Viṣṇu’s status as a created deity
The Rg vedic mantra: सोमः पवते जनिता मतीनां जनिता दिवो जनिता पृथिव्या:। जनिताग्नेर्जनिता सूर्यस्य जनितेन्द्रस्य जनितोत विष्णोः 9.5
has been commented upon by Sāyaṇācārya as Soma who is praised is the creator of the intellects, the heavens, the earth. Also he is the originator of sūrya, indra and viṣṇu, the all-pervading.
In the subsequent mantra we have:
ब्रह्मा देवानां पदवीः कवीनामृषिर्विप्राणां महिषो मृगाणाम् . श्येनो गृध्राणाँस्वधितिर्वनानाँसोमः पवित्रमत्येति रेभन् 9.6
In this mantra which continues from the fifth mantra, Sāyaṇācārya says: Soma, of the earlier mantra, is assuming the post of brahmā in a sacrifice. Alternatively, the commentator says: soma is the head, ‘king’, of all the deva-s such as indra, stated in the previous mantra.
Thus, from a study of these two mantras/commentaries we conclude that according to Sāyaṇācārya, viṣṇu is a created deity.
In the Taittiriyopaniṣad shanti mantra bhāṣya, Shankaracharya has said that viṣṇu is the abhimāni devatā, presiding deity, for the limb, leg. Also, Shankara in that bhāṣya has said that vāyu is the one responsible for delivering the fruits of actions to all, thereby placing vāyu above viṣṇu.
At the beginning of the bhashyam for the Prashnopanishat 2nd chapter, Shankara says;
प्राणोऽत्ता प्रजापतिरित्युक्तम् । तस्य प्रजापतित्वमत्तृत्वं चास्मिञ्शरीरेऽवधारयितव्यमित्ययं प्रश्न आरभ्यते ।
Prāṇa the consumer is stated to be the Prajāpati. This, its being the prajāpati and the consumer, is being demonstrated in this body.
In the 9th mantra of this Chapter we have:
इन्द्रस्त्वं प्राण तेजसा रुद्रोऽसि परिरक्षिता ।
त्वमन्तरिक्षे चरसि सूर्यस्त्वं ज्योतिषां पतिः ॥ ९ ॥
9 Indra thou art, O Prana, and Rudra, too, in prowess. Thou art the Protector. Thou movest in the sky; thou art the sun, the lord of lights.
The bhāṣya says:
किंच, इन्द्रः परमेश्वरः त्वं हे प्राण, तेजसा वीर्येण रुद्रोऽसि संहरन् जगत् । स्थितौ च परि समन्तात् रक्षिता पालयिता ; परिरक्षिता त्वमेव जगतः सौम्येन रूपेण । त्वम् अन्तरिक्षे अजस्रं चरसि उदयास्तमयाभ्यां सूर्यः त्वमेव च सर्वेषां ज्योतिषां पतिः ॥
Further, O Prana, you are Indra, the Supreme Lord. By valour you are Rudra, engaged in destroying the world. Again, during the time of the existence of the universe, you, in your benign aspect, are the preserver (of the universe) on every side. You move for ever in the sky by rising and setting. You are the sun, the lord of all the luminaries.
For the above highlighted portion, Anandagiri, the authoritative sub-commentator, says: विष्ण्वादिरूपेण इत्यरथः । ( You, through the form of Vishnu, etc.)
Now, this upanishad itself stated that Prana is Prajapati., the Creator. And in this mantra we have Rdura, another form of prāṇa, being stated as the world-destroyer. And Vishnu (the benign form, as opposed to the valorous form of Rudra) is the Protector of the world. Since the Creator, Protector and Destroyer are all said to be the forms of Prana we see that Rudra, named in the mantra itself, Vishnu not named in the mantra as well as the bhashya but named by Anandagiri, on the implication of the word ‘vishnu’ are all ‘created’ ones.
The sequence is thus: The Puruṣa, Supreme Brahman, creates prāṇa, called Hiraṇyagarbha. From this Hirānyagarbha, the creator of all the objects, names / forms, both sentient and insentient, the deva-s too are created. The mantra that we saw above lists these. Indra, etc. including Rudra, for destruction function and Vishnu for protection function, are all manifestations of this Prana (Hiranyagarbha). While up to this it is all within the realm of creation, the ONLY entity that transcends creation is the Puruṣa who is the subject matter of the Sixth Praṣna, the final chapter of this upaniṣad.
The point to be noted is: This upaniṣad provides a very interesting instance of Rudra and Vishnu as particular functionaries, with allotted portfolios, along with Indra, etc.
Appayya Dikṣita in his works on portraying Shiva as the Supreme has cited the above Rg. Vedic mantra as authority for the created nature of Viṣṇu and asked, if Rudra has birth, why not Viṣṇu?
The sūta samhitā, which is a part of the skanda purāṇa, too shows Viṣṇu as one of the deities who get instructions from the Supreme Shiva.
Advaitins have no intention to show one or the other deity as superior to another/all others. For them any deity, deva, which etymologically means ‘the resplendent one’ is no other than the Atman which is jñāna svarūpa. So are all entities in creation no other than the Atman which is Brahman. Worshiping any deity as the Supreme Brahman not different from one’s self will confer liberating knowledge.
Om Tat Sat