The next “face of Vishnu” is not necessarily a “face of Vishnu” at all, though He is considered to be an avatar of either Mahavishnu or Narayana, depending on who you ask. As such, He is said to “hold up the earth on His head(s). He is Adishesha, also known as Ananta, or Sheshanaga.
Adishesha is the King of the Serpents upon which Vishnu rests in His eternal abode in the Garbhodaka ocean at the depths of the Universe. Most of the literature about Adishesha is in the Puranas and the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Adishesha is a servant of Vishnu, and a most trusted, loyal friend of Vishnu, very much like Balarama was to Krishna. Recall that though living in the very same time and place as Bhagavan Krishna, Balarama is an expansion of Krishna. Similarly, Adishesha is considered to be an expansion of Balarama. An avatar of Narayana/Mahavishnu, an expansion of Balarama.
The snake is a common theme in Hinduism, from the Kundalini coil representing creative energy that I associate with Saraswati, rising up the chakras, to the snake which is really a rope representing Maya, the snakes upon Lord Shiva’s arms, neck and head. The snake’s association with the chakras is believed by many to be present in the Western symbols for medicine, by the way: see “Rod of Asclepius” and “Caduceus”).
Snakes are seen in Western culture and Abrahamic faiths as manifestations of evil, bad omens, temptation, etc. And as we all know, humans have a tendency to superimpose their own culture over-top of others. When Westerners see the many images of serpents represented in Hindu iconography, some cannot help seeing what they have grown up to see.
But Adishesha is far from all this. He is the resting place for Vishnu, as he spreads his body out to provide space for Vishnu to lie upon him, but his 1,000 heads also provide shelter over Vishnu’s head. I believe the 1,000 heads to be an allegory for the sahasrara, the thousand-petaled lotus at the top of the human head, as that is the uppermost chakra to which kundalini yogis raise their individual consciousness to become fully aware of the Divine. The mythology says that Adishesha guards treasures within the earth. Being located at the sahasrara, Adishesha indeed guards a treasure, though not a worldly one.
“Shesha”, or “sesa” also refers to “shedding” which, in yoga, we aspire to do with our body consciousness. Shiva is the God of the Yogis, though I can now see how Vishnu, with the imagery of Adishesha, holds similar qualities, which leads me to the next installment of “Vaisnavaganza”….stay tuned.