I wasn't aware that the ocean of milk is lower than Parama Pada. I think in U. Ve. Velukuddi Krishnan's Upanyasams, he says that Vaikuntha is a city, within which there is a palace called Paramapadam, and within the palace is Thiruparkadal. In any case, if you're correct, what form does Para Vasudeva have in Paramapadam? Does he also recline on a serpent? That's how it's depicted here: srivaishnavam.com/divyadesam108/virtualtour/vt_paramapadam1.htm – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 28 '15 at 18:19
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Krishna is considered avatar of Vishnu. Vishnu is personal expansion of Mahavishnu for our brahmanda.

As your text mentions, krishna met Mahavishnu (not vishnu). Mahavishnu sometimes depicted as the one with eight arms. There is one such depiction in Angkor Wat in cambodia.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g297390-d317907-i49783251-Angkor_Wat-Siem_Reap_Siem_Reap_Province.html

  • First of all, that statue is labeled in a diffeerent photo as simply Vishnu rather than Mahavishnu: tripadvisor.com/… But more importantly, you should cite sources for your claims. The whole point of my question was to find whether this eight-armed form is discussed in Hindu scripture. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 11 '15 at 0:41
  • And in any case, the doctrine you're talking about, where there is a being called Mahavishnu and then he generates beings called Kshirodakshayi Vishnu in each Brahmanda, is a doctrine unique to Gaudiya Vaishnavism. (And I don't think Gaudiya Vaishnavas say that Mahavishnu has eight arms either.) Again, I'm looking for what Hindu scripture says on the subject. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 11 '15 at 0:45
  • Are you saying that concept of mahavishnu does not have scriptural backing in traditional hindu texts(Before Chaitanya)? . I thought mahavishnu and brahman both are same. I never said that , I have scriptural quotes to back my answer. What I quoted was merely my observation. Most of people dont know the difference between Mahavishnu and vishnu. They use it interchangeably. Angkor wat vishnu temple is always referred as mahavishnu temple – tekkk Mar 11 '15 at 0:59
  • The concept where there's a Vishnu who's limited to our Brahmanda and then there is a Mahavishnu from whom he arises is all specific to Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The things that are there in Hindu scripture are the distinctions made in Pancharatra: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancharatra#Divine_Manifestation So you have a figure called Para Vasudeva, then you have the Vyuha expansions known as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha (not to be confused with Krishna's family members). See this chapter of the Shanti Parva for more information: sacred-texts.com/hin/m12/m12c039.htm – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 11 '15 at 1:48
  • My answer here should clarify things: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/6923/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 23 '15 at 17:34
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Has not LORD KRSNA says Arjuna in SRIBHAGVAD GITA And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still My Self is the very source of creation.

Chant HARE KRSNA and be Happy.

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SrimanNarayana is the supreme Parabrahman who transcends names, forms, time and space. The thousand holy names of the Lord signifying His attributes pastimes (leelas) and incarnations were revealed to great seers of pauranic antiquity and was compiled into the great malamantra of Vishnusahasranama by Bhagavan Vyasa which was revealed by paramabhagavatottama Bhishma to Dharmanandana Yudhishthira. The suprapersonal Purushottama has assumed and revealed various divine forms(leelavigrahas) for the gratification and pleasure of great rishis and upasakas which were explained in great detail in agamas and hymns by them for the benefit of other devotees. The embellishments (alankaras), number of arms and face(s), form of face(human or otherwise), weapons(ayudhas) etc adorning the Lord are governed by the contemplation (bhavana) of upasakas. Apart from the dhyana of Narayanakavacha, a great many instances when the Lord appeared in his eight armed form are seen in the srimadbhagavatha mahapurana (eg. when the Lord appeared in front of Brahma, Rudra and deva-rishiganas at the end of Dakshayaga(fourth skandha), when the Lord appeared to Prachetasas (fourth skandha) and to Prachetasa Daksha(sixth skandha), when the Lord appeared and defeated the asuras at the end of ksheerasagara mathana(eighth skandha) and of-course when SriKrishna Paramatma and Arjuna visited him in Ksheerabdhi alias Shvetadvipa which is also known as karya Vaikuntha, situated at the summit of the brahmanda. This is the abode of the Lord visited by divinities and Rishis to supplicate the lord and to entreat his succour.This was the Bhagavalloka which was revealed to Brahma at the beginning of kalpa(second skandha) and also the loka visited by Sanakadirishis, where they encountered the dwarapalakas Jaya and Vijaya(Third skandha). This loka is also described in the panchamaskandha of srimadbhagavatha mahapurana as existing beyond the lokaloka mountain (the boundary between spiritual and temporal worlds). This loka is quite distinct from mahaVaikuntha or karanaVaikuntha or Paramapada which is inconcievable,indescribable and inaccessible even to Brahma and other exalted divinities). The difference between mahaVaikuntha and karyaVaikuntha is highlighted in narayaneeyam of melputtur bhattathiri also. Thus the leelamurthis of almighty AdiNarayana are legion and each may still be accessed through selfless bhakti and upasana(and purvajanmapunya) by pure devotees.

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    Please cite sources for your answer. Also, copy paste answers are discouraged. – Vineet Menon Jan 27 '16 at 6:52
  • If you would kindly go through the passage you can see that the sources for the material have been duly cited.If you are familiar with the srimadbhagavatha mahapurana, you may refer the episodes detailed in the particular skandhas that I have referred to in the passage and corroborate.As a matter of fact, I am also not favourably disposed towards copy and paste tendency.I am a tad surprised that you got such an idea at all.I would be much obliged if you would kindly substantiate your surmise. – Dr.Prasanth kumar s Jan 28 '16 at 4:38
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    By sources, I meant web references which can be checked by the reader. There are tons of sources which you can link up in your answer, both translated or in original text. I thought your answer was copied because of the poor formatting. If not, I would encourage you to re-format the answer so as to make it more readable. – Vineet Menon Jan 28 '16 at 6:13
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    @Dr.Prasanthkumars Please see help center here on how to format your answers (or questions) so more readers can read and upvote them. – sv. Jan 28 '16 at 7:02
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In various places in Srimad Bhagavatam Vishnu is described as eight armed, not the usual four armed figure we generally see in pictures. [Please refer to the descriptions in the Third, Fourth, Sixth and Eighth Cantos of Srimad Baghavad Mahapurana].

Why should Mahavishnu take on an eight armed form. While no direct answer is available in either Srimad Baghavad Mahapurana or Harivamsa, from various scenarios described in Srimad Baghavad Mahapurana a conclusion can be drawn that this is to distinguish the Lord from all his other devotees - Jaya and Vijaya the dwarapalas of the Third Gate of Vaikunta, the Vishnudhootas who reached to claim Ajamila as their own for journey to Vaikunta, etc are described as dark hued, four armed with the conch, discus and mace and clad in Peetamber - the yellow silken dhoti - appearing in the form of Vishnu leading to a logical conclusion that all denizens of Vaikunta are so endowed, and so to distinguish the Supreme Lord He assumes an Eight Armed Form.

This answer may also be treated as an opinion, but appears to be justified because of descriptions in the Puranas.

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