yaḥ pūrvyāya vedhase navīyase
sumaj-jānaye viṣṇave dadāśati ।
yo jātam asya mahato mahi bravat
sed u śravobhir yujyaṃ cid abhy asat ॥ RV 1.156.2
Whoever repeatedly performs rituals to the wise one
to the ancient and the new one, Viṣṇu, along with his consort,
whoever speaks of the great birth of the great [god],
he alone will surpass his peer in glory.
While the aspect of the Viṣṇu as a manly warrior of great might (like as the suppressor of the malignant wolf) is well-expressed in his cognates from more than one branch of the Indo-European tradition (going by extant material), his fertility and erotic aspects are less-known. By the latter, we are not referring to the prominent reflexes of these seen in the Kārṣṇi cult of the Sāttvata branch of the religion but to those pertaining to the form of the deity in the mainstream of the Indo-Aryan religion. These aspects are already alluded to in the Ṛgveda itself. For example, with regard to his role in fertility, we have:
saptārdhagarbhā bhuvanasya reto viṣṇos tiṣṭhanti pradiśā vidharmaṇi । RV1.164.36ab
The seven embryos of the world-hemispheres, the semen of the universe,
stand in the expanding space by the institutes of Viṣṇu.
viṣṇur yoniṃ kalpayatu । RV 10.184.1a
Viṣṇu prepares the womb. (An incantation that is used in the main Hindu fertility ritual of garbhādhāna)
The above mantra-s present the function of Viṣṇu in preparing the womb for the embryos both in the cosmic (in relation to Dyaus and Pṛthivī or the world hemispheres) and the human realms. The god’s famous name Śipiviṣṭa that is used by Vasiṣṭha in RV 7.99 and 7.100 ties together his erotic and fertility aspects. The fertility aspect of Viṣṇu under this name is remembered down to Bhāgavata from the late Paurāṇika stratum, wherein we hear of the brāhmaṇa-s performing a rite for the king of Aṅga to bear a son:
iti vyavasitā viprās tasya rājñaḥ prajātaye ।
puroḍāśaṁ niravapan śipiviṣṭāya viṣṇave ॥ Bh 4.13.35
Having decided thus, the vipra-s offered a cake to Viṣṇu Śipiviṣṭa for the sake of progeny for that king.
Finally, we may also note Viṣṇu’s association with a retinue of consort goddesses in the RV:
viṣṇuṃ stomāsaḥ purudasmam arkā
bhagasyeva kāriṇo yāmani gman ।
urukramaḥ kakuho yasya pūrvīr
na mardhanti yuvatayo janitrīḥ ॥
To Viṣṇu of many marvels the songs and chants
have gone, like singers on the road of Bhaga.
The wide-striding bull whose followers are many [goddesses];
The youthful mother goddesses never forsake him.
In the tāntrika tradition straddling the border of Pāñcarātra and Śaiva sects, the Śipiviṣṭa aspect of Viṣṇu is made explicit in the iconography of his erotic form Māyāvāmana. The erotic aspect of Viṣṇu and Śrī is also inherited by the smārta Śrikula tradition (recorded in the Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa), where a lay devotee couple might recite an incantation to Viṣṇu and his consort Śrī so that their coitus might become an act of kaula offering. The existence of a now extinct vaiṣṇava tāntrika tradition with erotic rituals paralleling those of the śaiva yāmala tantra-s and bauddha-s of the vajrayāna stream is indicated by the bauddha commentator Ānandagarbha, who in his commentary on the Guhyasamāja-tantra tries to explain why the Buddha expounded this tantra while in coitus with the Buddha-yoṣit-s. He remarkably states that this was done to draw away the worshipers of Viṣṇu to the bauddha-mata. He goes on to state those vaiṣṇava-s worshiped Viṣṇu (the etymologies he provides makes it clear that he is not referring to a Kārṣṇi cult) via erotic pleasure-giving rituals. Thus it appears that the bauddha-s were themselves mimicking a tāntrika vaiṣṇava tradition and trying to justify their own rituals within a “conversion” framework.
Reflexes of the ancient erotic aspect of Viṣṇu also find considerable expression in classical kāvya. In the rest of this note, we provide some examples culled from various anthologies where Śrī or Viṣṇu are invoked in the context of their erotic sports.
kiñjalka-rājir iva nīla-saroja-lagnā
lekheva kāñcana-mayī nikaṣopala-sthā
saudāminī jalada-maṇḍala-gāminīva ।
pāyād uraḥ sthala-gatā kamalā murāreḥ ॥ (Vasantatilakā)
Like an array of pistils clinging to a blue waterlily,
like the streaks of gold marking a touchstone,
like lightning flashing against a mass of rain clouds,
May Kamalā lying on the chest of Murāri protect us.
kiṃ yuktaṃ bata mām ananya-manasaṃ vakṣaḥ-sthala-sthāyinīṃ
bhaktām apy avadhūya kartum adhunā kāntā-sahasraṃ tava ।
ity uktvā phaṇa-bhṛt-phaṇā-maṇi-gatāṃ svām eva matvā tanuṃ
nidrāc chedakaraṃ harer avatu vo lakṣmyā vilakṣa-smitam ॥ (Śārdūlavikrīḍita; attributed to Bhāsa)
“Why, alas, is it appropriate that, abandoning me who single-mindedly lies on your chest
full of attachment, you now take a thousand others as your wives?”
She said so, taking the [reflections] of her own body in the gems borne on the serpent’s hoods.
May that embarrassed smile of Lakṣmī that broke the sleep of Hari protect you!
This verse potentially plays on the multiplicity of consorts, already alluded to in the RV, being reflections of the singular Śrī.
keli-calāṅguli-lambhita-lakṣmī-nābhir-mura-dviṣaś caraṇaḥ ।
sa jayati yena kṛtā śrīr anurūpā padmanābhasya ॥ (Āryā)
The toe of the foot of Mura’s foe playfully tickled the navel of Lakṣmī;
victorious is that which makes Śrī a suitable wife of lotus-naveled one.
Here a pun is played on Viṣṇu being Padmanābha — lotus-naveled — and also having lotus feet. By tickling Śrī on her navel with his toe, he has also made her “Padmanābhā” and thereby a suitable female counterpart of his.
kaca-kuca-cubukāgre pāṇiṣu vyāpṛteṣu
prathama-jaladhi-putrī-saṃgame .anaṅga-dhāmni ।
caturādhika-karāśaḥ pātu vaś cakra-pāṇiḥ ॥ (Mālinī)
With her hair, breasts and chin-tip engaged in his hands,
in the first erotic congress with the ocean’s daughter,
may the wheel-bearer wishing for more arms than four,
for untying the tightly fastened knot of her skirt, protect you!
uttiṣṭhantyā ratānte bharam uraga-patau pāṇinaikena kṛtvā
dhṛtvā cānyena vāso vigalita-kabarī-bhāram aṃśaṃ vahantyāḥ ।
bhūyas tat-kāla-kānti-dviguṇita-surata-prītinā śauriṇā vaḥ
śayyām ālambya nītaṃ vapur alasa-lasad-bāhu lakṣmyāḥ punātu ॥
(Sragdharā; attributed to Vararuci)
Raising herself at the end of coition by holding on to the serpent-lord with one hand,
bearing her garment in the other, with her mass of heavy disheveled tresses on her shoulder
But again, with the beauty of her form doubling his desire for love, Śaurin pulls her back
to the couch. May the body of Lakṣmī with her indolently embracing arms purify you.
lakṣmyāḥ keśa-prasava-rajasāṃ bindubhiḥ sāndra-pātair
udvarṇa-śrīr ghana-nidhuvana-klānti-nidrāntareṣu ।
dor-daṇḍo ‘sau jayati jayinaḥ śārṅgiṇo mandarādri-
grāva-śreṇi-nikaṣam asṛṇa-kṣuṇṇa-keyūra-patraḥ ॥ (Mandākrāntā, attributed to certain śrī Bhagīratha)
With the droplets of pollen falling thickly from the flowers in Lakṣmī’s hair,
brightly decorating it as he wearily sleeps in between intense erotic sports [with her],
may that cudgel-like arm of the conquering wielder of the Śārṅga bow, be victorious,
for whose irresistible polished armband the rocky array of mount Mandara was the touchstone.
The above is an allusion to the incarnation of Viṣṇu as the gigantic turtle bearing the axial Mandara mountain during the churning of the ocean.