In this Part we will explore the meaning of the 21st Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Mareechir Damano Hamsas Suparno Bhujagottamah |
Hiranyanaabhas Sutapaah Padmanaabhah Prajaapatih ||21||
Bhagavan is radiant with an impressive form and guides everyone with his brilliance. He also metes out justice and punishes those who swerve from the path of Dharma through mental agony and bodily afflictions. He is beautiful like a Swan and in his incarnation as Hamsa, He bestowed the knowledge of the Vedas and Dharma to Brahma and all the Devas. He removes the fear of the Samsara from his devotees and with his beautiful wings gets his devotees across the Ocean of Samsara to the shore. He reclines on the Ananta, the great Adi Sesha and also the master of Vasuki. He has a beautiful navel of which the Creator Brahma was born. He has Supreme Knowledge and has complete control over all forms of knowledge and He is the father of all beings as He created the Creator (Brahma).
This Shloka contains the following Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
191. Mareechih – Ray of light
In the Bhagavad Gita (10.36), Bhagavan says ‘Tejas tejasvinaam Aham – I am the brightness of the Bright’. All objects, which radiate light, are mainly reflecting Bhagavan’s glory.
There are many instances where Bhagavan had blessed his devotees with Divya Drishti, for example he blessed several of his devotees like Surdas, Koorathazhvan, Dhridhrashtra, Arjuna et al with Divya Drishti to be able to enjoy the blissful sight of HIM.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this nama to indicate that Bhagavan reveals Himself to His devotees through the eye of their devotion even though they can’t see Him through their natural eye.
In an article in Dharma Chakram it is said that this Guna of Bhagavan should enthuse us to seek the ray of light that will help us to meditate on Him. We can achieve this by first controlling our indiryas or senses, which then converts the body’s energies into mental energy. Then by controlling the mind, this energy can be converted into light giving us clarity of mind that would help us to realise Him.
A different interpretation is given by Shri Satydevo Vashishta for this nama. The word Mareechi is derived from Mri Praanatyaage meaning to die or perish. He interprets Mareechi as one who destroys. Since it is one of Bhagavan’s functions to destroy the beings that He creates, He is Mareechih.
To support this, he gives the examples from the Bhagavad GIta (Chapter 2 Verse 27) – jAtasya hi dhruvo mr*tyur-dhruvam janma mritasya ca meaning For one who has taken birth, death is certain and for the one who is dead, birth is certain. He also quotes from the Atharva Veda (5.24.13) mrityuh prajAnAm adhipatih.
192. Damanah – One who metes out justice
The word ‘Damanah’ is derived from the root- ‘dam upashame’ meaning to tame. ‘Damayati iti Damanah’ – One who exercises order and discipline amongst his subjects.
Sri Adi Sankara explains this as ‘Svaadhikaaraat Pramaadyateeh Prajaa damayitum sheelamasya Vaivasvataadi roopena iti damanah – By assuming the form of Yama the terminator, He subdues those who are infatuated with their own power and ego, hence He is called Damanah’. He controls and punishes those who swerve from their dharma (damayitum Silam yasya sa damanah).
People can get afflicted from three sources, namely Adhyatmikam (self-inflicted), Adhibhautikam (from other beings including animals) and Adhidaivigam (acts of God like earthquake, tsunami, floods etc.).
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this Nama to indicate that He helps His devotees to overcome their sufferings from such afflications of Samsara (the material world) through His guiding Light – Kaanti mandaakineebhih bhava-taapam daayati iti damanah.
Shri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives this interpretation:
Damyati upashaamayati kanti kiranaih upaaseenaanaam manas-taapam iti damanah – He removes the sorrows in the minds of His devotees through His radiance when they meditate on Him.
Swami ChinmayAnanda explains that the Damana aspect of Bhagavan is responsible for controlling the demonic impulses within each one of us. In the form of pain and agitation, sorrow and death, it is He who controls all the negative tendencies in everyone’s heart.
The author in Dharma Chakram points out that when one does not follow the Satvic principles, one suffers from diseases and mental agony. These are all acts of Bhagavan to discipline the person with the intent of helping the person learn and realise the right path. This is His act of Damana. In the form of the ten incarnations, He also has controlled the horrific tyrannies of the vicious against the good.
193. Hamsah – One who removes the fear of Samsara
- ‘Aham sa iti taadaatmyabhaavinah samsaara bhayam hanti iti Hamsah – He is called Hamsah because he annuls (Han) the fear of samsaram for those who realise that they are nothing but the Absolute’. This ‘Aham Brahman Asmi’ or Aham Brahmasmi’ or ‘I am He’ supports the Advaita philosophy;
- ‘Hanti Gachhati sarvashareereshu iti vaa Hamsah – He is called Hamsah because he moves in all beings and bodies’.
Hamsah can also be looked upon as a reference to the incarnation of Bhagavan as a swan. The legend goes: “When all the seven worlds were immersed in darkness because of all kinds of conflicting and contradictory beliefs, Brahma and all the Devas prayed to Lord Narayana, He appeared in the form of a Hamsa (Swan) and gave them the knowledge of the path of Dharma or righteousness.”
Hamsa is believed to be capable of separating milk from water and drinking only the milk and leaving the water behind. Hamsa is also noted for its beauty, especially for its graceful walk. Bhagavan is Hamsa in that He is everything that is good and devoid of anything that is not good. He is also Hamsa for His beauty in thought, words, and deeds.
194. Suparnah – One who has beautiful wings
Suparnah has two meanings:
- One who has beautiful wings, and
- One who can lead devotees across the Ocean of Samsara.
Parna basically means a wing or an aspect of a leaf. In the first sense, the explanation is ‘Shobhanam parnam yasya asti iti Suparnah – One who has beautiful wings’. He is Suparnah because He carries His devotees across the Ocean of Samsara to the shore.
In Srimad Bhagavatam we have – Siddheshvaraanaam kapilah Suparno’ham Patatrinaam – Among the Siddhas, I am Kapila, and among the birds I am Garuda (11.16.15). In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 30) Bhagavan says ‘Mrigaanaam ca mrigendro’ham Vainateyashca Pakshinaam – Among beasts, I am the Lion, their king, and among birds, I am Garuda, the son of Vinataa. Thus, Suparna is interpreted as referring to His being the best of the best in all that exist.
In the Mundaka Upanishad, it says “Dva Suparna Sayujaa sakhaayaa samaanam vriksham parishvajsste tayoranyah pippalam svaadvanti, anashnan anyo abhicaakashIti”.
Meaning: A pair of white winged birds extremely friendly to each other sit on the same tree; while one eats the fruits, the other does not eat and simply gazes on” – One (JivAtma) eats the fruits of actions, and the other (ParamAtma) just gazes on as a witness (Sakshi).
Sri Radhakrishna Sastri refers to one as the great enjoyer (Perinbam), and the other as the Great Knower (Perarivu). Vishnu is this all-experiencing Principle of Consciousness.
Bhagavan is the sum total of the two hence he is called the Suparnah. This Nama can also be related back to the previous Nama of Hamsa incarnation with beautiful wings.
195. Bhujagottamah – The Master of the Serpent AdiSesha (aka Ananta) and Vasuki
Bhujaga means a snake because ‘bhujena gachhati tit Bhujaga –it moves by crawling on its arms’. Uttama means the highest. So Bhujagottamah means the highest among snakes. So he is the embodiment of great serpents like Adishesha or Vaasuki.
Uttama can also mean ‘one who is above everything’. Here it refers to Bhagavan who is reclining on top of AdiSesha. He is the Seshi or the Lord of the Sesha. The Nama could also refer to Ananta – anantashcasmi Naagaanaam (Bhagavad GIta 10.29). He is reclining on Ananta the Serpent as the couch.
According to Shri Satyadevo Vashishta this Nama is based on the root word ‘bhuj kautilye’ meaning to bend or to curve. He points out that Bhagavan is Bhujagottamah because He is the best of all that bends and moves. This includes air, birds, snakes etc.
196. Hiranyanaabhah – One who supports in His navel, the Creator
The literal meaning of this is ‘One who has a beautiful navel with a golden hue’. This can be interpreted in 2 ways.
The other meaning is ‘Hita ramaneeya naabhitvaat Hiranyanaabhah – He has a benevolent and beautiful navel’.
Here it refers to the navel that is great by having created the catur-mukha-brahmA who is also well-versed in the Catur-Vedas. Brahma gets his greatness because he creates all the beings thus giving them the opportunity to reveal their greatness. This great Brahma was born out of the navel of Vishnu, and thus the greatness of the navel that bore Brahma is evident.
197. Sutapaah – One who has Supreme Knowledge
This is a combination of ‘Su’ meaning good and ‘tapah’ meaning penance. So Sutapaah means someone who performs Supreme penance.
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Badarikaashrame NaraNaraayana roopena shobhanam tapascharati iti Sutapaah – He is called Sutapaah because he practises sublime penance in the forest of Badarika in the form of Nara and Naraayana’.
The penance is as defined in the Bramha Puranam which says ‘Manasas cha indriyaanaam cha Ekaagryam Paramam Tapah – Penance is nothing but the integration of mind with the senses’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar defines tapas as knowledge and therefore this Nama is interpreted by him as one who possesses Supreme knowledge.
Swami ChinmayAnanda quotes the following from the Upanishad to support his interpretation – sa tapah taptvaa idametadasrijat meaning He did penance and out of his penance this world was created.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha interprets ‘tap’ to mean the ability to bear. He gives the example of a mother bearing the strain of an unborn child for 9 months just so that she can bring out the child to this world. Similarly Bhagavan’s Su-tapa or His bearing of the Tejas of the Sun so that it can be a life source for the world, without burning them with its excessive heat. So Bhagavan is the Maha-tapasvi. The author in Dharma Chakram points out that the strength derived from tapas is more powerful than any other strength, and gives the example of how Vishvamitra’s army was powerless against Vasishtha’s tapo-Sakti. It was through tapas that Vishvamitra ultimately attained Brahma-jnAna, and it was through tapas that Dhruva attained the immortal position. Lord VishNu is tapas-incarnate (SutapAh), and thus guides His devotees in the path of tapas.
The Legend of Nara-Narayana
Nara-Narayana were the twin-brother incarnation of Lord Vishnu on earth. The twins were the sons of Dharma (son of Brahma) and his wife Murti (Daughter of Daksha). They lived at Badrika performing severe austerities and meditation for the preservation of dharma or righteousness. In the concept of Nara-Narayana, the human soul Nara is the eternal companion of the Divine Narayana.
The legend of Nara-Narayana is also told in the Bhagavata Purana. It is also believed that the pair dwells at Badrinath, where the most sacred Badrinath temple stands.
It is said that “there are many sacred spots of pilgrimage in the heavens, earth and the nether world, but there has been none equal to Badrinath, nor shall there be”. Badrinath is situated in the Tehri-Garhwal hill tracks (Uttarakhand) at the height of 10,248 feet.
The beginning of Guru-Shisya parampara is supposed to have its roots here. This is symbolised by the two ranges of mountains – Nar range of mountains (representing the individual soul – Jeevatma) and the Narayana range of mountains (on which side the temple is situated – representing the Supreme Reality – Paramatma).
Krishna and Arjuna are often referred to as Nara-Narayana in the Mahabharata and are considered part incarnations of Narayana and Nara respectively.
In their previous life, the duo was born as the Sages Nara and Narayana, and who performed great penances at the holy spot of Badrinath. The sages defeated a demon called Sahasrakavacha (“one with a thousand armours”).
Legend has it that once Lord Shiva tried to bring the fame of Nara and Narayana before everyone. To do that, he hurled his own potent weapon Paashupathiastra at the meditating Rishis.
The strength of their meditation was so intense that the Astra lost its power before them. Lord Shiva stated that this happened since the duos were jnanis of the first order constantly in the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi or eternal trance.
198. Padmanaabhah – One who controls or rules over Knowledge
- ‘Padmamiva Suvartulaa naabhih asya iti’ meaning He has a navel as beautiful as a lotus;
- ‘Hridaya padmasya naabhau madhye prakaashanaat Padmanaabhah’ meaning He is called Padmanaabhah as he is shining like a lotus in everyone’s heart. In fact the seat of the heart is called Anahata chakra and Bhagavan is positioned there. Here naabhi means the centre rather than the navel.
Also it is noteworthy that when a Lotus (Padmam) blossoms, it attracts the bees and other insects towards it. Similarly, Bhagavan (as Padmanaabhah) attracts all the Jeevas towards Him. Lotus is the most beautiful and majestic of flowers; so is Padmanaabhah an embodiment of beauty and majesty.
Sri Satyadevo Vashishtha gives additional insight into this Nama from yet another perspective. Padmam also means knowledge – padyate jnaayate anena padmam jnanam meaning – One who is the Center or reservoir of Knowledge, or One who controls and rules over Knowledge is Padmanaabhah.
As Adi Sankara puts it ‘Prajaanaam patih pitaa prajaapatih – He is called Prajapatih because he is the father of all creations’. Patih also means the lord or the leader.
He is the Supreme Lord of all beings. He creates, protects and destroys them when the time comes.
Mareechir Damano Hamsas Suparno Bhujagottamah
Hiranyanaabhas Sutapaah Padmanaabhah Prajaapatih
Bhagavan is Mareechih with an impressive form and guides everyone with his radiance. He is Damanah as He metes out justice and punishes those who swerve from the path of Dharma through mental agony and bodily afflictions.
He is beautiful like a Swan and in his incarnation as Hamsa, He bestowed the knowledge of the Vedas and Dharma to Brahma and all the Devas. He removes the fear of the Samsara from his devotees and with his beautiful wings, Suparnah, He gets his devotees across the Samsara to the shore.
He reclines on the Ananta, the great Adi Sesha and also the master of Vasuki, hence He is Bhujagottamah. He has a beautiful navel of which the Creator Brahma was born, so He is Hiranyanabhah. He has Supreme Knowledge and hence He is Sutapah. He has complete control over all forms of knowledge, so He is Padmanabhah. He is the father of all beings as HE created the Creator (Brahma), so He is Prajaapatih.
The audio visual commentary of this Shloka is available on YouTube (link given below):
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
HARI OM TAT SAT
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.