Sahasra means thousand and nāmā means name. Lalitha Sahasranamam means one thousand names of Lalitambika. This Sahasranāma finds a place in Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, one of the eighteen purāṇa-s or epics scripted by Vedavyāsā who is popularly known as Mahaṛṣi Vyāsā (maha means great and ṛṣi means sage). Vyās also means arranger or compiler. He was the son of the sage Parāśara and Satyavatī, and half-brother of Vicitra-vīrya and Bhīṣma. Vyāsa is also said to be an incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu (Śrīmad Bhāgavata I.iii.20). There are seven celebrated sages known as sapta ṛṣi-s (sapta means numeric seven) and they are Gotama, Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Vasiṣṭha, Kaśyapa and Atri (however there are differences in the names. This Sahasranāma in the form of 183 verses finds a place in the second part of Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa. These 183 verses are converted into 1000 nāma-s. Purāṇa-s are told like stories making the reading interesting and at the same time convey the teachings of Veda-s. Hindu philosophy mainly revolves around the four Veda-s. Since Veda-s are difficult to understand for a commoner, the crux of the Veda-s is provided in the form of Upaniṣad-s. Upanishads make attempts to interpret the Brahman, the God. Such interpretations are only by means of affirmations and negations as any attempt to interpret or describe the Brahman becomes an ineffectual exercise. The Brahman that Upaniṣad-s talk about is formless divine energy beyond the comprehension of normal human brain. The philosophy of self-realization revolves around these Upaniṣad-s. Self-realization is the logical conclusion of spiritual quest. It is the final step of understanding the Brahman. In modern times, Self-realisation is also known as God realization and Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Though this Sahasranāma finds a place in Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa scripted by Vedavyāsa originally this was composed by eight Vāc (वाच्) Devi-s (also referred as Vāg Devi-s. Vāc means speech, voice, language). In the presence of Lalitāmbikā, the Supreme Goddess and affectionately called as ‘the Supreme Mother’ in whose praise and at whose command this Sahasranāma was composed was recited. The names of these eight Vāc Devi-s are: Vaśinī, Kameśvarī (not to be confused with Kameśvarī, the wife of Śiva), Modhinī, Vimalā, Arunā, Jainī, Sarveśvarī and Koulinī. These Vāc Devi-s reside in Śrī Cakra (please refer nāma 996) in the seventh āvaraṇa (āvaraṇa can be interpreted as rampart or roundabout), in the middle of which Lalitāmbikā resides. Śrī Cakra has nine āvaraṇa-s and its worship is known as navāvaraṇa pūja. Lalitāmbikā has conferred on these Vāc Devi-s the art of speech to be passed on to Her devotees. Lalitāmbikā called these Vāc Devi-s personally and asked them to compose a verse, the recitation of which endows Her blessings. The verse was recited by Vāc Devi-s in Her royal court in Her presence, where all gods and goddesses had already assembled.
The pūrva bhāg begins with Agastya’s address to Hayagrīva. Agastya was a great sage of ancient times, short in stature. He is believed to be alive even today, according to the theory of immortality. Agastya means the one who stabilized mountains. It is said that Vindhya hill was growing in size continuously and it was Agastya who arrested its growth. It is also said that Agastya was born out of a pot. He is one among the twelve best known Śrī Vidyā worshippers. Hayagrīva has a horse face and one of the ten incarnations of Lord Viṣṇu. Hayagrīva is known for his supreme knowledge and is one of the exponents of śāstra-s (commands or precepts).
There is a story in Bṛhadāraṇayaka Upaniṣad (II.v) about a learned person with horse head. There was a sage by name Dadhyac, an exponent in Atharva Veda who taught madhu vidyā to Lord Indra. Indra asked Dadhyac not to teach this madhu vidyā to anyone else after teaching him. If Dadhyac taught this anyone else, his head would be chopped off by Indra. Aaśvin deva-s somehow wanted to learn this madhu vidyā. They told Dadhyac that they would first replace his head with a horse head and that he should teach them madhu vidyā with the horse head (detailed in Bṛhadāraṇayaka Upaniṣad II.v.16). Once it is taught, Indra would chop of his head and that Dadhyac would lose only the horse head. The horse head would then be replaced by his original head. Everything happened according to their plan and Aaśvin-s were taught madhu vidyā by sage Dadhyac. In the said Upaniṣad, V.v.16 ends with pra yadīmuvāca. In this word kāmakalā bīja īṁ ईं (pronounced as eeṁ.) is secretively placed. Kāmakalā is discussed in nāma 322 in this Sahasranāma. This īṁ is considered as the most important aspect of Śrī Vidyā. However, the riṣi who taught madhu vidyā is not the incarnation of Viṣṇu. Hayagrīva, the incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu initiated Agastya into Śrī Vidyā worship through Lalitā Sahasranāma.
The following story is found in Devi Bhāgavata (I.5). Viṣṇu was very tired after waging a war with demons. He sat in padmāsana (well known cross legged or lotus posture) resting his head on one side of the bow after placing the other side of the bow, firmly on the ground. Indra and other gods wanted to perform a great yajña and came to seek blessings from Viṣṇu as He is the Lord of all yajna-s. They went to Vaikuṇṭha, the abode of Vishnu. But He was not there. They found out He was resting elsewhere and reached there. They decided to wait till He woke up. Since the yajña was to be urgently performed, they could not wait any longer and they asked termites to bite the bow string of Viṣṇu’s bow. The string was snapped and in the force it chopped off Viṣṇu’s head. Gods and goddesses searched for His head, but that was not to be found. They all prayed towards Lalitāmbikā who asked them to bring a horse head and fix it on Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu was then known as Hayagrīva. He got Śrī Vidyā initiation from Her and this avatār of Viṣṇu is known for the highest wisdom. Based upon this story Hayagrīva is worshiped for gaining knowledge. Hayagrīva in turn initiated Agastya into Śrī Vidyā cult. Please note the contextual difference from what is narrated in the ‘the presentation’ section.
Hayagrīva told Agastya the entire details about Lalitāmbikā such as Śrī Puram, Her abode, Panchadasi mantra, japa and pūja methods, inner yajña and ritual yajña. The importance of conceiving oneness between Śrī Cakra, Śrī Guru, Śrī Vidyā, Śrī Devi (Lalitāmbikā) and the self is the important aspect of Sri Vidya worship. Hayagrīva has already taught Agastya the one thousand names (nāma-s) of two ministers of Lalitāmbikā, Maṇtrinī (Rāja Śyamalā) and Dhandinī (Vārāhī). These two goddesses have been referred to in this Sahasranāma. Agastya asks Hayagrīva why he has not been taught with the one thousand names of Lalitāmbikā, and wanted to know whether he was not worthy of knowing it. Hayagrīva answers Agastya by addressing him as the spouse of Lopāmudrā, who is also a well known follower of Lalitāmbikā. Hayagrīva answers Agastya by saying that Śrī Vidyā should not be taught without asking for it as this is very secretive in nature. Since Agastya has asked for it now, Hayagrīva agreed to teach him this Sahasranāma. Hayagrīva further informs Agastya about the eligibility for knowing this Sahasranāma. One should have extreme faith in Śrī Mātā. One should have been initiated into Pañcadaśī mantra by a learned guru. One should have dedication and perseverance. He should have no bad habits and should always be pure. The reasons for such conditions are also elaborated.
The rituals performed as per tantra śāstra-s are said to yield quick results. Particularly, Lalitā Sahasranāma is considered as the best. There are ten Sahasranāma-s in praise of Her various forms. They are Gaṇgā, Gāyatrī, Śyāmalā, Lakṣmī, Kāli, Bālā, Lalitā (the present one), Rājarājeśvarī, Sarasvatī and Bhāvanī. Mantra is the term used for worshipping gods and Vidyā is the term used for worshipping goddesses. In the case of Śrī Vidyā, it consists of both mantra component and vidyā component highlighting the importance of Śiva-Śaktī union. As far as Pañcadaśī mantra is concerned, there are twelve types of Pañcadaśī and popular among them is Kādi vidyā, which is also known as parā vidyā. Pañcadaśī mantra though appears to have only fifteen bīja-s, in reality it consists of thirty seven letters comprising of fifteen vowels, sixteen consonants, three bindu-s and three nāda-s totalling to thirty seven (Varivasyā rahasya II.27). These thirty seven represent thirty six principles or tattva-s. The thirty seventh tattvā is Para-Brahman represented by the bīja a (अ). Lalitā Triśatī is based entirely on Pañcadaśī mantra. After performing pūja with Triśatī mantra-s, no other arcana-s should be performed and pūja should be concluded with offerings and ārati. Pañcadaśī mantra is discussed in the introduction chapter.
Lalitāmbikā is extremely pleased when this Sahasranāma is recited either verbally or mentally and when one performs arcana with lotus flowers, tulsi leaves, bilva leaves, etc. In daily ritual, first Śrī Cakra should be worshiped followed by Panchadasi mantra japa and finally recitation of Lalitā Sahasranāma. If for any reason, one is not able to perform all the three, one should certainly recite this Sahasranāma without fail. It is not necessary that one should perform arcana, whereas one should certainly recite Sahasranāma. Any additional stotra (hymns of praise) will surely add additional benefits, but if one fails to recite Sahasranāma it is considered as sin. Lalitāmbikā Herself says that She would grant all the boons, if one recites this Sahasranāma once in his life time. Now Hayagrīva begins to recite Lalitā-Sahasranāma for initiating Agastya.