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Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram (A Dive into Adi Sankaracharya’s Commentary on Vishnu Sahasrasranama Poorva & Uttara Bhaga)

This article is intended for seekers who are familiar with Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram or chant it and want to know the basic meaning of the Stotram in a way that helps their Sadhana.

What Is Vishnu Sahasranama Stotra? (विष्णुसहस्त्रनामस्तोत्र)

Vishnu Sahasranama (hence forth called VSN) is a compendium of Lord Vishnu’s thousand names. It is referred to as a Stotram (स्तोत्रं) because it is written in verse. This Stotram is chanted daily by thousands of devotees and, with the advent of recorded music, is probably listened to by millions worldwide. The most well-known rendition is that of Bharat Ratna, M S Subbulakshmi. Individual names can also be taken from this versed compendium and chanted as a mantra. For example, the first verse of the Stotra proper is as follows:

विश्वं विष्णुर्वषट्कारो भूतभव्यभवत्प्रभुः।

भूतकृत्भूतभृद्भावो भूतात्मा भूतभावनः।। VSN-14

If this verse is chanted as is, it is known as Stotra Parayana (स्तोत्र पारायण) and if individual names are chosen as mantra, it reads as follows.

ओम् विश्वस्मै नमः।

ओम् विष्णवे नमः।

ओम् वषट्काराय नमः।

ओम् भूतभव्यभवत्प्रभवे नमः।

ओम् भूतकृते नमः।

ओम् भूतभृते नमः।

ओम् भावाय नमः।

ओम् भूतात्मने नमः।

ओम् भूतभावनाय नमः।

This is known as a Namavali (नामावलिः) or a sequence of names in mantra form. The Namavali form is used when performing Pushpa-Archana (पुष्पार्चना)or Kumkum-Archana (कुंकुमार्चना) to the deity. VSN is present in the Stotra form in the Mahabharata. The word Stotra comes from the root Stu (स्तू) which means to praise[1]. That by which something is praised is called a Stotram[2].Generally, all Stotrams are accompanied by,

a.  पूव भागः Poorva Bhaga, or the Beginning Portion, provides insight into the circumstances that led to the creation of the said Stotram.

b.  ध्यानश्लोकाः DhyanaShlokas, or Meditation Verses, provide a vivid description of the Stotram’s deity to help enable for clear imagination during meditation on the deity.

c.  मध्य भागःMadhya Bhaga, or the Central Portion, contains the Stotram in its entirety.

d.  उत्तर भागः Uttara Bhaga, or the Concluding Portion, generally elucidates the results obtained by chanting the Stotram. As a result, it is commonly referred to as Phala Shruti.

Sri Adi Sankaracharya has commented upon three parts of the Stotram. He has not commented on the Dhyana Shlokas because they are not a part of the original text. However, by Parampara or tradition, they have come to be associated with VSN and are chanted after the Poorva Bhaga.

VSN appears in the Mahabharata’s Anushashan parva. It is part of a conversation between Bhishmacharya and Yudhisthira following the Mahabharata war. Yudhishthira approached Bhishmacharya while he was lying on the bed of arrows on the battlefield and asked him many questions about Dharma, politics, and so on. Bhishma was a treasure bank of wisdom, and he taught Yudhishthira everything he knew about Dharma, especially the obligations of a King (राजधर्म). But Yudhishthira was not content; he wanted to know more. Yudhishthira had heard about all the Dharmas[3]or all the means by which a person can succeed in both the material and spiritual realms, as well as about the various techniques that purge us of our Papas[4].The Sanskrit word used as an adjective for Dharma here is asheshena (अशेषेण), which means leaving out nothing. So even after hearing everything that needs to be known to a king, dissatisfied with his learning, he approaches Bhishmacharya once more and asks.

श्रुत्वा धर्मानशेषेण पावनानि च सर्वशः।

युधिष्ठिरः शान्तनवं पुनरेवाभ्यभाषत।।VSN-1

The Questions

But what does he ask? He asks six questions.

किमेकं दैवतं लोके किं वाप्येकम् परायणं।

स्तुवन्तः कं कं अर्चंतः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवः शुभं।।VSN-2

को धर्मः सर्वधर्माणां भवतः परमो मतः।

किं जपन् मुच्यते जन्तुः जन्मसंसारबन्धनात्।।VSN-3

  1. किमेकं दैवतं लोके-Who is the one Lord of the world?

Loka generally refers to the entire world. However, Sri Sankara translates Loka as Scriptures where words such as “by his order everything moves” appear[5]. He explains that because a Vaidika sees the world through the lenses of the shastra and only the shastra, the world he sees is nothing more than the shastra’s vision. For example, what is simply fire to a non-vaidika is Agni Bhagavan to someone steeped in Vedic culture. Even today, no Hindu allows their legs to touch a book. Even if the most sensual novel falls to the ground, they touch it and beg forgiveness because they consider it Goddess Saraswati. A person who does not view the book through the said cultural lens sees it as a collection of pages with ink scribbled over them. So as per Sri Sankara the first question is “Who is the one Lord mentioned in all the Shastras.”

  1. किम् वाप्येकम्परायणं–What is the one supreme destination?

The term “parayanam” refers to the highest goal worth pursuing, namely Moksha[6]. Sankara quotes many Upanishadic statements to demonstrate that Moksha is not a destination, but rather the result of correct knowledge. He parahrases that knowing which we gain Moksha of the nature of Bliss[7], knowing which the knower does not fear anyone[8], entering which one does not have to be born again[9] that alone is the supreme destination to be reached.

  1. स्तुवन्तःकः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवः शुभं- By praising which Deity is Shubham(शुभं) achieved is the question?

Shubham is translated by Sri Sankara as Higher Lokas such as svarga,etc[10]. Praising takes the form of glorifying the deity’s attributes (गुणः संकीर्तनम्).

  1. अर्चंतःकः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवः शुभं-A seeker attains Shubham (शुभं) by worshipping which Deity both externally and internally through various means?

External worship can take many forms, such as worship with 5 items (पंच उपचारः), worship with 10 items (दश उपचारः), Worship with 16 items (षोडश उपचारः), and worship with 64 items (चतुःषष्ठिउपचारः) puja. Internal worship takes the form of mental worship (मानसिकपूजा), japa (जप), mediation (ध्यान), and so on.

  1. को धर्मः सर्वधर्माणां भवतः परमो मतः -Which of the Dharmas mentioned previously by you do you consider to be the Highest dharma?
  2. किंजपन् मुच्यतेजन्तुःजन्मसंसारबन्धनात्-What must be chanted repeatedly in order to break the cycle of rebirth in Samsara (संसारः)?

a,  Japa comes in three varieties. When chanted loudly, it is called Uccha Japa (उच्च जप).

b.  Upamshu Japa (उपांशु जप) is when chanted in such a way that only the person chanting can hear it and nobody else can.

c.  ManasikaJapa (मानसिकजप) is when mentally chanted.

Sri Sankara makes some interesting observations here. He asserts that the word Jantu (जन्तुः) means Jananadharma (जननधर्मा), or that which is repeatedly born, referring to all the Jivas (जीवः). As a result, Sri Sankara says everyone has an Adhikara to perform Japa, Archana, and Stavan, among other things according to the instructions of the scriptures[11].

In addition, he interprets Samsara as Avidya (अविद्या) or Ignorance, and Janma (जन्म) as all the effects of Ignorance. As a result, Janma-samsara-bandhnaat (जन्मसंसारबंधनात्) refers to the bondage created by Ignorance and its effects. Moksha is the liberation from Ignorance and its effects[12].

Before proceeding, let us look at Ignorance and Moksha from an Advaita Vedanta perspective.

Ignorance and moksha

This samsara gives us both temporary pleasure and temporary pain. This samsara is pervaded by existential sorrow in addition to the temporal experiences of pleasure and pain. Within samsara, this sorrow manifests as repeated birth and death. And moksha is nothing more than the eradication of existential sorrow by existential bliss. This much has been agreed upon by every school of thought that has arisen in this Bharata Bhoomi. However, each school has its own set of thoughts. Although various schools of philosophy agree on the general points, they disagree on the definitions of bondage and Moksha. The way a school defines the cause and nature of bondage will determine how they define release and the means to achieve it.

The Sankhya school, for example, believes that the cause of bondage is a lack of discrimination between matter and spirit. And the way to break free from this shackle is to gain discriminative knowledge between matter and spirit. The cause of bondage, according to the Yoga school of philosophy, is the seer’s identification with the fluctuations of the mind. As a result, they define release as the absence of mental fluctuation. Moksha for them is attaining a state devoid of thought fluctuation known as asampragyata samadhi. Among Vedanta schools, the Vishishta Advaita school defines Moksha as attaining Vaikuntha through Prapatti or surrender to Narayana. The Dvaita school of Vedanta defines moksha as attaining Vaikuntha through Bhakti to Shri Hari.

The Advaita Vedanta School of Thought has a completely different perspective on it. According to Advaita, Ignorance is the primary cause of bondage. Ignorance is nothing more than Maya’s Avarana Shakti i.e., veiling power. The ignorance that we have is the ignorance of the fact that “I am the unattached Self, and this Self is nothing other than Brahman, the ultimate reality.” All other undesirables, such as raga-dvesha/likes and dislikes, ego, and abhinivesha/ attachment to body, are solely the result of ignorance. Action cannot destroy ignorance because action is not opposed to ignorance. Only knowledge can eliminate ignorance.

We need to understand two things about ignorance:

a) The object of Ignorance- Knowledge of Chinese cannot overcome Japanese ignorance. Similarly, because our object of ignorance is about the true nature of the Self, it must be destroyed by true knowledge of the Self. This knowledge, which is beyond the grasp of the senses and intellect, can only be obtained through the Vedas and other shastras that are aligned with the Vedas.

b) The subject of Ignorance-The knowledge in someone else’s intellect cannot destroy the ignorance in my intellect. The guru’s knowledge can only help us get into the right frame of mind. We must firmly establish ourselves in our own knowledge through consistent shravanam, mananam, and nidishyasanam.

Moksha in Advaita Vedanta is not a post-death reality, but something that can be experienced while still alive. Jivanmukta is a person who is free even while living.

The Answers

The answers are given in such a way that the Sahasranama is praised first, and then gradually the One Deva of the Sahasranama is revealed as requested in the first question.

किंजपन् मुच्यते जन्तुःजन्मसंसारबन्धनात्? – Question No.6

स्तुवन्तःकः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवः शुभं ?– Question No.3

अर्चंतःकः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवः शुभं ?– Question No.4

श्रीभीष्म उवाच

जगत्प्रभुं देवदेवंनन्तं पुरूषोत्तमम् ।

स्तुवन्नामसहस्त्रेण पुरूषः सततोत्थितः ।। VSN-4

तमेव चार्चन्नित्यं भक्त्या पुरूषमव्ययम् ।

ध्यायंस्तुवन्नमस्यंश्च यजमानस्तमेव च ।। VSN-5

अनादिनिधनं विष्णुं सर्वलोकमहेश्वरम् ।

लोकाध्यक्षं स्तुवन्नित्यं सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत् ।।VSN-6

ब्रह्यण्यं सर्वधर्मज्ञं लोकानां कीर्तिवर्धनम् ।

लोकनाथं महद्भूतं सर्वभूतभवोद्भवम् ।।VSN-7

To complete the sentence, we need to add Sarva-dukhatigo-bhavet (सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत्) to VSN-4 and VSN-5. Sri Sankara deconstructs each verse to provide a beautiful description of the Sahasranama, its deity, and the reason for chanting it. The first name that Sri Sankara explains in his VSN commentary is not that of Shri Hari, but that of his Ananya Bhakta Sri Bhishmacharya. He introduces Bhisma as all-knowing and an expert speaker on Moksha and dharma. He is called Bhisma because he instills fear in all his enemies, both internal and external[13].

Sri Sankara connects Janmasamsara-muchyante (मुच्यते जन्तुःजन्मसंसारबन्धनात्) with Sarva-dukhatigo bhavet (सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत्) and declares that a Purusha (पुरूषः) who is always intent on chanting this Sahasranama of Jagatprabhum (जगत्प्रभुं), Devadevam (देवदेवं), Anantam (अनन्तं), and Purushottamam (पुरूषोत्तमम्) will go beyond all sorrows, i.e., attain Mukti. Thus, the sixth question stands answered.

Sri Sankara then explains all the words in this verse.

Purusha (पुरूषः)- That which is Poorna/Complete or That which rests in the Puri i.e., body[14]. This refers to Jeeva who, despite being Poorna, associates with the body and believes that I am the body. This describes the seeker who is trapped in Samsara and who, after chanting the Sahasranama, transcends all sorrow (सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत्).

JagatPrabhum (जगत्प्रभुं)- TheSwami or All capable ruler of everything that moves, like animals and humans. He is also the ruler of stationary objects like mountains and trees. [15]

Devadevam (देवदेवं)- God of all the gods starting with Brahma[16].As Ishwara, Maha Vishnu is shown to be beyond the material world by the names JagatPrabhum and Devadevam.

Anantam (अनन्तं)- The one beyond the limitations imposed by space-time and objects. Brahman is all-encompassing because space does not confine it. He is not bound by time because he is both beginning-less and eternal. Brahman, who is unconstrained by any object, manifests as all the objects in the Jagat, sparing none.[17]

Purushottamam (पुरूषोत्तमम्)- The one greater than both Kshara(क्षर) and Akshara Purusha(अक्षर)[18].The Bhagwad Gita defines Purushottama along the same lines.

द्वाविमौ पुरूषौ लोके क्षरश्चाक्षर एव च ।

क्षरः सर्वाणि भूतानि कूटस्थः अक्षर उच्यते ।।Bhagwad Gita 15.16

यस्मात्क्षरतीतो(अ)हमक्षरादपि चोत्तमः ।।

अतो(अ)स्मि लोके वेदे च प्रथितः पुरूषोत्तमः ।।Bhagwad Gita 15.18

“The two ‘PURUSHAS’ are there in this world, the Perishable and the Imperishable. All beings are the Perishable and the ‘Kootasthah’ is called the Imperishable”-Bhagwad Gita 15.16(उपाधि)

“As I transcend the perishable and I am even Higher than the Imperishable, I am declared as the Purushottama (the Highest-Purusha) in the world and in the Vedas.”- Bhagwad Gita 15.18[19]

Kshara Purusha is Jeeva who expresses himself through the limiting adjuncts of Avidya or Ignorance. Ishvara manifests as Akshara Pursusha through the limiting adjuncts of Maya. Being Purushotamam, Brahman transcends both Kshara and Akshara Purusha and is devoid of any limiting adjunct. Anantam and Purushottamam depict MahaVishnu as ParaBrahman, who is completely unaffected from the Samsara with its Jeeva, Jagat and Ishvara.

तमेव चार्चन्नित्यं भक्त्या पुरूषमव्ययम् ।

ध्यायंस्तुवन्नमस्यंश्च यजमानस्तमेव च ।। VSN-5

Moving on to VSN-5, Bhishma says that a Yajamana, or the worshipper [20] of the Avyaya Purusha (पुरूषमव्ययम्), the Indestructible One (विनाशक्रियारहितम्), transcends all sorrows (सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत्). Worship can be both Internal (अन्तः) and External (बहि). Worship can be Manasika (मानसिकं), which means mental, Vaachika (वाचिकं), which means verbal, or Kaayika (कायिकं), which means physical.Dhyaayan (ध्यायन्) in VSN-5 refers to mental worship through meditation, Stuvan (स्तुवन्) refers to verbal worship through praising, and Namasyan (नमस्यन्) refers to bodily worship through Namaskara and other kriyas[21]. Thus, the fourth question stands answered.

अनादिनिधनं विष्णुं सर्वलोकमहेश्वरम् ।

लोकाध्यक्षं स्तुवन्नित्यं सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत् ।।VSN-6

In VSN-6, Bhsima specifically recommends Stuvan (स्तुवन्) among the three available modes of worship. Bhisma is implying here that even if one is unable to worship Ishvara with all three modes of worship, Stuvan alone can deliver us from all the sorrows of Samsara (सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत्). Like the various words used to describe Isvara in the previous verses, we have some wonderful names in this and the next verse. The word Vishnu (विष्णुं) appears for the first time in the Sahasranama in this verse. He is called Anadinidhanam (अनादिनिधनं) i.e., one without the six modifications[22] of existence (अस्ति), birth (जायते), growth (वर्धते), changes like disease (विपरिणमते), decay (अपक्षियते), death (विनश्यति). Vishnu is explained as the one who pervades everything (व्यापनशीलं). He alone is Sarva Loka Maheshvara (सर्वलोकमहेश्वरम्) because he is the controller of the entire visible Jagat and invisible class of beings like Brahma, Indra etc.[23]. LokaDhyaksha (लोकाध्यक्षं) is explained beautifully by Sri Sankara as the one who sees everything by his innate knowledge i.e., without the mediation of senses and mind[24].Thus, the third question stands answered.

ब्रह्यण्यं सर्वधर्मज्ञं लोकानां कीर्तिवर्धनम् ।

लोकनाथं महद्भूतं सर्वभूतभवोद्भवम् ।।VSN-7

VSN-7 must be read in conjunction with VSN-6 and is just an exhaustive list as to whose Stuvan we should do.

Brahmanyam (ब्रह्यण्यं)- One who is favorable to the creator Brahma, or the one who protects Brahmanas, tapas and shruti by means of becoming the preceptor of the Sampradaya[25].

Sarvadhrmajnam (सर्वधर्मज्ञं)- The one who knows all the Dharmas exhaustively[26].

Lokanaam kirtivardhanam (लोकानां कीर्तिवर्धनम्)- One who increases the glory of beings by acting through them and doing great deeds[27]. This name echoes the same thought as expressed by Bhagawan in Bhagwad Gita Chapter 10.

यद्यद्विभूतिमत्सत्त्वं श्रीमदूर्जितमेव वा ।

तत्तदेवावगच्छ त्वं मम तेजोंशसंभवम् ।।Bhagwad Gita 10.41

“Whatever it is that is glorious, prosperous or powerful in any being, know that to be a manifestation of a part of My splendor.” – Bhagwad Gita 10.41 [19]

Lokanatham (लोकनाथं)- The one who is worshipped by all the Lokas (i.e., beings inhabiting those Lokas) or the one has complete authority over the Lokas[28].

Mahadbhootam (महद्भूतं)- Sri Sankara interprets Mahadbhootam as The Ultimate reality (परमार्थसत्यम्)

Sarvabhoododhbhavam (सर्वभूतभवोद्भवम्)- The one whose presence alone is enough to create this entire Samsara[29].

Sri Sankara concludes that such a Supreme Lord, Parameshvara, with the names and qualities described above, should be worshipped in order to transcend all sorrows.(सर्वदुःखातिगो भवेत्).

को धर्मः सर्वधर्माणां भवतः परमो मतः -Question No. 5

एष मे सर्वधर्माणां धर्मः(अ)धिकतमो मतः ।

यद्भक्त्या पुण्डरीकाक्षं स्तवैर्चेन्नरः सदा ।। VSN-8

Now Bhishmacharya answers the fifth question. The question was “Which of the dharmas mentioned previously by you do you consider to be the highest dharma?” Bhisma answers it by saying “This alone is the greatest dharma among all dharmas according to me – to praise and worship Pundarikaksha (पुण्डरीकाक्षं) always with devotion.”Sri Sankara interprets Pundarikaksha as the Vasudeva who resides within the Heart Lotus of all beings [30].

सर्वत्रासौ समस्तं च वसत्यत्रेति वै यतः ।

ततः स वासुदेवेति विद्वद्भिः परिपठ्यते ।। Vishnu Puran 1.2.12

“He resides everywhere within everything; hence he is called Vasudeva by the wise.”

सर्वाणि तत्र भूतानि वसन्ति परमात्मनि ।

भूतेषु च स सर्वात्मा वासुदेवस्ततः स्मृतः ।। Vishnu Puran 6.5.80

“All beings reside within him, and he resides within all as the Self, hence he is called Vasudeva.”

Sri Sankara is trying to impress upon the reader that Vishnu Sahasranama is not a prayer to some God living far away in Vaikuntha, but a chant to worship Vasudeva who resides within the seeker itself.

Thus, the fifth question stands answered.

किम् वाप्येकम्परायण – Question No. 2

परमं यो महत्तेजः परमं यो महत्तपः ।

परमं यो महद्ब्रह्म परमं यः परायणम् ।।VSN-9

The second question is being answered now.

Paramam (परमं) means the supreme while Mahad (महद्) means expansive[31]. Paramam and Mahad must be read in conjunction with all the three words here i.e., Tejah (तेजः), Tapah (तपः) and Brahman (ब्रह्म). That which is the destination to be reached Parayanam(परायणम्) is also the one who is the Paramam Tejah, Paramam Tapah, Paramam Brahma and Mahad Tejah, Mahad Tapah, Mahad Brahman. Parayanam is Param because there is no return once the seeker reaches there[32].

Tejah (तेजः) is interpreted as the power of illumination. We must understand that MahaVishnu is being portrayed as Pure Consciousness (चैतन्य लक्ष्णं सर्वावभासकम्). There is a famous mantra in Mundakopanishad.

न तत्र सूर्यो भाति न चंद्र तारकं

नेमा विद्युतो भाति कुतः अयं अग्निः ।

तमेव भान्तं अनुभाति सर्वम्

तस्य भासा सर्वम् इदम् विभाति ।।Mundaka Upanishad-2.2.10

“There the sun does not shine, nor the moon or the stars; nor do these flashes of lighting shine there. How can this fire do so? Everything shines according as He does so; by His light all this shines diversely. -Mundaka Upanishad-2.2.10[33]

Although the sun illumines objects for our vision, the sun itself is illuminated by Pure Consciousness in our Buddhi. As a result, the sun and other luminaries lack the ability to illuminate the Pure Consciousness. By existing as Pure Consciousness within the cave of our buddhi, he alone illuminates these luminaries for our perception.

परेण नाकं निहितं गुहायां विभ्राजते यद्यतयो विशन्ति ।।Kaivalya Upanishad-3

“Higher than heaven, seated in the cave of the intellect, it shines” – Kaivalya Upanishad-3[34]

Tapah (तपः) is the one who gives all the orders to everyone (तपत आज्ञापयतीति तपः).

भीषास्माद्वातः पवते भीषादेति सूर्यः ।

भीषास्मादग्निश्चेन्द्रश्च मृत्युर्धावति पञ्चमः । Taittiriya Upanishad-2.8.1.

“Through fear of him blows the Wind. Through fear of him rises the Sun. Through fear of him again Fire and Moon, and lastly the fifth, Death, proceeds to their respective duties.” – Taittiriya Upanishad-2.8.1.[35]

Brahman (ब्रह्म) is to indicate that, the same Supreme Brahman who has been called Satyam Jananam Anantam in the Vedas is the subject of this Sahasranama[36].

सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्म ।- Taittiriya Upanishad-2.1

“Brahman is Truth, Consciousness and Infinity” -Taittiriya Upanishad-2.1[35]

In this verse, Sri Sankara again beautifully plays with the concepts of Kshara Purusha, Akshara Purusha, and Purushottamam. Tejah is an indication of Kshara Pursha because he is of the nature of the Self and Pure Consciousness. He is the Akshara Purusha because he is the one who rules over everyone as Tapah. He alone is Brahman and Purushottamam because he is beyond both and remains in his Satchidananda Swaroopa.Thus, the second question stands answered.

किमेकं दैवतं लोके?- Question No.1

पवित्राणां पवित्रं यो मङ्गलानां च मङ्गलम्।

दैवतं देवतानां च भूतानां योऽव्ययः पिता।।VSN-10

The one Lord in the Shastras is the one who is-

a)  Pavitraanaam Pavitram (पवित्राणां पवित्रम्) -The greatest Purifier among all the things that purify like tirthas etc.[37]. That deva isthe greatest whose Dhyaanam, Meditation, Kirtana, Stuti, Puja, Smaranam and Namaskaram remove all the papas once and for all[38].

Also,Ishvara removes Ignorance by knowledge about his true self. This ignorance being the reason for bondage in the form of karmas leading to punya and papa. Since removal of Ignorance is the greatest purity, Ishvara being capable of that is termed as the Greatest Purifier [39]. Sri Sankara then gives a lot of Shruti and Smriti Pramana to prove his point.

Also, it is here that Sri Sankara provides the seeker with the vision that this Ishvara which is being talked about is none other than MahaVishnu alone.

b)  Mangalaanaam Mangalam (मंगलानां मंगलम्) – Sukha, or happiness, is the meaning of Mangalam. Ishvara represents the path to material happiness[40]. But, because Ishvara is the very nature of Paramananda, Supreme Bliss, he is both the means and the end of spiritual happiness. As a result, he is known as Mangalaanam Mangalam.

c)  Daivatam Devataanam (दैवतं देवतानां)- Ishvara is the greatest devata because he is more effulgent than other devas. The word deva is derived from the root div and refers to either a heavenly or celestial being. The one who was called Paramam Tejah is again called Daivatam Devataanam[41].

तच्छुभ्रम् ज्योतिषां ज्योतिः-Mundaka Upanishad-2.2.9

“It is pure and is the Light of lights.” -Mundaka Upanishad-2.2.9[33]

d)  Bhootanam yo avyaya pita (भूतानां योऽव्ययः पिता)- Ishvara is known as Pita because he is the sole cause of the Universe.However, because they belong to the material realm, laukika/wordly fathers are Vyayi (व्ययी), i.e., exhaustible / not eternal in nature. But Isvara is Avyaya (अव्यय), which means inexhaustible/eternal (नाशरहित). Ishvara’s nature did not change when the universe emerged from Him, as milk does when it is converted to curd.

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते ।

पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ।।Isavasya Upanishad Shanti Mantra

“That is Whole, this is Whole; from the Whole, the Whole becomes manifest. From the Whole, when the whole is negated, what remains is again the Whole” [42]

Advaita Vedanta compares creation to the creation of gold bangles from gold, where the material nature of gold is preserved even in the effect.

Sri Sankara concludes by saying that the Deva who meets all these requirements is the only Deva in all Lokas.

Sri Sankara then embarks on a journey in which he first demonstrates, using various Shruti and Smriti Pramana, that there is only one Deva. Then he asks if there is a distinction between Jeeva and Paramatma. Then he goes on to demonstrate with various Pramana that there is no such difference. Going into that section of the Bhashya would be unnecessary for this study. However, I will attempt to present an article on the subject at some point in the future.

Some More Lakshana of the One Deva

यतः सर्वाणि भूतानि भवन्त्यादियुगागमे ।

यस्मिंश्च प्रलयं यान्ति पुनरेव युगक्षये ।। VSN-11

तस्य लोकप्राधानस्य जगन्नाथस्य भूपते ।

विष्णोर्नामसहस्त्रं मे श्रृणु पापभयापहम् ।।VSN-12

The final point Bhootanaam-avyaaya-pita (भूतानांअव्ययपिता) in VSN.10 is being investigated further. This verse gives the seeker a better understanding of the nature of the one Devata and his relationship with the world around him. The primary goal of this verse is to establish the One Deva’s existence as Brahman, or the Ultimate Reality. Furthermore, Bhishmacharya is now connecting this entire section to the Sahasranama by stating that the One Deva thus explained is the Vishnu whose Sahasranama he is now teaching Yudhisthira. Bhishmacharya says “That from which all beings are born at the beginning of the Kalpa. That in which they merge back at the end of the Kalpa. That “That” is the Vishnu whose Sahasranama you should listen.”

Sri Sankara’s brilliance is on display here, where he explains even the words eva (एव) and cha (च) found in VSN-11. He explains that eva (एव)is demonstrating conceptually that the place of merging back of the beings at the end of kalpa is the same place from which it originated in the first place, and not somewhere else [43].Cha (च)demonstrates that even while the universe exists, it exists in the same[44]. This is like how a gold bangle is formed from gold, melts back to gold, and remains nothing but gold throughout its life as a bangle.

तस्य लोकप्राधानस्य जगन्नाथस्य भूपते ।

विष्णोर्नामसहस्त्रं मे श्रृणु पापभयापहम् ।।VSN-12

VSN-11 only describes the beginning and end of beings as “That.” It is now given a name, and a few more characteristics of the same One Deva are discussed. That Deva is Loka-Pradhan, which means he alone is described and explained in all the Vidyasthanas, or Shastras[45]. He is Jagannatha, the one endowed with Maya but who always remains beyond Maya’s grasp[46].Chanting Vishnu Sahasranama provides liberation from the papas and fear, all of which are inherent in Samsara. Sri Sankara defines Shrinu/listening as “listening to grasp the true essence with a single pointed mind” rather than just “listening with ears.”This means that without mananam (reflection) and Nididhyasanam (contemplation), Shravanam (merely listening to a discourse) will be ineffective.

Sri Sankara then asks implicitly why Isvara has different names, and since Isvara is beyond the grasp of speech, can any word truly define Isvara?

He responds by quoting the Vishnu Dharmottara Purana, which answers the first question by stating that the different names of Isvara are endowed with different Shaktis and thus chanting different names produces different results. Answering the second Sri Sankara says, because ParaBrhaman is Sarvatamaka, he also takes the form of words. As a result, he can be described in words, albeit in a limited sense.

How the names were collected

यानि नामानि गौणानि विख्यातानि महात्मनः ।

ऋषिभिः परिगीतानि तानि वक्ष्यामिभूतये ।। VSN-13

According to Bhismacharya, the names were primarily gathered from three locations.

a)  Namaani gaunaani (नामानि गौणानि)- names derived from Ishvara’s qualities as Maha Vishnu.

b)  Vikhyatani namani (विख्यातानिनामानि)- those commonly used to refer to Sri Hari.

c)  Rishibhi parigitani namani (ऋषिभिः परिगीतानिनामानि)- names sung by great rishis in the Vedas and elsewhere.

Bhishma uses the word bhootaye, i.e., for Bhooti. He states that he will say these names for Bhooti. According to Sri Sankara, Bhooti is the fulfilment of Chaturvidha Purushartha of genuine seekers. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are the four purusharthas. It is interesting to note that although being primarily a source of Dharma and Moksha, Sri Sankara finds VSN capable of giving even Artha and Kama.

About the names

Sri Sankara now explains some subtle points or rules that will assist us in interpreting the meaning of the names in the Sahasranama in a coherent manner free of philosophical or logical contradictions.

  1. Wherever the names such as Aditya, Indra etc. are mentioned, which are also used for other devatas, we should remember that each of these devatas is a manifestation of the same Isvara. As a result, they are identical to Sri Hari. Even though the names accept the popular usage, they really praise MahaVishnu alone.
  2. When we see a name repeated in the Sahasranama, we must understand that it is not a fallacy because the same names have different meanings in different places.
  3. When different names with the same meaning are used, we must understand that this also is not a fallacy because the Sahasranama subject matter is One Devata. As a result, all the names point to the One Deva.
  4. Wherever masculine words are used, we must interpret them as referring to Ishvara in the form of Vishnu. We must understand that feminine words are directed to Isvara in the form of Devata. And Neuter words refer to Ishvara’s essential nature as Brahman.

Conclusion of Poorva Bhaga

With this the Poorva Bhaga of VSN ends. In the next article I shall try to introduce the Uttara Bhaga and how Sri Adi Sankaracharya has interpreted it.


[1]          “,” [Online].

[2]          स्तूयतेऽनेनेति स्तोत्रं, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[3]          धर्मान् अभ्युदयनिः श्रेयसोत्पत्तिहेतुभूतान् चोदनालक्षणान्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[4]          पावनानि पापक्षयकराणि धर्मरहस्यानि, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[5]          लोके-लोकनहेतुभूते समस्तविद्यास्थाने उक्तं ‘यदाज्ञया प्रवर्तन्ते सर्वे’ इति प्रथमः प्रश्नः।, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[6]          परम् अयनं प्रापतव्यं स्थानम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[7]          यस्य विज्ञानमात्रेणानन्दलक्षणो मोक्षः प्राप्यते, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[8]          यद्विद्वान्न विभेति कुतश्च, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[9]          यत्प्रविष्टस्य न विद्यते पुनर्भवः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[10]       शुभं कल्याणं स्वर्गादिफलं, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[11]       अनेन जन्तुशब्देन जपार्चनस्तवनादिषु यथायोग्यं सर्वप्राणिनामधिकारं सूचयति ।, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[12]       जन्म अज्ञानविजृम्भितानामविद्याकार्याणामुपलक्षणम्, संसारः अविद्या ताभ्यां जन्म संसाराभ्यां यद्बन्धनं तस्मात् मुच्यते मुक्तो भवति, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[13]       सर्वेषां बहिरन्तःशत्रूणां भयहेतुर्भीष्मः मोक्षधर्मादीनां प्रवक्ता सर्वज्ञः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[14]       पूर्णत्वात् पुरि शयनाद्वा पुरूषः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[15]       जगत् स्थावरजङ्गात्मकं तस्य प्रभुं स्वामिनम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[16]       देवानां ब्रह्मादीनां देवं, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[17]       देशतः कालतो वस्तुतश्चापरिच्छिन्निम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[18]       क्षराक्षराभ्यां कार्यकारणाभ्यामुत्कृष्टम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.


[20]       यजमानः पूजकः फलभोक्ता, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[21]       अर्चयन्नित्यनेनोभयविधमर्नमुच्यते । ध्यायंस्तुवन्नमस्यंश्चेतेयनेन मानसं वाचिकं कायिकं चोच्यते ।.

[22]       षड्भावविकारवर्जितम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[23]       सर्वं लोक्यते इति लोको दृश्यवर्गो लोकस्तस्य नियन्तृणां ब्रह्मादीनामपीश्वरत्वात् सर्वलोकमहेश्वरः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[24]       लोकं दृश्यवर्गः स्वाभाविकेन बोधेन साक्षात्पश्यतीति लोकाध्यक्षः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[25]       ब्रह्मणे स्त्रष्ट्रे ब्राह्मणाय तपसे श्रुतये हितम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[26]       सर्वान् धर्मान् जानातीति सर्वधर्मज्ञः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[27]       प्राणिनां कीर्तयः यशांसि स्वशक्त्यानुप्रवेशेन वर्धयतीति, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[28]       लोकैर्नाथ्यते लोकानुपतापयते शास्ते लोकानामीष्ट इति वा, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[29]       सर्वभूतानां भवः संसारो यत्सकाशादुद्भवतीति सर्वभूतभवोद्भवः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[30]       पुंडरीकाक्षं हृदयपुण्डरीके प्रकाशमानं वासुदेवं, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[31]       परमं प्रकृष्टं महद् बृहत्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[32]       परमं प्रकृष्टं पुनरावृत्तिशंकारहितम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.



[35]       [Online]. Available:

[36]       परमं ब्रह्म सत्यादिलक्ष्णं, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[37]       पावनानां तीर्थादीनां पवित्रम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[38]       ध्यातो दृष्टः कीर्तितः स्तुतः सम्पूजितः स्मृतः प्रणतः पाप्मनः सर्वानुन्मूलयतीति परमं पवित्रम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[39]       संसारबन्धहेतुभूतं पुण्यापुण्यात्मकं कर्म तत्कारणं चाज्ञानं सर्वं नाशयति स्वयाथात्म्यज्ञानेनेति परमं पवित्रम्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[40]       मङ्गलं सुखं तत्साधनं तज्ज्ञापकं, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[41]       देवानां देवः, द्योतनादिभिः समुकर्षेण वर्तमानत्वात्, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.


[43]       एव इत्यवधारणार्थः, नान्यस्मिन्नित्यर्थः, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[44]       चकारान्मध्यः अपि यस्मिंस्तष्ठन्ति, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[45]       लोकनहेतुभिः विद्यास्थानैः प्रतिपाद्यमानस्य, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.

[46]       जगतां नाथः स्वामी मायाशबलः परमात्मा निर्लेपश्च, Vishnu Sahasranama Bhasya of Adi Sankara.


Feature Image Credit: Akash K

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