In this part we will explore the meaning of the 89th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Sahasraarchih Sapta-jihvah Saptaidhaah Sapta-Vaahanah |
Amurtir Anagho’chintyo Bhaya-krit Bhaya-Naashanah ||89||
He has innumerable rays of brightness emanating from Him. He, in His form as Agni, has seven tongues and seven flames that are kindled by seven different kinds of offerings. He, in the form of Sun, uses a chariot drawn by seven horses as His vehicle. He is formless, sinless, incomparable, incomprehensible and immeasurable. He causes fear to those who violate Dharma and removes fear from those who follow Dharma.
The above Shloka has the following Namas:
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
- Sahasraarchih – The Thousand-rayed, Who illumines everything in this Universe
The word ‘Sahasra’ means a ‘thousand’ but in this context it implies ‘innumerable’, and ‘Archih’ means a ‘Ray’. Hence taking them together, Sri Adi Sankara gives the interpretation as ‘Sahasraani Anantaani Archeemshi yasya sah Sahasraarchih – He has innumerable rays of brightness emanating from Him and hence He is called Sahasraarchih, One with countless rays’.
Sri Sankara supports this interpretation by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11 Verse 12) in which Sanjaya describes what Arjuna saw:
Divi SuryaSahasrasya Bhavet Yugapad Utthitaa |
Yadi Bhaas Sadrishee Saa Syaad Bhaasas tasaya MahAtmanah ||
Meaning: If a thousand Suns were to rise at once in the sky, then perhaps the resulting brilliance may be like the brilliance of that Supreme One.
Sri Bhattar’s interpretation is that He has countless rays emanating from Him, in the form of the Sun, the Moon, etc. He has endowed the Sun with countless rays so that the Sun is able to perform the four functions of Paacana (cooking and ripening), Soshana (drying), pratapana (giving heat), and prakashana (illuminating). Sri Bhattar quotes from the Paushkara Samhita and the Bhagavad Gita in support:
AgnishomAtma samjnasya devasya ParamAtmanah |
Surya-Chandramasau viddhi sa Akaarau locaneshvarau || Sri Paushkara
Meaning: Know that the Sun and the Moon are the two eye-gods in an embodied form of the Supreme Deity ParamAtma whose name is AgnishomAtman.
Yad Aditya-gatam tejo jagat bhasayate’khilam |
Yac-candramasi yac-caaganau tad-tejo viddhi maamakam || B.G. 15.12
Meaning: That light which is in the Sun illuminating the entire Universe, and that in the Moon, and that in the Fire – understand all that light emanates from Me.
In the Katha Upanishad, Bhagavan’s attribute as the Source of all light is brought out in the Verse 2.2.15:
na tatra Suryo bhaati na candrataarakaṃ nema vidyuto bhaanti kuto’yamagniḥ |
tameva bhaantamanubhaati sarvaṃ tasya bhaasa sarvamidaṃ vibhaati || 2.2.15 ||
Meaning: The Sun does not shine there; nor do the moon and the stars, nor do these lightnings shine. How could this fire? Him shining, all shine after. All this shines by His light.
Swami ChinmayAnanda notes that it is not only the Sun and the Moon that get their light from Him, but He is the One who illumines all experiences.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives reference from Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (3.4.7), where the Azhwar refers to Emperuman as ‘Oli mani Vannan’ – The One with the dazzling radiance of a gem – Sahasraarchih.
Sri PeyAzhwar sang in ecstasy upon his sighting of the Lord in this famous first Pasuram from Moondram Thiruvandhaadi (1.1.1):
திருக்கண்டேன் பொன்மேனி கண்டேன் * திகழு
மருக்கனணிநிறமுங் கண்டேன்* செருக்கிளரும்
பொன்னாழி கண்டேன் புரிசங்கங் கைக்கண்டேன்*
என்னாழி வண்ணன்பா லின்று
Meaning: By His grace, I saw MahaLakshmi (Thirukanden). I got the privilege of seeing the Lord’s Divine Form shining like a Gold (Ponmeni kanden). His effulgence was like that of a brilliant Sun. I saw the enemy-destroying, fiery, but beautiful chakram (in one hand); I saw also the Conch (Paanchajanyam) in His other hand. All of these I saw in my dear Ocean-hued Lord, Sriman Narayanan.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives the interpretation as ‘Sahasrani archishi Sri Vigrahodgata kanti-kirana yasya iti Sahasraarchih – He Whose divine Thirumeni shines with countless rays of radiance’.
Sri Satyadevo Vashistha comments that the significance of this Nama lies in pointing to the immeasurable glory of Bhagavan – it is like counting the number of grains of sand in a seashore. Just as the number of rays of light emanating from the Sun cannot be quantified, so also the glories of Bhagavan be quantified. The only thing is to remember that the radiance of the Sun is but a tiny fraction of His brilliance. Sri Vasishtha has given innumerable references from the Shruti to describe Bhagavan’s Gunas of ‘Sahasra’ to imply that these are beyond quantification: Sahasra yajasah, Sahasra parnah, Sahasra paat, Sahasra Shirsha, SahasrAkshah, Sahasra posham, Sahasra poshinam, Sahasra Bhahvah, Sahasra mrishtih, Sahasra bharah, Sahasra yama, Sahasra veeram, Sahasra Shringah, Sahasra sthunam, Sahasra ketum, Sahasra Cakshasam, etc.
- Sapta-Jihvah – The seven-tongued
The word ‘Sapta’ means seven and ‘Jihva’ means tongue. Saptajihvah is the name given to Agni or Fire because Agni has seven different tongues or forks. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Sapta Jihvaa asya santi iti Saptajihvah – He, in His form of Agni, has got seven tongues or forks and hence He is called Saptajihvah’.
Sri Sankara quotes from the Mundaka Upanishad (1.2.4) in support –
Kaalee Karaalee cha Manojavaa cha Sulohitaa yaa cha Sudhroomavarnaa
Sphulinginee Vishvaruchee cha Devee Lelaayamaanaa iti Saptajihvaah ||
Meaning: Agni is called Saptajihva because it has 7 different tongues called Kaali (the black one), Karaali (the terrific one), Manojava (swift as mind), Sulohita (the deep red one), Sudhrumavarna (purple one), Sphulingini (emitting sparks) and Vishvaruchi (consuming all)”.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 23), Bhagavan says ‘vasunam pavakas casmi – Among the Vasus, I am Agni (Fire)’.
Sri Bhattar quotes from the Paushkara Samhita in support:
tad-vaktra-devatanam ca huta-bhuk parameshvarah |
mantra-putam yad-Adaaya hutam Ajya purassaram |
brahmanda bhuvanam sarvam santarpayati sarvada ||
Meaning: The Supreme Lord in the form of huta-bhuk (fire) carries to the various Devas the offerings that are sanctified by the mantras and yagnas with clarified butter, and thereby always pleases the entire Universe.
Sri Bhattar also notes that Fire is considered to have seven tongues named Kali, Karaali, Manojava, Sulohita, SudhumraVarna, Sphulingini, and Vishvaruchi, and they have been allotted the duties of nourishing the gods, receiving the oblations, and carrying them to the respective gods.
Other references to the seven tongues of Agni found in the Shruti are:
- divas-cd-agne mahina prithivyA vacyantaam te vahanayah Sapta-jihvah | (Rig. 3.6.2)
- sapta te agne saamidhah Sapta-jihvah | (Taittriya Samhita 1.5.3)
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri notes that the tongues of fire that accept the offerings are known differently depending on whether the Karma is a Sattvic, Rajasic, or Tamasic: The seven flames are known as:
- Hiranya, Kanaka, Rakta, Krishna, Suprabha, Atirkata, and Bahu-rupa in a Sattvic Karma,
- Padma-raga, Suvarna, Bhadra-lohita, Sveta, DhuminI, and Kaalika in a Rajasic Karma, and
- Kali, Karaali, Manojava, Sulohita, SudhumraVarna, Sphulingini, and Vishvaruchi in a Tamasic Karma.
He also notes that the Devatas associated with the seven tongues are the Devas, Pitrus, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Nagas, Pishaacas, and Rakshasas.
In addition to the interpretation in terms of the seven tongues of Agni, Sri Vasishtha gives an alternate interpretation, in which he takes the reference to ‘seven’ as a reference to ‘many’ – sapta iti aneka upalakshanam aneka-prakara jihvam vidhata iti. In this interpretation, he says that just as He has several tongues, He has also equipped His creation with several types of tongues for the different species. He observes that as the offerings in the homam feed the Agni with its seven tongues, the food consumed by the different species through the tongue, along with the prana vayu, is transmitted to feed the JaatharAgni; thus, what the Veda talks of (feeding the fire through the different tongues), is nothing different from what happens in real life, and so the Veda reflects real life happenings – bhavati lokena samo vedo vedena ca samo lokah.
Swami ChinmayAnanda says that the ‘seven tongues of flame’ conveys the idea that the Light of Consciousness in us beams out through seven points in the face – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and the mouth. As intelligent beings, powers of perception (metaphorically) flame out through each one of them, illumining the world for us. The one in our heart, Sriman Narayana, Who totally manifests as the seven distinct tongues-of-flame is classified as Sapta-Jihvah.
- Saptaidhaah – One Who is kindled in the form of fire by the seven kinds of offerings
Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Sapta Edhaamsi Deeptayah asya iti Saptaidhaah Agni – He (in his form as Agni) has seven flames, hence He is called Saptaidhaah’. He quotes the famous Mantra from Taitriya Samhita (1.5.3) ‘Sapta te Agne Samidhah Sapta Jihvah – Oh Agni you have seven flames, seven tongues’.
We can see several concentric flames of different colours existing in the Fire. There are seven of them and so Agni is called Saptaidhaah or the seven flamed one. So Bhagavan in the form of Agni is also called Saptaidhaah.
The previous Nama, Sapta-jihvah, was interpreted in terms of the different types of flames, with their individual traits such as differing colors and other attributes. The current Nama refers to the different types of fuels that are used to raise Fire for different types of Yajnas.
Sri Parasara Bhattar uses the meaning fuel for edhas and interprets this Nama as ‘One Who shines like a fire through the seven kinds of fuels’. Sri Bhattar proceeds to describe the kinds of fuels that kindle this Fire – it is the offerings of different kinds – Paaka-yajna, havir-yajna, somasamstha, etc., each of which is of seven kinds. These are:
- Paaka-yajna (based on cooked food): Aupasana, Vaishva-deva, Sthali-paaka, AshtakA Shraddha, monthly ceremonies, Ishaana bali, and sarpa bali.
- Havir-yajna (oblations in fire): Agni-hotra, Darsha-purna-maasa, Pinda-pitru-yajna, Pashu-bandha, Agrayana, Catur-masya, and Sautra-mani.
- Somasamstha (Yagas): Agnishtoma, Atyagnishtoma, Uktya, Shodasha, Vaajapeya, AtirAtra, and Aptor-yama.
- The sticks of seven forest trees that bear fruit without any blossoms used in sacrifices. These are: the Palasha tree, the Banyan tree, the fig tree, the jack tree, the Sami, Ashani-hata, and Pushkara-parna.
Thus, in Sri Bhattar’s interpretation, the Nama refers to ‘One Who is in the form of Fire is kindled by the seven kinds of offerings”.
Sri Satyadevo Vashistha gives the root for the current Nama as ‘edh – vriddhau’ meaning ‘to grow, to prosper’. The term ‘edhas’ is used to refer to fuel that kindles the fire. The Nirukti author gives the description – Sapta edhah yasya santi sah Saptaidhaah.
Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives the interpretation in terms of the Sapta-Rishis – Marici, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, and Vasishtha. According to him, the Nama signifies that Bhagavan is the supporter of the seven Rishis in the form of stars – Sapta-Rishin edhayati vardhayati iti Saptaidhaah. Thus, the term edhas is used here to mean prosperity and happiness.
- Sapta-Vaahanah – He Who has seven vehicles
Sri Adi Sankara gives two different interpretations for this Nama. The first is ‘Sapta Ashvaah Vaahanaani asya iti SaptaVaahanah – He uses a chariot drawn by seven horses as His vehicle (in His form as the Sun), hence He is called SaptaVaahanah’.
Sri Sankara’s second interpretation is ‘Sapta Nama ekah Ashvah Vaahanam asya iti – A horse called Sapta is His vehicle and hence He is called SaptaVaahanah’. In support he quotes the passage from the Rig Veda (1.164.2) which says ‘Eko Ashvo vahati Saptanama – He rides on a horse called Sapta’.
The word Vaahana is derived from the root word ‘vah – praapane’ meaning ‘to bear along, to carry, to flow’. Vaahanam also can refer to an animal used in riding, such as a horse. He who propagates or is carried along through things that are in units of seven, or who is supported by things that are in units of seven, is Sapta-Vaahanah.
Sri Bhattar interprets the Nama as ‘One Who has the Sun as His vehicle and whose chariot has seven horses (of the Sun)’. The seven horses yoked to the Sun-god’s chariot are named Gayatri, Brhati, Usnik, Jagati, Tristup, Anustup and Pankti. These are names of various Vedic meters that designate the seven horses. These are considered the presiding deities of the seven Veda mantras in the context of this Nama: bhu, bhuvah, suvah, mahah, janah, tapah, and satyam. The Devas associated with these mantras are: Agni, Vayu, Arka (Sun), Vaagisha (Brihaspati), Varuna, Indra and Vishvadeva. These seven Devas lead the Sun on his course. Since Bhagavan supports the Sun through these seven Devas and the seven mantras associated with these seven meters, He is called Sapta-Vaahanah. These seven mantras are the vehicles that reveal Him, and they are couched in the seven meters referred to above. We worship Him who is in the center of the Surya Mandalam through these Vedic mantras.
Sri Bhattar gives an alternate interpretation for this Nama as the Lord protecting the Universe through the seven regions of Prana Shakti – vital airs – in the form of the seven Vayu Mandalas or regions of air. Prof. A. Srinivasa Raghavan describes these seven regions of air as Avaha, Pravaha, Samvaha, Udvaha, Vivaha, Parivaha, and Paravaha. Since Vayu or air gets its strength from the life-breath of the Lord of the World, He is the Supporter of all the worlds in the form of the seven mandalas or regions of air.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives reference to Sri Vishnu Puranam 2.8.5, where the Sun and its characteristics are described:
hayashca saptac-chandamsi tesham nanani me shrunu |
Gayatri sa Brhat-ushnig jagatI trishtubeva ca |
anushtup pa’nctir-ityuktas-chandamsi harayo raveh || (VP 2.8.5)
Meaning: The seven horses of the Sun’s car are the meters of the Vedas: Gayatri, Brhati, Usnik, Jagati, Tristup, Anustup and Pankti.
Sri Shastri also points to the seven Suns – Arogah, Bhraajah, Patarah, Patangah, Svarnarah, Jyotishimaan, Vibhaasah (Aruna prashnam 20). Of these, what we see is the Arogah and the other six Suns are not visible to us, since three of these sustain the lower part of the Meru Mountain, and the other three shine on the upper part of the Meru Mountain. Hence, Bhagavan is called Sapta-Vaahanah as He supports all parts of the Universe through these seven Suns.
Sri Shastri further explains that there are seven dvaras (openings or holes) in our face – two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, and the mouth. The life energy is exchanged in our body through these openings, and since He supports the life through these seven vehicles, He is called Sapta-Vaahanah.
He also gives a reference from the Mundaka Upanishad (2.1.8):
sapta prāṇāḥ prabhavanti tasmātsaptārciṣaḥ samidhassaptahomāḥ |
sapta ime lokā yeṣu caranti prāṇā guhāśayā nihitāḥ sapta sapta || 8 ||
Meaning: From Him, the Akshara Purusha, emerge the seven sense organs (the two eyes, the two nostrils, the two ears, and the mouth), the seven fires, the sacrificial fuel, and the seven flames, and the seven worlds in which we move the sense organs that are deposited by the Creator in groups of seven and seven. From Him emerge the seven sense-organs, the seven flames, the seven kinds of fuel, the seven oblations, and these seats where move the sense-organs that sleep in the cavity, having been deposited by God in groups of seven. From Him, too, the seven senses in the head, their powers of cognition, their objects and their knowledge, as also the seven seats of sense traversed by the life forces centered in the hearts of all creatures. The seven seats are the nerve centers of the inner principles of the senses, without which the external senses cannot by themselves function.
Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja explains that Bhagavan’s Nama of Sapta-Vaahanah signifies that He leads the Sun with the seven horses – Sapta-Vaahanah sapta vaaha ashva yasya sah Sapta-vaahah Suryas tam nayati iti Sapta-Vaahanah.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan describes the Nama to mean that Bhagavan is conducting the seven worlds prosperously: sapta-bhuvanaani vaahayati praapayati abhyudayam iti Sapta-Vaahanah.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives support from the Srimad Bhagavatam and says that Lord Krishna had seven Vehicles consisting of four horses (Balahak – White, Megha Pushpa – Dark cloud, Shaibya – parrot green and Sugreeva – Golden), Garuda, Anjaneya and the Chariot itself.
- tatra Asvaah – Shaibya Sugreeva, Megha Pushpa and Balahakah – Srimad Bhagavatam 10.89.49
- syandanam pa’ncamam – the chariot itself
- chandomayena Garudena samuhyamanah ChakrAyudho’yagamadashu yato gajendrah – SB 8.3.31
- bikshu rupam parityajya Vanara rupam Asthitah |
prishthamAropya tau vIrau jagama kapiku’njarah || ( Ramayanam 4.4.34)
Swami ChinmayAnanda interprets this Nama of Bhagavan to signify that the Sun is drawn by the seven horses, representing the seven days of the week.
- Amurtih – He does not have a Form
The word ‘Murti’ refers to a ‘form’ and Amurti literally means ‘One Who has no form’. Sri Adi Sankara gives two different interpretations for this Nama. The first is ‘Murtih Ghanarupam Dharanasamartham Characharalakshanam Tadrahitah iti Amurtih – Murtih is an object with weight and dimensions which is characterised by a movement or lack of a movement but Bhagavan is not subject to these limitations, hence He is called Amurtih, One Who is not a material object’. He quotes from the Aitareya Upanishad (1.3.2) in support of this definition – ‘so apo abhyatapattabhyo abhitaptabhyo murtir ajayata – He brooded over the waters. From the waters, thus brooded over, there emerged a form’.
Sri Adi Sankara’s second interpretation is ‘Athavaa DehasamsthaanaLakshanaa Murcchita Anga Avayavaah Murtih Tadrahita iti Amurtih – Alternatively, Murtih can be considered as a body with all the organs and other parts in place but Bhagavan has no such specific corporeal body, hence He is called Amurtih, one without a body’.
Sri Bhattar interprets this Nama to mean that Bhagavan does not have a form, and it is quite different to that of ours which is composed of the five elements – sthula-bhautika murti vyaavrittah Amurtih.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives support from the Isavasya Upanishad (8):
sa paryāgacchukrakāyamavraṇasnāviraṃ śuddhamapāpaviddham |
kavirmanīṣi paribhūḥ svayambhūryathātathyato’rthān vyadadhācchāśvatībhyaḥ samābhyaḥ ||
Meaning: He, the self-existent One, is everywhere-the pure one, without a (subtle) body, without blemish, without muscles (a gross body), holy and without the taint of sin; the all-seeing, the all-knowing, the all-encompassing One is He. He has duly assigned their respective duties to the eternal Prajapatis (cosmic powers).
Brahman is like fire that has no fixed shape or form. It can grow as large as it chooses to, and take whatever form It wants. Sri Vasishtha gives the following Rig Vedic mantra (3.19.1), which describes Agni as formless (amuram= amurtam): Agnim hotaaram pravrne miyedhe gritsam kavim visham-idam amuram.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives the interpretation that the Nama signifies that Bhagavan is represented by the letter ‘A’– akaaro murtih yasya iti A-murtih.
Swami Desikan quotes from his Rahasya traya saaram:
Akarartho Vishnuh jagad-udaya-raksha-pralaya-krit |
Meaning: ‘A’-kaaram refers to Lord Vishnu, in His role as the Creator, Protector, and Destroyer of the Universe.
Sri Vasistha nicely brings out the point that Bhagavan is A-murtih, by pointing out the association between the soul and the body. Just as the soul is formless but supports the body it is associated with, Bhagavan is the formless Supreme Soul that supports all the formed entities in this Universe. Here is his composition expressing this interpretation:
Atma hi amurtir-vahate ca murtam gatram yatha nama tathabhupaiti |
Vishnur-hi amurtih sakalam ca vishvam vahan tatha namabhir-ucyate sah ||
- Anaghah – The Sinless
We have covered this Nama earlier in Shloka 16. The word Agha refers to Sin or Sorrow. Using this, Sri Adi Sankara defines this Nama as ‘Agham Duhkham Paapam Cha Asya na Vidyate iti Anaghah – He has no sin or sorrow, hence He is called Anaghah’. Not only is He without sin or sorrow, but He relieves His devotees from these afflictions as well. The Phalashruti says ‘Sankeertya Naarayana shabdamaatram Vimukta Duhkhaah Sukhino Bhavantu – Anyone chanting the name of Sriman Narayana will be relieved of all sorrows’.
Sri Sankara’s interpretation for this Nama in the earlier instance – ‘Agham na vidyate asya iti an-aghah, and he quoted from Chandogya Upanishad (8.1) in support – Apahatapaapma – He is free from Sin.
The root word is ‘Agh – papa karane’ meaning ‘to do wrong or to Sin’. Agho nasti yasmin so’naghah – He Who does not have any Sin is Anaghah. Na Aghah – agha Sabda papa vacanah, tad-virodhI ca anaghah – He Who is opposed to Sin is Anaghah or He Who does not suffer sorrow is Anaghah.
Even though Bhagavan takes birth in the midst of us, in this Samsara, He is Sinless. Sri Parasara Bhattar stressed this aspect in his earlier interpretation for this Nama – Samsara madhye janitva’pi An-aghah. For the current instance, Sri Bhattar’s interpretation deals with the reason as to why He is Sinless. It is because of the reason that all of Bhagavan’s actions are Selfless and hence He is not impacted by Karma. So, He is entirely different from the Jivas that are under His control – akarma vashatvena tan-magna jiva vilakshanah Anaghah.
Sri V.V. Ramanujan notes that even though Lord Rama had to go through enormous hardships in this Samsara, He was still Sinless. His birth and His actions were purely because of His Leela. He is Apahatapaapma – completely devoid of faults of any kind. He is ‘kurai ondrum illaadha Govindan’ (Sri Andal’s Thiruppavai). In addition to Himself being Sinless, He is the One who removes the Sins of others.
Sri Ramanujan notes that He is made of Shuddha Sattva, which is not subject to aging, decay, death, disease, etc., hence He is Anaghah.
Sri NammAzhwar refers to Emperuman as ‘teedil Seer ThiruVenakatattaan’ (Thiruvai Mozhi 3.3.5) – One with blemishless character. Here, His Guna of Vatsalyam in blessing His devotees with the utmost Mercy, irrespective of their infinite faults, is the aspect that is enjoyed.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri comments that Bhagavan is devoid of bad deeds, and the associated sins or sorrow that result from such deeds. It is the thought of committing a sin that is the start of the act of sinning. He is devoid of such thoughts to begin with, so there is no evil deed. Since there is no evil deed, there is no consequence or sorrow. He gives several quotes from the Shruti in support:
- Shuddham apapa viddham – Isavasya Upanishad 8 – Ever pure, untouched by punya and papa.
- ApahatapApma abhayam rupam…. tad-Apta kamam Atma kamam akamam rupam Sokantaram – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.21 – That is his form, in which all objects of desire have been attained and are but the self, and which is free from desires and devoid of grief.
- Atma apahatapaapama vijaraj – Chandogya Upanishad 8.7.1 – That Atma which is sinless, ageless etc.
- Na jara na mrityur na Soko n sukrtam na dushkrtam sarve paapmano’to nivartante apahatapaapma .. (Chandogya Upanishad 8.4.1) – The self is a dam, a separating boundary, for keeping these worlds apart. This dam is not passed by day and night, by old age, death and grief, or by good and evil deeds. All evils turn back from It, for the World of Brahman is free from all evil.
Swami ChinmayAnanda refers to a similar message in Chandogya Upanishad 8.1.5 – Esha Atma apahatapaapma vijaro vimrtyur vishoko vijighatso’pipaasah Satyakama Satya Sankalpah …. – This is the Atma that is opposed to all that is defiling, free from old age, death, sorrow, hunger, and thirst, and has true desire and true will. Swami comments that the peace of virtue or the sin in us cannot affect the Illuminator of all consciousness, and He is free from sin and is uncontaminated (aliptah).
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan refers us to Bhishma’s words – ‘Pavitranam pavitram yah’ in the introductory part of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam – The Purest of the Pure.
The Story of Parikshit – Lord Krishna demonstrates His Purity
On the last night of the MahaBharata war, after Duryodhana’s defeat, a very disturbed and restless Ashwatthama was sitting sleepless under a large tree. An Owl ambushing a group of Crows caught his attention. This gave him an idea of attacking the Pandavas’ camp at night. He gathered the other surviving Kaurava warriors—Kritavarma and Kripacharya and attacked the Pandava camp. He strangled Dhrishtadyumna to death in his sleep, beating and thrashing the semi-conscious warrior. He moved on and killed Shikhandi, Uttamaujas and many other prominent warriors of the Pandava army. Those who tried to flee from Ashwatthama’s wrath were hacked down by Kripacharyya and Kritavarma at the camp’s entrance. He killed Draupadi’s five sons, the Upapandavas, while they were sleeping, believing them to be the five Pandava brothers. Ashwatthama, realising his mistake, went to Sage Veda Vyasa’s ashram in order to seek salvation (prayaschittam) for his crime.
The Pandavas and Krishna returned to their camp the next morning and were incensed to learn about the cowardly act of Ashwatthama. The Pandavas went after him to Sage Vyasa’s ashram. Upon seeing the approaching Pandavas seething in anger, Ashwatthama (who learnt that he had killed the upapandavas and not the Pandavas) realised that he was trapped now. As a last resort, he used his sacred knowledge of the Vedas to devise a Bramha Astra from a blade of grass and invoked it against the Pandavas and Krishna, although he was strictly forbidden to do so by his father Dronacharya for any purpose whatsoever. On seeing the Brahma Astra approaching the Pandavas, Krishna asked Arjuna to invoke the same. Arjuna invokes Bramha Astra, which he received from Dronacharya towards Ashwatthama.
On seeing the two powerful Astras heading for a cataclysmic (catastrophic) collision that would result in the annihilation of the entire Earth, Sage Vyasa used his Yogic powers to stop the divine weapons from colliding with each other. He asked both these warriors to withdraw their respective weapons. Arjuna was able to withdraw his Brahma Astra, while Ashwatthama could not do so as Dronacharya did not teach his son how to withdraw it. Ashwathama was given the option of deviating his weapon towards one single isolated object in a place that was not inhabited by any form of life, so that the Brahma Astra does not harm anyone on Earth. But Ashwatthama, out of spite, directed the weapon towards the womb of Uttara (wife of Abhimanyu) who was carrying Abhimanyu’s son (Parikshit) in an attempt to end the lineage of the Pandavas. As a result, Abhimanyu’s son was still born and Uttara pleads to Krishna to save the child.
Lord Krishna says to Uttara – ‘O Uttara, I never utter an untruth. My words will prove true. I shall revive this child in the presence of all creatures. Never before have I uttered an untruth even in jest. Never have I turned back from a battle. (By the merit of those acts) let this child revive! As righteousness is dear to me, (by the merit of that disposition of mine) let Abhimanyu’s son, who is born dead, revive! Never hath a misunderstanding arisen between me and my friend Vijaya (Arjuna). Let this dead child revive by that truth! As truth and righteousness are always established in me, let this dead child of Abhimanyu revive (by the merit of these)! As Kansa and Kesi have been righteously slain by me, let this child revive today by that truth!’
‘After these words were uttered by Vasudeva, that child, O’ foremost one of Bharata’s race, became animate and began gradually to move, O’ monarch.’ [Mahabharata]
Thus by reviving Parikshit, Krishna demonstrates his purity. The Lord is Anaghah.
- Achintyah –He is incomparable to anything known
Sri Adi Sankara gives two interpretations for this Nama. The first is ‘Pramaatraadi Saakshitvena Sarvapramaana Agocharatvaat Achintyah – Bhagavan is the means of perceiving everything else, and therefore He cannot be perceived by any means of perception, hence He is called Achintyah, the unperceivable’.
The second interpretation is ‘Ayam Eedrisha iti Vishvaprapancha Vilakshanatvena Chintayitum Ashakyatvaat Vaa Achintyah – There is no proper object of comparison in the whole Universe to describe the nature of Bhagavan fully, hence it is impossible to adequately comprehend His full extent, so He is called Achintyah, the incomprehensible’.
Even Vedas are unable to describe Him except as Neti…Neti, he is not this and he is not that etc. in an indirect way.
Sri Bhattar’s interpretation is that the Nama indicates that He is beyond comparison with anyone or anything. Valluvar declares that Bhagavan is ‘Thanakku uvamai allaadhaan’.
Lord Krishna declares this in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10, Verse 40):
nanto’sti mama divyanaam vibhutinaam parantapa |
esha tuddeShatah prokto vibhuter-vistaro maya ||
Meaning: O mighty conqueror of enemies, there is no end to My divine manifestations. What I have spoken to you is but a mere indication of My infinite opulences.
yad-yad-vibhutimatsattvam Srimad-Urjitameava va |
tat-tadevAvagaccha tvam mama tejo’msha sambhavam || BG 10.41
Meaning: Whatever being is possessed of power, or of splendor, or of energy, know that as coming from a fragment of My power.
Sri Satyadevo Vashishtha gives the root involved in the Nama as ‘Cit – samjnane’ meaning ‘to notice, to understand’. He Who cannot be described as such and such, is Achintyah; Or, He Who cannot be comprehended completely in our mind is Achintyah – ‘Chintayitum – iyattaya paryavasitum Sakyah Chintyah; na cityah Achintyah; manaso’pi agocarah. There are many other ways to enjoy this Nama – He Whose Leelas are incomprehensible, He Whose power cannot be imagined, etc.
The Shruti attempts to describe Him – in the Chandogya Upanishad it says that Bhagavan is Golden-colored, with golden colored moustache, eyes resembling the just-blossomed Lotus’ –
ya eshontarAditye hiranmayah purushah drishyate,
hiranmayah smashruh, hiranya kesa apranakhaat sarva eva suvarnah;
tasya yahta kapyasam pundarIkamevam akshini –
Meaning: He is in the middle of the Sun, with golden hue, golden mustache, golden hair, eyes resembling the just-bloomed lotus, etc.
But the Shruti also declares that He is beyond words and beyond mind – yato vaco nivartante, aprapaya manasa saha (Taittriya Upanishad 2.9.1).
Sri NammAzhwar conveys the two ideas together in his Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram 3.1.2:
கட்டுரைக்கில் தாமரைநின் கண்பாதம் கையொவ்வா,
கட்டுரைத்த நன் பொன்னுள் திருமேனி ஒளி ஒவ்வாது,
ஒட்டுரைத்திவ் வுலகுன்னைப் புகழ்வெல்லாம் பெரும்பாலும்,
பட்டுரையாய்ப் புற்கென்றே காட்டுமால் பரஞ்சோதீ.
Meaning: O’ Supreme Effulgence! You are to be merely enjoyed. Any attempt at verbal description of You is futile, especially if one compares You with familiar objects that are not even remotely comparable to You in any respect. With beautiful eyes, feet and arms, to all of which Lotus is but a poor simile, with a dazzling stature to which pure unalloyed gold is a poor comparison, You are often being pictured by the world with words that do You no justice. Any comparison of You to the worldly things is just a failed attempt to describe You. It is like some commoner who has never seen a precious stone, describing that precious stone as ‘something resembling a pebble’.
Sri NammAzhwar proceeds in the very next Pasuram to declare that even after describing His greatness by the words such as ‘Param jyoti – The Supreme Effulgence’, if one proceeds to describe His auspicious qualities – His simplicity, His Sausheelyam and His Saulabhyam, there are not enough words that can describe these aspects of the Bhagavan. Azhwar exclaims: ‘Param jyoti! Govinda! Panbu uraikka maattene’ – ‘I won’t even attempt to describe Your auspicious qualities’. So, Bhagavan is Achintyah in every sense of the word, especially when it comes to His auspicious qualities. He is Govinda who can mingle with even cows.
Sri NammAzhwar laments at the unimaginable behaviour of this Emperumaan who is Sarva lokeshvaran, who subjects Himself to the insult of being called the ‘butter thief’ – nenjaal ninaippu aridaal venney un ennum Enac-colle (Thiruviruttam 98).
Another of Sri NammAzhwar’s Pasuram explains the Nama Achintyah:
மாயனென்னெஞ்சினுள்ளன் மற்றும்யவர்க்கும் அஃதே,
காயமும்சீவனும்தானே காலுமெரியும் அவனே,
சேயன் அணியன்யவர்க்கும் சிந்தைக்கும் கோசர மல்லன்,
தூயன் துயக் கன்மயக்கன் என்னுடைத்தோளிணையானே.
Meaning: He is our body, and He is also the soul of our body; He is the soul of the panca maha bhutas (air, water, etc.)., He is aniyan – very easily accessible to His devotees; He is also Seyan – inaccessible to those who do not surrender to Him; yaavarkkum Sindaikkum gocaran allan – Achintyan – He is beyond the reach of the mental faculties of even the greatest of jnanis; tuyan – Even so, He decided to bless me by residing in my heart; tuyan – He Who considered that being with me is the only thing that He longed for in all His life; tuyakkan – By revealing His gunas, He draws us towards Him; mayakkan – He draws us to Him through the sheer joy of thinking about Him; ennudait tol inaiyaan – Such a Great One has now decided to take possession of me by sitting on my shoulders (treating me like Garuda). He is maayan – Ascarya bhutan – personification of wonders.
Sri RamanujAcharya explains that this Universe consisting of sentient and non-sentient entities, whether in effect or in causal condition, whether gross or subtle, is supported by Bhagavan with an infinitesimal fraction of His power, in such a manner that it does not violate His will in preserving its proper form, existence or various activities. He quotes from Vishnu Puranam: yasya yuta yuta amshamshe vishva Saktir-iyam stitha (V.P. 1.9.53) – On an infinitesimal fraction of His energy, this Universe rests. In other words, His full power is beyond our comprehension – He is Achintyah.
Swami ChinmayAnanda gives the reference from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 8, Verse 9), where Bhagavan is described as A-chintya-rupan – sarvasya dhaataaram Achintya rupam – The Creator of all, and One Who cannot be comprehended mentally.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan points out that He is called Achintyah because He cannot be understood through tarka or discussion and analysis, but is revealed only through the Shruti vaakyas – tarka agovarah Srutyeka gamyah.
- Bhaya-krit Bhaya-Nashanah – He causes fear to those who violate Dharma and removes fear from those who follow Dharma
Sri Adi Sankara explains the two Namas separately while Sri Bhattar takes them together.
The word ‘bhaya’ is derived from the root ‘bhi – bhaye’ meaning ‘to fear, to be anxious’. Sri Adi Sankara gives two interpretations, the first of these based on causing fear to those who follow the wrong path – ‘Asan maarga vartinaam Bhayam karoti iti Bhayakrit – He strikes terror in the minds of evil doers, hence He is called Bhayakrit’. The second interpretation is based on His offering protection to His Bhaktas – ‘Bhaktaanaam Bhayam Krintati Krinoti iti vaa Bhayakrit – He removes every fear from the minds of His devotees, hence He is called Bhayakrit’.
Sri Sankara’s interpretation for ‘Bhaya-Nashanah’ stresses the importance of following the VarnAshrama Dharmas. He interprets this Nama as ‘Varna ashrama achaaravataam Bhayam Naashayati iti Bhayanaashanah – He destroys the fear from the minds of those observing their proper duties in their respective four divisions namely Brahmins (the priests), Kshatriyas (the warriors), Vaishyas (the traders) and the Shudras (the workers). As long as people are performing their respective assigned duties they have nothing to fear and Bhagavan makes sure all their fears are dispelled.
He further quotes the following passage from the Vishnu Purana in support of his interpretation – ‘Varna ashrama achaaravataa Purushena parah Pumaan Vishnur Aaraadhyate Panthaa Naanyastat Toshakaarakah – The Supreme Bhagavan is deemed adequately worshipped by the proper observances of the four classes of duties. There is no better way to please him.
This can be understood in different ways:
- as a reference to VarnAshrama dharma – to practice the prescribed duties for the four divisions or Varnas – the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras; or
- as a reference to the practices prescribed for the four Varnas as well as for the four Ashramas -Brahmacharya, Grihasthya, Vana Prastha, and Sanyasa; or
- as a reference to the Varnas, Ashramas as well as the Acharas or the code of conduct for all these groups.
Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation is that Bhagavan creates fear in those who violate His commands, and dispels fear in those who follow them.
Bhagavan, in His Narasimha Avataar, was simultaneously Bhaya-krit (for Hiranyakashipu) and Bhaya-Nashanah (for Prahlada).
Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives the following supports for the two interpretations:
- bhaya abhayam karah Krishnah sarva-lokeshvarah prabhuh (MahaBharata) – Lord Krishna is One Who causes intense fear in those who violate the commands of Dharma, and removes fear in those who observe Dharma.
- Sakrdeva prapannaya tava asmi iti yacate |
Abhayam sarva-bhutebhyo dadamy etat vratam mama || (Yuddha Kandam 18.33)
Meaning: Lord Rama takes this vow during Vibhishana Saranagati – “He who seeks refuge in me just once, telling me that I am yours’, I shall give him assurance of safety against all types of beings. This is my solemn pledge”.
Sri NammAzhwar in his Thiruvai Mozhi (6.3.8) reflects both the attributes – Bhaya-Nashanah and Bhaya-krit – in the first and second lines of this Pasuram:
வன்சரண் சுரர்க்காய் அசுரர்க்குவெங் கூற்றமுமாய்,
தன்சரண் நிழற்கீ ழுலகம்வைத்தும் வையாதும்,
தென்சரண் திசைக்குத் திருவிண்ணகர்ச் சேர்ந்தபிரான்,
என்சரணென் கண்ணன் என்னையாளுடை என்னப்பனே..
Meaning: Surarkku van Saranaai – For His devotees, including the devas, He is the surest Protection – Bhaya-Nashanah; Aasurarukku vem kutramumaai – Just as surely, for those with a demonic disposition, He is the sure Death – Bhaya-krit; tan Saran nizar-kizh ulagam vaittum – Keeping those who have surrendered to Him under His Feet for protection; vaiyaadum – Those that have not surrendered to Him are not allowed anywhere close to His Feet. Such is the Nature of our great Kannan in Thiruvinnagar – Oppiliappan Koil.
Bhagavan’s Guna as Bhaya-Naashanah is also reflected in Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi’s Pasuram (3.10.8) – ellai il maayanai Kannanait taal patri yaan Or duhkam ilana – By surrendering to this Mayak Kannan’s divine feet, I have no more worry or sorrow.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives his interpretations for both the Namas. He gives reference from the Rig Veda (2.12.13) for Bhaya-krit:
dyava cidasmai prithivI namante, sushmacidasya parvata bhayante |
yah somapa nicito vajra-bahur-yo vajra-hastah sa janasa Indrah || (Rg. 2.12.13)
Meaning: Even the Heaven and Earth bow down before Him, before His very breath the mountains tremble. Known as the soma drinker, armed with thunder, who wields the bolt, he, o ye men, is Indra. We know that Indra shudders before Bhagavan, and so Bhagavan is the Bhaya-krit of them all, to ensure that all the gods function properly and perform their assigned duties.
In the Katha Upanishad, we have these two verses which brings out the Guna of Bhaya-krit:
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.
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 |
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.
Lord Krishna brings out His Guna of Bhaya-krit Bhaya-Naashanah in the Bhagavad Gita in the following verses:
ananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate
tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham ||B.G. 9.22
Meaning: But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them, I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.
Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksha isyami ma sucah|| BG 18.66
Meaning: Abandon all varieties of righteous actions and just surrender unto Me. I will release you from all sinful reactions. Do not despair.
Sahasraarchih Sapta-jihvah Saptaidhaah Sapta-Vaahanah |
Amurtir_Anagho’chintyo Bhaya-krit Bhaya-Naashanah ||89||
He has innumerable rays of brightness emanating from Him, hence He is called SahasrArchih. He, in His form as Agni, has got seven tongues, so He is known as Sapta-Jihvah. He, in His form of Fire, has seven flames that are kindled by seven different kinds of offerings. He, in the form of Sun, uses a chariot drawn by seven horses as His vehicle, so He is called Sapta-Vaahanah.
He is Formless Who can assume any form without any limitations, hence He is called Amurtih. He is Sinless as all His acts are selfless, so He is Anaghah. He is incomparable, incomprehensible and immeasurable, hence He is Achintyah. He causes fear to those who violate Dharma and dispels fear from those who follow Dharma, hence He is called Bhaya-krit Bhaya-Naashanah.
HARI OM TAT SAT
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.