From the Back of the Book :
A devout Asthika and a devoted devotee of His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of revered memory, the late Prof. Sankaranarayanan translated most of His Holiness' discourses into English. Possessing the humility of the truly learned, Prof. Sankaranarayanan was one of the beloved elders of the Bhavan's family. He had also translated from Sanskrit into English the commentary on Adi Sankracharya's 'Vivekacudamani' by his Holiness the late Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati of Sringeri. This book, along with 'what is Advaita?' 'Values in History','Sri Ramachandra' and 'Sri Sankarabhagavadpada' have been published by the Bhavan.
Prof. Sankaranarayanan passed away on June 30, 1980 when he was 82.
"The Visnusahasranama Stotram has come down to us from the hoary past having been told by Bhisma from his bed of arrows to Yudhishthira in the presence of Bhagavan Sri Krsna Himself. It has gained currency down the ages in every nook and corner of our punyabhumi. In fact, the word Sahasranama has come to mean the Visnusahasranama only in the tongues of the devout in the first intance, even as mention of the word Gita calls to mind only the Bhagavad Gita though there are many other Gitas.
Other Sahasranamas in vogue among us are referred to with their appropriate adjectives as Lalita Sahasranama, Lakshmi Sahasranama and Siva Sahasranama etc. But when Sahasranama alone is uttered it refers only to Visnu Sahasranama. There are no restrictions of place or time, sex or age for recited the stotra. It cuts across sectarian divisions of the Hindus and is held in great reverence by all denominations among us. It is practically the first lesson in our hymnology and is a matter of daily recital by every devout Hindu. It embodies the Nama Sankirtana of the Lord which is a potent means of spiritual benefit in this decadent age."
The redeeming power of the Divine Name is an article of faith with the mystics of all religions. It is hedged in with awful mystery. And Sanatana Dharma with its roots in the Veda has given Nama-japa a very high place in the practice of religion. The Rgveda, which proclaims the Ekam Sat, also breathes the spirit of loving devotions in such hymns as the Varuna Suktas of which Vasistha is the seer. And it affirms the potency of the Divine-Name in such verses as the following of Dirghatamas:
Which means, "O ye who wish to gain realization of the supreme truth, utter the name of Visnu at least once in the steadfast faith that it will lead you to such realization".
It is this Vedic insight that has led to the proliferation of the vast body of prayers and hymns of praise down the ages and has been responsible for the development of a whole cult, that of the Nama-siddhanta. The Sahasranamas of which we have quite a few devoted to the various aspects of the Godhead, Visnu, Siva, Amba and so on, provide the textual base for this mode of religious practice. To mention two of the most famous, we have the Lalita Sahasranama and the Siva Sahasranama in the Anusasanika Parva of the Mahabharata, which Sri Krisna Himself gives out at Bhisma's instance, as taught Him by Upamanyu when He wanted to propitiate Siva. But the distinction of the Visnu Sahasranama lies in this, that it has a commentary by Sri Sankara Bhagavadpada, which Nilakantha, the famous commentator of the Mahabharata considered so authoritative that he himself refrained from commenting on it.
The distinctive feature of the Visnu-Sahasranama, as Sri Sankara interprets it, may be gathered from his commentary on verses 9 and 10. It emphasizes that the Object of adoration of this hymn is that Supreme Deity, the Light that lights up all existence, the Inner Ruler Immortal, the Author of the creation, preservation and destruction of the worlds and the Redeemer who terminates the bondage of Karma by imparting the saving knowledge. In other words, it is the Karya Brahma (Saguna Brahma) Who is posited in the very first of the Brahma Sutras, Whose grace may be gained by singing His manifold glories, which the Sahasranama tries to indicate by those descriptive names which the great rsis have garnered from the entire corpus of Vedic and Puranic literature, as Bhisma suggests. In the thousand Names, there are to be found many that are familiarly associated with one or other member of the Trinity as well as with those of other aspects or incarnations of the Godhead. But Sri Sankara insists (vide his comments on the name Sarva) that all the names refer only to Narayana. He maintains that his Saguna-Brahma-upasana will logically find its fulfillment in the realization of the Nirguna through the dawn of the supreme knowledge by the grace of Isvara.
The Bhakti Sastra has, in the course of centuries, been developed with extreme acuteness and subtlety by many schools of devotion with their distinctive metaphysics. But it is worth noting that Sri Sankara's Bhasya on the Visnu Sahasranama deals with all the main arguments on which the Nama-Siddhanta rests and anticipates and refutes the objections raised by its critics.
Just one or two points may be touched upon here by way of illustration. It might be asked, "when the Vedas prescribe the offering of costly and difficult sacrifices for the propitiation of the Lord, how can mere praise, which-comes easy and costs no money, fill the bill". The Acarya points out that the very ease with which the praise of the Lord may be sung is a point in its favour. Its superiority to other modes of propitiation lies in the fact that is causes no harm to others, it doe not need the service of another person, it requires no object (not even a leaf or a flower), and it is not dependent on suitable times and places. But it does require the fulfillment of two other conditions. It is the Lord Vasudeva Who shines in the heart-lotus that the devotee must exalt by singing His numerous qualities impelled to do so by the whole-hearted love and exclusive devotion that he feels towards Him.
Laksmidhara in his Bhagavan-Nama-Kaumudi interprets this 'bhakti' as 'rati' (love). Srimad-Bhagavatam traces the growth of this active love in this manner. 'A man goes on pilgrimages. There he happens to meet the saintly and hear them sing the praises of the Lord. Hearing those praises repeatedly, he falls so much in love with the Lord Who is thus glorified, that he joins in the singing. The result is described by Laksmidhara as a progressive spiritual growth. 'Singing the Lord's praises leads to the elimination of sin; constant repetition of the same strengthens the impulses that make for love for the Lord and that lead to the eradication of the tendencies to sin; he devotes himself more and more to the service of the saintly; and from that is generated unshakable love and devotion to the Lord, which results in the uprooting of all causes of grief and misery, the enhancement of sattva, and as a natural culmination, tattva-saksatkara and mukti.' The fundamental pre-requisite is sraddha (faith).
This might seem to be contradicted by such stories as that of Ajamila in the Sixth Skandha of Srimad Bhagavatam, where a life-long sinner was rescued from Yama's messengers by the attendants of Visnu, because he had inadvertently uttered the name of Narayana in calling his child. This signal proof of the God's Grace brings him repentance and that results in liberation. The famous verse in the Bhagavatam, which supports this thesis runs as follows: 'Men of old have known that all sins are destroyed by the uttering of the Name of the Lord of Vaikuntha even casually in calling somebody by his name, or in jest, or as a meaningless vocuble, to sustain a chant or a melody, or in light-hearted badinage.' Laksmidhara, after an elaborate consideration of the matter, concludes that it is the man who is at the point of death that is saved by the utterance of the Lord's Name even unintentionally. Even that involuntary utterance (which is itself the result of vasanas of former births) invites the Lord's attention to his plight ('yatas-tad-visaya matih'), and the infinite Fountain of mercy offers him instant succour.
There are two ways of glorifying the Lord: (1) by singing the litany of His thousand Names or (2) by chanting the Name of one's Ista devata. The Name that make up the Sahasranama are all descriptive (gaunani) of His excellences, exploits and glorious attributes. Being the sum of the best qualities the human mind can conceive of as inherent in God, this prayer, by constant and devout recitation, builds up in the devotee's heart, (little detail by details) the image of the Lord that evokes his adoration. Sri Sankara's Bhasya is intended to help in the process of identification of the worshipper, in self-forgetful love with the Object of his devotion, and it does that very convincingly. It is of course possible to differ as to the signification of particular Names. Sri Parasara Bhatta, in his valuable Bhasya, offers alternative explanations to many of the Names. Take the name of 'Vyala' (monster or serpent) for instance. Sri Sankara ways that the suggestion is that the Lord is as elusive and slippery as the serpent. Bhatta says it means, 'He who grapples His devotees to Himself with hoops of steel'. The reader may or may not agree with either. But he should be glad to have the benefit of the insight of both expounders. For the infinity of God may contain contradiction which do not cancel out each other, but enhance the richness of the whole.
Prof. P. Sankaranarayanan has done a valuable service to the astika public by giving us a faithful, almost word-for-word translation of Sri Sankara's Bhasya on the Vishnu Sahasranama with its wealth of Vedic and other scriptural quotations that support his view that the Sahasranama is no sectarian document and that it can be a great support for Advaita Bhakti. At the same time he explains lucidly the terse statements that are to be met with occasionally in the Bhasya. This book comes as a fitting sequel to his English rendering of the Commentary, by the saintly pontiff of a Sankara-carya Pitha, the late Sri Candrasekhara Bharati of Sringeri on Sankara's Vivekacudamani; which, of all the Acarya's Prakarana-granthas, is the one that most persuasively introduces the devout student to the heart of Advaita Vedanta.
Some years ago, when I had the privilege of darsan of Sri Periyaval, His Holiness Sri Candrasekharendra Saraswati Sricaranas, the 68th adhipati of Kanci Kamakoti Pitha, with my good friend Sri T.V. Viswanatha Aiyar at Tenambakkam, his Holiness desired me at that time to translate into English Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada's bhasya on the following verse of the Visnu-sahasranama Stotra:
and distribute it widely among the astikas. I wondered at the time why His Holiness was so particular of the bhasya on this verse being translated and made known widely. I came home and looked into the bhasya on this sloka and found that it dealt at length with the truth of Advaita and the concept of Siva Visnu abheda, non-difference between Siva and Visnu, they being manifestations of one and the same Divinity. The propagation of this cardinal feature of Hindu philosophy and theology has engaged the energies of His Holiness for long. The Tiruppavai-Tiruvembavai movement initiated by him and which is so popular in South India is one of the means by which sectarian fanaticism in our religion is sought to be overcome. In fact, a careful study of the bhasya will show that for the most part, the God extolled in the hymn is not a sectarian Deity appropriated exclusively as their own by the votaries of Visnu.
It then occurred to me to translate not only the bhasya on this sloka, but the entire bhasya on the whole stotra as well. This I have done in the following pages. In doing this, I have had the benefit of the translation by late Sri R. Anantakrishna Sastrigal brought out by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, which, I am told by them, is now out of print. It is not, however, quite exhaustive. I have also pressed into service the very able Tamil translation by my esteemed friend the late Sri V. Narayanan, a Kamakoti Kosasthan publication. But, it does not provide the explanation of the Upanisadic and other scriptural passages and the grammatical authorities in the bhasya relied on by Sri Sankara while explaining certain Namas, but is content with merely transliterating them into Tamil. In my translation, not only have such scriptural passages been transliterated in English, their meanings also have been given. The Paninian rules relied on by the venerable author of the bhasya have been separately listed in the Appendix I against the concerned Namas giving reference to the sloka where they occur in the stotra and explained. Because to understand these rules requires a working knowledge of Vyakarana, and unless trained in it, one cannot have that equipment, I have grouped them separately in the Appendix with their explanation. For this I am indebted to my valued friend Dr. M. Narasimha-chary, Reader in Sanskrit, University of Madras, who very kindly wrote this Section of the book for me. I also owe to him the Invocatory slokas for the success of my undertaking and the slokas inscribing the translation of the bhasya to the memory of my wife who passed away when the translation was being written, embodying my ideas in the two cases. I have listed separately in Appendix II such Namas as occur more than once in the stotra and the numbers of the slokas where they occur.
I had the benefit of reading the bhasya with Brahmasri Vazhuthur Rajagopala Sarma who, out of consideration for my physical disability impeding my movement, was kind enough to come to my residence almost daily for four months to explain the bhasya to me and to three respected gentlemen who were interested to read it, in consonance with the maxim: "Meditate alone, but study in company." It was a great service for which I am beholden to Sri Sarma, who found the time to render it in the midst of his tight schedule of daily engagements in furtherance of the cause of Sastraic and literary knowledge in Sanskrit among the young and the not-so-young who go to him for instruction.
I have lifted from Sri V. Narayanan's Tamil translation the reference to the sources of the authorities quoted by Sri Sankara in the course of the bhasya which bespeak Sri Narayanan's deep knowledge of the wide range of our classical lore. The Kamakoti Kosasthan has kindly accorded me permission to do so and I am thankful to them for it.
I must not forget to acknowledge the great prestige that Sri N. Raghunatha Aiyar, formerly of the "Hindu" who has made a monumental translation into English of "Srimad Bhagavata", and who combines in himself a rare mastery of English and a deep scholarship of the Sanskrit classics, has conferred on this book by introducing it to the astika world with his valued Foreword. For, as the poet Kalidasa would have it, a paritosat vidusam na sadhu manye prayogavijnanam: 'No literary work deserves to be called good until it is commended by those who know."
I am grateful to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, for so kindly taking on itself the printing and publication of this book and to its Production Manager, Sri C.K. Venkataraman, for seeing it through the press.
I must not forget to thank profusely my friend Sri S.K. Anantanarayanan for typing for me my clumsy and badly written manuscript.
The Visnusahasranama Stotra has come down to us from the hoary past having been told by Bhagavan Sri Krsna Himself. It has gained currency down the ages in every nook and corner of our punyabhumi. In fact, the word Sahasranama has come to mean the Visnusahasranama only in the tongues of the devout in the first instance, even as mention of the word Gita calls to mind only the Bhagavad Gita though there are many other Gitas. Other Sahasranamas in vogue among us are referred to with their appropriate adjectives as Lalita Sahasranama, Laksmi Sahasranama alone is uttered, it refers only to Visnu Sahasranama. There are no restrictions of place or time, sex or age for reciting the stotra. It cuts across sectarian divisions of the Hindus and is held in great reverence by all denominations among us. It is practically the first lesson in our hymnology and is a matter of daily recital by every devout Hindu. It embodies the Nama Sankirtana of the Lord which is a potent means of spiritual benefit in this decadent age.
There is a tradition that when Sri Sankara desired one of his sisyas in Varanasi to pull out at random any one of his sisyas in Varanasi to pull out at random any philosophy for writing a bhasya on it, the Visnusahasranama Stotra came to the sisya's hand. It would appear time and yet again for a third time. Repeatedly, the same volume came to his hand. It is said that, feeling that his writing the bhasya on it was divinely ordained as the first of the commentaries that he should write on our sacred books, Sri Sankara started with it.
It is not for me, less than a novice, to hold the candle to the sun and expatiate on the excellence of Sri Sankara's bhasya. I can only invite the reader to the original of this translation which, such as it is, is intended only for those who have unfortunately denied themselves access to Sri Bhagavatpada's euphonious language.
To most of us the daily recital of this stotra has become a habit, it has been tended to be mechanical. The meanings of many Namas are not clear, especially when they occur more than once in different parts of the Stotra. The Chandogya Sruti says: "yadeva vidyaya karoti sraddhayopanisada tadeva viryavattaram bhavati" "Whatever is done with knowledge of the meaning of the mantras with an earnestness born of faith and insight into it acquires added efficacy more than what is done without these accompaniments.' It is to help to achieve this object that I have attempted to translate this bhasya on this widely popular hymn for the benefit of those who may prefer to understand it through the medium of English. And, in the process, if my attempt receives, in ever so little a measure, the commendation of His Holiness of Kanchi, I shall feel extremely blessed and amply rewarded.
I have a small request to make to the indulgent reader. In the page in which there appears Sri Sankara's invocation, in line sixteen, the word 'are' may kindly be altered to 'is'.
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