You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : May 1997

Sri Vishnu Sahasra NAmam.

From: N Krishnamachari (
Date: Wed May 07 1997 - 20:06:40 PDT

Dear Devotees:

Some time back, a few friends including Sri M. Srinivasan and me from our
group joined forces to write an article giving the background behind the
origin of Sri VishNu Sahasra NAmam.  I am taking the liberty of submitting
this article in two or three parts to the learned audience.  The material is
mostly from the book "Sri Vishnu Sahasranama with the Bhashya of Sri Parasara
Bhattar, with Translation in English" by A. Srinivasa Raghavan, published by
Sri Visishtadvaita Pracharnini Sabha, Madras, in 1983.  Any misinterpretation
is completely mine.  I seek your forgiveness if I am misrepresenting the
accepted and traditional concepts, and I look forward to any thoughts that 
any of you have
in correcting me or adding additional comments.

Part 1 follows.

Dasan Krishnamachari


Sri VishNu Sahasra NAmam - Part I.

It is interesting to contemplate on the circumstances 
under which Sri
Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram came into existence.  Yudhishthira, the
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
future generations also in mind,
by Bhishma
to Yudhishthira, 
as part of the advice given by Bhishma in response to the above question.

The Composition

The following sloka in the prolog to Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram identifies
some important aspects pertaining to the composition of the stotram:
      vishnor nama 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. 

There are over forty commentaries on Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram.
Sri Adi Sankara's commentary is the earliest of them.  Sri Parasara
Bhatta, a disciple of a disciple of Sri Ramanuja, 
has written a
detailed commentary.
Sri Satyasandha Yatiswara from the Dvaita school is another prominant
Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram, along with the Bhagavad Gita,
is an integral part of the epic Mahabharata composed
Sage Vedavyasa (Vyasa is also the one who
organized the vedas into the classifications as we know them today).

Of all the commentaries written by Sri Sankara for our religious scriptures (the Bhagavad Gita, the
Brahma Sutras, etc.), that on Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram was the very
first one.
Sri Sankara
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:

  * It is the essence of the Mahabharata.

  * 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.

  * 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...).

  * It is the considered opinion of Bhishma that
      it is the best and easiest of all dharmas, or the means to attain 
      relief from all bondage.

  * It is widely accepted that the chanting of this Stotram gives relief
      from all sorrows and leads to
      happiness and peace of mind. 

  * It is in conformity with the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita,
      Narayaneeya, etc. 
The above reasons given to illustrate 
the importance of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama
Stotram become all the more obvious when we
recount the personalities involved in the events that resulted in the stotram.
It was no ordinary person's advice that was sought.
No ordinary person was seeking the advice, and at no
ordinary person's urging was the advice being sought.
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.
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 a witness to the whole
event involving the advice and revelation of the easiest and best means to
achieve happiness and peace of mind, given by Bhishma to Yudhishthira.
As we know, 
the advice is in the form of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram.
No other justification is needed to recognize the greatness of the
education that is imparted to the human race through the medium of
Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram by Vyasa and Bhishma.

Part 2 will follow.