In this part we will explore the meaning of the 77th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Vishvamurtir Mahamurtih Deeptamurtir Amurtimaan |
Anekamurtir Avyaktah Shatamurtish Shataananah ||77 ||
He is Universe Personified, Monumental in form full of effulgence. He has no defined form and is formless as He assumes any Form He please, hence He is also off multiform who is Inscrutable and appears in hundreds of forms with hundreds of faces.
The above Shloka has the following Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
- Vishvamurtih – He has the Universe as His body
The Nama has the following meanings:
- He has the Universe as His body
- He has a beautiful Form that absorbs the mind, captivates the eyes, of His devotees
- He has Maya Shakti in the form of the Universe
- He has a Form that can induce Maya in everything
Vishvam (also the very first Nama) means the Universe and Murti means form or image. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Vishvam murtih Sarvaatmakatvaat iti Vishvamurtih – The whole Universe is in His image as He is present in every object and every being hence He is called Vishvamurtih’.
The Narayana Suktam, Shloka 5 says:
Yacca kimji jagat sarvam drishyate sruyatepi va
Antar bahishcha tatsarvam vyapya Narayanas Sthitah ||
Meaning: Whatever in this Universe is seen or heard of, Narayana permeates all the space inside and outside of every object in the Universe’.
Appropriately the very first name in Vishnu Sahasranamam is ‘Vishvam’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as indicating that Bhagavan has the whole Universe as His body. He is the Inner Soul who resides in the hearts of all beings – ‘Aham Atma Gudakesha! Sarva-bhutataya-sthitah” (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10 Verse 19). Sri Bhattar points out that the reason why the strong ones always do not always win in conflicts with the weak is because Bhagavan is sitting in the hearts of the weak, and He ensures that Dharma is preserved at all times and under all conditions.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan observes that this is why the Kauravas, with a might army and with the support of the likes of Bhishma and Drona, could not defeat the Pandavas. Sri NammAzhwar sings this ‘Vishvamurti’ form of Bhagavan in Thiruvai Mozhi 6.9.7:
உலகில் திரியும் கரும கதியாய் உலகமாய்,
உலகுக்கேகேயோ ருயிரு மானாய்! புறவண்டத்து,
அலகில் பெலிந்த திசைபத் தாய அருவேயோ!
அலகில் பொலிந்த அறிவி லேனுக் கருளாயே.
Meaning: You are the Karmic souls roaming the Earth, You are the soul of the world itself. You are the formless ten spheres and the spirit beyond, bestow grace on this tiny self of infinite ignorance.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri identifies Vishvamurti with ‘Vishvarupam’ that Bhagavan revealed in Duryodhana’s palace and other instances. He also gives reference from the Narayana Suktam:
Om Ritagum Satyam Param Brahmam, Purusam Krsnapingalam,
Urdhva retam, Virupaksham Vishvarupaya vai Namo Namah
Meaning: Prostrations again and again to the Omni-Formed Being, the Truth, the Law, the Supreme Absolute, the Purusha of blue-decked yellow hue. He is the Centralised-Force, Power, the All-Seeing One.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the meaning of the root ‘vish – to enter’, and gives the interpretation – vishati mano nayanaani sataam iti vishva; tad Sri kamaniya murtih yasya iti Vishvamurtih – He Who has such an attractive Form that absorbs the minds, eyes, etc., of the pious.
The Dharma Chakram writer comments that in order to appreciate the significance of this Vishvarupam of Bhagavan, one should develop the mental maturity required for that. In the case of Arjuna, he asked Lord Krishna to show him the Vishvarupam, but when Bhagavan showed the Vishvarupam to him, he was completely bewildered, frightened and confused. This Nama signifies to us the need for developing our mind so that we can comprehend the Vishvarupam aspect of Bhagavan.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives a different interpretation for Murti as ‘MayarupA mohika Shaktih’ from the root ‘murccha – moha samuchrayayoh’ meaning ‘to faint, to become senseless, to grow, to prevail, to be a match for’. Thus he gives the interpretations to the Nama Vishva-murtih as – “Vishvameva murtih Akaaro yasya sah vishva-murtih”, Vishvameva Maya vimohika Sakti yasya sa Vishvamurtih’; ‘Vishvasya mohika Saktih yasya sa Vishva-murtih’, which can be translated as: ‘He Who has the Form of the Universe, He Who is the Maya Sakti in the form of the Universe, or He Who can bind the Universe with Maya’. Even though every single thing in this Universe is but a clear and vivid expression of Bhagavan’s Shakti, most of us do not recognize any of that, and we look at our own form and conclude and feel proud that we are in sole control of that. All this is the result of Bhagavan’s Maya or Leela.
Sri Baladeva VidyaBhushan links his interpretation for the Nama ‘Vishvamurtih’ to the previous Nama Aparaajitah. Bhagavan is Aparaajitah or Unconquerable because He resides in and controls all the bodies of all the Devas, Gandharvas, manavas etc. – Deva Gandharva Maanavaadi sarva Shareerah.
- Mahamurtih – He is of Immense Form
This is a logical corollary of the previous Nama. If His image is the whole universe it has to be huge and in fact as large as the Universe itself. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Shesha paryanka Shaayinah asya Mahatee murtir iti Mahamurtih – The serpent Adi Shesha is immense and He sleeps on it covering it completely with His body showing that He has an immense form hence He is called Mahamurtih, the one with the colossal form. In the Trivikrama Avataar He was able to cover the whole with one foot print and the whole of the sky with another foot print showing the enormity of His form.
Sri Parasara Bhattar explains that His body is immense because it is the resort for everything in the entire Universe. He gives reference from the Srimad Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11 Verse 7) as support:
Ihaikastham jagat Kritsnam pashyaadya sa-caracaram |
mama dehe Gudakesha! yacchaanyat drashtum icchati ||
Meaning: Gudakesha! See now the whole Universe with all the things moving and non-moving, in one corner of My body, and you may also see (in My body) anything else you wish to see (because everything is part of My body).
In the Purusha Suktam 1.3 (and the Rig Veda 10.90), it says:
Ethaa vaanasya mahimaa. Atho jyaaya scha purusha |
Padhosya viswa bhoothanee. Tripaadasyamrutham divi ||
Meaning: This Purusha is much greater, than all His greatness in what all we see, And all that we see in this Universe is but His quarter, And the rest three quarters which is beyond destruction, Is safely in the worlds beyond.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri refers to the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11 Verse 13, which describes Arjuna’s seeing the whole Universe in His body:
Tatraika stham jagat-Krtsnam pravibhaktam anekadha |
apashyat deva-devasya Shareere Pandavas-tatha ||
Meaning: There (in that form) Arjuna beheld the whole Universe, with its manifold divisions gathered together in one single spot within the body of (Lord Krishna) the God of gods.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference to Thirumangai Azhwar’s Peria Thirumozhi, where Azhwar describes Perumal’s Maha murti form – ‘alattarkku ariyaai’ meaning ‘beyond measure’. If this whole Universe is but a part of His body, one can only try to imagine His true Mahamurti form.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj interprets the word Maha as ‘pujanIya’, or worthy worship, instead of ‘big’ in size. His interpretation is – MahatI pujaniya murtih Akritih yasya iti Mahamurtih.
The Dharma Chakram writer comments that the Mahamurti form of Bhagavan illustrates a few points: a) It illustrates unity in diversity. Even though each embodied soul has its body, all are ultimately dependent on Him, and are part of His body. Bhagavan’s body includes Srishti (creation), Sthiti (existence), as well as Samhaaram (destruction). In order for one life to live, another life is destroyed.
In order to realise Him, Sadhana is required, and for this Sadhana a body is required. All these functions are happening within Him because these are essential for the Jivas to ultimately evolve towards Him and realise Him. The embodied souls do not realise Him because of the smoke screen they have created between Him and them through their Karmas. When they refine their minds and divert their minds towards Him, He will bless them with His Grace, and they will experience His Mahamurti form and beyond.
- Deeptamurtih – He has a Radiant Form
Deepta means incandescent or dazzling. So Deeptamurtih refers to one with an incandescent image. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this in two ways as follows. The first is ‘Deeptaa jnanamayee murtih asya asti iti Deeptamurtih – He has a dazzling image in the form of his own Supreme Knowledge or his Knowledge makes him glow hence He is called Deeptamurtih, one with the brilliance of Knowledge or the very incarnation of Wisdom’.
The second interpretation is ‘Svecchayaa Griheetaa Taijasee Murtih Deeptaa asya iti vaa Deeptamurtih – On His own volition He assumes a radiant form when necessary hence He is called Deeptamurtih, one who assumes a dazzling image’.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11 Verse 12, Sanjaya says:
Divi Surya-sahasrasya Bhaved yugapat utthitaa,
Yadi Bhaah Sadrishee Saa syaad Bhaasa tasya Mahatmanah ||
Meaning: If thousands of Suns were to simultaneously blaze the sky, they might perhaps approach the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that Universal form. (This gives some idea of the full extent of the Nama Deeptamurtih).
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets this as ‘Deepta a-prakrita tejomayi murtih Akarah yasya iti Deeptamurtih – He Who has a form which shines exceptionally. Sri Bhattar observes that anything in this Universe which shines is only because it gets its shine from Him. He quotes from the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10 Verse 41, where Bhagavan says:
yad yad vibhutimat sattvam srimad urjitam eva va
tat tad evavagaccha tvam mama tejo-‘msa-sambhavam ||
Meaning: Know that all beautiful, glorious, and mighty creations spring from but a spark of My Splendour.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives reference from the Katha Upanishad (2.5.15):
na tatra Suryo bhati na candra-tarakam, nema vidyuto bhanti, kuto’yam agniḥ
tameva bhāntam anubhāti sarvaṁ tasya bhāsā sarvam idaṁ vibhati ||
Meaning: The Sun does not shine there, nor does the Moon, nor do the Stars, nor the lightnings and much less the Fire. When He shines, everything shines after Him; by His light, all these shine.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives references from the Divya Prabandham in support:
- Nandaada kozhum Sudare! engal nambi (Peria Thirumozhi 1.10.9) – O Lord, the source of eternal light, our master, our wish fulfilling gem;
- Oli Mani Vannan (Thiruvai Mozhi 3.4.7) – Shall I call my Krishna a rare gem of radiance? (describing His Deeptamurti Guna).
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta uses the term Deepta not only in the sense of resplendence, but also in the sense of ‘explicit’, and not hidden. Thus he comments that unlike the humans who sometimes tend to hide what they do from others, Bhagavan does not have a need to hide anything from anyone.
The Dharma Chakram writer distinguishes between two types enlightenment: the enlightenment of the objects externally through the Sunlight, and the enlightenment of the mind through knowledge. Bhagavan enlightens everything externally in the form of the Sun, and He enlightens us internally through our minds. The internal light is needed for keeping the mind clean, and keeping negative thoughts at bay. The Gayatri Mantra is one instrument that Bhagavan has provided for the enlightenment of the mind.
The significance of this Nama is to realise that Bhagavan controls everything in this world both externally and internally by being the Antaryami (in-dweller) of everything. We need to nurture our mind to seek Him that will enable us to enlighten our minds.
- Amurtimaan – He is Formless
This Nama means that He is formless and appears to contradict the earlier and subsequent Namas which describe the Lord as having many forms. But this has to be understood in the context of His ability to assume any Form that He chooses and as such He does not have a fixed or definitive form throughout. As He can assume any form that He pleases (as in His Dasha Avataar), He is called Amurtimaan.
The Nama has the following meanings:
- He is formless
- His forms are not as a result of karma
- He is flexible
- He is indescribable, as He has no fixed form
- He takes whatever Forms He pleases as His Avataars
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Karmanibandhanaa Murtih asya na vidyate iti Amoortimaan – He does not have a specific form ordained by His Karma or resultant of past actions hence He is called Amurtimaan, the formless one’. Depending on our past karma, we all have a specific form in each of our births. But Bhagavan is free from karma and therefore He is not bound to any particular form. He can take any form he wishes to take and therefore, He is Amurtimaan.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the Nama as He Who owns even the forms which are Amurti’s, such as fire, water, wind, etc. and gives reference from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 4):
Bhumir-Apo’nalo vayuh kham mano buddhireva ca|
ahamkara itIyam me bhinna prakritir-ashtadha ||
Meaning: Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego-altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.
Sri Bhattar further explains as His body is the Unmanifested prakriti – yasya avyaktam Shareeram; and as His body is also the individual soul – yasya Atma Shareeram.
Sri Bhattar further points out that according to Panini Sutra, the interpretation should be ‘One Who has as His possession the Amurti objects’, and not as ‘He Who does not have a specific murti or form’. According to Sri Bhattar, the Nama Amurtimaan should not be taken to signify the negation of a form for Bhagavan. Such an interpretation will be contrary to the earlier and later Namas, such as Vishvamurtih, Mahamurtih, Deeptamurtih, Anekamurtih, etc.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives references from Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi, where the Azhwar refers to Emperuman as ‘aru’ meaning One Who is formless, as well as of such complex forms that He cannot be understood:
- புறவண்டத்து,அலகில் பெலிந்த திசைபத் தாய அருவேயோ! (Thiruvai Mozhi 6.9.7) – You are the (Formless) soul of the countless mukta Jivas that are in all the directions of Sri Vaikuntam;
- தொல்லை நன்னூலில் சொன்ன வுருவும் அருவும்நியே (Thiruvai Mozhi 7.8.10) – You are the Only One with a beautiful, enjoyable Form, and you are the also the One who is the abstract, invisible, soul of all things in the world!
- ஒன்றலா வுருவாய் அருவாயநின் மாயங்கள், (Thiruvai Mozhi 5.10.6) – I wonder at Your wonders; You have innumerable Forms as well as One who is the (Formless) soul of all beings.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives support from the Upanishads expressing that Bhagavan has as His Form the unmanifested objects as well as the manifested ones:
Divya hyamurtah purushah sa bahyavyantare hyajah,
Apranoh hyamanah shubhroakshyarat paratah parah || (Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.2)
Meaning: That effulgent Being is verily formless, existing both within and without, uncreated, without Prana or mind, pure, and is beyond even the Supreme Imperishable.
Dve va va Brahmano rupe murtam ca amurtam ca (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.1) – Dve vava brahmano rupe: Two forms, or two manifestations, as it were, there are of Brahman. These two manifestations are murtam ca, amurtam ca, the formed and the formless, the visible and the invisible, that with shape and that without any particular shape. These are the two ways in which Brahman manifests itself in the five elements.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the meaning for the word murti as hard, and gives the interpretation that because Bhagavan has a disposition that is not hard or inflexible etc., hence, He has the Nama Amurtimaan.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the interpretation that because Bhagavan has forms which are indescribable, He is not of a fixed form, and therefore He is called Amurtimaan.
Swami ChinmayAnanda gives a similar explanation – The limited alone has a form, but He being Unlimited, like ‘Space’, has no limited form.
The Dharma Chakram writer comments that Bhagavan takes the forms that He desires, but He is not constrained in any way by that form.
726. Anekamurtih – He has many Forms
The Nama Murtih is used in the context of Bhagavan’s different Avataars for the protection and sustenance of the world. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Avataareshu Svecchayaa Lokaanaam Upakaaraneeh bahveeh murtih bhajate iti Anekamurtih – Bhagavan takes several different forms in His various Avataars as He wills to protect all the world, hence He is called Anekamurthih, one with several forms. The point to note is that the form assumed by Him is not forced by karma but purely according to His own choice. And the forms taken are for the benefit of all and not for His own benefit or self-glorification.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the example of Lord Krishna assuming 16,100 forms in order to be always in the company of His 16,100 Queens’. He gives the following reference from Vishnu Puranam in support:
Shodasha strI sahasrani Satamekam tato’dhikam |
taavanti cakre rupani Bhagavan Devaki-sutah ||(Vishnu Purana 5.31.18)
Meaning: In order to be always in the company of His 16,100 Queens, Lord Sri Krishna, the Son of devaki, took as many forms.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the derviation – aneka bahavo murtayah Akarah sveccha parigrihita yasya iti Aneka-murtih – He Who can assume many different forms as He desires at will is Anekamurtih.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference to Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (2.5.6):
Meaning: My Lord reclines on the Adisesha, the serpent, let me count His various forms. His ornaments are many, His names are many, His lustrous forms are many, their feelings too are many through seeing, touching, hearing and smelling, He give me divine pleasure.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the support from Rig Veda (1.164.46):
Indram mitram varunam agnim ahuh, atho divyah sa suparno garutman,
ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanti, agnim yamam matari’svanam ahuh ||
Meaning: They hail Him as Indra, as Mitra, as Varuna, as Agni, also as that divine and noble-winged Garudamaan. It is of One Existence that the wise ones speak in diverse ways and give different names such as Agni, Yama or Matarishvan.
The Story of Narakasura
In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Narakasura is described as the Asura son of the Bhudevi and Varaha (third Avataar of Vishnu) and is said to have grown to be a demon through association with Banasura. He is said to have established the Kingdom of Pragjyotisha after overthrowing the last of the Danava king Ghatakasura. Drunk with power, as he knew himself to be unrivalled in prowess, he brought all the kingdoms on earth under his control. Next, he turned his eyes towards Swargaloka. Even the mighty Indra could not withstand the assault of this son of Earth and had to flee the heavens. Narakasura had become the overlord of both the heavens and earth. As promised to Mother Earth, Narakasura was allowed to enjoy a long reign. Addicted to power, he stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped some of her territory, while also kidnapping over 16,000 women.
All the Devas, led by Indra went to Vishnu, to ask him to deliver them from Narakasura. Vishnu promised them that he would resolve this, when in His Krishna Avataar. And finally, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Krishna.
Aditi, who was a relative of Krishna’s wife Satyabhama (believed to be an Avatar of Bhudevi – Narakasura’ mother), approached Satyabhama for help. When Satyabhama heard of the Narakasura’s ill treatment of women and his behaviour with Aditi, she was enraged. Satyabhama approached Lord Krishna for permission to wage a war against Narakasura. As promised to the Devas and Aditi, Krishna attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with wife Satyabhama. Lord Krishna used the Narayanastra and the Agneyastra against the army of Narakasura.
The battle was furiously fought. Narakasura possessed 11 Akshauhini (a division of the army), that he unleashed on Krishna. However, the Lord slew them all with little effort. Krishna also killed five headed serpent Mura, Narakasura’s general. ThusKrishna is called ‘Murāri’ (the slayer of Mura). In desperation, Narakasura launched the Vaishnavastra on Lord Krishna. However, it made no impact whatsoever on Krishna as He was the avatar of Lord Vishnu. At last, when Narakasura tried to kill the Lord with a trident, Krishna beheaded him with his Sudarshana Chakra.
Before Narakasura’s death, He requested a boon from his mother, Satyabhama, that everyone should celebrate his death with colorful light. Thus this day is celebrated as Diwali in Southern India as ‘Narakasura Chaturdashi’ – which is the day before the celebration of Diwali in rest of India.
Krishna’s and Satyabhama’s victory on Narakasura translated into freedom for all his prisoners and the honouring of Aditi.
Having rescued the 16,100 women, Krishna married them to restore them to their former dignity. The Lord displays His Anekamurti form by being with all of them at once.
- Avyaktah – He cannot be easily realised
Vyaktam means ‘manifest’ and anything that can be perceived through the sense-organs. Since Bhagavan is beyond the sense organs, He is Avyaktah.
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Yadyapi anekamurtitvam asya tathaa api ayam eedrishah eva iti na vyajyate iti Avyaktah – Even though He has got many forms He cannot be precisely defined to any particular state or nature or measure hence He is called Avyaktah, one without a fixed form’.
How can one with multiple forms be formless at the same time? Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 12 clarifies that devotees can worship Him in any of His manifestations that has a defined form (Bhakti Marga) or in the abstract and formless Brahman that represents Him (Jnana Marga). Both types of worship will take them to Bhagavan, but worshipping Bhagavan as a definite form is much easier than the worship of a formless Brahman, ultimately both yielding the same result.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the interpretation that Bhagavan is called Avyaktah because in His human Avataars such as Rama and Krishna, His true nature is not manifest to everyone. Sri Bhattar gives support from the Bhagavad Gita for his interpretation:
naham prakasah sarvasya yoga-maya-samavrtah
mudho ‘yam nabhijanati loko mam ajam avyayam || BG 7.25||
Meaning: I am never manifest to the deluded, for them I am covered by My Yoga-Maya; and so they know Me not, as the unborn, Immutable and infallible.
naham vedair na tapasa na danena na cejyaya
sakya evam-vidho drastum drstavan asi mam yatha ||BG 11.53||
Meaning: Not by the veda-s, nor by austerities, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice, can I be seen in such a form as you have seen Me. (Lord Krishna’s words to Arjuna).
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives reference from the Svetasvatara Upanishad (4.20):
na saṃdṛishe tiṣṭhati rupam asya na cakṣuṣa pashyati kashcanainaṃ |
hṛda hṛdisthaṃ manasa ya enam evaṃ vidur amṛtas te bhavanti ||
Meaning: His form is not an object of vision; no one beholds Him with the eyes. They who, through pure intellect and the Knowledge of Unity based upon reflection, realise Him as abiding in the heart become immortal. Those who experience Him through meditation become liberated – free from the cycle of birth and death forever.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta quotes from the Atharva Veda and from Svetasvatara Upanishad:
anti santi na pashyati anti santam na jahati |
devasya pashya kavyam na mamara na jiryati || (Atharva. 10.8.32)
which conveys the idea that even though Bhagavan is close by and never far away, He is not seen, and He neither ages nor decays – such is His wonder.
eko devaḥ sarvabhūteṣu gūḍhaḥ sarvavyāpī sarvabhūtāntarātmā |
karmādhyakṣaḥ sarvabhūtādhivāsaḥ sākṣī cetā kevalo nirguṇaś ca ||Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.11 ||
Meaning: The non-dual and resplendent Lord is hidden in all beings. All-pervading, the inmost Self of all creatures, the impeller to actions, abiding in all things, He is the Witness, the Animator and the Absolute, free from Gunas.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives support from the Divya Prabandham:
- yavarkkum cindaikkum gocaram allan (Thiruvai Mozhi 1.9.6) – He is beyond the grasp of anyone through mere knowledge;
- Yarurmor nilaimaiyan ena arivariya emperumaan (Thiruvai Mozhi 1.3.4) – (Except for His devotees) His true Nature is beyond comprehension. Even when He reveals Himself at times momentarily, He immediately withdraws that memory from them, and becomes Avyaktan again.
He revealed His Vishvarupam to Arjuna, but after this incident passed, Arjuna treated Krishna as His charioteer. He revealed Himself to Yashoda, and following that incident, she continued to discipline Him like before – tying Him up for His mischief or reprimand Him anyway.
- Shata-murtih – He takes hundreds of Forms
Shata means hundred, so Shatamurtih is one who has hundreds of forms. The term ‘hundred’ is just a figurative expression, but means ‘many’. The Shata Shabdam, the Sahasra Shabdam, etc., are indicative of ‘many’. In this sense, the words “Shata-murtih, Sahasra-murtih, Aneka-murtih, Bahu-murtih, etc. all signify ‘many’.
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Naanaavikalpajaa murtayah Samvidaakriteh santi iti Shatamurtih – He is pure consciousness through which He projects Himself into many forms by the power of His thought and hence He is called Shatamurtih’. Thus Sri Sankara is making a distinction between Anekamurtih and Shatamurtih, the former refers to his different incarnations and the latter to the mental images He creates in the minds of His devotees’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar distinguishes between the two Namas by interpreting ‘Aneka-murtih’ as representing different forms that He took as different incarnations at different times, and interpreting ‘Shata-murtih’ as referring to His simultaneous display of different forms to the seer in His one form at a given instant in time.
mallānām aśanir nṛṇāṁ nara-varaḥ strīṇāṁ smaro mūrtimān
gopānāṁ sva-jano ’satāṁ kṣiti-bhujāṁ śāstā sva-pitroḥ śiśuḥ
mṛtyur bhoja-pater virāḍ aviduṣāṁ tattvaṁ paraṁ yogināṁ
vṛṣṇīnāṁ para-devateti vidito raṅgaṁ gataḥ sāgrajaḥ || Srimad Bhagavatam 10.43.17 ||
Meaning: As Krishna entered the arena set by Kamsa with His brother Balarama, the wrestlers saw in Him as a lightning bolt, the menfolk saw Him as the best of men, the womenfolk saw in Him Cupid or Manmatha arriving, the Gopas (cowherds) saw their relative arriving, the Kings affiliated with Kamsa saw Him as the chastiser arriving, Devaki and Vasudeva saw their child arriving, Kamsa felt that death was approaching him in Krishna’s form, the ignorant saw the Supreme Form, the yogis realised that the para tattvam or Absolute Truth was in front of them, and the Yadavas saw their Supreme worship-able Deity.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri also gives the analogy of the Kalpaka Vriksham – the tree that can give anything that anyone wishes while standing under that tree. For example, all the different fruits and flowers that normally appear in different seasons will all be found at the same time in the Kalpaka vriksahm, and whoever wishes whichever species of fruits or flowers will just see what he/she wishes in the tree at any given time. Bhagavan is exactly that – He will appear in whatever form anyone wishes to see Him as He is Shata-murtih.
- Shataananah – He has hundreds of faces
This Nama has the following meanings:
- He has hundreds of faces
- He has provided many different means for life to be sustained
- He has created various life-forms and provided easy means for their survival
- He is viewed in different ‘faces’ (in different ways) by different people
Shata menas hundred and Anana means face and so literally this means one with hundreds of faces. Sri Adi Sankara explains this Nama as ‘Vishvaadi moortitvam yatah ata eva Shataananah – We have seen that the whole universe is His image (Vishvamoortih) consequently He has many different faces and therefore He is Shataananah, one with hundreds of faces’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar refers to the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11 Verse 10):
aneka vaktra nayanam anekabhuta darshanam |
aneka divyabharanam divyanekodyat Ayudham ||
Meaning: With innumerable mouths and eyes, many marvellous aspects, many divine ornaments, and many divine weapons” – This is how Sanjaya began his description of Bhagavan’s Vishvarupam that was witnessed by Arjuna.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers to Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (8.1.10):
தோள்களா யிரத்தாய். முடிகளா யிரத்தாய்! துணைமலர்க் கண்களா யிரத்தாய்,
தாள்களா யிரத்தாய்! பேர்களா யிரத்தாய்! தமியனேன் பெரிய அப்பனே |
Meaning: O’ Effulgent Lord of thousand arms and thousand heads, thousand lotus eyes, thousand feet and thousand names!
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives reference to the Svetashvatara Upanishad (3.11) wherein Brahman is described as:
sarvavyāpī sa bhagavāṃs tasmāt sarvagataḥ śivaḥ ||
Meaning: All faces are His faces; all heads, His heads; all necks, His necks. He dwells in the hearts of all beings. He is the all-pervading Bhagavan. Therefore He is the omnipresent and benign Lord.
The 1st Mantra of Purusha Suktam says:
Om sahasra shirsha purushaha sahasrakshas sahasrapat |
sa bhumim vishvato vritva atyatishthad dhashangulam ||
Meaning: The Purusha (the Supreme Being) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. He has enveloped this world from all sides and has (even) transcended it by ten fingers of breadth.
All faces, heads, and necks, belong to the Lord only as He is the Virat Purusha, the Universal Person. He is the inner personality of all, antaryamin. He guides the senses, mind and intellect and actions of all.
The uniqueness of the Vedas and Upanishads is that we find the synthesis of the ideas of Personal God and Impersonal Absolute.
Swami ChinmayAnanda refers us to Lord Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 13 Verse 13), which conveys the same concept when He describes Brahman:
sarvatah pani-padam tat sarvato ‘ksi-siro-mukham
sarvatah srutimal loke sarvam avrtya tisthati
Meaning: Everywhere are It’s hands and feet; It’s eyes, heads, and mouths are everywhere; It’s ears are on all sides; and It exists encompassing all things.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the derivation of Ananam from the root ‘ana – pranane’ means ‘to breathe’. The definition that Sri Vasishta gives is A = samantaat anyate = pranyate anena iti Ananan = mukham – The part of the body which contains the means for breathing, namely the face. The word Shata has the same meaning as in the previous Nama, namely, many or innumerable. Thus the explanation for the Nama is: Satam Ananaani yasya sa Shataananah = Anantaananah – He Who has innumerable faces.
Sri Vasishta gives a second interpretation, in which He takes Ananam to mean ‘the means for sustaining life’, and gives the meaning that ‘He has provided innumerable ways (such as nose, mouth, face, etc.), through which life is sustained for different creatures’ – Jivana upayanam ca bahuvidyam, tatha ca yadyad jivane Silpa Vaisishtyam tat tat tasyaiva bhagavata ityakhyatum Shataanana namna Bhagavan Vishnuh stuyate.
Yet another interpretation provided by Sri Vasishta is based on the Panini Sutra 3.1.26 – hetumati ca – and he interprets the term ‘Ananah’ as ‘Anayati iti Ananah’ – ‘One Who causes, or makes it possible to live’. Ananam is here interpreted as referring to Bhagavan’s action in creating the different life-forms which have different ways of sustaining life. Ananah is thus given the meaning ‘jivan dhata – the life-giver’. He has created various life-forms’ – catur-vidha Srishti udvhaavinah anantaan jivan tat-tat jivanaih upakaranaih Anayati = jivayatiti Shataananah.
Vishvamurtir Mahamurtih Deeptamurtir Amurtimaan |
Anekamurtir Avyaktah Shatamurtish Shataananah ||77 ||
The whole Universe is in His image as He is present in every object and every being hence He is called Vishvamurtih. The serpent Adi Shesha is immense and He sleeps on it covering it completely with His body showing that He has an immense form, hence He is called Mahamurtih, the one with the colossal form. He has a dazzling image in the form of his own Supreme Knowledge or his Knowledge makes him glow, hence He is called Deeptamurtih, one with the brilliance of Knowledge or the very incarnation of Wisdom’. He has no defined form and assumes any form He pleases, hence He is called Amurtimaan.
Bhagavan takes several different forms in His various Avataars as He wills to protect all the world, hence He is called Anekamurthih, one with several forms. He cannot be precisely defined to any particular state or nature or measure, hence He is called Avyaktah, one without a fixed form. He is pure consciousness through which He projects Himself into many forms by His power of thought, hence He is called Shatamurtih. He has many different faces and therefore He is Shataananah, one with hundreds of faces’
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.