In the first Part, we read about the revelation of Vishnu Sahasranamam by Bhishmacharya to Yudhishtra. Before we go further, here’s an interesting anecdote on the commentary of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam by Sri Adi Sankara.
Sri Adi Sankara wanted to write a commentary on Lalita Sahasranamam and asked one of his disciples to bring palm-leaf manuscripts of Lalita Sahasranamam. The disciple went into the room where it was kept and returned with the manuscript.
When Sankara opened it, he found that it was Vishnu Sahasranamam. He asked the disciple to go back and get Lalita Sahasranamam. When the disciple returned, Sankara found that it was Vishnu Sahasranamam again. Sankara once again advised the disciple to bring Lalita Sahasranamam. When the disciple returned for the third time and it turned out to be Vishnu Sahasranamam again!
A little annoyed, Sankara asked the disciple “Don’t you understand, I asked you to bring Lalita Sahasranamam.”
The disciple replied “Revered Sir, I brought Lalita Sahasranamam every time but I was intercepted by a beautiful little girl on the way who snatched it from me and gave this instead each time”. Sankara was intrigued and looked around for the girl but there was no trace of her. He realised that Goddess Lalita wanted him to write commentary on the Sahasranamam of her brother Vishnu first and so, he embarked on the divine task. After completing the commentary on Vishnu Sahasranamam he wrote many other Bhashyams such as Brahma Sutra and other original compositions like SoundaryaLahari but he was never able to return to Lalita Sahasranamam.
There are several commentaries on Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam. Two other famous commentaries are by Sri Parasara Bhattar and Raghavendra Swamigal. Swami ChinmayAnanda and several other Gurus have also written their interpretations on Vishnu Sahasranamam.
This commentary is about the significance of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam. The key aspect of this commentary is that it brings together the rich assortment of views of Sri Adi Sankara, Sri Parasara Bhattar and other Gurus. This is supplemented by:
- texts from other scriptures like the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Various Upanishads and Divya Prabandham;
- stories illustrating the Bhakti of Saints and Lord’s Leelas;
- short stories of DashAvatar and other manifestations of Bhagavan;
- images to illustrate in various sections; and
- personal interpretations
to create a divine and vivid experience that is intended to give the reader a clear understanding of the Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Let’s recap the sum and substance of Bhishma’s discourse by answering Yudhishtira’s queries, which are:
- The Lord Vishnu is the Supreme Deity.
- He should be worshiped and meditated upon to get rid of worldly bondage and secure eternal bliss.
- Vishnu Sahasranamam is the best way of conducting worship and meditation on Lord Vishnu.
Every single Nama of Vishnu Sahasranamam is a Mantra. The constant reflection and meditation of a Mantra can lead us to liberation from worldly bondage (Samsaara) and lead us to eternal bliss.
Bhagawan Vishnu says:
“Yo maam naama sahasrena stotum ichchati pandava
Soham ekena shlokena stuta eva na samshayaha”
“If someone wants to worship me by reciting the Sahasranamam but is able to utter only one Shloka (out of the hundred and seven) I still consider that worship equivalent to the chanting of the full Sahasranamam.”
Going one step further, it is said that repeating even a single Nama is enough to give the full effect of Sahasranamam.
Parvati asks Lord Shiva:
“Kenopayane laghuna Vishnor nama sahasrakam
Pathyate panditair nityam shrotum ichchami aham prabho”
“What is the easy way adopted by the learned to recite the Vishnu Sahasranamam daily?”
Lord Shiva replies:
“Sri Rama Rama Rameti Rame Rame Manorame
Sahasranama Tattulyam Rama Nama Varaanane”
It is said that recitation of the above Shloka three times, gives the benefit of reciting the whole Sahasranamam. “If one recites the single Rama Nama repeatedly that itself is equivalent to reciting all the one thousand Namas!”
In fact it could be any one of the thousand Namas; it could be Vishwam, it could be Vishnu, it could be Vashatkara or any other Nama. Each one is a different form of the same powerful Mantra. Rama is just an example being the shortest and easiest to pronounce.
On the other hand the total number of Namas is not limited to just the one thousand contained in the Vishnu Sahasranamam. Bhishma says:
“Yaani namani gounani vikhyatani mahatmanah
Rishibhif parigeetani tani vakshyami bhootaye”
Bhishma makes it clear that he is expounding just a compilation of His qualities as elaborated by various Sages.
In the Hindu scriptures all mantras have three principal elements. They are:
1. Devata or the presiding Deity
2. Rishi (or Sage) to whom it was first revealed
3. Chandas or the verse form
For Vishnu Sahasranamam, the presiding Deity is Sri MahaVishnu, the Rishi is Veda Vyasa, the composer of MahaBharata and the verse form is Anushtup, which was first used by Sage Valmiki in his Ramayanam.
This three-some matrix is described in the preamble to the Sahasranamam as follows:
“Rishirnamnam sahasrasya vedavyaso mahamunihi
Chchando-nushtup tatha devo bhagavan devakee-sutaha”
The Greatness of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam:
There are many Sahasranamams in existence like Saraswati Sahasranamam, Lakshmi Sahasranamam, Vamana Sahasranamam, Narasimha Sahasranamam etc. But if we just mention Sahasranamam, it always refers to Vishnu Sahasranamam. It is the earliest work of its kind, the most revered and the most commented upon.
In Kaliyuga, the best way to achieve liberation and eternal bliss is through reciting Bhagavan’s Nama; And Vishnu Sahasranamam is the best source book for this.
Lord Vishnu says to Sage Narada, “Naham vasami vaikunthe yoginam hridaye na cha, mad-bhakta yatra gayanti tatra tishthami narada”, i.e., “I dwell neither in Vaikuntha nor in the hearts of the Yogins, but I dwell where my devotees sing my name, O Narada.” What better way of singing His Nama than by reciting Vishnu Sahasranamam!
MahaBharata is the essence of Vedas. Bhagavad Gita and Vishnu Sahasranamam are the essence of MahaBharata. Bhagavad Gita is spoken by the Lord himself whereas Vishnu Sahasranamam is spoken by the Guru about the Lord. When Bhishma was expounding Vishnu Sahasranamam to Yudhishtira, Krishna himself was present smilingly accepting the praise of the devotees as it were.
Kurma Puranam says:
“Bharatam sarva shastreshu bharate geetika vara
Vishnos sahasranamapi gneyam pathyam cha taddvayam”
Meaning MahaBharata is superior to all Dharmashastras; within that Bhagavad Gita and Vishnu Sahasranamam stand out and these two have to be learnt and recited constantly.
Vishnu Sahasranamam is full of deeper meanings and about this aspect it is said:
“trayarthas sarva vedeshu dasharthas sarva bharate
vishnos sahasranamapi nirantara shatarthakam”
According to this, all Vedas have three levels of meanings. MahaBharata, also known as the fifth Veda, has ten different levels of meanings. But Vishnu Sahasranamam has hundred different meanings for each Nama! Apart from the meaning there is also the positive vibration from the chanting of each Nama. So even if the recitation is done without knowing the meaning it is still beneficial but if it is done with full understanding of the import of the meanings, it is sheer bliss.
It is said (as narrated by Shri Velukkudi Krishnan) that the Sage Vyasa first authored Brahma Sutra as a compendium encapsulating the complete substance of all the Vedas. But he was not satisfied because he thought it was too complicated to be understood easily except for the most erudite of scholars.
He therefore composed the MahaBharata containing the essential teachings of the Vedas in a story form in order to reach it to the understanding of the common man. But again there was a problem. It was too large, a mammoth work with more than hundred thousand verses. It would be impossible to read it fully on a regular basis.
So he composed two shorter versions namely the Bhagavad Gita and Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam, each of which contains the essence of all the scriptures. The former is a dialogue between the Lord and his disciple while the latter is a dialogue about the Lord by a Guru and a disciple in the presence of the Lord.
Between these two works of Veda Vyasa, the Bhagavad Gita is long for daily recitation with 700 verses. Therefore, Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam with only 107 shlokas is definitely the best practical mantra which can be adopted by all as a daily spiritual practice to achieve perfect happiness, mental peace and even material prosperity.
In the coming parts we will look at the various aspects of the structure of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam, the techniques of worship and a Nama by Nama analysis of its deeper imports to gain a vivid understanding.
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series has been authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.