By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Visnusahasranama, ViSNusahasranAma, Vishnusahasranaama
Visnusahasranāma (‘thousand names of • •
In Hinduism, stotras or hymns of God are legion. Out of these, the aṣṭottara-śatanāmas (with 108 names) and sahasra-nāmas (with 1000 names) are a class by themselves.
In the latter group, two sahasra-nāmas are considered outstanding and extremely popular even now. They are: the Lalitāsahasranāma and the Visnusahasranāma, dedicated respectively to the Divine Mother Lalitā (an aspect of Devī Pārvatī) and Lord Viṣṇu or Nārāyaṇa. In fact, they are considered, not as just hymns of praise, but as mantras (mystical texts) potent with spiritual vibrations.
The Visnusahasranāma, like the Bhagavadgitā, is an integral part of the Mahābhārata (Anuśāsanaparva 149.1-142).
Verses 1 to 13 form the introduction called pūrvapīṭhikā. The actual Sahasra-nāma is spread over verses 14 to 120. Thereafter, the phalaśruti (fruits of recitation) is given in the last part comprising verses 121 to 142.
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 (place of performance) and kāla (auspicious times) 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.
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 (A.D. 788-812).
This has two subcommentaries: Vivrti by Tāraka-brahmānanda-
Padyaprasūnāñjali by Kavipaṇdita Gambhirabhāratī.
2. Bhagavadgunadarpana by Parāśara Bhaṭṭa (A. D. 1106-1206).
3. Satyasandhīya by
Satyasandhatirtha of Uttarādimatha (18th century).
These three commentaries represent
the three main systems of Vedanta viz., Advaita, Viṣiṣṭādvaita and Dvaita.
The Visnusahasranāma is mainly meant for chanting, either independently or as a part of a rite. The individual names may also be separately used in arcana (offering with flowers in worship).
For chanting it, there is a standard ritual method. First the names of the rsi (the sage through whom it was revealed), the devatā (the deity to whom it is addressed) and the chandas (the metre in which it is composed) have to be recited. For this hymn, these are: Vedavyāsa, Nārāyaṇa and 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 (hymn of meditation) which gives a detailed description of the form.
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. In the first, the following is the sequence: ṛṣyādinyāsa; dhyāna; actual Sahasranāma (verses 14 to 120).
In the second, the introductory part (verses 1 to 13) and the phalaśruti (eulogy, verses 121 to 142) are also included. Sometimes, 8 more verses are added in the very beginning. Printed texts meant exclusively for chanting contain all these details.
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 Visnusahasranāma was taught by him then, when Yudhiṣṭhira put him six questions about the highest God who has to be praised and worshipped, and repetition of whose name will lead to
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, Hindu religious tradition has selected a few, to be used in an appropriate form, to fulfil one’s desires. For instance:
Mantra for Japa Desired Fruit
Orh kāmapradāya Fulfilment of desires.
Om anantajite Victory in
namah (307) undertakings.
Orh sthānadāya Attainment of position
namah (387) and status in life.
Orh sthavisthāya Destruction of sins.
Orh samīhanāya Getting a good job.
Orh ratnagarbhāya Gaining wealth. namah (473)
Orh pranavāya Attaining liberation.
The numbers in the brackets indicate
the serial number of the name (according
to the Sāñkarabhāsya).
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 much can definitely be said that the Visnusahasranāma is extremely popular even now. It is extensively used in temple rituals and on religious occasions.
(The next part of this mantra is used to tie the festoon of grass to the shed housing the carts containing the soma juice.)
The sky dear to him is allpervading. Those who want to reach him are performing sacrifices and giving gifts. In his world bliss is constantly flowing.
That Visnu by whose power all the worlds are supported, is praised for transcending them through his three steps. He is being praised as the supreme even as the lion in a mountain is, by other animals.
O Lord Viṣṇu! None is able to know the limits of your cosmic body! We know only its two aspects—the earth and the sky. Other aspects like the heavenly worlds are known only to you.
This Lord Viṣṇu pervaded this earth in order to give it to the gods who requested him for it. Those who pray to him live a steady and happy life. It is he who has created these worlds to grant them to his votaries.
May that Viṣṇu who occupied the three worlds be our Master. His very name Viṣṇu shows his greatness.
May the gods protect us, who are living in that part of the earth, occupied by the cosmic strides of Visnu!
When Visnu occupied this earth through his three steps, it was covered over by the dust raised.
When Viṣṇu, the all-powerful protector traversed the worlds with his three cosmic steps, he automatically upheld all aspects of dharma. Look at this Visnu, the friend of Indra, by whose grace one is able to perform the Vedic C39* rites!
Just as one can perceive the all-pervading sky without any obstruction, the persons endowed with spiritual wisdom can see the highest Abode of Viṣṇu always.
The wise men highly praise this Abode of Viṣṇu with appropriate hymns.
(The last mantra is a phalaśruti or eulogy. Its recitation results in correcting all the defects and confers victory on the person who recites.)
Most of these mantras are ṛks taken from the Rgveda. The commentators have also given the viniyoga (their use in Vedic sacrifices) for them. For instance, the fifth mantra (‘vicakrame pṛthivīmeṣa....’) is to be chanted in the sacrifice called Ukthya. The seventh mantra (‘ato devā....’) has to be used in the Darśapūrṇamāsa sacrifice during the oblations for the expiation of sins.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore