In this part we will explore the meaning of the 72nd Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Mahakramo Mahakarma Mahateja Mahoragah |
Mahakratur Mahayajva Mahayajno Mahahavih ||72||
He has gigantic strides as revealed in Trivikrama Avataar and His deeds are great like the act of Creation and sustenance of this Universe or helping His devotees in distress. He has great effulgence that is the source of light for other luminaries like the Sun and He is the mighty serpent Vasuki. He is the great sacrifice and performer of great sacrifice. He is the Supreme sacrifice of sacred utterances and since He is Omnipresent, He is the highest oblation.
The above Shloka has the following Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
Sri Parasara Bhattar expounds Bhagavan’s greatness in terms of His unbounded affection towards His devotees in the next few Namas. The interpretation of Sri Parasara Bhattar is in terms of His relation with His devotees, how He makes it easy for the worshipper to worship Him, etc.
- Maha-kramah – He provides easy step-by-step access for the elevation of His devotees
The word ‘Krama’ means foot step or stride. Sri Adi Sankara interprets Mahakramah as ‘Mahantah kramaah paadaviskshepa asya iti Mahakramah – He has gigantic strides hence He is called Mahakramah’. This is a reference to his Vamana/Trivikrama Avataar where He measured the whole earth with a single gigantic step. Sri Sankara quotes from Taittriya Upanishad (1.1) – ‘Sham no Vishnu Rurukramah – His strides are mammoth and beneficent’.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri adds that the significance of Maha here is that these measures are nothing known to us, and beyond our comprehension – we can’t define what each “step” of Bhagavan means in this context of Tri-vikrama Avataar. All we can say is that His steps are “big”.
The word ‘kramam’ also means a systematic or gradual approach. Sri Parasara Bhattar uses this meaning and interprets the Nama in terms of Bhagavan making it easy for His devotees to reach Him through gradual steps.
Since Bhagavan provides a systematic approach to elevate us from the pit of Samsara to each Him, He is called Maha-kramah. Sri Bhattar provides a very lucid analogy to make this point clear. Just as a mother starts feeding breast milk to the child first for easy digestion, and then slowly starts feeding cow’s milk, then other fluids, and then solid food, so also Bhagavan provides gradual steps to His devotees to reach Him. At first, He removes from our mind any dislike for Him; next He makes us believe in Him and His Vedic guidelines; then He makes us follow these with pleasure; after this, He bestows us with knowledge and devotion, and generates deep faith in Him; and finally, He makes us attain Him. Even though this may take several births for most of us, He keeps at it till He gets us to Him.
Sri Parasara Bhattar quotes the following in support:
Janmaantara sahasreshu tapo dhyana samadhibhih |
naraanaam kshina papanaam Krishne bhaktih prajayate ||
Meaning: The sins of human beings get annihilated over a period of several births by means of austerities, meditation, and contemplation on Him, and devotion to Lord Krishna results in the end”.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 19) Lord Krishna says:
Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate
Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma su-durlabhah ||
Meaning: After innumerable births one perfected in wisdom, understanding fully that I am (Vasudeva) the ultimate cause of all causes, surrenders unto Me, such a great soul is very rare.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 8 Verse 8) Lord Krishna says:
Abhyasa-yoga-yuktena cetasa nanya-gamina
Paramam purusam divyam yati parthanucintayan ||
Meaning: He who meditates on the Supreme Personality with his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha [Arjuna], is sure to reach Me.
Sri Vedanta Desikan brings out the point that Bhagavan shows the path to Arjuna gradually and step by. Step as doing all at once would have only confused Arjuna profusely. The second reference stresses that it is only by His Grace that the step-by-step path will be revealed, and not otherwise.
Swami ChinmayAnanda interprets the “long stride” to refer to His being able to permeate and pervade everything, one of meanings of the term “Vishnu”; He reaches everything and everyone earlier than anything else or anyone else, and so He is Maha-kramah, or One with great strides, in this sense as well.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha conveys that – na caasti kincit bhuvi vartamanam Mahakramo yan-na vase karoti… – There is nothing in this Universe that is not under the control of this Maha-kramah.
The Dharma Chakram writer interprets that His steps (Feet) are so great that by resorting to them one can cross the Ocean of Samsara; our ordinary steps only allow us to cross short distances in this earth. Just by surrendering to His steps one can attain liberation – such is their greatness.
- Maha-karma – On Who is known for Great Actions
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Mahat Jagat Utpattyaadi Karma asya iti Mahakarma – He is the One who performs great deeds like the Creation of the world hence He is called Mahakarma’. His actions are to bestow knowledge on others. Sri Sankara elaborates further and gives the meaning ‘Mahanti Viyadaadi bhutaani karmani karyani asya iti Mahakarma – He performs the great functions from the five great elements including space hence He is called Mahakarma’. Basically this Nama is a reference to His capability to perform stupendous and mind boggling deeds.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this Nama in terms of His great actions in helping His devotees. Mahanti karmani yasya iti Maha-karma – One whose action are great is Maha-karma. Sri Bhattar refers to His actions as “ati-vismayanIyam” – extremely astonishing, and refers to Bhagavan’s action in lifting the likes of worms and germs from those low levels to the level where they are capable of enjoying His Supreme Glory. He lifts us to the level of a Nitya Suris (ever free angels), a wonder that can’t even be comprehended by us.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives the example of His swallowing the entire Universe at the time of dissolution for this Nama.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference to Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (7.5.1):
கற்பார் இராம பிரானையல்லால்மற்றும் கற்பரோ?,
புற்பா முதலாப் புல்லெறும் பாதியொன் றின்றியே,
நற்பால் அயோத்தியில் வாழும் சராசரம் முற்றவும்,
நற்பாலுக் குய்த்தனன் நான்முக னார்பெற்ற நாட்டுளே.
Meaning: In the blessed Ayodhya, the land created by Brahma, down to the lowly insects and worms without exception, He gives an exalted place to all the sentient and the insentient, so would any scholar study about anyone other than Rama?
Sri Kulasekhara Azhwar refers to the same incident in Perumal Thirumozhi (10.10):
அன்றுசரா சரங்களைவை குந்தத் தேற்றி அடலரவப் பகையேறி யசுரர் தம்மை
வென்றுஇலங்கு மணிநெடுந்தோள் நான்கும் தோன்ற விண்முழுது மெதிர்வரத்தன் தாமம் மேவி
சென்றினிது வீற்றிருந்த வம்மான் றன்னைத் தில்லைநகர்த் திருச்சித்ர கூடந் தன்னுள்
என்றும்நின்றா னவனிவனென் றேத்தி நாளும் இன்றைஞ்சுமினோ வெப்பொழுதும் தொண்டீர் நீரே.
Meaning: My sweet Lord Rama elevated all creatures, –moving and non-moving, –to Vaikunta, mounted on His Garuda Vahana, destroyed the Asuras, took his glorious four-armed form, entered His abode in the sky to the tumultuous welcome of Gods in throngs, and ascended his eternal throne. He resides in Tillainagar Tiruchitrakutam, and devotees come to praise and worship him there saying “that’s Him”.
His great actions are not just confined to helping His devotees by lifting them to His level, but also in His acts of punishing the enemies of His devotees’, including tricking them as part of His Leela.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj refers to Lord Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4 Verse 9) that His actions are ‘Divya karmas’ (divine actions):
Janma karma ca me divyam evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna ||
Meaning: O’ Arjuna, One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode.
Swami ChinmayAnanda’s explanation for this Nama is: “To create a Cosmos so scientifically precise and perfect out of the five great elements, and to sustain them with an iron hand of efficiency, all the time presiding over acts of destruction without which the world of change cannot be maintained, is, in itself, a colossal achievement”.
The Dharma Chakram writer explains His ‘great action’ in terms of His supporting whatever a Jiva is after whether material benefits or spiritual progress, He aids them in their path as desired by them. He does all these things simultaneously to all the beings, according to their wishes and desires.
- Maha-tejah – He is of great Resplendence
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Yadeeyena tejasa Tejasvinoh Bhaaskaradayah tattejo Mahat asya iti Mahatejah – His radiance is immense and it is this radiance that is the source for other radiant bodies like the Sun and makes them shine and hence He is called Mahatejah, the one with immense radiance’.
The Taitriya Braamhana (3.12.9) says ‘Yena Suryas tapati tejaseddhah – By whose splendour the Sun derives its own brilliance’.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 15 Verse 12) Lord Krishna says:
Yadaaditya gatam tejah Jagad bhaasayate akhilam
Yac chandramasi Yacchaagnau tattejo Viddhi Maamakam ||
Meaning: The light which you see in the Sun illuminating the whole world, the light which you see in the Moon and the fire, all these lights and illuminations in fact originate from Me and know Me to be their ultimate source’.
Sri Adi Sankara gives another interpretation as ‘Kraurya Shauryaadibhidharmaih Mahadbhih Samalankritah iti vaa Mahatejaah – He is endowed with eminent qualities and various excellences like ruthlessness towards His enemies, prowess etc., and so also He is called Mahatejah’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation is that He is called Maha-tejah because He has the effulgence which destroys the darkness of ignorance of even those who are Tamasic by nature.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri says that Bhagavan is merciless towards Dushtas (enemies), overcoming even the strongest of enemies, being unconquerable, are all aspects of “Tejas”. His Tejas is Supreme, and so He is called Maha-tejah.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference to the Sruti – ‘Narayana paro jyotih”. The jyoti or brightness of a thousand Suns is but a small fraction of His jyoti. Sri Thirumazhisai Azhwar called Him ‘SodiyAda Sodi nee” – You are the unquestionable jyoti. (Thiruccanda Viruttam 34).
Swami ChinmayAnanda gives reference from the Katha Upanishad (2.5.15) and Mundaka Upanishad (2.2.10):
na tatra Suryo bhaati na Candra taarakam nema vidyuto bhaanti kuto’yamagnih |
tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam tasya bhaasaa sarvam idam vibhaati ||
Meaning: There the Sun shines not and the Moon has no splendour and the stars are blind; there these lightnings flash not, how then shall burn this earthly fire? All that shines is but the shadow of this shining; all this Universe is effulgent with his light.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 13 Verse 18) Lord Krishna says ‘jyotishaamapi taj-jyotih tamasah param ucyate’ – He is the source of light in all luminous objects. He is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested.
The Dharma Chakram writer observes that while the Sun eliminates the darkness outside us, He eliminates the darkness within us. He provides the light to the Sun and other objects that remove the darkness outside. Just as the Sun reveals itself as well as the objects outside with its light, He reveals Himself in addition to enlightening our inner selves.
- Mahoragah – He Who is great, and enters into our heart (uras)
Uraga means a serpent in Sanskrit. Using this meaning Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Mahan cha asau uragashcha iti Mahoragah – He is manifesting Himself in the form of the great Serpent Vaasuki hence He is called Mahoragah’. Vasuki is Nagaraja, the king of serpents and has a gem (Nagamani) on its head. In support of his interpretation Sri Adi Sankara quotes from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 28) ‘Sarpanam asmi Vasukih – I am Vasuki among Serpents’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar derives his interpretation by using the combination of Maha + urah + gah and ‘Uras’ refers to chest, and in this context it refers to the heart within us. He explains as ‘Urah pradarshitam hridayam, yad-dvaara taan (adiyaan) gacchati iti Mahoragah – He is called Mahoragah because He reaches us, who are like a speck of dust compared to Him, through our hearts. Sri Bhattar poses the rhetorical question: How does He enter our heart?, and gives the answer that He enters our heart the same way the material objects of pleasure enter our heart, namely through our indriyas (senses). We see His form through our eyes, we hear His praise through our ears, we chant his Namas etc., and He slowly gets into our heart through our indriyas, and occupies it and displaces materialistic desires from our hearts.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives several references from the Divya Prabandham in support of Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation:
- ‘vandhaai! En manam pugundhaai, manni nindraai, nandaada kozhum Sudare! EngaL nambi!’ (Sri Thirumangai Azhwar’s Periya Thirumozhi – 1.10.9) – You came, entered my heart, and conquered it. O Lord, the source of eternal light, our saviour.
- ‘ennam pugundhu titthikkum amude! imaiyor adhipatiye’ (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi 6.10.3) – O Ambrosia! Wonder-Lord, entering sweetly into my heart;
- ‘muttanaar mukundanaar pugundhu tammul mevinaar; ettinaal idar kadal kidatti? Ezhai ne’njame’ (Sri Thirumazhisai Azhwar’s Thiiruccanda Viruttam 115) – He, the Moksha Dhaata, enters us and fills our soul, by which O’ lowly heart we cross the Ocean of misery;
- ‘vandhu aruli en ne’nju idam konda vaanavar kozhundu’ (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi 5.7.7) – O Lord of celestials, through grace, you have entered my heart.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan interprets this as reminiscent of His great heart in blessing the lowest of creatures – Mahata urasa hridayena gacchati sva-bhaktam mucukundam iti mahoragah.
He uses the term ‘bhakta pranayittvam’, or love for the devotee, to describe the significance of this Nama. He gives examples of Lord Rama entering into Guha’s heart by His Alinganam or embrace, His showing His magnanimous heart in performing the last rites for Jatayu, and His showing His great affection for His devotee by accepting the fruits offered by SabarI.
Lord Krishna also declares that He is Ananta among the many-hooded serpents – ‘Anantashcasmi Naganam (Bhagavad Gita 10.29), and based on this, Swami ChinmayAnanda interprets the Nama as indicating that He is called Mahoragah because He manifests Himself in the form of Ananta.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj suggests that the Nama is suggestive of His having Ananta as His bed – Mahan – Mahaniyah, uragah – Anantah, Sayya-rupena yasya iti Mahoragah.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha uses the same etymological approach as Sri Bhattar (Maha + uras+ gah), but comes up with the interpretation that He is Mahoragah because He moves relentlessly with His great vaksha-sthalam (chest), in the form of the Sun.
The Story of Sant Kavi Surdas
Sant Surdas was born in the year 1535 in a village named Sihi near Delhi, in a poor Brahmin’s family. Surdas was born blind and because of this he was neglected by his family. This generated a feeling of dispassion in him and so he left his home and started living under a peepal tree near a beautiful lake. At that time he was 18 years old and became known for his devotional songs dedicated to Lord Krishna.
Due to certain obstacles in his Bhajan, he had to shift from this place to another spot called Runakta. In Runakta, he received the company of saints but he could not get accustomed to this place too. He left this place and reached Gau ghat, near the Yamuna banks in Mathura. Here he wrote poems and composed music and soon came across Sant Shri Vallabhacharya. The Sant saw the devotion and humility of Surdas and asked him to sing the Leelas of Lord Krishna. When Surdas said that he did not know Lord Krishna’s leelas, Sant Shri Vallabhacharya accepted him as his disciple and gave him discourses on Lord Krishna’s leelas.
The Lord’s leelas occupied his heart and mind. This inspired Surdas to create and sing the poems on the life of Sri Krishna. Later Surdas along with his Guru left for Gokul from Gau ghat. Surdas used to compose and sing the hymns based on Krishna leela to his Guru. After sometime Surdas with his Guru went to Govardhan. Here he saw Shri Nath ji’s temple and decided to spend the rest of his life in the holy feet of the Lord. By the grace of his Guru, he got the opportunity to sing the hymns for God at the temple. His daily routine was to visit Shri Nath ji’s temple and with great love and devotion offer the Lord new hymns.
Though Surdas was blind, he used to get the Divine darshan (sight) of Lord Krishna and Radha Rani and he could actually tell the attire worn by God. One day a priest at the temple planned to test his ability. He dressed the Lord in an altogether different attire, with the garlands of pearl beads instead of the clothes. To everyone’s surprise, Surdas could narrate the exact attire worn by the Lord through his divine vision.
Once, blind Surdas fell into a well and he called upon Lord Krishna for help. Lord Krishna came immediately to help Surdas and took hold of His devotee’s hand, and pulled him out of the well. When Surdas came out of the well, Krishna began to leave. As soon as Surdas recognised the divine touch of Krishna, his heart sank and with tears filled his eyes. He said –
हाथ छुड़ाये जात हो, निर्बल जानि के मोय।
हृदय से जब जाओ, तो सबल जानूँगा तोय।।
haanth chhudaye jaat ho nirbal jaan ke mohe
hirdaya se jab jao to sabal main jaun main
Meaning: You have left my hand and slipped off thinking I am weak, but let me see how You can slip off from my heart?
Radha Rani also came to meet Surdas and he instantly recognised Radha Rani by the ting-a-ling sound of her anklets. Surdas fell onto her lotus feet and took her anklets. When Radha Rani asked him to return her anklets, he refused. At that moment, Lord Krishna gave him the vision in his eyes and asked him to ask for a wish. Surdas returned the anklets and said, “My Lord, you have already given me everything. After receiving your divine darshan (sight) there is nothing more left for me to see in this world. Please make me blind as before and Sri Krishna granted him his wish.
Sur-Sagar is considered to be the magnum opus of Surdas. The poem has been woven around the life of Lord Krishna. It originally contained 100,000 poems or songs, out of which only 8000 have survived the travails of time.
At the age of 85 years, Surdas left his physical body and entered the divine abode of Lord Krishna ‘Golok Dhaam’.
- Maha-kratuh – He Who is worshiped by the great Yagas
A kratuh is a sacrifice that is performed to yield specific benefits. Using this meaning, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Mahan cha asau Kratushcha Mahakratuh – He symbolises great sacrifices like Ashvamedha hence He is called Mahakratuh’. Sri Sankara quotes from Manu Smriti to support his interpretation ‘Yathaa Ashvamedhah Kraturaat – He is like Ashvamedha, the King of sacrifices’.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 9 Verse 16), Bhagavan declares that He is Kratuh Himself:
aham kratur-aham yajnah svadhAham aham aushadham |
mantro’ham ahmevAjyam aham-agnir-aham hutam ||
Meaning: I am the kratu; I am the sacrifice; I am the offering to the manes; I am the herb; I am the mantra; I am myself the clarified butter; I am the fire and the oblation.
The word ‘kratuh’ occurred as Nama 449 in Shloka 48, and the meaning of the term was explained as a particular type of sacrifice, or can also refer to Bhagavan since He is the object of the Yaagas.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha also gives the explanation “karoti iti kratuh, kriyate va kratuh” – One who performs is a kratuh, or that which is performed is kratuh.
Sri AnnangarAcharya gives the interpretation as “He Who is the object of worship of the great Yaagas”. “Maha” is interpreted here with the meaning “great”.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the interpretation that He is Maha-kratuh because “He is the Great Lord Who provides the easiest means of worship” – Mahat sarva sukaram Aradhanam asya iti Maha-kratuh. The term “Maha” has been used in two ways: 1) to mean “easy or simple for the devotee, and thus “great from the point of view of the devotee”, and 2) to refer to the multitude of ways that are available to worship Him.
He gives reference to Vishnu dharma (90.69), where he emphasizes the ease of worship:
yo na vittair na vibhavaih na vaasobhir na bhushnaih |
toshyate hridayenaiva kas-tam Isam na toshayet || (Vishnu dharma 90.69)
Meaning: Who will not endeavor to please that God Who is pleased by just sincerity of heart alone, but not by wealth or riches clothes or ornaments?
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 9 Verse 26 & 27), Bhagavan says:
patram puspam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati |
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam asnami prayatatmanah || (B.G. 9.26)
Meaning: If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.
yat karoshi yad-ashnasi yaj-juhoshi dadasi yat |
yat-tapasyasi kaunteya tat-kurushva madarpanam || (B.G 9.27)
Meaning: Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practice as austerity, O Kaunteya, do it as an offering to Me.
Sri Parasara Bhattar also says that “He is to be worshiped by all acts which have been prescribed by the Agama Shastras, and by offering to Him, these acts become sanctified and sweet” – samarpana samskara svadu-kritaih Agama Shastra kaarita sarva vyaparaih Araadhyatvaat” – from which it may be inferred that the term ‘Maha” may refer to the many ways of offering worship.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan also associates the ease of His worship with this Nama, and explains that He is Maha-kratuh because He has such great (easy) ways of worship such as being offered the Tulasi leaves,in order to obtain the greatest of blessings.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation – Mahan kratuh pa’ncaratro yaysa iti Maha-kratuh. Sri Ramachandra Rao in his Agama kosha, quotes from the Satapata Brahmana which says that Purusha Narayana performed the great Pancaratra kratu or sacrifice, and attained superiority over all beings and became all beings Himself:
“Purusho ha vai Narayano’kamayata atitishtheyam
sarvani bhutani ahameva idam sarvam iti
sa etam purushamedham pa’ncaratram yajna
kratum apashyat tam Aharat tena ajayata teneshtam
atyatishtat sarvani bhutani’dam sarvam abhavat ||
- Maha-yajva – He Who performs great sacrifices
Yajva means one who performs a Yajna and on this basis Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Mahan cha asau Yajva cha iti Lokasangrahaartham yajnaan nirvartayan Mahayajva – He is great and also performs Yajnas for the welfare of the whole world’. In many of His Avataars, Bhagavan performs yajnas for the welfare of the people and also as an example for them to follow. In Rama Avataar, He performed the Ashvamedha yajna, Verily He is the Mahayajvaa, the great performer of yajnas.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the term “Maha-yajva” as a reference to the class of devotees who worship Vishnu with single-minded devotion. In this derivation of the interpretation, a Yajva is one who offers worship, a Maha-yajva is one who offers the superior form of worship whereby He worships Lord Vishnu with single minded devotion and Bhagavan is Himself referred to as Maha-yajva because He is the Leader of these devotees. He is also a Maha-yajva because He values these Maha-yajvas as His Atma, and uplifts the devotees who especially worship Him.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the etymological derivation “Mahantam ya~jnam kRtavAn iti Maha-yajva” – He Who has performed great sacrifices.
Swami ChinmayAnanda gives the example of the Ashvamedha Yaaga in His incarnation as Lord Rama. He is also the Yajamana of all sacrifices performed by all devotees, since He ensures their successful completion, and in this sense also He is Maha-yajva, the Great Sacrificer.
Sri Anna’ngarAcharya gives his interpretation in Tamil, “tannai Aaradhippavargalaic chihandavargal aaga cheibavar” – “He Who elevates those who especially worship Him exclusively”.
- Maha-yajnah – He Who is the best among those to be worshiped
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ’Mahan cha asau Yajnashcha iti Mahayajnah – He himself is a great Yajna personified hence He is called Mahayajnah’. Vedas proclaim “Yajno vai Vishnuh” meaning Yajna is the very form of Lord Vishnu.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 25) Bhagavan says ‘Yajnanam japayajnosmi – Among various forms of Yajnas I identify myself with the Yajna of chanting or repeated intonation of a single mantra’.
In the Bhagavad Gita (9.16) Lord Krishna says ‘Aham Kraturaham yajnah Svadhaaham aham aushadham – I am the vedic ritual, I am the sacrifice, I am the oblation, I am the herb, I am the chant, I am the butter, I am the fire and I am the act of offering’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation for this Nama is that “He is the best among those to be worshiped”.
He points out that the term yajna includes such ways of worship as singing Suprabhatam to Emperuman, offering sweet things such as mixture of honey etc., prostrating at His Feet, etc. The best of yajnas is when these are offered especially to Him with single minded devotion.
Sri Bhattar points out that worship of Lord Vishnu is the best because “He protects His devotees as if there were His own body” – Rakshate Bhagavan Vishnuh bhaktaan Atma-Sariravat.
He accepts the rites performed by His devotees with great joy and with a bowed head” – tah sarvAh Sirasa devah prati-grihnati vai svayam, vidhi prayuktam pujaam ca grihnati Sirasa svayam etc.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha uses the root yaj and explains as ‘Deva pujA sa’ngati karana yajana daneshu – to sacrifice, to make an oblation to, to give, to associate with, etc. The act of sacrifice, or one who is worshipped through a sacrifice, are both referred to by the term yajnah – yajanam yajnah, ijyate iti va yanjah.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan explains this interpretation as follows: Yajnam is Bhagavad Aradhanam; Yyajnah is the object of this Aradhanam and Maha-yajnah is the Most Superior Object of Bhagavad-Aradhanam, or He is the best among those to be worshiped.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri observes that unlike kratu which is a sacrifice performed with a specific benefit in mind, yajna is a sacrifice that is done as part of one’s duty, and is not done to obtain any specific benefit. Among the yajnas, the japa yajna (silently repeating a sacred mantra) is declared as the best by Bhagavan. The japa yajna can be performed easily, without interruption, and with no accessory needed other than the desire to perform this yajna.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the meaning “He Who is worshiped by great yajnas”, or “He Who is worshiped by the great jnanis” – Mahat yajanam yasya, Mahadbhih ijyata iti va.
The Dharma Chakram writer explains the spirit behind offering worship to Bhagavan who is the Maha-yajnah (the personification of the ya~jna-s) through five types of yajnas that are expected of each one of us:
- Bhuta yajna – This involves our rendering service to the life forms that are below our level. This involves taking care of plants, trees, the four-legged animals, etc., all of which are rendering service to us in various ways.
- Pitru yajna – This involves our devotion and service to our elders, to our parents, etc., who have devoted their lives to nurture us and made our lives possible.
- Nara yajna – This involves service to our fellow humans in the society, including how we treat others in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Without the help of the others in the society, we will not be able to lead our lives, and in return, we owe the debt to the society to make it better.
- Rishi yajna – This involves learning, chanting, protecting, and propagating the Mantras, Vedas, and the knowledge that the Rishis have given us.
- Deva yajna – This involves our worshipping Him with constant and unwavering devotion, which will lead to attaining Him.
The significant point to note is that we should perform all the above five types of yajna-s with the full realisation that these are all offerings to Him, since He is the Maha yajnah who is worshiped by all these offerings. They should be performed for His pleasure and not with any benefit for us in mind, with the clear understanding that He is the Doer who is just using us as the means for getting these done (Sarvam Krishnarpanam Astu).
- Maha-havih – He Who is worshiped with Supreme oblations
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Mahaccha tat Havishcha iti Bramhaatmani sarvam Jagat tadaatmatayaa hooyate iti Mahahavih – He himself is the great sacrificial offering because in his total identification with the Bramhan everything is sacrificed hence He is called Mahahavih’.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4 Verse 24) Bhagavan says
Brahmaarpanam Brahma havir Brahmagnau Brahmanaa hutam
Brahmaiva tena gantavyam Brahmakarmasamaadhina ||
Meaning: The utensils and other paraphernalia used for sacrifice are the Absolute Truth, the sacred fire is the Absolute Truth and the oblation is the Absolute Truth. One whose consciousness is always absorbed in spiritual thoughts of the Absolute and is constantly engaged in spiritual activities attains the Absolute’.
The root word from which ‘Havis’ is derived is hu – Daana daanayoh – to offer, to perform a sacrifice, to eat. The word ‘Havis’ is explained in the Unadi Sutra as ‘arci shuci hu sripi chaadi chardibhya ish’ meaning clarified butter offered in a sacrifice. In common usage, Havis refers to all the offerings used in the oblation to the fire. Maha-havis is the greatest of these oblations, and Maha-havih refers to the One who is the recipient of the Supreme oblations.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha indicates Havih can also refer to one who is making the offering or to the one who is the object or recipient of the offering or that by which the offering is made, etc.
He is Maha-havih because He is worshiped by the offerings that are themselves Supreme in nature (e.g., in the form of our Atma); He is the Great or Supreme acceptor of the meagre offerings that we make; Everything is but a form of Him, or His manifestation, and He manifests Himself in the form of the Great Sacrifice or Maha-havis.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets havis as referring to the offerings, and thus Maha-havis refers to the great offerings; Maha-havih is the receipient of the great offerings. Sri Bhattar explains what these “great offerings” are, or why the offerings to Him are great or Supreme:
- He can be worshiped without killing of any animal – na tatra paSu ghAto’bhUt (Maha. SAnti. 337.9);
- the sacrifices to Him that He likes best are the offering of our mind, buddhi, and indiryas to Him, and
- the best of all offering is Atma-Samarpanam or Absolute Surrender (ahamevaham mam juhomi svaha – Taittriya Nararyana Valli 67; pratyagAtma havishtvaat, ahimsram Atmadi havih yasya syat sa Mahahavih).
Sri V.V. Ramanujan quotes Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (2.3.4):
Meaning: In exchange of your great favour of mingling with me, I have you in my heart; now how can I ever retrieve it? O Lord who swallowed the seven worlds! You are the soul in my heart. Who am I? What is mine? You gave us everything and took what is yours.
Sri Alavandar also refers to Atma Samarpanam in his Stotra Ratnam (53) – “aham adyaiva maya samarpitah”. Even though this Atma belongs to Him to begin with, we offer it to Him as if it is ours, and He is kind enough to accept it as a Supreme offering from us.
The concept of offering the Atma as an oblation to the fire is to be understood as referring to the burning of the feeling or getting rid of the feeling once for all, that our Atma belongs to us and to banish the thought that we have independent ownership of our soul.
In the Bhajan ‘Om Jai Jagadish Hare’ there is a beautiful stanza that emphasises that everything is His and we just offer it back to Him – “Tan man dhan sab kuch hai tera, Swami sab kuch hai tera; Tera tujh ko arpan, Tera tujh ko arpan Kya laage mera” – This body, soul and all the material wealth is all yours and we offer it to you with reverence as none of this belongs to us.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives an interpretation that He likes – Namaskaara, Svadhyaya, aushadi rupatvena ati-pavitratvat anya havibhyo Mahanti havImshi yasya sa Maha-havih – He is called Maha-havih because He has the offerings that are Supremely pure, in the form of Namaskara, chanting of Vedas, and offerings of tulasi leaves. He quotes the following in support:
Tulasi dala maatrena jalasya culukena ca |
Vikrinite svam Atmanam bhaktebhyo bhakta-vatsalah || Vishnu Dharma
Meaning: Bhagavan who dearly loves His devotees, just trades away His own Self in exchange for the offering of some Tulasi leaves or a palm’s content of water.
He also quotes from Moksha Dharma, where it is stated that no matter what a person offers to Him with single-minded devotion, He accepts it with a bowed head:
yah kriyah samprayuktah syuh ekanta gata bhuddhibhih |
tah sarvah Sirasa devah pratigrihnati vai svayam ||
A person qualifies for the title of Brahmana by pure Nama japam, and nothing else is required:
japyenaiva hi sam-Suddhyet Brahmano ntra samshayah |
kuryad-anyan-na kuryat maitro Brahmana ucyate ||
In the context of this Nama, He is Himself the Havis – aham hutam, but this does not mean that everything or everyone is identical to Him, but that everything is part of Him.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives the additional interpretation that He is Maha-havih since He accepts as an offering the whole Universe at the time of pralaya, and contains it all within Him. Just as an offering made to fire becomes fire itself, the offering made to Him at the time of pralaya becomes a part of Brahman Himself.
Mahakramo Mahakarma Mahateja Mahoragah |
Mahakratur Mahayajva Mahayajno Mahahavih ||72||
He has gigantic strides as revealed in Trivikrama Avataar and hence He is Mahakramah. All His deeds are great like the act of Creation and sustenance of this Universe or helping His devotees in distress and hence He is called Mahakarma. He has great effulgence that is the source of light for other luminaries like the Sun and hence He is Mahatejah. He is the mighty serpent Vasuki and is also known to slip into His devotes heart, so He is called Mahoragah.
He is the great sacrifice, so He is known as Mahakratuh. He has performed great yagnas and hence He is called Mahayajva, the performer of great sacrifices. He is the object of the Supreme sacrifice that is offered with sacred utterances and hence He is Mahaygnah. As He is Omnipresent the He is also the highest oblation and hence He is Mahahavih.
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.