In this Part we will explore the meaning of the 27th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Asankhyeyo Aprameyaatmaa Vishishtah Shishtakrit Shuchih
Siddhaarthas Siddhasankalpas Siddhidas Siddhisaadhanah
This shloka contains the following 9 names and we will be looking at the meaning of each name separately:
Now let’s examine the meaning of these Namas in detail:
- Asankhyeyah – One whose attributes, names, forms, etc. are Innumerable
Sankhya means a number. Asankhyeyah means One who cannot be quantified. Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Yasmin sankhyaa naamaroopa bhedaadibhih na vidyate iti Asankhyeyah – Since he cannot be enumerated in terms of name, form etc he is Asankyeyah.
In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11 Verse 16, Arjuna describes Lord Krishna as such –
aneka-bAhUdara vaktra netram paSyAmi tvAm sarvato’nanta rUpam |
nAntam na madhyam punas-tavAdim paSyAmi viSveSvara viSvarUpa ||
“O Lord of the Universe! I see your Universal form with numerous arms, stomachs, mouths, and eyes, of boundless forms on every side, and I do not see the beginning, the middle or the end”. HE is of infinite knowledge, infinite bliss, infinite manifestations, immeasurable strength, etc. This fully sums up the import of the name asankhyeyah.
- AprameyAtma – One who cannot be known through knowledge, direct or indirect
Sri Adi Sankara defines this Nama as ‘Aprameyah atma svaroopam asya iti Aprameyatma – His true nature cannot be inferred by direct or indirect knowledge. We have already seen the full meaning of Aprameyah in 46th Nama.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the interpretation “Pramaanaih pramaatum ashakyah aprameyah”. Prameya is anything that can be known through intellect. Aprameya is one whose nature cannot be grasped by any of the existing means of knowledge. We get an impression of an object by seeing it with our eyes, and it is this vision of the colour, shape, smell and other attributes that gives us a feel for an object. Bhagavan is beyond our senses.
He gives reference from Yajurveda – na tasya pratimaa asti yasyanaama mahad-yashah – Yajur. 31.3.
Thirumangai Azhwar said “நான்மறைகள் தேடிஎன்றும் காணமாட்டா செல்வன் – Naan maraigal thedi endrum kaanamaatta Selvan” meaning Having read the four Vedas, the Lord’s limitless wealth is indescribable.
NammAzhwar says – “தனக்கும் தன் தன்மை அறியாதவன் – Thanakkum than thanmai ariyadhavan” meaning even HE cannot see his full splendor.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri points out that this Nama is a compound form of the Namas Aprameyah (46) and Ameyaatmaa (103,181).
- Vishishtah – One who is Superior
Vishishtah means someone who is superior or more refined and cultured as compared to others. As Sri Adi Sankara puts it ‘Atishete sarvamatah Vishishtah – He is Vishishtah because he excels or transcends all others’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this Nama as signifying that He is Superior because He does not have to depend on anyone or anything and He excels in everything.
The Dharma Chakram writer points that superiority in life is not achieved by wealth, power and fame, but is achieved only when we develop an attitude of devotion towards the Lord.
- Shishtakrit – He who makes His devotees eminent
Sri Adi Sankara gives two meanings for this Nama. The first is ‘Shishtam shaasanam tat karoti iti Shishtakrit – He is Shishtakrit because he governs or rules over people’.
The other meaning is ‘Shishtaan karoti paalayati iti – He protects the virtuous followers’. This is consistent with the common saying that Bhagavan’s task is ‘Dushta nigraham and Shishta paripaalam – Punishment of the wicked and protection of the virtuous’.
An alternate interpretation given is that Shishta means discipline, good manners. In this sense, the previous Nama would mean that He is Vishishta because He is of Supreme discipline, and the current Nama would mean that He helps His devotees acquire this discipline through the mental strength etc. needed for this. Because of association with Him, He makes His devotees also superior.
Shishta also means law, rules, or commands. The interpretation then becomes He is the One who makes the law, the One who commands, or the One who protects (though the laws).
The writer in Dharma Chakram says that the greatest and most significant of these commands is Love, through which MahaVishnu rules over us all, and this is the lesson to be derived from this Nama.
The Story of Sage Valmiki
Valmiki, who was born in a Brahmin family was originally known as Ratnakara. His lineage originated from Sage Angira. Though Brahmin by caste, he fell into a company of thieves who used to commit robberies and became a notorious dacoit.
Since childhood he did not strive to receive education. Hiding in a jungle, he used to rob and relieve people of their belongings. By such acquired wealth he used to look after his family and these evil activities continued for a long time.
One day it so happened that Sage Narada was passing through the forest in which Ratnakara was hiding. As soon as Ratnakara saw him, he challenged him to stop. Sage Narada stopped and said to him fearlessly: “Brother, I don’t possess anything, which you can take. Well! Tell me, why do you kill people mercilessly as there is no other sin greater than killing someone and one has to face the consequences for such actions after death. And for whom are you committing these sinful actions?”
Ratnakara was accustomed to seeing frightened faces that used to cry and beg for his mercy and would plead with him to pardon their lives. But Sage Narada showed no signs of fear on his face and even had the courage to question his actions.
As a result of this, Ratnakara was impressed deeply with Sage Narada and he said to him: “I have a large family to look after. My family would starve to death if I don’t loot people.” Sage Narada replied: “Brother, go and ask them, if they are willing to share your sins for whom you are committing these sinful actions. And don’t think that I would run away, if you don’t believe me then you can tie me with this rope to the tree.”
Ratnakara after tying Sage Narada with the rope went to his home and asked everybody the question: “Is anybody ready to share my sins?” They replied: “It is your duty to look after us, to feed us. It is not our concern as to by which means you earn your income, so why should we share or partake in your sins?”
Hearing this reply from all the family members, Ratnakara was disillusioned. He was toiling, committing sins, taking risks, day and night for them and here they were not even ready to share his sins. He saw the futility of his actions he had been committing. He realised that he alone was responsible for all his sins and no one else would share his sin.
As soon as it was clear to him, he ran to Narada. He untied the sage and amidst weeping, narrated to him all that had happened. Falling at Narada’s feet he asked the Sage, “Oh, Sire now what of me? How can I atone for all the sins I have committed? You are my only savior.”
Sage Narada lifted him up and consoled him saying, “Do not be afraid. I shall teach you a way to wash off your sins.”
Sage Narada after thinking for a while asked him to chant the Rama Nama but for Ratnakara even pronouncing it was difficult. When Sage Narada saw that even after trying very hard, Ratnakara was not successful in his attempts to chant Rama’s name, he asked him to pronounce it backwards that is ‘Mara’ (as a dacoit he was accustomed to say this) and then Sage Narada made him sit beneath a tree and asked him to go on repeating it. He said, I shall come here again, till then you should not get up and go away.” Then the sage departed.
Ratnakara continued his ‘tapas’ chanting the name of ‘Mara’ which when repeated sounded just like ‘Rama’. His whole mind was concentrated on the chanting of the name of the Lord He forgot his existence. He neither had food nor sleep for days. And in this way quite a few years passed. An ant-hill grew all around and above him. He could not even be seen by anybody.
At last one day, Sage Narada came that way. He knew that Ratnakara was inside the ant-hill. He cleared the ant-hill still carefully. Ratnakara was wholly lost in his ‘tapas’ and did not wake up to the world around him. Narada chanted the name of Rama in his ears. Then he opened his eyes and saw the Sage standing before him. He touched the Sage’s feet; Narada lifted him up and embraced him. He said to him, “Ratnakara, you are blessed. God is pleased with your ‘tapas’. You are now a Sage of the highest order, a Brahmarishi. As you are now reborn from a Valmika (the ant-hill), will here after be famous as Valmiki.”
He prostrated before Narada again and said, “Sire, all this is your kindness. The company of good men uplifts man. I am myself a proof of this.” Narada blessed him and went his way.
Sage, Valmiki, now formed his Ashrama near the river Ganga. One day, Valmiki had the fortuity of receiving Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana at his ashram. His happiness knew no bounds. On Valmiki’s suggestion, Lord Rama built his hut on Chitrakuta hill, near the ashram.
Another time, Sage Narada came to Valmiki’s Ashrama. Valmiki said to the divine sage, “Sire, you visit all the three worlds, and therefore know what happens anywhere. You can certainly answer my questions. Please tell me, who is the most virtuous person among all the human beings on the earth? One who always speaks the truth, and is always calm? Who is he, who desires the well-being of everyone, and is loved by all? Who the man, whose words and actions are praised by the Gods? Who is famous as the greatest hero and the noblest of men in the world?”
In answer to Valmiki’s question, Narada mentioned the name of Sri Rama. Narada narrated the story of Lord Rama. The divine sage blessed him and left.
The First Shloka
Valmiki was going to the river Ganges for his daily ablutions. A disciple by the name Bharadwaja was carrying his clothes. On the way, they came across the Tamasa Stream. Looking at the stream, Valmiki said to his disciple, “Look, how clear is this water, like the mind of a good man! I will bathe here today.”
When he was looking for a suitable place to step into the stream, he saw a Crane (bird) couple making love. Valmiki felt very pleased on seeing the happy birds. Suddenly, hit by an arrow; the male bird died on the spot. Filled by sorrow its mate screamed in agony and died of shock. Valmiki’s heart melted at this pitiful sight. He looked around to find out who had shot the bird. He saw a hunter with a bow and arrows, nearby. Valmiki became very angry. His lips opened and he uttered the following words:
“मां निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः।
यत्क्रौंचमिथुनादेकम् अवधीः काममोहितम्”
“mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhāṁ tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam”
“You will find no rest for the long years of Eternity
For you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting”
Emerging spontaneously from his rage and grief, this was the first Shloka in Sanskrit literature. Later Valmiki composed the entire Ramayana with the blessings of Lord Brahma in the same meter that issued forth from him as the śloka. Thus this śloka is revered as the “first śloka” in Hindu literature. Valmiki is revered as the first poet, or Adi Kavi, and the Ramayana, the first kavya.
Ratnakara, once a cruel dacoit who was uneducated, engaged in looting and killing people was transformed to become the most noble Sage Valmiki because of the effect of chanting Lord’s name even though backwards or incorrectly.
The story of Valmiki demonstrates how the Lord makes his devotees Superior who associate with Him.
- Shucih – One who is Pure
Basically the word Shuchih is linked to purity. We have already covered this as 157th Nama. There the main emphasis was Bhagavan’s role as a purifier of his devotees.
In this Nama Sri Adi Sankara interprets this to say ‘Niranjanah Shuchih meaning Bhagavan is completely free from any fault or impurity and hence he is called Shuchih or pure’. He is pure by body, mind and action. Lord Krishna demonstrated his purity when He brought back Parikishit to life after Ashwathama used Brahmastra.
This is related to the two immediately previous Namas – Vishishta and Shishtakrit. He is pure and makes everyone who is associated with him pure.
The writer in Dharma Chakram says ‘Just as we clean our body to avoid diseases, we can develop cleanliness in our words through the chanting of the names of the Lord. This will help us to develop and improve the cleanliness of our thoughts enabling a better control of the five senses, which are the means by which we get inputs to our thoughts from the external world”.
There are nine ways to worship the Lord but the most important feature is the need for unflinching Bhakti or devotion. Meditating on the Lord, listening to chanting of His names, listening to Bhajans, observing the beauty of the Lord, smelling the divine fragrance of His presence in the temple, etc., are the different ways in which the five sense organs are exposed to the opportunities for cleansing the thoughts.
Deep meditation on the Lord is one way to train our mind. The need for constantly focusing of our body, mind, words and deeds towards Him is the lesson we should take from this Nama. He makes us shine consistent with our devotion.
- SiddhArthah – One who is in possession of all desirable things
The basic meaning of ‘Siddh’ is to achieve or attain something. The following four namas are emphasise the aspect of achievement. It is believed that ‘Siddhaarthas Siddhasankalpas Siddhidas Siddhisaadhanah’ can be recited as a Mantra and its regular chanting will help to achieve desired goals.
Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Siddho nirvrittah arthyamaanah arthah asya asti iti – One who has achieved or attained everything that is worth attaining’. Hence, Siddhaarthah refers to someone who has achieved all his objectives.
Chandogya Upanishad (8.1) says ‘Satya Kaamah meaning His desires have been realised’. He already possesses all that is desirable in Him naturally and effortlessly.
Swami ChinmayAnanda points out that this name signifies that Bhagavan has all the four PurushArthas (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha) that are the object of attainment for mortals. He has attained all that is to be attained and hence He is Siddharthah.
- Siddha-Sankalpah – One whose wishes are always fulfilled
Sri Adi Sankara explains this as ‘Siddhah nishpannah sankalpah asya iti – One whose wishes are fulfilled’. One whose wishes are fulfilled at the very instance He wishes. Sankalpa means intellectual willing and wishing. One who gains all that He wishes for, or One who immediately gains what He wills is called Siddha-Sankalpah. For Bhagavan there is no time lag between the wish and its achievement. They are synchronous.
Chandogya Upanishad says ‘Satya Sankalpah meaning His wishes have been realised’. The difference between Siddhaarthah and Siddhasankalpah is subtle. The first name is object oriented while the second one is subject oriented. In the first one the achieved goals are set by the external world whereas the second one talks about the achieved goals, which one sets for oneself in the form of a Sankalpa or wish.
The writer in Dharma Chakram gives some examples of His being a Siddha Sankalpah – the decision to make Sugreeva and Vibheeshana the kings of their respective kingdoms, the destruction of Vali, the Sankalpam to fulfill Dasharatha’s promise to Kaikeyi etc. The devotion to MahaVishnu makes the devotees equally capable of fulfilling their own Sankalpas by His grace. The way we become Siddha Sankalpah is to entrust ourselves completely in Him and surrender ourselves, and He takes care of the rest in accordance with Dharma.
- Siddhidah – The bestower of Siddhis or Superhuman powers
Sri Adi Sankara gives the meaning ‘Siddhim phalam kartribhyah svaadhikaaraanuroopatah dadaati iti Siddhidah – He provides success or fruits to the actions in line with what the doers deserve to get’. In other words he is ‘Phaladaata’ or the provider of results to our actions.
The other meaning for Siddhi is some sort of special power and Bhagavan bestows these extraordinary powers to His seekers. There are eight Siddhis or powers that can be acquired by yogis who meditate on Him. These are Anima (the ability to assume the size of an atom), Mahima (the ability to assume a very huge size like Trivikrama Avataar), Laghima (to make the body weightless like a feather), Garima (to assume heavy weight of huge boulder), Praapti (to obtain anything desired), Praakaamyam (to attain any desired bhoga), Ishitvam (to be able to assume rulership or Lordship over anything or anyone) and Vashitvam (to get anyone to be under one’s control).
Bhagavan can bestow these on the worshipper if they desire them though a real devotee would not stray from spiritual enlightenment by seeking such powers.
- Siddhisaadhanah – One who makes the means for Siddhi as pleasant as the fruit itself
In the words of Sri Adi Sankara – ‘Siddheh kriyaayaah sadhakatvaat Siddhisaadhanah – He is the instrument of success for the action’. He is the very secret force which enables the seeker to diligently continue all efforts of his seeking. He is the Saadhanaa or means for all Siddhi or fulfillment, in particular the Moksha Siddhi, which no one else can help achieve except Sriman Narayana.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri points out that the sequence ‘Siddhaartas siddhasankalpah siddhi-dah siddhi-sadhanah” is a great mantra by itself and chanting it will be very beneficial for the fulfillment of our endeavors, when we undertake a good deed and work towards attaining the desired goal.
The Dharma Chakram writer points out that the goal that is attained by chanting this mantra is the cleansing of our minds from worldly thoughts, lust, etc., and concentrating the mind towards thoughts about Him. By chanting this mantra, He ensures that we attain our goal.
Asankhyeyo Aprameyaatmaa Vishishtah Shishtakrit Shuchih |
Siddhaarthas Siddhasankalpas Siddhidas Siddhisaadhanah ||27||
HE is superior and makes his devotees too are superior by their association with Him.
HE is pure and possesses all the four Purusharthas that are the object of attainment of mortals. He is Sidhhisankalpah as his wishes are always fulfilled instantaneously.
HE is the bestower of super human powers and makes the path of attaining Siddhi equally a blissful experience.
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
HARI OM TAT SAT
The audio visual commentary of this Shloka will be uploaded on YouTube shortly.
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.