Nārāyaṇīya

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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Narayaniya, NArAyaNIya, Naaraayaniya


Nārāyaṇīya (‘pertaining to Nārāyaṇa’)

The devotional cults of Hinduism have been divided into two main streams: the Saiva (that of Siva; this includes the Śākta or the cult of the Divine Mother) and the Vaiṣṇava (that of Viṣṇu), (also known as the Bhāgavata cult).

One of the basic and very important texts—perhaps the oldest too—is the Nārāyanlya section of the Mahābhārata, comprising the 18 chapters (chs. 334 to 351) of the Sāntiparva (the 12th book of the epic). The total number of verses— which sometimes includes paragraphs and sentences in prose also—is 1310.

The entire section is devoted to the glorification of Lord Nārāyaṇa, his devotees, and the nature of devotion to be cultivated towards him.

A brief summary of this section may now be attempted here:

Chapter 1 (Ch. 334; 45 verses)

Nārada visits the Badarikāśrama where Nara and Nārāyaṇa (the twin sages) are performing severe austerities. In reply to Nārada’s question as to whom he was meditating upon and worshipping, the sage

Nārāyaṇa replies that it was on the Supreme God (Nārāyaṇa).

Chapter 2 (Ch. 335; 55 verses)

As per the directions of the sage Nārāyaṇa, Nārada visits the Śvetadvīpa, the island beyond the mountain Meru. He is wonder-struck to see there, the multitude of devotees of Lord Nārāyaṇa, who were absolutely white in colour (śveta = white) and were deeply immersed in meditation on him.

Chapter 3 (Ch. 336; 65 verses)

The great sacrifice performed by the king Uparicara—a devotee of the highest order—under the guidance of the sage Bṛhaspati forms the subject matter of this chapter.

Chapter 4 (Ch. 337; 41 verses)

This chapter describes how the king Uparicara, though he had attained heaven, fell from there since he permitted the immolation of a goat in a sacrifice, thereby committing himsā (violence). He was however saved by the Lord Nārāyaṇa by the power of the aṣṭākṣarī (eight-lettered) mantra (= om namo nārāyanāya) which he was constantly repeating.

Chapter 5 (Ch. 338; 200 names of the Lord)

This chapter contains a long hymn in prose, in praise of Lord Nārāyaṇa, by the sage Nārada while in the Śvetadvīpa. It has 200 epithets.

Chapter 6 (Ch. 339; 141 verses)

Pleased by Nārada’s devotional prayer, the Lord Nārāyaṇa appears before him in his Cosmic Form (Viśvarupa) which was indescribably beautiful and brilliant.

Nārada is advised by the Lord to

serve the sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa of the Badarikāśrama.

There is also a brief description of the four Vyuhas: Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. (See CATUR-VYUHAS for details.)

Chapter 7 (Ch. 340; 119 verses)

This chapter is mainly devoted to the delineation of pravṛttidharma (performance of one’s duties as prescribed by the śāstras or scriptures), yajñas or Vedic sacrifices being the main part of the same. Towards the end, nivṛttidharma (path of knowledge and renunciation) is also touched upon.

Chapter 8 (Ch. 341; 51 verses)

The various names by which Lord Kṛṣṇa was praised are described here along with their etymological meanings by Kṛṣṇa himself to Arjuna. The identity of Brahmā and Rudra (Śiva) with Nārāyaṇa (or Kṛṣṇa) has also been stressed.

Chapter 9 (Ch. 342; 142 verses including prose paras)

This section is a combination of verses interspersed with prose passages. It describes sṛṣti or creation, greatness of brāhmaṇas (the wise spiritual persons), story of the sage Dadhīci (See DADHĪCI.), story of the king Nahuṣa being cursed by the sage Agastya, creation of the work Nirukta by the sage Yāska, about the four Vedas and fighting between Rudra and Nārāyaṇa.

Chapter 10 (Ch. 343; 66 verses)

In this chapter, the second visit of the sage Nārada to Śvetadvīpa and revisiting the sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa are described.

Chapter 11 (Ch. 344; 27 verses)

This short section expounds the nature of Lord Vāsudeva, the highest aspect of Nārāyaṇa.

Chapter 12 (Ch. 345; 28 verses)

The origin of śrāddha and tarpaṇa (obsequial rites), attributed to the Varāhāvatāra (boar-incarnation of Viṣṇu) is expounded here.

Chapter 13 (Ch. 346; 22 verses)

This chapter is a eulogy of the merit one gets by listening to the greatness of Lord Nārāyaṇa.

Chapter 14 (Ch. 347; 96 verses)

When the two demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha had stolen the Vedas, Viṣṇu took the form of Hayagrīva (See HAYAGRĪVA for details.) and recovered them. Later on he killed the demons also. This is the gist of the contents of this chapter.

Chapter 15 (Ch. 348; 88 verses)

This chapter describes how the Sātvatadharma (or Bhāgavatadharma, religion of devotion towards Lord Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu) was taught by the Lord, but, forgotten again and again by the receivers. To receive it and propagate it in the world, Brahmā had to take seven births! This dharma of single-minded devotion taught in the Upaniṣads and the Pāñcarātra Āgamas is superior to the path of jñāna (knowledge) and can be got only by God’s grace.

Chapter 16 (Ch. 349; 74 verses)

The birth of the sage Vyāsa, first as the sage Apāntaratamas and later as Rrsna-Dvaipāyana, is described here. How

he edited and divided the Vedas as also his encyclopedic knowledge are also delineated. Another interesting point stressed here is that all the five well-known philosophies contained in the metaphysical systems of Sāṇkhya, Yoga, Pāñcarātra, Vedas and Pāśupata lead to the same goal viz., Nārāyaṇa!

Chapter 17 (Ch. 350; 27 verses)

This is a short chapter describing the meeting between Brahmā the creator, and Śiva, represented here as his son. The ensuing conversation is continued in detail in the next chapter.

Chapter 18 (Ch. 351; 23 verses)

This is also a short chapter.

It gives a beautiful description of Lord Nārāyaṇa, not only in the cosmic aspect—reminiscent of the one given in the Purusasukta (Rgveda 10.7.90)—but also as the antaryāmin (inner controller). The four Vyuhas are also referred to.

It is thus seen that this Nārāyaniya section of the Mahābhārata is specially devoted—as its very name indicates—to the exposition of the glory of Lord Nārāyaṇa.

Nārāyanīyam is also the name of an extremely elegant poetical work on the Kṛṣṇa-theme, characterised by literary grace and devotional fervour. Nārāyaṇa Bhattātiri (A. D. 1560-1625) of Meppattur in the Kerala State is its illustrious author. (See NĀRĀYANA BHATTĀTIRI for details.)

This work is a faithful poetical condensation of the entire Bhāgavata. It is in one hundred daśakas (decades or cantos of ten stanzas), the total number of verses —which are in various meters—being a

little more than one thousand (1036, to be exact).

The following table gives an idea as to how the story of the Bhāgavata has been covered:

Skandhas Daśakas

(of Bhāgavata) (of Nārāyaniyam)

1 1-3

2 4-7

3 8-15

4 16-19

5 20, 21

6 22, 23

7 24, 25

8 26-32

9 33-36

10 37-90

11 91-97

12 98-100

(See BHĀGAVATA for the contents of the various skandhas.)

It has been considered a unique work in the Sanskrit language since it combines in itself literary grace comparable to any well-known masterpiece. As a hymn of rare devotional fervour, it can be classed among the best of works in Sanskrit hymnology. Added to these two is the exposition of Vedānta philosophy with the dominance of devotional sentiment.

Thus, it is a distinctive work in Sanskrit from every standpoint.


References

  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

OLD CONTENT

Nārāyaṇīya (‘pertaining to Nārāyaṇa’) The devotional cults of Hinduism have been divided into two main streams: the Saiva (that of Siva; this includes the Sākta or the cult of the Divine Mother) and the Vaiṣṇava (that of Viṣṇu), (also known as the Bhāgavata cult). One of the basic and very important texts—perhaps the oldest too—is the Nārāyanlya section of the Mahābhārata, comprising the 18 chapters (chs. 334 to 351) of the Sāntiparva (the 12th book of the epic). The total number of verses— which sometimes includes paragraphs and sentences in prose also—is 1310. The entire section is devoted to the glorification of Lord Nārāyaṇa, his devo¬tees, and the nature of devotion to be cultivated towards him. A brief summary of this section may now be attempted here: Chapter 1 (Ch. 334; 45 verses) Nārada visits the Badarikāśrama where Nara and Nārāyaṇa (the twin sages) are performing severe austerities. In reply to Nārada’s question as to whom he was meditating upon and worshipping, the sage Nārāyaṇa replies that it was on the Supreme God (Nārāyaṇa). Chapter 2 (Ch. 335; 55 verses) As per the directions of the sage Nārāyaṇa, Nārada visits the Svetadvīpa, the island beyond the mountain Meru. He is wonder-struck to see there, the multi¬tude of devotees of Lord Nārāyaṇa, who were absolutely white in colour (śveta = white) and were deeply immersed in meditation on him. Chapter 3 (Ch. 336; 65 verses) The great sacrifice performed by the king Uparicara—a devotee of the highest order—under the guidance of the sage Bṛhaspati forms the subject matter of this chapter. Chapter 4 (Ch. 337; 41 verses) This chapter describes how the king Uparicara, though he had attained heaven, fell from there since he permitted the immolation of a goat in a sacrifice, thereby committing hiihsā (violence). He was how¬ever saved by the Lord Nārāyaṇa by the power of the aṣṭākṣarī (eight-lettered) mantra (= om namo nārāyanāya) which he was constantly repeating. Chapter 5 (Ch. 338; 200 names of the Lord) This chapter contains a long hymn in prose, in praise of Lord Nārāyaṇa, by the sage Nārada while in the Svetadvīpa. It has 200 epithets. Chapter 6 (Ch. 339; 141 verses) Pleased by Nārada’s devotional prayer, the Lord Nārāyaṇa appears before him in his Cosmic Form (Viśvarupa) which was indescribably beautiful and brilliant. Nārada is advised by the Lord to serve the sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa of the Badarikāśrama. There is also a brief description of the four Vyuhas: Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. (See CATUR- VYUHAS for details.) Chapter 7 (Ch. 340; 119 verses) This chapter is mainly devoted to the delineation of pravṛttidharma (perform¬ance of one’s duties as prescribed by the śāstras or scriptures), yajñas or Vedic sacrifices being the main part of the same. Towards the end, nivṛttidharma (path of knowledge and renunciation) is also touched upon. Chapter 8 (Ch. 341; 51 verses) The various names by which Lord Kṛṣṇa was praised are described here along with their etymological meanings by Kṛṣṇa himself to Arjuna. The identity of Brahmā and Rudra (Śiva) with Nārāyaṇa (or Kṛṣṇa) has also been stressed. Chapter 9 (Ch. 342; 142 verses including prose paras) This section is a combination of verses interspersed with prose passages. It des¬cribes sṛsti or creation, greatness of brāhmaṇas (the wise spiritual persons), story of the sage Dadhīci (See DADHĪCI.), story of the king Nahuṣa being cursed by the sage Agastya, creation of the work Nirukta by the sage Yāska, about the four Vedas and fighting between Rudra and Nārāyaṇa. Chapter 10 (Ch. 343; 66 verses) In this chapter, the second visit of the sage Nārada to Svetadvīpa and revisiting the sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa are described. Chapter 11 (Ch. 344; 27 verses) This short section expounds the nature of Lord Vāsudeva, the highest aspect of Nārāyaṇa. Chapter 12 (Ch. 345; 28 verses) The origin of śrāddha and tarpaṇa (obsequial rites), attributed to the Varāhāvatāra (boar-incarnation of Viṣṇu) is expounded here. Chapter 13 (Ch. 346; 22 verses) This chapter is a eulogy of the merit one gets by listening to the greatness of Lord Nārāyaṇa. Chapter 14 (Ch. 347; 96 verses) When the two demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha had stolen the Vedas, Viṣṇu took the form of Hayagrīva (See HAYAGRĪVA for details.) and recovered them. Later on he killed the demons also. This is the gist of the contents of this chapter. Chapter 15 (Ch. 348; 88 verses) This chapter describes how the Sātvatadharma (or Bhāgavatadharma, religion of devotion towards Lord Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu) was taught by the Lord, but, forgotten again and again by the receivers. To receive it and propagate it in the world, Brahmā had to take seven births! This dharma of single-minded devotion taught in the Upaniṣads and the Pāñcarātra Āgamas is superior to the path of jñāna (knowledge) and can be got only by God’s grace. Chapter 16 (Ch. 349; 74 verses) The birth of the sage Vyāsa, first as the sage Apāntaratamas and later as Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipāyana, is described here. How he edited and divided the Vedas as also his encyclopedic knowledge are also deline¬ated. Another interesting point stressed here is that all the five well-known philosophies contained in the metaphysical systems of Sāṇkhya, Yoga, Pāñcarātra, Vedas and Pāśupata lead to the same goal viz., Nārāyaṇa! Chapter 17 (Ch. 350; 27 verses) This is a short chapter describing the meeting between Brahmā the creator, and Siva, represented here as his son. The ensuing conversation is continued in detail in the next chapter. Chapter 18 (Ch. 351; 23 verses) This is also a short chapter. It gives a beautiful description of Lord Nārāyaṇa, not only in the cosmic aspect—reminiscent of the one given in the Purusasukta (Rgveda 10.7.90)—but also as the antaryāmin (inner controller). The four Vyuhas are also referred to. It is thus seen that this Nārāyanlya section of the Mahābhārata is specially devoted—as its very name indicates—to the exposition of the glory of Lord Nārāyaṇa. Nārāyaniyam is also the name of an extremely elegant poetical work on the Kṛṣṇa-theme, characterised by literary grace and devotional fervour. Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭātiri (A. D. 1560-1625) of Meppattur in the Kerala State is its illustrious author. (See NĀRĀYANA BHATTĀTIRI for details.) This work is a faithful poetical condensation of the entire Bhāgavata. It is in one hundred daśakas (decades or cantos of ten stanzas), the total number of verses —which are in various meters—being a little more than one thousand (1036, to be exact). The following table gives an idea as to how the story of the Bhāgavata has been covered: Skandhas Daśakas (of Bhāgavata) (of Nārāyaniyam) 1 1-3 2 4-7 3 8-15 4 16-19 5 20, 21 6 22, 23 7 24, 25 8 26-32 9 33-36 10 37-90 11 91-97 12 98-100 (See BHĀGAVATA for the contents of the various skandhas.) It has been considered a unique work in the Sanskrit language since it combines in itself literary grace comparable to any well-known masterpiece. As a hymn of rare devotional fervour, it can be classed among the best of works in Sanskrit hymnology. Added to these two is the exposition of Vedānta philosophy with the dominance of devotional sentiment. Thus, it is a distinctive work in Sanskrit from every standpoint.