In this part we will explore the meaning of the 79th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Suvarnavarno Hemaango Varaangash Chandanaangadee |
Veeraha Vishamah Shunyo Ghritaasheer Achalash Chalah ||79||
He has a Golden hue and His beautiful body glitters like Gold. His arms adorned with armlets studded with gems and His body emanates a divine Sandal fragrance. He is the slayer of demons and He is peerless and unequally. He is blemishless and draws everything into Him at the time of Pralaya leaving nothing. He sprinkles the world with prosperity and is unshakeable in His resolve. He moves faster than the speed of thought to protect and rescue of His devotees.
The above Shloka has the following Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
- Suvarna-Varnah – The Golden-hued
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Suvarnasya iva varnah asya iti Suvarnavarnah – He has the Golden hue and hence He is called Suvarnavarnah’. He quotes from Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.3) which says ‘Yadaa pashyah pashyate Rukmavarnam – When you see Him, it is like seeing Gold’. Gold has the lustre and shine with a characteristic brightness. Bhagavan is endowed with similar lustre, shine and colour hence He is Suvarna-Varnah.
Sobhana Varna Su-varna, Suvarnamiva varnam yasya sa Su-varnah – He has a hue that is attractive like Gold. Gold is known for its purity, effulgence and is blemishless and is highly desired by people. All these aspects of Bhagavan are brought out by this Nama, namely His Effulgence, His blemishless nature, His Illuminating Power, His Purifying Nature, His being desired and coveted by all His devotees, etc. The term Suvarna here stands for “that which is extremely desired and longed for, that which is flawless and pure”, etc. Sri AnnangarAcharya gives the explanation as ‘He Who has the Divya Svarupam which is blemishless like Gold’.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives several examples from Divya Prabandham:
- Sri NammAzhwar describes Him as Pure Gold in Thiruviruttam (85) as ‘Ulagu Alanda Manikkame! En maragadame! Matru oppaarai illa Anip ponne!’ – You are the Gem who measured the three worlds! My favorite Emerald! The Incomparable Pure Gold!
- Sri Thirumangai Azhwar describes the beautiful Golden hue of Perumal in Peria Thirumozhi (4.9.8) as follows: ‘Ponnin vannam maniyin vannam puraiyum tirumeni’ – Your hue is Golden (in Treta Yuga)
Sri Parasara Bhattar quotes from the Shruti where ParamAtma’s Suvarna varnam is referenced:
- Yada pashyaḥ pashyate rukmavarṇaṃ kartaarameeshaṃ puruṣaṃ brahmayonim |
- tada vidvan puṇyapaape vidhuya niranjanaḥ paramaṃ saamyamupaiti||(Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.3)
Meaning: When the seer sees the effulgent Supreme Being (Purusha), the Golden-hued, the Creator, the Lord and the progenitor Brahma, wise (seer) having cast off all sin and virtue attains to that supreme stainless unity.
- Aditya varnam tamasaastupaare (Purusha Suktam 20) – He Who has the lustre of the Sun and who is beyond ignorance.
- ya eshontaradiye hiranmayah Purusho dhrishyate hiranya smashruh hiranya kesha Apranakat Sarva eva Suvarnah | (Chandogya Upanishad 1.6.6) – “That Golden Person who is seen within the Sun, with Golden beard and Golden hair, Golden altogether to the very tip of His nails”.
Swami ChinmayAnanda explains the significance of the verse from Mundaka Upanishad(3.1.3) – Upon witnessing the Self-Effulgent (Golden) Being, the seer’s realization is completely transformed, and ‘then, the wise one, shaking off all deeds of merits and demerits, becomes stainless, and attains the supreme State of Equipoise’.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives additional support from Srimad Ramayanam, where Sita Piratti describes Lord Rama as ‘That face of Rama with a Golden hue – kaccin-na tad-hema samana varnam…..” (Sundara Kandam 36.28).
- Hemaangah – He has Golden-hued limbs
Hema also means Gold and Anga means limbs or body parts. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Hema iva angam vapuh asya iti Hemaangah – His limbs are like pure Gold hence He is called Hemaangah’. He gives a quotation from the Chandogya Upanishad (1.6.6) which says ‘Eshah antaraaditye Hiranmayah Purushah – He is the Golden personality in the orb of the Sun’. Being the core of the Sun He has the maximum shine and dazzle as of Gold and His body radiates like the glitter of Gold and hence He is called Hemaangah.
Suvarna and Hema are equivalent words that refer to Gold. The word Hema is derived from the root ‘hi – gatau, vriddhau ca – to go, to promote’. Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the following derivation for the Nama, ‘Hinvanti vardhayanti Sobhaam iti Hemani, Tadrishaani angani yasya iti Hemangah’ – He Who has limbs that promote the beauty of His Thirumeni, or He Who has limbs that resemble Gold promoting His beauty.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the Nama as referring to the limbs of His body which are eternal, celestial, and composed of Shuddha-Sattva material – ‘Nityam, Divyam, Sattva mayam angam asya iti Hemaangah’.
Sri PeyAzhwar describes the Lord in this famous Pasuram from Moondram Thiruvanthathi:
திருக்கண்டேன் பொன்மேனி கண்டேன் * திகழு
மருக்கனணிநிறமுங் கண்டேன்* செருக்கிளரும்
பொன்னாழி கண்டேன் புரிசங்கங் கைக்கண்டேன்*
என்னாழி வண்ணன்பா லின்று
Meaning: I have seen the glory of SRI, the consort of the Lord; I found the glorious, Golden form of the Lord, I have seen His bewitching body, His brilliance like that of the Sun; on His one hand, He holds the divine Sudharsan Chakra that reverberates in the battlefield and on the other He holds the divine Conch.
This Nama is a logical extension of the previous one – Since He has a body which is Golden-hued, His angas are likewise Golden-hued.
- Varaangah – He Who has beautiful limbs
Among the dictionary meanings for the term Vara are: i) best, excellent, most beautiful; ii) boon; iii) a wish; etc. Different interpretations use these different meanings.
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Varaani Shobhanaani Angaani asya asti iti Varaangah – His limbs are beautiful and captivating hence He is called Varaangah, the one with an attractive body’. Dhyana Shlokas such as ‘Meghashyaamam PeetakausheyaVaasam Shrivatsaankam Kaustubhod bhaasitaangam’ give a graphic description of his beautiful limbs.
Sri Parasara Bhattar uses the meaning ‘wish’ or ‘prayer’ for the term ‘Vara’, and gives the interpretation that because He manifested in the form with celestial marks etc. to Devaki in response to her prayer, He is, therefore, called Varaangah – ‘tadetat aupanishadam devakya vriyamaanam atinihnuta Divya Chinnam Avishkritam iti Varaangah. Sri Bhattar refers us to Sri Vishnu Puranam (5.3.8), which describes this beauty of child Krishna in Vasudeva’s words:
Phullendeevara patraabham catur-baahum udeekshya tam |
Srivatsa vakshasam jaatam tushtaava Anakadundhubhih ||
Meaning: Anakadundhubhi (Vasudeva) beheld the Child, of the complexion of the petal of a full-blown blue lily, having four arms, and the mystic mark of Srivatsa on His chest, and started praising Him.
Swami ChinmayAnanda interprets the Nama as, He Who has a Form that is pleasing (lovable) to those who meditate on Him. Thus he gives the meaning ‘lovable’ to the term ‘Vara’.
In Srimad Ramayana, Lord Hanuman, in Sundara Kandam, describes the beauty of Lord Rama to Mother Sita when she wanted to confirm the authenticity of the emissary. Lord Hanuman wonderfully describes the beauty and the characteristics of the Lord in verses 5.35.8 to 5.35.22. The first of these verses is:
रामः कमल पत्र अक्षः सर्व भूत मनो हरः |
रूप दाक्षिण्य सम्पन्नः प्रसूतो जनक आत्मजे ||
Meaning: O Seetha the daughter of Janaka! Rama has his eyes resembling the petals of a Lotus. He has a handsomeness, attracting the hearts of all living beings. He is endowed with grace and dexterity, by birth.
We have seen three Namas above in sequence, which all describe the beauty of His form: Suvarna-varnah, Hemaangah, Varaangah. Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives his interpretation noting the subtle differences in the ideas conveyed by the three Namas.
Suvarna-varnah – One Who has the natural form of sheer exquisite brilliance
Hemaangah – One Who has beautiful limbs that attract and hold the attention of everyone.
Varaangah – One Who has all the Saamudrika Lakshanas brought together in one place, in His Form.
The Dharma Chakram writer comments that even as beauty in human form tends to evoke Kaamam, the beauty of the divine form evokes Bhakti. The three Namas that we have just gone through, convey to us the beauty of the Divine Form of Lord Vishnu evoke Bhakti in those who mediate on His Form.
- Chandanaangadee – He Who is adorned with delightful armlets
Chandana means Sandal and Angada means armlet or bracelets worn on the upper part of the arm. Angada is also called Keyooram and based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Chandanaih Aahlaadanaih angadaih Keyooraih Bhooshitah iti Chandanaangadee – He is adorned with enchanting sandal paste on His beautiful armlets and hence he is called Chandanaangadee’. Sandal paste gives out a fragrance which is captivating. The armlet is generally worn by kings and adds beauty and majesty to the person.
Sri Parasara Bhattar notes that Bhagavan’s Body is itself an infinitely beautiful jewel, and objects like the angadi get their pleasing appearance when they get attached to His Body, and so He is called Chandanaangadi. So it is not that beautiful jewels decorate His Body, but His beautiful Body decorates the jewels that are placed on His Body, and make them beautiful. The Angada or Keyura is only one example of the kinds of jewels that get their enhanced appearance by association with Him.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta explains that the word Chandana is derived from the root ‘Chand – Ahlaade deeptau ca – to be glad, to shine’. That which causes pleasure is Chandana – Chandyate anena, Chandayati va yat, tat Chandanam iti – That through which happiness is attained, or that which is instrumental in bringing happiness, is Chandana. The word ‘Angada’ is derived as – angam dayate, daayati, dyati va. The relevant roots are: deng – paalane – to protect, to cherish (dayate); or daip – Sodhane – to purify, to be purified (daayati); or do – avakhandane – to cut, to divide, to move (dyati). The term is used for the ornament worn on the upper part of the arm (Keyuram). The armlets are ornaments of defense worn on the upper arm to protect the shoulders from enemy swords. Thus we get the meaning ‘He Who is adorned with delightful armlets’ for the Nama.
Sri Vasishta also uses the meaning ‘pleasing’ to the term Chandana as we indicated earlier, and the root ang – to go, and interprets the Nama Chandanaangadee as referring to ‘He Who gives the means or ways for all of us to be happy – Ahlaadalareem gatim yo dadaati’.
Sri NammAzhwar describes in Thiruvai Mozhi (2.5.6) – pala palave Abharanam perum pala palave – Countless are the jewels that are on Him. The beauty of Bhagavan as every part of His body competes and complements the beauty of all the other parts, is captured by Sri NammAzhwar in Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (8.8.1):
கண்கள் சிவந்து பெரியவாய் வாயும் சிவந்து கனிந்து,உள்ளே
வெண்பல் இலகு சுடரிலகு விலகு மகர குண்டலத்தன்,
கொண்டல் வண்ணன் சுடர்முடியன் நான்கு தோளன் குனி சார்ங்கன்,
ஒண்சங் கதைவா ளாழியான் ஒருவன் அடியே னுள்ளானே.
Meaning: The Lord with His large red eyes and ripe coral lips, pearly white teeth and radiant dangling ear-rings shaped like Makara-fish, Dark as the rain-cloud, with a radiant crown, with four arms, and holding a beautiful bow, discus, conch and mace, stands etched in my thought.
Sri RamanujAcharya pours out his feelings while expressing Bhagavan’s beautifully decorated Thirumeni in his Sri Vaikuntha Gadyam:
Ati manohara kirita cudavatamsaka makara kundala graiveyaka haara keyura kataka Srivatsa kaustubha muktaadaama udara bandhana pitambara kaanciguna nupurAdibhih atyanta sukha sparshaih divya gandhaih bhushitam.
Meaning: The Lord is wearing a beautiful crown (athi manohara kirita makuta). Kirita is a crown that a King wears whereas makuta is what is worn at the time of Pattabhishekam. The combined use of these two words establishes beyond doubt the Supremacy of Perumal. He is the unquestioned ultimate monarch. He is wearing a pendent on the top of the forehead (chuda), a decorative cover for the ears (vatamsaka), ear drops with the fish motif (makara kundala), a neck band (graiveyaka), rows of chains hanging on the chest (haara), armbands (keyura), a circular band adorning the wrist (kataka), the mole like mark on the chest (Srivatsa). He has the famous Kousthubha gem on His chest. He wears rows of stringed pearls (mukthadhama). The band worn around the waist (udarabandha), the golden yellow silk cloth (pitambara) and the band of woven gold threads which is used like a belt on the waist to hold the pitambara, beautiful anklets (nupura) and many other jewels. Each of these jewels by association with Perumal is said to exude divine fragrance (divya gandhiah). Decorated by these divine ornaments, the God is effulgent and a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever. Besides, He is adorned with Vyjayanthi Vanamala (a garland of unfading flowers). He is holding the pancha ayudhas viz. the conch, the discus, the mace, the sword and the bow in His hands.
The look of divine grace (Divya Kataksha) of Perumal pleases the entire world. Having thus described Vaikuntha and the Perumal, Sri Ramanuja says that this vision has to be remembered every day at least once so as to sustain oneself. That is why he says ‘Tatascha pratyaham atmo jeevanya evamanus-marate’.
He says that the devotees should be ever eager to realise this bliss and should be itching to be taken into His service.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to Thiruvai Mozhi (10.1.8), where Sri NammAzhwar describes the Jewel that is Perumal: ‘tayarathan petra marakata manit tadattinaiye’. Marakata mani has the characteristic that it will remove the fear from poisonous creatures, because they won’t even approach anywhere close to its location. Similarly, enemies won’t even get close to where Lord Rama is. The word tadam refers to a cool reservoir of water, and Lord Rama is like lake full of compassion.
Sri Ananta Krishna Shastri uses the meaning ‘sandal’” to the term Chandana, and gives the interpretation that He has this Nama because He is adorned with pleasing sandal on His body.
- Veera-ha – The Slayer of Demons
This Nama has several meanings:
- The Slayer of Demons
- The Destroyer of those who distract others from meditating on Him
- The Destroyer of the bonds of Yama
- He Who leads the Jivas to Moksha by clearing the obstacles to their path
- He Who provides different ways for His creations to move around.
- He Who is accompanied by Garuda and Vayu when destroying the Asuras
Veera generally refers to a person of Valour and in this Nama it refers to those Valiant ones who act against Dharma. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Dharmatraanaaya veeraan asuramukhyaan hanti iti Veeraha – He destroys the aggressive fighters who have turned against Dharma such as Asuras or the demons hence He is called Veeraha’. Though Bhagavan appreciates and associates with persons of valour such as Hanuman and Sugreeva, He will not countenance it when such strong persons act against the principles of Dharma. He will destroy them like He destroyed Hiranya Kashipu and Ravana.
Sri Sankara gives an alternate interpretation that Bhagavan shows the right path to the Samsaaris and gives them salvation, by guiding them away from following the wrong paths – vividhaah samsaarinaam gatih mukti-pradaanena hanti iti Veera-ha, hence He is Veeraha. Here the root ‘han–to go’ has been used.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives examples of the ‘Veeras’ of the likes of Putana, Sakata, and such others who tried to kill the child Krishna deceitfully. Another interpretation that Sri Bhattar gives is that He destroys those that are proficient in words, but misuse their skill to give fallacious arguments and prevent people from meditating on Him, so He is referred to as Veera-ha – ‘sva-vedana vihantrrin haituka-Veeran hatavaan iti Veera-ha.
Sri Bhattar further explains that ‘One Who removed the strong bonds with Yama for Gajendra’ – Mokshayaamaasa nagendram paashebhyah Saranaagatam (Vishnu Dharma 69). The Nirukti author summarises as ‘Veeram tad-baadhakam mrityum hatavaan Veera-ha matah’.
Sri NammAzhwar describes some of these instances in his Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (5.3.8):
பேய்முலை யுண்டு சகடம் பாய்ந்து மருதிடைப்
போய்முதல் சாய்த்து, புள்வாய் பிளந்து களிறட்ட,
தூமுறு வல்தொண்டை, வாய்ப்பிரானையெந் நாள்கொலோ,
யாமுறு கின்றது தோழீ! அன்னையர் நாணவே?
Meaning: He killed Putana by sucking the Milk of her, smote cart, tore the twin marudu trees, ripped the beak of Bakasuran bird, and killed the rutted elephant. He killed them all and then just smiled with His bright pearly teeth showing through the red coral lips in a mild artistic smile that is characteristic of Him whenever He achieves a feat.
Sri Thirumangai Azhwar refers to Him as ‘the Veera beyond all Veeras’ – vem tiraal Veeraril Veerar oppaar (Peria Thirumozhi – 2.8.2).
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta elaborates that it where Vishnu is there is victory, and not necessarily where a Veera is. Victory is present where Dharma is present. A person who has strength, but engages in evil acts or tortures the innocent is called an ‘aparadhi’ or one who has committed an aparadham. Bhagavan destroys these people and eliminates them leaving no trace. Sri Vasishta gives the derivation – viruddha gatin hanti iti Veera-ha. Sri Vasishta gives another interpretation by using the roots ‘Ir –gatau – to go’, and ‘hamm – gatau – to go’ – vividham Irati iti Veeraha – referring to all the different creatures which move in different ways; taansca yo hanti – gamayati – He Who makes it possible for them to go, is Veera-ha – Sarveshaam bahudha iranaam jantunaam gamayita Vishnuh.
Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja explains using ‘vih – Garudah’ and ‘Irah – Vayuh’ as ‘taabhyaam hanti gacchati iti Veera-ha – Vishnu is called Veera-ha because He goes along with Garuda and Vayu in destroying the Asuras.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation: Visheshena Irayanti kshipanti Dharma maargam iti Veeraha Kamsa Ravana prabhritayah; taan Veeran hanti iti Veera-ha – He destroys those that discard the path of Dharma, such as Kamsa, Ravana etc.
Swami ChinmayAnanda explains Veeraha as one who provides various or different paths or ways for the passage from birth to death.
The Dharma Chakram writer observes that just as there are those who follow the path of A-Dharma and are destroyed by Bhagavan, there are the internal enemies in each one us in the form of Kaama, Krodha, Moha, Matsarya and Lobha. The lesson to take from this Nama is that the chanting and meditation on the mantra derived from this Nama will result in His destroying these internal enemies within us that obstruct us from realising Him.
- Vishamah – He is Peerless
Sama means equal and Vishama means one without an equal. Using this meaning Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Samo naasya vidyate sarvavilakshanatvaat iti Vishamah – He is above everything and has no equal in any sense hence He is called Vishamah’. He also quotes from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11 Verse 43) where in Arjuna proclaims:
Pita’si lokasya caraacarasya tvamasya pujyasshca gurur-gariyaan |
na tvat-samosti abyadhikah kuto’nyo loka-trayepyapi apratimaprabhaava ||
Meaning: You are the Father of this world, of all that moves and that does not move. You are its teacher and the One most worthy of reverence. There is none equal to You. How then can there be another greater than You in the three worlds, O Being of matchless greatness?
The word Vi-shamah is derived by the combination- ‘vi + samah = vishamah’ – vigatah samo yasya iti Vi-shamah – One Who is devoid of equals is Vishamah.
Sri Parasara Bhattar says that His Guna of Vi-samam reflects in His contrasting behaviour of His treatment of the good vs. the bad. His interpretation is that Bhagavan is ‘One with unpredictable and conflicting acts’ – Vi-shamah, because He acts in different ways with different persons. He is very benevolent with His devotees, and He is fearsome and terrifies those who are offenders of Dharma.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (2.6.1), where the Azhwar describes this Guna of Bhagavan:
என்னுள்மன்னி, வைகும்வைகல்தோறும் அமுதாயவானேறே,
செய்குந்தா, உன்னைநான் பிடித்தேன் கொள்சிக்கெனவே.
Meaning: Oh Paramapadha nathane! The Blue Coloured Lord! My beautiful Vaamana! The One who tastes the sweet nectar every day at all times in my heart! The Lion of Devas! Kundha! (one of Lord’s names is Kundhan), the One who troubles Asuras to remove the troubles of Bhagavathals’; I have caught You firmly and tightly and I will never let it slip out.
Sri NammAzhwar names some of His mischievous acts in Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (7.8.3): As the charioteer of Arjuna in the MahaBharata war, He will either depress the whole chariot slightly or raise it such that the arrows of Bhishma aimed at Arjuna so that they miss him. On the other hand he ensured that the arrows of Arjuna meant for the enemies hit their targets without fail. In the war between Arjuna and Jayadratha, He wielded His Sudharsana Chakra to block the Sun, so that jayadratha who was hiding till he thought the Sun had set, came our into the open and was eliminated by Arjuna as Krishna removed the Chakra. These are just some instances of His ‘Vidamangal or Leelas or mischief’.
Sri NammAzhwar describes Perumal in his Thiruvai Mozhi as ‘ottaar mikkaarai ilaiyaaya ma-maya (2.3.2)’ – ‘You are a Great wonder (Ma-Mayan) who is without a Peer or a Superior’.
Sri Baladeva VidyaBhushan gives the interpretation that ‘bhakta pakshapaatittvat Vishamah’ – Because He is favourably disposed towards His devotees, He is called Vi-shamah.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta comments that it is precisely this Vishama guNa of Bhagavan that He reflects in all His Creations – no two creations are exactly identical in all respects, as every single Creation of His is unique. Sri Vasishta explains the intricate grammatical basis for each of the Namas in great detail and has also composed a Shloka for each Nama explaining the significance of the Nama, in addition to his commentary. His Shloka for the current Nama is:
sa Vishnureko Vishamah puranah karoti vishvam vishamam svabhaavaat |
tamaanukurvan vishamam pravrittaa sampat vipac-caapi jagat prasriptaa ||
Meaning: The Purana Purusha, Vishnu, is distinct from everyone else, and is distinct. Consistent with this Guna of His, He has also created everything else such that nothing is same as another in His creation. This Guna is spread not only in species of different kinds, but also in members of the same kind.
Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives the interpretation that He has the Nama Vishamah because He nullified the effect of the poison consumed by Rudra during the churning of the Milky Ocean (visham rudra peetam meenaati hanti sva-Nama-smaranena iti Vishamah.
The Dharma Chakram writer gives several examples to illustrate that Bhagavan is unique and peerless – Vi-shamah.
- He is Hrishikeshan – One Who is unexcelled in His control of His indriyas, and even more so, He is the sole Controller of all our indriyas.
- He is Kesavan, Keshi nishudanan, Madhu sudanan, etc. In other words, there is no one comparable to Him in assisting the Devas when they are harassed by the Asuras, and in destroying the Asuras.
- He is Govindan, since there is no one comparable to Him in knowing the nature of the Jivas.
- He is Janardanan as there is no one as determined and powerful as He is in chastising the wicked.
- He is Vishnu as He pervades everything and He is everywhere. Without Him nothing exists and functions.
- He is Yogisha and Yogavidaam neta – The best among the Yogis and the Leader of all those who follow the path of Yoga.
- He is Bhagavan, who is unique in His shad-gunya paripurnattvam – the qualities of Jnana, Shakti, Bala, Aishvarya, Veerya, and Tejas.
- He is Achyuta, Who neither slips from His vow, nor lets His devotees slip away from their goal.
These are just a few instances that bring out His Vi-samattvam, and so He is known as Vishamah.
- Shunyah – He is devoid of defects or blemish
Shunya basically means void or empty. Bhagavan has no form or qualities in His unmanifested presence. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Sarva visheshana rahitatvaat shunyavat Shunyah – He is completely devoid of any qualities or adjectives hence He is called Shunyah, the one devoid of attributes’. He is Nirguna (attributeless), Niraakaara (formless) Bramhan hence it is appropriate to call him Shunyah.
The Nama is interpreted differently by different commentators in terms of His being devoid of defects, His destroying everything completely at the time of Pralaya, His ridding His enemies completely without trace, etc.
Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation is that He has this Nama because He has no trace of any type of defect even though He took human incarnations.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (3.10.6):
துயரில் சுடரொளி தன்னுடைச் சோதி நின்ற வண்ணம் நிற் கவே,
துயரில் மலியும் மனிசர் பிறவியில் தோன்றிக்கண் காணவந்து,
துயரங்கள் செய்து நன் தெய்வ நிலையுலகில் புக வுய்க்குமம்மான்,
துயரமில் சீர்க்கண்ணன் மாயன் புகழ்துற்ற யானோர்து ன்பமிலனே.
Meaning: Emperumaan at Parama padham is in His Suddha Sattva, sorrowless, most Illustrious, Shining form; He also takes the Most Painful manushya avathaaram (like Sri Rama) and blesses us, the earthly people with His divine grace. He gives us pains and sorrows (by torturing and haunting our memories by showing His Divine Beauty at times) on the earth and ensures the presence of His Divine existence amongst us; Such blemishless Kannapiraan- I have involved myself in His Kalyana Gunas; and hence, there is no grievance for me now.
Swami Desikan describes the six rahasyas of Bhagavan’s incarnations, in his Saranagati Deepika Shloka 17:
- Nana-vidhaih – they are of different types, e.g., Matsya, Narasimha, Krishna, etc.
- Akapataih – they are all His true Forms, not just appearances
- Ajahat-svabhavaih – He is full of His qualities of Parattvam in His incarnations
- Aprakritaih – His Thirumeni during His incarnations are made of Shuddha-Sattva, and not of the Pancha bhutas as in the case of His Creations
- Nija vihara vashena siddhaih – These Forms are not a result of Purva karma, as is in our case; they are assumed as part of His Leela, by His own Free Will
- AtmIya raksha, vipaksha vinaashan Arthaih – They are assumed for the protection of His devotees, and for the destruction of their enemies, and not for the expiration of the Karma accumulated in previous countless births as in our case).
It is thus clear that Bhagavan has Zero defect of any form even when He is born as human among us!
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation that the Nama signifies that Bhagavan is completely devoid of any Gunas associated with Prakriti – prakrita guna Veerahitatvaat Shunyah.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta uses the root ‘Sun–gatau – to go’, and interprets the Nama as referring to ‘One Who goes everywhere, or is everywhere’ – Sunati prapto bhavati sarvatra iti Shunyo Vishnuh. He points out that kham – the word for sky, also means ‘void’ or ‘a cipher’. It is because there is a void that a motion or movement from another place to this void is possible, and thus void leads to motion, and motion leads to void. He points out the importance of Shunya by reminding us how the number ‘1’ undergoes a ten-fold increase in value by the placement of just a Shunyam next to it in the number system.
Sri Satyasandha Yatiraja gives the interpretation that He is Shunyah because He clears out everything in this Universe at the time of pralaya – pralaya kaale sarva padartha Shunyatvaat Shunyah.
The Dharma Chakram writer gives yet another explanation that Bhagavan is called Shunyah because He is not accessible to our senses, no matter how much we try. We are used to believing that something exists only if we can relate to it through our senses. He is not accessible to the senses, and so He is Shunyah.
- Ghritaasheeh – He sprinkles the world with prosperity
Ghrita literally means something which has melted away. Ghee being the melted version of butter is also called ghritam. Based on this meaning Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Ghritaa Vigalitaa Aashishah Praarthanaa asya iti Ghritaasheeh – All his desires have melted away or disappeared or been fulfilled hence He is called Ghritaasheeh’. Everybody has some unfulfilled desire, but Bhagavan has no such desire remaining to be fulfilled.
The two parts that make up this Nama are Ghritam and Asheeh. There are several meanings for the word Ghritam – secanam, ksharanam, deepanam va Ghritam – sprinkling, flowing, or shining or ghee or butter. The word Asheeh is derived from the root Ang – Shaasu – icchaayaam – to expect, to bless. The different combinations result in the different interpretations.
Sri Parasara Bhattar derives his interpretation using the meaning ‘ghr – secane – to sprinkle, to cover’. Sri Bhattar’s interpretation is – Ghritam – secanam, sva-gunaih jagat Apyaayanam – He makes the world prosperous by means of His benevolent qualities.
An alternate interpretation given by Sri Bhattar is based on the meaning ‘ghee or butter’ for the word Ghritam. Since He has great desire (Ashaasti) for the butter (Ghritam) in the Gopis’ homes, so He is called Ghrita-Asheeh – ‘Gopa griha gavye Ashaastih asya iti Ghritaasheeh (Ghrite Asheeh kaamo yasya sa Ghritaasheeh).
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri paints a picture of this Guna by pointing out that the qualities of desiring something, seeking someone’s grace to get it, receiving it from someone, etc., which are common sequences for many of us in day-to-day life, have melted away like ghee, and dripped off or oozed out from Him, and so He is devoid of all these qualities of need, want, etc.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the interpretation that He is Ghritaasheeh because He desires or enjoys the offerings of Ghritam or ghee in the sacrificial fire offerings; or, He is Ghritaasheeh because He likes the offering in the form of a lighted deepam.
- Achalah – He is Unshakable
Chalanam refers to movement or change of any type. Achalah means someone who has no movement or swerving from his position, Sri Adi Sankara elaborates this as ‘Na swarupaat Na Saamarthyaat na cha Jnaadikaad Gunaat Chalanam Vidyate asya iti Achalah – He does not swerve from his nature, power, wisdom, knowledge or any other attributes’. He stands firmly on the bed rock of his real nature, prowess and knowledge, hence He is called Achalah, the unshakeable one.
The root from which the Nama is derived is ‘Chal – kampane – to stir, to shake’. That which does not move, or He Who is firm in His conviction and action, are called Achalah.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the explanation as ‘Duryodhanadhibhih durAtmabhih abhedyah Achalah – He is called Achalah because He is not stirred by the evil-minded Duryodhana and others.
Swami ChinmayAnanda gives is that because Bhagavan is everywhere (All-pervading), and there is no place that He is not, therefore He is Achalah. He gives the reference from the Bhagavad Gita Shloka (Chapter 2 Verse 24) as support:
ac-chedyo’yam a-dAhyo’yam a-kledyo’shoshya eva ca |
nityah sarva-gatah sthAnuh a-calo’yam sanatanah ||
Meaning: This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishta observes that Bhagavan Who is Achalah, has also inculcated in all His creations, the principle of a-chalattvam in some form. Thus, for instance, the tree or plant that comes out of a given seed is only of the same type as the seed, and not of a different type. This Dharma is not violated ever. When a fire shoots out, it is always directed in an upward direction, and not in a downward direction. Thus, even those that are moving and active, are bound by His principle of a-chalattvam.
The Dharma Chakram writer gives a real-world analogy to illustrate the importance of this Nama. A small wind is able to move and shake small plants; a bigger cyclone is able to uproot even big trees; however, a mountain is not moved by any of these. Similarly, people who are involved and entangled in worldly joys and sorrows are shaken up and tossed around emotionally; even Arjuna got totally confused and disheartened when he entered the battlefield. It is very rare indeed to find human beings who are not tossed around, because their indriyas control them. But he who controls his manas and indriyas is firm in his resolve, and he is not tossed around or shaken by happenings around him. His mind becomes Achala manas. The peace that comes out of this disposition is the true peace that we should aim for.
- Chalah – He Who Swerves
The term Chalah refers to one who moves around physically. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Vaayu roopena chalati iti Chalah – He moves around in the form of air hence He is called Chalah, the mover’. There is no conflict between the previous Nama and this one, because the previous Nama refers to his firmness regarding his prowess and attributes but this one refers to his physical mobility as in the form of air.
Bhagavan’s Achala Gunam or firmness was towards His enemies and His Chala Gunam is reserved for His devotees.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the well-known instance of His carrying arms against Bhishma after making a promise earlier that He will never take to arms in the Maha Bharata war. Thus, He swerved from His word, and so He was a Chalah in this case. A few reasons are given for Krishna breaking His own promise. One was that He wanted to save His dear devotee, Arjuna, from the wrath of Bhishma, and so decided to go with the Wheel against Bhishma to protect Arjuna. The second reason given is that Bhishma, who was a great devotee of Krishna, had taken an oath in front of Krishna the previous evening that he will fight so ferociously the next day as to make Krishna break His promise and take to arms; what was at stake was the word of His devotee Bhishma, and Krishna had to protect the word of His devotee even if it meant that He had to break His own promise. Making His devotee’s word come true was more important for Him than to keep His own promise. So He took to arms, and thus became a Chalah – One Who swerves for His devotee. The third reason was that Krishna had to break His promise as Bhishma was also forced to break his promise due to Krishna’s leela. Bhishma had promised Duryodhana that he will kill Arjuna but Krishna had asked Draupadi to seek Bhishma’s blessings the first thing in the morning. As he blessed Draupadi as ‘Sowbhagyavati bhava’ without fully looking at her and he realised his predicament of the conflicting promise he had made and was now forced to break his promise to Duryodhana. Krishna agreed to break His own promise to make His devotee feel better.
Another instance was His Krishna fooled Jayadratha making the day sink into sunset for a brief while so Jayadratha could come out in the open for attack. The real truth to be understood in the above instances is that He is the One who establishes what is right and wrong, and so by definition, what He decides is Justice.
Sri Ananta Krishna Shastry has added an interpretation that He is called Achalah because He rushed out of Sri Vaikuntham to help the elephant-King Gajendra when he cried out for help. Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the root ‘Chal – vilasane – to sport, to frolic’, and gives the interpretation that He has this Nama because He is full of Leelas – Chalati vilasati iti chalah vilasa leela sampannah.
The Story of Gayasura
A demon named Gayasura once started to perform severe austerities and such were the powers of his tapasya that the Devas began to suffer. They rushed to Lord Vishnu and asked Him to save them. Lord Vishnu agreed and appeared before Gayasura, asking him to cease his activities and accept a boon. ‘Grant me the boon that I may become the most sacred of all teerthas,’ replied the Daitya.
The boon was granted and Gayasura disappeared. The Devas returned to Swarga, but felt that the earth seemed to be deserted now that Gayasura had been blessing all the sinners. They again sought Lord Vishnu’s help who instructed Brahma and the other Devas to perform a sacrifice. He also asked them to go to Gayasura and ask for his body so that the sacrifice might be performed on it.
Gayasura readily agreed, and as soon as he agreed, Lord Brahma proceeded to perform the sacrifice on Gayasura’s body. But as soon as the sacrifice started, the body began to shake. This meant that the sacrifice could not be properly performed without stabilising the base. The Devas placed a stone on Gayasura’s body so that the body would not shake, and the sacrifice could be performed but it would still continue to shake. They kept adding the stones but it would still move. Finally, Lord Vishnu Himself also entered the stone to stabilise the base for the Yagna.
Gayasur said to Lord that following the rules of Dharma, ‘I shall not move about to get the sinners purged of their sins. They shall get the results of their deeds only. But, you must make me petrified into a stone form. You must also be ever present in me in visible or invisible form. He who may have faith( Shraddha) may be spared of the consequences of their sins’.
The Lord said, ‘Gaya again you have sought an altruistic boon. So I bless you with your wish. From this day, this place shall be known as Gaya Theertha. He who has darshan of this shila (stone) and performs the rites in Gaya shall be rid of their sins’. Because of this boon to Gayasur, Lord Vishnu and other Devas are always there in Gaya Theertha sthala.
Gaya was transformed into the series of rocky hills that make up the landscape of the Gaya Kshetra. The hilltop protuberances of Gaya are surmounted by various temples. These hilltop temples at Rama Shila, Preta Shila, Ram Gaya Pahar, and Brahmayoni are part of the pilgrimage circuit. The most popular temple today is Vishnupad, a place along the Phalgu River, marked by a footprint of Vishnu incised into a block of basalt, that marks the act of Vishnu stabilising Gayasur by placing His foot on Gayasur’s chest.
Om Namo Narayanaaya!
Suvarnavarno Hemaango Varaangash Chandanaangadee |
Veeraha Vishamah Shunyo Ghritaasheer Achalash Chalah ||79||
He has a Golden hue and hence He is called Suvarna-Varnah. His body glitters like Gold with His limbs shining, hence He is Hemaangah. He has a beautiful and attractive body, so He is Varaangah. He is adorned with armlets studded with gems and His body emanates a divine Sandal fragrance, hence He is Chandanaangadee.
He is the slayer of demons and those who do not follow Dharma, so He is Veeraha. He is unequalled and peerless, hence He is called Vishamah. He is without a blemish and at the time of Pralaya draws everything into Him leaving nothing, hence He is called Shunyah. He makes the world prosperous by means of His benevolent qualities, hence He is Ghritaasheerah. He is unshakeable in His resolve as He stands firmly on the bed rock of his real nature, prowess and knowledge hence He is called Achalah. He moves faster than the speed of thought to protect and rescue of His devotees, so He is Chalah.
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.