In this Part we will explore the meaning of the 20th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Bhagavan is the wielder of the divine bow and the One who held up the Earth during Pralaya by taking the Varaaha Avataar. He has Goddess Lakshmi eternally on his chest and holds her close to his heart as Srinivasa and bestows the highest destiny attainable by those who seek Him. He manifests in various forms and cannot be obstructed by anyone from bestowing his grace on his devotees. As Govinda, He gives protection to all his devotees and since He is also the master of words, He is the protector of the Vedas.
The above Shloka contains the following Namas:
- Govidaam Patih
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas:
183. Maheshvaasah – The wielder of the mighty bow
- The wielder of the mighty bow; and
- The discharger of great arrows
MaheshVaasah is a combination of the two words Mahaa meaning great and Ishvaasa meaning a bow. HE is the wielder of the mighty bow. The great bow referred to here is Kodanda wielded by Rama and Sarngam wielded by Maha Vishnu.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha points out that Ishvaasa can mean the bow (that which throws or discharges the arrows), and one who has the great Dhanush is maheshvAsa – MahAn ishvAsah asya asti iti maheshvAsah.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this as the discharger of mighty arrows ‘Mahaan Ishoonaam Aasah’ and gives the example of Lord Rama discharging the arrow to establish a bridge across the Ocean to embark on his mission to vanquish demon King Ravana and save Sita.
The Story of Thirupullani
Thirupullani is a beautiful coastal village near Ramanathapuram and is intimately connected with the Ramayana. It’s a small laid-back village with an unmistakable old-world charm and is 44th in the list of Divya Desams that are sacred to Vaishnavites.
King Dasharatha, seeking progeny, prayed to Lord Sri Adi Jagannatha Perumal at this Divya Desam.
Sri Rama is said to have worshipped Sri Adi Jagannatha perumal at this Divya Desam before setting out to Lanka. Adi Jagannatha PerumAL gave Rama the Kodanda bow, which He used in the final battle with Ravana.
The name of this Divya Desam has evolved from the words “pull” and “aNai”, which mean grass and bed respectively in Tamil. The reference is to the bed of grass (Dharba Sayanam) on which Sri Rama lay while waiting for the Samudra Rajan to facilitate the construction of the Sethu bridge (more about that later).
Most importantly, it was in this Divya Desam that Vibeeshana sought Saranagati at the feet of Lord Rama. In fact Thirupullaani is also known as the “Saranagati ksethram”.
Vibheeshana, brother of King Ravana made several attempts to change his brother’s evil mind from the atrocious act. In the end, Ravana threw Vibheeshana out of his Kingdom. Finally, Vibheeshana left Lanka and surrendered at the Lotus feet of Lord Rama. Lord Rama came to know the heinous act of Ravana through Vibheeshana.
It is very important to appreciate the extraordinary faith exhibited by Vibheeshana when faced with a tough situation. He never had any doubt that Sri Rama would accept his request for asylum. Vibheeshana’s surrender to Lord Sri Rama may appear counter-intuitive or perhaps an unwise decision or even a cowardly one. But Vibheeshana calmly acted with faith and clarity, and in doing so, joined the ranks of the glorious souls that have wisely found refuge at the feet of the Lord.
Another important point in this episode is the Lord’s crystal clear and firm enunciation of His intent to protect anyone who surrenders at His feet. With the exception of Hanuman, everyone in the camp expressed doubts about Vibheeshana’s intentions. All the arguments made by the doubters were drowned out in the Lord’s categorical statement of intent:
Shri Rama in Yuddha Kanda 18.33 said:
“Sakrud eva Prapannaya Tavaasmeeti ca yaacate
Abhayam sarva bhootebhyo dadaamy etad vratam ma ma”
Meaning: He who seeks refuge in me once, telling me that I am yours; I shall give him assurance of safety against all beings. This is my solemn pledge.
Sri Thirumangai Azhwar sang this Pasuram at this Thiru Sthalam:
இலங்கு முத்தும் பவளக் கொழுந்தும் எழில் தாமரைப்
புலங்கள் முற்றும் பொழில் சூழ்ந் தழகாய புல்லாணிமேல்
கலங்க லில்லாப் புகழான் கலியன் ஒலி மாலை
வலங்கொள் தொண்டர்க்கு இடம் ஆவது பாடு இல் வைகுந்தமே 
Meaning: Sri Thirumangai Azhwar (aka Kaliyan) says Thirupullani is a beautiful place surrounded by deposits of pearls, coral reefs, lotus ponds and fragrant groves. Those who master this decad of verses by Kaliyan on the Lord of Thirupullani will find a place in the state of unadulterated joy (Vaikunta).
This Divya Desam has also been glorified by other AchAryAs like Sri Periya Nambi, Sri Ramanuja, Sri Parasara Bhattar, Swami Vedanta Desikan, Sri Nanjeeyar, and Sri Manavala Mamunigal.
Dharba Sayana Raamar
After the surrender of Vibheeshana, Lord Rama engaged in serious discussions with all the members on ‘how to rescue and bring back Sita Devi from the clutches of the demon King Ravana.’
Rama with his warriors like Sugriva, Hanuman, Vibheeshana and the entire army of Vanaras stayed in Thirupullani. Lord Rama underwent severe penance in a reclining posture on the Dharba Grass (a bed made out of Dharba Grass and hence known as Dharbhasayana Ramar). At the Thirupullani temple, in the Sannidhi for Dharba Sayana Ramar, we can see Him on the Dharabha bed with a broadsword on His waist, along with Hanuman and Vibheeshana. He spent three days on the banks of the ocean waiting to see Samudra Rajan. Samudra Rajan did not come to meet Rama.
Lord Rama got angry and asked Lakshmana to get his divine bow. Fixing an arrow charged with a missile to his excellent bow, the exceedingly powerful Rama stretched it towards the sea. While Rama was stretching that bow, both the heaven and earth suddenly seemed to be enveloped by darkness. Winds of great velocity struck together in the sky and emitted flashes of radiance from lightning accompanied with thunder.
Then, Rama spoke these harsh words to the ocean: “O, Samudra Rajan! I will make you dry up now along with your nethermost subterranean region. By a gush of arrows released by my bow, our Vaanaras can proceed to the other shore even by foot; O, Samudra Rajan, you are not able to appreciate my valour or prowess and you will indeed get repentance at my hands.”
Hearing those words, Samudra Rajan, together with his wife, rose from the middle of the Ocean encircled by the clouds and winds, approached Rama with folded palms, and sought his forgiveness with reverence. He then assured Lord Rama that he shall facilitate the construction of the bridge to cross the Ocean by remaining calm.
Then, Rama spoke to that ocean as follows: “This great arrow will not go in vain. In which region should it be directed?”
Samudra Rajan advised Rama to release it towards the northern side directed at Drumatulya. Rama released that splendid arrow towards that place which is now known as Maru and is near the deserts of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Due to the granting of a boon by Rama, the desert of Maru became the most congenial and suitable place for living, bestowing merits of Lord Rama’s blessings.
Samudra Rajan further advised that Nala, who was the son of Vishvakarma and given a boon by his father to be endowed with similar skills as him, should lead the construction of the bridge. Thus speaking, he disappeared from that place.
It is said that Rama originally marked the spot for the bridge with one end of his famous bow Kodanda and hence, the name of that place became Dhanushkodi or ‘end of the bow’ (dhanush meaning ‘bow’ and kodi meaning ‘end’).
Nala initiated and built the bridge across the sea with the help of the Vaanaras as good as his father Vishvakarma would have built it. Rama, the Maheshvaasa, the glorious and righteous man, wielding the divine bow went in front of that army together with Lakshmana and Sugriva.
After Rama won the war and crowned Vibheeshana as the new king of Lanka, Vibheeshana, requested Rama to destroy the bridge. Rama broke the bridge with his bow. The series of rocks and islets currently found in a line suggests that there was indeed a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka.
Lord Rama visited Thirupullani on his return from Sri Lanka which is when he narrated to Sita Devi the events leading up to her rescue.
Also this is the place where Dasharatha was blessed by Lord Adi Jagannatha Perumal with progeny.
Hence, this Divya Desam in Thirupullani is associated with messages of hope and reassurance.
The Story of Parashurama’s encounter with Rama
Parashurama heard about Rama’s feat of breaking of the Shiva’s bow (Dhanush) in the Swayamvara held by King Janaka for Sita Devi’s hand. Parashurama was perturbed that a Kshatriya warrior was able to achieve such a feat, and wanted to engage in a duel with Rama.
He encountered Rama’s entourage and challenged Rama for a duel. Dasaratha pleaded with him saying that he has avenged the killing of his father Sage Jamadagni by Karthaveerya, a Kshathriya, by indulging in the destruction of Kshathriyas and ended his revenge by promising Lord Indra not to take up arms again. He further pleaded that Rama was young and newly married and Parashurama should not harm him and let him off.
But Parashurama ignored Dasaratha and others and told Rama that Visvakarma made two identical bows and gave them to Siva and Vishnu and Rama had broken the former. He said to Rama that he would be a worthy opponent, if Rama was able to string the Vishnu Dhanush, which had been in the custody of Sage Jamadagni (Parashurama’s father) and handed over to him.
Rama takes up the challenge calmly and strings the Dhanush with ease and Parashurama was shocked at that sight and looked at Rama intently. In an instant he understood Rama to be none other than Lord Narayana. Parashurama felt that he had lost all his prowesses and the power of Vishnu that was present in him till then had gone back to Rama who is also an incarnation of Vishnu.
Rama then says to Parashurama that now that He has strung the bow, He needs a target. Rama explained that he cannot use the arrow on Parashurama as his Guru Sage Vishwamitra’s sister was Parashurama’s grandmother. So in deference to his Guru he could not target him.
Losing his lustre Parashurama told Rama to take away the fruit of his penance as he needed the power of locomotion since he had promised Sage Kashyapa, to whom he gave the earth conquered by killing the Kshatriyas, that he would not remain on his land after sunset. Thus through the Parashurama–Rama meeting, Rama’s superiority is amply demonstrated. Rama destroyed the fruits of Parashurama’s penance and Parashurama offered his respects. After seeking Rama’s blessings Parashurama departed to Mahendra Parvata.
Since Parashurama is considered as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu one might wonder how can he meet Rama and challenge him. Parashurama was an Avataar for a specific task and a specific period. The divinity manifested in HIM only at the time of his destruction of the Kshatiryas.
Parashurama signifies the Yogi who has rooted out the inner enemies like Kaama and Krodha which are portrayed by the Kshatriyas. When Sattva rises to the surface there is peace, denoted by the gift of the earth to Sage Kashyapa. The axe of Parashurama is Viveka (discriminative intellect) and Vairagya (Detachment) armed with which one can conquer the inner foes. The incarnation comes to an end on the occasion of the meeting between Parashurama and Rama when the Lord assumes back His powers.
The Lord’s arrows always achieve their objective without fail (Rama Banam Veen Pogadhu is a saying in Tamil – Rama’s arrows never go to waste), and brings good to mankind.
184. MaheeBharta – The bearer of the earth
Mahee means the earth and Bhartaa is the one who carries or bears it and so literally Maheebharta is somebody who carries the earth. As Adi Sankara puts it ‘Ekaarnavaaplutaam deveem maheem babhaara iti Maheebharta – He carried the earth when it was drowning in water at the time of the great deluge.’ (Varaha Avataar).
Sri Srinivasa RaghavAcharyar has pointed out – Om Akhila JagadAdharaya Kurma-Roopine Narayana Namah as a reference to this act of Sriman Narayana.
The author of Dharma Chakram surmises that the gravitational force, which keeps everything in this Universe in its place is just a demonstration of the Shakti or power of this MaheeBharta.
185. Srinivasah – In whom Goddess Lakshmi resides
Sri refers to Lakshmi and NivAsam is the place or abode. Maha Lakshmi emerged from the Milky Ocean as it was being churned for nectar. As the Devas were watching and waiting, she chose the Lord as she emerged. Bhagavan greeted her with sweet words and offered her the place on his VakshaSthalam, on his chest very close to his heart.
Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Yasya vakshasi anapaayini Shreervasati iti – In whose chest the flourishing Lakshmi Devi resides is Srinivasah’.
Swami ChinmayAnanda points out that ‘Sri’ connotes all glory and power, faculties and strength, to be good and to perform creative acts of righteousness. She never resides permanently in any bosom, and even great saints and sages are known to have slipped from their pedestal occasionally. The only place where imperfections never enter is the seat of eternal perfection, which is the bosom of Narayana. This is a very elegant way of interpreting and understanding the significance of the statement that Sri is always in Lord’s Vaksha Sthalam or on his chest close to his heart.
Sri Vedanta Desikan says that Bhagavan in his Vaamana Avataar had to conceal Lakshmi residing on his chest by covering it with a deer skin as he was going for Bharmacharya Bhiksha from King Mahabali.
Shri Satyadevo Vasishtha points out that Shree also means beauty (Shobhaa), fame (Vibhooti), wealth (Dhana). One who is the repository of all these is Srinivasah. The statement that ‘Sri’ resides always with Mahavishnu on his chest emphasizes the concept that Vishnu and Lakshmi should be viewed as one single entity just as the fire and the heat associated with it are not two separate things. ‘Sri’ is the radiance, luster, success, wealth and the beauty, associated with Lord Narayana.
186. Sataam-gatih – The Ultimate Goal for all spiritual seekers.
This Nama means One who is the ultimate destination for all spiritual seekers, Vedic scholars or those wanting to lead a purposeful life.
Adi Sankara defines this as ‘Sataam vaidikaanaam saadhoonaam purushaartha saadhana hetuh – He is the one who fulfils scholars’ pursuit of the ultimate goals of life’.
Swami ChinmayAnanda points out that this Nama implies that He is not only the final goal, but also the very direction, path, and progress as well. Bhagavan is the ultimate goal for His devotees.
The Story of Akrura
Akrura was an ardent devotee of the Lord and held a position of trust and integrity as a minister in Kamsa’s Kingdom. Kamsa trusted Akrura absolutely and one day called Akrura and told him that all his attempts to kill Krishna had failed. All the demons sent to kill Krishna were killed. Kamsa wondered whether Krishna was the eighth child of Devaki, about whom he had been warned. Kamsa says that Akrura has a duty to save his King and, therefore, he must go to Krishna, persuade him with kind words and bring Him to Mathura. Akrura is delighted at the opportunity to see Krishna and departs. He does not fear for Krishna’s safety, as he knows Krishna is invincible.
Throughout the journey to Brindavan, he constantly meditated on the Lord Sri Krishna. On reaching the place, when he saw the footprints of the Lord on the sand, he became so ecstatic and overwhelmed that he jumped from the Chariot and rolled on the ground.
Akrura realised that his desire to see Krishna was more than fulfilled because he got the chance to escort Krishna and Balarama to Mathura. Akrura became protective of them while he escorted them. He asked Krishna and Balarama to be wary of the turbulent Yamuna.
When Akrura went to do his daily puja in the waters of Yamuna, he asked the boys to remain in the chariot.
Thinking to himself that it must have been a hallucination, he immersed himself in the waters for a second time. The Lord was very well aware of Akrura’s innermost feelings. He now gave Akrura a vision of Himself as Padmanabha on the serpent bed Adisesha.
Akrura thus got Sri Krishna’s special grace.
187. Aniruddhah – One who cannot be obstructed or blocked by anyone
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this nama as ‘Na kenaapi praadurbhaaveshu niruddhah iti Aniruddhah – Somebody who cannot be obstructed or blocked from his set course’. Basically this is a statement of the fact that the laws of nature cannot be circumvented by anybody. Examples of this guNa of bhagavAn are seen all around us all the time. Nothing can stop the rising and setting of the sun, the absorption of sun’s energy by the different things, etc. The laws of Nature are irresistible.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the reference to Maula Samhita to support the interpretation for this name – ‘aparimita cheshtho Bhagavan Aniruddhah – Unlimited are the exploits of Bhagavan Aniruddha’.
Swami Chinmayananda quotes the famous proverb “Time and tide wait for no man” as an explanation for this nama.
BhagavAn has been victorious and unobstructed in all of His incarnations. The Dharma Chakram gives a very obvious example of the unobstructed nature of Bhagavan’s wishes. Kamsa tried many things to get rid of the child Krishna right from the time of His birth, and in fact he had even planned to get rid of the child long before the child was born. None of his plans worked, and the child Krishna became the boy Krishna and got rid of Kamsa as the Lord had willed. This nama not only says that no one can obstruct Bhagavan from helping His devotees, but it also says that no one can save His enemies.
188. Suraanandah – One who gives delight to the Gods
The basic meaning is ‘Suraan Aanandayati iti Suraanandah – He is a source of delight to the Devas and hence he is called Suraanandah.
The word Sura is composed of su – good, and raa – to give. Bhagavan is the one who brings happiness to those who bring good to the world (suras). He assigns different functions to the various Devas and delights them by helping them in times of their distress. One instance of this is when the Milky Ocean was churned and the Lord gave the nectar or Amritam to the Suras.
All the incarnations of Bhagavan were designed to alleviate the sufferings of the Devas by getting rid of the demons like Ravana and Hiranyakashipu who were oppressing them. Hence he is rightly called Suraanandah.
The following are references from the Divya Prabandham:
mun iv-Ezhu ulagu uNarvinRi iruL miga umbargaL tozhudEtta annamAgi
anRu aru-maRai payandavanE enakku aruL puri nIyE… (periya tirumozhi 5.3.8)
“When all the seven worlds were immersed in darkness because of all kinds of conflicting and contradictory beliefs, Brahma and Sanaka-Sanandanadi Devas prayed to Lord Narayana, He appeared in the form of a Hamsa (Swan) and gave them the benefit of the knowledge of the path of righteousness.”
The significance of Hamsa here is that it is capable of separating the milk from the water; so also, Bhagavan identified the good from the bad for the benefit of the suras.
“tunni mannum vinnaadum tonraadu irulaai moodiya
naal annamaagi aru maraigal arulicceyda amalanidam…. (Periya Thirumozhi 5.1.9)
Meaning: When the Earth-world and Sky-world had not appeared, and an envelope of thick darkness. Spread out everywhere, the Lord came as a swan and lit the world with gems of the Vedas.
“mannu maa-nilamum malaigalum kadalum vaanamum taanavar-ulagum
tunnu maa-irulaai tulangoli Surungi tollai-naanmaraigalum maraiya
pinnum vaanavarkkum munivarkkum nalgi pirangiruL niram
keda oru naal annamaai angu arumarai payndaan aranga-maa-nagar amrndaane. (Periya Thirumozhi 5.7.3)
Meaning: When the wide Earth, the mountains, the oceans, and the sky, fell to the world of Asuras, and the four Vedas were engulfed in darkness, the Lord appeared as a swan and brightened the world, revealing to the Gods and Seers the Vedas once again, He is the resident of Arangama-Nagar.
“tunniya periruL Suzhndu ulagai mooda manniya naanmaRai
mutrum maraindida pin ivvulagil periruL neenga andru annamadaane!
AccOvacco arumarai tandaane! AccOvaccO!” (PeriyAzhwar Thirumozhi 1.9.10)
Meaning: When eternal darkness enveloped the world and the timeless Vedas fell into oblivion, you came as a swan, bequeathed the Vedas and rid the world of darkness! Come Acho, Acho!
In Srimad-Bhagavatam, Chapter 13 of the 11th Skandam is devoted to Hamsa Avataar. There Bhagavan describes how Brahma meditated upon Him for guidance in answering the question from Sanaka-Sanandanas on the relationship between Buddhi, Atma, Gunas, etc., and how He appeared in the form of a Swan incarnation and gave the Upadesham to him.
189. Govindah – One who is the protector of the Cows
The word ‘Go’ in Sanskrit has several meanings viz. “Earth”, “Cows”, “Speech”, or “Vedas”. Depending on which meaning we adopt we can assign different meanings for Govindah.
a) Gavaam Vindah Govindah – Gavaam means praise and Vindah means recipient. He is Govindah because He is the recipient of praise from the Devas for the help He renders as outlined in the previous nama;
b) Another interpretation is Gaam Avindat – One who retrieved the Earth from the depths of the Ocean. The following is from Santi parvam in MahaBharatam
Nashtaam vai dharaneem purvam avindam vai guhaagataam |
Govinda iti tenaaham devair-vaagbhir-abhistutah|| (Santi – 330.5)
Meaning: I first rescued the earth which was carried away and hidden in depths of the Ocean (by an asura); hence I am praised by the appellation Govindah by gods and scriptures.
c) Gaavo Vedavaanyo yam vindanti labhante, yatra vaa avatisthante sa Govindo Bhagavaan Vishnuh – One who is reached by Vedic chanting, or One who is the abode of the Vedas, is Govindah or Vishnuh. In Harivamsha we have the following –
Gaureshaa tu yato vaanee taam cha vindayate bhavaan |
Govindastu tato deva! munibhih kathyate bhavaan! || (Harivamsha 3.88.50)
Meaning: Gau means words. “You pervade all words giving them power. Therefore, Sages call you Govindah.”
d) The protector of the Cows – again supported from Harivamsha –
Aham kilendro devaanaam tvam gavaam indrataam gatah |
Govinda iti lokaastvaam stoshyanti bhuvi Shaashvatam || (Harivamsha 2.19.45)
Meaning: I am Indra, the leader of Devas. You have attained the leadership of the Cows. So in this world men praise you always addressing you as Govinda. He is the protector of the cows and played the part of Gopaala in Gokulam.
Shri Satyadevo Vasishtha points out that the leadership of cows also suggests the importance of milk, ghee, etc., in worship, yajna etc., and how these also play a key role in the nourishment of the world.
Anantakrishna Shastri gives the following 10 meanings for the combination Go+Vid :
- Go-Svargam – He transcends Heaven.
- Arrows – He knows all the weapons.
- Cattle – He is the leader of cows.
- Speech – He is to be known by the Vedas.
- Thunderbolt – He has the Vajra marks on His feet.
- Quarters – He is known in all quarters.
- Eyes – He is the seer in every person.
- The Sun – He is in the orb of the sun.
- Earth – He recovered the Earth from the Ocean.
- Waters – His seat is in the waters.
This all goes to show the richness of the name Govindah and how much it is packed with various meanings.
190. Govidaam Patih – The protector of those who know the Vedas
This means the protector and the leader of those who have studied the Vedas. The significance of this Nama has to be recognised by understanding that He is the source of all knowledge, and it is by His grace that knowledge is accomplished.
You may recall from the previous Nama that the word ‘Go’ in Sanskrit has several meanings, including Speech, Earth, Cow, etc. This allows other interpretations for this nama. Bhagavan is also the master of speech of all other creations such as birds, animals etc. HE is the leader of those who know the principal (Tatvam) of this Universe.
Maheshvaaso Maheebharta Srinivasas Sataam-gatih |
Aniruddhas Suraanando Govindo Govidaam Patih ||20|
He has Goddess Lakshmi eternally on his chest and holds her close to his heart as Srinivasa. He bestows the Sataam-gatih i.e., highest destiny attainable (Moksha) by those who seek Him.
He manifests in various forms and cannot be obstructed by anyone, hence He is Aniruddhah. He gives delight to the Gods with his actions and hence He is Suraandah.
As Govinda, HE gives protection to all his devotees and since He is also the master of words, HE is the protector of the Vedas, so He is Govidaam Patih.
The audio visual commentary of the 20th Shloka is available on YouTube (link provided below):
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
HARI OM TAT SAT