Vishnu is the second of the gods triad in the Hindu theology and the middle one in between Brahma, the creator and Shiva, the destroyer. Vishnu is also called as Mahavishnu and is regarded as the protector or caretaker of the universe and all those created. Lakshmi or who is also popularly called as Mahalakshmi is the consort of Vishnu. Vishnu is shown in pictures in several forms in sitting, standing and reclining poses. Mahavishnu emanates from the Hiranyagarbha, the primordial energy and in turn gives rise to Brahma out of a lotus that stems from his naval. Being seated in that white lotus, Brahma attends to creation and Vishnu in turn takes care of all those created till the time of dissolution.
Mahavishnu is shown to be reclining on the coiled snake bed offered by Adisesha, the five hooded snake. Mahalakshmi found seated at his foot in folded arms reverentially worshiping him. As he is reclining, he listens to the celestial music sung by Narada and Tumburu, the great singers. Standing around him are found the other two gods of the triad Brahma and Shiva and all other gods. This set up is called as Vaikuntha, the supreme abode of bliss and serenity. The typical set up of Vaikuntha replicates the ruler of the universe wherein so lovingly the emperor namely Mahavishnu takes care of the created universe attending to all the issues and chores pertaining to managing the universe. This royal court of Vaikunta is replicated in stone image in some renowned temples like Srirangam.
Mahalakshmi is depicted in eight forms namely Adilakshmi (the first born), Gajalakshmi (the one adored by elephants), Dhairyalakshmi (the one bestowing courage), Santanalakshmi (one who gives progeny), Dhanalakshmi (giver of wealth), Dhanyalakshmi (one who blesses with abundant crops), Vidhyalakshmi (one who gives wisdom), Vijayalakshmi (one who gives victory). Mahalakshmi is seated on a pink lotus. She carries in her palm lotuses that signify her devotion for Lord Mahavishnu. In many images, Mahalakshmi is also shown holding a pot of gold showering coins from it for those who seek to be blessed by wealth.
Together Mahavishnu and Mahalakshmi possess all the attributes that are essential to protect and nurture the world. Mahavishnu in most images is shown with four arms with the upper two arms carrying Shankha (conch) and Chakra (disc) the lower two arms carrying a Lotus and Gada (mace). In discharging his role as the protector of the universe, Mahavishnu often descends on this earth to protect the noble and destroy the wicked. These manifestations are called Avatars numbering ten as listed in the Puranas namely Matsya (fish form), Kurma (tortoise form), Varaha (the wild boar form), Narasimha (the lion form), Vamana (the short Brahmin child form who later assumed a huge form to measure the universe), Parashurama (the one with an axe destroying the unruly kings), Rama (the prince of Ayodhya who killed demons and the demonic king Ravan), Krishna (the charming one who killed many demons including Kamsa and Sishupala and who helped Pandavas regain their rightful empire) , Balarama (the one with a plough and the brother of Krishna), and Kalki (the one who will come at the end of this Kali age and destroy the universe). Lord Krishna stated the essence of Avatars in The Bhagavad Gita, the scripture taught to Arjuna, “I manifest myself in myriad forms to protect the righteous and punish the wicked and restore Dharma or stability on this earth as and when necessary.”