VSN #9 – The Last of the Names

by Sahadev Komaragiri

While the very first verse in viShNu sahasra naamaM (VSN) talks about the entire universe and our role in it, it is the last verse that mentions the well rounded form of Lord Vishnu, the form that we can easily imagine and contemplate upon. dvaita, advaita and viShiShTaadvaita are three major Hindu philosophies that define the role of God in our lives. These philosophies are derived from the interpretations of Vedas and vast repository of Hindu literature by leading saints Madhvacharya, Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya respectively. Without being overly simplistic, here is my attempt to explain these philosophies. dvaita or the philosophy of duality says that God is separate from His creation. advaita proclaims that God and His creation are not separate but one and the same and that it is an illusion to consider them as two separate entities. Finally viShiShTaadvaita claims that God and His creation are one and the same, but they are separated from each other at the time of creation and they merge into each other when the process of creation is reversed. The words commonly used to describe creation and its reversal are sRuShTi and laya. laya is often translated to mean destruction – but I have a hard time using the word destruction for a word as beautiful as laya which simply means merge, where the creation merges back into its creator.

This post is part of the series on viShNu sahasra naamaM

The first verse lends weight to the advaita philosophy where it starts off saying that God is nothing but the very Universe (viswam) He created. Lo and behold, the last verse says – ‘here is how He looks like’ – a form that closely resembles humans except that He holds a conch and wields weapons like sword, discus, bow and a mace. A discussion on the avatars (or incarnations) of Lord Vishnu lays emphasis on how God descends on earth, as if from some distant worlds, to rescue humanity from an impending disaster. This lends credence to the dvaita philosophy. Proponents of the viShisTadvaita seek comfort in both these examples as a proof of their own philosophy.

Let us now take a look at the last verse in the VSN:

shaMKabhRunnaMdakee chakree Saarajga dhanvaa gadaadharaH |
radhaaMgapaaNi rakShObhyaH sarvapraharaNaayudhaH ||

There are 8 names in this verse. Please note that the numbers in the parenthesis of the names is the actual number in the sequence of the 1000 names mentioned in the VSN. shaMKabhRut(993) is One who holds a conch by name panchajanya.  One who wields a sword by name naMdakee is called naMdakee(994). chakree(995) is the name of the Lord who is in control of a discus. He holds a bow by the name Saarga; hence he is called Saargadhanvaa(996). He has in his possession a mace called kaumodha and hence he is called gadaadhara(997). He is called radhaaMgapaani(998) because he owns a discus that is always very bright and shiny. He is called akShObhyaH(999) because He can never be defeated by anyone. He is sarvapraharaNaayudhaH(1000) because He is the ultimate owner of every kind of weapon that is ever  known. In other words there is no weapon that He does not own.

It is interesting to note how this verse narrows down the Lord to just one shape and size and yet it makes Him the most adorable, powerful and awe-inspiring. It is nearly impossible to fathom what it takes to be in control of every weapon. There is also a deep symbolism associated with a seemingly simple  form. Let us take for example the words ‘sudarShana chakra’. The word sudarShana translates to ‘a vision of the self’. That is a very powerful weapon not in the sense of its destructive power but strictly in the sense of the deep wisdom. He knows Himself. What else is to be known for someone who clearly knows what He is. When we portray God in such a human form, it tells us that the purpose behind such a form is for us to know ourselves. Similarly the word akShobhyaH has its etymological root in akShaya which represents that which has no end. We think of the things  like creation and time having no beginning or end. But what was there before creation, what was there during the sustenance of the creation and what will be there at the end of the complete reversal of the creation is God.

Throughout the VSN, different forms of God are presented, His infinite nature and His varied avatars. They are all too difficult to meditate upon as they all confine Him to either a particular era or role or some unimaginable infinitude. So what is the best form to imagine and comtemplate. This last verse provides the  answer.

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