In this part we will explore the meaning of the 90th Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.

Anur Brihat Krishas Sthulo Gunabhrin Nirguno Mahaan                       |
Adhritah Svadhritas Svaasyah Praagvamsho Vamshavardhanah ||90||

He is Atomic, Gigantic, Thin, lightweight, Oversized and heavy, having all contrasting attributes making Him Incomprehensible with human faculties. He possesses three qualities of Sattva (for Creation), Rajas (for Protection) and Tamas (for Dissolution), yet He is free from all qualities and above them. He is Supreme who is supported by none other than by Himself and is naturally superior to all.  He is peerless and foremost who expands or contracts the Universe (Vamshah) at His Will.

The above Shloka has the following Namas:

  1.    Anuh
  2.    Brihat
  3.    Krishah
  4.    Sthulah
  5.    Gunabhrit
  6.    Nirgunah
  7.    Mahaan
  8.    Adhritah
  9.    Svadhritah
  10.    Svaasyah
  11.    Praagvamshah
  12.    Vamshavardhanah

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

This Shloka has some of the Namas paired together with contrasting attributes bringing forth the art of effectively employing terms of contradiction to explain the incomprehensible nature of the Lord with the cognitive faculties of human contemplation.

Nama Meaning   Nama Meaning
Anuh Smaller than an Atom Brihat Great, All pervasive and Gigantic
Krishah Subtle, Light and Invisible Sthulah Immense, Heavy and Massive
Gunabhrit Bearer of all attributes and qualities (Gunas) Nirgunah Devoid of any attributes, qualities  or form

He is Aprameya and AmeyAtma (Immeasurable), Agrahyah (Incomprehensible), Atindriyah (cannot be known by senses) and Krishah (Invisible) yet He is Sarva-vyapi, Sarvagjnah and Sarvadarshanah (All pervasive, Omniscient and Omnipresent).

Sri Bhattar has interpreted the Namas in this Shloka in terms of the grandeur of Bhagavan, describing His Super powers such as becoming smaller than an atom or larger than anything that can be imagined etc.  Sri AnnangarAcharya notes that the powers being described are the Ashta Aishvaryas, namely – Animan, Mahima, Laghima, Garima, Praapti, Ishitam, Vashitvam and Praakaamyam.

  1.    Anuh – He has the power of becoming smaller than an Atom

fire_the_grid_earth_meditationThe word ‘Anuh’ means an atom, the smallest particle or constituent of matter and describes one His eight Aishvaryas i.e., Animan. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara defines this Nama as ‘Soukshmya Atishayatvaat Anuh – He is Anuh, because of His extreme subtleness’.

In support of this, Sri Adi Sankara gives the following passage from Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.9):
Eṣo AṇurAtma cetasa veditavyo yasminpraṇaḥ pancadha saṃvivesha |
praṇaishcittaṃ sarvamotaṃ prajaanaṃ yasminvishuddhe vibhavatyeṣa Atma || 9 ||
Meaning: This subtle Atman should be known by the mind as being in the body, whose prana entered in five different forms; the mind in all creatures is pervaded by these pranas. When it is purified, then the Atman shines out of itself.

This Atman, who is thus seen, is subtle can only be imagined and known by the mind, i.e., by the mere intellect that is purified. Where is this Atman? In the body which, as prana in five different forms, has well entered. He should be known by the mind as existing in the body, i.e., in the heart. When the mind is purified, i.e., freed from the taint of grief, desire, greed etc., then this Atman shines out, shows itself out, by itself.

Sri Parasara Bhattar comments that the Nama signifies His ability to enter into the infinitesimally small void space known as ‘Dahara Akasham’ in the hearts of beings, into Prakriti, and also into the subtle Jivas as He is extremely subtle. Sri Bhattar refers to the Katha Upanishad (1.2.20) to support this interpretation:
Aṇor Aṇiyaan mahato mahiyan Atmasya jantornihito guhayaṃ |
tamakratuḥ pashyati vitashoko dhatuḥ prasadanma himanam Atmanaḥ || 20 ||
Meaning: Subtler than the subtle, greater than the great, in the heart of each living being, the Atman reposes. One free from desire, with his mind and the senses composed, sees the glory of the Atman and becomes absolved from grief.

These Ashta Aishvaryas (powers) are natural to Him.  Sri V.V. Ramanujan points out that some of these powers are also given to those who are bestowed with His grace or blessing. He gives the example of Hanuman, who had the ability to alternate between a very large form and a very small form at will in an instant, which he demonstrate while crossing the Ocean and in his encounter with Surasa (Sundara Kandam). 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri notes that the ability of the eye to see something is limited by a lower limit and an upper limit with respect to size.  Bhagavan is not constrained by any such limit on either end of the spectrum.  He is beyond all the sensory perceptions.  Sri Shastri gives several references to the Shruti in support:

  • Anor-Aniyaan (Katha Upanishad 1.2.20) – Subtler than the subtle
  • na hi sujneyam Anur-esha Dharmah (Katha Upanishad 1.1.21) – The truth is very subtle and not easily comprehensible.
  • yad-anubhyo’nu ca (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.2) – That which is smaller than the small.
  • aniyaan hyatarkyam anu paramaanaat (Katha Upanishad 1.2.8) – It is subtler than the subtle and beyond realization through reasoning alone.
  • Esha sa Atmantar-hridaye aniyaan vriher-va yavad-va sarshapad-va Syamakad-va Syamaka-tandulad-va… (Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.3) – This great Being, the Supreme Brahman is in one’s own heart who is as fine and subtle as one can conceive of. It is the subtlest. It is most subtle even among those that we regard as very subtle in this world. The Supreme Being is subtler than a grain of rice or paddy, subtler than a grain of millet, subtler than the kernel of this grain, so small, subtler than a mustard seed etc. who is seated in one’s heart.
  • Sa ya esho Anima (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7) – This (Sat) is subtle.

Swami ChinmayAnanda gives the support from the Bhagavad Gita – ‘Sarvasya caaham hridi sannivishtah – I am seated in everyone’s heart’.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta notes that it is by His Anutvam that He is present everywhere, and permeates everything, including the subtle Jiva.  He also gives an interpretation based on the root word ‘Ana – Sabde’ meaning ‘to sound’, and indicates that the Nama suggests that He, in the form of the sound, pervades the ether, and is also the cause of the sound that emanates from the different life-forms etc. 

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives his interpretation based on the meaning ‘Anati – Sabdayati’ meaning ‘makes known or reveals’ – Anati Sabdayati vedaadi Shastram iti Anuh – He Who reveals the Shastras such as the Vedas etc.

  1.    Brihat – He is Gigantic

TrivikramaThis Nama describes His Aishvarya or power called ‘Mahima’ – of becoming greater than anything that we know of as great.   The emphasis here is His power of vastness, in contrast to the Anutva in the previous Nama.

The root word for this Nama is ‘Brh’ which means ‘to grow or increase’. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Brihatvaat Brimhanatvaat cha Bramha Brihat’ – He is immensely huge and also has the ability to grow beyond any limits, hence He is called Brihat. Sri Sankara gives the following passage from Katha Upanishad (1.2.20) to support this – ‘Mahato Maheeyaan – He is greater than great’. It may be noted that Brihat is exactly opposite to Anuh, showing Bhagavan’s qualities are beyond human logic and comprehension. He can project Himself into extreme and contrasting attributes.

Sri Parasara Bhattar describes His greatness in terms of His pervasiveness. Even the vast transcendental world (Parama Padam) can be contained in a corner of His palm.  Sri Thirumangai Azhwar refers to Bhagavan as ‘Alattarku ariyaay’ (Periya Thirumozhi 3.8.1) – He who cannot be measured.  

Sri Bhattar gives reference from the Purusha Suktam (1):
Sahasra sirsa purusah sahasraksah sahasrapat
sa bhumim visvato vrtva atyatisthad dasangulam ||
Meaning: The Supreme Lord in the form of the Universe, has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet, for He contains all the living entities (in this context thousand means Infinite). Having pervaded the Universe completely to give it existence, being independent, He extended Himself beyond it endlessly (Dasangulam here means in different directions or is endless and transcendental).

Bhagavan’s vastness is further explained in Verse 4 of Purusha Suktam:
tripad urdhva udait purusah pado ‘syeha ‘bhavat-punah
tato visvan vyakramat sasana nasane abhi ||
Meaning: Three quarters of the Lord transcends the material portion. His one quarter of material energy becomes this creation again (and again). Then He pervades this Universe comprising a variety of sentient beings and insentient objects.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives references from the Shrutis to explain this Nama:
hamsah sucisad vasur antariksasad dheta
vedisad atithir duronasat|
nrsad varasad rtasad vyomasad
abja goja rtaja adrija rtam brhat || Rig Veda 4.40.5 & Katha Upanishad 2.2.2
Meaning: The brilliant Sun, the wind in the atmosphere, the fire on the altar, the guest in the house, the dweller in man, and dweller in those above them, resident in the world of truth, dweller in the celestial sky, water-born, earth-born, born of yagna, mountain-born – All these are ‘Rtam Brhat’, that is, are of the nature of the Brahman which is unlimited Truth.

In the Svetasvatara Upanishad (3.7), it says:
tataḥ paraṃ brahma paraṃ bṛihantaṃ yathaanikaayaṃ sarvabhuteṣu guḍhaṃ
vishvasyaikaṃ pariveṣṭitaaram ishaṃ taṃ jnatvamṛta bhavanti ||
Meaning: The Supreme Lord is higher than Virat, beyond Hiranyagarbha. He is vast and is hidden in the bodies of all living beings. By knowing Him, who alone pervades the Universe, men become immortal.

Swami ChinmayAnanda explains the two Namas ‘Anuh and Brihat’ as follows: These two Namas may seem paradoxical, but the apparent contradiction dissolves into an illuminating experience for the contemplative mind.  In fact, the Upanishad talks of these two qualities in the same breath – Anor-Aniyaan mahato mahIyaan Atma’sya jantor-nihitam guhaayaam (Katha Upanishad 1.2.20) – Subtler than the subtle and great than the great is lodged in the cave of the heart.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj interprets this as ‘barhati vardhate pratipadam Shobhayaam iti Brihat – He Who enhances or increases the beauty everywhere. Whatever beauty exists in anything, is because of Him.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja interprets the Nama as ‘Gunaih vriddha – He Who is enhanced in His Gunas or auspicious qualities.

  1.    Krishah – He Who has the ability to be lighter than light and Invisible

tula3This Nama represents another of the Ashta Aishvaryas, called Laghima, or the ability to be lighter than anything that we know is light.  The root from which the Nama is derived is ‘Krish – tanukarane’ meaning ‘to become lean or thin or light-weighted’.  The Nama is interpreted as referring to the ability to be lean or thin, or to be light, depending on the interpreter. 

Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Asthulam ityadina dravyapratishedhat Krishah – He is capable of becoming so thin that He is beyond anything material in nature’.  Another version of Sri Adi Sankara’s commentary is ‘Asthulam ityadina drishyatvapratishedhat Krishah – He is capable of becoming so thin that He becomes invisible’.

When Satyabama became exasperated and sought Rukmini’s help in Thulabaram He made Himself so light when Rukmini prayed and placed a mere Tulsi leaf and that was enough to bring the scale back into balance!

He quotes the following supporting passage beginning with Asthulam from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.8.8):
sa hovaca, etadvai tadaksharaḥ, Gargi brahmaṇa abhivadanti,
asthulamanaṇvahrasva ma dirgha ma lohita ma sneha ma cchaya matamo’-vaayvana akaasha masaṅga ma cakshuṣka ma shrotra ma vāgamano’-tejaska ma praṇa ma mucha ma matra ma anantara ma bahyam, na tadashnati kiṃcana, na tadashnati kashcana || 8 ||
Meaning:  Yagnavalkya said: O Gargi, the knowers of Brahman say, this Immutable (Brahman) is that. It is neither gross nor minute, neither short nor long, neither red colour nor oiliness, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether, unattached, neither savour nor odour, without eyes or ears, without the vocal organ or mind, non-luminous, without the vital force or mouth, not a measure, and without interior or exterior. It does not eat anything, nor is It eaten by anybody.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the Nama in terms of His ability to be lighter than anything light.  Sri Bhattar explains that He is lighter than cotton, wind, etc., and so His movement is unimpeded on all sides and in all respects – ‘sarvatra avyahata gatih’. He quotes from the MahaBharata in support – ‘yatra-kaama-gato vashi’ – He can go wherever He chooses. 

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan interpretation is that Bhagavan is so thin that He can be even inside a rock unobstructed, because of His Krishatvam i.e. leanness or thinness – Silaasvapi apratihat praveshatvaat Krishah. 

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri summarises this Nama and the next one, by observing that the question of whether Bhagavan is lean or hefty, can be answered only if He can be seen. If He is either so huge that we do not even see Him, or so lean that we cannot see Him, then the question of whether He is lean or huge cannot be answered. That is the Nature of Bhagavan, whom we cannot see.  In fact, the passage that Sri Sankara quotes from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, referring to Bhagavan as ‘Asthulam’, and in the very next word says that Bhagavan is ‘an-anu’.  The point to be understood is that He can be whatever He chooses to be, whenever He chooses to be, and He can become anything He wants from being smaller than an atom to a gigantic form in the minutest fraction of time. In other words, He is devoid of all attributes, for He is One without a second; so what is there that can be specified, and through what? He is Immeasurable and Incomprehensible.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj’s interpretation is:  ‘Krishyati tanukaroti svajana vipadam iti Krishah – He Who reduces or eliminates the difficulties of His devotees. 

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta takes the generic meaning for the root – ‘Krish’ meaning ‘to make lean’, and refers to Bhagavan creating the creatures of various forms with features as needed for their survival and comfort. 

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja’s interpretation is: ‘daityaan karshayati iti Krishah – He Who makes `light work’ of the Asuras or He Who destroys the evil Asuras with ease. 

  1.    Sthulah – He Who is Immense

Trinavarta 1This Nama describes the ‘Garima’ Aishvarya of His ability to become as big and heavy as He wishes.  The Nama is based on the root word ‘Sthul – paribrhamane’ meaning ‘become big or stout, grow bulky or fat’.  Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Sthulah iti Upacharyate Sarvatmatvaat – He is described figuratively as the ‘mammoth One’ because He is the collective embodiment of all living creatures, so He is called Sthulah’.

When Trinavarta took the child Krishna high into the sky, Krishna made Himself so heavy that it choked the Asura who finally fell to the ground unable to bear the weight.

Sri Bhattar comments that since Bhagavan has the ability to touch any object in any world even while standing in one place, He is called Sthulah.  This Nama is demonstrated in Bhagavan’s Trivikrama Avataar. 

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives references from the Divya Prabhandam. He quotes Sri NammAzhwar’s Pasuram – taal parappi mann thaaviya Ishan (Thiruvai Mozhi 3.3.11), and Sri Andal’s Thiruppavai – O’ngi ulagalandha Utthaman  (both Pasurams refer to the Bhagavan’s Trivikrama Avataar) to describe this Nama. 

Sri Vasishtha quotes the Mantra 4 from Ishavasya Upanishad in support:
anejadekam manaso javIyo naiand-deva Apnuvan purvamarshat    |
tad-dhavato’nyanatyeti tishthat tasminnapo maatarishva dadhati   || 
Meaning: Brahman is One without a second or an equal. It never moves, yet it goes faster than the mind. The Devas could not overtake it as It is always ahead; the sense organs can never catch up with it. It is still, yet it defeats all in a race. By its power, Matarisva (Prana or Vital Air), it allots (or supports) all activities.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives the explanation – Koti Brahmanda vigrahatvaat Sthulah – Since Bhagavan is in the form of Infinite BrahmAndas, He is Sthulah.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri comments that as a consequence of His Aishvarya or power of being Anuh, Brihat, Krishah, Sthulah etc., at will, no one can comprehend Him from one moment to the next.  Sri Shastri draws attention to the similarity of this Nama with `Sthavishtha’ (Nama 437 in Shloka 47) as the latter Nama is made up of a combination of `Sthula’ and `Ishtha’, giving the meaning ‘He Who has willed to be huge’.  

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives the interpretation as ‘Sthulayati brimhayati svajana sampadam iti Sthulah – He Who grows or enhances enormously the wealth of His devotees, is Sthulah.  The `wealth’ for the devotees can be in the form of their eternal bliss enjoyed in the act of performing kainkaryams to Him and to His devotees, and need not necessarily refer only to material wealth.

  1. Guna-bhrit – He bears all the Attributes (Gunas)

sri-padmanabha-swamy-thiruvananthapuramThis Nama is an expression of His Aishvarya or power of Ishitvam – Lordship. Guna is a quality or an attribute such as Daya (Mercy), Karunya (Compassion) etc., and also refers to the three attributes, namely Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. In this Nama, Bhagavan is described as possessing these qualities or attributes.

Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Sattva Rajas Tamasaam Srishti Sthiti Laya Karmasu Adhishthaatritvaat Gunabhrit – Since He supports the qualities of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas to varying degrees in the different beings as part of His functions of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution, He is Gunabhrit’. He is a storehouse of the various attributes as Creation requires Sattva Guna, Sustenance requires Rajo Guna and Dissolution requires Tamo Guna and therefore called Gunabhrit or One Who bears all these three qualities.

Sri Bhattar expands the meaning of Guna-bhrit to cover everything that is subject to the three Gunas. He interprets the Nama as a reference to Bhagavan’s Supreme power of Lordship, ruling over all things in all their states, and supporting them. By His mere Will (Sva-Sankalpa), He supports all of them in their different states, so He is called Guna-bhrit.  He gives the support from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.22) – ‘Sarvasya Vashi Sarvasya Ishanah Sarvasya Adhipathi -The Supreme Lord governs material nature and everything within it. He is God of all and is the Supreme Authority for everyone’.

Sri Vasishtha gives this explanation for this Nama as –‘Guna Daya Daakshinya-dayah Sattva Rajas Tamas Adayashca, teshaam bhrit dhaaraka ityarthah – Because of His attributes of Mercy and Compassion, He supports the three Gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, that distinguishes the different beings.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives a similar interpretation – Gunan Sattvadeen bibharti iti Guna-bhrit.  Swami ChinmayAnanda also comments that since Bhagavan supports the three Gunas by assuming the Sattva Guna in His process of Creation, the Rajo Guna in the process of Protection, and the Tamo Guna in the process of Annihilation – He is Guna-bhrit, the bearer of the three Gunas.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives the explanation – Gunan jnana Anandamadhurya vaatsalyaadeen bibharti iti Guna-bhrit – He Who possesses the qualities such as perfection in knowledge about the past, present and future of everything at all times, absolute bliss, the ability to be kind and sweet even to the enemies, attachment to His devotees like that of a cow to its calf, etc.

  1.    Nirgunah – He Who is Formless and bereft of attributes

milky-wayThis Nama is an expression of His Aishvarya of Vashitvam that represents the Supreme power of holding others in a magical spell at His will.  However, this Nama conveys that Bhagavan, in essence, is devoid of form or qualities. He is Nirguna and Niraakaar in His pure form.

Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Vastuto Gunaabhaavaat NirGunah – Intrinsically He is devoid of all qualities (though he assumes specific qualities when He is performing specific functions) hence he is NirGunah’. Sri Sankara quotes from Svetasvatara Upanishad (6.11) which says ‘sarvabhutadhivaasaḥ saakṣi ceta kevalo nirguṇash ca – He is One God, hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the self within all beings, watching over all works, dwelling in all beings, the witness, the perceiver, the only one, free from qualities’. So in essence He is untouched and untainted by qualities, hence He is Nirgunah.

The Namas Guna-bhrit and NirGunah are contradictory, but in the case of Bhagavan, they are consistent Gunas as we see in the various interpretations.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interpretats this Nama as ‘atatvashyataya tat-samsparshe’pi asprishta-tad-Gunah Nir-Gunah’ – Even though He is in contact with all the Jivas at all the time, He is not tainted by their defects, since He is not subject to any one, and is above all of them.  He has the Supreme power of holding others under His magical spell. He gives the following references to support his interpretation:

  • Vishvasya mishato vashi (Taittriya Upanishad 3.6.1) – He bewitches the entire world with His wide-open eyes.
  • Sattvadayo na santeeshe yatra ca prakrita Gunah (Vishnu Puranam 9.44) Sattva and other Gunas that are in the Prakriti have no place in Bhagavan, the Ruler.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the explanation – Prakrita Guna-traya virahitatvaat Nir-Gunah. Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives a similar interpretation – Sattvadi Guna rahitatvaat Nir-Gunah.

  1.    Mahaan – He is Supreme

Maha VishnuThis Nama signifies the Aishvarya called Praakaamyam (Irresistible will), the power of achieving whatever He desires. Mahaan is somebody who is great or Supreme. Sri Adi Sankara gives a detailed interpretation of Bhagavan’s greatness and says ‘Shabdaadi Guna rahitatvaat, Niratishaya Sukshmatvaat, Nityashuddha Sarvagatatvaadinaa cha Pratibandhakam Dharmajaatam Tarkatopi yato vaktum na shakyam ata eva Mahaan – He is removed from the defining properties such as sound, touch, form, taste and smell; He is immeasurably subtle; He is ever pure and all pervading; He knows no obstacles; He cannot be described fully even for the sake of argument; All these make Him Mahaan, the Supreme personality’.

Sri Adi Sankara quotes from Aapastamba Sutram which says ‘Anango Ashabdo Ashareero Asparshashcha Mahaan Chuchih – He has no limbs, no sound, no body, no touch and He is truly a pure Mahaan, Supreme person’. Sri Sankara explains the Nama in terms of the impossibility of constraining Him to a description even for the sake of discussion – tarkato’pi yato vaktum na Sakyam, because He is One to whom sound and other attributes have no reference, One who is immeasurably subtle, One who is ever pure and all- pervading, One about whom anything in the nature of an obstacle cannot be advanced’.

The root from which the Nama is derived is Maha-pujayam – to honor, to delight, to increase. Mahaan means ‘One who is worthy of worship.  Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama Mahaan in terms of His Supreme excellence in everything – Parama prakarshaat Mahaan. He can plunge into the earth as He wishes, and emerge out of it as He wants, just as we can enter water and get out of it at will.  Sri Bhattar gives the following from MahaBharata support:
samprayojya viyojyaayam kaamakaarakarah prabhuh |
yad-yad-icchet ayam Saurih tat-tat kuryaat ayatnatah  ||
Meaning: The powerful Lord, Sauri, acts as He chooses.  He unites and separates things as He likes. Whatever He chooses to do, He can accomplish it without any effort.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri describes Praakaamyam as the ability to enter others’ mind at will, make them remember or forget things at will, etc.  Sri Shastri further explains the Nama as signifying that He is beyond comprehension and description by words, thoughts or other means. For instance, the previous six Namas described Him in contrasting extremes (small, big, thin, huge, full of Gunas, devoid of Gunas). He is unconstrained by form, space, time, etc., so He is referred to as Mahaan.

Swami ChinmayAnanda echoes the same thought – ‘He is not conditioned by the five elements, nor by time and space’.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj explains this Nama as ‘Mahyate pujyate BrahmAdibhih iti Mahaan – He who is worshiped by the likes of Brahma is Mahaan. Sri Vasishtha explains as ‘Mahyate pujyate iti Mahaan – He Who is worthy of worship’.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives the interpretation – ‘Sarvaih abhyarcayatvaat Mahaan – He is called Mahaan because He is worshipped by everyone.

The Story of SakatAsura

sakatasuraThe little Krishna was just three months old. He was just beginning to turn over on his belly. There was great joy in the heart of Yashoda when she saw her son lying on his stomach and smiling at her. She wanted to celebrate the occasion and invited all the ladies of Gokula. Gathered in a large group, they all went to the banks of the Yamuna. In the midst of the sound of drums, music and chanting of Mantras the child was given a ceremonial bath.

Yashoda found Krishna too tired and sleepy after the bath. As it was sunny she placed the cradle under a big unyoked cart standing nearby and gently laid him.  She busied herself in serving the large number of guests who had come for the event. The child got up after a while and started crying. But in the din of the crowd, Yashoda did not hear the child’s cries. Krishna became very agitated and began to kick with his tiny legs. As Krishna began to kick with his tiny legs, the cart shook and collapsed with a great sound. The wheels separated from the axle. Some of the other children who were watching it got scared and ran to Yashoda and informed her of the baby’s incredible feat.

Yashoda and the others got scared and came running to the cart. Everyone was surprised and frightened. All the boys who witnessed the feat said with absolute certainty that the cart was upset by the kick of the baby. But the elders could not believe their words. Yashoda thought that probably the child might have been possessed and immediately called the priests to chant Mantras to exorcise the ghost. But the baby was least affected by those things. He was once again playing merrily looking with his bewitching smile at everyone. The fact was that SakatAsura had taken the form of a cart on the advice of Kamsa. He had come to Gokula with the intention of running away with the child. But the Lord, in the form of a baby, knew everything and with a kick of his foot destroyed the cart and the Asura.

The Lord is Mahaan as He has the power of achieving whatever He desires. Jai Shri Krishna!

  1.    Adhritah – One Who is Unconstrained not requiring any support

Maha Vishnu 6This Nama represents the Aishvarya called ‘Praapti’ that denotes His ability to achieve anything. It is based on the root word ‘Dhri’ meaning ‘to hold or support’, so Adhritah refers to someone who does not any support from anyone or anything. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Prithivyaadeenaam Dhaarakanamapi Dhaarakatvaat Na kenachit Dhriyate iti Adhritah – He supports even objects like the Earth which support everything else but He is not supported by any other entity, hence He is called Adhritah, the unsupported one’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains this Nama in the context of His being totally unobstructed or unconstrained in His ability to achieve anything He wants. He has the power to achieve anything He wants, without any constraint or limitation.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishta rhetorically asks the question – yo hi sarvasya dhata sa kena dhritah syat? –  How can He be supported by anything when He is the Supporter and Sustainer of everything?

Swami ChinmayAnanda gives the example that just as cotton is the support behind the cloth, gold is the support behind the golden ornaments, and mud is the support behind the mud pot, so also Bhagavan is the support behind everything in the Universe, and we should meditate on Sriman Narayana as the support behind us.

  1.    Sva-dhritah – One Who is Self-Sustained

mahavishnuSva means self and hence Svadhritah refers to someone who is self-supporting. In Shloka 5, the Lord is called ‘Svayambhuh’ meaning One who exists by Himself.  Sri Adi Sankara explains this as ‘Yadi evam ayam kena Dhaaryate iti Aashankyaaha Svenaiva Aatmanaa Dhaaryate iti Svadhritah – From the previous name a doubt might arise ‘who then supports Bhagavan?, and the answer is that Bhagavan is supported by Himself and so He is called Svadhritah, one who supports Himself’. To support this interpretation, Sri Sankara quotes from Chandogya Upanishad (7.24.1) ‘Sa bhagavahkasmin pratishthita iti, sve mahimni – Where does that Immensity abide, Sir? It abides in its own glory.’

Sri Bhattar explains this Nama by extending the meaning from the previous Nama and declares that His Sovereignty does not depend on anything else, and is innate and natural to Him. This distinguishes the sublime nature of ParamAtman from the greatness that the bound souls (Baddha Jivas) can acquire through meditations, austerities etc. Bhagavan’s sublimity is not dependent on meditation or austerities, but is natural to Him.

All the other gods, who are all enjoying the effects of their Karmas like the rest of us, are established and supported by Him so that they can be considered Gods.  Sri NammAzhwar in this Thiruvai Mozhi (5.2.8) Pasuram says  – ‘Niruttinaan daiva’ngalaaga ad-daiva naayagan thaane– The other gods have been established by Him and He is the Lord of gods in the Universe’.  It is He who accepts all the offering that devotees make to their Ishtadevatas. 

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 21), Lord Krishna says:
yo yo yam yam tanum bhaktah sraddhayarcitum icchati |
tasya tasyacalam sraddham tam eva vidadhamy aham ||
Meaning: Whichever God a particular devotee desires to worship with faith, I surely sustain that faith firmly in Him.

He is One and Only Supreme Deity who is peerless – Eko ha vai Narayana Asit (Maha Upanishad 1.1).

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri points out that by logic, anything that supports something is supported by something else. If the question is continually asked, there comes a point at which we realize that everything else is supported by One, the Supreme Self.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj gives the meaning sva-janah to the term sva, and gives the interpretation – svaih sva-janaih dhritah citte iti sva-dhritah – He Who is held in mind by the devotees.

Sri Satya Sandha Yatiraja gives a different perspective and interprets the term ‘svam’ as referring to dhanam or wealth, and gives the explanation that ‘svamdhanam dhritam yena iti Sva-dhritah – He Who supports and sustains prosperity and well-being in everything else.

  1.    Svaasyah – He is Peerless

HayagreevaThis is the combination of ‘Su’ and ‘Aasyah’ meaning good or beautiful face. Sri Adi Sankara gives two interpretations, the first of which is ‘Shobhanam Padmodara talavat taamram Abhirupatamam Asya Aasyam iti Svaasyah – His face is rosy and bewitching like the inside of a Lotus flower’.

His second interpretation is ‘Vedaatmako Mahaan Shabdaraashih tasya Mukhaat nirgatah Purushaarthopadeshaartham iti vaa Svaasyah – All the Vedic texts emanated from His mouth for the benefit of people to attain their life goals, hence He is called Svaasyah, one with auspicious mouth or the originator of Vedas’. He quotes from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.10) to support his interpretation:
Asya mahato bhūtasya niḥśvasitam etad yad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇaṃ vidyā upaniṣadaḥ ślokāḥ sūtrāṇy anuvyākhyānāni vyākhyānani asyaivaitāni niśvasitāni
Meaning: The Vedas, Puranas and all texts emanated from His breath, hence He is called Svaasyah.

The word ‘Asya’ refers to ‘status’, and is derived from the root ‘As – upaveshane’ meaning ‘to sit or seat’ (e.g., Asanam). Sri Bhattar uses this meaning for the word Asyam and explains the meaning for this Nama as ‘One Who has a glorious status’. Sri Bhattar notes that even though in Sri Vaikuntham, the mukta jivas have saamyam with Bhagavan in their status, His status is superior in the sense that it was never subject to nescience at any time unlike in the case of the mukta jivas.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha explains this as ‘Sobhana, Sobhana Asya yasya Svaasyah – One Who has a magnificent or superior status; or, Asanam AsyA, svayam svasmin Asya yasya sa Svaasyah  – One Who has His own innate natural superior status.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri summarises this explanation as ‘One Whose status is such that it never was, is, or will be, tainted by ignorance etc.’ Thus, His status is uniquely superior to that of the mukta Jivas.

Sri Krishnadatta Bharadvaj also gives the same interpretation – Sobhanam Asyanm vadanamyasya aiti Svaasyah.

  1.    Praagvamshah – He Who is eternal and foremost

AnanthasayanamThe word ‘Praak’ means first or foremost and Vamsha refers to a race or dynasty. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Anyasya Vamshino Vamshaa Paashchaattyaah ; Asya Vamshah Prapanchah Praageva, Na Paashchaattya iti Praagvamshah – His dynasty, namely the Universe, is the most ancient one; All other dynasties came much later and hence He is called Praagvamshah, the one with the most ancient dynasty. There are many famous dynasties such as the Surya Vamsha, Chandra Vamsha, Yadu Vamsha etc. but they all came later compared to the Cosmos, hence He is Praagvamshah.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets ‘Praak’ to refer to the nitya suris or the eternally liberated souls who have been in Sri Vaikuntham from the earliest of times. He interprets the term ‘Vamsha’ to mean ‘support’ or ‘Adhaara’. Sri Bhattar gives the explanation for the Nama as ‘He Who is the eternal support for the foremost souls – the nitya suris in Sri Vaikuntham’. He uses the Purusha Sukta Shloka 16 in support: Yatra purve saadhyaah Santidevah – Paramapadam is the place of Lord Narayana where from time immemorial the Saadhya devatas (the ever free Angels) live.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri notes that it is customary to name the different races after someone who is very important and prominent in that race – for instance, the Chandra Vamsha, the Surya Vamsha, the Raghu Vamsha, the Yadu Vamsha etc. In this sense, Bhagavan is the foremost in the Vamsha of the nitya-suris, hence He is Praagvamshah.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj interprets the term vamsham as referring to progeny, and he takes the term praag to refer to Catur-mukha- Brahma, and gives the explanation that the Nama means ‘One Who has Brahma as His progeny – praa’ncati it praag Brahma; sa vamshah santaano yasya iti praag-vamshah.

Sri Vasishtha derives the meaning from the root ‘anc – gati pujanayoh’ meaning ‘to go, to worship’, and takes the meaning ‘to go’ in the current context  and gives the explanation for the Nama as: prakarshena ancati Sabdaayate sambahajate ca – Praag-vamSah – He Who moves around majestically, and Whose greatness is expressed clearly or loudly.

850.   Vamshavardhanah – He expands and dissolves the Universe as He pleases 

krisha-birth-testAs in the previous Nama, Sri Adi Sankara has placed the interpretation of Vamsha as the Universe since it is the dynasty of Bhagavan. Sri Sankara’s explanation is ‘Vamsham Prapancham Vardhayan Chedayan Vaa Vamshavardhanah – He expands the Universe in His role as the Protector and also destroys it when the time comes in His role as the Destroyer, hence He is called Vamshavardhanah.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the term Vamsha (progeny) to refer to the three types of Jivas that he has referred to in the previous Namas.  He described Sva-dhritah as Bhagavan is superior over the baddhas who may have some of the same Ashta Aishvaryas obtained through meditation, prayer, etc.  He described Svaasyah as Bhagavan is superior over the muktas, who have a status equivalent to Him in many respects, but who were once clouded by nescience. And Praag-vamshah as One who is superior over the Nitya suris, the eternal souls in Sri Vaikuntham, since He is their origin, source and eternal support. Sri Bhattar concludes the gist of the three Namas with Vamsha-vardhanah, as referring to Bhagavan being the One who fosters and grows all the three categories of Jivas.

He interprets the current Nama as Bhagavan is the cause for ever increasing the kainkarya rasam (the desire to do eternal service to Him) in the three types of Jivas.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to NammAzhwar’s Pasuram from Thiruvai Mozhi (9.3.4):
மருந்தே நங்கள்போகமகிழ்ச்சிக் கென்று
பெருந்தேவர்குழாங்கள் பிதற்றும்பிரான்
கருந்தேவனெம்மான் கண்ணன் விண்ணுலகம்
தருந்தேவனைச் சோரேல்கண்டாய்மனமே.
Meaning: The devas, nitya suris etc., offer their obeisance to the Lord in incoherent words – because they are overwhelmed with their feelings on the thought of the Lord, and declare that He is the medicine that offers them Paramapadam, their ultimate bhogam or enjoyment, the tonic that enhances their happiness, pleasure of life and their sustaining force which they want to hold tight to their heart.

The ever-increasing pleasure in worshipping Him and doing kainkaryam to Him and His devotees seek that in life is the real Vamshavardhanam.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadwaj also gives his interpretation similar to that of Sri Bhattar: Vamsham bhaktanam vardhayate iti Vamsha-vardhanah – He Who grows His devotees.

Sri Satyasandha Yatiraja gives the example of His growing the Vamsha of Pandavas by protecting Parikshit – ‘Parikshit-samrakshanena Pandu- kulam vardhayati iti Vamshavardhanah.

In Summary

Anur Brihat Krishas Sthulo Gunabhrin Nirguno Mahaan                      |
Adhritah Svadhritas Svaasyah Praagvamsho Vamshavardhanah ||90||

krishnaHe is Anuh because of His ability to become smaller than an atom and for His extreme subtleness. He is gigantic and has the ability to grow beyond any limits in an instant, hence He is called Brihat. He is capable of becoming so thin to become invisible that He is beyond anything material in nature, so He is called Krishah.  He is described figuratively as the ‘mammoth One’ because He is the collective embodiment of all living creatures and He is All pervasive, so He is called Sthulah. He supports the qualities of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas to varying degrees in the different beings as part of His functions of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution, hence He is Gunabhrit. Even though He is in contact with all the Jivas at all the time, He is untainted by their defects as He is not subject to any one, and is above all of them, hence He is Nirgunah. He wields the power of achieving whatever He desires at His will and hence He is called Mahaan, Supreme or Great.

He supports even objects like the Earth which support everything else but He is not supported by any other entity, hence He is called Adhritah, the unsupported one. His Sovereignty does not depend on anything else, and is innate and natural to Him, so He is Svadhritah. He has His own innate natural superior status and hence He is Svaasyah. He is the eternal and the foremost who supports all souls including the nitya suris and hence He is Praagvamshah. He expands the Universe in His role as the Protector and also destroys it when the time comes in His role as the Destroyer, hence He is called Vamshavardhanah.



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


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