sri vishnu sahasra nAmam - a conscise study
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Sri Visnusahasranama - A Concise Study

In this land of the eternal Vedas, Sages and Saints ; where recitation of stotras is an integral part of Hindu’s way of life, Sri Visnusahasranama is the most popular of all. It is recited by every Hindu, be it a Advaith, Dvaitin or Visistadvaitin. The great epic Mahabharata, is a virtual documentation of the discourses delivered by eminent sages to King Yudhisthira in exile on the several Dharmas - rAja Dharma, mOksa Dharma, dAna Dharma, etc. Sri Visnu Sahasranama Stotra, sung by the Sages of yore and taught by Bhismacarya to Yudhisthira for the good of the world at large is the praise of the Lord with his thousand names.

The Alwars to whom the Supreme Lord Narayana opened the flood-gates of Spiritual knowledge, shorn of discrepancies, deviations and ambiguitiesof sorts, were indeed above the Sages. They were full of compassion for teaming millions of humanity, wallowing in the sty of samsara. It is significant that the Alwars have made frequent references to the Lords’s thousand names in their hymns. Nammalwar, the chief of the Alwar Saints, literally implored the people around to chant just any one of the thousand names of the Lord, though not all(Tiruvaymoli X-2-3). These names bespeak the Lord’s auspicious traits(Yani namani gaunani vikhyatani…), each of which is of unlimited dimensions.

Actually, the Lord has innumerable auspicious traits, and, therefro His names, spelling out of these traits should be innumerable. Who indeed can exhaust His infinite glory by compressing it within a mere thousand names ? ‘Devonama Sahasravan’ should not, therefore be taken literally to mean a mere thousand - the ‘Sahasram’ stands for ‘anantam’ - the endless(infinite).

Of the four yugas, Krta, Treta, Dvapara and Kali, the last one is having its sway. Dharma(righteousness), which has been declining down the ages, has entered a critical phase in the Kaliyuga, notorious for the crumbling down of moral values and rapid degeneration. Even so, present yuga enjoys certain concessions which might well be envied by the earlier yugas.

Salvation attained in the earlier yugas through the arduous process of intense meditation, severe penance, special prayers, sacrifices and offerings is vouched in this yuga for the mere recital of Lord’s Holynames. Thus Sri Visnusahasranama Stotra serves not merely as the panacea for all ills & evils besetting this world, but also helps achieve the heaven. ‘Vaidya Sastra’ freely invokes Sahasranama japa for curing dire diseases , generally known to be incurable, ‘Mantra Sastra’ suggests Sahasranama japa for achieving the odds and ends of worldly life, ‘Karma Vibhagam’ prescribes the Sahasranama japa for all the ailments plaguing mankind and of-course Sri Visnusahasranama is a medicine for the fell disease of birth, death and re-birth, which is far more dreadful than the worst of bodily ailments.

Sri Visnusahasranama takes the shape as the essence of the expositions of all Sastras and their implications relating to charity and righteousness in the Anusasanika Parva, the core of Mahabharata. Thus the Sahasranama has great authority; its main objective is to reveal the essential reality through the highest truths. The Sahasranama appears as a dialogue between Bhisma, who is equally revered as Vedavyasa, and Yudhisthira, the Dharma-incarnate.

Vedavyasa exhorted Yudhisthira by saying, "If you are desirous of knowing all the Dharmas, go to Bhisma, the grand old sire. He who knows all the doctrines and everything else, is capable of resolving all your doubts. He who has seen Indra and other demigods face to face, who is in constant communion with the Brahmarsis, nd who knows Dharma, its subtleties will enlighten you on Dharma". Sri Krsna said to Yudhisthira " My thoughts go to the great soul Bhisma, who is like the fire cooling down on the bed of arrows, meditating on me. He is highly intellectual, has a divine aura, is in possession of superior weapons and knows all the Vedas comprehensively. He knows the past, present and future. I would advise you to go to him as the path of Jnana becomes that much poorer in his absence".

Sri Krsna also told Bhisma "What you will presently impart the Pandavas will be established in this world like the Vedas. You are free of weariness and illusion". Narada too said to Yudhisthira " Clarify all the doubts in your mind immediately from Bhisma who knows the Dharmas required by the four castes. He has the capacity to acquire everything that can be obtained from the life-long Brahmacharya, Samadhi & Tapas". Bhisma tells Krsna "Acyuta ! by your grace, I am free of greed, passions, pain and lethargy. I can see the past, present and future like a fruit in one’s palm. I can visualise all the Dharmas in the Vedas and Vendangas due to your grace. I am able to expound all the Dharmas with youthful energy(though old) by constantly meditating on you".

This above lines described the greatness of Bhisma, who included in his teachings the ‘Sri Visnusahasrnama", prefacing it as the highest Dharma and its chanting as the highest creed of faith. The thousand names of Lord were collated in the form of a stotra by Vyasa, an incarnation of Narayana Himself. It was the same Vyasa who organized the Vedas into divisions in order to facilitate the understanding for men whose power of comprehension has been reduced due to the advent of Kali. It was the same Vyasa who composed the Mahabharata, considered the fifth Veda. Hence the Visnusahsranama considered to the most beneficial to mankind.

In the sabhaparva of the Bharata and in the Gajendra episode in Visnu Dharma, the Lord is praised as the possessor of a thousand names. Again, in this very chapter of ‘Sahasranama’ of Anusasanika Parva’ both in the introduction and at the end where the fruits of the recitation are set out, the excellence of the ‘Thousand names’ has been brought out.

Right at the beginning, Bhisma stressed the efficacy of reciting the laudatory hymn spelling out the thousand names of the Lord, the God of gods and the Supreme person with no limitations (with reference to place, time etc.). The particular sloka under reference uses the word ‘Satatottitah’-ever-engaged. Continuous praise of the Lord and meditation are a perennial joy of the devotee.

If Vasudeva is out from the mind of a devotee even for a moment, it is terrible loss as it would give rise to perverse and unholy thoughts to fill the vaccum. At the end of the hymn, the potency of the recitation is brought by Sri Krsna Himself who said "Arjuna!, one may be desirous of praising by reciting the thousand names. But, on my part, I feel praised by one sloka. There is no doubt about it." In this context, refer to name 685 in the hymn ‘stavapriyah’-He, who relishes being praised. He is pleased with anything that is uttered in His praise irrespective of who ever lauds Him, how he or she does it, and what language is employed. " Engane collilum imbam payakkume (Tiruvaymoli VII-9-11).

Ayurveda mentions the recitation of sahasarnama as aiding the cure of many diseases with such sayings as "Diabetes gets cured by recitation pf Purusa sukta as well as the thousand names of Bhagavan;" "Similarly, Bhagavan’s thousand names must be uttered (for cure of tuberculosis);" "(For relief from fever), one must recite the Vishnu Sahasranama after conducting the Homa as aforesaid." Even later poets such as Bana Bhatta, while describing a maternity ward has mentioned "The incessant chanting of Narayana’s thousand names too." Sri Visnu Sahasranama is accepted with reverence as a panacea even by children, the dumb, dull-witted, women and atheists for recitation, meditation, exposition and comments to get rid of poisions, ghosts, disease, hauntings, sorrow, ill-omens etc., for getting absolved of heinous sins and worldly and other-worldly attainments.

Even the Vedas are not as readily accepted as this Hymn. The Vedas are not open to all. Even then, they are divided into various sections, each to be recited by particular sets of people and at particular times (that is, by not all and at all times).

The various teachers of sastraik knowledge like Devarsis, Narada, Devasravas, Sumantu etc, who had secured visions of God through strenuous efforts have been delighted in this sacred Hymn. What is more Sri Krsna Himself, the great Teacher of the Gita, listened to this with rapturous delight in the company of others around Bhisma.

Thus, the Visnu Sahasranama has the unique distinction among stotras of Being

The essence of the Mahabharata and all vedic literature,

Lauded by great Sages

Compiled by the great Vedavyasa

Accepted by Bhisma,  the superior most devotee of Lord Krishna,

Confirmed by Lord Krishna Himself, 

Beneficial to one and all, and

The expounder of the very same doctrines as of the Gita.

At this stage of dissertation, Parasara Bhattar brings in the introductory slokas in the Visnu Sahasranama chapter of Anusasanika Parva of the Mahabharata and with his superb intellect and incisive logic supported by authoritative quotes, establishes praise as the best means and Visnu as the best object of praise.

"The same benefit that is obtained in Krta yuga by mediation, in Tretayuga by sacrifice and by ritual worship in Dvapara Yuga, is got in Kaliyuga by the mere laudation of Kesava" - (Visnu Purana 6-2-17). At the same time, it is cautioned that, "The Lord is not easily attainable if one is not spiritually involved even if he offers the whole world to Krsna" (Visnu Dharma - 74)’. Even with this easy way to the Lord through laudation, it is one’s mental purity that is important even as embracing one’s daughter is not the same as his embracing his own wife. Fishes live in sacred rivers like Ganga, groups of birds make their permanent residence in sacred Temple premises.

But, as they have no inclination towards the Lord, they are not entitled to the result that a devotee is entitled to. It was Bhisma’s opinion that laudation of the Lord was the most righteous method, because

The object of laudation chosen is the dearest to the devotee,

It can be performed easily,

It does not involve any expenditure or strain,

It is attractive as he can mentally conceive the Lord to appear, as it were, before him.

It is capable of giving the greatest reward, Moksa, which alone can eradicate the dreaded fear of Samsara ,

Every body is eligible to adopt this course without any distinction whatsoever,

It is universally beneficial,

It can be performed without any restriction of place, time and situation and,

It is completely free of any auxiliary equipment to perform.

The Upanisads and other texts, while describing generally about the nature of the transcendent, the core-truth, existence , propitiation and attainment of the God etc., have described it in general terms, such as ‘Sat’ ‘Asat,’ ‘Brahma’ and Aksara’, and in special terms such as Para (Supreme). But, whenever a contention has arisen whether that entity is Siva, Brahma, Hari etc., it has been clarified by such statements as Narayana is the Trancendent Brahman, Narayana is the ultimate entity" (Narayana Anuvaka), ‘That is the Supreme abode of Visnu’ (Kathopanishad), "Beyond whom there is none" (Svetasvatara); "There is nothing superior to Me" (Gita 7-7) etc., Thus wise men are able to know that Visnu is the Supreme Deity through

Statements as above

General trend of writings of ‘Creation.’

The powerful inner meanings of Purusa Sukta, Uttara Narayana, etc propounding the highest truths

The declarations of Upanisads like Subala, Maitreyaniya, Mahopanishad, Chandogya, Taittriya, Aittriya, Kathavalli, etc.

The convictions of great Sages like Parasara, Vyasa, Valmiki, etc., who have known the supreme goal through the propogation of Sattvika Puranas and Epics

The unique prowess of the Form, Weapons, Vehicle and the great Doings attributed to the Supreme

Lord’s unbridled wealth & beauty

The comparitive lowliness of everything else around

Among the important commentaries on this stotra are by Sankara, Parasara Bhattar and Satyasandha according to Advaitha, Visitadvaitha and the Dvaita respectively. All these scholars have taken pains to explain the derivatives of the names of Lord Vishnu; becomes so many gems all adored by the Lord as his ornaments. The great Parasara Bhattar has shown in his commentary ‘Bhagavadguna Darpana’ how these individual names in this stotra combine to describe the characteristics, qualities, forms activities of the Lord. A dispassionate study of his commentary reflects as to how Bhattar has excelled over the others., obviously because of his familiarity with the hymns of Alwars. His highlight of the special aspects of the Lord’s traits, such as His amazing simpliity (Asrta paratantrya). In this process, Visnusahasranama at once becomes an epitome of all that is said in Vedas, Epics, Puranas and Agama.

Right at the commencement of the delineation of the names, Bhattar has vowed as it were, that he would -

Scrupulously adhere to the Pancasiddhanta

Interpret the names according to grammar, etymology and sayings of Sages avouiding defects like tautology.

Doubts arise whether by Pancasiddhantha, Bhattar means -

The five-fold doctrine of Para, Vyuha, etc in Pancaratra or

The five authorities of Veda, Smriti, Itihasa-Puranas, Pancaratra and DivyaPrabandham

It is important to note here the significance of Sri Parsara Bhattar of this Sampradayam who comprehensively commented on this great stotra of Sri Vishnu Sahasra Namam.

athAto "brahma" zignAsA - Then thereafter be inquisitive to enquire about "the Absolute"