By Swami Harshananda
sahasranāmastotras (‘hymns containing one thousand names’)
The chanting of the nāma or the divine name has an important place in the disciplines prescribed by the Bhakti schools of Vedānta like those of Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017- 1137), Madhva (A. D. 1238-1317) and Caitanya (A. D. 1485-1533). In fact, this tradition goes so far as to declare that the nāma (the name) and the nāmin (the one who is named, i.e., God) are
This adoration of God by the divine name assumes two forms: japa and stotra.
In japa, the name of God (or even a long formula) has to be silently repeated. The stotra, however, is invariably uttered aloud. It may consist in chanting verses conveying the glory and attributes of God. The sahasranāmastotras belong to this group and are extremely popular.
The word sahasranāma literally means ‘thousand names of God’. According to the Vedic tradition, there is only one manifesting sound (śabda) indicative of the Supreme Being (Parabrahman). And, this is called Praṇava or Om. (See PRANAVA for details.) Just as that one Parabrahman is adored as manifesting in the form of many deities, the one name Om, indicative of Him, also takes the shape of innumerable sound forms representing divine attributes and other excellences. A sahasranāma is, perhaps, the most extensive elaboration of the divine name. And, its recitation, along with pujā or ritualistic worship, is said to be an easier method to control the mind than japa and meditation.
Though a sahasranāmastotra comprises only the names of the deity, these names have been so ingeniously composed as to reflect many aspects of the divine.
Generally, a sahasranāmastotra has to be chanted ceremoniously, preceded by certain preliminaries. They are: reciting the name of the ṛṣi or the sage to whom it was first revealed, the chandas or the metre in which it is composed, the devatā or the deity adored through this stotra, and, the viniyoga or the purpose for which it is chanted.
This should be followed by karanyāsa and aṅganyāsa (ceremonial purification of the hands and the upper limbs). Then the
dhyānaśloka, describing the form of the deity is to be chanted.
Now comes the actual recitation of the whole hymn.
At the end, it is the normal practice to recite the phalaśruti or eulogy of the hymn also.
If one likes, these thousand names can be used in ritualistic worship also offering flowers or tulasī leaves (holy basil) or bilva leaves (Aegle marmelos) or even kuṅkum (vermillion powder) with each name.
Hindu tradition often considers that some of the names of the sahasranāmastotras are potent with special powers and that their repetition can result in the fulfilment of one’s desires.
A very large number of sahasranāmastotras are now available in print. They occur mostly in the purāṇas and are addressed to several deities of the Hindu pantheon.
The following is a list of the sahasra-nāmas thus available, arranged in the English alphabetical order:
(3 different hymns) Lakṣmīnṛsimha Sahasranāmastotra
Makārādi-śrīrāma Sahasranāmastotra Mīnākṣī Sahasranāmastotra
Rakārādi-śrīrāma Sahasranāmastotra Rāma Sahasranāmastotra
Śoḍaśī-rājarājeśvari Sahasranāmastotra Surya Sahasranāmastotra
Though thus thirty-three sahasra-nāmastotras have been printed so far, only three—of Viṣṇu, Śiva and Lalitā are extremely popular and constantly in use.
See also STOTRA.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore