Vishnu Sahasranamam is a compilation of a thousand names of Lord Vishnu composed by Sri Veda Vyasa. It occurs within the body of the great epic MahaBharata. It was first revealed by Bhishmacharya to Yudhishtra (the eldest of the five Pandava brothers), on Bhishma Ekadasi day, under the following circumstances:
Bhishmacharya was lying mortally wounded on the battle field of Kurukshetra but he was still not ready to die as he was waiting for a more propitious time (Uttarayanam) to leave his body. Bhishma had been given a boon by his father King Santanu by which he could choose his moment of death. At that time, Krishna feels that with the passing away of Bhishma, the enormous wisdom that Bhishma gained from his long virtuous life of righteousness and devotion may be lost to the world. So he asked the new King Yudhishtra, to seek advice and guidance on various aspects of Dharma from Bhishma before he breathed his last. Accordingly, Yudhishtra approached Bhishma and sought his words of wisdom on governance of the Kingdom and about leading a righteous life.
Even after listening patiently to a lot of guidance from Bhishma, Yudhishtra felt that he had not gained sufficient understanding to his key questions on how to achieve perfect happiness and salvation. He wanted to learn from Bhishma the path to Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Therefore he posed six specific questions relating to Bhishma on how to attain ultimate happiness. These questions are contained in two shlokas starting with “kim ekam daivatam loke” in the Poorvabhaga or the introductory part of the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram.
The questions are:
- Who is the number One or Supreme Deity? (“kim ekam daivatam loke”)
- What is the highest goal of life? (“kim vaapyekam paraayanam”)
- Which Deity’s auspicious qualities should human beings pray to? (“stuvantah kam”)
- By worshiping which Deity will human beings attain prosperity in this world as well as bliss in the next? (“kamarchantah praapnuyur maanavaash shubham?”)
- Which code of conduct (Dharma) is the highest code of conduct in your opinion? (“ko dharmas sarva dharmaanaam bhavantah paramo matah”)
- By repeating which Mantra or Japa, can a living being be liberated from the bondage of the cycle of birth, life and death? (“kim japam muchyate jantur janma samsaara bandhanaat”)
Bhishma answers these questions, from his death bed of arrows, with clarity and elaborately not just for the sake of Yudhishtra but as a revelation to the whole of humanity, present and future. It is interesting to note that Bhishma’s answers were not arranged in the chronological order of Yudhishtra’s questions but were in a logical order embedding all the answers.
However, please find below the answers in the order of the questions posed by Yudhishtra:
- He who is the very sanctity that sanctifies all sacred things; He who is the most auspicious; He who is the god of gods; He who is the eternal father of all creatures is the one god – the LORD VISHNU. (“Pavitraanaam pavitram yo mangalaanaam cha mangalam Daivatam devataanaam cha Bhootaanaam yo avyayah pitaa.”)
- He who is the great effulgence; He who is the great penance ; He who is the Supreme All-Pervading Truth; He indeed is the Highest Goal to attain- the Lord VISHNU. (“Paramam yo mahat-tejah Paramam yo mahat-tapah, Paramam yo mahat-brahma Paramam yah paraayanam.”)
- The Supreme Purusha (person), who is the god of gods, who is ever up and forever working for the welfare of all, who is the Lord of the world and who is imperishable – the Lord VISHNU. He is the one to be meditated upon by chanting his thousand Namas. (“Jagat-prabhum deva-devam Anantam purushottamam Stuvan naama-sahasrena Purushah satatotthitah.”)
- By worshiping with devotion and chanting the one thousand Namas of the Purusha (the Lord Vishnu), a human being can reach true emancipation from the worldly ties. (“Tameva cha archayan nityam Bhaktyaa purusham avyayam Stuvan naama-sahasrena Purushah satatotthitah.”)
- Worshiping, meditating on and prostrating before the Lord Vishnu is the code of conduct superior to every other way of life. (“Dhyayan stuvan namasyamscha yajamanas tameva cha esha me sarvadharmaanaam bhavatah paramo matah”)
- By worshiping Lord Vishnu, Human beings get liberated from the miseries of worldly life. He has no beginning or end and He is the great Lord and Controller of the whole Universe (“Anaadinidhanam Vishnum sarvalokamaheshvaram Lokaadhyaksham stuvannityam sarva duhkhaatigo bhavet”)
It may be noted that some of the points in Bhishma’s reply are reiterated over and over again for added emphasis.
Three points emerge from the above conversation:
- That Lord Vishnu is the Supreme All Pervading Truth.
- By reciting Vishnu Sahasranamam and meditating on the Lord with devotion one can get free from the worldly bondage and secure eternal happiness i.e. Moksha.
- Vishnu Sahasranamam is the best way of worshiping and meditating on Lord Vishnu.
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series has been authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.