In this part we will explore the meaning of the 82nd Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.

Shloka 82
ChaturMurtish ChaturBaahush ChaturVyuhash ChaturGatih   |
ChaturAtma ChaturBhaavash ChaturVedavidekapaat             ||82||

He has four forms, has four arms and four different personalities manifested as different Vyuhas.  He is the goal of all the four stages of life and He has an expert mind that is not afflicted by desires and hatred. He is the source for all the four Purusharthas. He knows the true meaning of the four Vedas and He is known through the Vedas. Only a fraction of Him (1/4th) is manifest as the Universe and three-fourths of His splendour is in the realms of immortality. He is also the Sole Protector.

The above Shloka has the following Namas:

  1.    ChaturMurtih
  2.    ChaturBaahuh
  3.    ChaturVyuhah
  4.    Chaturgatih
  5.    ChaturAtma
  6.    Chaturbhaavah
  7.    Chaturvedavit
  8.    Ekapaat

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

  1.    Chatur-Murtih – He has Four Forms

The word ‘Murti’ means an icon or an image and throughout this Shloka different kinds of the fourfold aspect of Bhagavan is described.

Sri Adi Sankara has given two interpretations for the Nama ‘ChaturMurtih’. The first intepretation is ‘Chatasro Murtayo ViraatSutraAvyaakritaTureeyaAtmanah asya iti ChaturMurtih – He exhibits four different facets namely Virat, Sutra, Avyaakrita and Turiya forms hence He is called Chaturmurtih’.

TrivikramaVirat refers to the Universal form as in Bhagavan’s Trivikrama Avataar or Lord Krishna showing His Vishvarupam. Sutra refers to the subtle form which is smaller than the smallest (Anoraneeyaah). Avyaakrita is the Avyakta or the unmanifested form, the formless Bramhan. Finally Turiya is the fourth form which only the Yogis experience at the height of Samadhi or in deep meditation.

Sri Adi Sankara’s second interpretation is ‘Sita Raktaa Peeta Krishna cha iti Chatasro Murtayo asya iti vaa – He has got the White, Red, Yellow and Black forms, four in all hence He is called ChaturMurtih’. In different incarnations He assumed different coloured bodies ranging from white, red, yellow and black hence He is called ChaturMurtih, the one with four coloured bodies.

Sri Parasara Bhattar comments that the reference to the ‘Four Forms’ immediately reminds one of the four Vyuha forms of Lord (Vasudeva, Samkarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha).  These four Vyuha forms preceded the Vibhava incarnations such as Rama, Krishna, etc.  Even in His vibhava form as Lord Krishna, He had four forms, in the forms of Balabhadra, Vasudeva, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha.  Similarly, in His incarnation as Rama, the four brothers (Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrugna) originated from the same potion that was given to King Dasharath upon completion of the Putra Kameshti Yagam. 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri provides the following explanation for the four forms:

  • In the process of Creation, the first tattva is called ‘Avyakta’, the state of Mula Prakriti before it started evolving;
  • Virat refers to the ‘Sthula’ or gross form of the evolved state of Mula Prakriti, before Bhagavan entered it in the form of Antaryami and made it functional;
  • Sutratman refers to the Prana Shakti in all of us; Sri Shastri refers to this form as Hiranyagarbha (or Golden embryo); This is the form in which Bhagavan manifests Himself in our intellect and mind (‘Sukshma’ form); 
  • The Turiya state is the one that is beyond the three states listed above, and is called Parama Purusha or Purshottama. This is the state in which everything is contained in Him, and He alone exists, with His Supreme effulgence.

The body has three aspects to it:  Sthula, Sukshsma, and Karana.  Sthula is the physical external appearance, with a shape and a form.  Sukshma aspect refers to Manas, Prana, etc.  The Karana Sharira aspect is reflected in memories acquired from previous births.  An example of this can be witnessed in the knowledge of a child, which as soon as it is born, knows that by crying it will get fed, by sucking the mother’s breast it will get milk etc.  The Vishva, Taijasa, and Prajna are the states of the Jiva associated with the Sthula, Sukshma, and Karana Shariras.  These are also associated with the person is in waking, dream, or sleep states.   In all the above states, the Jiva wrongly considers that the Sharira belongs to “him”, and has the feeling of ownership of the body.  When the Jiva realises the truth and passes beyond this feeling of “I”, this is the Turiya state.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj refers to His four forms in Sri Vaikunta, Satya Loka, Sveta dvipa, and Kshirabdhi respectively.  He quotes the following in support: 
Vaikunthe prathama murtih Satya loke tathaa’patra   |
Sveta dvipe tritiyaa ca Caturthi Kshira Sagare    ||

Swami ChinmayAnanda refers to His four forms with four different colors in the four yugas:  white in Krita Yuga, Red in Treta Yuga, Yellow in Dvapara Yuga, and dark (black) in Kali Yuga.  Swami ChinmayAnanda also refers to the four states of the Self as – the waking state, the dream state, the deep sleep state, and the Pure Self state.  In the microcosm, these are called Vishva, Taijasa, Prajna, and Turiya States, and in the macrocosm, they are called Viraat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishvara, and ParamAtma.

  1. Chatur-Baahuh – The Four-armed

The word ‘Baahu’ means arm so Chaturbahu refers to someone who has 4 arms. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Catvaaro baahavo asya iti Chaturbaahuh iti naama Vasudeve Roodham – He has got four arms, hence He is called Chaturbaahuh and this Nama is associated with Para form Vasudeva’.

The Dhyana Shloka says ‘Chandraananam Chaturbaahum Shrivatsaankita Vakshasam – I bow to Krishna who has a Moon like face, four arms and chest marked with Shrivatsa mark’. We have already seen a similar Nama i.e. ‘Chaturbhujah’ which has a similar meaning. According to Sri Adi Sankara this Nama connotes Vasudeva. The Prapatti Shloka to the Lord is as below:
Sankha Chakra Gadha paane Dwaraka-NilayAcyuta      |
Govinda Pundarika Aksha raksha maam Saranagatam ||
Meaning: O’ the holder of conch, Disc and mace, the Lotus eyed one, the Govinda of  Dwaraka, please protect me as I have surrendered unto you.

krisha-birth-testSri Parasara Bhattar interprets various groups of Namas as connected to each other in a string that describes a particular form or incarnation of Bhagavan. Sri Bhattar relates the current Nama to the Lord’s Krishna Avataar in which the Lord was born with four arms to Devaki.  Devaki pleaded with the Lord to appear as a normal child and the Bhagavan obliged by withdrawing His two extra arms. Sri Bhattar gives reference from Srimad Bhagavatam (10.3.9) on Lord Krishna’s appearance with four arms as child to Devaki:
Tam adbhutam baalakam ambujekṣaṇam
Catur-bhujam Sankha-Gadhaady-udaayudham
Shrivatsa-lakshmam gala-Shobhi-kaustubham
Pitambaram saandra-payoda-saubhagam
Meaning: Vasudeva then saw the newborn child, who had very wonderful lotus like eyes and who bore in His four hands the four weapons Sankha, Chakra, Gadhaa and Padma. On His chest was the mark of Srivatsa and on His neck the brilliant Kaustubha gem. Dressed in yellow, His body blackish like a dense cloud.

He also gives reference from the Vishnu Puranam in support, as Devaki describes Him soon after He was born:
Upasamhara sarvAtman rupametat Catur-bhujam     |
Jaanaatu maavataaram te kamso’yam diti-janmajah ||   (V.P. 5.3.13)
Meaning: O’ the Inner Soul of all beings! Please withdraw this four-armed form within Yourself.  Let not this Kamsa that belongs to the Asura race know that you are the incarnation of Vishnu. 

Sri NammAzhwar refers to Him as ‘Naangu Tholan’ in Thiruvai Mozhi (8.8.1) as He has four long arms just to embrace Azhwar! 

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11 Verse 46), Arjuna refers to His divine form with four hands:
Kiritinam gadinam cakra hastam icchaami tvam drishtum aham tathaiva   |
tenaiva rupena Catur-bhujena sahasra baaho bhava Vishva murte  ||
Meaning: I wish to see You adorned in the same way (as before) with the crown, having your mace and discus in hand.  Assume again that four-armed Form (that is, in the divine form of Vishnu), O Thou Universal Being with thousand-arms.   

Sri Andal describes Him as “Ir Irandu Mal varait thol Senkan thiru mugattu Selvat thirumal” (Thiruppavai 30) denoting Lord’s four arms.

Perukkaranai Sri Chakravarty Acharya’s interpretation is that the four arms of the Lord are for bestowing the four Purusharthas namely Dharma (duty, righteous action, ethics), Artha (prosperity, wealth), Kaama (pleasure, sensual gratification), and Moksha (the pursuit of liberation).

The Lord, however, keeps increasing the number of arms as needed, to carry many more weapons to protect His devotees or as the occasion demands. Thus, when He came to protect Gajendra, He came with eight arms; as Sudharsana Azhwar He had 16 arms, carried 16 weapons (reference from Sri ShodashAyudha Stotram of Swami Vedanta Desikan). 

Sri Thirumangai Azhwar also refers to His four arms in Periya Thirumozh (8.1.1) – “malai ilangu thol naange matru avanukku! etre kaan”.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri points out that Lord Vishnu is typically personified with Sankha, Chakra, Gadha, and either a Bow or a Lotus flower in His four hands. 

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the reference to Srimad Bhagavatam describing Bhagavan as One with Four arms: 

  • Chatur-bhujah Sankha Gadaabja Chakrah pisa’nga vasa nalinAyatekshanah (S.B. 8.18.1) – His four hands were decorated with a conch shell, Mace, Lotus and disc, He was dressed in yellow garments, and His eyes appeared like the petals of a blooming lotus;
  • tam adbhutam balakam ambujekshanam Chatur-bhujam Sankha GadhayudAryudham (S.B. 10.3.9) – He saw the new born child, who had very wonderful lotus like eyes and who bore in His four hands the four weapons Sankha, Chakra, Gadhaa and Padma.

Swami ChinmayAnanda described Chaturbhujah in Shloka 15 as ‘the four arms of Bhagavan carrying the Sankha, Chakra, Gadha and Padmam’.  These are meant for maintaining Dharma among mankind.  The Conch calls for the man to adopt the righteous path that directly leads to Peace and Perfection, and ultimately to His Lotus Feet.  But most of us, in the enchantment of the immediate sense-gratification, refuse to listen to the small inner voice of conscience from His Conch.  For those, He wields the Mace (Gadha) very gently, and we suffer from small setbacks and tragic jerks in our otherwise smooth existence.  If still the individual is not listening to the call of the “Conch”, then the Chakra – the Wheel of Time, annihilates the entire being.  The call and the punishment are only to take the man towards his Ultimate Goal, represented by the “Padmam” in His hand. 

For the current occurrence, Swami ChinmayAnanda’s interpretation that the four hands represent the four factors that together constitute the inner equipments in man – Mind (manas), Intellect (buddhi), Thought flow towards objects (Citta), and the Ego (Ahamkara).  These are the four agents through which all the physical activities are controlled, regulated, and constantly commanded from within the body.  

A related explanation is that the Self functions in a four-fold pattern involving mind, intellect, cit, and ego, and these are represented by the four arms containing the Conch, the Mace, the Cakra, and the Padmam.

The Cit is represented by the Lotus or Padma, the intellect is the ‘Conch’, the ego is the ‘Mace’, and the mind is the ‘Discus or Chakra’.

Sri Satyasandha Yatiraja has given the following interpretations: 

  • Bhun’gte bhunakti iti bhujah; Chaturnaam dharma artha kaama mokshanaam bhujah Chatur-bhujah – Lord Vishnu is Chatur-bhujah since He makes Dharma, Artha, Kaama, and Moksha to be experienced by the deserved.
  • Chaturbhyah vedebhyah bhavati iti Chatur-bhug Jnanam tena jayate abhityajyate iti Chatur-bhujah – Lord Vishnu is known as Chatur-bhujah because He can only be known by the four Vedas.
  1. Chatur-Vyuhah – He has four forms of Emanations (Vyuha forms)

Parthasarathy-aniruddha-pradyumna-balaramaThis Nama has the following meanings:

  1. He has four Vyuha forms – Vasudeva, Samkarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha
  2. He Who had four manifestations in His Vibhava form (as Krishna, Balarama, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugana)
  3. He Who manifests Himself as Purusha, Chandah Purusha, Veda Purusha, and Maha Purusha
  4. He Whose Supremacy is established by the four-fold Vedas
  5. He Who is in the form of four divisions of speech (three Vedas, and ordinary speech)

Vyuha means a formation and it also means a person. It is in this sense that Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Shareera Purushah Chandah Purusho Veda Purusho Mahaa Purushah; iti Bahavrich Upanishadktaah chatvaarah Purushaah Vyuhaah asya iti Chaturvyuhah – He has got four different personalities manifested as the Purusha in the body, the Purusha in the form Vedic recitation, the Purusha enshrined in the Vedas and the Supreme Purusha hence He is called Chaturvyuhah, the one with four different personalities’.

The Shareera Purusha is the spark of Bhagavan present in every single person. The Chandah Purushah materialises in the form of a sound wave when the scriptures are recited. Veda Purushah is resident in the Vedas in the form of their deep inner meaning.  Maha Purushah is the Supreme Lord of the Universe, the Paramatma itself and as He encompasses all these four aspects He is called Chaturvyuhah.

Sri Sankara also quotes the words of Sage Veda Vyasa in support:
Vyuha Atmanam Chaturdha vai, Vasudevadi murtibhih |
SrishtyadIn prakarotyesha, VishrutAtma Janardanah    ||
Meaning: He Who is known as VishrutAtma, JanArdana, etc., divides Himself into four forms, and performs the functions such as creation, sustenance and dissolution. 

The word ‘Vyuh’ also means divide, distribute, separate, resolve, etc.   It is used to refer to the four forms in which Para Vasudeva or Narayana decided to divide Himself for His functions of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.  This is a fundamental and integral concept of the Paancharatra Agama.  In this concept, in the para or transcendental mode, the Deity is like an Ocean of nectar altogether devoid of waves, quiet, profound, still, limitless and unfathomable, unfragmented by space or time.  This is His form in Sri Vaikuntam.  It is the plane in which knowledge and bliss are abound and unobstructed, where the Nitya Suris (ever free angels), and the muktas (liberated ones) dwell.  The Para form is full of the six attributes of Jnana, Bala, Aishvarya,, Veerya, Shakti and Tejas.  The Vyuha mode of Bhagavan emphasises the differential manifestations and functions of the six attributes. The Vyuha forms are four in number:  Vasudeva, Samkarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Vasudeva has all the six attributes in their fullness and equal dominance.

Vasudeva appears as three additional sequential emanations as:

  • Samkarshana with Jnana + Bala
  • Pradyumna with Aishvarya + Veerya
  • Aniruddha with Shakti + Tejas

Sri Parasara Bhattar points out that each of the Vyuha forms have their own unique features with different colour, ornaments, weapons, vehicles, banners, etc.  These forms are assumed by Bhagavan for the purpose of meditation and worship (Dhyana and Aradhana) by His devotees.  The four states of meditation that are associated with each of these four forms are Jagrat – Wakeful State; Svapna – Dream State; Sushupti – Deep Sleep State; and Turiya – Deep Meditative or Samadhi State. In the Wakeful State, the external senses function; in the Svapna State, they do not function, but only the mind is active; in the Sleep State, even the mind does not function, and there is only breathing; and in the Turiya State, even the breath is suspended. 

Sri Bhattar continues his description of Bhagavan’s Vibhava incarnation as Lord Krishna, and the four forms viz. Krishna or Vasudeva, Balabhadra (BalaRama, His brother), Pradyumna (His son), and Aniruddha (His grandson).  Just as in the Vyuha incarnation, in the Vibhava incarnation, Krishna was full of all the six qualities, and BalaRama (as Samkarshana), Pradyumna, and Aniruddha had two of the six qualities respectively as dominant features.  

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri explains that Sharira Purusha refers to the Soul or Atma in the Sharira of the cetanas; Chandah Purusha is the Atma in the form of the correctly pronounced Mantras; the Veda  Purusha is the Atma in the form of the Vedas; and the Maha Purusha refers to the Purusha in the form of Kaal or Time.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj refers us to Srimad Bhagavatam (10.40.21), where the four Vyuhas are mentioned by Sri Akrura:
Namaste Vasudevaya Namah Samkarshanaya ca     |
Pradyumnaya Aniruddhaya Sattvataam-pataye Namah ||
Meaning: Obeisances to You, Lord of the Sātvatas, and to Your forms of Vasudeva, Samkarṣhaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives the explanation that He has this Nama because His Supremacy is established by the four divisions of the Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Saama, and Atharva – ‘Chaturbhih Vedaih vyuhyate pareshatvena vridhyate yam iti Chatur-Vyuhah’. 

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta quotes from the Rig Veda – “Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani (1.164.45), and interprets the Nama as referring to “four divisions of speech and the Brahmins who have understanding know them”.  Only the fourth form of speech is in vogue as in current form and the other three are concealed in the form of Vedas.

The Dharma Chakram writer gives a different interpretation.  He takes Vyuha to mean “greatness”, and then interprets the Nama as representing Bhagavan as having the following four mahimas: 

  1. Performing the function of Creation, Sustenanace and Destruction, just as part of His Leelas (Sport);
  2. Revealing the greatness of Para-bhakti (extreme devotion) through Rasa-kreedas;
  3. The revelation of the relation between JivAtma and ParamAtma by being the Naatha simultaneously for innumerable Gopis; and
  4. The calm acceptance of the curse of Gandhari upon the destruction of the Vrishni race.

774.   Chatur-Gatih – He is the Goal for all the Four types of Seekers

poornima-satyanarayana-poojaThe word Gatih has many meanings, one of which is a goal or aim. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Aashramaanaam Varnaanaam Chaturnaam Yathoktakaarinaam Gatih Chaturgatih – As prescribed in the scriptures He is the goal of all the four stages of life, for all the four categories of people, hence He is called Chatugatih, the goal for all four’.

The four stages of life are Bramhachari (Student), Grihastha (Householder), Vaanaprastha (Retired) and Sanyasi (Recluse). For all these stages of life, the final goal is Bhagavan. The four categories or Varnas are Brahmin (Thinkers), Kshatriya (Rulers or Leaders), Vaishya (Merchants or Traders) or Shudra (Workers). Again Bhagavan is the goal for all these categories. So He is aptly called as ChaturGatih.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the Nama as referring to His being the path for all the four goals desired by His devotees – Upasaka abhiyoga taratamya krita-kramat catasrah praptayah asmin iti Chatur-gatih.  The four goals are the four PurushArthas – Dharma, Artha, Kaama, and Moksha. 

In Srimad Ramayana, Hanuman describes Lord Rama to Sita Piratti as Chatur-Gatih (Sundara Kandam 35.19) – Catur-dasha samadvandvas-Catur-damshtras-Catur-Gatih – The word ‘Gatih’ is interpreted as His “gait” meaning as “One Who has the four kinds of gaits (resembling the walks of a lion, a tiger, an elephant and a bull)”.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference from Sri Andal’s Thiruppavai Pasuram 23 – ‘maari malai muzhanjil manni kidandhu urangum seeriya Singham arivutru thee vizhuthi veri” meaning ‘Pray come out of sleeping chamber and grace us, like a fierce lion that lay sleeping, hidden in the cavernous mountain-den, waking now with fiery eyes, raising its mane’.

In Srirangam Emperuman’s gait is enjoyed in four different ways in Utsavams.  These are the Rshabha gati (the walk of a bull, characterized by pride and exultation), matta gaja gati (the gait of an intoxicated elephant, characterized by majesty), the Vyaghra gati (associated with an angry tiger), and Simha gati (the walk of Lordliness associated with the Lion as the King of the forest). 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives the interpretation that Bhagavan has this Nama because He is the Refuge for the four kinds of Bhaktas – the Arthas (the Distressed), Jijnasus (the Inquisitive), Artharthis (the Materialistic) and Jnanis (the Learned or Realised) – Caturnaam Artadinam bhaktanam yatha-bhaavam Asryatvaat Chatur-Gatih. 

Sri Satyasandha Yatiraja also gives this interpretation, and gives the reference from the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7 Verse 16:
Catur-vidha bhajante maam janaah sukritino’rjuna |
Arto jijnasur-artharthI jnanI ca bharatarshabha    ||
Meaning: Four types of men of good deeds worship Me, O Arjuna.  These are the distressed, the inquisitive, the wealth seekers, and men of knowledge”.

Who is the Lord’s favourite devotee?

One day Sage Narada visited Lord Vishnu and said that he wanted to know ‘Who was His favourite devotee?’ Sage Narada, a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu, was expecting to be named and praised by Lord Vishnu as His favourite devotee. But Narada was shocked when he heard that Lord Vishnu referred to a farmer on earth as his favourite devotee.

Narada2Sage Narada decided to test the devotion of the farmer. He visited farmer’s house early morning and noticed that the farmer after feeding cows and a short prayer went to the field for work. In the evening the farmer returned and again after a short prayer spent time with family and went to sleep.  Sage Narada was puzzled as to how this farmer could be the most favourite devotee of Lord Vishnu who remembered HIS name just twice a day.

Narada returned to Lord Vishnu, a bit agitated and asked him about the basis of HIS judgement.

Lord Vishnu telling Narada about true devotionLord Vishnu said that before He would answer there was one task that Narada had to do. He gave an earthen pot of water and told him to walk around the earth and return without dropping single drop of water.

Narada followed the Lord’s order and went ahead. While walking he was extremely careful so as not to drop any water and finally returned completing the task successfully. Now, Lord Vishnu asked Narada how many times did he remember Him or utter His name while performing task.

Narada replied that he was too engrossed and concentrated on the task that it was not possible for him to remember the Lord or utter His name. Lord Vishnu answered that the farmer was also loaded with responsibilities but still he managed to take some time out for remembering him. This was a clear message to Narada who felt overwhelmed that Lord has so mercifully shown him that he should not feel proud on his feeling of devotion.

Lord Vishnu said that “Those who selflessly remember Me while doing their duties are ever dearer to Me than those who ignore all responsibilities and chant My name day and night in expectation of some favour or reward.”

  1.    Chatur-Atma – He is present in all Four States (Waking, Dream, Sleep and Meditative)

Maha Vishnu 2The word ‘Chatura’ means an expert and based on this Sri Adi Sankara gives his first interpretation ‘RaagaDveshaadirahitatvaat ChaturAtma Manah Asya iti  – He has a mind which is an expert in keeping away desire and hatred from affecting His tranquility, hence He is called ChaturAtma, the expert mind’.

The word Chatur also means four and using this Sri Adi Sankara gives the second interpretation ‘ManoBuddhi Ahankaara Chittaakhyaantah Karana Chatushtyaatmakatvaat Vaa ChaturAtma – He is endowed with the four attributes which are Mind, Intellect, Ego and Instinct or Intuition hence He is called ChaturAtma’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar’s sees a connection between groups of Namas in Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam, and has grouped the 1000 Namas into 44 groups, like 44 petals of a lotus flower.  So in Sri Bhattar’s commentary, we will see the interpretation that is most appropriate to the form of Bhagavan for a given Nama.  In this instance the term Atma is defined as Rupam and based on the nirukti description – Vasudevadi rupatvaat ChaturAtma iti kathyate. He gives the interpretation that Bhagavan makes Himself available for experience of the devotees both in Sthula form and Sukshma form, in any of the four states of experience: the Waking State, the Dream State, the Sleep State, and the Turiya State, depending on the capacity of the devotee to meditate on Him. 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri describes the four aspects as the mind function, the buddhi function, the citta function, and the ahankara.  The mind function involves thinking of doing something, the buddhi function is one of analysis, the citta function is one of drawing on prior experiences in execution, and the ahankara is the feeling of accomplishment at the end of this process.  These four are called the four antah karanas, or internal organs.  Since Bhagavan is the Atma of function behind these, He is called Chatur-Atma –
mano buddhir-aha’nkarah cittam karanam Antaram  | 
samshayo nishcayo garvas smaranam vishaya ami  || 

Sri Shastri gives another interpretation based on Narasimhottara tapini.  This describes His manifesting Himself in four forms. 

  • The first form is where He supports the Sthula Sharira of the Jiva (called Vishva), in His form as Viraat. The combined manifestation is known as Otaa.
  • The second form is where He supports the Sukshma Sharira of the Jiva called Taijasa, in His form as Sutra. This combined manifestation is called anujnata. 
  • The third aspect or dimension of the soul, which is called Karana Sharira (also called prajna), which is carries the memories from previous birth, such as the memory of the new born child that crying will result in its getting fed. The manifestation of His Self that supports this Karana Sharira of the soul in His form as Ishvara is called anujnaikarasa. 
  • The fourth form is His Self which is past these three aspects of the soul, and which is realized through brahma Jnana is called avikalpa.

Thus the Nama ChaturAtma, based on the Narasimhottra tapini, refers to the four forms of Him described above – otaa, anujnata, anujna ekarasa and avikalpa – ‘Atha turiyash-ChaturAtma turiyAvasitvaat ekaikasya otAnujnAtranujnA vaikalpaih (1.11).  The first three forms lead to the fourth form – the ParamAtman, through knowledge and realisation. 

Swami ChinmayAnanda gives the patham as CatvarAtma as the one corresponding to this interpretation – catvara + Atma – “The One Infinite Efflugence that expresses Itself as the four aspects of our inner equipment – antah karana catushtaya.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation that the Nama refers to His being the antaryami of the four types of devotees – the Arti, artharthI, jijnasu and mumukshu – those who worship Him for relief

from sufferings, those who seek wealth, those who seek knowledge, and those who seek liberation or Moksha – Caturnam Arta arthArthi jijnasu mumukshunam Atma antaryami priya iti ChaturAtma.

Sri Satyasandha Yatiraja gives an interpretation that is based His being the cause of the four types of desires (Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha) in the devotees – ‘Caturshu dharma artha kaama moksheshu jananam yogyatAnusarena Atma mano yasmaat sa ChaturAtma’.

Sri Satyasandha Yatiraja also gives another interpretation – Bhagavan is called ChaturAtma because He created and equipped Brahma – Caturah kushala Atma Catur-mukho yasmaat iti ChaturAtma.  Another of his interpretations is that Bhagavan has all the qualities of the four types of Atmas:  Atma, AntarAtma, ParamAtma, and JnanAtma  – ‘Catvaara Atmanah – Atma, AntarAtma, ParamAtma, Jnanatma lakshna yasya iti ChaturAtma).  

Sri T. S. Raghavendran explains that ParamAtma resides in our hearts in the rupa of Atma.  The AntarAtma resides in the heart of the Soul.  He explains Jnanatma by referencing the TaittirIya Upanishad – Satyam Jnanam Anatam Brahma.  He is Prana Maya, Mano Maya, Anna Maya, Vijnana Maya, and Ananda Maya.  Manomaya and Ananda Maya refer to His manifestations as Jnanatma.  He also quotes the Brihat Samhita to distinguish between Atma and AntarAtma as distinct manifestations of Hari:
Atma AntarAtma iti harir-eka eva dvi-vidha sthitah     |
nivishto hridaye nityam rasam pibati karmajam   ||

Sri T.S. Raghavendran also gives reference from the Markandeya Purana which states that ParamAtma enters the bodies of all creatures with the four forms of Vishva, taijasa, prajna, and turiya:
ParamAtma catu-rupah sarva-pranisariragah    |
Vishvashca taijasah prajnas-triyashceti kathyate    ||

Sri Raghavendran associates the Vishva form with the wakeful state of the Jiva, the taijasa with the dream state, the prajna with the sleep state, and the turiya with the state that is above all the other three, the moksha state.

  1. Chatur-Bhaavah – He is Source of all Purusharthas

IMG_0435The word ‘Bhaavah’ means ‘source’ among other things. Based on this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Dharmaartha Kaama Mokshaakhya Pururushaartha Chatushtayam Bhavati Utpadyate asmaat iti Chaturbhaavah – In him are born the four Purusharthas (objectives) of every human being namely Dharma (Righteous conduct), Artha (Wealth), Kaama (Pleasure) and Moksha (Liberation) and therefore He is called Chaturbhaavah, the source for all the four’. Bhagavan bestows His devotees’ with all these forms of blessings depending on their devotion and maturity.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the word ‘Bhaava’ as standing for ‘Bhavana’, which means ‘manifesting, revealing’ – Bhavah = bhaavana = abhivya’njanam, which means ‘manifesting, revealing’.  He continues his interpretation by linking the Nama to the previous ones, which dealt with His Vyuha forms, and interprets the current Nama as revealing the expression of these Vyuha forms through actions. Creation, sustenance, protection of the beings, and propagation of the Shastras are the four actions or duties.  These are distributed respectively as follows:     

Vasudeva – Srishti, Creation of the Universe; Samkarshana – Sthiti, keeping the Universe in balance; Pradyumna – Rakshana, protection; Aniruddha – Shastra pradanam – bequest of a good number of instructional scriptures as guides for living – abhivya’njanam – manifesting, revealing.

Swami ChinmayAnanda takes the generic meaning “The Source of the Four”, and then expands on it.  He is the Source of the four Varnas, the four Ashramas, the four PurushArthas etc. He gives reference from the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4 Verse 13 in support:
Catur-varnyam maya srishtam guna karma vibhagashah|
tasya kartaaramapi maam viddhi akartaaram avyayam   ||  
Meaning: According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the Creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable and Immutable.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha notes that the meaning for the word ‘Bhaava’ can be ‘One who exists or one through whom existence takes place or one who came into existence by himself or one who makes others appear” etc.  Accordingly, Sri Vasishta gives the interpretation that the current Nama signifies His creation of the four kinds of species:  Svakritavyavasthaya Catur-vidhaam srishtim Utpaadayati – One Who has created the four kinds of species through His own Free Will. 

  1.    Chatur-Vedavit – He is the Knower of the four Vedas

hayagriva2The word ‘Vit’ means ‘one who knows or a learned one’. Chaturveda is the term for the four Vedas. So, Chatur-Vedavit means One who is an expert in all the four Vedas. With this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Yathaavad Vetti Chaturnaam Vedaanaam Artham iti Chaturvedavit – As the Creator of the Vedas, He knows the true meaning of the four Vedas and hence He is called ChaturVedavit’.

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 15 Verse 15), Bhagavan says:
sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca |
vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham ||
Meaning: I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. I am to be known by the Vedas; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.

Chatur-Vedavit literally refers to one who is an expert in all the four Vedas.  This unequivocally applies only to Bhagavan.  Other who are learned in the four Vedas, see but a drop of the Great Ocean that He is, because the magnificence displayed in the Vyuha and Vibhava is vast like the ocean, which cannot be comprehended by anyone.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference from Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (3.1.10) where in the Azhwar addresses Him as ‘மறையாய நால்வேதத் துள்நின்ற மலர்சுடரே’ meaning ‘O Radiant Lord! You are the One Who is very clearly revealed and praised in the Vedas as the Supreme Deity’.

‘Marai’ also refers to this great secret being concealed from those who are not devoted, and Vedam refers to it being revealed to the great devotees.  To know Him fully is extremely difficult but in His Vyuha and Vibhava forms, with His Grace, a tiny part of His Mahima can be realised.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri comments that not only it is true that He alone knows the four Vedas completely with their correct meanings, but He is also the Vedas Himself.  Thus, knowing Him is only possible for those who have learned the Vedas correctly with their true meanings.  

Swami ChinmayAnanda comments that a student of Veda can be considered to have achieved his study only when he has realised the Lord.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan has a different interpretation and explains that Bhagavan has this Nama because He is the One Who enables His devotees to know the four Vedas – Caturo Vedan Vedayati bhaktaan iti Chatur-Vedavit.  In other words, only through devotion to Him will a student of Veda be able to know and understand the Vedas and their meanings correctly. 

  1.    Eka-paat – He Who is the Sole Protector

Maha Vishnu 6The word ‘paat’ is used in the sense of ‘a part’. So Ekepaat implies that Bhagavan manifests only a very small part of His total Self. Using this Sri Adi Sankara says ‘Ekah Pado asya iti Ekapaat – Only a small part of Bhagavan is manifest as the Universe hence He is called Ekapaat’. Sri Sankara quotes from the Purusha Suktam (3) which says:
Etaavaanasya Mahima-Ato Jyaayaash-Ca Puurussah |
Paado-Asya Vishvaa Bhuutaani Tri-Paad-Asya-Amrtam Divi ||3||
Meaning:  The entire Universe is a manifestation of His splendour But His glory is more effulgent than all this. The Purusha is Greater than all the Greatness (which can be expressed by words). Only One fourth of His entire being is this manifest Universe (visible Worlds), and Three fourths of His splendour is in the realms of immortality.

Sri Sankara quotes from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 42) where Bhagavan says:
atha va bahunaitena kim jnatena tavarjuna
vistabhyaham idam krtsnam ekamsena sthito jagat
Meaning: But what need is there, Arjuna, for all this detailed knowledge and so many examples? With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire Universe.

In other words what we perceive of him is but a tip of the iceberg. The major part remains unmanifested and hidden from us.

Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the interpretation that Bhagavan chooses to show only a part of His greatness when He takes incarnations amongst us. He has His complete and undiminished attributes at His command, but He just does not invoke them or use them.  This is revealed in Srimad Ramayanam, where Lord Rama emphasises that He is only a human – aham maanusham manye, even though Vishwamitra and others knew His true Nature. Lord Rama revealed some of His divine powers when He had to summon Samudra Rajan to assist in the construction of the Setu.

Sri Bhattar gives the following references:

  • Amshaavataaro brahmarshe! Yo’yam yadu kulodbhavah (V.P. 5.1.2) – “O Brahmarshi! This incarnation of the Lord as Krishna in the Yadu race is only a small part of Himself”.
  • Amshaamsena avatirya urvyaam (V.P. 5.1.3) – “He has come down to this world only with a part of Himself”.  
  • Vishnor-ardham Mahabhaagam putram ikshvaaku nanadanam (Balakandam. 18.11) – “Rama, the delight of the Ikshvaaku race, took birth as half the amsam of Vishnu”.

It is important to note that all of Bhagavan’s incarnations are Purna Avataars but He chooses to reveal only a portion of His Greatness.  This has described by Swamy Sri Vedanta Desikan in his work on Saranagati Deepika (Verse 17) which explained the avatara rahasya of Sriman Narayana. Bhagavan has taken different incarnations out of His sheer Mercy in order to be accessible to us in many ways. The six rahasyas are behind His incarnations are:
Nanavidahaih akapataih ajahat-svabhavaih aprakrtaih nija viharavasena siddhaih   |
AtmIya rakshana vipaksha vinasanarthaih Samsthapayasyanagha janmabhir adyadharmam ||

  1. Nana-vidahih – The incarnations are of different forms, including Matsya, Kurma, Rama, Krishna, etc.; 
  2. Atmiya rakshana, vipaksha vinasanarthaih – The incarnations are taken by Him for the protection of His devotees and for the destruction of their enemies; 
  3. Akapataih – These incarnations are real, and not a display of trickery or magic; 
  4. Ajahat-svabhavaih – In these incarnations He retains all His qualities intact; 
  5. Aprakritaih – He is not made of the pancha bhutas as we are; they are pure Suddha-satva and not contaminated by rajas, tamas etc. and 
  6. Nija vihara vasena siddhaih – His ‘births’ or incarnations are not a result of purva karmas but are taken because of His Samkalpa or Leela. 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives the following reference from the Smriti:
Andaanaam tu sahasranam sahasranyayutani ca  |
Idrisanam tatha tatra koti koti Satani ca   ||
Meaning: All the thousands of Universes together are nothing more than a tiny part of Him.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja bases one of his interpretations by looking at the Nama as ‘ekapo mukhya Alakah san atati’ – He is constantly on the lookout as the Sole Protector of His devotees. 

The root ‘pa – rakshane’ meaning to protect (paati – protects), also suggests that the Nama can also be viewed to take the meaning that He is the Sole Protector.


ChaturMurtish ChaturBaahush ChaturVyuhash ChaturGatih      |
ChaturAtma ChaturBhaavash ChaturVedavidekapaat             ||82||

Maha Vishnu 5 - Copy (2)He exhibits four different facets namely Virat, Sutra, Avyaakrita and Turiya forms hence He is called ChaturMurtih. He has got four arms and hence He is called ChaturBaahuh and this Nama is associated with Para form Vasudeva. He has got four different personalities manifested as the Purusha in the body, the Purusha in the form Vedic recitation, the Purusha enshrined in the Vedas and the Supreme Purusha hence He is called ChaturVyuhah.  He is the goal of all the four stages of life, for all the four categories of people, hence He is called ChatuGatih, the goal for all four.

He has a mind which is an expert in keeping away desire and hatred from affecting His tranquility, hence He is called ChaturAtma, the expert mind.  In him are born the four Purusharthas (objectives) of every human being namely Dharma (Righteous conduct), Artha (Wealth), Kaama (Pleasure) and Moksha (Liberation) and therefore He is called ChaturBhaavah, the source for all the four. As the Creator of the Vedas, He knows the true meaning of the four Vedas and hence He is called ChaturVedavit. Only a small part of Bhagavan is manifest as the Universe hence He is called Ekapaat. The Nama can also be viewed to take the meaning that He is the Sole Protector.



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



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