In this part we will explore the meaning of the 83rd Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.

 Shloka 83
Samaavarto NivrittAtma Durjayo Duratikramah     |
Durlabho Durgamo Durgo Duravaaso Durarihaa ||83||

He turns the cycle of Samsara (or Wheel of Life) expertly. His mind is far removed from the pursuit of sense objects and has a withdrawn mind. He is Invincible and even natural entities like Sun, Fire and Wind carry on doing their assigned tasks out of fear of Him and do not disobey His orders. He can only be attained through intense devotion and cannot be grasped easily. He is attained with great hardship and even Yogis are able to lodge Him within their mind with great difficulty when they go into Samadhi. He destroys the evil enemies such as the Asuras and also dispels evil thoughts from His devotees’ minds.

The above Shloka has the following Namas:

  1.    Samaavartah
  2.    NivrittAtmaa or AnivrittaAtmaa
  3.    Dur-Jayah
  4.    Dur-Atikramah
  5.    Dur-Labhah
  6.    Dur-Gamah
  7.    Dur-Gah
  8.    Dur-Avaasah
  9.    Dur-Arihaa

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

  1.    Samaavartah – He incarnates again and again for the benefit of His devotees

time-travel-cover-3This Nama has the following meanings:

  1. He incarnates again and again for the protection of His devotees
  2. He performs His function of creation again and again in cycles
  3. He Whose true thoughts are always revolving around what He can do to help His devotees

The term Aavarta means to turn or whirl. Sam is a prefix denoting well done or expertly done. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Samsara Chakrasya Samyak Aavartakh iti Samaavartah – He turns the cycle of Samsara expertly hence He is called Samaavartah’. The cycle of Samsara refers to the cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth to which the Jivas are subjected. Bhagavan makes sure that this cycle runs smoothly and without any break like a well-oiled machinery.

Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation is that Bhagavan has this Nama because He takes incarnations again and again repeatedly as needed, for the benefit of His devotees, even though He is unborn or Ajah. Sri NammAzhwar refers to Him as ‘Pirappu il pal piravi Perumaan’ in ThiruvAi Mozhi (2.9.5) meaning ‘The Lord, who is birth-less, came in many forms to Earth’.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives a similar interpretation – ‘Samyag Avartayati Samsara Chakram iti Samaavartah’ – He turns the wheels of Samsara expertly and hence He is Samaavartah.   Sri Bharadvaj gives another interpretation that Bhagavan is called Samaavartah because His true thoughts are constantly revolving around what He can do to protect His devotees – Samicinah Avartanash-cintanam svajana avanamayam yasya iti Samaavartah.

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushan expresses the same idea – Because Bhagavan repeatedly continues His creation in cycles, He is called Samaavartah –‘Samyak taan Avartayati punah punah srijati iti Samaavartah’.

  1.    NivrittAtma – He is Superior and greater than the greatest

This Nama has occurred earlier (in Shlokas 25, 48 and 64) and hence what follows is a consolidation of the previous write-ups for this Nama. This Nama has several meanings:

  1. He is the foremost, peerless and greater than the greatest (Purusha Suktam)
  2. He whose mind is turned away from worldly attachments (Nara-Narayana incarnation)
  3. He who is the Atma of those who practice the Nivritti Dharma (bestower of benefits according to Karma)
  4. He is free from the bonds of Samsara, even when He takes His Avataars amongst us (as Rama or Krishna)
  5. He who does not turn away from anything or anywhere because He is Omnipresent (A-NivrittAtma – by Sankara)
  6. He Who withdraws the Jivas into Him during Pralaya
  7. He Who has permeated everything completely
  8. He Who is not impacted by the effects of Pralaya (Dissolution) of Srishti (Creation)
  9. He whose mind turns away from any feeling of self-glory over His Kirti or fame.

Sri Adi Sankara gives interpretations for both versions of the Nama – A-NivrittAtma and NivrittAtma. First taking it as A-NivrittAtma, Sri Adi Sankara’s interpretation is ‘Sarvatra Vartamaanatvaat Na Nivrittah Atma kuto api iti – Since He is present everywhere, He never leaves any place any time hence He is A-NivrittAtma, one who never leaves from anywhere’.  Then as NivrittAtma, Sri Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Nivritta Atma Manah Vishayebhyah asya asti iti vaa NivrittAtma – His mind is far removed from the pursuit of sense objects hence He is called NivrittAtma, one who has a withdrawn mind’. All our grief and sorrow come from the attachment of our minds to sense objects but Bhagavan has no such attachment and His mind is fully withdrawn from such external sense objects hence He is aptly called NivrittAtma.

Sri Sankara’s interpretation in Shloka 25 was that Bhagavan is free from the bonds of worldly life – The unbound Self – Samasara-bandhaan Nivritta Atma svarupam asya iti NivrittAtma. In Shloka 48, Sri Sankara treats this Nama as ‘VimuktAtma’ and interprets this as ‘Svabhaavena Vimuktah Atma yasya iti, Vimuktashchaasau AAtmaa cheti vaa VimuktaAtmaa – By His very nature He is a liberated entity hence He is VimuktaAtmaa or alternatively He is both liberated and He is the Supreme Soul and hence VimuktAtma’.  In Shloka 64 Sri Sankara interprets this as ‘Svabhaavato Vishayebhyo Nivritta Atma Manah asya iti NivrittAtma – Bhagavan by His very nature has a mind which has turned away from objects or worldly pleasures hence He is called NivrittAtma’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar has approached the elucidation for all the Namas with the emphasis on Bhagavan’s Gunas of Saulabhyam (ease of attainment) and Saushilyam (favourable disposition) towards His devotees.  Sri Parasara Bhattar is unique in viewing the 1000 Namas as a collection of 44 discrete groups, with each group consisting of a series of Namas describing a specific incarnation or manifestation of Bhagavan.  Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the Namas in the following contexts:

  • Shloka 25 (Nama 231) – as part of the group of Namas from 226 to 247, reminiscent of the Purusha Sukta – Upanishad pratipaadita Viraat Svarupam.
  • Shloka 48 (Nama 453 – as part of the group of Namas from 451 to 463, describing the Nara-Narayana incarnation, as the Nivritti dharma pravartaka.
  • Shloka 64 (Nama 604) – as part of the group of Namas from 590 to 606, describing His Guna as a conferrer of benefits to Jivas based on their Karma.
  • Shloka 83 (current Nama 780) – as part of the Namas from 697 to 786, describing His incarnations as Rama and Krishna as being one amongst us yet practicing detachment and Nishkama Karma.

The meaning for the word ‘Nivritta’ is to ‘turn away, abstain, to be above worldly acts, etc.’ Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation in Shloka 25 is that Bhagavan’s Svabhava (Nature) is beyond the Prakrita Svabhava (the ordinary nature of mortals), and the meaning given is that His Nature as the Supreme Purusha is Superior to anything else, and stands above all other things.  He is the Master of the Transcendental Glory that is thrice the glory of the material world.  He is the Swami or Lord of all that is this Universe, and all that is beyond this Universe.  Sri Bhattar gives the following reference from the Purusha Suktam 4: ‘Tripaadurdhva Udait-Purushah Pado Asye – The Purusha stands eminent in the Parama-pada which has thrice the glory of the material world’.  He is greater than the greatest, more exalted than the most exalted – Paraat-param yan-Mahato Mahantam – Maha Narayana Upanishad (1.5).

Sri Bhattar’s interpretation of Nama 453 in Shloka 48 (refers to Nara-Narayana incarnation), the interpretation is that Bhagavan has His mind turned away from the worldly desires.  The Nara-Narayana Avataar deals with the life of austerity that He adopted, and He taught the Nivritti Dharma to Nara and set an example for the world, appearing as both Nara and Narayana.  To indicate His profound detachment (Parama Vairagya) to material objects of pleasure, He had His mind withdrawn from them and propagated the sacred Ashtakshara Mantra.  The essence of Nivritti Dharma is the realisation that nothing is by us or for our benefit, and everything is for Lord Narayana and everything happens because of Him (‘Avan Indri oru anuvum asaiyadhu’).  Our primary purpose is to attain Sriman Narayana.

Sri Bhattar’s interpretation of Nama 604 in Shloka 64 is in the context of Lord’s relation with the Jivas and as a conferror of the results of their Karmas. For the current Nama, Sri Bhattar interprets it in the context of the Krishna Avataar and says that even though He took the incarnation among us for our benefit, and even though we are deeply immersed in Pravritti Dharma, He keeps Himself in the Nivritti Dharma, and is not in any way affected by worldly things, and so He continues to be a NivrittAtma.   

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja, a follower of the Dvaita (duality) philosophy, also uses VimuktAtma to describe this Nama and gives an interpretation – Vimukta Atmano Jiva yena iti VimuktAtma – He by Whom the Jivas are liberated or released is VimuktAtma. 

He is NivrittAtma because He withdraws the Atmas (Jivas) into Him during Pralaya – NivrittAtmano yena pralaya iti.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan elaborates on how Bhagavan is the Atma of those who practice Nivritti Dharma.  These Jivas do not have any interest in Pravritti Dharma (actions with desire or goal), and live their lives with the sole objective of doing Kainkaryam (divine service) to Him.  They are not interested in the fruits of their action and engage solely with the objective of serving Him. Bhagavan bestows them His Loka from where there is no return to this Samsara – Vinnulagam tharuvanai variaginraan (Thiruvai Mozhi 10.6.3). Even though Bhagavan is the Atma in all His Creations, still He considers the Nivritti Dharma followers as His Soul that supports Him.  They are known as Jnanis, whom Bhagavan considers as His own soul.

Pravritti Dharma takes us to the world of the Pitrus where we enjoy the fruits of our Karma, and come back to this world with the balance of Karma to our credit while Nivritti Dharma is that which leads one to Moksha or Liberation.

Sri Ramanujan further says that Bhagavan is devoid of any self-glory over His greatness even though He has created this great wonder with all its innumerable creatures, all the planets and the different worlds. The aspect of Nivritti Dharma is brought out by Sri Thirumazhisai Azhwar where he seeks Lord’s abode in his Tiruchanda Viruttam Pasuram 96:
வரம்பிலாத மாயமாய வையமேழும் மெய்ம்மையே
வரம்பிலூழி யேத்திலும்வ ரம்பிலாத கீர்த்தியாய்
வரம்பிலாத பல்பிறப்ப றுத்துவந்து நின்கழல்
பொருந்துமாதி ருந்தநீவ ரஞ்செய்புண்ட ரீகனே.
Meaning: O Wonder-Lord of endless feats, O Lord in all, above and below! O Lord of endless ages praised in yore! Cutting the pall of endless birth, O Lotus-Lord do take me, and bind me to your holy feet, I pray to you for this alone.

Sri Thondaradipodi Azhwar in this famous and popular Pasuram from Thirumaalai (2) says this:
பச்சைமா மலைபோல்மேனி பவளவாய் கமலச் செங்கண்
அச்சுதா அமர ரேறே ஆயர்தம் கொழுந்தே என்னும்
இச்சுவை தவிர யான்போய் இந்திர லோக மாளும்
அச்சுவை பெறினும் வேண்டேன் அரங்கமா நகரு ளானே.
Meaning: O Lord of Arangama-nagar (Srirangam), with your divine body having the hue of a huge green mountain! With beautiful coral lips and broad Lotus-red eyes, Achyuta! Lord of Eternals, O Cowherd-Lord, – even if you gave me Indra’s kingdom to rule and denied me the joy of praising you thus – I shall not want it.

Swami ChinmayAnanda observes that the significance of the Nama lies in indicating to us that we have to detach our mind from sense indulgences in order to realise Him.  Bhagavan is naturally free in a unique way since He does not have birth and its associated Avidya, desire, etc., like everyone else does.  He is not affected by Karma, the three Gunas, etc.  and as such He is “The ever-liberated Self”. 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri notes that Bhagavan is the only one who can salvage those who are attached to all kinds of material and sense objects, because He is the only one who is not attached to anything.   Only the one who is not stuck in the mud can retrieve one who is stuck in it. 

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta uses the meaning ‘asa’nga – unassociated with’ for the word Nivritta, and gives the interpretation that Bhagavan is called Nivrittatma because He is not impacted by the effect of Pralaya (i.e., He does not cease to exist). Similarly He is not impacted by the effect of creation (that is, He is not created).  So He is unassociated with the effects of the Pralaya, Srishti, etc.:
Bhagavan Vishnuh Srishti kale Pralaya kale ca Srishtim pralayau
yatha-kramam vidadhadapi, sva-svarupavato Nivrittatma bhavati asa’ngah,
pralaya kale va srishter nivartata iti Nivrittatma Vishnurukto bhavati. 

Sri Vasishta captures the spirit of the Nama through the Shloka he composed for describing the meaning of this Nama:
Jajne sa vishvam sa bibharti vishvam sakha sa jivasya samana Sakhah   |
nashnan jagaj-jata rasan aseshan nivritta matro’shnuta eva sarvam   || 
Meaning: Bhagavan creates the Universe and protects everything, and is a Friend of the Jivas and treats everything in His creation equally.  He does not consume any of the fruits of this world, but withdraws everything into Him at the time of Pralaya.

Sri Vasishta further explains by using the root word ‘ni – nitaraam meaning wholly, completely’ and ‘vrittah – sakala vishayeshu pravrittah meaning exists in everything’. He Who exists in everything, Or Who has permeated everything completely is Nivrittatma.

In the Munkdaka Upanishad, Shloka 3.1 refers to two birds on a tree as ParamAtma and JivAtma as below: 

dva suparna sayuja sakhaya samanam vriksham parishasvajate   |
tayoranyah pippalam  svadvat-anashnan-anyo abhicakashiti   ||   mundaka upanishadMeaning: Two birds, one representing the ParamAtma and the other the JivAtma, one watching and shining brilliantly, while the other enjoys the fruits of the Karma.  One of the birds (the individual atomic soul) is eating the fruit of the tree (the sense gratification afforded by the material body), and the other bird (the Super Soul) is simply watching His friend. Thus it illustrates the different nature of the Super Soul that stays away from the enjoyment the Jiva goes after.

There are six kinds of Karma – Nitya, Naimittika, Kamya, Nishiddha, Prayaschitta and Nishkama Karma. 

  • Nitya Karmas are such as the Trikala Sandhya Vandanam, chanting of prayers etc. and refers to actions that are to be done necessarily and regularly.
  • Naimittika Karmas (such as observance of fast on Ekadashi, Yagnovapeetham, Tharpanams, Shraddhas etc.) will lead to specific benefits.
  • Kamya Karmas are acts that are done with specific desire for benefits (such as special sacrificial rites undertaken with specific benefits in mind).
  • Nishiddha Karmas are the ones that are forbidden acts and should be totally avoided by an individual. They include killing, stealing and other criminal and immoral acts.
  • Prayaschita Karma – They are rituals for cleansing of sins or expiatory rites. These can be by means of prayers or charity or self-disciplinary action. It is only by these means that an individual can try to remove the sinful tendencies which are the root of all evil. 
  • Nishkama Karma – They are actions performed without any expectations for the results or fruits of the actions. Thus they are selfless and desireless and form the central core message of Karma Yoga to the path of liberation. Working without any motives or expectations can be possible only if nonattachment is practised. Attachment is the root cause of all sorrow hence all actions must be performed with a spirit of dedication to the Lord. Since man is a conglomeration of thoughts, each thought becomes an integral part of his life. Hence only fostering of pure thoughts promotes selfless service in society as one works for others without any personal reward or gain. 

Bhagavan is not subject to the effects of any type of karma, because He does not undertake any karma for His benefit; whatever He does is for the benefit of the Jivas.

The writer in Dharma Chakram points out that the significance of this Nama is to realise that we should live a life with detachment in material objects in order to realise the Truth, and meditating on this Nama of MahaVishnu who has no attachments will lead us to live a life without attachment. He gives the life of Lord Rama as an example of NivrittAtma.

  1.    Dur-Jayah – He cannot be controlled except by love and devotion

DamodaraSri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Jetum na Shakyate iti Durjayah – He cannot be conquered by anybody, hence He is called Durjayah, the Invincible’. Many great warriors like Ravana, Hiranyaksha, Banasura, Hiranyakashipu and Kamsa have fought with Him but He has always been triumphant and has proved to be Invincible, hence He is called ‘Durjayah’ or ‘the Invincible One’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation is that it is impossible to bring Him under control by the ordinary power of human or divine beings.  The only thing by which He can be conquered is through total surrender (Saranagati) or through total devotion (Bhakti). This Nama is essentially same as the Nama AparAjitah (Nama 721 in Shloka 76), and Ajitah (Nama 553 in Shloka 59).

Sri Bhattar says that He cannot be brought under control or won over, except when He wishes to reveal Himself – ‘yan-na darshitavaan esha kas-tad-anveshtum arhati – If He does not show Himself, Who can succeed in seeking and finding Him?’

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta observes that anyone who follows Dharma, and who performs actions consistent with His diktats, will always be successful.  This is because Bhagavan resides in these people in His form as Dur-jayah.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives an alternate interpretation that He has the Nama Dur-jayah because He makes it possible for us to conquer Duhkha  – ‘Duhkhasya jayo yasmat iti Dur-jayah’. 

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushan gives yet another interpretation to this Nama – ‘Duh-saadhena samadhina jiyate hridi vashikriyate iti Dur-jayah – He is won over by the difficult practices such as Samadhi and deep meditation.

  1.    Dur-Atikramah – He cannot be disobeyed or bypassed by those who seek Moksha

Sri Krishna 7Atikrama is an act of disobedience or a transgression. Duratikramah is one whose orders cannot be disobeyed. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Bhaya hetutvaat asya aajnaam Suryaadayah Natikramanti iti Duratikramah – Out of fear of Him even natural entities like Sun, Fire and Wind carry on doing their assigned tasks and do not disobey His orders, hence He is called Duratikramah, one who cannot be disobeyed’. In support Sri Adi Sankara quotes two Mantras from the Katha Upanishad and one from the Taittriya Upanishad:
Bhayaad asya agnis tapati bhayaat Tapati Sooryah |
Bhayaat Indrashcha Vaayushcha Mrityur Dhaavati Panchamah || K.U. 2.6.3
Meaning: For fear of Him the fire burns, for fear of Him shines the Sun, for the fear of Him do Indra, the wind (Vaayu) and Death (Yama), the fifth proceed with their respective functions’. In other words the Nature obeys His laws unquestioningly and with total commitment as though out of fear of him.

We have a similar Mantra in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.8.1):
Bhisha asmad vatah pavate bhishodeti suryah
Bhisha asmad agnish cha indresh cha Mrutyurdhavati panchama iti | (T.U. 2.8.1)
Meaning: Out of fear of Him the wind blows; Out of fear of Him the Sun rises; Out of fear of Him burns the Fire, as also Indra and Death, the fifth proceeds to their respective duties.

Mahadbhayam vajram udyatam |
Ye etatdviduh amritah te bhavanti || K.U. 2.6.2
Meaning: Brahman is a great terror like an uplifted thunderbolt! One cannot even think It without shuddering within. Have you heard thunder in the skies? Such, as if the earth would break. Your heart also will miss a beat at that time. The fear that is instilled into the hearts of people by Brahman is of another kind. It is the thunder coming from all sides. You have to love it, you also have to dread It. Those who know this become immortal.  

Thus, the consequence of disobedience is immediate and swift punishment hence He is justifiably called Duratikramah, one whose writ cannot be transgressed.

The root involved in the Nama is ‘kramu – pada vikshepe’ meaning ‘to walk or to step’. Hence, Atikramah means overstepping, going beyond or breaching. 

Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the interpretation that it is impossible to have any recourse except Him if we wish to cross the Ocean of sorrow.  He gives several supporting references:

  • Yada carmavad-Akasham veshtayishyanti Manavah |
    tada devam avijnaya duhkhasyantam nigacchati   ||  (Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.20)
    Meaning: The success with which one can reach the end of sorrow without resorting to God, is the same as the success one would have in rolling the whole Sky like a skin and putting it into a small bag. Any effort to be from misery, without realising God, is as futile as the attempt to roll up the Sky.
  • Vasudevam anaradhya ko moksham samavapnuyat meaning “Who can attain salvation without worshipping Vasudeva?”
    Na hi Vishnumrte kacit gatiranya vidhiyate |
    ityevam satatam Veda gayante natra samshayah ||
    Meaning: All the Vedas are always singing in chorus that there is no other means of redemption except the worship of Vishnu.  There is no doubt about this.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers to the Kakasura episode in support.  He went round all three worlds for someone to protect Him from the Astra of Lord Rama, and ultimately had to come back to His feet seeking refuge.  In Srimad Ramayanam, Hanuman declares that if Rama decides that someone should be killed, then no one in all the three worlds, including Indra, Brahma, Rudra, or any other Deva can protect that person.

Sri NammAzhwar reveals the same truth in his Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (10.1.1 and 10.1.6) – ‘Kaalamegattai andri matrondri ilam gadhiye, and Thirumogur Aathan thamarai adi indri matru ilam arane’ – There is no recourse for us except His Lotus Feet.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives the explanation – ‘duhkhasya atikramo yasya sa dur-atikramah’ – He for whom all sorrow is bypassed.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta explains the Nama as meaning that by transgressing His order, sorrow will be the result – Yo Bhagavatam niyamam ullangate sa Sashavat dukkhameva Apnoti iti Dur-atikramah. 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives a similar interpretation – ‘duhkhadah atikramah Sasana ullanghanam asya iti Dur-atikramh – Bypassing His order will lead to sorrow’.

The Story of Kakasura


This incident is recounted by Sita Devi to Hanuman and occurs in Sundara Kandam of Srimad Ramayana. After winning Sita’s confidence and restoring the divine signet ring of Rama to her, Hanuman prepares to take leave and get back to Rama with the good tidings. But he wishes to carry back to Rama some sign to indicate that he had met Sita and spoken with her.

Sita is overwhelmed at Hanuman’s words and she traces the happy memories she spent with Rama and recounts an intimate happening that had taken place at Chitrakuta of which even Lakshmana was not aware of. Once, Sita had wandered in the grove with Rama and rested on the river bank. Rama fell asleep on her lap.

At that time a crow flew close by and pecked at Sita’s bosom. It was Indra’s son who had come in the form of this crow. Sita realised that it was no ordinary crow and tried to ward it off by pelting a pebble at it. Rama soon woke up from his slumber and saw Sita in discomfiture. He surmised the reason and wished to punish the crow which stood in their vicinity with blood stained nails. He chose a blade of grass and converted it into the most powerful dart at the transgressor of their privacy. This arrow chased the crow high and low. ChoodamaniFinding that none in the three worlds — including its own father, the celestial beings or the sages —could give it succour against this powerful Rama’s arrow.

Finally, fearing his death, Kakasura surrendered to Rama as no one came forward to help him. He fell at Rama’s feet and escaped with a minor punishment with Rama poking one eye of the Crow.

Sita then gives Hanuman the auspicious bridal jewel Chudamani as a token. Hanuman then takes farewell of Sita Mata and leaps back to convey the good news to Lord Rama.

  1.    Dur-Labhah – He Who can be attained only through single minded devotion


Basically Durlabhah refers to anything that can only be obtained with great difficulty. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Durlabhayaa Bhaktyaa Labhyatvaat Durlabhah – He can only be attained through a difficult process of intense devotion, hence He is called Durlabhah, one who is difficult to get’. In support of this Sri Sankara quotes the words of Vyaasa ‘Janmaantara sahasreshu Tapojnaana Samaadhibhih Naraanaam Ksheena papanaam Krishne Bhaktih Prajaayate – A person gets devotion or Bhakti to Lord Krishna after thousands of births, as a result of Penance, Knowledge and Deep meditation’.  It is such a difficult and arduous journey to become a devotee of the Lord.

He also quotes from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 8 Verse 22), which says ‘Bhaktyaa Labhyas tvananyayaa – The Lord can only be attained by pure devotion and by nothing else.’

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains that it is very difficult to attain Him and this may be because of some of the following reasons:

  • Deficiencies in the approach of the seeker;
  • Attributes that pertain to the Sought, that make it difficult to access Him;
  • Barriers between the seeker and the sought;
  • The limitations imposed by the place where the person that is sought is located.

These are precisely the four aspects that Sri Parasara Bhattar addresses, and assigns one of these difficulties to the next three Namas, each of which contributes to the difficulty in His unattainability.  

The root involved is ‘labh – praptau’ means to ‘get’.  ‘Dur-labhah – dur-labhaya bhaktya labhyata iti Dur-labhah – He Who is not easily attained except through intense devotion. The path of bhakti is tedious, and so is the acquisition of knowledge about Him. 

Sri Bhattar gives the interpretation that Bhagavan is difficult to attain for those who are not single-minded in their devotion to Him – ajitendriya dushprapo Dur-labhah sa ca kathyate – He is not easy to access to those who have not controlled their indriyas. He gives support from Vishnu Dharma and MahaBharata: 

  • tasyapyanya manaskasya sulabho na Janardanah (Vishnu dharma 73.6) – Janardhana is not within easy reach of those who have their minds after things other than Him.
  • aprapyah Keshavo Rajan! Indriyaih ajitaih nrinaam (Udyoga Parva 78.21) – O King! Keshava cannot be attained by men if their senses are not conquered by them.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers to Sri NammAzhwar Pasuram – Thiruvai Mozhi (1.3.1):  ‘Pattudai adiyavarkku eliyavan, pirargalukku ariya vittagan’ – He is easy to access to the devotees who worship Him as their Lord, but for others, He is not easily accessible. 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan refers us to the following, which indicates how difficult it is for one to get to follow the path of Bhakti:
Janmantara sahsreshu tapo dana samadhibhih   |
Naranam kshina papanam Krishne bhaktih prajayate || (Vishnu Dharma Purana)
Meaning: It takes countless births of austerities and other good deeds before a human being is rid of sins and develops devotion to Krishna. 

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives the anubhavam that even though Bhagavan is present in everything and everywhere, and in all of us, and is the force behind our every action, still it is so difficult for us to appreciate this and even accept this.  Given this state of affairs, to know His Svarupam is next to impossible for most of us.  Hence He is called Dur-labhah.   Sri Vasishta further points out that this jIva does not have the ability to know when life will leave this body, and when the Jiva will take the next SarIra, or anything else.  He rhetorically asks the question of how much more difficult it will be to know His true nature in full, and to attain Him.   He observes that even the likes of sage Markandeya with his long life did not succeed in understanding Him fully.  So Sri Vasishta’s interpretation is that Bhagavan is called Dur-labhah because He is difficult to attain even for the best of the Sages.

In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7 Verse 19, Lord Krishna says:
Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate |
Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma Su-Durlabhah  ||
Meaning: After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri refers us to the Katha Upanishad passage 1.2.7:
Shravanayapi bahubhir-yo na labhyah
Shrunvantopi bahavo yam na vidyah 
Ashcharyo vakta kushalo’sya labhdha
Ashcharyo jnata kushala’nushishtah  ||
Meaning: Even to hear of It is not available to many; many, even having heard of Him, do not comprehend.  It is rare to find a good teacher for It, and equally rare to find a good student.  Wonderful indeed is he who comprehends the Self when taught by an able preceptor.”

Krishna Datta Bharadvaj explains that ‘duhkhena labhyo mriduvega Aradhakaih iti Dur-labhah – He is difficult to attain for those who seek Him only with mild effort.

  1.    Dur-Gamah – He is difficult to attain because of His Effulgence

visnu2The word ‘Gamah’ is used in the sense of being understood. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Duhkhena Gamyate Jnaayate iti Durgamah – He is understood only after a lot of efforts, hence He is called Durgamah, one who cannot be grasped easily’. It takes a lot of meditation, devotion and yogic practices to get to know even a little bit of Bhagavan, so He is called Durgamah.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets as ‘One cannot go near Him’. Sri Bhattar’s interpretation here is:  Dur-gamah – netra durbalanam iva madhyahna bhaskarah apradhrishya tejah danda pupikaya Dur-gamah – Just as the mid-day Sun cannot be seen with weak eyes, so also Bhagavan who is endowed with the brilliance and splendour of a thousand Suns, cannot be accessed by weak-minded people.  

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri explains this Nama as referring to the difficulty that people have in developing the desire for Him for a start, with means such as Sravanam (the knowledge imparted by a guru about the Shastras etc.),  Mananam (individual enquiry based on the above knowledge), or Nididhyasanam (intense meditation).  He gives reference to the Mantra (1.2.23) from Katha Upanishad:
NayamAtma pravacanena lbhyo na medhaya na bahudhna Srutena
Yam evaisha vrinute tena labhyah tasyaiysa Atma vivrinute tanum svam ||
Meaning: This Atman cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, nor by intelligence, not by much hearing. It is gained by him who chooses to pray to this Atman alone. To him this Atman reveals its true nature.

Swami ChinmayAnanda interprets Dur-gamah as referring to the difficulty in treading the path of devotion that was referred to in the previous Nama (Dur-labhah).  He gives the support from Katha Upanishad:  He for Whose attainment one has to tread a path that is like walking on a razor’s edge – kshurasya dhara nishita duratyaya durgam pathas-tat kavayo vadanti (K.U. 1.3.14). 

Krishna Datta Bharadvaj explains as ‘Duhkhena Ayasena gamyate jnayayate manta-matimadbhih iti Dur-gamah – He is difficult to know for those who are not smart enough to seek Him.

Sri Vasishta explains that the Nama refers to Bhagavan’s Eternal Principle that He reflects everywhere in His Creation – even though He is inside all of us and thus very near to us, still He is very far for most of us, and so inaccessible. It is the reflection of this Eternal Principle of Dur-gamatvam that we cannot accompany the Jiva with our body and it departs the body after our death. 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan interprets this Nama as ‘Duh saadhena Upanishad vicarena gamyate budhyate iti Dur-gamah – He Who is known through the tedious and difficult process of inquiring into the Upanishads. 

  1.    Dur-Gah – He is not easily realised due to great obstacles

shabariThis Nama has a very close meaning to the previous Nama. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Antaraayapratihataih duhkhaat avaapayata iti  Durgah – He is attained with great hardship because of the many internal obstacles, hence He is called Durgah’. There are so many diversions and distractions when one is trying to concentrate on Bhagavan. These difficulties have to be overcome with great determination and dedication before he is realised. Hence he is called Durgah.

Sri Parasara Bhattar ascribes His inaccessibility because of barriers or screens that are too difficult for us to pierce, which are in the form of our Avidya or Nescience – ‘AvidyA Avaranaih dush-praveshashca Dur-gah.  The term Dur-gah usually refers to a fortification for a fortress, such as a moat. 

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives the derivation – Duhkenapi gantum ashakyah – One Who cannot be reached even with difficulty. 

Swami ChinmayAnanda explains the Nama as “Not easy to storm into” (keep in mind that one meaning for the word Dur-gah is fortress).  He observes that the essence of Narayana is fortressed around by the matter vestures and their objects of fascination.  Attracted by them, our attention is always distracted towards the joy contents in them.  This seducing power of the matter vestures is itself the mighty Maya, which is crossed over only by very rare, courageous, and blessed ones”. 

He gives reference from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 14):
daivi hyesha gunamayi mama maya duratyaya   |
maameva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te   ||  (gItA 7.14)
Meaning: This divine Maya of Mine consisting of the three Gunas is hard to overcome; but those who take refuge in Me and surrender unto Me can easily pass beyond this Maya.

The Upanishads say that the Truth cannot be perceived by the senses, imagined by the mind, or thought of by the intellect.  These being the only source of our knowing, it seems almost impossible to realise the Truth. He quotes from the Taittriya Upanishad (2.9.1):
Yato vaco nivartante apraapya manasa saha
Anandam Brahmano Vidvan na bibheti kutas-caneti ||
Meaning: He who knows the bliss of Brahman, from which all words return without reaching It, together with the mind, is no more afraid of anything.

Swami ChinmayAnanda reminds us that “Even though He is in our heart, He is not easily realised”. 

Sri Vasishta points out that Bhagavan is ‘Ananta’ or Infinite, and the success in realising Him is related to the effort that is put in, but is never complete.  This is the esssence of the Nama Dur-gah – He Who is difficult to be accessed in His totality.  For humans who are constrained by limitations of their Antah-Karanas (the seat of thought and feeling, the mind, the thinking faculty, the heart, the conscience, the soul), He is Dur-gah.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives the interpretation – Durgo duhkham gamayati daityan prati iti Dur-gah – He Who causes pain and suffering to the evil-minded Rakshasas.   Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushan interpets the Nama Dur-gah using the root ‘gai – Sabde’ – to sing, and gives the explanation that the Nama refers to His being sung through Sama Ganam which is too difficult to learn, practice and master. 

Krishna Datta Bharadvaj explains as ‘Duhkhena gamyate prapayate ativra samvegaih iti Dur-gah – He is not accessible and is impenetrable like one in a fortress for those who are not passionate about attaining Him.

  1.    Dur-Avaasah – His place of Abode (Sri Vaikuntham) is not easy to attain

shirasa namaamiThe word ‘Avaas’ means an abode or residence. Dur-Avaasah refers to the difficulties involved in making Bhagavan reside in our minds steadily. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Duhkhena Avaasyate Chitte Yogibhih Samaadhau iti Dur-Avaasah – With great difficulty the Yogis are able to establish him or lodge Him within their mind when they go into Samadhi or deep meditation and hence He is called Dur-Avaasah, one who is difficult to lodge in the mind’. Clearly the only way to know and attain Him is by Abhyaasa or constant practice and dedicated devotion.

Sri Parasara Bhattar refers to the sheer inaccessibility of Parama Padam for us, and thus the impossibility of accessing Him in this birth to perform kaimkaryam to Him in Parama Padam – evam ca dure dushkarah tat-pada Avaasa iti Dur-Avaasah. 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan interprets the Nama as referring to the difficulty of retaining Him in our hearts – Duh-Sadhaya prapattya vasyate hridi iti Dur-Avaasah – He Who will be retained in our hearts constantly only through the difficult path of Prapatti.  According to the Sriman RamanujAcharya, Prapatti is the easiest way to attain Him, as long as one can qualify with the five angas of Prapatti. One of these is absolute unshakable faith that He will definitely protect us once we surrender unto Him.  Perhaps, this is one of the most difficult mental states to acquire, and so one can consider that Prapatti is difficult in this sense.

Swami ChinmayAnanda gives a similar interpretation – ‘Not easy to lodge’ within the heart steadily for even the great seekers who are diligent and consistent in their pursuit.  Arjuna declares this condition experienced by the likes of him in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 6 Verse 33):
yo’yam yogastvaya proktah samyena Madhusudana  |
etasyaham na pashyami ca’ncalatvaat sthiti sthiram  ||
Meaning: This Yoga of equality, which has been declared by You, O Krishna, I do not see that it can be steady because of the fickleness of the mind. 

He is not easily retained for prolonged periods even by Yogis during deep meditation – ‘Duhkhena avasyate cite yogibhih SamadhAviti Dur-Avaasah.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives interpretations that all these statements about Bhagavan being difficult to attain, difficult to know, difficult to access, difficult to retain, etc., all apply to only those that do not strive with sincerity.  His interpretations clearly bring out this point – ‘Duhkhena Avasyate hridaye asamahitaih iti Dur-Avaasah – He is difficult to retain in heart for those who are not collected and calm enough in their meditation.  Thus, Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj’s interpretation is that He is a Sulabhan, or easy of access, for a true devotee.  He is easy to attain, easy to retain, easy to access, etc., as far as a sincere devotee is concerned.

Sri Vasishta observes that because He is everywhere and in everything, it is impossible to precisely say where He is, and so He is called Dur-Avaasah – One Whose place or location is impossible to pinpoint precisely.  He quotes the Atharva Veda passage (10.7.32) – ‘antariksham utodaram divam yashcakre murdhanam tasmai jyeshthaya Brahmane Namah  – Reverence to the Supreme Brahman, whose base is Earth, whose stomach is Air, and whose head is the Sky’.

It is important to keep in mind the point brought out by Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj in the context of these four Namas, that in the case of those who long for Him, He removes the obstacles, and makes sure that He is easily accessible.  He uses diverse means to get rid of the enemies or mislead them etc. 

  1.    Dur-Ari-haa – The Dispeller of the Evil-minded Enemies

This Nama consists of three parts – Dur, Ari and Haa.  Dur in this context means evil, Ari means enemy and Haa stands for killer. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Duraarino Danavadayah taan hanti iti DurArihaa – He destroys the evil enemies such as the Asuras, hence He is called DurArihaa’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explicitly refers to the Buddha incarnation in the above context in his interpretation of the Namas 787 to 810 – ‘idam daurlathyam aprapipsu papavishaye prayacchan Budddha Avataram niyacchati – DurAri-haa.

mohiniSri Bhattar’s interpretation is that Bhagavan uses different means to get rid of the evil-minded Asuras.  One of them is to make them weak by turning them away from the Vedas.  He gives a quote from Vishnu Puranam:
Maya mohena te daityah prakaraih bahubhih sada  
vyutthapita yatha naisham trayim kashcit arocayat  
hatashca te’sura devaih san-marga paripanthinah   ||  (Vishnu Puranam 3.18.34)
Meaning:  By His powerful skill, He confounded in several ways their minds, and led them astray, as a result of which there was no one amongst them who had a liking for the Vedas.  They became averse to going in the right path, and they were easily disposed of by the Devas. 

To appreciate the significance of the above, it should be understood in the context that even the Daityas or Asuras will benefit from practicing the Vedas, and their power will correspondingly increase. However, the Asuras use this power to cause misery to His devotees.  This is illustrated by the might of Ravana, who had accumulated enormous powers by the practice of austerities, and then used it to create terror among the Devas.  It is in this context that He decides to take incarnations and mislead the evil-doers by steering them away from the practice of the Vedas etc., so that they do not become powerful.  This is described in Sri Vishnu Puranam 3.17, where the Devas who have been defeated by the Asuras come and seek the help of Bhagavan, and after listening to them, Bhagavan shows them a deceptive form, and responds to them as follows: 
maya mohao’yam akhilan daityanstan mohayishyati   |
tato vadhya bhavishyanti Veda marha bahishkritaah  ||  (VP 3.17.42)
sthitou sthitasya me vadhya yavantah paripanthinah   |
brahmano ye’dhikArasya devadaityAdikah surah   ||   (VP 3.17.43)
Meaning: This deceptive form of Mine shall wholly beguile the daityas, so that, being led astray from the path of the Vedas, they may be put to death,  for be they gods, demons, or others, those who are opposed to the authority of the Vedas, shall perish by My might, which is exercised for the protection of the world.   

Sri Vasishta explains the term DurArih as meaning ‘one who causes pain and misery from all sides’ – duhkham samantaat arpayati praapayati iti DurArih.  Hence, the Nama DurAri-haa stands for One Who destroys the DurAris – DurArih tan hanti iti DurAri-haa’.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference from Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi (5.10.4):
Kalla Vedattaik kondu poyp purampukkavaarum, kalandu Asurarai
ullam pddam Seiditti uyir unda upaaya’ngalum
Meaning: Your spreading anti-Vedic religions, Your contriving to seduce Asuras at the time of distribution of nectar as Mohini, These melt my heart.  Why do you do all this, My Lord?

This concept of Bhagavan creating Maya Shastra and other ways to mislead the Asuras is also mentioned in Swami Desikan’s Daya Satakam (47) – ‘Maya Sastraanyapi damayitum tvat-prapanna-pratipaan – to control the enemies of Your devotees, You create the Maya Shastras also’. 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives reference to the Kaushitaki Upanishad (3.9), which also reveals this same truth:  ‘Esha nu evainam asadhu karma karayati tam yamadho ninishate – He misleads them and makes them perish in the process’.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta gives a different interpretation.  He takes the term ‘DurAri’ to refer to the bad aspects of our intellect, and gives the explanation that the Nama means One Who destroys the negative aspects in our mind when we resort to Him – Dur-matih tam hanit iti Dur-Ari-haa’.  He indicates that this is the worship we do through the mantra ‘tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat’. 

Swami ChinmayAnanda gives a similar explanation – Bhagavan is called durAri-haa because, out of His compassion, He destroys the Asuric tendencies in us and redeems us from its sad consequences, when we invoke Him. 

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives a different derivation for the Nama, even though the meaning is the same. He uses the root word ‘dula – utkshepe’ – to shake to and fro, and gives the derivation – dolyate utkshipyate dharma margo yaih te dulah; dela eva duraah; te ca arayah iti durArayah; tan hanti iti durAri-haa – He destroys those who flout the dharma Marga and who are His enemies.

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushan interprets the Nama as referring to Bhagavan being the One Who destroys the likes of Kama, Krodha, Lobha etc. that represent the great enemies in our desire to reach Him – dushtarim pratigacchanti iti DurArirah kamadayah, tan hatavaan iti tatra sahayyakaritvaat na atikashtam iti artha – With His help, it is not at all difficult to overcome the enemies such as Kama, in our path to Him.


Samaavarto NivrittAtma Durjayo Duratikramah      |
Durlabho Durgamo Durgo Duravaaso Durarihaa ||83||

BrahmanHe turns the cycle of Samsara expertly and also incarnates again and again for the benefit of His devotees, hence He is called Samaavartah. His mind is far removed from the pursuit of sense objects, hence He is known as NivrittAtma, one who has a withdrawn mind. He cannot be conquered by anybody, hence He is called Dur-Jayah, the Invincible. Out of fear of Him even natural entities like Sun, Fire and Wind carry on doing their assigned tasks and do not disobey His orders, hence He is called Dur-Atikramah, one who cannot be disobeyed.

He can only be attained through a difficult process of intense devotion, hence He is known as Dur-Labhah, one who is difficult to get. He is understood only after a lot of efforts, hence He is called Dur-Gamah, one who cannot be grasped easily. He is attained with great hardship because of the many internal obstacles, hence He is called Dur-Gah. Even Yogis are able to establish him or lodge Him within their mind with great difficulty when they go into Samadhi or deep meditation and so He is Dur-Avaasah, one who is difficult to lodge in the mind. He destroys the evil enemies such as the Asuras and also dispels evil thoughts from His devotees’ minds, hence He is called Dur-Arihaa.



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


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