In this part, we will explore the meaning of the 102nd Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Aadhaaranilayo Dhata Pushpahaasah Prajaagarah |
Urdhvagah Satpathacharah Praanadah Pranavah Panah ||102||
He supports the five basic elements and He is the Creator. He blooms Himself into a Universe like a flower and is ever alert and awake to His devotees’ needs. He is above all and He follows the path of Dharma, leading by example in His Avataars. He is the Life-Giver and is the Primordial Mantra – ‘AUM’. He delivers the fruits of actions in accordance with one’s Karmas and He is bound by His devotees’ love, and is ready to be subservient to them.
The above Shloka has the following Namas:
- Dhata (or Adhata)
Now let’s examine the meaning of the above Namas in detail:
- Adhaara-nilayah – The Abode of those who support the world through their righteous actions
The word Aadhaara means support and Nilaya means vesting or staying. Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Prithivyaadeenam Pancha bhutaanaam Aadhaaranam Aadhaaratvaat Aadhaaranilayah – He supports the five basic elements or the Pancha Bhutas such as the Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Ether, that support all others, hence He is called Aadhaaranilayah, the basic support or the support for all that supports the Universe’.
Sri Parasara Bhattar specifically gives the example of the likes of Prahlada, Vibhishana, the Pandavas, etc., whose righteous conduct in life is an example for us, and thus serve as the support for the world to follow. Bhagavan is the abode for such pious men, and so He is called Adhaara-nilayah – Dharmikataya jagad-Adhaarah Prahlada-Vibhishana-Pandavadayah, tesham nilayah Ahdaara-nilayah.
Sri Parasara Bhattar quotes a Shloka from Vishnu Smriti in support:
Varnashrama Acara-parah santahshaastraika tatparaah |
tvam dhare! dhaarayishyanti teshu tvad bhaaram Ahitam ||
Meaning: O’ Mother Earth! Those who strictly adhere to the rules of conduct stipulated for different varnas and stages of life, and also scrupulously follow the dictates of the Shastras, enjoy your support.
The ones who follow righteous actions also keep this earth keeps going; these are the ones who are supported by Bhagavan in their Dharmic conduct – Adhaara-nilayah.
Sri NammAzhwar in his Periya Thiruvandadhi Pasuram (75), gives a very interesting perspective where he says:
புவியும் இருவிசும்பும் நினகத்த, நீயென்
செவியின் வழிபுகுந்தென் னுள்ளாய்,- அவிவின்றி
யான்பெரியன் நீபெரியை என்பதனை யாரறிவார்,
ஊன்பருகு நேமியாய்! உள்ளு.
Meaning: It is true that You support everything including all the worlds, the skies, etc. But now You reside inside me by entering inside me through my ears, and thus I am supporting You inside me. Now You tell me whether You are supporting me or I am supporting You – whether You are the bigger One or I am the bigger one. You tell me, Emperumaan with the Chakra that drinks the blood of Your enemies.
The above Pasuram of Azhwar gives an alternative interpretation that Bhagavan resides in the hearts and minds of those who follow Dharmic path (Adhaara), and so He has the Nama Adhaara-nilayah.
In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 18) Bhagavan says:
Udarah sarva evaite jnani tva atmaiva me matam
Asthitah sa hi yuktatma mam evanuttamam gatim ||
Meaning: All these devotees are indeed generous, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me, I consider him to be My own very self; for he is devoted to Me attains highest end.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha explains the Nama as – Jagad Adhaaranaam api dhaaraka iti Adhaara-nilayah – He is the support of all those that are considered to be supporting the world e.g. Sun, Earth etc. This means that He supports all that exists including the Devas such as Brahma, Rudra, Indra etc. and all the Planets and their Moons, the Pancha Maha bhutas, etc. He is also present in every living being as their antaryami, supporting them in every act of theirs.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives numerous examples from the Shruti in support:
Yatah Surya udetyastam yatraca gacchati |
Tadeva manye’ham jyeshTham tadu nAtyeti ki’ncana || (atharva. 10.8.16)
Meaning: I am that Supreme because of which the Sun rises, sets, and rests. Nothing surpasses the Will of this Supreme.
Na te Vishno jayamano na jato deva mahimnah paramantamapa |
Udastabhna naakamrshvam brihantam daadhartha praacim kakubham Prithivyaah || (Rg. 7.99.2)
Meaning: None who is born or being born has reached the utmost limit of Your grandeur, Lord Vishnu. The vast high vault of heaven and the fixed earth’s eastern pinnacle has your support and you hold it securely.
Yasyorushu trishuvikramaneshu adhikshiyanti bhuvanani Vishva (Rig Veda. 1.154.2)
Meaning: He within whose three wide-extended paces all living creatures have their habitation.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri interprets the Nama as ‘One Who is resident -nilayah, in the pancha bhutas. Even though the five elements, by themselves, perform different functions within our body (e.g., agni converts the food that we consume into forms such as blood; water carries this into the different parts of the body; earth supports all the beings of this world; etc.), Bhagavan, by being present in these elements, ensures that there is mutual coordination such that all beings function as a unit, in a healthy way.
Sri Shastri gives references from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 15 Verses 13 and 14) to illustrate this:
Gam avisya ca bhutani dharayamy aham ojasa |
Pusnami causadhih sarvah somo bhutva rasatmakah ||
Meaning: I enter into each planet, and by My energy they stay in orbit. I become the Moon and thereby supply the juice of life to all plant life.
Aham Vaishvanaro bhutva praaninaamdeham Ashritah |
Praanapana samayuktah pacamyannam catur-vidham ||
Meaning: I am the fire of digestion in every living body, and I am the air of life, incoming and outgoing breath. I digest the four kinds of food – chewed (like rice, bread etc.), sucked (like mango fruit etc.), licked (like honey), and drunk (like water).
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.7.15), it says:
Yah sarveshu bhuteshu tishthan sarvebhyo bhutebhyo’ntaro yam sarvani bhutani na viduh
Yasya sarvani bhutani shariram yah sarvani bhutaanyantaro yamayati |
Yesha ta Atmantaryamyamrutah – ityadhi-bhutam athadhyaatmam ||
Meaning: He who inhabits all beings but is within them, whom no being knows, whose body is all beings, and who controls all beings from within, is the Internal Ruler, your own immortal self. This much with reference to the beings. Now with reference to the body.
Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha gives an explanation based on the dhaara or the downpour of rain caused by Indra in Gokulam:
A-samantaat dhaara = devendra-krita vrishti dhaara yesham ta Adhaara Gopalah |
Tesham Govardhana dhaaranena nilaya Ashraya iti Adhaara-nilayah ||
Meaning: He Who protected the Gopalas or cowherds from the intense downpour of rain caused by Devendra, through the Govardhana dhaaranam.
- Dhaata – He is the Creator
Sri Adi Sankara deals with two different versions of this Nama – Dhaata and Adhaata. First taking it as Dhaata, the root is Dhet meaning ‘to drink’. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets it as ‘Samhaarasamaye Sarvaah Prajaah Dhayati Pibati iti Dhaata; Dhet Paane iti Dhaatuh – At the time of the Final Deluge He drinks (dissolves) all beings, hence He is called Dhaata’.
Now taking the name as Adhaataa, Sri Adi Sankara gives the interpretation ‘Sva-atmanaa Dhritasya asya Anyo dhaataa Naasti iti – He is well established and has no other support other than Himself, hence He is called Adhaata, one who is self-reliant’.
We covered this Nama earlier in Shloka 5 where Sri Parasara Bhattar interpreted the Nama based on the root ‘dha’ meaning ‘to put, place, lay, put in, lay on or upon’, and gave the meaning as ‘The Creator’.
Sri Bhattar gives the interpretation for this instance as ‘Svayam ca Dharma Acharyakena Dhaata – He is called Dhaata because He practices Dharma rigorously, and is thus the best Preceptor of Dharma.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives reference support from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3 Verse 22), where Bhagavan says:
Na me parthasti kartavyam trisu lokesu kincana
Nanavaptam avaptavyam varta eva ca karmani ||
Meaning: O’ Partha! There is nothing in all the three worlds which ought to be done, nor is there anything that has not been acquired, and ought to be acquired. Yet I am engaged in work.
Sri AnnangarAcharya explains the Nama as – He Who supports the World through His teachings (in the form of Vedas, Upanishads, GIta etc.), and through His own code of conduct (during His Avataars). As Maryada Purushottam Rama, He was an outstanding example of the adherence to Dharma in all its facets and intricacies.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha uses the root for the Nama as ‘dha – dhaarana poshanoyoh daane ca’ meaning ‘to put, to grant, to produce, to bear’. Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the interpretation that Bhagavan bears the Earth in the form of Ananta – ‘Anantadi rupena Vishvam bibharti iti Dhaata’.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives the interpretation – ‘dadhaati poshayati svajanaan iti Dhaata – He Who protects and supports His devotees’.
Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha gives the interpretation – Dhaata = dhaarana poshanakarta – He Who creates and nourishes everything.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan explains the Nama as – utpatti vinaasha virahaadanaadi nidhanah kaaranatve virinci Adibhyo vishesham Aha Dhaata iti – He Who creates all beings, protects them, and destroys them at the appropriate time.
- Pushpa-haasah – He blooms like a Flower
Pushpa is a flower and Haasa refers to the blooming and so Pushpahaasah is one who blossoms like a flower. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Mukulaatmanaa Sthitaanaam Pushpaanaam haasavat Prapancharupena Vikaasah asya iti Pushpahaasah – Like buds bloom into beautiful flowers, Bhagavan blooms Himself into a beautiful Universe, hence He is called Pushpahaasah, one who blooms like a flower’.
Haasa also means a smile and Pushpahaasah can also be interpreted to mean one who smiles like a pretty flower. The Nama signifies the tenderness and pleasing nature of Bhagavan towards His devotees.
Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as – ‘evam nishpaadita sva anubhava saktinaam saayamiva pushpasya haaso bhogyataullaasah asya iti Pushpa- haasah’ – In the case of those who are blessed with the ability to enjoy Him, He manifests His enjoyable nature gently like a flower that blossoms. So He is called Pushpa-haasah.
Sri RadhaKrishna Shastri’s anubhavam is that Bhagavan makes His devotees blossom with delight at His thought, and He also blossoms in their heart and gives fragrance to their thought, and so He is called Pushpa-haasah.
Bhagavan’s Thirumeni is soft to touch, just like a flower. Just as the flowers blossom as the Sun rises , Bhagavan is delighted when He sees His devotees. His devotees enjoy Him like a beautiful tender flower.
Sri Thirumangai Azhwar in his Periya Thirumozhi (8.1.5), where the Azhwar enjoys Bhagavan’s Thirumeni as Pushpa-haasam:
அடித்தலமும் தாமரையே அங்கையும் பங்கயமே என்கின் றாளால்,
முடித்தலமும் பொற்பூணு மென்நெஞ்சத் துள்ளகலா என்கின் றாளால்,
வடித்தடங்கண் மலரவளோ வரையாகத் துள்ளிருப்பாள் என்கின் றாளால்,
கடிக்கமலம் கள்ளுகுக்கும் கண்ணபுரத் தம்மானைக் கண்டாள் கொல்லோ.
Meaning: His Feet are soft like Lotus flowers. His Hands, with which He picks us up when we surrender at His Feet, are equally soft like Lotus flowers. Then He embraces us with affection, and the divine beauty of His thiru-mudi and His divine ornaments that we get to enjoy at that time, is something that will never leave our thoughts ever. We pray for the blessings of the One with broad eyes (Sri devi) Who is seated on the lotus flower in His broad vaksha sthalam (His chest), so that we are united with Him for ever. This Emperumaan is waiting for us in the Divya kshetram by name Thiruk-kannapuram, which is itself the place full of fragrant Lotus flowers dripping sweet honey.
Sri NammAzhwar in his Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (3.1.2) says that Bhagavan is enchanting and is no comparison to anything that we know:
கட்டுரைக்கில் தாமரைநின் கண்பாதம் கையொவ்வா,
கட்டுரைத்த நன் பொன்னுள் திருமேனி ஒளி ஒவ்வாது,
ஒட்டுரைத்திவ் வுலகுன்னைப் புகழ்வெல்லாம் பெரும்பாலும்,
பட்டுரையாய்ப் புற்கென்றே காட்டுமால் பரஞ்சோதீ.
Meaning: The Lotus flower is no match for your eyes, hands and feet. Burnished gold is no match for your radiant face. All the praise of all the worlds heaped on you do very little to compliment your Grace.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives a similar interpretation – ‘Pushpamiva mriduh svajana manohari haaso yasya sa Pushpa-haasah – He Who has a sweet and enchanting smile that delights the hearts of His devotees’.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha explains the Nama as ‘yo sadaa prasanna-mukah Soka- rahistashca bhavati, tasmin nishpaape Soka-moha-rahite svayam Bhagavan viraajate sa Vishnuh Pushpa-haasah – He Who is always of a very pleasing disposition, who is beyond any sorrow, untainted by any defects, devoid of any desire or want. He points out that, just as it is the Dharma (nature) of the flower to blossom beautifully, so also it is the nature of Bhagavan to have a sweet and smiling countenance.
- Pra-jaagarah – He Who is awake day and night, for the protection of the devotees.
The root ‘Jagr’ means to ‘be awake’. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets as ‘Nitya prabuddha svarupaat Prakarshena Jaagarti iti Prajaagarah – He is naturally ever alert and awake and hence He is called Prajaagarah’. He is ever awake and alert to His devotees’ needs and rushes to their support whenever needed. Even while appearing to sleep on the milky ocean He is internally awake and ready to support the devotees, hence He is appropriately called Prajaagarah, the innately awake person.
Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as ‘Raatrim divam Prajaagarti iti Pra-jaagarah – He Who is awake day and night, to protect His devotees, like a farmer intent on protecting his crops. He gives a mantra from the Katha Upanishad (2.2.8) – ya eshu supteshu jaagarti kaamamkaamam Purusho Nirmimaanah – This purusha (the Supreme), who builds desire after desire, keeps awake while others (the individual souls) are asleep, is certainly called pure and Immortal. That is the effulgent and that is Brahman.
Sri Krishnan explains this as Bhagavan keeping wide awake while we are all fast asleep, bestowing all our desires and requests that are infinite and neverending. He is always in His Yoga-nidra, fully alert and awake.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha indicates the root for the Nama as ‘jaagr – nidraakshaye’ meaning ‘to be awake’ and ‘pra’ is prefix. He explains the Nama as ‘Prakarshena jaagarti iti Pra-jaagarah – He Who is awake in a special and unique way. The uniqueness is that He is always awake, and always thinking of ways to help the Jivas attain Him.
Sri Raghunatha Thirtha gives yet another interpretation as ‘He Who liberates the accomplished devotees from sleep – prakashena bhaktan jagarayati nidra rahitaan muktaan karoti iti Pra-jaagarah’.
Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha looks at the Nama as praja + aga + ra. In this interpretation, praja = He Who creates; aga = He Who resides in the hills of Venkatachala, ra = ramati = He Who enjoys the company of devotees by being in Venkatachala – ‘prakarshena janayati lokaan iti Prajaa; ageshu Venkatadi parvateshu ramata iti aga-rah, prajashca asau agarashcaiti Prajaagarah.
This Guna is also reflected in the world through the Panca bhutas for which He is the antaryami, and He ensures that they are all functioning in the interest of the Jivas constantly – Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Space never sleep. So also, the Sun never sleeps, the Atma never sleeps, and the Praana never sleeps.
- Urdhva-gah – He Who is above all
The word ‘Urdhva’ means ‘above or on top’. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Sarveshaam upari tishthan Urdhvagah – He towers over all, hence is called Urdhvagah’. Bhagavan is superior to every one in every way and is present everywhere; He knows everything and is ever-lasting. He stands above all in all respects thus He is called Urdhvagah, the one who stands far above.
The term Urdhva means ‘above’. Urdhva-gah means ‘One Who rises high’. Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as a continuation of His explanation of the previous Nama – He Who sleeplessly protects His creation. He devotes Himself to this task of rakshNam even without sleep, because He aims high in whatever He does, and so He is ‘Urdhva-gah’. Sri Bhattar’s words are ‘svabhaavatungah – He Who, by nature, rises high in everything’. Sri Bhattar extols the Kalyana Guna and narrates that the compassion and affection of Bhagavan is unparalleed. He explains with a story of the Sumukha snake that surrendered Unto the Lord and He ensured the snake’s safety by reconciling its hostility with Garuda.
The Story of Garuda and Sumukha, the snake prince
Garuda always carries a snake in his talons. This story is about why Garuda began carrying this snake wherever he went.
Once upon a time there was a man by the name Matali who was the charioteer for Indra. He had a daughter by the name Gunakesi who was of marriageable age. Sage Narada introduced Matali, ‘Aaryaka! Meet my friend – Matali.’ The Naga’s eyes grew with astonishment, ‘Matali? The charioteer of Lord Indra?’ Aaryaka welcomed the two of them and after they finished lunch, Aaryaka called his grandson, Sumukha. A good looking, noble young man walked into the room. As Matali saw the man, he felt that he had found the perfect match for his daughter.
With great joy he spoke for the first time to Aaryaka and Sumukha, ‘I have come here to ask something to the two of you. I have a daughter an extremely talented and beautiful daughter– Guna Kesi! I was wondering whether Sumukha would agree to marry my daughter?’ He asked looking at the two of them.
Matali saw both of them in despair and was stumped. Why would the two of them look so unhappily at each other? He asked, “Why? Is there a problem?’ Aaryaka gave a dry laugh, ‘Problem? You have just offered the most perfect woman to be the wife of my grandson. And I am not in a position to accept it. Yes, you could say I have a problem.’ He continued, ‘The reason Sumukha’s father Chirakha is not here and the reason why Sumukha cannot marry you is Garuda.’
Matali was flabbergasted, ‘Garuda?’ He asked Aaryaka incredulously. Matali sat back and listened as Aaryaka continued, ‘Garuda stole the pot of Amrut from the Devas to give it to the Nagas in return for freedom for himself and his mother Vinata.’ Matali nodded. Garuda came like a storm and blew away all the Devas with his onslaught. Not even a single Deva could stand up against Garuda. Even Indra’s Vajra was useless before Garuda. Matali remembered wryly.
After handing over the Amrita to the Nagas, both Garuda and Vinata had become free. The only way Indra could make sure the Nagas could not get the Amrita was to make a deal with Garuda. The Nagas had gone to take a bath before taking the Amrut and Indra used the opportune moment and stole the amrita at that time. Aaryaka continued, ‘After that incident, Garuda became a sworn enemies of Nagas. Garuda came here and wreaked havoc on all of us. Nothing we did seemed to work against him. We promised to send him a Naga a month and in return, Garuda was not to attack us indiscriminately. Last month, my son Chirakha, Sumukha’s father was sent to Garuda. This month, Sumukha has to be sent.’ Aaryaka trembled as he looked at his grandson, who was trying his best to look brave.
Matali looked at the two of them. Now more than ever, he was confident that Sumukha was the right choice for his daughter. He smiled as he saw Aaryaka and Sumukha, “There is nothing you can do. But there is something I can.’ As Matali entered Indra’s court at Amravathi, he felt that it was destined that the marriage between Sumukha and Guna Kesi was to take place as he saw sitting in Indra’s court was the beautiful Lord Vishnu. Bowing first to Lord Vishnu, who smiled at him enigmatically, Matali bowed to Lord Indra with Sumukha trailing behind him.
Matali then looked at Indra, ‘My Lord! I have a favour to ask from you. As you know I was searching a good match for my daughter Guna Kesi, I have finally found the perfect match for her. I think Sumukha here is the most perfect man for her.’ Indra vigorously nodded his head. He was feeling very happy for his friend and charioteer. But before he could talk Matali interrupted him, ‘Your Majesty! However I have a problem in the form of Garuda.’
Indra blinked. Garuda? Indra suddenly felt very nervous. He cleared his throat and looked at the Lord Vishnu for support and spoke, ‘Go ahead Matali!’ Matali narrated his predicament to Indra and sought Amrut be given to Sumukha to save his life. Indra looked at Matali deflated. If he handed over the amrita to Sumukha, Garuda could take offence to it. He turned desperately to Lord Vishnu, ‘Narayana! Please tell me what to do.’
Lord Vishnu smiled, ‘You are the King of the Devas and I cannot make your choices for you. You will have to decide whether or not to give Amrut to Sumukha.’ Indra nodded to himself and thought for some time and finally looked at Sumukha and said, ‘I will give you the Amrut, Sumukha. And I will face the consequences.’ Lord Vishnu smiled at him but did not say anything. Sumukha and Matali looked visibly relieved.
As Indra came forward and was about to hand over the Amrut to Sumukha, the court door suddenly flew open and Indra had the fright of his life when he saw a ferocious looking Garuda staring angrily at him. Garuda thundered (oblivious of Lord Vishnu’s presence), ‘What are you doing? Have you forgotten the last time we met in battle Indra? I carry the Lord Vishnu himself! Do you know how powerful I am?’ Garuda ranted on and on.
Indra took a deep breath and said calmly, ‘Garuda, you can eat all the other Nagas. He is the only one I have stopped you from eating.’ But Garuda was past hearing all that, ‘Indra! Do you know how strong I am? My feather can carry the weight of the whole world and I carry Lord Vishnu on my back…”
‘Garuda!’ came a soft voice. Garuda stopped talking immediately, the power of the voice was such. Lord Vishnu spoke, ‘Garuda! I think you need to demonstrate to Indra, exactly how strong you are. Probably that way, Indra would be convinced of your strength and decide not to give Amrut to Sumukha.’ Indra was puzzled even as Garuda went forward towards Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu held out his hands. ‘I think you should carry me and show them.’
Lord Vishnu placed his hands on Garuda’s shoulder. He suddenly felt like the weight of the entire Universe was placed on his shoulder. Garuda broke out in sweat. Lord Vishnu’s hand was on his shoulder and it suddenly felt that he was being pushed down. The weight was becoming unbearable. Garuda grunted and tried but Garuda’s back was burning with pain.
Lord Vishnu looked at Garuda and said, ‘Garuda! You are strong and powerful, no doubt but you have become proud and arrogant! Let that not get into your head. You carry my weight because I let you carry my weight. It is me who carries all of you.’
Lord Vishnu said, ‘Indra was being reasonable. He has the right to give Amrut to who he thinks fit. He is not depriving you of your natural food. Nor is he insulting you. He is just fulfilling the wish of his friend.’
Garuda fell to his knees his eyes streaming from tears and realised the truth in Lord Vishnu’s words. He bowed to Lord Vishnu, ‘My Lord! I behaved arrogantly. Please forgive me.’ Lord Vishnu smiled and blessed Garuda.
Garuda then turned to Indra and sought his forgiveness. Indra had watched the entire spectacle with awe. He nodded his head reverently at Lord Vishnu and smiled at Garuda. Garuda then apologised to Sumukha and exited the court. Sumukha got his Amrut and married Guna Kesi.
Lord Vishnu told Garuda to make friends with the Nagas in the Netherworld. He also told him to carry a Naga in his talons at all times to prove that he is friends with the snakes of the netherworld. Thus Sumukha’s life was saved.
Om Namo Narayanaaya!
Sri NammAzhwar in his very first Pasuram in Thiruvai Mozhi (1.1.1) describes Him as:
உயர்வற வுயர்நலம் முடையவன் யவனவன்
மயர்வற மதிநலம் அருளினன் யவனவன்
அயர்வறும் அமரர்கள் அதிபதி யவனவன்
துயரறு சுடரடி தொழுதெழென் மனனே
Meaning: Arise, O heart, worship the feet of the One, who is higher than the highest good with all the Kalyana Gunas, who is the Lord of the ever-wakeful celestials, who dispels all doubt and grants pure knowledge. He Who possesses auspicious qualities that cannot at all be excelled.
Sri Ananta Krishna Shastry gives an alternate interpretation that the Nama signifies that Lord Vishnu is the One Who takes us to Sri Vaikuntham.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha interprets the Nama as ‘Sarvesham Urdhva sthiti Saalitvaat, sarvatah Sreshthatvaat va Urdhva-gah – He who is above everyone in all aspects’.
- Sat-pathaachaarah – One Who leads His devotees in the right path.
The word ‘patha’ means ‘path’ and ‘Sat’ means ‘righteous’. The word ‘Achaara’ is derived from the root ‘Chara – gatau’ means ‘to walk, conduct or behavior’. Based on these, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Sataam karmaani Satpathaah taan Aacharati eshah iti Satpathaachaarah – He conducts Himself in a righteous manner and hence He is called Satpathaachaarah. He leads by example and in all His incarnations He conducted himself strictly in the path of Dharma as laid out by righteous people and as prescribed by the scriptures.
Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the Nama as ‘One Who leads His devotees in the right path – sat-pathe = svabhavika daasya maarge, Acharanam = tesham pravartanam asya iti Sat-pathaachaarah – He Who guides the devotee in the right path of kainkaryam (service) to Him, which is the true nature of the devotee. It is in the interest of the Jivas to recognise and follow the relationship of Seshaseshibhava (the Master-servant relationship between the Supreme Being and the Jiva), Bhagavan facilitates this, and leads the devotee in this path. Sri Bhattar refers to the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 9 Verse 33) where Lord Krishna says the following to Arjuna:
Kim punar brahmanah punya bhakta rajarsayas tatha |
Anityam asukham lokam imam prapya bhajasva mam ||
Meaning: How much greater then are the Brahmanas, the righteous, the devotees and saintly kings who in this temporary miserable world (in order to get over it) engage in loving service unto Me.
Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha gives an interpretation as ‘sat-pathe = san-maarge Acharayati yogyaan iti Sat- pathaachaarah – He follows the path laid out by the righteous men and leads by example.
Sri RadhaKrishna Shastri refers to the Bhagavad Gita (3.22), where Bhagavan tells Arjuna that He follows the path followed by the great ones, in His incarnations to set an example for others to follow.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha interprets the Nama as ‘Sat-pathe Achaaro yasya sa SatpathAchaarah – He Whose conduct or behavior is along the righteous path, is Sat-pathachaarah.
- Praana-dah – The Life-Giver
Praana means life and dah is a giver. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Mritaat Parikshit Prabhriteen Jeevayan Praanadah – He revived people like Parikshit from their death, hence He is called Praanadah, the Life-giver’.
He revived the unborn son residing in the womb of Uttara after the foetus was killed by Asvatthaama’s Brahma Astra and thus ensured the continuation of the Pandava race. When His Guru Sandipani’s son died, Krishna went to the abode of Yama to bring him back to life. These incidents establish His Nama as Praanadah, the Life-Giver.
Sri Parasara Bhattar gives another example of His giving ‘life’ to the devotees – He confers redemption on those souls that have been poisoned by the indulgence in material pleasures – Atam ujjeevanam dadati iti Praana-dah – He gives a new life to these souls.
The Nirukti author describes this through the following words:
Kaantadi vishaya Asaktya nashta Atmabhyah kripa vashaat |
Sad-Atma ujjeevanam yo’sau dadati Praana-dah tu atyam ||
Meaning: Bhagavan is called Praana-dah because He instills life in the Jivas whose souls are getting lost because they have been poisoned by the sensuous pleasures.
In essence, it is because of Him that Beings breathe, and it is because of Him that they cease breathing. Here is the beautiful composition of Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha summarising the various interpretations that are possible for the Nama Praana-dah:
Praanan dadati, kimu va dyati,dati kim va praanan vishodhayati, daapayati iti kim va |
Sarvatra sarva vidhina sa hi Vishnur-eko yah Praanado’sti kathitah Srutibhih puranah ||
Meaning: He is the Giver of Praana, the Taker of Praana, the Purifier of Paana, Enlightener of Praana, and is present everywhere and in everything in the form of Praana. The Supreme Deity, Lord Vishnu, is sung thus as Praana-daH in the Shrutis.
Other references to the Shruti that are provided by Sri Vasishtha are:
- Praana-da apana-da vyana-davarco-da varivo-dah |
Anyaans-te asmaat-tapantu hetayah pavako asmabhyam shivo bhava || (Yajur. 17.15)
Meaning: The Life-Giver, keep us safe and provide us the space, and May your weapon (flames) torment other than us; being the purifier, may you be auspicious to us.
- Yah Praana-dah Praanadavaan babhuva yasmai lokah dhritavantah ksharanti| (Atharva. 4.35.5)
He is the Life Giver and He protects with a firm resolve and makes everthing function.
Another line of interpretation given by Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha is based on the root ‘pra – purane’ meaning ‘to fill’. In this interpretation, he gives the derivation – Praanah purnah, purnasya dataa Praana-dah – He Who gives fullness to everything. He is One Who bestows fullness – Praana-dah.
Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives another dimension to the Nama – in His Rama incarnation, He declares that He will even give His life in order to protect those who have surrendered to Him:
Apyaham Jivitam jahyaam tvam vaasite sa-Lakshmanam |
Na tu pratijnaam samSrutya brAhmaNebhyo viSeshataH || Srimad Ramayana 4.10.19
Meaning: Adressing Sita Piratti, Lord Rama says: ‘I won’t mind sacrificing My own life, or even those of You and Lakshmana; but I will not swerve from the word I give, especially to the Brahmanas’.
Sri T. S. Raghavendran explains the Nama as:
- Praanan indiryani dadati iti Praana-dah – He who gives indriyas to all and makes them function
- Praanan indiryani dyati khandayati iti Praana-dah – He Who removes the attachment to indriyas for the Sattvic souls
- Prakrshena anam sukha virruddha duhkham dyati khandayati iti Praana-dah – He Who removes the grief that is opposed to happiness (Nah sukham, tad-viruddhatvat anah Sokhah, prakrshena tama dyati = khandayati iti Praana-dah).
- Pranavah – He reveals Himself through the Pranava Mantra – ‘AUM’
Pranavah refers to the primordial sound of ‘A-U-M’ or the Omkara which preceded all Creation. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Pranavo nama Paramatmano Vaachaka Aumkaarah; Tadabhedopachaarena ayam Pranavah – Pranava sound is nothing but the pronouncement of the Bhagavan and a revelation of Himself to the Universe. Because of this inseparable identity with Omkara Bhagavan is called Pranavah, the one who is Omkara Himself’.
All Vedic mantras start with the Pranava mantra. In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 7 Verse 8), Bhagavan says ‘Pranavas Sarva Vedeshu – I am the Pranava as expounded in all Vedas’. In another verse of the Bhagavad Gita (10.25), Bhagavan says ‘Giraam asmi Ekam aksharam – I am the ‘AUM’ among all sounds’. So Bhagavan is fully described by the sound of ‘AUM’ and is therefore called as Pranavah.
Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation for the Nama is ‘Pranavena Idrisha sambandham udbhodhya, maam Namaskuru iti sva-caran aravindayoh tan Pranamayati’ – By means of the sacred ‘Pranava’ mantra, Bhagavan reveals to His devotees the true relationship between Him and them, and makes them understand the need for surrendering unto Him.
Sri Bhattar also gives support from the atharva Siras: ‘Praanan sarvan paramatmani Pranamayati, etasmat Pranavah – The mantra is called Pranava mantra, because it makes all souls to obey, and pay respects to, the Paramatma’.
Pranava refers to the mantra represented by the three letters – A, U, and M – ‘Aum’ or ‘OM’. This syllable, which is considered a mantra that is the essence of all Vedas, is considered as a manifestation of Bhagavan Himself in sound form. Sri Bhattar explains that the letter ‘A’ represents Lord Narayana, the letter ‘U’ represents Goddess Lakshmi and the letter ‘Ma’ refers to the Jivatma. Hence the Pranava ‘AUM’ represents the union of the Jivatma with Sriman Narayana and Lakshmi Piratti.
Sri RadhaKrishna Shastri quotes the yoga sutra – tasya vacakaH Pranavah (1.27) – ‘The Pranava mantra is a manifestation in words of Paramatma’. This mantra reveals Him to us, when we understand the meaning of the mantra.
Bhagavan summarises His instructions to Arjuna in the last Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita and says in this verse (18.65):
Man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaaji maam Namas-kuru |
Maameva eshyasi satyam te pratijaane priyo’si me || (18.65)
Meaning: Focus your mind on Me; Be My devotee; Be My worshipper; Prostrate before Me. You shall come to Me alone. I promise you, truly, for you are dear to Me”.
It is insightful to read Sri RamanujAcharya’s explanation to this verse, so that we truly understand the nature of this obeisance that Bhagavan instructs us to offer to Him. He says ‘mad-bhaktah bhava’ – atyartham mama priyah atyarthamatpriyatvena ca niratishaya priyaam Smriti santatim kurushva ityarthah’ – Focus your mind on Me; Be My devotee. Be one to whom I am incomparably dear. Since I am the object of superabundant love, meditate on Me, i.e., practice the succession of memory of unsurpassed love of Me’.
Sri RamanujAcharya stress the word ‘Priyam’ by saying it three times and thereby emphasising the basis of the relationship between Him and us. It is because of His intense love and compassion to us that we should bow to Him, and surrender unto Him, and He assures us that He will redeem us as a result.
mad-yaaji bhava – ‘tatraapi mad-bhakta iti anushajyate, yajanam pujanam atyartha priya mad-Aradhano bhava, Aradhanam hi paripurna Sesha vrittih’.
Meaning: Be My worshipper (yaaji). Here also, the expression ‘Be My devotee’ is applicable. Yajna is worship. Worship Me as One exceedingly dear to you. Worship (Aradhana) is complete subservience to the Lord.
Again the emphasis is on ‘atyartha priyam’. This is the basis of the Aradhana that Bhagavan is advising us to practice. The complete subservience is based on our utmost love to Him, and not based on any other factor such as fear etc.
Maam Namas-kuru – namo Namanam mayi atimaatra-prahvI bhaavam atyarthapriyam kuru ityarthah’
Meaning: Prostrate before Me. The meaning is ‘Bow down humbly before Me with great love.
Once again, Sri Ramanuja emphasises utmost love as the basis – ‘atyartha priyam kuru’ – perform this act with great love.
For those who thus surrender to Him, Bhagavan says: ‘maam eva eshyasi, satyam te pratijaane’ – I make this solemn promise to you. You shall attain Me as a result’. These are not mere empty words, because Bhagavan continues: ‘priyo’si me’ – ‘You are dear to Me’. Thus, Bhagavan is not just advising us to worship Him with love as the basis, but He is bound to us by the same love, even more intensely than we can ever command. Bhagavan has already declared in (BG 7.17) that ‘He in whom there is great love for Me, I hold him also as exceedingly dear to Me. I Myself will enable him to attain Me’.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj explains the Nama as ‘prakarshena nuyate – stuyate sadbhih iti Pranavah – He Who is praised uniquely by the devoted’.
Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha gives the interpretation for the Nama as – Prakarshena nayati iti Pranavah – Lord Vishnu is called Pranavah because He regulates or puts the world in an orderly form in a splendid way.
Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan gives the interpretation as ‘nitya nutanatvaat Pranavah (prakeshena nutanatvaat Pranavah (pra + nava= Pranava)’ – He is to be praised by the living with Pranava.
Sri Raghavendran has included some additional interpretation and support: Pranamanti iha yam vedah tasmat Pranavah ucyate – sanatkumara – Vishnu is called Pranavah because all Vedas bow down to Him.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha indicates the derivation of the Nama from the root word ‘Nu – stutau’ meaning ‘to praise, to commend’ and explains as ‘Pranauti iti Pranavah, Pranamayati iti va – He Who is praised or worshipped is ‘Pranavah’.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives support from Katha Upanishad (1.2.15 to 1.2.17):
Sarve Veda yat-padam Amananti tapamsi sarvani ca yad vadanti |
Yad-icchanto brahmacaryam caranti tat-te padam sa’ngraheNa bravimi yom iti etat || 1.2.15||
Meaning: The goal which all the Vedas uniformly extol, which all acts of tapas speak of, and wishing for which men lead the life of a Brahmacharin, that goal I tell you briefly—It is this—‘AUM’.
Etaddhyevaksharam Brahma etadd hyevaksharam param |
Etaddhyevaksharam jnatva yo yadicchati tasya tat || 1.2.16 ||
Meaning: This word (AUM) is, indeed, Brahman, this word is, indeed, the highest; whosoever knows this word obtains, indeed, whatever he wishes for.
Etad-Alambanam Sreshtham etad-Alambanam param |
Etad-Alambanam jnatvaa bloke mahiyate || 1.2.17||
Meaning: This letter is indeed Brahman. This very letter is the Supreme. Meditating upon this letter one gets whatever one wants. This is the best support. This is the highest support. He who knows this is glorified in the world of Brahman.
Sri Vasishtha gives several other references to the Shruti, where the significance of the Pranava mantra is revealed to us:
- vishve devasa iha maadayanta AUM pratishtha | (yajur. 3.13)
- AUM krato smara | klive smara | kritam smara | (yajur. 40.15)
- AUM kham brahma | (yajur. 40.17)
- Rco akshare parame vyoman asmin deva adhi vishve nisheduh | (Rg. 1.164.9)
The significance of the Pranava mantra is the meditation on the mantra with its meaning in mind, which, at a high level, reveals to us the permanent and eternal relationship between us and the Paramatma, Lord Narayana.
- Panah – He Who trades His role as Master with His devotees, and is subservient to them
The root meaning of Pana is a transaction or activity. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Panatir Vyavahararthah tam Kurvan Panah – Pana means a transaction and therefore Panah is one who transacts actively’. He quotes the ine from Taittriya Aranyaka Upanishad (1.2.7) ‘Sarvaani Rupaani Vichintya Dheero Namani Kritvabhivadan Yadaaste – He, the brilliant one, contemplates various forms and creates them giving them different names’. Each creation is a transaction for Bhagavan and hence He is called Panah, the one who repeatedly transacts.
Sri Adi Sankara also gives another interpretation taking the meaning of trader for Panah. His second interpretation is ‘Punyaani sarvani Karmani Panam Sangrihya Adhikaaribhyah tatphalam prayacchati iti vaa lakshanayaa Panah – He takes into account the actions carried out by various people and gives fruits according to the merits of their deeds and hence He is called Panah, the trader. Basically this is a trading activity and Bhagavan who performs this is the great trader or Panah, as the name indicates.
Sri Parasara Bhattar draws from the SeshaseshI bhavam, or the Lord-servant relationship that exists between Him and us. While this is the natural relationship between Bhagavan and us, sometimes He chooses to reverse this relationship, and behaves as if He is the servant of the devotee. This is the ‘transaction’, namely the reversal of the role, that Sri Bhattar enjoys through this Nama – ‘evam tesham svamya-daasya vyatiharena vyavaharati iti Panah – He behaves as though there is a transaction whereby there has been an interchange of the role of the Master-servant relationship between Him and us. He acts as if they are the masters and He is their servant. There are several instances where the Bhagavan becomes subservient to His devotees – e.g. for Thirumazhisai Azhwar, for Namdev, for Sakkubhai, for Yashoda etc.
Sri RamanujAcharya explain this as ‘ayam maya vina Atma dhaarana asambhaavanaya maam eva anuttamam praapyam Asthitah, atah tena vina mama api Atmadhaaranam na sambhavati, tato mama api Atma hi sah’ – This Jnani, who is solely devoted to Him, considers Him to be the highest, and finds it impossible to support himself without Me; so also, I find it impossible to be without him. Thus, verily, He is My self”.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha indicates the root for the Nama as ‘Pana – vyavahare’ meaning ‘to bargain, to bet or stake at play’, or ‘pana – stutau’ meaning ‘to praise’. Vyavaharati, vyavahaarayati va vishvam, sah Panah – He Who transacts the activites of the world, or He because of whom the people of the world transact their activites, is Panah.
Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives examples from the Shruti where this ‘transaction’ aspect is captured:
Yo agnishoma havisha saparyaat daivadrica manasa yo ghritena |
Tasya vratam rakshatam paatamamhaso vishe janaaya mahi Sarmayacchatam || (Rg. 1.93.8)
Meaning: Whosoever honours Agni and Soma with devout heart, through oil and poured oblation, for him, they (Agni, Soma etc.) in turn protect his sacrifice, preserve him from distress, and grant to the sacrificer great felicity.
Agnih purvebhih Rishbhih Idyo nutanairuta |
Sa devaam eha vakshati || (Rg. 1.1.2)
Meaning: Worthy is Agni to be praised by the living as by ancient seers; He shall bring the Gods.
Agne naya supatha raaye | (Rg. 1.189.1)
Meaning: Agni, God who knows every sacred duty, by goodly paths lead us to riches.
Sri Vasishtha has interpreted the Nama in the spirit of Agni carrying the offerings that are made to the Devas, and the Devas in return, bestow riches on the people.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna in Chapter 3 verse 11 and 12 says:
Devan bhavayatanena te deva bhavayantu vah |
Parasparam bhAvayantaH SreyaH param avApsyatha || 3.11||
Meaning: The Devas, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you; thus nourishing one another, there will reign general prosperity for all.
Ishtaan bhogaan hi vo deva daasyante yajna bhavitaah |
Tair-dattaan apradaayaibhyo yo bhungte stena eva sah ||B.G.3.12||
Meaning: The Devas, pleased by the sacrifice, will bestow on you the enjoyments you desire. He who enjoys the bounty of the Devas without giving them anything in return, is but a thief.
Sri RadhaKrishna Shastri comments that as a merchant gives merchandise that is commensurate with the amount that is paid to him, Bhagavan measures out the fruits commensurate with the karma; thus, the price for happiness is following the path of Dharma.
Swami ChinmayAnanda explains this Guna of Bhagavan in terms of the functioning of everything in the Universe: ‘Panah – The Supreme Manager of the Universe. By giving the exact reward for all actions, Lord both orders and justly manages all activities of each individual and directly supervises the interactions between individuals and things constituting this scientifically precise Universe’.
Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj uses the meaning ‘to praise’, and explains the Nama as ‘Panyate stuyate sattva Gunavadbhih iti Panah – He Who is worshipped by those who are endowed with a predominance of the sattva Guna’. This is also the interpretation provided by Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha – Panyate janaih stuyate iti Panah.
Sri Raghunatha Thirtha gives yet another dimension to His ‘transactions’ – Panayati devaan vyahaareshu pravartayati iti Panah – He is called Panah because He assigns the respective duties to be performed by the different the Gods, and controls them in these functions.
Aadhaaranilayo Dhata Pushpahaasah Prajaagarah |
Urdhvagah Satpathacharah Praanadah Pranavah Panah ||102||
He supports the five basic elements or the Pancha Bhutas such as the Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Ether that support all others, hence He is called Aadhaaranilayah. He is well established and and has no other support other than Himself, hence He is called Adhaata, one who is self-reliant’. Bhagavan blooms Himself into a beautiful Universe, hence He is called Pushpahaasah, one who blooms like a flower. He is innately alert and awake to His devotees’ needs, hence He is called Prajaagarah.
Bhagavan is superior to every one in every way and is present everywhere; He knows everything and is ever-lasting; He stands above all in all respects, thus He is called Urdhvagah. He conducts Himself in a righteous manner, leading by example through His Avataars, and hence He is called Satpathaachaarah. He is the Life-Giver and hence He is called Prana-dah. He represents the Pranava Mantra – AUM and hence He is Pranavah. He gives fruits according to the merits of the deeds and hence He is called Panah. He is also called Panah, as He trades His role as Master with His devotees and becomes subservient to them.
OM NAMO NARAYANAAYA
HARI OM TAT SAT
This Vishnu Sahasranamam series is authored with the help of my friend Shri Balaji.