Signigficance of Vishnu Sahasranamam

published on December 26, 2010
V.N. Gopalakrishnan

Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram consists of 107 stanzas which contain one thousand names of Lord Vishnu.  Every one of the names is full of significance and refers to one particular guna (quality) of Paramatma (Universal Soul).  These names invoke a sense of bonding with the Lord and the meanings of the names give us an understanding of God as there is a deep connection between the name and the named.

The thousand names of Lord Vishnu, organized in a poetic format, in the anushtup chandas (a meter with eight syllables in a quarter), with two quarters per line, and two lines per stanza. There is no requirement regarding time, place, status of purity, etc., for chanting the stotram. The key element of the act of chanting as a means to attain the Lord’s grace is the sincerity and purity of mind. There are over forty commentaries on Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram. Adi Sankaracharya’s commentary is the earliest of them. Of all the commentaries written by Sankaracharya for the Hindu religious scriptures (the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, etc.), the commentary on Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram was the first.

Many scholars have established that the chanting of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam create sound vibrations. The phonetic sound vibrations by chanting each name known as Nama and the chain of names known as Namavali produce good results. It is believed that by reciting the entire slokhas glorifying the Lord Vishnu, the chanter attains spiritual liberation.  Long recital of Naamas glorifying Lord Vishnu is very rare anywhere.

According to the legends, at the end of the Mahabharata war, Bhishma, grandsire of the Kuru dynasty was waiting for the sacred hour to depart from his physical body. Bhishma was the son of the Mother Ganga and a person sanctified by his unswerving devotion to Lord Krishna, and one who had controlled and conquered all his senses. Bhishma was acknowledged as one of the twelve knowledgeable people, others being Brahma, Siva, Subramanya, Narada, Kapila, Manu, Prahlada, Janaka, Bali, Suka and Yama.

Prince Yudhishtira, 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. Yudhishtira was an embodiment of Dharma, and a practitioner of justice, righteousness, truth, honesty and integrity. Yudhishtira 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. He was anxiously looking for the answers relating to Dharma and Karma. Lord Krishna, understanding Yudhistira’s perturbed mind, guided him to Bhishma to learn the insight into this knowledge.

As directed by Lord Krishna, Prince Yudhishtira, presented following six questions to Bhishma. The questions were: Who is the greatest Lord in the world? Who is the one refuge of all? By glorifying whom, can man attain peace and prosperity?  By worshipping, whom can man reach auspiciousness? What is the greatest Dharma? By doing Japa what can ordinary mortals go beyond the cycle of birth and death? Yudhishtira, as a righteous man of spiritual inclination, asks these interesting set of questions which the seekers will always ask.

Bhishma responded to the queries of Yudhishtira by reciting the 1000 names of Lord Vishnu and reminded him that either by meditating on these names or by invoking the names through Archana (offering),the  mind can be elevated to higher consciousness. The thousand Naamas are the storehouses of spiritual content and their chanting helps to unite the nervous system and the Mind.

According to the Vedas, God is neither accessible to words nor to mind.  It is said that one cannot comprehend the Paramatma with the human mind alone. Given this infinite nature of the Paramatma, who is neither governed nor constrained by any of the physical laws, the choice of a thousand names of Lord Vishnu by Bhishma should be recognized as a representation of some of his better known qualities.

It is the bhaava (spirit) that matters while chanting the name of God with sincerity whether one knows the meaning or the pronunciation. Traditionally, Hindu prayers end with a phala sruti (benefits of reciting).  Firmness of mind, good memory, happiness of the self and freedom from anger, jealousy, and greed, are some of the benefits that accrue to one who recites the stotram with devotion and eagerness.

Just like cleansing the body regularly to maintain good health, cleansing of the mind is equally essential. Prayers are a means to mental cleansing when they are chanted with devotion. Veda Vyasa, who was responsible for stringing the Naamas together in a poetic form, points out that it is by the power and command of Lord Vishnu that the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the world and the oceans are controlled.  The universe is under the sway of the Lord and in Bhishma’s judgment, chanting the Lord’s name with devotion will ensure relief from sorrows.  The person who recites is not the only one who benefits, but also those who are hearing the chanting as well.

It is believed that chanting of Vishnu Sahasranama will lead to success in this life and hereafter. Although devotion is considered the most important thing while reciting any prayer or Mantra, use of the correct pronunciation is believed to enhance the satisfaction derived from the recital, in the case of both vocal and mental chants. Chanters of the Vishnu Sahasranama claim that it brings unwavering calm of mind, complete freedom from stress and eternal knowledge. It is customary to commence the Vishnu Sahasranama with a devotional prayer to Lord Vishnu.

(Author is a freelance journalist and a social activist. He is Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting and can be contacted on [email protected])

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