In this part, we will explore the meaning of the 103rd Shloka of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.

Pramaanam Praananilayah Praanabhrit Praanajivanah |
Tattvam Tattvavid Ekatma Janma-Mrityu-Jaraatigah ||103|| 

He is the authentic source for everything and sets the standards for righteous action. He is the ultimate abode for all beings. He sustains all sentient and non-sentient beings and is the Life Giver as well as the in-dweller. He is the source, essence and the truth as well as knower of the truth. He is the one and only Superior Soul (Purusha).  He is beyond birth, death and old age.

The above Shloka has the following Namas:

  1.    Pramaanam
  2.    Praananilayah
  3.    Praanabhrit
  4.    Praanajivanah
  5.    Tattvam
  6.    Tattvavit
  7.    Ekatma
  8.    Janma-Mrityu-Jaraatigah

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

  1.    Pramaanam – He is the Authentic Souce for Everything

The root word is ‘Maana’ meaning ‘to measure’ and ‘Pra’ is a prefix meaning ‘special or unique’. Combining the two, Pramaanam means a reference or authority or a standard or a benchmark from which others are derived. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Pramitih Samvit Svayampramaa Pramaanam – He is a self-evident and self-sufficient authority for everything, hence He is called Pramaanam’.

Sri Sankara quotes from the Aitareya Upanishad (3.5.3) which says ‘Prajnaanam Bramha – Bramhan is pure wisdom’. Pure wisdom is its own authority. There is no higher knowledge which comes into play to support pure wisdom or Prajnaanam. In other words, pure wisdom is self-evident, self-sufficient and self-supporting. Bhagavan is precisely that. In Vishnu Puraanam (1.2.6), it says ‘Jnaanasvarupam Atyantanirmalam Paramaarthatah Tameva Arthasvarupena Bhraanti darshanatah Sthitam – Bhagavan is Pure Knowledge, Pure without blemishes, the Ultimate Meaning and He is also concrete in the material plane to support physical and material knowledge’. He is therefore called Pramaanam, the ultimate reference point and the ultimate answer for every question.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explained in the earlier occurrence that Bhagavan is the authority for determining what is good and what is bad for the people, thereby setting the standards for righteous action. For the current instance, Sri Bhattar explains that Bhagavan reveals the secrets and mystic truths of the Vedas without a shadow of doubt or error – ‘Evam nissamshaya viparyaya Veda rahasya param Artha pratyayakatvaat Pramaanam’.

Bhagavan is the true Pramaanam – the authentic proof. He is not only the goal to be achieved – prameyam, but He is also the means to achieve the goal – pramaanam.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha indicates the root for the Nama as ‘maang – maane’ meaning ‘to measure, to limit, to compare with, to form, to show, etc.’ The term ‘Pramaanam’ is used as ‘proof, valid knowledge, authentic source, authority, etc’. – prakrishtam maanam Pramaanam – Superior knowledge or a Valid authority.

Sri Vasishtha gives the interpretation that Bhagavan has this Nama signifying that prior to Creation itself, He decided on the nature of the Universe, including the extent, the nature of the Gunas that dominate our conduct, the different kinds of beings, etc. – yaavat-pramaanakam, yaadrig-Gunam, yaadrig-Akritimacca jagan-nirmitsati, tat Pramaanam taan gunan tanca Akritim jagad-Arambhaat purvameva tan nirmati parimitayata eva tat-Pramaanam abhidiyate.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives several instances from the Shruti to support his interpretation:

  • anadvaan Indrah sa pashubhyo vicashte tra’nchako vimimite adhvanah (Atharva Veda 4.11.2) – He knows everything, and has measured the three worlds and examined all beings
  • nava Praanan navabhih sam mimite dirghayutvaya Satasharadaya | (Atharva Veda 5.28.1) – He creates nine types of beings with 3 different gunas and chakras for a life of 100 years.
  • etavan asya mahima ato jyayag’mshca Purushah | (Purusha Suktam 3) – All that is seen here is His greatness. And beyond all this is the great Purusha.
  • dhamani Veda Bhuvanani Vishwa |(Yajur Veda 32.10) – He knows all the worlds, Vedas and everything about the Universe
  • sa Bhumim sarvato vritva atyatishthad-dasha’ngulam|(Rig Veda 10.90.1) – On every side pervading earth He fills space in ten directions.

Prajapate na twadetanyanyo vishwa jataniparita babhuva |
Yat kamaste juhumastanno astu vayam syama patayo rayinam || Rig Veda 10.121.10
Meaning: Lord of all creatures, there is no other entity besides You who can maintain command over and surpass all these created animate and inanimate objects, i.e. You are Paramount. Aspirant of whatsoever we offer our worship to You, please grant them. We may by Your grace be possessors of all kinds of wealth and high possessions. 

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives another etymological derivation – prakrshena mimite Sabdayati, Avishkaroti jnanam BrahmAdibhya iti Pramaanam – He Who clearly reveals or makes known, the true nature of Brahman etc. Sri Bharadvaj gives an alternative explaination for the Nama as – prakrshena maanyate BrahmAdibhih iti Pramaanam – He Who is worshipped by the likes of Brahma.

Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha interprets the Nama as – ‘prakrishtam maanam Vedadi Pramaanam yasmin iti Pramaanam – He Who has given the Vedas and scriptures the highest authority, is Pramaanam. An alternate interpretation given by him is – ‘Prakrishtam maanam Shareeraadi parimaanam Tri-vikramaadi rupena yasya iti Va Pramaanam – He Who took unusual dimensions for His form in His Tri-vikrama Avataar’.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan explains the Nama as ‘One Who always speaks the truth – Satya bhaashitvaat Pramaanam’. He gives this in support: ‘Pramaanam nitya-maryada Satya vaadi pramaatrishu’.

  1.    Praana-nilayah – He Who is the Abode for all beings

Sri Adi Sankara uses the term Praana to collectively represent the five types of Vayus that help the body function: Praana that sustains life in the form of the inhaled breath, apana that denotes the exhaled breath that expels impurities outside of the system, vyana that sustains the movements of the systems in the body, udana that supports the movements of the karmendriyas etc., and samana that aids the expelling of the waste from the body.

Praana refers to the five vital airs resident in any being to sustain life. Praana also means the sense organs of the body. Praana is also the name for Jivas or the living beings. Nilaya means the abode or the destination. Based on these Sri Sankara comes up with four different interpretations for this Nama.

The first one is ‘Praanaa indriyaani yatra jeeve Nileeyante tatparatantratvaat Praananilayah – Praanaah are the sense organs and they merge into Him and are dependent on Him and therefore He is called Praananilayah, the prime mover of the sense organs’.

The second interpretation is ‘Dehasya dhaarakaah Praanapanadayoh Vaa Tasmin Nileeyante iti Praananilayah – There are 5 vital airs that sustain life such as Praana and Apaana but they all get their get their sustenance and support from Bhagavan who is ultimately their storehouse hence He is called Praananilayah, the storehouse of the vital airs’.

The third interpretation is ‘Praaneeti iti Praano Jeevah Pare Pumsi Nileeyate iti vaa Praananilayah – Praanah refers to living beings and since they reside in Bhagavan, He is called Praananilayah, the abode of living beings’.

The fourth interpretation is ‘Praanaan Jeevaamscha Samharan iti vaa Praananilayah – At the time of dissolution all beings get reabsorbed in Him, hence He is called Praananilayah, the final resting place of all at the time of deluge’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar defines Praana as ‘Praananti iti Praanah, anye’pi Jivah –Those that live, namely the Jivas and nilayam means abode. Sri Parasara Bhattar gives the analogy of the birds going to their nest at the end of the day for rest. Similarly, the Jivas have Him as their abode.

Sri NammAzhwar in his Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (10.9.9) says – ‘Vaikuntham puguvadu mannavarvidiye’ meaning ‘Vaikuntham is our final Abode’.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan uses the same analogy, and explains the Nama in terms of Bhagavan’s Avataar as Krishna – ‘He in Whom the Gopis sought support as a result of the intense love of devotion to Him, just as the birds seek shelter in their nest – Praananti tat- snehamritena sambandhavateti Praanah tat-preyasIjanaah te nileeyante asmin Sakunta iva nilde iti Praananilayah’.

Since Bhagavan is the Support of all, and since they all merge into Him ultimately, He is called Praana-nilayah. The term ‘nilina’ means ‘merging with or merging into’. Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha interprets this Namain this context – ‘Praana nileeyante yasmin sa Praana-nilayah – He in Whom all the Jivas merge.

Sri Vasishtha also comments that Bhagavan has this Nama because He makes provision for the living of all living beings in whichever form it is appropriate for them. For example, He provides the means for the sustenance and survival of the trees, the beings in the water and in the land, the humans, etc. – in other words, He makes provisions for different Jivas to live or have an abode – sa sarveshaam shtaavara ja’ngamanam ca yatha yogay Saadhana pradaanena vaasayita’tah sa Praana-nilayah ucyate.

Swami ChinmayAnanda explains the Nama as: ‘He in Whom all Praanas stand established. He Who is the very substratum – vital foundation – for all ‘activities’ manifested in a living organism’.

  1.    Praana-bhrit – He sustains All the Beings

Praana is life and bhrit means supporter or sustainer. Based on this, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Poshayan Annarupena Praanan Praanabhrit – He sustains life in the form of food, hence He is called Praanabhrit, the sustainer of life’.

Taittriya Upanishad Mantra says ‘Aham annam Aham annam Aham annam – God is food and food is God’.

Another version of this name is ‘Praanadhrit’ with approximately the same meaning ‘the nourisher of life’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar’s interpretation is ‘taan maatr-vat dhaarayati ca iti Praana-Dhrit – He Who nourishes the living beings like a mother’.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to Sri NammAzhwar, who praises Bhagavan as ‘Our mother, Our father, Our soul’ in his Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (2.6.10):
போகின்றகாலங்கள்போயகாலங் கள்போகுகாலங்கள், தாய்தந்தையுயி
ராகின்றாய் உன்னைநானடைந்தேன்விடுவேனோ,
பாகின்றதொல்புகழ்மூவுலகுக்கும் நாதனே. பரமா, தண்வேங்கட
மேகின்றாய்தண்டுழாய் விரைநாறுகண்ணியனே.
Meaning: My Lord of eternal glory, Great Lord of the three worlds!  My Lord of fragrant Tulasi garland, king of the cool Venkatam hill through past, present and future, my father my mother, my life!  Now that I have found you, will I ever let you go?

Praana means life, and the word Dhrit is derived from the root ‘dhr – dharane’ meaning ‘to hold, to support, or to bear’. Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the interpretation – Sarvatra vyaaptah sarveshaam praaninam Praanan bibharti poshayati, dharayati va sah Praana-Bhrit – He Who pervades everything, and nourishes and supports everything is PraanaBhrit’.

Swami ChinmayAnanda explains the Nama as: ‘He Who rules over all Praanas – Sri Hari is the One Who causes everyone to eat, digest, feel energized, act, achieve the fruits thereof, grow old and die. In all these activities, the great One, Commanding, Factor, Divine, Sri Narayana, the Self, presides in silent detachment, and by His presence He initiates and maintains all these activities in all living creatures upon the Earth’s surface’.

Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha gives the following interpretation – Praanan indriyaani bibharti iti Praana-Bhrit – He Who nourishes and supports the indriyas and life is Praanabhrit.

  1.    Praana-Jivanah – He Who nourishes the Beings

Prana refers to living beings and Jivanah means the Life Giver. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this Nama as ‘Praanino Jivayan Praanakhyaih Pavanaih Praanajivanah – He makes people live by providing vital airs like Praana and Apana, hence he is called Praanajeevanah, the one who infuses life into beings’.

In support, he quotes from Katha Upanishad (2.2.5) which says:
Na praanena naapaanena martyo jivati kashcana |
Itareṇa tu jivanti, yasminn etav upashritau ||
Meaning: Life is not enabled by the vital airs Praana or Apaana but is enabled by Bhagavan who supplies these vital airs to sustain life, hence He is the real Praanajeevanah, the Life Giver.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as: ‘taan anna paaniyAdivat Jivayati iti PraanaJivanah’ – He Who supports life even as food and drink do.

Srimad Srimushnam Andavan comments that even the food and the water etc., have their power to sustain life only because He has given them this power.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to a Pasuram from Sri NammAzhwar, where Azhwar declares in Thiruvai Mozhi (6.7.1) that for devotees like him, Bhagavan is verily the food that is eaten, the drink that is consumed, etc. In other words, they will not live with out Him:
உண்ணுஞ் சோறு பருகுநீர் தின்னும்வெற் றிலையுமெல்லாம்
கண்ணன், எம்பெருமான் னென்றென் றேகண்கள் நீர்மல்கி,
மண்ணினுள் அவன்சீர் வளம்மிக் கவனூர் வினவி,
திண்ண மென்னிள மான்புகு மூர்திருக் கோளூரே.
Meaning: Emperumaan Kannan is the food that we consume, the water that we drink, and the betel leaves that we chew after food’. He is the tarakam (sustenance), poshakam (nurturing), and bhogyam (enjoyment) for His devotee.

Sri Krishnan comments that Bhagavan offers Himself as the food for the true devotees, and they cannot live without Him, and so He is their life or Jivanam, hence He is Praana-Jivanah.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj gives an interpretation that has the same spirit:
‘Praanan Jivan bhajana parayanan jivayati sva-darshana daanenaiti PraanaJivanah – He Who rejuvenates His devotees who sing His praise, by revealing Himself to them’.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri notes that life is not the vital air, or the body, or the mind, by itself. It is a mysterious amalgam of all of these that causes life, and this is made possible by Bhagavan alone, and nothing else. So, He is the true Support of Life, or the Giver of Life to every living being.

Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha’s interpretation is: Praanena mukhya praanena Jivayati janaan iti Praana Jivanah – He Who sustains Life through the vital airs.

Sri Baladeva Vidya Bhushan explains the Nama as: ‘Praanah te Jiva Namasya iti Praana-Jivanah’ – He Who has His devotees as His Praana or Life. Bhagavan treats those who are dear to Him as His own Atma, as demonstrated in His affection to His devotees.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives several supporting mantras from the Shruti:
yo asya sarva janmana Ishe sarvasya ceshtatah |
atandro brahmana dhirah praano ma nu tishtatu ||(Atharva.11.4.24)
Meaning: I pray to Praana, alert and resolute, Who is the Lord of all and who is responsible for the activities of all in this Universe of various beings that move and work.

Praanaya namo yasya sarva idam vashe | (Atharva. 11.4.1) – Homage to Praana under whose control everything in this Universe exists.

Praanam Ahur maatarishvaanam vaato ha Praana ucyate |
Praane ha Bhutam bhavyam ca praane sarvam pratishtitam ||(Atharva. 11.4.15)
Meaning: Praana is bestowed on maatarishvan, also known as the wind (Vaayu – air). On this Praana depend the past, the future and everything in the present.

There are different dimensions to supporting the life forms, starting from giving a body to the Jivas, giving them the vital airs for survival, the food to eat, the water to drink, the mind to think, the indriyas to act with, etc., all functioning in a coordinated and highly regulated way, till death parts the body and the soul. Between the Namas Praana-dah, Praana-Dhrit or Praana-Bhrit, and Praana-Jivanah, it is evident that all these function because of Him, and thus He is the sole Creator, Protector, and the Destroyer.

  1.    Tattvam – He Who is the Essence

The word ‘Tattvam’ means ‘the ultimate principle’ from which everything else can be derived. Sri Adi Sankara interprets it as ‘Tattvam Tathyam Amritam Satyam Paramaarthatah Satattvam iti ete Ekaarthavaachinah Pramaarthasato Bramhano vaachakaah Shabdaah – The words Tattva, Amrita (immortality), Satyam(Truth), Paramaartha (the Ultimate meaning), and Satattva (Pure existence) are synonyms, and mean the Supreme Brahman and hence He is called Tattvam’. Tattvam means the ultimate unique core substance of the Universe, which is Bhagavan, and hence He is known as Tattvam.

Sri Parasara Bhattar interprets the term ‘Tattvam’ as ‘Saraamsha’ – and this is translated as ‘essence’, or ‘the principle of the Universe’ by the translators.  Sri Bhattar explains the Nama through an example: ‘dadhi dugdhayoriva dadhisaarah cit acitoh vyaapti prayojanAbhyaam saraamshah Tattvam’ – Like butter which is the essence of milk and curd, Bhagavan, by His pervasiveness and usefulness in the sentient and non-sentient things, is the essence of all things. Butter gives texture, taste, the energy content, etc., to milk and curd. Similarly, Bhagavan is the essence of all things, by being the cause of their existence, the source of their sustenance etc.

Sri Bhattar gives the following support for his interpretation:
Param Artham Asheshasya jagatah prabhavapyayam |
Saranyam Saranam gacchan Govindam naavasidati ||
Meaning: Govinda is the true entity and He is the cause of creation, destruction, as well as protection. If a person seeks refuge in Him, he will never be in grief.

ekato va jagat kritsnam ekato vajanardanah |
saarato jagatah kritsnaat atirikto Janaardanah ||
Meaning: Place the entire Universe in one pan of a balance, and Bhagavan Janaardana in another, and you will find that Janaardana is superior to the whole Universe because of His intrinsic greatness.

Sri Andal refers to Him as ‘Tattuvan’ in Naacchiyaar Thirumozhi 5.6:
எத்திசை யுமம ரர்பணிந் தேத்தும் இருடீகே சன்வலி செய்ய
முத்தன்ன வெண்முறு வற்செய்ய வாயும் முலயு மழகழிந் தேன்நான்
கொத்தலர் காவில் மணித்தடம் கண்படை கொள்ளு மிளங்குயி லேஎன்
தத்துவ னைவரக் கூகிற்றி யாகில் தலையல்லால் கைம்மாறி லேனே
Meaning: Andal is asking the bird to go and tell the Lord – the Tattuvan, of her condition – By the pain inflicted on me by Hrishikesa, the Lord of the celestials, I have lost my pearly smile, my red lips and my beautiful breasts. O Young Koel nestling in a cozy nook amid bunches of flowers, if you call my honourable Lord, I will bow my head in gratitude.

Another Pasuram in which Sri NammAzhwar describes Bhagavan being the essence of everything that exists, is in Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram 6.9.7:
உலகில் திரியும் கரும கதியாய் உலகமாய்,
உலகுக்கேகேயோ ருயிரு மானாய்! புறவண்டத்து,
அலகில் பெலிந்த திசைபத் தாய அருவேயோ!
அலகில் பொலிந்த அறிவி லேனுக் கருளாயே.
Meaning:  You are the karmic souls roaming the Earth, You are the soul of the world itself.  You are the formless ten spheres and the spirit beyond, Pray grace this tiny self of infinite ignorance.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha derives the word ‘Tat’ from the root ‘tanu – vistare’ meaning ‘to extend, to spread, to go’. Tanyata iti tat, sthavara jangamAtmakam jagat, tasya saara Bhutam vastu tat-tvam ityarthah – This Universe is denoted by the term ‘tat’, which consists of movable and immovable things spread all over; the essence of all this is tat-tvam.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha gives the following from the Atharva Veda in support:
Yo vidyat sutram yasminnotahpraja imah |
Sutram sutrasya yo vidyat sa vidyat Brahmanam mahat || (Atharva. 10.8.37)
Meaning: One who knows the drawn-out string whereon all these creatures are strung, one who knows the thread’s thread, knows the Great Brahman.

That without the support or existence of which a given thing cannot function, can be considered to be its Tattvam, its essence or support. Thus, for a machinery, the oil or lubricant is something without which it cannot function for a prolonged time, and so it can be considered one of its Tattvas. Everything in this universe that functions will not exist without Him, and so He is the Tattva behind all that exist.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan gives the reference from Sri NammAzhwar’s Thiruvai Mozhi Pasuram (8.1.7):
இறந்ததும் நீயே எதிர்ந்ததும் நீயே நிகழ்வதோ நீயின்னே யானால்,
சிறந்தநின் தன்மை யதுவிது வுதுவென் றறிவொன்றும் சங்கிப்பன் வினையேன்,
கறந்தபால் நெய்யே! நெய்யின் சுவையே. கடலினுள் அமுதமே, அமுதில்
பிறந்தவின் சுவையே! சுவையது பயனே! பின்னைதோள் மணந்தபே ராயா!
Meaning: O’ my Lord, who took Nappinnai’s slender soft arms in embrace,  O’ Lord sweet as fresh milk and freshly churned butter!  O’ Lord sweet as the ocean’s ambrosia!  O’ Past, present and Future!  no, the taste of the nectar; no, no, You are the pleasure that one derives from enjoying the nectar!

Srimad Srimushnam Andavan refers us to the following from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 41) in support of His being the Tattvam behind everything:
Yad-yad vibhutimat sattvam Srimad-Urjitameva va |
Tat-tad-evavagaccha tvam mama tejo’msha sambhavah ||
Meaning: Whatever being is possessed of power, or splendor, or energy, know that as coming from a fragment of My power.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives another view of the term ‘Tattvam’ – that which leads to existence, and that which does not cease to exist when the being that came into existence disappears, is the true origin or source – the Tattva. The other sources that disappear over time, are not the true Cause. He comments that ‘tat’ is the word-form of Brahman that is the true cause of everything. tat-tvam is the nature of this ‘tat’.

Sri Krishna Datta Bharadvaj refers us to the Narayana Upanishad – Tattvam Narayanah parah – Narayana is the Supreme Reality.

  1.    Tattva-vit – The Knower of Truth

‘Tattvam’ means the ultimate underlying principle of everything and Vit is one who knows. With this Sri Adi Sankara interprets this name as ‘Tattvam Svaroopam Yathaavat Vetti iti Tattvavit – He knows the real underlying nature of everything which is himself hence he is called Tattvavit, the knower of the fundamental truth’. He himself is the fundamental truth and he himself is the knower of it. Bhagavan alone knows the functions of creation, preservation, destruction, giving the benefits to the Jivas according to their karmas, taking the Jiva to Him ultimately at the appropriate time, etc., and no one else does. 

Tattvam tatsvarupam vetti iti Tattva-vit – ‘He Who knows the true nature of Himself’. Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as ‘Atmanah Tattvam vetti iti Tattva- vit’ – ‘One Who knows the truth about Himself’, or One Who knows the truth about the Tattva. The truth that Bhagavan is the Supreme Deity and the Lord of all, is something that is not easily understood even by the likes of Brahma, Rudra and Indra, as repeatedly pointed out by Sri NammAzhwar:

  • Surar arivu aru nilai (Thiruvai Mozhi 1.1.8) – He is of such nature that even the Devas cannot understand His Tattvam.
  • Unarndu unarndu unarilum uyar nilai unarvadu aridu uyigaal! (Thiruvai Mozhi 1.3.6) – It is just not easy, even with intense contemplation, to understand the true nature of the Supreme Deity.

Sri Bhattar refers to the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 10 Verse 15), in which Arjuna declares (after witnessing the Vishwarupam) that Bhagavan knows Himself by His Own Self:
Svayameva Atman Atmanam vetthatvam Purushottama |
Bhuta bhavana Bhutesha devadeva jagatpate ||
Meaning: O’ Supreme Person, O’ Creator of beings, O Lord of all beings, O God of all Devas, O’ Ruler of the Universe, You alone know Yourself by Your own potencies.

Sri Bhattar also refers to the Sruti vakyam – ‘tvameva tvam vettha’ – You alone are aware of Yourself’.

It is not just the ordinary mortals like us who can’t fully comprehend Him through our intellect, but even the Shastras return back declaring that He is beyond description. The Taittiriya Upanishad declares: Yato vaco nivatante, aprapaya manasa saha (Anandavalli) – Words, alongwith the mind, turn back without being able to fully comprehend the Bliss of Brahman, which is Infinite. The Devas are unable to fully know Him, as we have seen through Sri NammAzhwar’s Pasurams above.

Srimad Srimushnam Andavan refers to Sri NammAzhwar’s words: ‘tanakkum tan tanmai ariya ariyanai’ – He whose greatness is such that even He does not know it fully.

Alavandar declares in his stotra ratnam: ‘yasyaste mahimanam Atmana iva tat- vallbho’piprabhuh’ – Neither Bhagavan’s greatness nor Piratti’s greatness can be known either by Him or by Her, because there is no limit to it, and so even they cannot measure something that has no limit. The point is that of all those who can know Him, He knows Himself the most.

  1.    Ekatma – The One and Only Superior Soul

Eka means one and Atma means Soul. On this basis, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Ekashcha Asau Atma cha Ekatma – He is the One and the only true Soul and hence He is called Ekatma’.

In support, He quotes from Aitareya Upanishad (1.1) which says ‘Atma Vaa Idameka Evaagra Aaseet – He was the only Soul existing at the beginning of all Creation’.

He also quotes from Linga Puranam ‘Yachhaapnoti Yadaadatte Yacchaatti Vishayaaniha; Yachhaasya Santato Bhaavah Tasmaat Aatmeti Geeyate – That which pervades, that which receives, that which enjoys the objects, and that which exists always, is called the Atman’. This shows the uniqueness of the Prime Soul, which is Bhagavan thus known as Ekatma.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains that Bhagavan is the One and only Supreme Soul who controls all the other souls, and so He is Ekatma – sarvasya cit acit vargasya ayam ekaeva Seshi bhokta abhimanau ca iti Ekatma – He is Ekatma because He is the Sole Master, Enjoyer, and Well-wisher of all sentient and non-sentient objects.

Sri V.V. Ramanujan refers us to Sri NammAzhwar’s Pasuram, where Bhagavan is called ‘Or uyireyu!’ – which is ‘translated’ by Sri V. N. Vedanta Desikan as ‘Ekatma’.
ஆருயி ரேயோ! அகலிடம் முழுதும் படைத்திடந் துண்டுமிழ்ந் தளந்த,
பேருயி ரேயோ. பெரியநீர் படைத்தங் குறைந்தது கடைந்தடைத் துடைத்த,
சீரிய ரேயோ.மனிசர்க்குத் தேவர் போலத்தே வர்க்கும்தே வாவோ,
ஓருயி ரேயோ. உலகங்கட் கெல்லாம் உன்னைநான் எங்குவந் துறுகோ?
Meaning: The vast Universe was created, once dug out from deep waters (Varaha Avataar), swallowed (Pralaya), spat out (Creation after Pralaya), scaled with feet (Trivikrama Avataar), all by You, out of grace. You made the seas, churned them (Kurma Avataar, Mohini Avataar), bridged the ocean (Rama Avataar), and broke a part of it later. You are my dear life. You are the Lord of all the Devas, and You are far above the Devas just as the Devas are far above the humans. You’re are the Supreme Soul above all the other souls, the Creator, Protector and Destroyer of the Universe. How am I to reach You? Pray tell me.

Nityo nityanam cetanash- cetananam eko bahunam yo vidadati kaman – He Who is the Most Eternal above all the eternals, the Supreme above all the cetanas, the One Who constitutes the many, and the One Who bestows all the wishes of all the other beings.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha explains the Nama as: ‘evanca sa Vishnureva sarvasya sthavara jangama rupasya vishvasya EkaAtma sarvatra vyaptatvat Ekatma’ – Lord Vishnu, who pervades everything in this Universe of sentient and non-sentient objects, is called Ekatma.

Sri Satya Sandha Thirtha explains the Nama as ‘Eka Atma mukhya swamI = He is the Supreme Deity.

  1.    Janma-mrityu-jaraatigah – He Who is beyond birth, death and old age

‘Janma’ means ‘Birth’, ‘Mrityu’ means ‘Death’ and Jaraa means ‘Old Age’. The word ‘Atigah’ stands for Ateetya Gacchati, One who rises above or transcends. Taking all of this together, Sri Adi Sankara interprets this as ‘Jaayate, Asti, Vardhate, Viparinamate, Apaksheeyate, Nashyati iti ShadbhavaVikaaraan Ateetya Gacchati iti JanmaMrityuJaraatigah – There are six stages and since He transcends these six kinds of changes, namely conception, birth, growth, maturity, decay and death, He is called JanmaMrityuJaraatigah, the one who transcends birth, death and infirmity’.

Katha Upanishad (1.2.18) says ‘Na jaayate Mriyate Vaa Vipashchit iti – the One who is pure knowledge does not take birth, nor subject to death’.

Sri Parasara Bhattar explains the Nama as One Who is beyond birth, death, decay etc. His interpretation is – tathapi tad-ubhaya vidharmAtma – He Who, while being the Inner Soul or antaryami of all the sentient and non-sentient objects, is not affected by their attributes (such as rajas, tamas, punya, paapa etc.). The ordinary souls accumulate the effects of the Punyas and Paapas that they accrue while they are embodied. Unlike these souls, Bhagavan is not touched by any of these effects of Punyas and Paapas even though He is the antaryami of all these objects. In addition, when He assumes a body out of His own free will, He is not born like the rest of us, and is not subject to aging, death etc. like the rest of us.

It is important to understand the difference between the body and the soul to appreciate the meaning of this Nama. Ordinary souls (Jivas) also are beyond birth, death and decay. But they get a body based on their previous karmas, to enable them to enjoy the effects of these karmas. This body is subject to birth, death and decay. The Jivas go through repeated births and deaths, with the associated new bodies, until they exhaust all their karmas, and ultimately realize the ParamAtman and are relieved of this cycle of birth and death. Bhagavan is not subject to this cycle, since He is not touched by the effects of karma ever. Lord Krishna declares in the the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4 Verse 14):
na mam karmani limpanti na mekarma phale spriha |
iti mam yo’bhijanati karmabhir na sa badhyate ||
Meaning: There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.

Even though He has all the sentient and non-sentient beings as His body according to the VishishtAdvaita philosophy, Sri Parasara Bhattar explains that Bhagavan is still not touched by the karmas (namely, sins, good deeds, the resulting birth, death etc,), of these sentient and non-sentient beings, but instead, it is the souls of these beings that get the effects of these karmas. The bodies of all the sentient and non-sentient beings are part of His body in the sense that they are all subservient to Him and are fully under His control.

So are the souls of all these beings – they are His body, and are subservient to Him. He is the antaryami of these souls, and is a witness and the energizer of these souls; however, He is not touched by their karmas, and so He is never born, and so there is no question of aging, death etc. There is no such thing as karma for Him, since all His actions are all selfless, and are devoted to the benefit of all the beings that exist. None of His actions are for His benefit.

Sri Satyadevo Vasishtha refers us to Atharva Veda that conveys the sense of this Nama:
akamo dhiro amrutah svayambhu rasen trupte na kutashpa nonah |
tameva vidvan na vibhaya mrutyor-atman dhirmajar yuvanana ||
Meaning: Desireless, firm, immortal, self-existent, contented with the essence, lacking nothing, free from fear of death is He who knows that Soul courageous, youthful and undecaying’.

Sri Radhakrishna Shastri gives the following from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.25) in support: sa va esha mahaanaja Atmajaro’maro Amṛto’bhayo Brahma;
abhayaṃ vai brahma;
abhayaṃ hi vai brahma bhavati ya evaṃ veda ||
Meaning: That infinite birthless undecaying, indestructible immortal, and fearless self (ParamAtman) is the Supreme Brahman. The Supreme Brahman is devoid of fear. He who knows that Supreme Brahman becomes the fearless Brahman.

The Story of Two Birds from the Mundaka Upanishad (3.3.1)

Two birds living together, each the friend of the other, perch upon the same tree. Of these two, one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, but the other simply looks on without eating.

The two birds are the Jivatma and ParamAtma, both existing in an individual compared to a tree. They exist together as the reflection and the original. They both manifest themselves in different ways in every individual. From the characteristics of the Jivatma it is possible to infer the nature of ParamAtma, and from the nature of ParamAtma it is possible to determine the potentialities of the Jivatma. Both the Jivatma and ParamAtma have a common substratum which is Brahman and which is the reality of both. The body is compared to a tree because it can be cut down like a tree. This tree is also called the Kshetra or the field of manifestation and action of the Kshetrajna or the knower of the field. The body is the field of action and experience and it is the fruit of actions done already.

That which distinguishes the Jivatma from ParamAtma is the mind. In fact, the mind itself constitutes the Jiva. It is the Jiva that is affected by Avidya, Kama and Karma. Because of the conjunction of consciousness with these limiting factors, it has to experience the results of its actions; but ParamAtma, who is not limited to any adjunct, has no actions whatsoever to perform, and so, no need to experience of the results of actions. The fruits enjoyed by the Jivatma are of the nature of pleasure and pain, i.e., they are all relative experiences born of non-discrimination. The experience of ParamAtma is eternal and is of the nature of purity, knowledge and freedom. Relative experience is the effect of the presence of Rajas, but the character of ParamAtma is Sattva and, hence, there is no phenomenal experience for Him. He is in fact the director of both the agent of actions and the results of actions. ParamAtma’s activity consists in His mere existence. The value of His existence is greater than that of the activity of the whole Universe. It is His existence that actuates the whole Universe of manifestation.

In Summary

Pramaanam Praananilayah Praanabhrit Praanajivanah |
Tattvam Tattvavid Ekatma Janma-Mrityu-Jaraatigah ||103||

He is the authentic source for everything and sets the standards for righteous action, hence He is called Pramaanam. He is the ultimate abode for all beings, hence He is known as Praananilayah. He sustains all sentient and non-sentient beings, hence He is Praanabhrit.  He is the Life Giver as well as the in-dweller, so He is Praanajivanah.

He is the source, essence and the truth, hence He is called Tattvam. He is the knower of the Truth and so He is Tattvavid.  He is the one and only Superior Soul (Purusha), hence He is Ekatma.  He is beyond birth, death and old age, so He is Janma-Mrityu-Jarratigah.



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


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