I would like to deviate a bit from the continuity of the partly fictionalized accounts of my high school life. I came across this millennia old query, who is Vishnu and who is Shiva ? Most common answer you would receive will be, Vishnu is the second deity of holy vedic Indian trinity and Shiva the third, whereas Brahma being the first, for innumerable reasons there is not much popularity for the Brahma- the creator, who’s popularity declined during later vedic period. Am really not sure of the exact yearly details, as the known timeline is not the actual timeline and historical authenticity got messed by the vested interests of numerous European indologists and is being messed continuously by the “intellectual” elite of modern day India, of course by group of hardcore “Indianize India” organizations. As going by the trend, bearing no ill will towards lord Brahma, I will focus only on Vishnu and Shiva at the moment.
Second most common answer for the question will be, Vishnu is the protector and Shiva is the destroyer. Ask them on what perspective is protection and destruction is , good gets protected and evil gets destroyed, probe further , what is good and what is evil? Answers we get are again perception based.There is a thin line between faith and stupidity. Faith is there is a god and stupidity is abandoning the responsibilities and spending innumerable hours and days praying.
Coming back to the primary question, next common answer will be, Vishnu is a rich man, sleeps on a thousand hooded serpant, he has four arms, having a disc, a conch, a mace and a lotus, he is decorated with all worldly decorations, actively participates in the worldly affairs by incarnating time to time, residing in ocean of milk in contrast to Shiva who is a poor man with no wealth, he has a snake as a ornament, almost naked, in some instances he wears tiger skin, not giving a damn about worldly affairs. Which according to me is the symbolic representation of a man’s fluctuating mental state, once he participates actively and once he just doesn’t give a damn.
Coming back to the primary question, Vishnu is the husband of Lakshmi while Shiva is the husband of Shakthi. Again symbolically, Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth-money power and Shakthi is the goddess of strength- physical power, both are responsible for a man’s total wellbeing, of course Saraswathi- goddess of wisdom is required to manage wealth and strength in a wise manner. Again setting aside gender, for a human being it is required to have wisdom, wealth and strength. Metaphorically human being becomes the masculine or purusha aspect and wisdom, wealth and strength the feminine or the prakriti aspect.
Vishnu is a householder by appearance while Shiva is ascetic by appearance. But Vishnu in reality a ascetic a renounced being and Shiva a householder with family and kids. Again a symbolic representation of variation of human psyche, a youth in his subconscious state, at times, wants to finish his responsibilities and relax but a old man wants to take responsibilities.
As mentioned in our scriptures, Vishnu incarnates from time to time to establish order, what is order? Again we get answers based on perceptions. Taking into account of last three known incarnations, Bhargava , Rama and Krishna, I will not debate historical authenticity of the mentioned names, as per the legends, Bhargava a priest went about challenging atrocities of the ruling class and giving rise to new line of righteous ruling classes all over the globe, so he was called a incarnation of Vishnu, Rama a Prince from the ruling class overthrew the rein of terror from the demons and establishing the reign of righteousness all over the globe and Krishna guided the ruling classes to perform their duties without having inclination towards the results. If we observe carefully, Bhargava destroyed the corrupt ruling classes all over the globe, displaying the aspect of Shiva, similarly Rama destroyed the reign of demons while being Shiva, Krishna destroyed Arjuna’s ignorance once again displaying the nature of Shiva.
Vishnu and Shiva are both the emotions and mental tendencies of a human, as Vishnu we need to sustain and protect our wellness while warding off negatives of human weakness and limitations as Shiva.