In this Part, we will explore the meaning of the 24th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Bhagavan leads his devotees to Moksha or Liberation from this Samsara. Those who unconditionally surrender unto Him are assured of salvation, the ultimate destination for his devotees (BG 18.66). He is the consort of Shri or MahaLakshmi and his wealth is eternal. He is just and well disposed to his devotees. He controls the Universe and is the breath in all living beings. He is thousand headed with thousands of eyes and feet, omnipresent and omniscient. He is an antaryami and present in all souls.
This Shloka has the following Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
220. Agraneeh – One who leads liberation seekers forward
Agre nayati iti agraneeh – One who leads forward is Agraneeh. This is a combination of ‘Agram’ meaning forward and ‘Nayati’ meaning leads. So the Nama means ‘One who leads forward’.
Sri Adi Sankara explains this as ‘Agram Prakrishtam padam nayati mumukshoon iti – One who leads those who want to attain Moksha or Liberation from this Samsara’.
Both, Sri Adi Sankara and Sri Parasara Bhattar interpret this Nama to mean as ‘leading forward’ and refer to Bhagavan’s Guna of leading His devotees from this material world (Samsaara) to Liberation or Moksha.
The writer in Dharma Chakram refers to four kinds of people who seek his benevolence. He compares people to four stages of fish in a river:
1. The Nitya Suris (Ever free angels) are like the fish which do not get caught in the net – i.e. they do not fall for the bait, and remain safely out of the delusion of samsara;
2. The Mukta Jivas are those who get caught in the net, but with their penance and meditation, succeed in escaping from the net;
3. The Mumukshus are like the fish which is yearning to escape and keeps making an effort to get out, even though they have not succeeded in escaping; and
4. The Baddha Jivas are like the fish that enjoy the bait of the fisherman, and remain happily in the net under a delusion and finally become food for the fisherman.
Sri MahaVishnu’s Guna of Agraneeh applies to those who are in the third category of the list above i.e. the Mumukshus, who are constantly striving to get out of this Ocean of Samsara by meditating on HIM and are devoted to Him. They are just like the fish that has been taken out of water desperately trying to get back into the water, or like the man who has been thrown into water and drowning and is desperately gasping to get a breath of air. It is this kind of intensity in seeking Him that will qualify a person for the Agraneeh’s anugraham or benediction.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha points out that this attribute of Sri Vishnu in ‘moving everything forward’ is constantly demonstrated in everyone’s life i.e., we only keep moving forward, and can never go backwards in time, and time lost, is lost forever. Not only are we moving forward, but we are moving forward according to His will. This is true for even the Sun, Moon and the Stars.
The Story of Salabega: An Embodiment of Love and Devotion
Bhakt Salabega was born in the 17th century and became a renowned religious Oriya poet living in Odisha. His mother was a Hindu Brahmin and his father a Bengali Muslim.
Lalbeg, a Subedar in the Nawab of Bengal’s army had taken part in the campaign against Odisha. Once Lalbeg was returning from Dandamukundapur in Puri, he found a beautiful young Brahmin widow returning from the Bathing Ghats. Fascinated by her youth and beauty he forcibly took her away and married her. She later came to be known as Fatima Biwi.
From his childhood, his mother narrated Puranic stories of Lord Vishnu to him. He developed a great devotion to the Lord. As Salabega grew up, he took part in campaigns along with his father. Once he got severely wounded and the physicians attending to him had ruled out his survival. He heard some devotees singing Bhajans about Krishna and Lord Jagannath. He too began chanting Bhagavan’s names and remembered his mother’s description of Vishnu’s rescue of Gajendra, the king of the elephants, when caught by a crocodile. Like Dhruva Maharaja and Sri Prahlada, Salabega had intense childlike faith in the mercy of the Lord. He thought the great Lord Jagannath, who is the Lord of the Universe, will be able to cure him. He continued to pray to Lord Jagannath and finally got cured.
Salabega’s miraculous recovery became a pivotal moment in his life. After that incident, he became an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath. His father disowned him for this reason. He roamed around chanting the name of Lord Jagannath at all times and finally reached Puri. He wrote many prayers glorifying Lord Jagannath but was not allowed to enter the temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri as he was a Muslim by birth. However, this did not deter him from meditating on the Lord. He would eagerly look forward to the annual Rath Yatra when Lord Jagannath goes in a procession to meet HIS devotees and to bless them with his grace.
The Rath Yatra (Jagannath Puri)
The festival is also known as Rath Yatra, Car festival, Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yātrā, Dasāvatāra Yātrā and by a variety of other names.
The preparation for the Rath Yatra celebration commences much earlier as it entails the construction and decoration of the Raths or Chariots by carpenters, who have ancestral rights for building and decorating the chariots aided by devotees and volunteers. The three chariots are the highlights of the entire Yatra and are pulled by ropes.
The chariot of Lord Jagannath is 45.6 feet high comprising 18 wheels and is referred as Nandighosa. Lord Jagannatha is identified with Krishna, who is also known as Pitambara, the one attired in golden yellow robes and hence the distinguishing yellow stripes on the canopy of this chariot.
Balabhadra’s chariot is 44 feet high with 16 wheels and is called Taladhvaja.
It’s covered with red and blue cloth with a Palm Tree on its flag.
This chariot is decked with a covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess.
The Rath Yatra is one of the most awaited Hindu festivals to mark Lord Jagannath’s visit along with Balabhadra and Subhadra, his siblings, to the temple of Queen Gundicha. Chhera pahara is the most famous ritual associated with the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra. During the festival, the Gajapati King sweeps all around the deities and chariots. He cleanses the road with a broom (gold-handled) and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder. The custom showcases that in the eyes of Lord Jagannath every devotee is equal, be it the King or a commoner. This ritual is held on two days, firstly on start of the Rath Yatra when the three deities set out on their way and again on the last day when they are ceremoniously brought back to the Puri Temple.
The three chariots are brought out on to the Main Street of Puri known as Bada Danda. During this journey, Lord Jagannath is with his celestial discus, the Sudarshan Chakra is taken to the Gundicha Temple and to their aunt’s house (Mausimaa temple) where the deities enjoy a nine days stay and are served with sweet pancakes (Poda Pitha), Lord Jagannath’s favourite food.
The celebration and observation of the Puri Rath Yatra Festival dates back to the period of the Puranas. One of the prominent factors making Puri favourite place for the tourists, is its being one of the Char Dham temples. The English word “juggernaut” was coined based on the enormity of the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra!
The narrations of the Rath Yatra can be found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and Skanda Purana and Kapila Samhita.
The concept of the chariot has been explained in the Katha Upanishad in the following words:
“Atmaanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathamevatu Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi manah pragrahameva cha” – The body is the chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.
The Skanda Purana glorifies the sanctity of the Rath Yatra in the following words:
“Gundicha mandapam namam yatrahamajanam pura Ashwamedha sahasrasya mahabedi tadadvabat” – Those who are fortunate to see the deities of the Srimandira in the Gundicha Temple, the final destination of the procession of the chariots, derive the benefits of sacrificing a thousand horses.
Lord Jagannath is identified with Lord Krishna. The influence of Yama, the God of Death, is supposed to have been curtailed in the sacred city of Puri – Srikshetra on account of the presence of Lord Jagannath and therefore it is also called the “Yamanika Tirtha”.
A glimpse of Lord Jagannath on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious and saints, poets and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the sanctity of this special festival. The sanctity of the festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is considered enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages. There is a famous Oriya song which emphasises that on this occasion, the chariot, the wheels, the grand avenue all become one with Lord Jagannath himself.
Bhakt Salabega thought of sighting the Lord from a close proximity as he was not allowed to enter the temple. He resided in a house near Srimandira, so that he could get a glimpse of the Lord. When the chariot of Lord Jagannath came nearer to his house, he started weeping. Suddenly, the chariot stopped there and Salabega saw the Lord Jagannath to his heart’s content. This miracle became known to the priests who allowed him to get Lord’s darshan since then.
There is one common theme in all of Salabega’s devotional songs. He chastises himself on his birth and his lineage, which was neither Hindu nor Muslim. To paraphrase, he says, ‘My father is son of a Mughal, my mother is a Brahmin, O’ my Lord, you gave me a low-birth.’ He would sing eloquently in praise of the dark Lord Jagannath and says that the Lord swaying and moving like a wild elephant arrives at the Grand Avenue and rides his chariot and destroys in a flash all the sins of his devotees, even if these may be grave or unpardonable.
Once during the Rath Yatra festival, Salabega was out of town and could not reach in time of the procession. He prayed to Lord Jagannatha to wait on his chariot until he could come and that’s exactly what the Lord did!
When the chariot reached Salabega’s house, it stalled. Legend has it that the chariot of Lord Jagannath did not move despite all efforts by the priests. Salabega reached the place and had his communion with the Lord, and only after that the chariot moved!
The place where the chariot remained stationary was later used by Salabega to compose many Bhajans in the honour of Lord Jagannath.
He received the blessings of Lord Jagannath and is regarded as a great devotee.
In honour of Salabega, every year during the Rath Yatra, the chariot of Lord Jagannath would stay stationary for a while near his Samadhi.
Another Story of Bhakta Salabega:
Salabega had another instance when showered his grace on him. Salabega was coming from Delhi to Puri through Balasore and was staying near the temple of Shyamsundar. During the evening prayers, Salabega wanted to see the Lord inside but was not allowed to do so since he was a Muslim. One evening the priest found that the Lord was missing from his throne and reported it to the King. That same night the King of Balasore had a dream that a great devotee of the Lord was waiting outside to have a darshan of Krishna. The King made arrangement for a hole to be drilled in the wall so that Salabega could see the Lord. As soon as Salabega looked through the hole, the deities miraculously reappeared.
Bhagavan is Agraneeh to his staunch devotees and leads them to Moksha.
221. Graamaneeh – Leader of all beings
This is a combination of ‘Graama’ meaning a group and ‘Nayati’ meaning leads. So the name means somebody who leads the group (of devotees).
According to Shri Satyadevo Vasishtha, Graama refers to any collection, e.g. of several houses (a village), or of several indiryas (sense organs of the body), or of several musical instruments (sapta svaraas-trayo graama … in Naaradeeya Sikshaa), or the collection of all created beings. He is the foremost leader of all such groups.
The writer in Dharma Chakram interprets this Nama in the context of the devotees who have unconditionally entrusted themselves in His care. Such devotees are blessed by HIM and lead into Liberation. He gives the example of someone who is lost in a forest (Samsara). If this person goes and seeks help for getting out of this from others (such as his relatives, his friends, etc.), who are also lost, such a request for help is going to be futile. But if such a person seeks the help of Lord Vishnu, who alone can lead us from the bondage of Samsara, only then will they be able to exit this forest (Samsara) and attain Liberation. When devotees unconditionally surrender to the Lord, they are led by Bhagavan to Moksha and it is this act of His which is denoted by the name Graamaneeh.
222. Shrimaan – One who is the consort of MahaLakshmi
This name has already occurred as Nama 22 and 180 and we have seen several meanings. In Sanskrit Shri is a general term covering many noble and powerful attributes. Based on the attributes we assign to Shri, we can interpret Shrimaan in many ways, like:
a) One who is endowed with wealth
b) One who is full of all glories
c) One who is radiant with Supreme light
d) The Lord of Mahalakshmi
e) One who has Mahalakshmi on his Vakshasthala or chest
f) One who is endowed with Supreme powers.
Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Shreeh Kaantih Sarvaatishayaani asya asti iti Shrimaan – He is Shrimaan because he is full of radiance and is a source of great wonders’. Shrimaan refers to the Lord as One who is more radiant or resplendent than anything else that exists. He refers to Lord’s prosperity (Shri), and the translator’s note adds that this refers to the six kinds of prosperity (Shaadgunya Paripurnatva).
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets Shrimaan as referring to Bhagavan as One who is endowed with Shri or wealth. He refers to the “Lotus-eyed Matsya Murti as Matsyah Kamala Locanah”, and indicates that based on this, the Matsya Murti form is none other than Shrimaan who is the ParamAtma. When He incarnated as a fish, His splendour was Supreme in that form.
Swami ChinmayAnanda interprets Sri as Mother Lakshmi, who is the total manifested power potential and stands for all powers or all glories. Vishnu is Shrimaan because He has all these powers in Him or is endowed with all glories.
Shrimaan also refers to Sriyah pati, the Lord of Sri or MahaLakshmi. Bhagavan’s beauty is natural to Him because He has SrI in his Vaksha-sthala.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the root word as “Shri -Sevaayaam” – One who is fit to be served. Shri also means Shobha or beauty or “Kanti”. He points out that the beauty that is seen all around us in the trees, the birds, the rivers, the flowers, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, etc., should remind us constantly of Bhagavan, the Shrimaan whose Shri is shining in everything. Shri also means wealth. The wealth that humans have is transient, and can disappear any time. Bhagavan is Shrimaan whose wealth is Nitya or permanent.
The Dharma Chakram article inteprets this Nama to mean that the Prakriti and Purusha are inseparable, just as Shri and the Lord are inseparable, and are part of the same Para-Brahmam.
223. Nyaayah – One who is Just
In Sanskrit the word ‘Nyaaya’ applies to both justice and logic.
Sri Adi Sankara goes for the second meaning i.e. of logic. He describes this as ‘Pramaana Anugraahakah Abhedakaarakah Tarkah Nyaayah – Bhagavan is both the argument (Tarka) and conclusion running through all sources of knowledge (Yukti)’. Tarka or logic tries to identify a cause for every observed phenomenon. However the search for causes has to be given up at some point when we look for the ultimate cause or the cause of all causes. All normal logic breaks down if we try to apply it to explain the nature of Bhagavan. As Bhagavan is both the cause and the effect, He is logic unto Himself.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this Nama as referring to the Lord’s Guna where He does whatever is appropriate for His devotees to ensure that nothing untoward or unwelcome happens to them. He is the epitome of justice and fairness. He does not discriminate between people and treats all of them as equal. He is therefore, Nyaayah or the epitome of justice.
Shri Radhakrishna Shastri says that He is Nyaayah because He is the only one who can give what is good for His devotees in a rational and consistent form that cannot be refuted through counter-arguments.
The writer in Dharma Chakram elaborates on this further, and points out that there are three types of Tarka (lines of argument) – Vaada, Vitandaa and Jalpa. Of these, Vaada is done with the purpose of understanding and arriving at the truth and is undertaken with humility and sincerity. Vitanda is the argument which is meant to just confuse the opponent, and is undertaken with a haughty disposition and ahankaara. Jalpa is the line of argument where the power or position is used to subdue, frighten, insult and threaten the opponent.
Of these, Vaada is the most appropriate way of argument, and will lead to enhancing understanding. Devotees who worship Maha-Vishnu are blessed by Him with the ability to analyse and understand the truth through the just means, and they are saved from destructive thoughts and are led towards self-realisation.
The example of Lord Krishna’s instructions to Arjuna is given to illustrate the instance that Bhagavan leads His devotees to the thought process involving Nyaaya Yukti, whereby Arjuna’s thoughts become clear, his attachments are removed, and he acts righteously and pursues just course of action.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha derives his interpretation based on Neeyate praapyate iti nyaayah – One who ensures that everything in this world is on its right track and reaches its destination is Nyaayah. The yantra that is the Universe, with its Sun, moon and stars, is functioning under the guidance of the Nyaaya that is Vishnu. So also the organs in our bodies are directed by the ‘body logic’ that is Vishnu. The word ‘niyati’, which means ‘rule’, is related to the word Nyaaya (Neeyate).
224. Netaa – One who leads or regulates
This name indicates that He is the Controlling Force behind everything in this Universe.
a) One who fulfills the requests of His devotees.
b) One who manages or regulates the affairs of the Cosmos.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this as ‘Niyuktam karoti iti neta – One who fulfils the requests of his devotees’.
The Dharma Chakram writer gives the analogy of objects attached to a rotating wheel. The objects rotate because of the movement of the wheel. We are all moving around because of His Will which is analogous to the rotating wheel. However, it is our belief that it is us who are responsible for our motion, and forget that it is He who is moving us as He pleases.
Those who understand this get out of the delusion that we are fully in control of everything around us. The tamil saying “Avan Indri Oru Anuvum Asayadhu” is very apt for this Nama.
225. Sameeranah – One who controls Prana or breath in all living beings
Sameeranah has two meanings:
a) One who performs acts which are delectable.
b) One who controls all movements (e.g., breath) in beings.
This Nama is derived from the root Ir- to move (IraNa).
Sri Adi Sankara associates the motion or movement with the breath in all living beings. He is Sameeranah because He controls the functioning of the body through the breath. ‘Shvasana roopena bhootaani cheshtayati iti Sameeranah – He gives activity to people and animates them by residing in them in the form of breath’. This is based on the meaning of Samira which denotes air.
Sri Parasara Bhattar associates this movement with that part of the Matsya incarnation where Bhagavan dove deep into the Ocean to retrieve the Vedas from the nether-world from the Asura named HayagrIva. Sri Bhattar interprets this name to be based on the root ‘Eer’ meaning to move.
SrI Radhakrishna Shastri associates the motion implied by IraNa with the act of Bhagavan leading the boat with the seeds of Creation during the Pralaya in His Matsya incarnation. The following is from Srimad Bhagavatam Skandam 8, Chapter 24, Shloka 33 –
“trilokyaam lIyamaanaayaam samvartaambasi vai tadaa |
uapsthaasyati nauh kaacit vishaalaa tvam maya Irita ||
Meaning: When all the three worlds disappear under the Ocean, a large boat will be steered by Me towards you”.
226. Sahasramoordhaa – The thousand-headed
The basic meaning is that he is endowed with thousands of heads. As Sri Adi Sankara puts it ‘Sahasraani moordhaani asya asti iti – He is Sahasramoordhaa because he has thousands of heads’. The word thousand here is used in the sense of unlimited or uncountable rather in the sense of the number thousand.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets these three names together, and points out that the reference to head, eyes, and feet really includes all organs of knowledge and action, and the reference to a thousand signifies ‘innumerable’. What is referred to here is that Bhagavan is endowed with infinite capacity to know and act, which are the functions of these organs.
He makes the following references from the Srutis:
- PurushaSooktam says “Sahasra Sheershah Purushah Sahasraakshas Sahasrapaat” – The Lord has thousand heads, eyes and feet.
• Aneka vaktra nayanam anekaadbhuta darshanam (Bhagavad Gita 11.10) – Arjuna says the Supreme deity is possessing many mouths, eyes presenting a wonderful sight;
• Rupam mahat-te bahu-vaktra-netram Mahabaaho Bahu-Baahuru paadam (Bhagavad Gita 11.23) – I am seeing this stupendous and frightening form of yours possessing numerous mouths and eyes, many arms, thighs and feet;
• Sarvatah Paani paadam tat sarvato’kshi Siro-mukham (Bhagavad GIta 13.14) – Everywhere are his hands and legs, his eyes, heads and faces;
• Vishvatashcakshuruta vishvatomukho vishvato baahuruta vishvatspAt (Taittiriya Aranyaka 10.1) – The Lord has thousand heads, eyes, hands and feet.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri points out that reference is made to the head first in the above sequence of names because head is the first thing that develops when a child is formed in the mother’s womb, and head is the part of the child that appears first usually when the child is born. Also, reference is made to head, eyes, and feet because of their importance in exercising the energy of knowledge (Jnana Shakti) and the energy of action (Kriya Shakti). These three Namas also remind us that He is everywhere, in everything, all-powerful, all pervading, always observing everything in every one of us, etc.
Swami ChinmayAnanda points out that the “many heads”, “many eyes”, and “many legs” together indicate that the One Infinite Consciousness expresses everywhere in all forms and at all times through all these tools of thinking (head), perception (eyes), and action (legs).
According to Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha, the countless heads refers to his unlimited intellect and wisdom. We are all part of His body, and thus all our heads are His heads, and so also He is Sahasramoordha.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha adds that “One who is of many legs” also suggests that He has made his creations such that they can get around by many means e.g., as two legged humans, as four-legged animals, as the hundred-legged centipedes, as multi-legged millipedes, as no-legged serpents, as birds getting around by flying, as fish by swimming, etc. In this sense, Sahasrapaat really reveals that He is Ananta jnanavaan, or of Infinite Intellect, in having created and supported this kind of immeasurable diversity.
It is interesting to note the similarity in the Vedic chanting of Purusha Suktam “Sahasra SIrshA purushah Sahasraakshah Sahasrapaat”, which is the same as in Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
227. Vishvaatmaa – The very soul of the Universe
He is Vishvaatmaa because He pervades the entire Universe by His knowledge and strength.
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Vishvasya Aatmaa – the soul of the Universe’. He is the vital essence who transforms inanimate objects into living organisms. He is Sarva Vyaapee, present everywhere and Sarva Antaryamee, all pervading. This is why the very first name in the Sahasranamam is Vishvam. He symbolises the Universe both at the microcosmic and the macrocosmic level.
Bhagavan says in the Bhagavad Gita (10.20)
“Aham Aaatmaa Gudaakesha Sarvabhootaashayasthitah – Arjuna! I am verily the Soul that resides in the heart of all beings”.
The writer in Dharma Chakram points out that the true significance in this Nama lies in our realising the unity among all the living beings, rather than seeing the difference in our outer appearance or the difference in our thoughts etc. By seeing the difference in our external appearance or in our thoughts, only kama, krodha, lobha, moha, matha, and maatsarya grow and develop in us. Only when we learn to see the unity behind our inner selves, we will qualify to receive His daya.
This is what sage Yagnyavalkya taught to Maitreyi viz. that when one loves his wife, it is not her looks that should be loved, but it is the Atma in her that should be loved, etc. (na va are jayayai kaamaaya jaya priya bhavati, Atmanastu kaamaaya jaya priya bhavati etc.). That is the true meaning of love.
228. Sahasraakshah – One with a Thousand eyes
The basic meaning is that he is endowed with thousands of eyes. By the fact that He is the Antaryaami in all of us, and is always observing all that we do and think from within each of us, He is Sahasraakshah.
229. Sahasrapaat – One with a Thousand feet
The basic meaning is that he is endowed with thousands of feet. We have already covered the full significance under Sahasramoordhaa.
To sum it, Bhagavan is omnipresent and omniscient.
Agraneer Graamaneeh Shrimaan Nyaayo Netaa Sameeranah |
Sahasramoordha Vishvaatma Sahasraakshas Sahasrapaat ||24||
Bhagavan leads his devotees to Moksha or Liberation out of this Samsara, so He is Agraneeeh. Bhagavan leads his devotees to Salvation when they unconditionally surrender unto Him, hence He is Graamaneeh. He is Shrimaan as He is the consort of Shri or MahaLakshmi and his wealth is eternal. He is Nyaayah as He is just and well disposed to his devotees.
He is Netaa as He controls the Universe and He is the breath in all living beings, hence He is Sameeranah.
He is Sahasramoordha as He is thousand headed and as Antaryami He is Vishvaatma. With thousands of eyes and feet, omnipresent and omniscient and hence referred to as Sahasraakshah Sahasrapaat.
HARI OM TAT SAT
The audio visual commentary of this Shloka is available on YouTube. Please click the link below: