VSN #7 – The Thousand Names

by Sahadev Komaragiri

The names in vishNu sahasra naamaM (VSN) represent the various attributes of Lord Vishnu, the titles and attributes of His incarnations, the divine acts performed by Him and the deep philosophies embedded in the omniscient and omnipresent super consciousness represented by Him. Some of the names like viswaM, achyuta and anaMta attempt to describe the indescribable. Names such as raama, krishNa, kESava are some of the most popular names used to address our personal Gods. While His attributes are infinite, the names such as ekaatma, trilOkeSa, chaturbhuja and saptavaahana appear to be limiting him to a few numbers. Where He cannot be described in mere numbers, He was described in maha names such as mahAdeva, mahAtEjasa and mahAbhoota. Some of the names are repeated a few times so as to describe other significant aspects of the same name, the meaning and secret behind such repeated names must be derived from the context in which they are mentioned.

This post is part of the series on vishnu sahasra naamaM

The very first name in VSN is visvaM while the very last name is sarva praharaNaayudhaya. In between these two names there are 998 names spread over 107 verses. During later stages elders added one more verse making it a total of 108 verses. This addition brings up the total number of names to 1008. So, if you take the 108th verse into account, the last name is vaasudeva. Some of the names are repeated a few times. It is customary to start chanting VSN by first chanting the poorvaPeeTika which constitute the dialogue between King Yudhistir and Bheeshma. This is to remind us of the important questions asked by King Yudhistir and the memorable answers provided by Bheeshma. This is followed by a prayer and declaring the purpose of the chanting. The purpose is nothing less than pleasing Lord Vishnu. After chanting of the 1008 names spread over 108 verses, it is concluded with reciting of uttarapeetika, which explains the benefits of chanting VSN.

We often wonder if there is any one name of Sri Maha Vishnu that is more sacred then others. If we were to think along the lines of Upanishads, we would ask – of all the 1000 names what is that one name which is as potent as all the rest of the names combined. This is addressed in the poorvapeeTika. Lord Shiva is asked by his consort Parvati – keno paayena lagoona vishnor naama sahasrakam, paTyate paMditairnityam shrotu michamyaham prabhu? O Lord please tell me with what technique the learned and wise pandits chant Vishnu Sahasranama? Lord Shiva replies: ‘shree raama raamEti ramE raamE manOramE, sahasranaama tattulyam raama naama varaanane’ – ‘O Dear, I offer my prayers to Lord Rama by repeating the name raama, that beautiful name raama is equivalent to all the one thousand names’. It is very humbling to notice how Lord Shiva offers this as his personal opinion. The answer given by Lord Shiva in the form a beautiful sloka is revered as the eternal taraka mantra which when recited helps one cross the ocean of samsara and attain liberation. The enormous gulf between jeevatma and paramatma can be bridged by constant meditation and reflection on any one name or even all the 1000 names. In uttarapeetika, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna – yomAm nAma sahasrena stotu micchati pandava, sohamekena slokena stuta yevana saMsayaha – those who offer their sincere prayers to Me in the form of thousand names, I shall receive them with just one sloka or even one name, there shall be no doubt about it.

Meanings of the names found in Vishnu Sahasranama highlight one important thing. No matter how much we think we know about God, there is definitely a lot more that is unknown, but what we know from these names in itself gives plenty of means and ways to celebrate and get absorbed in Him. The names in Vishnu Sahasranama offer a lot to think about. The more we think the more we get absorbed in the beauty it offers. This life will acquire a whole new meaning simply by reflecting upon these names each day, even if it is for a few minutes.

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