In this part we will explore the meaning of the 78th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.

 Shloka 78
Eko Naikah Savah Kah Kim Yat Tat Padamanuttamam  |
Lokabandhur Lokanatho Madhavo Bhaktavatsalah    ||78||

He is One without a second who takes Infinite forms. He spreads knowledge and He is the in-dweller. He shines with effulgence and it is about Him all questions are asked by Seekers of Truth. He strives to protect His devotees, He pervades everywhere and He is the Supreme and Final destination. He instructs the world as a kinsman on Dharma and He is the Lord of the Universe. He is Consort of Lakshmi and His affection towards His devotees is limitless.

The above Shloka has the following Namas:

  1.    Ekah
  2.    Naikah
  3.    Sah
  4.    Vah
  5.    Kah
  6.    Kim
  7.    Yat
  8.    Tat
  9.    Padamanuttamam
  10.    Lokabandhuh
  11.    Lokanathah
  12.    Madhavah
  13.    Bhaktavatsalah

Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:

  1.    Ekah – He is Unique and Peerless in all respects

image3Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Paramaarthatah Sajateeya Vijaateeya Svagatabheda Vinirmuktatvaat Ekah – The One, being devoid of any distinction such as ‘Sajateeya’ pertaining to same species, ‘Vijateeya’ pertaining to different species and ‘Svagta’ pertaining to different parts of the same thing. In the ultimate analysis He is beyond any duality or conflict arising due to differences hence He is called Ekah’.

Sri Sankara refers to three types of differences – the first is Sajateeya bhedam which is the difference that we see between the different members of a given species – such as the difference between one human being and another. The second is Vijaateeya bhedam, which is the difference observed between different species such as between man and animal or different types of animals. The third is Svagata bhedam, which is an inherent between different parts of the same object. Within the same body the hands are different from legs, the nose is different from ear etc. But Bhagavan is unaffected by these differences and retains His essential integrity or oneness justifying this Nama ‘Ekah’. Sri Sankara quotes the Chandogya Upanishad (6.2.1) in support: ‘Ekam eva adviteeyam – He remains ever the same single entity without a second’.

Sri Bhattar gives his interpretation with the meaning of ‘One Chief alone’ for this Nama.  Sri Bhattar’s actual words are – ukte mahimni Sajateeya samkhyeya asambhavat advaitam gacchati iti Ekah – With reference to His Supreme greatness, there is no one who can be compared with Him, and so He is called Ekah.  Sri Bhattar gives reference from the Rig Veda 10.121.3:
Yah pranato nimishato mahitwaika id raja jagato babhuva |
Ya ishe asya dvipadashchatushpadah kasmai devaya havisha vidhema ||
Meaning: O Almighty God! You are the sole controller of the Universe. All species of the animate kingdom (both bipeds and quadrupeds) came into existence through Your Grace. O Blissful God! May we surrender ourselves at Your service!

There is a magnificent illustration in Atharva Veda regarding Ekah or Oneness:
‘Neither second, nor third, nor yet fourth He is called,
He is called neither fifth, nor sixth, nor yet seventh,
He is called neither eight, nor ninth, nor yet tenth,
He is the sole, the absolute unity, the One alone’. (13.4.16 -19)

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta explains ‘Ekah’ as ‘eti – gacchati sarvatra iti Ekah’ – He Who is present everywhere and there is no one else to compare to Him, and so He is Ekah. He also gives the analogy of the one father for the many children; Bhagavan Vishnu is the One Father who creates everything in this Universe, and so He is called Ekah.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the following references: 

  • Dyava bhumi janayan deva ekah – Rg. 10.81.3 – ‘He, the Sole God, producing earth and heaven’;
  • Yadi no Bhagavan prIta ekah sarva-Gunashrayah, sarva-bhutatma-bhavena dvijo bhavatu vijvaraḥ  – Srimad Bhagavatam 9.5.11

Meaning: King Ambareesh pleads to Sudharsana ChakraIf the Supreme Lord, who is one without a second, who is the reservoir of all transcendental qualities, and who is the life and soul of all living entities, is pleased with us, we wish that this Brahmaṇa, Durvasa Muni, be freed from the pain of being burned.  

Sri NammAzhwar refers to Him as ‘Oruvan’ (One without a second) in many of his verses. 

  1.    Naikah – He is Infinite

dasavatharamSri Adi Sankara explains this apparent contradiction with the previous Nama by saying ‘Mayaya Bahurupatvaat – Because of His power of illusion or Maya, He seems to have multiple forms hence He is called Naikah, the one with Infinite forms’.

He quotes the following passage from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.5.19) which says, ‘Indro Maayaabhih Pururupa Eeyate – Bhagavan assumes many different forms using His powers of illusion’.

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 25) Bhagavan says:
Naham prakasah sarvasyam yoga-maya-samavrtah |
mudho ‘yam nabhijanati loko mam ajam avyayam ||
Meaning: I am not manifest to everyone, being veiled by Maya, My illusory potency in the external energy. The ignorant in this world are so deluded that they cannot understand Me, the unborn and Impreishable.

Sri Bhattar explains how He is One (as in the previous Nama), and also ‘Many’ (in the current Nama).  He is One in the sense of being unique in having everything in all the Universe as His possession; But He is not One as He assumes many Forms, since there are His glorious Vibhutis or extensions and He is the in-dweller or Antaryami of all that exist. Sri Bhattar’s words are – ‘Vibhutitaya Vijateeyena Sarvena dvitiyavaneva iti Naikah – Since He has as His glorious possessions all that are of a nature different from His, He is not just One’.  He quotes from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11 Verse 40) – “nanto’sti mama divyanam vibhutinam paramtapa’ – ‘O’ Arjuna, there is no end to the divine glories of Mine (What I have stated in detail is only a small part of My glories)’.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives support from Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (6.9.1) that beautifully describes Bhagavan’s ‘Naika-rupam’:
நீராய் நிலனாய் தீயாய்க் காலாய் நெடுவானாய்,
சீரார் சுடர்க்க ளிரண்டாய்ச் சிவனாய் அயனாய்,
கூரார் ஆழி வெண்சங் கேந்திக் கொடியேன்பால்
வாராய், ஒருநாள் மண்ணும் விண்ணும் மகிழவே.
Meaning: You are the Fire, Water, Earth, Ether, and Air; you are the orb of the Sun and the light in the Moon. You are the antaryami (in-dweller) in Brahma and Siva.  Please come with your conch and discus in hand to bless me, and let the Heaven and Earth rejoice.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives a different interpretation – Naikah – dvitam vindamanah; Mata-pitr-bhavanaya Sri-lakshmi-Narayana rupena virajamanah – He is not One but should be recognized as two, in the form of our Mother and Father, as Sri Lakshmi-Narayana. 

Swami ChinmayAnanda observes that His being One (Ekah) is to be realised at the ‘knowledge’ level, but His ‘Naikah’ as Many Forms is experienced at the ‘Being’ level.  He is in everything that exists, and without Him nothing exists; so He is Infinite.   However, it is Him and Him alone who is in everything and makes everything function, so He is One who takes Infinite forms. 

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta’s explanation is that He is called Naikah because everything that is created by Him is different – na eko yasmat iti Naikah.

  1.    Sah – He Who spreads knowledge

HayagreevaThis Nama has several meanings:

  1. He Who spreads Knowledge
  2. He Who is the final authority on all knowledge
  3. He Who destroys all obstacles to His devotees
  4. He Who is easily accessible
  5. He Who is of the form the soma sacrifice (when the Nama is taken as savah)
  6. He Who is the final Knowledge, and Who dwells everywhere (Savah)

The root from which the word ‘Sah’ is derived in the interpretation of this Nama is ‘so – antakarmani’ means ‘to destroy or bring to an end’. 

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains this Nama as ‘Sva-vishaya jnanam syati iti Sah’ – He Who spreads knowledge about Him is Sah.   Sri Bhattar gives the example of Lord Krishna spreading knowledge about Him right from His childhood to everyone. 

Sri V.V. Ramanujan reference from Sri PeriAzhwar’s ‘ap pucci kaattugindran’ Pasuram – Where even as a child, Krishna reveals His greatness to the children of Ayarpadi through His many Leelas.

Sri NammAzhwar declares that he has realized the whole truth about Emperuman because he has been blessed with unblemished wisdom by Perumal. He extols the Lord in this Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (9.3.2):
அவனே அகல்ஞாலம் படைத்திடந்தான்
அவனே அஃதுண்டுமிழ்ந்தானளந்தான்
அவனே யவனும் அவனுமவனும்
அவனே மற்றெல்லாமுமறிந்தனமே
Meaning: He created the Earth and also lifted it from the depths of Ocean as Varaha. He swallowed it, remade it and measured it. He is Brahma, Indra and Siva as the in-dweller or antaryami, He is in everything, we know this.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation – Syati vinashayati sva-jana vipada iti Sah – He is called Sah because He removes His devotees’ obstacles.

Sri Anna’ngarAcharya Swami seems to give his interpretation using the direct meaning of the word ‘Sah’ and says ‘appadip pattavar endru kondada takkavar’ – He Who is worthy of being praised as such and such, where ‘appadip pattavar’ is a reference to previous Namas such as Ekah, Naikah, etc. 

  1.    Vah – The In-Dweller

visvam1While Sri Bhattar treats Sah and Vah as two separate Namas, Sri Adi Sankara treats the two as forming one Nama – Savah and explains this as ‘Suyate abhishuyate somah atra iti Savah’ – Savah is the name of a particular type of Yajna or sacrifice where the Soma juice is offered to the deities. So based on this Sri Sankara interprets this name as ‘Somo yatra abhisuyate Sah Adhvarah iti Savah – He embodies the Soma sacrifice hence He is called Savah’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains that the Nama ‘Vah’ is derived from the root ‘vas – nivase – vasati iti Vah’ – He Who dwells as the antaryami of everything.  Sri Bhattar gives support from Sri Vishnu Puranam for his interpretation:
vasanti tatra bhutani bhutatmanyakhilAtmani   |
sa ca bhuteshvaSeshesu vakararthas-tato mune  ||  (6.5.76)
Meaning: All beings dwell in Him and He Who is Himself in all beings as the Inner Soul, He dwells in all of them without exception.  Therefore, O’ Sage, He is signified by the letter ‘va’.”

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri adds that the inner meaning of this is that Bhagavan is the essence or the final extract of everything that exists.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the interpretation that Bhagavan ultimately determines (brings to a conclusion, ends the discussion on) how everything in this Universe functions etc. and hence He is Sah. He also gives an alternate interpretation for the Nama as ‘Savah’ – savah yo hi syati, antayati nishcayayati sva-vishayam jnanam, vasati ca sarvatra, iti Savah – He Who gives the final knowledge about Him to His devotees, and also dwells everywhere, is Savah.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan quotes from Sri NammAzhwar’s Pasuram where he refers to His being everywhere always, in his Thiruvai Mozhi (2.8.9), in the context of the description of Prahlada Charitram:
எங்கும்முளன்கண்ண னென்றமகனைக்காய்ந்து,
இங்கில்லையால் என் றிரணியன் தூண்புடைப்ப,
அங்கப்பொழுதே அவன்வீயத்தோன்றிய, என்
சிங்கப்பிரான்பெருமை யாராயும்சீர்மைத்தே.
Meaning: When the young lad said Krishna is everywhere, the Father (Hiranyakashipu) swore, “Not here!” and smote a pillar.  Then instantly my Lord appeared, -what a wonder! –as a fierce man-lion and destroyed the King.

He also gives reference to another Pasuram from Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (1.1.10):
பரந்ததண் பரவையுள்நீர்தொறும் பரந்துளன்
பரந்தஅ ண்டமிதென நிலவிசும் பொழிவற
கரந்தசி லிடந்தொறும் இடந்திகழ் பொருடொறும்
கரந்தெங்கும் பரந்துள னிவையுண்ட கரனே.
Meaning: He is present in every atom in the cool waters that are distributed everywhere; He permeates everything everywhere in the land and in the sky in all of the Universe; He is present in the minutest of things, and also in the Atma of everything; He Who swallowed all these things and kept them in His stomach, is present in everything without their even knowing about it.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation ‘He Who goes to the abodes of those who sing His praise’, using the meaning vati gacchati (Vati gacchati sva janayojita bhajana bhavanam iti Vah.   

  1.    Kah – He Who Shines

visnu2This Nama has the following meanings:

  1. He Who Shines
  2. He Who is invoked or praised through words by devotees.
  3. He Who is the personification of happiness.
  4. He Who remains an unanswered Question Mark when approached through ‘intellection’.

Basically the sound ‘Ka’ represents happiness or well being. When we worship Bhagavan we are only expressing our happiness or state of joy. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Ka shabdah Sukhavaachakah tena stooyate iti Kah – Ka is the sound emanating from happiness and Bhagavan is worshipped with this sound as He represents happiness, hence He is called Kah’.

Chandogya upanishad (4.10.5) says ‘Kam Bramha  – Happiness is Bramhan’ thus implying that Bhagavan can be called Kah as happiness is Brahman.

Sri Bhattar points out that even though He dwells even in things that are dirty (as the Soul of their soul), He Himself is ever-resplendent – maleemaseshu vasannapi kanati iti Kah.  Even though Bhagavan is the Antrayami in everything including those that are impure, sinful, etc., their impurity or sin do not affect Him or His lustre in any way. 

Sri V.V. Ramanujan adds that in His case, His lustre is natural, unlike people like us whose appearance is dependent on the clothes we wear, the way we talk etc. – vastra Abharana vapusha Vacha. 

The root from which this Nama is derived is ‘Kan – deepti kanti gatishu’ means to ‘shine’. Based on this Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the explanation that He shines everywhere, He is present everywhere (gati), and enlightens everything and makes everything shine (deepti), thus in all respects He is called Kah.  This whole Universe shines because He is present everywhere and in everything, illuminating all. 

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the root kai – Sabde – to sound, and gives the interpretation – kaayate Sabdyate Ahuyate bhaktaih iti kah – He Who is invoked by devotees or praised by them through sound is Kah.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri adds that the limit of happiness is the tyaga of Ahamkara and Mamakara, and Bhagavan is the One who has realised the limit of this.  

The Dharma Chakram writer points out that there are two kinds of happiness: the happiness of the body and the happiness of the soul.  The first one is transient, but this is the happiness that most people go after.  It is only by sacrificing this bodily happiness that the happiness of the soul can be achieved, and the latter is achieved only to the extent that the former is sacrificed.  It is the happiness of the soul that should be sought, and this is the lesson to be learnt from this Nama.

Swami ChinmayAnanda adds a new interpretation based on the common meaning of ‘kah – Who’?  His interpretation is that this Nama says that Bhagavan is a Question Mark with no answer when approached with the human intellect or reasoning alone; He can only be experienced when one transcends the intellect, and not purely through intellection.

  1.    Kim – One about Whom all questions are asked by seekers of Truth

Hinduism.AtmanBrahmanSri Adi Sankara interprets  this as ‘Sarva Purushartha rupatvaat Bramhaiva vichaaryam iti Bramha Kim – As knowledge about Bramhan is the ultimate goal for all pursuits of life, the word Kim or What has become synomymous with Bramhan or the ultimate truth and therefore Bhagavan is called Kim’.

He refers us to the first Verse of Chapter 8 of the Bhagavad GIta, where Arjuna precisely starts with this question:
Kim tad brahma Kim adhyAtmam Kim karma Purushottama   |
adhibhutam ca Kim proktam adhidaivam Kim Ucyate    ||
Meaning: What is that Brahman?  What is adhyAtma? What is Karma? What is said to be adhibhuta? O Supreme Person, who is said to be adhidaiva?

It is a case where the question itself becomes the answer because our vocabulary is too limited to describe the real nature of Bramhan. A similar technique is used in mathematics where the unknown is simply called ‘x’ and then the ‘x’ is evaluated by various methods.

The common usage of the word ‘Kim’ is to represent the question ‘What?’   The word ‘Kim’ is derived from the root praccha – jnipsayam – to ask, to seek.  Here it is used as a noun, and means ‘He about Whom all questions are asked by seekers of Truth’. 

Sri Bhattar’s explanation is ‘tat tat sarvepsituh buphutsunaam nirupadhika prashtavyatvaat Kim’ – He is the subject of inquiry by all those who are desirous of knowing the ultimate truth, and so He is called Kim.  Sri Bhattar gives support from the Shruti – sa anveshtavyah, sa vijinjasitavyah – Chandogya Upanishad  8.7.1 – He is to be sought after, He is to be known with eagerness.

Sri Sataydevo Vasishta comments:  pracchati iti Kim, pracchyata iti va Kim’ – He who asks is Kim, or He about whom questions are asked is also Kim.  Here Bhagavan is called Kim in the context of the latter.  Sri Vasishta gives an alternate derivation as well, starting from the root ‘Kai – Sabde’ means to sound, leading to ‘Kayati iti Kim’ – He about Whom questions are asked, such as ‘Who is He, What is He, Where is He’, etc., is Kim.  Those who seek Him start with the enquiry of “What”, and end up with Him after they realize that He is the ultimate answer to every enquiry.  

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives similar passages from the Rig Veda, which ask similar rhetorical questions about Brahman:

  • ambhah Kim AsIt gahanam gabhiram (10-129-1) – Was water there, unfathomed and deep?
  • kutah Ajata kuta iyam visrishtih (10-129-6) – Whence was it born, and whence comes this Creation?
  • yo’syadhyakshah parame vyoman (10-129-7) – (He) whose eyes control this world in highest heaven, He verily knows it, or perhaps He knows not.

Thus, He is called ‘Kim- What’ because He is the Ultimate answer to all the questions. 

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference to Thiruvai Mozhi 5.6.2, where Sri NammAzhwar declares about Perumal:  ‘Karkum kalvic caramum yaane’.  In fact, every line of each Pasuram, starting with 5.6.1 to 5.6.10 are singing of His being everything, line after line much like Vibhuti Yoga in Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.  

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the root ‘kung – Sabde’ means ‘to sound’, and gives the definition – kuyate – Ahuyate svajanaih bhajamAnaih iti Kim – He Whose praise is sung by His devotees is Kim. 

Sri Anna’ngarAcharya gives the interpretation that this Nama means that He is the One who is worth being sought after; One Who is described as anveshtavyah in the Upanishads (sa anveshtavyah, sa vijinjAsitavyah – Chandogya. 8.7.1) – He is to be sought after, and He is to be known with eagerness.

The Dharma Chakram writer elaborates that Bhagavan is called Kim – He Whose Nature is envisioned by those who seek the Truth, because it is by knowing this Truth that everything that is there is to be known is known.  That which is beyond time, space, etc., that which never changes and is eternal, that which is beyond the reach of the sense organs and is only reached by true devotion and meditation, that which is in everything and everywhere, is the Ultimate answer to all questions asked by seekers of Truth.

  1.    Yat – He Who strives to protect His devotees

Govardhan_Lila1This Nama has the following meanings:

  1. He who strives to protect His devotees
  2. That Which already exists
  3. That from Which everything in this Universe came about

Sri Sankara interprets this Nama using the conventional meaning of ‘Yat’ as ‘Which’.  His interpretation is: Yat Shabdena svatah siddha vastu uddesha VaacinA brahma nirdishyata iti Brahma Yat – The word Yat indicates a self-sustaining entity that can only denote Brahman, who is ever existing.  He quotes from the TaittirIya Upanishad (3.1.1) in support – yato va imani bhutani jaayante – From which all these beings come out. 

Sri Bhattar derives the interpretation from the root ‘Yat – prayatne’ meaning ‘to attempt, to strive for’ etc.  His interprets this as ‘teshaam rakshaayai yatate iti yat’ – He Who takes all efforts for the protection of His devotees.  He quotes the following words of Bhagavan:
Krishna krishneti krishneti yo mam smarati nityashah   |
Jalam bhitva yatha padmam narakat uddharAmyaham ||
Meaning: Whoever remembers Me always repeating the name ‘Krishna, Krishna, Krishna’, I lift him up from Naraka(hell) just as one takes a lotus free from water by brushing aside the water. 

Aham smarami mad Bhaktam nayami paramam gatim| (Varaha Caram Shlokam) meaning ‘I remember My devotee and take him to the Supreme abode’.   Even if the devotee in his final state is unable to think of Bhagavan, Bhagavan thinks of the devotee, and takes him to His abode.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference to Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi 5.8.9 – ‘Isaivittu ennai un taal inaik kizh iruttum ammaane’ meaning Bhagavan took the effort to impart Atma jnana to even Sri NammAzhwar who was unrelenting, sensually disposed, haughty enough to be an incorrigible soul-thief, etc.  Sri NammAzhwar’s humility is what is reflected here.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives the interpretation that ‘Yat’ refers to ‘That from Which all the other things in the Universe came into existence’.  Swami ChinmayAnanda explains ‘Yat’ as That which is already existent.  

  1.    Tat – He Who increases Knowledge and devotion in devotees

BrahmanThis Nama has the following meanings:  

  1. He Who increases Knowledge and devotion in devotees
  2. He Who increases the Kirti (fame) of His devotees
  3. He Who expands the Universe from its subtle form to its physical form
  4. He Who is not experienced by the senses

Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Tanoti iti Bramha Tat – That which pervades everywhere and hence He is called Tat’.

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 17 Verse 23) Bhagavan says:
Om-Tat-Sat iti nirdesho Brahmanah tri-vidhah smritah |
Brahamanas-tena vedashca yajnashca vihitaah pura    ||
Meaning: Om Tat Sat, the eternal, transcendental sound vibration of the Ultimate Consciousness, the threefold representation known to indicate Brahman, the Ultimate Truth. They were uttered by Brahmaṇas while chanting Vedic hymns and during the performance of Yagnas as ordained by them. So Tat denotes Bramhan and hence it refers to Bhagavan.

Sri Parasara Bhattar’s explanation is “sva jnana bhaktim tanoti iti tat” – He Who increases the jnana (Knowledge) and Bhakti (devotion) in His devotees.   He quotes from the Gayatri Mantra (Rig Veda 3.62.10) – Tat Savitur Vareniyam – That superior lustre of the Lord (in the form of Sun), the Cause of the Universe.

In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17 Verse 25, Bhagavan says:
tad ity anabhisandhaya phalam yajna-tapah-kriyah |
dana-kriyas ca vividhah kriyante moksa-kanksibhih ||
Meaning: One should perform sacrifice, penance and charity with the word ‘Tat’. The purpose of such transcendental activities is to free oneself from the material entanglement.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan links the previous Nama (yatate – takes special efforts to protect us), with the current Nama (tanoti) – increases the bhakti in us towards Him as part of that effort. 

The root from which the Nama is derived is ‘tanu – vistare’ – to spread, to go (tanoti – vistranati – expands).   Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation ‘tanoti vistarayati sva-jananam kirtim iti Tat’ meaning He is called Tat because He spreads the kirti or fame of His devotees”.  

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri explains the action of Bhagavan in His Guna of ‘Tat’ as ‘spreading and pervading into everything’, which is yet another way by which He enables the Jiva to function in this world to attain Him.

Sri Vasishta gives the interpretation – tanoti vishvam iti Tat – He Who expands the Universe.  His explanation is that Bhagavan is called Tat because He expands the Universe that is inside Him in the Sukshsma or subtle state, into a Universe that is in the sthula or physical state, just as the mother gives expression to a child which is contained in her in an unseen state. 

  1.    Padamanuttamam – He is the Supreme Goal

image12Sri Adi Sankara calls this as ‘Savishekam ekam naama – A single Nama with a built in adjective’. The word ‘Padam’ means destination and Anuttamam is the adjective meaning incomparable or superlative. Sri Adi Sankara’s full interpretation is ‘Padyate Gamyate Mumukshubhih iti Padam; Yasmaat utkrishtam naasti Tad Anuttamam; Savishekam ekam naama Padamanuttamam’ – Padam means the state of liberation attained by seekers of Moksha; Anuttamam means the supreme state unsurpassed by any; Padamanuttamam means the supreme state of liberation attained by spiritual seekers’. Bhagavan is thus identified with the highest level attained by the spiritual practitioners and called Padamanuttamam. There is no higher goal in life than reaching Bhagavan.

Sri Parasara Bhattar’s explanation is ‘tesham parama praapyatvaat – padam anuttamam’ – He is the Supreme Goal for His devotees.    

The root from which the word padam is derived is ‘pad – gatau’ meaning ‘to go, to attain’.  Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the meanings – padyate as gamyate, jnayate, prapyate, yatyate va tat padam, and summarizes the meaning of the Padam to mean that for the attainment of which, or the knowledge of which,  effort is to be undertaken.  na uttamam yasmAt iti anuttamam – That which is not surpassed by anything else is anuttamam.  Padam anuttamam thus refers to “That which is unsurpassed by anything else, and for whose attainment knowledge and effort has to be undertaken”.  

In Thiruvai Mozhi 3.7.6, Sri NammAzhwar declares that Bhagavan is the Supreme, unexcelled rakshakan (Padamanuttamam) – ‘Oli konda Sothiyai ullattuk kollum avar kandeer’ – who invokes in their hearts the haloed brilliance, Krishna, the Supreme protector. The Lord’s abode is called ‘Parama Padam’ meaning ‘Supreme destination or goal’.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the meaning ‘tranam–rakshanam’ as protection to Pada and gives the interpretation to this Nama as:
padam tranam anuttamam sarvottamam iti padam anuttamam |
arthaat sarvottamo rakshakah Sri Bhagavaneva Sarvottmas-trata sva-jananam|
Meaning: He is The Unexcelled Protector of His devotees and hence He is the Supreme Goal for His devotees.

Swami ChinmayAnanda’s interpretation is: “Lord Vishnu has this Nama because He is the way (pada), the goal (pada), and the pilgrimage (pada)’.  He than Whom there is no higher. He also gives reference from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7, Verse 18) where Bhagavan says ‘mameva anuttamam gatim’ meaning ‘I am the highest goal (or Supreme destination)’.

  1.    Loka-bandhuh – He is related to everyone as He is the Creator

krishnaThis Nama has the following meanings:

  1. As He is the Creator, everyone is related to Him
  2. One to Whom everything is bound since He is their Support
  3. One Who provides instructions as a kinsman on what is right and what is wrong through the Scriptures/Shastras
  4. One Who limits everything through things such as limited life etc.

Sri Adi Sankara gives three different explanations for Lokabandhuh. The first is ‘Aadhaara bhoote asmin sakalaa lokah badhyante iti lokanam bandhuh Lokabandhuh – All the worlds are bound to him or dependent on Him since He is the creator of all hence He is called Lokabandhuh, one to whom all are tied’. He is the String that holds everything together.

In the second interpretation, Sri Sankara uses Bandhu in the sense of a relative. The interpretation is ‘Lokaanaam janakatvaat janakopamo bandhur naasti iti vaa – He is the father of all, being the Creator. He is the relative of everybody in that sense and therefore He is called Lokabandhuh.

The third interpretation is ‘Lokanam bandhukrityam hitaahitopadesham shrutismritilakshanam kritavaan iti vaa Lokabandhuh – He instructs the world as a kinsman in what’s right and wrong and on Dharma, through Vedas and other scriptures hence He is called Lokabandhuh’. It is the duty of a learned kinsman to advise his fellow kith and kin about righteousness. Bhagavan does exactly that through all the Vedas and Shastras. So He is the worthy relative of all people and justifiably called Lokabandhuh.

Sri Bhattar gives the interpretation that Bhagavan has this Nama because He is the Relative of everyone in this world without exception, and blesses all without exception – ‘evam a-visheshena ashesha anugrahe a-varjaneeyam bandhavam nibandhanam Aha – Lokabandhuh’.  He gives the following in support:

  • Mata Pita bhrata nivasah Saranam suhrit gatih Narayanah (Subala Upanishad 6) meaning Narayana is the mother, father, brother, abode, refuge, friend, and the final goal.

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 9 Verse 17), Bhagavan says:
pitaham asya jagato mata dhata pitamahah  |
vedyam pavitram omkarark sama yajur eva ca ||
Meaning: I am the father, mother, Creator, and grandfather of the Universe.  I am the purifier.  I am the syllable Om and also Rig, Sama, and Yajur (Vedas). 

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 9 Verse 29), which conveys the similar thoughts that Sri Bhattar has given in his commentary:
samo ‘ham sarva-bhutesu na me dvesyo’sti na priyah |
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya mayi te tesu capy aham ||
Meaning: I treat everyone in Creation the same way.  There is none whom I like more or dislike more.  But those who worship Me with devotion abide in Me and I abide in them.

In the Divya Prabhandam there are several Pasurams by different Azhwars that emphasises Bhagavan’s relationship with His Bhaktas:

  • Un tannodu uravel namkku Ingu ozhikka ozhiyadu– (Sri Andal’s Thiruppavai 28) – The relationship bond between You on the one hand, and all the other, is permanent, and eternal.
  • Naan unnai andri ilen kaandaai Naranane nee ennai andri ilai – (Sri Thirumaisai Azhwar’s Nanmugan Thiruvandadi 1.7) – I have no refuge other than You, and I cannot be without You, nor can You be without me.
  • Ennap petra at-thayaai-thandaiyaai ariyaadana arivitta attaa (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi 2.3.2) – You are my Father, my Mother and my Acharya helping gain knowledge.
  • Thayaait thandaiyaai makkalaai matruumaai mutruumaai neeyaai ni nindravu ivai enna niyaaya’ngale? (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thirvai Mozhi 7.8.1) – You are the Mother, Father, Children and all other relatives rolled into one. You do all that a father does, a mother does, as children do (to the parent at the latter’s old age).  You are more.  You re the whole Universe; yet I enjoy You in your own beautiful Form.  Now pray tell me what is the secret of all this.  I don’t understand this abstract high-level mysticism!

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the root ‘bandh’ – ‘to bind’, and gives the anubhavam that He is Loka-bandhuh because He binds His devotees with His affection – badhnaati prema –pashena iti bandhuh | lokanam bandhuh iti Loka-bandhuh.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the explanation for this Nama starting with the roots ‘lok – darshane’ – ‘to see, to perceive’, and ‘bandh’ – ‘to bind, to attract’, etc.  The first interpreation is that Bhagavan binds all things that are seen, for instance with limited life etc. – badhnati iti bandhuh, hence Loka-bandhuh.  The second interpretation that he gives is that He binds all the Jivas to their Karma, and so He is called Loka-bandhuh.  

The Dharma Chakram writer elaborates that Bhagavan gives whatever a devotee prays for;  but the devotee can pray for either worldly comfort or for the attainment of true Realisation.  Bhagavan acts in the role of the worldly relatives and bestows preyas or pleasure in the form of wife, children, father, mother, etc., or He bestows Shreyas in the form of the Guru when we seek Shreyas. He is our bandhu either way, and we need to realise what is truly good for us, and seek that from Him.  

The mutual and inseparable relation between Bhagavan and Us is what is revealed in this Nama.

  1.     Loka-Nathah – The Protector of the world

RangaThis Nama has the following meanings:

  • He is the Protector of the World
  • He bestows prosperity on all as a result of His Abundance
  • He is sought after or prayed by all
  • He shines in the world, and regulates the world by energising
  • He Who rules over the world
  • He gives troubles as needed to those who need to be disciplined

Sri Adi Sankara gives four different interpretations for this Nama. The first is ‘Lokaih Naathyate Yaachyate – He is sought after and devotees pray to Him for getting favours hence He is called LokaNathah’. The second interpretation is ‘Lokaan upatapati iti LokaNathah – One Who shines in the world, or Who regulates the world by energising it. The third interpretation is ‘Lokaan Aashaaste – He comforts the world hence He is called LokaNathah’. The fourth interpretation is ‘Lokaan Eeshte – He rules the worlds hence He is called LokaNathah’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains that He is addressed as LokaNathah because of His unique relationship to all the beings, which is the cause of His attachment that is natural to Him, as their Master – tan-mulam asaadhaaranam svabhavikam ca sambandham Aha – LokaNathah.  His interpretation is that through this Nama, the specific relationship between Bhagavan and us, that is the cause of His natural attachment to us, is delineated – He is our SwamI or Master, and we are His belongings, and so He is naturally attached to us.  

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives references from Divya Prabandham:

  • Ivvezh ulagai inbam payakka inidudan veetrirundu Algindra engal piraan (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thirivai Mozhi 7.10.1) – Bhagavan gives His presence together with Lakshmi Piratti spreading happiness in all the seven worlds.
  • jnaalattude nadandum nindrum kidandu irundum Shalap pala naal ugandu Or uyirgal kaappaane – (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thirivai Mozhi 6.9.3) – You have appeared in various Forms in this world at various times only for the protection of the all the creatures in Your creation.
  • Ulagam moondru udaiyaai! ennai Alvaane (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thirivai Mozhi 6.10.10) – You are My Lord Who owns the three worlds.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the following interpretation: Lokam naathati – sva Aishvarya yogena Aishvaryavantam karoti iti LokaNathah – He Who bestows Aishvaryam on all as a result of His unlimited Aishvaryam, is LokaNathah. Sri Vasishta gives the explanation – Lokaih praanibhih svartha-siddhaye nathyate praarthyata iti LokaNathah – He from Whom, the beings of the world seek favours for the fulfillment of their desires is LokaNathah. 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri interprets this Nama as “One Who gives punishments as needed and disciplines the world (ulagai vaatti nal vazhi paduttubavar).

The Dharma Chakram writer weaves all the above explanations under the general concept that Bhagavan is the Lord of the World.  In this role, He ensures that the evil is destroyed and good is established.  He ensures that all the creatures, who are His belongings, attain Him ultimately.  If anyone transgresses Dharma, He ensures that they are adequately disciplined and brought back to the proper way of life.  Those who follow Dharma will always live in peace, and those follow a-Dharma will live a life of unrest.  This is the constant rule in His role as Loka-Nathah.

  1.    Madhavah – The Consort of Lakshmi

Serthi-copyThis Nama has many meanings and has already appeared twice earlier:

  1. The Consort of MA or Lakshmi
  2. The Bestower or Propounder of Knowledge about Himself
  3. One Who is attained through the Madhu Vidya
  4. One Who is attained through Mauna, Dhyana and Yoga
  5. One Who is born in the race of Madhu, a Yadava
  6. The eternal relationship of the Mother and Father with the rest of the Universe.
  7. One for whom there is no Lord above

Sri Adi Sankara explains the Nama as ‘Madhukule jaatatvaat Madhavah – He was born in the race of Madhu, a foremost Yadava, hence He is called Madhavah’.  Madhu was one of the most prominent among the Yadavas and Krishna was born in the race of the Madhus and so He is called Madhavah in perpetuation of the name of Madhu.

The Lord or consort of MA or Lakshmi – Maayaah dhavah Ma-dhavah. Sri Parasara Bhattar emphasises the concept that Bhagavan and Sri are eternally and constantly associated with each other, and inseparable.  Sri Bhattar gives a very detailed explanation for the qualities of MA or Lakshmi under this Nama, rather than dwell on the Gunas of Bhagavan. He concludes with one sentence:  ‘The secret about the true nature of Sri is that Lord Vishnu gets His Lordship because of His association with Lakshmi’. 

Then Sri Bhattar proceeds to explain the qualities of Lakshmi in the following words:
Asyaah svarupavat nitya-nirmala-rupatvam, nirupadhika paramaiSvaryadi,
jagan-matrutvam, autpattiko bhagavat-sambandho nitya anapayashca ityadi
tattvapareshu Sastreshu amaryadam Vedeshu tavat Sri-Suktam, Medha
Suktam, Uttara Narayanam, KaushItaki Brahamanam ityadau.
Meaning: The essential Nature of Lakshmi is described in the Sastras dealing with the Supreme Reality as follows:  Her Form is eternal and spotless; Her Supreme Rulership is not restricted by any limiting adjunct; Her Universal Motherhood, Her natural association with Bhagavan, are all described in great detail in the Shastras.  In Vedic literature, the Sri Suktam, Sraddha Suktam, Medha Suktam, Uttara Narayana, KaushItaki Brahamana and others deal with this subject.   Sri RamanujAcharya in his Gadhya Trayam begins with Saranagati Gadhyam seeking the grace of Thayaar prior to approaching the Lord.

Sri Bhattar gives several references from the Puranas etc., that speak of the Supremacy of Piratti, starting with the following reference from Sri Vishnu Purana:
Nityaiva eshA Vishnoh Srir-anapayini |
Yatha sarvagato Vishnuh tathaiveyam dvijottama|| (Vishnu Purana 1.8.17)
Meaning: This Lakshmi is eternal, the Universal Mother, and is ever in union with Vishnu.  Just as Vishnu pervades all things, she also does, O’ best of Brahmins. 

In Brahma Purana, we have
Tat Shaktih durjaya bhima Vishnu-Shaktih iti smrita |
Sarva bhuta hridabjastha naanarupa dhara para     ||
praanaakhya mantra-mata ca Vishvasya janani dhruva |
devi bhinna’njana Syama nirguna vyoma eva hi    ||
Meaning: Her power is invincible and awe-inspiring and She is considered the power of Vishnu Himself. She is the Supreme Being who lives in the lotus-like hearts of all beings of the Universe and She is endowed with diverse forms. Her name is Prana or Life. She is the Mother of all mantras, and is the eternal Mother of the Universe.

Likewise, Lakshmi is described as His Supreme Power, endowed with the quality of Mercy.  She is called the Supreme prakriti and possesses the six qualities.  Lakshmi is the Supreme, unique, and eternal Shakti of Bhagavan; She is His second and transforms Herself into diverse forms, high and low.  She has innumerable names, and is the head of the Shakti-cakra – the wheel of powers.  She stands steady, pervading the entire Universe, moving and non-moving.

Madhava is also The Bestower of Knowledge (Ma – The Vidya or knowledge of Hari; Dhava – Lord, Preceptor, Propounder). He quotes the support from the Harivamsa:
MA Vidya ca hareh prokta tasya Iso yato bhavaan   |
tasmaat MA-dhava Namasi dhavah svAmIti Sabditah   || (3.69.4)
Meaning: The knowledge about of Hari is called MA.  Thou art the Master of that knowledge.  Therefore You are known as Madhava.  It has been stated that dhava means “Lord”.

Sri Bhattar gives additional references from the MahaBharata:
Madhu vidya avabodhatvaat dhaavatvaat-va Shriyo’nisham    |
maunad-dhyanacca yogacca viddhi bharata Madhavam   || (MB 3.69.4)
There are three explanations that are given in the above Sloka for the Nama mAdhavah.  The first is that since He is cognized through Madhu Vidya, He is called Madhavah (Madhu Vidya is referenced in Chandogya Upanishad 3.1, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.5); the second explanation is that He is the Lord of Sri and the third one is that because He can be realised through the three disciplines of Dhyana, Mauna, and Yoga, He is called Ma-dhavah. 

The Dharma Chakram writer explains Mauna results in the control of the indriyas; Dhyana focuses the mind in the thought of the Atma tattvam, and Yoga solidifies and consolidates this thought on a permanent basis.  

Sri V.V. Ramanujan comments the importance of this special relationship of Bhagavan and Piratti to the world, and their togetherness always, in the protection of the Jivas. It is of because of the Mother’s nearness that Bhagavan forgives the countless apacharas committed by the cetanas.  It is in this sense that it is important for all of us that He is ‘Agalagillen iraiyum endru Alarmel Mangai urai Maarban’ (Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi 6.10.10), and She is always with Him.

Swami ChinmayAnanda elaborates further on the above. He Who helps introspection and meditation in the seeker is Madhava. 

Sri Tirukkallam Narasimha RaghavAcharya in his Bhagavad Gita bhashyam, has given another interpretation – MA dhavah yasya sa Madhavah – He for Whom there is no Master.  Since there is no one above Him in any sense, He is the Lord of everyone and every thing in the Universe, hence He is called MA-dhavah.

  1.    Bhakta-Vatsalah – He is Affectionate towards the devotees

sri-rama-guhanThis Nama has the following meanings:

  • He is affectionate towards the devotees
  • He Who goes to the devotees who makes offerings to Him through yajna
  • He Who takes the devotees to Him, who are dear to Him like a calf to the cow

Sri Adi Sankara interprets this simply as ‘Bhakta snehatvaat Bhaktavatsalah – Because of His deep love for His devotees, He is called Bhaktavatsalah’.

Bhakta means a devotee as defined in the Bhagavad Gita (18.65) – ‘Manmanaa bhava madbhaktah madyaajee maam Namaskuru – Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me’.

So the devotee is one who always thinks of Bhagavan, worships Bhagavan and offers homage to Bhagavan. In turn Bhagavan loves His devotee again as described in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 12 Verse 20):
Ye tu dharmyamritam idam yathoktam paryupasate |
Shraddadhana Matparamah Bhaktas teteeva me Priyah ||
Meaning: He who follows this imperishable path of devotional service and who completely engages himself with faith, making Me the supreme goal, is very, very dear to Me’. Hence Bhagavan is called Bhaktavatsalah, one who deeply loves His devotees.

Sri Bhattar comments that His joy of having attained His bhaktas is so great, that He forgets all other desires – tal-labha sambhrama vismrita anya-kamah. 

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta explains that the Nama is derived from the root ‘bhaj – sevayam’ means ‘to serve, to honour’ – ‘bhajati bhajate sevate iti bhaktah – KaashaKrishna dhatu’ – One who serves, honours, praises, etc., is a Bhakta. The word Vatsalah is derived from the word ‘Vatsa’, which by itself means calf.  The word Vatsa also means ‘Love’ – Vatsa amsabhyam kama bale.  Thus, the word Vatsala means kamavat, snehavat, etc. – one who is in love, one who is friendly, affectionate etc.  Bhakta Vatsalan in thus One Who is affectionate towards His devotees.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan elaborates on the term Vatsalah, or Vatsalyam of Bhagavan towards His devotees. Vatsalah refers to affection, of the kind that a cow shows towards its calf.  The cow licks and removes any dirt or other material that may be found on the body of the calf, on in other words, it treats even the blemishes on its calf as bhogyam for itself.  Bhagavan’s love towards His devotees is similarly one of ignoring their faults, and enjoying their devotion instead. 

Sri Ramanujan gives two examples:

  • When Vidura’s wife was offering fruits to Krishna when Krishna stayed with Vidura’s house, she was totally immersed in Lord Krishna with devotion and affection, and she was peeling off the outer layer of the banana, and giving the peeled skin to Krishna for eating instead of giving the peeled fruit in her trance. Lord Krishna was so immersed in His devotee that He did not also realize that the skin was being given, and He also ate the skin as a Bhogya Vastu, because it was offered with the utmost devotion.
  • When Bhishma was lying on the death-bed of arrows and meditating on Lord Krishna, the Lord just informed the fellow Pandavas: ‘The Lion of men is lying there, just thinking of Me and meditating on Me’, and having said that, He Himself was lost on the thought of His Bhakta and forgot Himself and His surroundings.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives two other interpretations for the Nama.  One of these is based on the meaning ‘cooked rice or food’ for the term Bhakta. In this interpretation, he looks at the Nama as Bhaktavat-salah, and gives the meaning ‘bhaktam annam yesham asti iti bhaktavanto yajna kartaro Brahmanan, taan prati salati gacchati iti Bhaktavat-salah’ – He Who goes to the devotees who make offerings to Him through yajna (the root ‘sal’ means ‘to go’, to move is used for the interpretation of the second part, Salah).

The other interpretation given is ‘Bhakta eva vatsah, taan lati iti Bhaktavatsa-lah” – He Who takes the devotees to Him, who are dear to Him like a calf to the cow”. (The root ‘la – Adane dane ca’ means ‘to take, to obtain’, is used in this interpretation). 

The Dharma Chakram writer compares the relationship between Bhagavan and us to that between the mother and the child.  The mother has selfless affection to the child, and the child trusts the mother solely and exclusively for its survival.  A true devotee has be like the child towards the mother, and Bhagavan is of course like the Mother towards all.


Eko Naikah Savah Kah Kim Yat Tat Padamanuttamam   |
Lokabandhur Lokanatho Madhavo Bhaktavatsalah    ||78||

Vishnu3He is One without a second and hence H is called Ekah. Because of His power of, He assumes multiple forms hence He is called Naikah, the one with Infinite forms. He spreads knowledge, so He is called Sah. He is the in-dweller as antaryami, so He is Vah. He shines with effulgence and so He is called Kah.

He is called Kim as t is about Him all questions are asked by Seekers of Truth. He strives to protect His devotees and hence He is known as Yat. He is Brahman and is That which pervades everywhere, hence He is called Tat.  He is the Supreme and Final destination and hence He is called Padamanuttamam.

He instructs the world as a kinsman on Dharma and hence He is Loka-bandhuh. He is the Lord of the Universe, so He is called Lokanathah. He is Consort of Lakshmi and hence He is Madhavah. His affection towards His devotees is limitless and hence He is called Bhaktavatsalah.



This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.



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