Vishnu Sahasranama Introduction:
Viṣṇu means all pervading. Viṣṇu is the administrator of the universe. He puts in place, the laws of the universe and administers the universe strictly according to the law. He is a strict disciplinarian, yet highly compassionate in nature. He presides over not just the universe, but all the seven planes of the universe. The abode of Viṣṇu is supposed to be the Supreme one. He has prescribed various paths through which one has to travel to reach His abode, the point of no return for a soul known as liberation. He has been referred to in Vedas. Without Viṣṇu, no fire ritual is complete. He is quite often referred to as Puruṣa, the Supreme Soul. His famous sleeping posture on Ananta, the snake, who floats on the ocean of milk, is very well known. This posture is not merely a gross description, but has got subtle meaning. Ananta means infinite and the milk of ocean refers to the eternal bliss. He lays in the eternal stage of eternal bliss. Those who seek Him also enter the state of bliss. He incarnates in different forms to destroy evil doers. His avatars occur whenever there is imbalance between morality and immorality. When immorality begins to dominate over morality He incarnates. His notable incarnations are Lord Rāma and the Lord Kṛṣṇa.
The scene of unfolding this great Sahasranāma happened in the great epic Mahābhārata authored by the great sage, Veda Vyāsa. Bhīṣma was lying on a bed made of arrows awaiting his death. At that time, he was meditating on Kṛṣṇa. Knowing this, Kṛṣṇa asked Yudhiṣṭhira (eldest among Pāṇḍava brothers and known for his righteousness) to seek spiritual initiation from Bhīṣma and also told Bhīṣma to initiate Yudhiṣṭhira. Yudhiṣṭhira asks Bhīṣma “kimekaṁ daivataṁ loke” meaning who is the Supreme Lord of the world. Bhīṣma replies by saying, that the purest, the most auspicious, the chief among the gods and the father of all the beings is the One who is Supreme, referring to Lord Viṣṇu. This conversation appears in the pūrvabhāg of this Sahasranāma. The spiritual initiation of Yudhiṣṭhira by Bhīṣma is Viṣṇu Sahasranāma. Kṛṣṇa was also present when this happened and this Sahasranāma was blessed by the Lord Himself.
Viṣṇu is also known as Nārāyaṇa. Garuḍa Purāṇa (III.24.54, 55) explains the etymological meaning of Nārāyaṇa. “As He is the resort of merits and demerits and as He abides in the waters of ocean, He is called Nārāyaṇa. Water is also called nāra (probably meaning cosmic water); as He resorts to water, He is called Nārāyaṇa. Water is so called because, as cosmic water it emerges from His glance sideways. As He is the resort of water, He is called Nārāyaṇa, and also because He is the source of this eternal universe.”
Viṣṇu is the most auspicious form of the Brahman. He is not only invoked during auspicious occasions, but also while performing funeral rites. At the time of conclusion of all rituals, the effect of the rituals are surrendered Viṣṇu.
Viṣṇu Sahasranāma consists of three parts – pūrvabhāg or the first part; stotrabhāg or the main part from which one thousand names or nāma-s are composed; and uttarabhāg or the concluding part. The main part consists of 108 couplets from which all the 1000 nāma-s are derived. Apart from these three parts, this Sahasranāma has seven dhyāna verses by which one can meditate upon His auspicious form.
With this brief introduction, we now proceed to discuss Viṣṇu Sahasranāma through a series of postings.