Vishnu Sahasranamam (Mahabharatam)

This golden state was preserved from invader by making it the colour of black stone. The golden form came to light very recently. Courtesy : Arun Ganagadharan Nair : All Rights Reserved :

Dedicated Students can ask for vISnu sahasranAma classes on: Ancient Indians: eGurukula 

In this article and embedded links you will find:

  1. The Vishnu Sahasranamam (from Mahabharata) may be accepted as a definition of God from a Hindu standpoint. I discuss some of my ideas about theism, atheism and God. God as defined by the Vishnu Sahasranamam exists as much as we do.
  2. The health and other benefits of pArayaNam (chanting).
  3. The sanskrit text for the dhyana slokas and the 1000 names and audio links with accurate chanting.
  4. Meanings of some s’lOkAs as I understand them and a link to the translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli.

Why should scholars learn Vishnu Sahasranamam and its meaning?


The author of the Vishnu Sahasranamam.

In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira learns the Vishnu Sahasranama, from his dying grandfather Bhishma, among a host of other matters. Just as the Bhagavad Gita is Krishnena Kathita and Vyasena Grathita, similarly, Vishnu Sahasranamam is Bhishmena Kathitam and Vyasena Grathitam. So Veda Vyasa reported what Bhishma said, in beautiful, awesome poetry.

The Effects of pArAyaNam.

 Atheists and God

Every human being has some inner conception of God, formed and fuelled by their selective interpretations of environment, experiences and temperament. Some then take the position that God (as per their definition) does not exist. We define them as atheists. Some take the position that God (as per their definition) exists. We define these as theists.

Even among theists, there is no common definition of God, and often no tolerance for the definitions of others.

The mata traya  of middle-eastern religions each have a different perception of God. 2 of these 3 middle-eastern religious views now dominate the world, numbers, money and power wise. And they have been fighting violently with each other for about 1500 years, killing and/or converting other people to their point-of-view. The third and oldest of these three were sent in bulk to gas chambers as recently as half a century ago.  After thinking about the matter I realized that those religions advocate compassion only to those of their own faith. To those who are not of their faith, they advocate conversion, contempt, termination, slavery and a vent for all their negative emotions.

Western Atheists are in general those who reject God as defined in the middle-eastern religions.

In my view the Vishnu Sahasranama may be taken as the Hindu Definition of God since it is based on Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. It is a summary document.

Is it even possible to deny the existence of God as defined in the Vishnu Sahasranamam?

Viswam, Vishnuh, Vashatkarah : Vishnu and the Universe.

The first name “Viswam” means – the expanding universe.

If you accept that the Universe exists, then you and everything you around you constitute Vishnu, Bhagwan, God. If you accept a real universe then you are theist by this definition.

The second name “Vishnu” means – that which is present every where.

To our knowledge, space and time are present everywhere, the tiny particles defined by physics are everywhere. If you think every”thing” is located in a vast “nothing”, then that “nothing” (space) is Vishnu. I have no trouble in accepting that there is Vishnu. And I have great joy and thrill in wondering about it.

The third name “Vashat kara” means – That for which the word vashat is uttered in yagnyas.

Its telling me that yagnyas are performed for Viswam, Vishnuh, . yes of course they are.

The fourth name is bhuta-bhavya-bhavat-prabhuh – that means the lord of the past, present and future.

To me this means that God is a) either the master of all events or b) the master of time itself. Atheists can argue here. They can say there is time but it has no master, there are events but there is no master. To which theists can say Krishna said, ‘aham kaalah’.. “I am time” in the Gita, when explaining the nature of God. If I accept that time exists, and if I define God as time, then I can accept that God exists. If I accept that space exists and I define God as space, then I can accept that God exists. If I can accept space-time and universe and I define these as God, then I can accept that God exists.

The fifth name is bhutakrut ie that which created all beings (things that are).

An atheist could jump on this idea and say they don’t believe in a “creator” if they visualise a chap in flowing robes possibly bearded… When I think of Viswam, Vishnu and Kaala as God ie when I think of the Universe, Space and Time as God and all that is is a result of these things, I have no problem with the name bhutakrt as a definiton of an attribute of God or in the existence of such a God.

The sixth name is bhutabhrut ie that which bears (or carries) all beings (things that are).

The universe bears (carries) us all. Acceptable to me.

The seventh name is bhaavah.

That which is.

Eighth : bhutaatma : the self all beings (things that are).

If someone imagines an aatma as a ghostly light in the shape of an outline of the being, then another someone can say such a thing does not exist. If you see aatma as the self the “I” ness of a being the consciousness of a being, then there is no problem in accepting that it exists.Then some may argue that “all beings do not possess consciousness” and “those beings possess only individual consciousness not a universal consciousness”. To me this definition says simply that such consciousness or “I”ness as a being possesses, that is Vishnu, that is God. So now I have the universe, space-time, the cause of things, the bearer of things, that which is and consciousness are all (attributes of) God.

Ninth : Bhuta Bhavanah.

The concept of all things.

These 9 names are given in the first s’lOka (couplet) of the Vishnu Sahasranama.. and we understand that God in Hinduism, is the name for that which is, the “sat”, the “real”.

By definition God is “that which is” in Hinduism, so you can’t argue that it is not. It is called “tat” or “brahman” in the upanishads and bhagavad gita. The difficulty does not lie there at all.

The questions are related to our relationship with “That Reality” :

  • Should one pray to such a God? Should one pray to “Reality” to “Sat”? If one does, will “That” respond? Does it make a difference?
  • If “tat” responds Will “Tat” respond to sounds such as Veda Mantras, to meditation, to love, to admiration, to music, to dance, to emotion, to people, to their plights?
  • Can “Tat” play favorites?
  • Can “Tat” get angry?
  • Will “tat” punish a father for not getting his daughter married or a widow for re-marrying? Does “tat” set store by any dharma sastras that people or other animals set for themselves? Does “tat” care which side wins a war?
  • Can “Tat” be controlled, pleaded with or negotiated with?

A few personal answers :

Of course the universe (God) will respond and react to us.. at some scale., we are a part of it (Tat). Prayer works on our consciousness at the very least, and that is definitely a part of the universe and “not outside of it”. It influences, at the very least, our own mind and actions and those close to us. Yes, your society will punish you for violating its rules if it can and your society is part of the Universe or Tat.“Tat” is the universe, space time, consciousness, the “I”ness of things.. it stands to reason that you can interact with it, plead, control and negotiate with the bits of it that allow such behavior. But not other bits of it .. like gravity for example? Can sounds influence the “Tat”? Loudspeaker prayers from all places irritate the “neighbours” part of your universe…Properly chanted Veda Mantras in my hearing delight me.. I am a part of the universe.. my consciousness is bhutama.. and that is God.. yes.. you can delight God with Veda Mantras. Soham Asmi. Tat Tvam Asi.


Kamaha Kamakrut Kanta Kamah Kamapradah Prabhuh Vishnuh : Vishnu and Desire

Bhishma in Vishnu Sahasranamam tells us that Vishnu is

  • kAmahA – the one who destroys desire and kAmakRt – the one who causes it.
  • he is kAntA– the one we desire
  • kAmah – the desire itself
  • and kAmapradah – the one who gives us what we desire!

My Veda Guru says that it is Vishnu we seek when we desire anything. Once we get the Bhagavad-Tatva (Divine essence) from any thing – even dinner for eg, we lose interest in it.Like kids on the beach we pick up each shell and see – is this it? and throw it away once we know that this piece isn’t it.

Karma : karaNam, kaaraNam, kartaa, vikarta, gahanah, guhah : vishnuh! : Vishnu and Karma

Bhishma in Vishnu Sahasranamam tells us that Vishnu is

  •  karaNam – the instrument
  •  kaaraNam – the reason
  •  kartaa – the doer of Karma (good action)
  • vikarta – the doer of vikarma (not good action)
  • gahanah – the inexplicable one who is hard to understand
  • guhah – who is secret

This means that Vishnu is the hands with which I type or clean dishes, the reason I type, the writer and cleaner, the one who makes the typos or misses a spot, yes, this Omni-present one, Vishnu is not easy to understand!

In Isa Vasya Upanishad, Seventeenth Mantram, we said kratO smara kRtam smara! – Remember Oh Doer! remember what was done!

Do you remember what you have done in this life so far? When I think of myself as the Purusha , Vishnu, everything I have ever done takes on a different context and meaning. Try it and see.

And suddenly there are not ten or twenty two avatars of Vishnu, but millions and millions of manifestations of Vishnu, you and me and every pebble, star and bacterium. There is a universal consciousness with a universal purpose and we have our own little or major roles to play., but these are well designed roles, that all fit in together for a purpose that we find it hard to fathom, because we have decided to focus on that little bit that we have to accomplish “in this time”, “with this body”.

And that is what we have to remember, who we are and what we have done in our life. We need to kind of pause and see what it is that’s going on and not just the appearances.

Sridah, Srishah, Srinivasah : Vishnu and Sri

 Sri means welfare and is often taken to mean wealth, even though when we look around us we see that well-being and wealth are not the same thing.

Sri is understood to be an aspect of Devi, the all-mother, and is frequently understood to be the consort of Vishnu.

Bhishma in Vishnu Sahasranamam tells us that Vishnu is

  • s’rIdah : one who gives s’rI
  • s’rIs’ah : the master of s’rI, according to whose will s’rI conducts herself.
  • s’rInivAsah : the abode of s’rI
  • sr’Inidhih : the hoard or accumulation of s’rI
  • s’rIvibhAvanah : the one who makes s’rI glow
  • s’rIdharah : the one who bears s’rI
  • s’rIkarah : the one who causes s’rI
  • s’rEyah : welfare itself
  • s’rImAn : one who possess s’rI
  • s’rIvatsavakSAh : who bears Srivatsa on his chest
  • s’rIvAsah : who lives in s’rI
  • s’rIpatih : the husband of s’rI
  • s’rImatAm varah : the darling of the auspicious thinking people
Vishnu is well-being. He lives in welfare, and she lives in Him. He is the cause and giver of welfare, the abode – the accumulation of well-being and the one according to whose Will wellness flows.
Its all about ‘well’th.


Link to Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s Translation of Vishnu Sahasranamam:  excerpt from the Mahabharata published between 1883 and 1896