In this age of Kali, fraught as it is with the ills of worldly existence, the only way to obtain peace of mind in this world and hope for salvation after death is by reciting the glorious names of the Lord (naama sankeertana). In this category falls the popular Vishnusahasranama, which Bhishmacharya addressed to Yudhishthira in the immediate presence of Lord Krishna, in the Anusaasana parva of the Mahabharata. Yudhishthira enquires of Bhishmacharaya as to how a man is relieved of this bondage of birth and transmigration. To this, Bhishmacharya spells out the divine and potent thousand Names of the Lord, and reciting them is the sure way to salvation. Three main commentaries by the three different schools of Indian philosophy viz, Advaita, Dvaita and Visishtadavaita by Sankara, Madhya and Parasara Bhatta respectively, are available. However there is another Vishnusahasranama in the Uttarakhanda of the Padma Purana where Siva enlightens Parvati on the cure to all ills which is the recitation of the thousand Names of the Lord. It has the same import as the former Vishnusahasranama, viz, the greatness and glory of Lord Vishnu.
Introduction to Puranas
Puranas are a real treasure – house of the ancient wisdom of the sages. They are eternal and valid for all time. As the name itself suggests, they are new (relevant) though very ancient as far as their dates are concerned puraa api navam. It is said that there are eighteen Mahapuranas comprising more than four lakhs of slokas. Some scholars opine that the eighteen Puranas represent the different limbs of Lord Hari (Vishnu) — vishnuh puraanaavayavo harih. The Brahma Purana represents the head of Vishnu (moordhni), the Padma Purana the heart (hridaya), the Vishnu Purana, the right arm (dakshina baahu), the Siva Purana, the left arm (vaama baahu), the Bhagavata Purana, the thigh (ooru), the Naaradiya Purana, the navel (naabhi), the Markandeya Purana, the right foot (dakshinaanghri ), the Agni Purana, the left foot (vaamaanghri), the Bhavishya Purana, the right knee (dakshina jaanu), the Brahmavaivarta Purana, the left knee (vaama jaanu), the Linga Purana, the right ankle (dakshina gulphaka), the Varaha Purana, the left ankle (vaama gulphaka), the Skanda Purana, hair (lomaani), the Vamana Purana, the skin (tvak), the Kurma Purana, back (prishtha), the Matsya Purana fat (medas), the Garuda Purana the marrow (majjaa) and the Brahmanda Purana, the bones. All Puranas glorify the Purana Purusha who is the supreme Brahman and the lakshya. The Puranas are marked by five attributes or lakshanas which are sarga (creation), pratisarga (dissolution and recreation), vamsa (divine genealogies), Manvantara (ages of Manu) and vamsaanucharita (royal genealogies). The Padma Purana is a voluminous text comprising 55,000 verses. It is a mine of geographical information and it is divided into five khandas – srishti, bhumi, svarga, paataala and uttarakhandas. It was composed by Sage Veda Vyasa for the well-being of humanity, and it grants greatness to Brahmins, assures holy birth to Sudras, removes acute poverty and bestows salvation, happiness and everlasting good fortune very quickly, as is expressed by the last sloka of the 1st chapter of the Uttarakhanda:
etat padmapuraanam tu vyaasena tu mahaatmanaa,
kritam lokahitaarthaaya braahmanasreyase tathaa.
soodraanaam punyajananam teevradaaridriya naasaam,
mokshadam sukhadam chaasu kalyaanapradamavyayam.
The Uttarakhanda is the largest section of the Padma Purana consisting of 255 chapters. However, scholars opine that there are two additional Khandas, the Brahma and Kriyaayoga khandas. The Uttarakhanda is also an important Teertha samhita having chapters dealing with teerthas and teerthaayanas (shrines) dedicated to different deities; it also deals with the different ekadasis and their significance, various acts of charity, the greatness of worshipping tulasi, the significance and merit of reciting the Lord’s thousand Names, the greatness of His devotees, the hymn of Apamagana, the rishi panchami vrata, the glory of river Ganga and so on.
Origin of the Thousand Names
The sages and Suta discuss the origin of Sri Vishnusahasranama. Once, sage Narada, while roaming the three worlds, went to Mandara Mountain to ask Siva about the secret that rids a man of all ills. Siva then recounts his dialogue with Parvati, when the latter wanted to know the secret of Siva’s greatness and how she could also become matchless like him. It was then that Siva revealed the secret and spelt out the thousand names of Vishnu, by reciting which one attains all glory and is thus free from misery.
The thousand Names
Of this hymn called Sri Vishnusahasranama, Mahadeva is the poet, the metre is anushtup, the seed is hreem, the power is sreem, the pin is kleem and the fruit is the attainment of the four purusharthas dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It begins with the following sloka:
vaasudevah parambrahma paramaatmaa paraatparah,
param dhaama param jyotih param tattvam parampadam.
Vasudeva is the highest Brahman, He is the highest soul, He is greater than the great. He is the grand effulgence, the brightest light, the great first principle and the highest position.
Siva continues, saying that He is all- auspiciousness and the only fit object of meditation (parodhyeyah). He is the Ruler of all and He sees everything (sarva saastaa, sarvasaakshee). He is all-powerful, He is the essence of all (sarva saarah) and He is the soul of all (sarvaatmaa). He is the remover of all sorrow and ills (sarvaduhkhaharah). He is totally auspiciousness (sarvato badrah). He is the Cause of all causes (sarva kaarankaaranam).
sarvaatisayitah sarvaadhyakshah sarvasuresvarah,
shadvimsakomahaavishnuh mahaaguhyo mahaavibhuh.
He excels all; He is the head of all and is the Lord of all gods. He is the 26th principle. He is Mahavishnu. He is unfathomable and a great Lord. He is always lofty (nithyoditah). He is always diligent (nityayuktah) . He is always happy and a source of joy (nityaanandah). He is beyond birth, death and old age. He is beyond time and worldly existence (kaalaateeto bhavaatigah), He is full, He is ever truthful, pure and always full of intelligence.
yogapriyo yogagamyo bhava bandhaika mochanah,
puraanapurushah pratyak chaitanyah purushottamah.
Meditation is dear to Him; He can be reached through meditation; He alone is capable of freeing one from the bonds of samsara, He is the ancient Purusha, He is the inner spirit and He is Purushottama (highest and best Person). He can be understood through the Upanishads (vedaanta vedyah) and at the same time, He is Incomprehensible (durjneyah) and untainted by the triple miseries (taapatrayavivarjitah). He is the Lord of Sri (sriyahpatih). He has a lotus in His navel (padmanaabhah) and He reclines on Adisesha (seshasaayee).
sreesadopaasyapaadaabjo nityasreeh sreeniketanah,
nityam vakshasthalasthasreeh sreenidhih sreedharo harih.
vasyasreeh nischalah sreedovishnuh ksheeraabdimandirah.
His lotus Feet are always served by Lakshmi, He is ever present with Sri and is the abode of Sri, who resides in His Chest forever. He is the treasure of Sri and is the Possessor of Sri and He is Hari. He is the controller of Sri and He is ever firm. He grants all wealth. He is Vishnu Whose abode is the Milky ocean. He shines with the Kaustubha gem and He is Madhava (the husband of Ma or Lakshmi).
sarvabandhuh jagatsrashtaa jagaddhaataa jagannidhih,
jagadekasphuradveoyo nahamvaadee jaganmayah.
sarvaascharyamayah sarvasiddhaarthah sarvaranjitah.
He is the kinsman of all, He is the creator of the universe, He is its supporter and is the treasure of all the worlds. He is the only sparkling vigour of the world; He is not an egotist, He pervades the whole universe. He is the wonder of all, has accomplished all His objectives and is the delight of all. He is dear to all gods, the image of all gods (sarvadevamurtih), excellent, the only resort for all gods (sarvadevaikasaranyah) and the only God of all gods (sarvadevaikadevatam). He is mounted on the Garuda (garudavaahanah).
anirdesyavapuh sarva poojyah trailokyapaavanah,
anantakeertih nisseemapaurushah sarvamangalah.
His body is Immutable, He is adored by all, He purifies all the three worlds, He is of eternal fame, His valour knows no bounds and He is all- auspicious.
Then follows the divine Names with the adjective crores (koti).
sooryakoti prateekaaso yamakotiduraasadah,
maayakoti jagatsrashtaa vaayukotimahaabalah.
kandarpakoti laavanyo durgakotyarimardanah.
brahmavidyaakotiroopah sipivishtih suchisravaah.
He is resplendent like crores of suns, is invincible like crores of Yamas, is the Creator of the world, is very powerful like crores of wind- gods. He delights the world like crores of moons and is a great God like crores of Sivas. His loveliness is equal to that of crores of Manmathas and He is the destroyer of crores of invincible enemies. He is unfathomable like crores of oceans and is known by crores of holy places. He is wealthy like crores of Kuberas and shines like crores of chakras. He is unshakable and steadfast like croresof Himalayas and His body is the abode of crores of universes. He is powerful enough to destroy sins like crores of asvarnedha sacrifices and is the fit object of worship for crores of yajnas. He is the cause of satiation like crores of nectar and He grants the desired objects like crores of desire- yielding cows. His Form is of crores of Vedic lore. (In all these references, crores (koti) should be taken to mean countless and innumerable instead of restricting to its literal meaning.)
Thus Siva goes on to reveal the secret of secrets (Lord Vishnu’s thousand Names) to Narada, which he had earlier enunciated to Parvati. He concludes by saying that Lord Vishnu is the best Friend, the Remover of all afflictions and is the desire-yielding Gem.
chintaamani gurusreshtho maataa hitatamah pitaa,
simho mrigendro naagendro vaasukirnrivaronripah.
He is the best Preceptor, he is the Mother and the kindest Father, the Lion among beasts, Vasuki among serpents and a King among mortals. His mind is full of compassion — chetah karunaagrayam and concludes with his salutations to Vishnu (namo namah).
It concludes with the phalasruti where Siva states that this stotra is the staircase to the world of Vishnu (vishnuloka sopaana) and the annihilator of all misery (sarva duhkha vinaasana). He concludes with the eulogy of Lord Vishnu:
naasti vishnoh param dhaama naasti vishnoh parantapah
naasti vishnoh param dhyaanam naasti vishnoh paraagatih,
sarvateerthamayo vishnuh sarvasaastramayah prabhuh
sarva kratumayo vishnuh satyam satyam vadaamyaham.
“There is no greater abode than Vishnu, no greater penance than Vishnu, no greater meditation than Vishnu, no better recourse than Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is full of all sacred places, full of all sacred texts, full of all sacrifices, I am telling the truth and nothing but the truth”, reiterates Siva to Parvati.
Parvati then goes on to worship Lord Vishnu and declares that there is none superior to Vishnu, the Lord of Lakshmi and the enemy of Madhu. She addresses Vishnu as the Lord of all, the best among all gods (sah sarvesvaro vishnuh sarva devatottamah), the Essence of worldly existence and the only Leader of the entire world (sa cha samsaara saagarikah sarva loka naayakah). Then she asks her lord Siva for an easy method to recite these thousand names. Siva replies that reciting the name of Rama thrice is equally potent as reciting the thousand names. He then enunciates the Ramarakshaa-stotra, which acts as a protecting shield to those who recite it. This will be dealt with subsequently.