You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : February 2001

SrI vishNu sahasranAma stotram - A Comparison of the bhAshya-s of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar.

From: Narasimhan Krishnamachari (
Date: Sun Feb 25 2001 - 16:02:00 PST

   SrI vishNu sahasra nAmam - A Comparison of the bhAshya-s of 
                   SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar. 

In this write-up, we will look at a comparison of the bhAshya-s of SrI
Samkara and SrI BhaTTar for SrI vishNu sahasranAmam, using a few select
nAma-s (about 10) as examples.  The examples are drawn mostly from SrI
P. B. aNNa'ngarAcArya svAmi's Introduction to his vyAkhyAnam on SrI
vishNu sahasranAmam, even though I have added some examples from other
references.  Admittedly, an analysis based on less than 1% of the total
nAma-s can be viewed as incomplete.  A project wherein a systematic
analysis of all the nAma-s is undertaken, is a major undertaking, which
has to be deferred for the future.  

For those who do not wish to go through the whole write-up, here is a
brief summary of the trend of thought of this write-up:  

1. As SrI PBA has clearly pointed out, SrI BhaTTar'v vyAkhyAnam
emphasizes the guNa-s of saulabhyam and sauSIlyam of bhagavAn that are
so much in favor of His devotee, whereas SrI Samkara tends to emphasize
the parattvam of Brahman in his bhAshyam.  

2. I also echo  sentiments of SrI N. Raghunathan in his Foreward to
"SrI vishNu sahasranAmam" by SrI P. Samkaranarayanan, namely,  that
when we get the benefit of different interpretations from different
vyAkhyAna-s,  we should view these as as complementing each other to
enhance the richness of the whole.   (In my regular write-ups, I draw
information from about 10 vyAkhyAna-s which all have some unique
aspects  as explained later).  Thus, when we get the anubhavam of
different writers, what we derive is a "multiple bonus" by being
exposed to the different anubhavam-s based on the different

Now we will go into some specifics. 

In looking at the vyAkhyAna's of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar, one has
to keep in mind that SrI Samkara is  the renowned advaitin, and SrI
BhaTTar is the adopted child of Lord ra'nganAtha and pirATTi
ra'nganAyaki, the son of kUrattAzhvAn who was a primary disciple of
bhagavad rAmAnuja, and is a great exponent of viSishTAdvaita school.  
To an advaitin the only truth is nirguNa Brahman - One without any
attributes.  The saguNa brahman is only an interim means to realize the
real truth for the advaitin - namely the realization of the nirguNa
Brahman.  Thus, it can be expected that the vyAkyAnam of SrI Samkara
deals at the level of significance and the interpretation of the nAma-s
at the etymological level, with support from the Sruti-s and the
smRti-s, but does not get into the deep anubhavam of these guNa-s at
the level of saguNa Brahman.  He mostly gives his interpretations
emphasizing the supremacy of Brahman, the all-powerful nature of
Brahman, the difficulty in realizing It, etc.  

SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam deals with the interpretation of the nAma-s at
the etymological level, and then proceeds further into the guNAnubhavam
based on the experiences of the AzhvAr-s, namely the emotion of intense
love and bhakti towards emperumAn, associated with the sauSIlyam and
saulabhyam of saguNa brahman which is an integral part of the
viSishTAdvaita philosophy.  This seems to be the main difference
between the vyAkhyAna-s of the two great stalwarts. 

In the case of most nAma-s, the literal meaning that SrI Samkara and
SrI BhaTTar assign will be the same, and when the literal meaning is
different, both alternatives are equally acceptable meanings for the
nAma-s purely from the point of view of samskRt.   The difference
arises in the further elaboration of this meaning.  SrI Samkara
supports his interpretations with quotes from the Sruti-s and smrti-s
at the philosophical level.   SrI BhaTTar quotes evidences from these
same sources, but the message he conveys emphasizes the saguNa brahman
so very much enjoyed by the AzhvArs in their divine outpourings.   He
does not directly quote from the AzhvArs, just as SrI rAmAnuja did not
quote directly from the AzhvArs in any of his works.  We have already
dealt with the reasons for this in previous discussion in this list. 
But the anubhavam of the AzhvArs is loud and clear in SrI BhaTTar's
vyAkhyAnam.   He repeatedly reminds us of bhagavAn's sauSIlyam and
saulabhyam - His ease of mixing with His devotees and His easy
accessibility to a true devotee, His Infinite Mercy, His waiting to
help and forgive a devotee from the enormous sins that have been
committed, etc.  

SrI PBA observes that both paratvam and saulabhyam are equally
important aspects of the greatness of emperumAn.  We are given this
birth to realize and enjoy both these aspects equally.  But of these
two guNa-s, the one that touches the devotee intensely and draws him to
emperumAn's feet is sauSIlyam.  He gives the example of nammAzhvAr, who
starts off describing the paratvam of perumAL very nicely - uvaryaRa
uyar nalam uDaiyavan yavan avan.  nammAzhvAr does not become subject to
visible external emotion during the description of bhagavAn's paratvam.
 But later on, when he starts describing the sausIlyam of perumAL -
"ettiRam uralinODu iNaindirundu E'ngiay eLivE" - he is completely
overwhelmed by emotion, and passes out (loses his conscience) for a
long duration of six months at this very thought of perumAL's guNam of

Thus, it is important to keep in mind that the discussion here is not
meant to suggest that the guNam of paratvam is not important, nor is it
true that AzhvArs do not sing about His parattvam equally along with
His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam.  However, between the two paths, our
viSishTAdvaita AcArya-s do not miss the opportunity to emphasize the
anubhavam of His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam, and SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam
is an outstanding example of this.  If we were to summarize in one
sentence the difference between SrI Samkara's and SrI BhaTTar's
vyAkhyAna-s, it is that the former emphasizes the parattvam and
aiSvaryam (Isitvam or ISvarattvam) of Brahman, and SrI BhaTTar
emphasizes the sauSIlyam and saulabhyam of perumAL.    

We will go through just a few of the nAma-s, mostly used by SrI PBA in
his Introduction, just to illustrate the above points.

sat-kRtih (in Slokam 75) - sad-gatih saT-kRtih sattA….

The simple meaning of the word sat-kRtih is "He of good acts".  The
differences in the vyAkhyAnam arise when the vyAkhyAna kartA-s go the
next step, and give an explanation of what these "good acts" are.  SrI
Samkara gives the example of His protecting all the creatures of this
Universe as the example of His "good acts".

SrI BhaTTar takes this meaning, and links his anubhavam of this nAma to
the previous Slokam, wherein the nAma vAsudevah occurs (vasuprado
vAsudevo vasur vasumanA havih).  He interprets the nAma sat-kRtih in
relation to the childhood pranks of Lord kRshNa, such as His stealing
butter from the gopi's houses, being tied to the mortar by yaSodA, etc.
  One may ask the question:  Why are these "good acts"?  SrI BhaTTar's
position is: Because, those who meditate on these acts of bhagavAn are
relieved from the bondage of samsAra forever!  

The examples given in both cases are relevant and appropriate. 
However, the current example gives an indication to what we will notice
as we see other examples, namely, that SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam will
echo the guNAnubhavam of bhagavAn as echoed in the AzhvAr's

vijitAtmA (Slokam 66):

The simple meaning of the words in the nAma is: He who has a mind that
has been conquered.

This simple meaning of the nAma does not say "conquered by whom?". 
This is the place where we see the different anubhavam-s of the two

SrI Samkara has interpreted the nAma as One who has controlled His
indriya-s and mind - vijita AtmA mano yena sah vijitAtmA.  In other
words, bhagavAn is referred to by this nAma here because He has
conquered His own mind.

SrI BhaTTar sees here an example of how bhagavAn's mind is easily
conquered by His devotees.  So he gives an interpretation which is in a
sense the exact opposite of that SrI Samkara - namely, He is one whose
mind is easily conquered by others, namely His devotees.   So He is the
One who is defeated in His mind control, since He gives in easily to
His devotees' wishes.  This is another example of how SrI BhaTTar's
vyAkhyAnam is oriented towards the enjoyment of His saulabhyam and
sauSIlyam as major aspects of His guNa. 

vidheyAtmA or a-vidheyAtmA (Slokam 66):

This nAma is the very next nAma after vijitAtmA which we discussed

Here the difference in interpretation is based on the pATha-bhedam - or
the difference in the words that constitute the Slokam.  SrI Samkara
has used the pATham "vijitAtmA avidheyAtmA…", and SrI BhaTTar has
chosen the pATham "vijitAtmA vidheyAtmA".  

Literally, vidheya means "submissive".  vidheya AtmA is "One who is of
a submissive nature", and a-vidheya-AtmA is "One who is of a
non-submissive nature".  SrI Samkara has given the interpretation in
samskRt as "na kenApi vidheya AtmA svarUpam asya iti a-vidheya-AtmA" -
His nature is not under the sway of anyone else.  SrI rAdhAkRshNa
SAstri has translated it as "One who is not under anyone else's
control".   This of course is true of His nature, IF that is what He

SrI BhaTTar uses the pATham "vidheyAtmA", and has the guNAnubhavam that
bhagavAn is completely subservient to His devotee.    He describes that
it is bhagavAn's essential nature to be at the disposal of His devotees
to such an extent that He can be easily commanded by them to do
whatever they want.  They can command Him 'Come here, stand here, sit
here, eat this', etc., and He will just obey if it is a command from
His devotee.    SrI PBA gives the example of tirumazhiSai AzhvAr
commanding to Sonna vaNNam Seida perumAL - "kaNi kaNNan pOginRAn
kAmarupU'nkacci maNi vaNNA! NI kiDakka vENDA", and perumAL packs up His
snake bed and leaves as commanded by AzhvAr.  Later, when AzhvAr tells
perumAL - "painnAgap pAi virittuk koL", He gets back and spreads out
His snake bed and resumes His original sevai again.   There is also the
example of arjuna commanding Lord kRshNa to take the chariot to the
middle of the two armies during the start of the mahAbhArata war, and
bhagavAn obeys arjuna's command.  

So the difference in the vyAkhyAnam here is associated with the pATha
bhedam.  But the example is another illustration where SrI BhaTTar's
vyAkhyAnam emphasizes His subservience, soulabhyam, and sauSIlyam to
His devotees, whereas SrI Samkara seems to direct His explanations in
terms of the absolute supremacy of brahman (paratvam, aiSvaryam, etc.).

Sat-kIrtih:  (Slokam 66)

SrI Samkara's vyAkhyAnam for this nAma is:  satI (a-vitathA) kIrtih
asya iti sat-kIrtih - He of true fame, One whose fame is true and
well-established.  This is the correct meaning of the word sat-kIrtih. 

SrI BhaTTar stars with this meaning, and proceeds to attribute the
source of His true fame to His sauSIlyam - sausIlya, sattvena
ati-mahatI kIrtih asya iti sat-kIrtih -  His kIrti is well established
and true because of His being so amiable and affable by nature.   SrI
BhaTTar continues and points out that His kIrti is so great, that no
matter what one says about His kIrti, it is true, but it is only a
small part of His kIrti;  it is indescribable in words.  

Thus, in this instance, SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar use the same
meaning for the nAma, but SrI BhaTTar emphasizes bhagavAn's sauSIlyam
at every opportunity in his vyAkhyAnam.

Chinna-samSayah: (Slokam 66)

SrI Samkara vyAkhyAnam for the nAma is:  He who sees everything with
clarity like a fruit in the palm, and so He who is free from any doubt.
  In other words, it is bhagavAn who has no doubt of any kind, and so
He is called chinna-samSayah.  SrI BhaTTar's interpretation for the
nAma is that He has the nAma chinna-samSayah because He destroys the
doubts in His devotees' mind.  Both are equally valid interpretations
of the samskRt term "chinna samSayah".

SrI BhaTTar takes his interpretation and links it to His sauSIlyam.  If
anyone has any doubts such as:  "Can  He can be easily known or is very
difficult to be known, Can He be easily pleased or difficult to please,
Is  He easily accessible or difficult to access" - these doubts stand
dispelled right away because His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam are
well-known.   In other words, bhagavAn conducts Himself in such a way
that He removes any doubts anyone has about Him.  

Once more, we see that SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam  heavily emphasizes
bhagavAn's kalyANa guNa-s such as His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam, and
uses these in his interpretation to the utmost extent, and SrI Samkara
keeps his vyAkhyAnam in praise of the Supremacy of Brahman in all

anISah (Slokam 67):

The literal meaning of the nAma is "Not-Master".  This could mean that
"There is no Master above Him", or "He is not the Master when He
chooses not to be the Master".  

SrI Samkara has chosen the former interpretation, and SrI BhaTTar has
chosen the latter.  The first interpretation is obviously true of the
Supreme Brahman.  SrI BhaTTar takes the side of the devotee.  When it
comes to the devotee commanding Him to do anything, He just obeys, and
loses His Mastership very readily and willingly, and enjoys this loss
of Mastership.  One is reminded of a father or mother losing willingly
in a mock game with their young child and delighting in losing.  SrI
BhaTTar gives the examples of our giving Him a bath, tieing Him up for
dressing Him while decorating Him, etc.  When yaSodA tied Him up with a
rope, or threatened to beat Him up for stealing butter, etc., He was
not the Master of the scene, but accepted all that very willingly.  SrI
PBA points to periAzhvAr's pASuram - nAraNA neerADa vArAi, inRu nI
nIrADa vENDum empirAn ODAdE vArAi, SeNbagap pUc cUTTa vArAi,
iruvATcippUc cUTTa vArAi, etc., and He obeys all these dictates from
His devotee.

sammitah (Slokam 12 - vasur vasumanAh….):

The difference between SrI Samkara's and SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAna-s here
arises because of pATha bhedam.  SrI Samkara has used the pATham
"a-sammitah", and SrI BhaTTar has used the pATham "sammitah".   Thus,
they end up with opposite meanings.

sammitah literally means "that which can be well-defined, easily
understood", or "that which is unlimited by anything".   SrI Samkara
bhAshyam is "sarvaih a-paricchinnah amita iti a-sammitah" - unbounded
by anything, undefined precisely by anything, etc.   This is how the
Sruti-s describe Brahman - The Unknown and The Unknowable.  

But the bhakti school of AzhvArs is that He is Unknown and Unknowable
only to those who do not seek Him with sincere devotion.  To a true
devotee, He is as easily known as a "fruit in the palm". SrI BhaTTar's
vyAkhyAnam is "hastasthah iti samyak paricchinnah" - His devotees
understand Him well as someone in their hands - well within their
control.   Such was the experience of daSaratha, yaSodA, etc. 
daSaratha declares "Una shoDaSa varsho me rAmo rAjIva locanah" - Note
"me rAmo - My rAma".  Vasudeva declares "mama ayam tanayo nijah" - Note
again "mam tanayah".   SrI PBA gives the quotes from peria tirumozhi -
"azhugaiyum a'nji nOkkum an-nOkkum aNi-koL Sem Siru vAi neLippaduvum,
tozhugaiyum ivai kaNDa aSOdai tollai inbattu irudi kaNDALE" - She is
experiencing the ultimate in tollai in her interaction with Him. 

mahA-koSah  (Slokam 46 - vistArah sthAvarah ..):

KoSa means shield as well as treasure.  SrI Samkara uses the former
meaning, and SrI BhaTTar uses the later meaning.   SrI Samkara
vyAkhyAnam for this nAma is: mahAntah koSA annamayAdayah AcchAdakA asya
iti mahA-koSah - One who has got as His covering the great sheaths like
annamaya etc.  I have copied part of our previous write-up for this
nAma in the list.  The following description shows how difficult it is
to realize bhagavAn:

SrI Samkara's interpretation is based on the meaning "shield" for koSa.
His interpretation is that the real nature of the soul is shielded by
the five koSa-s, anna maya koSa, prANa maya koSa, mano maya koSa,
vij~nAna maya koSa, and Ananda maya koSa, and bhagavAn is the mahAkoSa
who is shielded from all except the yogi-s.  The dharma cakram writer
points out that by control of our indriya-s we can cross the anna maya
koSa, by control of breath we can cross the prANa maya koSa, by control
of the mind the manomaya koSa is crossed, by channeling one's intellect
and through control of worldly desires and passions we can cross the
vij~nAnamaya koSa, and through meditation on the Self we cross the
Anandamaya koSa, and ultimately realize Brahman.

SrI BhaTar's vyAkhyAnam is based on the meaning "treasure" for the term
koSa.  In his vyAkhyAnam, mahA-koSa refers to bhagavAn being a 
vast, inexhaustible treasure.  Even though BhagavAn is giving away
Himself and His belongings always to His devotees in all ways, still it
does not diminish.  SrI v.v.rAmAnujan refers us to "Unam il Selvam
enko?", pointing to the undiminishing Affluence called BhagavAn.

Again we see the difference between the approaches of SrI Samkara and
SrI BhaTTar.  While the former presents Brahman as the difficult One to
realize and not easily accessible, SrI BhaTTar emphasizes the easy
accessibility of bhagavAn, His infinite Mercy, His inexhaustible love
to His devotee, etc.  Needless to say, both aspects are true of
But the former probably will appeal to those who can practice the
intense discipline to realize Him through the difficult and unsure path
of yogic discipline, and the latter will appeal to the ordinary people
who are either unable or not qualified to practice the former. 

Another example, which is not covered by SrI PBA, is from the Foreward
by SrI N. Raghunthan to the book titled "SrI vishNu sahasranAma
stotram" by SrI P. SamkaranArAyaNan (Bhavan's Publications).  The nAma
that he considers is vyALa - monster or serpent.   Both SrI Samkara and
SrI BhaTTar use the same meaning, but SrI Samkara interprets the nAma
as meaning that He is as elusive and slippery as a serpent.  SrI
BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam is "He who grapples His devotees to Himself with
the hoops of steel".   Both points about bhagavAn are equalkly true. 
But SrI Samkara emphasizses the difficulty of realzing Brahman, and SrI
BhaTTar stresses the great attachment that bhagavAn has for His
devotee. This is another example where SrI Samkara leans towards
describing Brahman is difficult to realize, Supreme, etc., and SrI
BhaTTar says - "When it comes to a true devotee, all of bhagavAn's
paratvam, difficulty of realizability, etc., do not hold true anymore. 
This is because He finds great pleasure in being subservient to a true

Another major aspect of SrI BhaTTar's bhAshyam is that in addition to
giving the etymological interpretation for each nAma, SrI BhaTTar sees
a thread of connectivity between the 1000 nAma-s, and   
groups the 1000 nAma-s into 44 groups.  He associates each group with
one of the incarnations or vibhUti-s of bhagavAn.   Thus, in his
vyAkhyAnam, invariably one will see the explanation of each nAma being
linked to the vyAkhyAnam for the previous nAma within a given group.  
For example, nAma-s 1 to 122 are explained by SrI BhaTTar as describing
the para vAsudeva form, nAma-s 123 and 124 describe samkarshaNa, etc. 
SrI rAdhAkRshNa SAstri gives one example of how sometimes interpreting
a nAma in the context of the nAma-s that immediately precede or succeed
the given nAma can be much more enjoyable than when just the individual
meaning of the nAma is looked at.  In the sequence: anukUlah,
SatAvartah, padmI, and padmanibhekshaNah, SrI SAstri explains
"anukUlah" as He who helps in reaching the goal (kUlam means the shore,
and anukUah is One who takes us to the shore).  SatAvartah means One
who repeatedly appears.  SrI SAstri points out that it is much more
enjoyable to see this nAma in the context of the previous nAma, and
interpret "SatAvartah" as suggesting that He appears repeatedly and
keeps offering help repeatedly, to ensure that His devotee reaches the
shore for sure.   He then proceeds to interpret padmI as referring to
Him who has a lotus in His hand to signify His easy accessibility when
He offers this help to His devotee.  padma-nibhekshaNah is interpreted
as indicating that He has eyes which resemble the pleasant lotus
flowers, re-assuring the devotee that He is there to help them.  Thus
the interpretations of the four nAma-s are inter-related to each other,
and they all reinforce the idea that bhagavAn is intensely interested
in helping His devotee, and manifests this interest in various ways.  
Even though this example is SrI SAstri's own and is not drawn from SrI
BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam, nonetheless it is an excellent illustration of
the additional bhagavad guNAnubhavam that one derives when the nAma-s
are interpreted in the context of each other in some cases, rather than
as standalone nAma-s.

The Benefit to Us: 

Readers are aware that I have used several vyAkhyAna-s in my write-up
(those by SrI BhaTTar, SrI Samkara, SrI v.v. rAmAnujan, SrI rAdhAkRshNa
SAstri, SrI satyadevo vAsishTha, the dharma cakram writer, SrI P. B.
aNNa'ngarAcArya, and SrI cinmayAnanda, SrI kRshNa datta bhAradvAj, and
a few others).   Each one of these vyAkhyAna-s has some special aspect
about it that is not found in the others.  For instance, SrI Samkara's
bhAshyam is the oldest among those listed above, and is also the one
which is probably the lead text which all the later advaitin
vyAkhyAnakartA-s have used.  Similarly, SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam is the
first from one who is from the viSishTAdvaita school, and has served as
the basis from which other viSishTADvaita followers have drawn.  SrI
v.v. rAmAnujan's work is unique in that it gives profuse examples from
divya prabandham for each nAma, mostly from nammAzhvAr's tiruvAimozhi. 
SrI satyadevo vAsishTha is among the most thorough in looking at the
etymology of each nAma, and goes into great detail on the grammatical
derivation of each nAma from its root, without exception.  In addition,
he also is unique among the vyAkhyAna kartA-s in that he has composed
1000 Sloka-s for the thousand nAma-s, each Slokam summarizing his
vyAkhyAnam for that nAma.  The dharma cakram writer takes elaborate
effort to relate each mantra (nAma) to the real world, and explains to
the common man what lesson needs to be taken from each Nama.  SrI
rAdhAkRshNa Sastri summarizes both the bhAshya of SrI Samkara and SrI
BhaTTar in his text, but in addition has added his own quotes from the
Sruti-s and smriti-s in different places.  SrI kRshNa datta bhAradvAj
is a samskRt scholar in his own right, and has given additional support
for each nAma from the Sruti-s and smRti-s as well.  SrI cinmayAnanda's
write-up is in simple English that many of us can easily understand. 
SrI P. B. aNNa'ngarAcArya's vyAkhyAnam is in tamizh and follows SrI
BhaTTar's bhAshyam, and is mainly meant for those who may not
understand SrI BhaTTar's detailed vyAkhyAnam in samskRt, but SrI PBA's
introduction where he compares the vyAkhyAna-s of SrI BhaTTar with some
of the others, is a contribution in itself that is not matched by any
other writer. 

The regular shahasra nAmam posting draws from all the above sources,
and tries to bring the unique aspects of the different vyAkhyAna-s
The approach that has been taken in the sahasranAmam write-ups in the
bhakti list is to view the differences in the vyAkhyAna-s as a
"multiple bonus" for us - that when we look at the vyAkhyAna-s, we get
multiple anubhavam-s of the Infinite dimensions of the guNa-s of SrI
mahA vishNu. It is hoped that the above summary places the readers in a
better position to enjoy the guNAnubhavam of vishNu as reflected in the
summary of the meanings of the nAma-s that is being presented in the
regular series.

-dAsan kRshNamAcAryan







Do You Yahoo!?
Get email at your own domain with Yahoo! Mail.

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
To Post a message, send it to:

Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to