According to the entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Vishnu is
one of the principal Hindu deities, worshipped as the protector and preserver of the world and restorer of dharma (moral order). Vishnu, like Shiva (the other major god of Hinduism), is a syncretic personality who combines many lesser cult figures and local heroes. He is known chiefly through his avatars (incarnations), particularly Rama and Krishna.
In theory, Vishnu manifests a portion of himself anytime he is needed to fight evil, and his appearances are innumerable; but in practice, 10 are most commonly recognized (see avatar) . . . On his chest is the curl of hair known as the shrivatsa mark, a sign of his immortality, and around his neck he wears the auspicious jewel Kaustubha. In painting, Vishnu is usually shown as dark complexioned, a distinguishing feature also of his incarnations...Vishnu's mount is the bird Garuda; his heavenly abode is called Vaikuntha. Among the 1,000 names of Vishnu (repeated as an act of devotion by his worshipers) are Vasudeva, Narayana, and Hari."
Carlyle's depiction of Vishnu is decidedly negative as he makes the god one of the chief symbols of evil in "Hudson's Statue." Vishnu represents the religious dissenters of England, particularly in reference to the idolatrous images created by the wealthy British. Carlyle seems to feel that the irreverence shown by the building of statues of men such as Hudson, whom he clearly demonstrates his dislike for, constitutes a beginning of the end of the world. He writes, "now when the universal Hudson ragnarok, or 'twilight of the gods,' has arrived, and it is too clear no statue or cast-metal image of that Incarnation of the English Vishnu will ever be molten now!" The statue of Hudson, and in turn Vishnu, represents all the false monuments created in honor of many historical figures. The author writes, "The practical English mind has its own notions as to supreme excellence; knows the real from the spurious Avatar of Vishnu."
Carlyle's choice of Vishnu as the chief representative of falseness brings his discussion of art to a religious preaching. Though the Hindu religion believes Vishnu to battle evil whenever needed, Carlyle equates him with it. The author seems to link irreverent art as a symbol of impiety in England. He asks, "Why chant divine psalms which belonged to a different Dispensation, and are now become idle and far worse? Not melodious to me, such a chant...your miserable 'religion,' as you call it, is an idolatry of Mumbojumbo, and I would advise you to discontinue it rather." Carlyle's concern over meaningless art, created with no real respect for those being honored, extends to his feeling of lost faith arising in his society. Therefore, he sees Vishnu, a major god from a different religion, as a representative of the danger of falseness in society threatening the world's very existence.
Last modified 23 October 2002