Viṣṇusahasranāma

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Visnusahasranama, ViSNusahasranAma, Vishnusahasranaama


Viṣṇusahasranāma literally means ‘thousand names of Viṣṇu.

In religion, stotras or hymns of God are legion. Out of these, the aṣṭottara-śatanāmas[1] and sahasranāmas[2] are a class by themselves. In the latter group, two sahasranāmas are considered outstanding and extremely popular even now. They are:

  1. The Lalitāsahasranāma
  2. The Viṣṇusahasranāma

Significance of Viṣṇusahasranāma

Viṣṇusahasranāma is dedicated respectively to the Divine Mother Lalitā[3] and Lord Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa. In fact, they are considered, not as just hymns of praise, but as mantras[4] potent with spiritual vibrations. The Viṣṇusahasranāma, like the Bhagavadgitā, is an integral part of the Mahābhārata.[5]

Content of Viṣṇusahasranāma

Verses 1 to 13 form the introduction which are called pūrvapīṭhikā. The actual Sahasranāma is spread over verses 14 to 120. Thereafter, the phalaśruti[6] is given in the last part comprising verses 121 to 142.

Chanting of Viṣṇusahasranāma

The Viṣṇusahasranāma is mainly meant for chanting, either independently or as a part of a rite. The individual names may also be separately used in arcana.[7] For chanting it, there is a standard ritual method. The names of the rsi,[8] the devatā[9] and the chandas[10] have to be recited. For this hymn, these are:

  1. Vedavyāsa
  2. Nārāyaṇa
  3. Anuṣtubh

This is followed by viniyoga or the purpose for which the hymn is chanted. Here, the general purpose is to please the Lord. However, if the devotee has any particular purpose or desire to be fulfilled, that may be properly mentioned. Then comes dhyāna or meditation on the form of the deity. This is usually done by chanting a dhyānaśloka[11] which gives a detailed description of the form.

Chanting of Dhyānaślokas

In the Viṣṇusahasranāma tradition however, nine ślokas are given as dhyāna-ślokas and hence all of them are to be chanted. As regards the actual chanting, two methods are being followed.

  1. In the first, the following is the sequence: ṛṣyādinyāsa; dhyāna; actual Sahasranāma.[12]
  2. In the second, the introductory part[13] and the phalaśruti[14] are also included.

Sometimes, 8 more verses are added in the very beginning. Printed texts meant exclusively for chanting contain all these details.

Phalaśruti of Some Mantras

There are exactly 1000 names in the hymn. Though some of the names have been repeated more than once, the commentators have justified them with appropriate explanations. From out of these thousand names, religious tradition has selected a few, to be used in an appropriate form, to fulfill one’s desires. For instance:

Mantra for Japa Number of Times for Mantra Recital Desired Fruit
Ohm kāmapradāya namah 298 Fulfillment of desires
Ohm anantajite namah 307 Victory in undertakings
Ohm sthānadāya namah 387 Attainment of position and status in life
Ohm sthavisthāya namah 436 Destruction of sins
Ohm samīhanāya namah 444 Getting a good job
Ohm ratnagarbhāya namah 473 Gaining wealth
Ohm pranavāya namah 957 Attaining liberation


The numbers in the brackets indicate the serial number of the name according to the Sāñkarabhāsya.

Significance of Viṣṇusahasranāma Worship

The recitation of such hymns as this is considered superior to the performance of Vedic sacrifices and is as good as a ritualistic worship of God due to the following reasons:

  • It does not need the help of other human beings or money and materials.
  • The rules of deśa[15] and kāla[16] do not apply to its chanting.
  • Irrespective of caste or creed all are free to chant it provided they have faith.
  • It does not involve violence to living beings.

Significance of Viṣṇusahasranāma as per Bhīṣma

Bhīṣma, the grandsire, was laying down on the bed of arrows, awaiting death at an auspicious moment. It was during this period that he was teaching the duties of a king to Yudhiṣṭhira the eldest of the Pāṇḍavas. The Viṣṇusahasranāma was taught by him when Yudhiṣṭhira put him six questions about the highest God who has to be praised and worshiped and repetition of whose name will lead to liberation.

Commentaries on Viṣṇusahasranāma

The deeper meaning and significance of such esoteric texts can be known only through the commentaries written by competent scholars. It is interesting to note that so far, at least 15 commentaries in Sanskrit have been discovered on this hymn. Out of these the following three are more well-known:

  1. Śāṅkarabhāṣya by Śaṅkarācārya[17]
  2. Bhagavadgunadarpana by Parāśara Bhaṭṭa[18]
  3. Satyasandhīya by Satyasandhatirtha of Uttarādimatha[19]

Śāṅkarabhāṣya has two sub commentaries:

  1. Vivrti by Tāraka-brahmānanda sarasvatī
  2. Padyaprasūnāñjali by Kavipaṇdita Gambhirabhāratī

These three commentaries represent the three main systems of Vedanta. They are:

  1. Advaita
  2. Viṣiṣṭādvaita
  3. Dvaita

Epilogue

The actual method of japa has to be learnt from the experts in the field of sādhana or spiritual practice. One of the lists available gives 118 such mantras. This can definitely be said that the Viṣṇusahasranāma is extremely popular even now. It is extensively used in temple rituals and on religious occasions.


References

  1. Aṣṭottara-śatanāmas means with 108 names.
  2. Sahasranāmas means with 1000 names.
  3. Lalitā is an aspect of Devī Pārvatī.
  4. Mantras are the mystical texts.
  5. Anuśāsanaparva 149.1-142
  6. Phalaśruti means fruits of recitation.
  7. Arcana means offering with flowers in worship.
  8. Rsi is the sage through whom it was revealed.
  9. Devatā is the deity to whom it is addressed.
  10. Chandas is the meter in which it is composed.
  11. Dhyānaśloka is the hymn of meditation.
  12. Viṣṇusahasranāma verses 14 to 120
  13. Viṣṇusahasranāma verses 1 to 13
  14. Eulogy, verses 121 to 142
  15. Deśa means place of performance.
  16. Kāla means auspicious times.
  17. He lived in A.D. 788-812
  18. Viṣṇusahasranāma A. D. 1106-1206
  19. He lived in 18th century.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore