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Prologue

It is interesting to contemplate on the circumstances under which Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram came into existence. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandavas, was mentally depleted because of the war with the Kauravas and the misery of death and suffering that was created by the war in which he had been a major player. Bhishma, his dear grandfather, was lying on his deathbed. With his passing away, his irreplaceable wisdom, based on the experiences of his long life of virtue, righteousness and devotion, was about to be lost to the world. Sage Vyasa and Sri Krishna advised Yudhishthira, who himself was an epitome of righteousness and virtue, to seek the advice of Bhishma on any and all aspects of life on which he had any doubts. Yudhishthira did as advised, and a series of dialogs ensued between the two, witnessed by Lord Krishna Himself, and by other great sages including Vedavyasa.

In one of these sessions, Yudhishthira sought Bhishma’s advice on the easiest and best means by which mankind can attain lasting happiness, peace of mind, and relief from all bondage and sorrows. This was the setting in which Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram was imparted, with the welfare of future generations also in mind, by Bhishma to Yudhishthira, as part of the advice given by Bhishma in response to the above question.

ऋषिर्नाम्नां सहस्रस्य वेदव्यासो महामुनिः ॥

छन्दोऽनुष्टुप् तथा देवो भगवान् देवकीसुतः ॥ २०॥

Rishr namanam sahasrasya vedavyaso mahamunih|

Chandonustup tatha devo bhagavan devaki sutah ||

Sri Vedavyasa is the rishi of Sri Vishnu’s one thousand names, i.e., the sage who strung together the thousand names as they were revealed by Bhishma to Yudhishthira. Anushtup (eight syllables per quarter) is its meter. Lord Krishna, the son of Devaki, is the Lord being worshiped.

Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram, along with the Bhagavad Gita, is an integral part of the epic Mahabharata composed by Sage Vedavyasa.

Sri Adi Shankara emphasizes the importance of reciting the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram in his Bhaja Govindam (geyam gita nama sahasram…). Six reasons are generally identified for the greatness of the Stotram. These are:

1. It is the essence of the Mahabharata.
2. Sages such as Narada, the Alwars, and composers including Saint Tyagaraja have made repeated references to the “Thousand Names of Vishnu” in their devotional works.
3. The person who strung together the thousand names as part of the Mahabharata and preserved it for the world was none other than Sage Vedavyasa, the foremost knower of the vedas, and considered an incarnation of Vishnu (vyasaya vishnu rupaya vyasa rupaya vishnave namo…).
4. It is considered as the opinion of Bhishma that it is the best and easiest of all dharmas, or the means to attain relief from all bondage.
5. It is widely accepted that the chanting of this Stotram gives relief from all sorrows and leads to happiness and peace of mind.
6. It is in conformity with the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Narayaneeya and other scriptures on Lord Vishnu.

Yudhishthira was the son of Dharma, and himself a practitioner of justice, righteousness, truth, honesty and integrity. Vyasa was the knower of all vedas. Lord Krishna was himself a witness to the whole event involving the advice and revelation of the easiest and best means to achieve happiness and peace of mind.

The Vishnu Sahasranaama was composed by Sri Veda Vyaasa, the author of the Puranas, and we meet this great chant in his classical work, the Mahaabaarata, Prince Yudhisthira, the eldest of the pandavas, at the end of the war approached Bheeshma Pitaamaha, when the mighty grandsire of the Kuru family was lying on the bed of arrows, unconquered and in conquerable, awaiting the scared hour of his departure to the feet of the lord. Yudhishthira, the righteous, asked six questions, Bheeshma, the constant devotee of Krishna, the gigantic Man of Action, calmly answered them all. This is how we find the “Thousand Names of Lord Vishnu” introduced in the immortal classic of the Hindus, the Mahaabaarata.

For the eradication of all obstructions, I meditate (“dhyayeth”) on Vishnu, who is wearing (“dharam”) a white (“shukla”) cloth (“ambara”), who is of the color (“varnam”) of the moon (“sashi”), who has four (“chatur”) arms (“bhujam”), and who has a placid expression (“prasanna”) on His face (“vadanam”).

Pūrvabhāga/ Prologue

ViṣṇuSahasranāma begins with Pūrvabhāga or the prologue. This part consists of twenty one verses, mostly in the form of invoking Lord Viṣṇu’s blessings and expounding His greatness. This part is in the form of conversation between Yudhiṣṭhira and Bhīṣma.

“I meditate upon the One, who appears in pure white dress, shines like the full moon, the One with four hands, whose eternal bliss is reflected through His face, for removing any obstacles. I pay obeisance to the great impeccable sage Vyāsa, the great grandson of sage Vasiṣṭha, grandson of sage Śakti (the eldest of Vasiṣṭha’s hundred sons) and the son of sage Parāśara. I pay obeisance to the Lord Viṣṇu, who is in the form of Vyāsa and to the sage Vyāsa in the form of Lord Viṣṇu, who is the treasure of Vedas. I pay obeisance Vyāsa, who is in the linage of sage Vasiṣṭha. (The inseparability between the devotee and the Lord is highlighted here.)”

श्री वैशम्पायन उवाच

श्रुत्वा धर्मा नशेषेण पावनानि च सर्वशः |

युधिष्ठिरः शान्तनवं पुनरेवाभ्य भाषत ||

Shree Vaishampãyanauvacha:

Shruthvãdharmãnaséshénapãvananichasarvashaha

Yudhishtarashanthanavampunarévãbyabashatha

Vaisampayana, the narrator to Dhritrastra says: Yudhishthira, as a righteous man (“dharamana”) of spiritual inclination, with the mortal integrity (“paavanaani”) of a careful mortal, asks (“bhaashatha”) Bhishma (“shaantanavam”) quite an interesting set of questions which are typical queries which the heart of seekers will always ask.

Questions & Answers

युधिष्ठिर उवाच

किमेकं दैवतं लोके किं वाऽप्येकं परायणं

स्तुवन्तः कं कमर्चन्तः प्राप्नुयुर्मानवाः शुभम् ||

Yudhistira Uvaachaa

Kimékamdaivatham loke kimvápyekamparãyanam

Sthuvanthakamkamarchandaprapnuyurmãnavãshubam

Who (“kim”) is the greatest (“ekam”) Lord (“daivatam”) in the world (“loke”)?

Who is the one (“ekam”) refuge (“paraayanam”) for all?

By glorifying (“sthuvantah”) whom (“kam”) can man (“manavah”) reach the Auspiciousness (“shubam”) (peace and prosperity)?

By worshipping (“archantah”) whom can a man reach auspiciousness (peace and prosperity)?

को धर्मः सर्वधर्माणां भवतः परमो मतः |

किं जपन्मुच्यते जन्तुर्जन्मसंसार बन्धनात् ||

Ko dharma sarvadharmãnambhavatha paramo mathaha  

Kim japan muchyathéjanthurjanmasamsãra bandhanãth

What (“ko”) is, in thy opinion, the Greatest Dharma?

By (“kim”) doing japa of what can “creatures” (jantu) go beyond (“mutchyate”) the bonds (“bandhanaath”) of samsara?

श्री भीष्म उवाच
जगत्प्रभुं देवदेव मनन्तं पुरुषोत्तमं |
स्तुवन्नाम सहस्रेण पुरुषः सततोत्थितः ||

Shree BheeshmãUvacha

Jagath prabhum deva devamanthampurushothamam  

Sthuvannãmasahasréna purusha saththothithaha

The supreme (“uttamam”) Purusha, who is ever up and working for the welfare of all, the Lord (“prabhum”) of the world (“jagat”) the endless (“anantam”) – Sri Maha Vishnu.

तमेव चार्चयन्नित्यं भक्त्या पुरुषमव्ययं |
ध्यायन् स्तुवन्नमस्यंश्च यजमानस्तमेव च ||

Tameva chãrchayanthnithyam bhakthya purusha mavyayam

Dhayãyan sthuvannamasyamsha yajamãnasthameva cha

By meditating upon (“sthuvannaama”), by (“cha”) worshipping (“archayan”) and by prostrating at the same Purusha, man can reach true Auspiciousness.

अनादि निधनं विष्णुं सर्वलोक महेश्वरं |
लोकाध्यक्षं स्तुवन्नित्यं सर्व दुःखातिगो भवेत् ||

Anãdhi nidhanam vishnum sarvaloka mahesvaram

Lokãdhyaksham sthuvannithyam sarvadhukkãthigo bhavéth

The greatest Dharma is the one Vishnu, who has neither a beginning (Aadi) nor an end (Nidhanam), the supreme Lord (“maheshwaram”) of the world. All creatures can go beyond the bonds of samsar, “and he goes beyond all sorrows” who daily (“nityam”) chants (“stuvan”) the sahasranaamas and within glorifies “the knower of the world” (Lokaadhyaksha).

ब्रह्मण्यं सर्व धर्मज्ञं लोकानां कीर्ति वर्धनं |
लोकनाथं महद्भूतं सर्वभूत भवोद्भवम्||

एष मे सर्व धर्माणां धर्मोऽधिक तमोमतः |
यद्भक्त्या पुण्डरीकाक्षं स्तवैरर्चेन्नरः सदा ||

परमं यो महत्तेजः परमं यो महत्तपः |
परमं यो महद्ब्रह्म परमं यः परायणम् ||

Brahmanyam sarva dharmangyam lokãnãm keerthi vardhanam
Lokanãtham mahathbhootham sarvabhootha bhavothbhavam

Esha mé sarva dharmãnãm dharmodhika thamomathaha
Yathbhakthyã pundarikãksham sthavairar-chénnarassatha

Paramam yo mahathteja paramam yo mahaththapaha
Paramam yo mahath brahma paramam ya parãyanam

He who is the great (“mahat”) effulgence (“tejah”); He who is the Great controller (“tapah”); He who is the Supreme All-Pervading Truth; (“brahma”) he who is the Highest (Param) Goal (Ayanam)-the Lord Vishnu.

पवित्राणां पवित्रं यो मङ्गलानां च मङ्गलं |
दैवतं देवतानां च भूतानां योऽव्ययः पिता ||

Pavithrãm pavithram yo mangalãnãn cha mangalam

Daivatham dévathãnãn cha bhoothãnãm yovyaya pithã

He who is (“yo”) the very sanctity (“pavitram”) that sanctifies all sacred things (“pavitraanaam”); he who is most auspicious (“mangalam”); he who is the god (“devataa”) of gods (“daivatam”); he who is the eternal (“avyayah”) father (“pitaa”) of all creatures (“bhootaanaam”) is the one god – VISHNU.

यतः सर्वाणि भूतानि भवन्त्यादि युगागमे |
यस्मिंश्च प्रलयं यान्ति पुनरेव युगक्षये ||

तस्य लोक प्रधानस्य जगन्नाथस्य भूपते |
विष्णोर्नाम सहस्रं मे श्रुणु पाप भयापहम् ||

यानि नामानि गौणानि विख्यातानि महात्मनः |
ऋषिभिः परिगीतानि तानि वक्ष्यामि भूतये ||

ऋषिर्नाम्नां सहस्रस्य वेदव्यासो महामुनिः ||
छन्दोऽनुष्टुप् तथा देवो भगवान् देवकीसुतः ||

अमृतां शूद्भवो बीजं शक्तिर्देवकिनन्दनः |
त्रिसामा हृदयं तस्य शान्त्यर्थे विनियुज्यते ||

विष्णुं जिष्णुं महाविष्णुं प्रभविष्णुं महेश्वरं |
अनेकरूप दैत्यान्तं नमामि पुरुषोत्तमम् ||

Yatha sarvãni bhoothãni bhavanthyãdhi yugãgamé
Yasmimscha pralayam yãnthi punaréva yugakshayé

Tasya loka pradhãnasya jagan-nãdhasya bhoopathé
Vishnor nama sahasrm mé srunu pãpa bhayãpaham

Yãni nãmãni gounãni vikyãthãni mahãthmanaha
Rushibhi parigeerthãni thãni vakshãyãmi bhoothayé

Rushirnãmnãm sahasrasya védhavyãso mahãmunihi
Chchando-nushtup thadha dhévo bhaghavãn dhévagee-suthaha

Amruthãm soothbhavo bheejam shakthir dhévaki nandhanaha
Thrisãmã hrudhayam thasya shãnthyarthé viniyujyathe 20

Vishnum jishnum mahãvishnum prabhavishum mahéswaram
Anaika roopa dhaithyãntham namãmi purushoth-thamam

Commentary on the Questions Answers between Yudhishthira Bheeshma

YudhistirauUvaachaa:

(Question 1.)  Kim ekamdaivatam loke?

Who (“kim”) is the greatest (“ekam”) Lord (“daivatam”) in the world (“loke”)?

(Answer 1.)

Pavitraanaampavitramyo Mangalaanaam cha mangalam

Daivatamdevataanam cha Bhootaanamyoavyayahpitaa.

He who is (“yo”) the very sanctity (“pavitram”) that sanctifies all sacred things (“pavitraanaam”); he who is most auspicious (“mangalam”); he who is the god (“devataa”) of gods (“daivatam”); he who is the eternal (“avyayah”) father (“pitaa”) of all creatures (“bhootaanaam”) is the one god – VISHNU

———————————————————

(Question 2) Kim vaapyekamparaayanam?

Who is the one (“ekam”) refuge (“paraayanam”) for all?

(Answer 2.)

Paramamyomahat-tejahParamamyomahat-tapah

Paramamyomahat-brahma Paramam yah paraayanam.

He who is the great (“mahat”) effulgence (“tejah”); He who is the Great controller (“tapah”); He who is the Supreme All-Pervading Truth; (“brahma”) he who is the Highest (Param) Goal (Ayanam)-the Lord Vishnu.

———————————————————

(Question 3.) Stuvantamkampraapnuyuh(Maanavahsubham)?

By glorifying (“sthuvantah”) whom (“kam”) can man (“manavah”) reach the Auspiciousness (“shubam”) (peace and prosperity)?

(Answer 3.)    

Jagat-prabhum deva-devam Anantampurushottamam

Stuvannaama-sahasrena Purushahsatatotthitah.

The supreme (“uttamam”) Purusha, who is ever up and dong for the welfare of all, the Lord (“prabhum”) of the world (“jagat”) the endless (“anantam”) – Sri Maha Vishnu.

———————————————————

(Question 4.) (Kam archantah) praapnuyuh Maanavaahsubham?

By worshipping (“archantah”) whom can a man reach auspiciousness (peace and prosperity)?

(Answer 4.)  

Tameva cha archayannityam Bhaktyaapurushamavyayam

Stuvannaama-sahasrena Purushahsatatthitah.

By meditating upon (“sthuvannaama”), by (“cha”) worshipping (“archayan”) and by prostrating at the same Purusha, man can reach true Auspiciousness.

———————————————————

(Question 5.)  Ko dharmahsarva-dharmaanaam Bhavatah paramo matah?

 What (“ko”) is, in thy opinion, the Greatest Dharma?

(Question 6.)  Kim japan muchyatejantuh Janma-samsaara-bandhaaat?

By (“kim”) doing japa of what can “creatures” (jantu) go beyond (“mutchyate”) the bonds (“bandhanaath”) of samsara?

(Answers 5&6.)

Anaadi-nidhanamvishnum Sarvaloka-maheshvaram

Lokaadhyakshamstuvannityam Sarva-duhkha-atigobhavet.

Both questions are answered here: – the greatest Dharma is the one Vishnu, who has neither a beginning (Aadi) nor an end (Nidhanam), the supreme Lord (“maheshwaram”) of the world. All creatures can go beyond the bonds of samsar, “and he goes beyond all sorrows” who daily (“nityam”) chants (“stuvan”) the sahasranaamas and within glorifies “the knower of the world” (Lokaadhyaksha).

The supreme is described as that from which the whole world of names and forms had risen in the beginning of the creation, that in which the world continues to exit, that into which alone the world can merge back during the ‘Dissolution’ (Pralaya); this supreme is VISHNU.

After thus answering all questions, “His thousand Name”, said Bheeshma, “I shall now advise you. Please listen to them with all attention”. This is how the Sacred Hymn, called as “The thousand names of Lord Vishnu”, is introduced in the Mahaabhaarata.

Vaiśampāyana said, (Vaiśampāyana is a pupil of Vyāsa and also the narrator of the Mahābhārata to Janamejaya, a celebrated king) “After having listened to the means to renounce dharma and the ways to annihilate sins, Yudhiṣṭhira again addressed Bhīṣma.”

Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Who is the unified Lord of the universe? Which is the ultimate refuge? By worshipping whom, the humanity attains propitiousness? Which is the best of all dharmas? Having born, what is the way to liberation?”

Bhīṣma said, “By worshipping Lord Viṣṇu, the Lord of the universe, the Chief of all gods, the One who is Infinite, the One who witnesses from Above, through devotion and perseverance with His one thousand nāma-s (names) and worshipping and praising That Puruṣa (the Brahman or the Supreme Self), by means of meditation, praise and prostration, gets rid of all his pains and miseries. The one who worships Him, Who is fond of Vedas, Knower of all righteousness, Who strives for the upliftment of the world, the Chief of the universe, the Almighty, the One who causes birth and death, is relieved of his sufferings.

“Worshipping Lord Puṇḍarikākṣa (lotus eyed, referring to Lord Viṣṇu) all the time with devotion and through verses in His praise, is considered as the supreme amongst all dharmas. That which is the Supreme light, the Supreme penance and the Supreme Brahman is the Supreme Abode. The Purest amongst the pure, the most Auspicious amongst the auspiciousness, the Lord amongst the gods and the eternal Creator, He alone is the Lord of the universe.

“From Whom the entire creation originates and dissolves, the One who is the upholder of the universe and Omnipresent, His one thousand nāma-s are capable of eradicating sins and fearfulnesses. Listen to me for those celebrated nāma-s that describe His guṇa-s (attributes) and versified by great sages and saints. I am declaring these nāma-s to you, for your enlightenment.

“For this Sahasranāma, Veda Vyāsa is the ṛṣi (the sage by whom this Sahasranāma was revealed to the world) and the son of Devaki, the Lord Viṣṇu in the form of Kṛṣṇa.

“I prostrate before the Omnipresent, the in dweller of all the beings, the great Lord, who has innumerable forms, the destroyer of demons, ever radiating Puruṣottama (the highest being), the Lord Viṣṇu.”

It is to be carefully noted here that in the sixth question the enquiry was how can ‘creatures’ realise the Highest. Jantu means ‘that which is born’ (Janana-dharman). So all living creatures are fit for this easy path. ‘Creatures’ could even include the animal kingdom as it is described in the Puraanas in their own poetic language. In the Trikutaachala lake, the elephant that was caught by the crocodile is described as having been saved by the Lord (Gajendra Moksha).