In this Part we will explore the meaning of the Eighth Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Ishanah Praanadah Praano Jyeshttas Shreshttah Prajaapatih |
Hiranyagarbho Bhoogarbho Maadhavo Madhusoodanah ||8||
The Lord is the Controller of all beings and things; He is a life giver and taker, one who purifies and brightens. He is the ‘life’ in lives and he is the oldest and the best. He created Brahma, the creator of the golden egg and He nurtures the Earth like a mother cares for a child in her womb. He is the consort of Lakshmi and can be attained through Mauna, Dhyaana and Yoga. He is Madhusoodanah the destroyer of the Asura Madhu. Madhu also means ‘Honey’ in the Vedas which means our Karma-phala or fruits of action. By meditating on the Lord we can get rid of the Vaasanas (desires) and hence the Lord is known as Madhusoodhanah – “The Destroyer of Vaasanas”.
This Shloka contains the following 10 Namas:
Let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
65. Ishaanah – He is the Supreme Controller
‘Ishaanah’ means ‘the controller’ or ‘the ordainer’. Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Sarva bhoota niyantrutvaat Ishaanah – He controls all beings and non-beings, hence he is called the Controller’. By this Nama, Bhagavan is clearly distinguished from the bound souls, released souls, and ever-free souls. This Nama signifies that it is His innate nature to keep all things under control under all circumstances. The Nama is derived from the root ‘Is’ – to command, to control, to rule, to possess. Ishaanam is also mentioned in the Venkatesa Prapatthi’s first verse (“Ishaanam Jagatosya Venkatapate…”).
It is interesting to note that Ishaanah is more commonly associated with Lord Shiva in particular to one of His 5 faces (along with Vaamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Sadyojaata). There is also a famous Vedic hymn Viz. – ‘Eeshaanas sarva vidyaanaam Eeshvaras Sarva bhootaanaam bramhaadhipatir bramhanodhipatir Bramhaa Shivo me Astu Sadaa Shivom’.
66. Praanadah – One who bestows the vital energy i.e. Prana
‘Praanam dadaati iti Praanadah – Giver or infuser of Life’. Being the source of all life in the Universe, Bhagavan is called Pranadah. This Nama further exemplifies Bhagavan as the Controller of the Universe as indicated in the previous Nama.
Sri Parasara Bhattar indicates that the life-giving function attributed in this Nama is the act of Bhagavan to give strength to the nitya-suris or Ever-free Angels to always visualise Him, enjoy Him, and do service to Him.
Sri Adi Sankara points out that in addition to the above interpretation, the same Nama can be interpreted to mean that Bhagavan is also the taker of Prana, ‘Praana- praanaan dyati iti’ – One who takes away the Praana or vital airs at the time of death, or Praanaan deepayati iti – One who purifies and brightens the vital airs.
67. Praanah – The Supreme Being
Praana is the living force or the vital air characterising a living organism. Bhagavan is verily the embodiment of that vital energy and hence is called ‘Praanah’. Because He sustains the Prani, He is Praanah. The Nama can also be understood as referring to Bhagavan being the cause of the Prana or life-impulse in the air that sustains Life. In the Keno Upanishad, the Supreme is defined as ‘Pranasya Praanah’ – ‘The Praana of Praana itself’ or ‘He is the Life of Lives’. Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Praaniti iti Praanah – one who enlivens life’.
68. Jyeshttah – The Eldest of all
Literally this Nama means ‘older than the oldest’. Vriddha means an old person. Brahma is called Vrddha-Tara since he is older than all the other beings as he Created all others as a result of this function being entrusted to Him by Bhagavan. Bhagavan is Vrddha-tama because He Created Brahma, and thus is older than Brahma.
Swami ChinmayAnanda points out that Jyeshttah is a superlative term for the word ‘Vrddha’ (Vrddha – aged; Jyayan – more aged; Jyeshttah – most aged) and means the oldest.
In Adi Sankara’s words Bhagavan is ‘Vriddhatamo Jyeshttah’ – Older than the oldest.
69. Shreshttah – One who is Glorious
This Nama means that He is the greatest or the most glorious one. Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Prashasyatamah Shreshttah – greater than the greatest’. He also elucidates further by calling Him the power behind all powers and the Cause of all Causes.
Shreshttah is the superlative of Shreyah (glorious). It is to be noted that the sequence of the three Namas above, Praana, Jyeshtta and Shreshttah is the same sequence that occurs in the Chandogya Upanishad – Praano vaava Jyeshttascha Shreshttascha.
The Story of Bhrigu
Many great sages gathered at the bank of river Saraswati to participate in the Maha Yagna organised at that time. Maharishi Bhrigu was also present there. All the great Saints and Sages could not decide that out of the Trinity Lord Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva who is pre-eminent and to whom should they offer Pradhanta (Master) of that Yagna. With the consent of all the great Saints present there, it was decided that Maharishi Bhrigu will conduct a test and decide who was pre-eminent amongst the Trinity.
Upon being entrusted with the task Maharishi Bhrigu decided to test Lord Brahma first. He went on to see Lord Brahma in Brahmaloka. On reaching Brahmaloka Maharishi intentionally displayed utter disrespect to Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma got angry and wanted to punish the Maharishi but Saraswati, wife of Lord Brahma saved the Maharishi from his anger. Maharishi Bhrigu cursed Lord Brahma that no one will worship Brahma in Kaliyug out of his anger. To this day, there are very few temples devoted to Lord Brahma (the notable exception being the Temple at Pushkar).
Maharishi Bhrigu then decided to visit Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash. However, upon reaching Mount Kailash, Nandi stopped him from entering the abode as at that time, Shiva and Parvati were sporting fun.
Bhrigu felt slighted and cursed Lord Shiva to be only worshipped in Linga form. (We however have a statue form of Lord Shiva in Kashi (Maha Mrityunjaya Temple) said to be 400+ years ago.
Then in order to test Lord Vishnu, Maharishi reached Vaikunta. He entered Vaikunta without Lord Vishnu’s permission and saw that the Lord was resting at that time. Maharishi asked him to wake up, but Lord was in deep sleep. On seeing no reaction from Lord, Maharishi kicked Lord Vishnu on his chest (that strike by Maharishi Bhrigu left a foot print on Lord’s chest and that footprint is known as “Shri Vatsa”).
Lord Vishnu got up after the strike and realised what had happened. On realizing that Maharishi had kicked him with his foot, Lord asked him, “Maharishi, are you hurt in your foot? My chest is strong but your foot is not so strong”.
Vishnu apologised, seated the Maharshi on a throne and pressed the feet and removed the extra eye of the Sage in one of his soles (Sage Bhrigu was proud of that eye).
Immediately the spiritual eye of Bhrigu opened and he realised his mistake and also praised Vishnu for His ‘Satvik’ qualities and declared to the assembly of the sages that Vishnu is greatest or ‘Shreshttah’.
70. Prajaapatih – The Leader of all Beings
Prajaa is a subject and here it refers to all beings. Pati means a Leader. Bhagavan is called Parajaapatih because He is the natural and undisputed Leader of all beings. In the words of Sri Adi Sankara ‘Ishvaratvena sarvaasaam prajaanaam patih Prajaapatih – He is the Leader of all beings with his divinity’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives a slightly different perspective by giving the meaning that He is the leader of those who have a glorious birth – the nitya-sooris, who are far superior to the baddha and mukhta, or the bound and freed souls.
71. HiranyaGarbhah – One who is the Atman of Everyone including Brahma
According to Sri Adi Sankara, Hiranyagarbha refers to Bramha as the Creator and dweller in the Golden Egg generating the Universe. Since Bramha is only a component of Lord Vishnu Hiranyagarbhah is a name of Bhagavan also. Rigveda says ‘Hiranyagarbhah samavartataagre – Hiranyagarbhah was there at the beginning of creation’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives a different interpretation. He interprets Hiranya as fitting or lovely. The word garbha means womb. Sri Bhattar interprets it as the Abode or Living Place. Thus the meaning – ‘One who is in a fitting or Lovely Abode’, viz. The Parama Padam. Or, He is the garbha, or originator, of hiranyaa or gold, a term used to refer to all that is the Object of fulfillment and joy.
72. Bhoogarbhah – The Creator of the World
Bhoo means the Earth. Garbha means the womb. Bhoogarbhah means one who has the Earth in his womb, that is to say one who has generated the Earth. Alternatively it could mean that he lovingly nurtures and nourishes the Earth like the mother sustains the baby in her womb.
73. Maadhavah – The Consort of Lakshmi
Maadhavah is one of the more popular names for Bhagavan Vishnu and occurs 3 times in the Vishnu Sahasranamam. It has a number of meanings as summarised below:
a) Mayah Dhavah Madhavah – One who is the Lord or consort of ‘Ma’ (Lakshmi). The notion here is that Bhagavan and Sri are eternally and constantly associated with each other, and are Inseparable. Her power is invincible and awe-inspiring and She is considered equal to Vishnu. She is the Supreme Being who lives in the hearts of all beings of the Universe and She is endowed with divine forms. In Sri Lakshmi Sahasranamam, She is called the Supreme Prakriti who possesses the six qualities (Shad Gunas)- Gnana, Bala, Aishvarya, Veerya, Shakti and Tejas. She is one with Him, and yet remains distinct like the moon-light of the cool-rayed moon. She is endowed with all glory and is eternal. Her Dharma is the same as that of Bhagavan.
b) One who is attained through the Madhu Vidya, by practicing Mauna, Dhyaana, and Yoga. The reference to this comes from the MahaBharata –
madhuvidyaavabodhatvaat dhavatvaadvaa shriyo’nisham |
maunaad-dhyaanaacca yogaacca viddhi bhaarata maadhavam || (Udyog a parva 68.4)
Meaning: Here, ‘Ma’ stands for Mauna, ‘dha’ stands for Dhyaana, and ‘va’ stands for Yoga. He is experienced by the seeker who has stilled his mind through mauna, dhyaana, and yoga practices. Or, it can be said that He is Madhava because He is endowed with mauna, dhyaana, and yoga – He silently observes the physical, mental, and intellectual activities of all beings, and is ever the non-interfering Observer.
c) He is The Lord of knowledge. In this interpretation, ‘Ma’ stands for knowledge, and ‘Dhava’ is Lord. The support for this interpretation is from Harivamsa –
“maa vidyaa ca hareh proktaa tasyaa Isho yato bhavaan |
tasmaad maadhava naamaasi dhavah svaamIti shabditah|| (Harivamsa 3.88.49)
Meaning: “O Hari! You are the Lord Dhava of ‘Ma’ (knowledge); hence you are named Madhava, the Master of ‘Ma’”.
d) Madhukule jatatvat Madhavah – One who is born in the race of Madhu, a Yadava.
e) Madhavah yasya sa Madhavah – One for whom there is no other Lord. This interpretation is included as one of the explanations for this Nama by Thirukkallam Sri Nrsimha Raghavachariar in his Bhashyam on Bhagavad Gita.
f) One who is the Silent Observer – this was discussed under b) above.
The first 2 meanings are given by Sri Adi Sankara and the rest by the other commentators.
74. Madhusoodanah – The slayer of the demon Madhu
He is called Madhusoodanah because He killed a demon called Madhu. ‘Madhu naamaanam asuram sooditavaan iti Madhusoodanah’.
In the MahaBharata we have the following –
‘Vishnu karnodbhavam chaapi madhu naama mahaasuram |
tasya taavadvadhaadeva deva daanava maanavaah madhusoodana ityaahur-rshayashcha janaardanam ||’ (Mahabharata 2.63.13)
Meaning: “Because Sri MahaVishnu destroyed the MahaAsura by the name ‘Madhu’, He is called Madhusoodana by the Sages, Devas, Asuras and Men”.
Madhu also means Karma-phala or fruits of action (Madhu = Honey). Actions leave impressions and these Vaasanaas (Desires or habits) are destroyed by meditating on the Lord and so the Lord is known as Madhusoodhanah – “The Destroyer of Vaasanas”.
Ishaanah Praanadah Praano Jyeshttas Shreshttah Prajaapatih |
Hiranyagarbho Bhoogarbho Maadhavo Madhusoodanah ||8||
The Lord is Ishanah, the Controller of all beings and things. He is Praanadah, a life giver and taker, one who purifies and brightens. He is the ‘life’ in lives i.e. Praanah and He is the oldest and the best and hence He is Jyeshttah. He is glorious and the greatest and hence He is called Shreshttah. He is Prajapati as He is the undisputed Leader for all beings.
He Created Brahma, the creator of the golden egg, hence He is HiranyaGarbhah and He nurtures the earth like a mother cares for a child in her womb, hence he is called Bhoogarbhah. He is the consort of Lakshmi and He can be attained through Mauna, Dhyaana and Yoga, so He is known as Madhavah.
He is the destroyer of the Asura Madhu, hence called Madhusoodanah. Madhu also means ‘Honey’ which means our Karma-Phala Dhata or giver of fruits of action. By meditating on the Lord we can get rid of the Vaasanas and hence the Lord is known as Madhusoodanah – “The Destroyer of Vaasanaas”.
Here’s a brief audio commentary on the 8th Shloka –
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
The Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.