In this Part we will explore the meaning of the fifth Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Bhagavan is Svyambhooh, i.e. the one who exists by Himself. He has no dependence on others and He bestows happiness and joy on his devotees. He is the energy and source of all radiance and lustre in the Sun. His eyes are like the Lotus flower whose splendour is described in the Vedas. He has no birth, decay or death, and He supports this Universe. He generates the fruits of actions, sustains the whole Universe and is its Supreme controller.
This Shloka contains the following 9 Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
37. Svayambhooh – One who manifests on his Own
Svayambhooh means somebody, who is self-born. ‘Svayam eva bhavati iti Svayambhooh – One who manifests on His own without any external cause’. Manu Smriti (MS 1, 7) says ‘Sa Eva Svayam Udvabhau – Only He was born on His own’.
It is interesting to note that the word Svayambhoo is also used to denote the naturally occurring icons of Lord Shiva (Lingam) and naturally formed icons of Lord Vishnu (Saligram, Salagramam or Shaligram).
The Salagramams are those which are naturally found in the Sacred River Kali-Gandaki near Mukthi Kshetra (also known as Mukthinath and Damodhar Kunda) in the North West of Nepal. The Gandaki River is also referred to as Narayani, Shaligrami, Hiranvathi and Hiranyavathi.
The Story of Salagramam and Tulsi Vivah
According to Shiva Puranas, there are two stories that recount the tale of Tulasi and Salagram and both are somewhat inter-related. The first story relates to a demon called Jalandhar, the son of the Ocean and the second to Shankhachuda son of demon king Dambha.
Slaying of Jalandhar
Brahma had granted boons to Jalandhar that resulted in enormous powers being bestowed on him. Jalandhar married Vrinda, daughter of Kalanemi and had a boon that his powers will remain undiminished as long as his wife Vrinda is chaste. This made King Jalandhar arrogant and he declared war on other Kings, demi gods and started tormenting all of them. Lord Shiva was unable to vanquish Jalandhar due to Vrinda’s chastity and hence requested Lord MahaVishnu to remove the most powerful shield protecting the Asura, Vrinda’s chastity.
MahaVishnu obliged Lord Shiva by manifesting to Vrinda as her husband and lived with her for a period of time unbeknown to her. Lord Shiva destroyed Jalandhar as he lost his powers when Vrinda lost her chastity. When Vrinda found out about this deceit, she cursed Lord Mahavishnu that his wife would be deceitfully abducted and he too would wander in her search. After cursing Lord Vishnu, Vrinda embraced death by entering into the fire. Lord Vishnu was very saddened by her death and was remorseful. With the grace from Goddesses, seeds were sprayed on the pyre resulting in the manifestation of Amla (Gooseberry), Tulsi (Basil) and Malti (Jasmine) plants. Tulsi and Malti attained Vishnuloka by virtue of their penance and Lord’s grace.
The Killing of Shankhachuda
The second story relates to Shankhachuda, Tulsi and Salagramam.
King Dharmadvaja and Madhavi were blessed with a daughter Tulsi. Tulsi was so devoted to Lord Narayana that she performed rigorous penance in Badrikashrama with the aim of seeking Him as her husband. Tulsi was a Gopika in Goloka in her previous life and during one of the dances with Krishna, she fainted in ecstasy. Radha was furious at this blatant display of her longing for Krishna and cursed her. Sudama who was a witness went in aid of her to defend but he too was cursed by Radha. As a result, Sudama was born as Shankhachuda to the demon king Dambha.
When Shankhachuda went to Pushkar (Ajmer) and did a penance to please Brahma. Lord Brahma blessed him and said that he would remain invincible. He also instructed Shankhachuda to go to ‘Badrikashram’ where he would find his wife Tulsi- the daughter of Dharmadhwaja.
Shankhachuda went to Badrikasharam and married Tulsi as per the instructions of Lord Brahma. He then returned back to his capital accompanied by his wife Tulsi. Because of a boon from Brahma, Shankhachuda could only be defeated if his wife was unfaithful to him. Believing he was invincible, Shankhachuda became arrogant and began tormenting people. They prayed to Vishnu for help, and Vishnu sent Shiva to kill Shankhachuda. Meanwhile Vishnu assumed the form of Shankhachuda and seduced Tulsi, to make her unfaithful and therefore nullify the effect of the boon. This would allow Shiva to kill the demon. When Tulsi discovered the deceit, she began to curse the impostor to become a stone. Lord Vishnu turned into the Salagramam stone as a result of that curse.
He pacified Tulsi, and reminded her that she was, in fact Lakshmi who was in penance as Tulsi, and could now return to Vaikuntam with Him since her curse was over. To mark the event, Lakshmi’s hair became the Tulsi plant, which remained on Earth and was worshipped thereafter as her image, and her body was transformed into a river named Gandaki.
And so Tulsi is considered sacred and for Vaishnavas in particular, no ceremony is performed without it, and worship of Vishnu is incomplete without the Tulsi leaves. We can observe Lord Vishnu is adorned with Tulsi garlands in all Vishnu temples.
‘Tulsi’ and its other name Brinda or Vrinda, are names invoked in prayer and signify the embodiment of purity.
Tulsi Vivah festival is the wedding of Tulsi plant to Salagramam (i.e. form of Lord Vishnu). Tulsi Vivah is an important ritual performed in Kartik (Karthigai) month in traditional Hindu calendar.
Since the Tulsi and the Salagrama Shila are so closely associated, every year in the month of Kartik, the Vaishnavas marry a Tulsi plant to a Salagrama stone with great fanfare.
Tulsi Vivah starts on the first Ekadashi (Devprabhodni) after Diwali and lasts till Pournami or Full Moon Day (15th day).
Characteristics of Salagramas
The marks made by the shell of the ammonite give a Salagram its characteristic appearance, with the pattern often resembling and representing the ‘Sudarshan Chakra’ or the discus with a sharp-toothed edge which rests on the index finger of Lord Vishnu. According to contemporary geologists, the Salagrama-silas are fossils of a prehistoric insect. This insect is mentioned in the Bhavisya Purana – “The millions of Vajrakita worms that live at that place will adorn those stones with the signs of my cakra by carving them with their sharp teeth.” However, the Vajrakita is the secondary cause, whereas Visnu himself is the principal cause of his manifestation as Salagrama-sila.
Salagram stones come in different colors such as red, blue, yellow, green and black. Of these, the yellow, blue and black varieties are considered more sacred. The yellow and golden-colored Salagramams are considered most auspicious and are believed to bestow great wealth and prosperity on its worshipers.
Salagramams of different shapes are often associated with the different Avatars of Lord Vishnu such as: Matsaya avtar, Kurma avtar, Narasimha avtar and so on. In the epic MahaBharata, Lord Krishna while giving a discourse to Yudhistra refers to the qualities of Salagramams.
It is believed that wherever Salagram is kept Lord Vishnu lives there along with Goddess Lakshmi. The umbrella shape Salagram has the power to give kingdom and the one having elliptical shape gives lots of wealth and one can obtain the benefits equivalent of mastering all the Vedas by worshiping Salagramam.
38. Shambhuh – One who bestows happiness on His devotees
‘Sham’ means joy or happiness and ‘Bhuh’ is the one who creates. Shambhu therefore means the one who creates happiness in the minds of his devotees. ‘Sham bhaktaanaam bhaavayati iti Shambhuh. One who delights the devotees’. Indeed as the famous song goes –
Adharam madhuram vadanam madhuram
nayanam madhuram hasitam madhuram
hṛdayam madhuram gamanam madhuram
madhuraadhi-pater akhilam madhuram
“His lips are delightful, His face is delightful, His eyes are delightful, His smile is delightful, His heart is delightful, His walk is delightful – Every little aspect of His is delightful”.
Shambhuh is also a popular name for Lord Shiva as Rudram puts it “Namashshambhave cha mayo bhavecha Namah shankaraya cha mayaskaraya cha. Namah Shivaya cha”.
39. Aadityah – One who is the Golden hue in Sun’s orb
a) The Purusha in the Sun – MahaVishnu is the central energy of the Sun. Adi Sankara explains this as “‘Aaditya Mandalaantasthah Hiranmayah Purushah – the golden person present at the centre of the Sun’s orb”;
b) One of the twelve Aadityas. Aditi the wife of Sage Kashyapa had 12 sons called Aadityaas. They are Vivasvaan, Aryamaa, Pooṣha, Tvaṣhṭaa, Savitaa, Bhaga, Dhaataa, Vidhaataa, Varuṇa, Mitra, Śhakra, and Urukrama. Out of these the last named Urukrama is the Avataar of Vishnu.
In Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10 Verse 21, Bhagavan says “Aadityaanaam aham Vishnuh” – I am the Vishnu (Urukrama) among the Aadityaas.
c) One who sustains and nourishes everything like the Sun. This explanation is given by Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda.
40. Pushkaraakshah – One who has beautiful eyes like the Lotus flower
Pushkara means a lotus and Aksha is eye. So this means one whose eyes are beautiful like the lotus flower. We have seen this idea already in the Dhyana Shlokas for example “Punyopetam Pundareekaayataaksham”.
NammAzhwar while describing Lord’s eyes says
“தாமரை மலர்கள் போல இருக்கும் பெருமாளின் இரண்டு கண்களும் நம் உயிரை குடிக்க வந்த இரண்டு யமன்களோ?”
“Thamarai Malargal Pola Irukkum PerumaLin Irandu KanngaL Nam Uyirai Kudikka Vandha Irandu Yamangalo?”
Meaning: Are the Lord’s beautiful eyes, resembling the Lotus Flowers, there to suck the life out of us? Such is the beauty of Lord’s Kamala Nayanam that one does not aspire for anything more after looking and immersing oneself in its gaze!
41. Mahaasvanah – One from whom comes the great Sound
This Nama can be interpreted in 2 ways.
a) A person of deep and reverberating voice. “Mahaanoorjitah svanah naadah – He has a deep voice”;
b) Embodiment of the Vedas. Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad says “Asya Mahato Bhootasya Nishvasitam etad rigvedo yajurvedah – The Vedas are the breaths emanating from the Bhagavan”; The Vedas describe Lord’s effulgence and splendour; The Gayatri Mantra also invokes the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who is the principal source of energy for the Sun.
42. Anaadinidhanah – One who is Eternal
Aadi is the beginning and Nidhana is the end. So this Nama means someone who has neither a beginning nor an end. He is Anaadi and He is Ananta. He is Eternal and beyond Time. At the end of the MahaBharata Yudham, Bhishma says to Yudhishtra, in the preamble to Vishnu Sahasranamam, ‘AnaadiNidhanam Vishnum SarvaLokaMahesvaram’ describing Lord Vishnu as One without a beginning or an end and as Supreme.
43. Dhaata – One who Created the Universe
Dhaataa has several meanings as below:
a) One Who Created the Universe (dhaa – to produce, or dhaa – to lay upon).
b) He Who supports and sustains (dhaa – dhaaran poshanayoyscha).
c) He Who has no support other than Himself. Here the basic name is taken as Adhaata rather than Dhaata.
As He is the Creator who needs no assistance from anyone, He is Dhaata.
44. Vidhaata – He is the Supreme Controller
VIdhaata means Supreme controller. He lays down the laws of the Universe. He is the One who sets the rules and dispenses the fruits of one’s action. He is the ruler of everyone’s destiny.
45. Dhaaturuttamah – The Ultimate support of every thing
a) One who is far superior to Brahma (dhaatr)
b) The best of all basic constituents
The first interpretation is self-explanatory and it is just an extension of the previous two Namas Dhaataa and Vidhataa. The other explanation is given based on the word dhaatu, which means – fundamental element or basic constituent. He is the ultimate constituent of all, and so He is dhaaturuttamah.
Sri Adi Sankara treats this as 2 different Namas – Dhaatuh and Uttamah. Dhaatuh means the fundamental building block of the Universe. Uttamah means the highest power of the Universe.
Svayambhoos Shambhu Raadityah Pushkaraaksho Mahaasvanah |
Anaadinidhano Dhaata Vidhaata Dhaaturuttammah ||5||
Bhagavan is Svyambhooh as He exists by himself. He bestows happiness and joy on his devotees and hence He is Shambhuh. He is the energy behind the Sun and the source of all radiance and lustre. He is Aadityah, the golden hue in Sun’s orb.
His eyes are like the Lotus flower whose splendour is described in the Vedas, so He is Pushkarakshah. He has a deep voice and from whom comes the great sound, hence He is Mahaasvanah.
He has no birth, decay or death and He is Anadinidhanah i.e. eternal. He who supports this Universe, generates the fruits of actions and is the phala-Dhaata.
He is the Supreme Controller of the Universe and hence He is Vidhaata. He is the Ultimate support for everything and hence He is Dhaturuttamah.
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
The Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.