1. Viśvam विश्वम्

Viśva means all pervading. The first nāma gives a preview of what is going to be discussed in this Sahasranāma. The Brahman alone is all pervading. He is the cause, and the effect of which is the universe. By commencing this Sahasranāma with the word ‘Viśvam’ it clearly means that this Sahasranāma is going to discuss about the non-dualistic Brahman. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (II.i.10) says ‘puruṣa evedaṁ viśvaṁ’ which means that the Brahman is the universe. The same Upaniṣad reaffirms by saying ‘viśvamidaṁ variṣṭham’, meaning that this world is Brahman.

What we perceive is not the reality, but the phenomenal truth of the Brahman. The universe is mere perception of existence conceived by the mind through senses and qualified by time and space. If one is able to transcend time and space, he realises the Brahman.

Brahman is always visualised as undifferentiated existence. Brahma Sūtra (I.i.2) says, ‘janmādyasya yataḥ’ which means that from the Brahman alone, the universe is born. The Brahman cannot really be explained as He is beyond any comprehensible explanation. At the most, one can say that He is more powerful than millions of suns, etc. Any comparison to explicate the Brahman, though a futile exercise, still Holy Scriptures make all out attempts to elucidate Him to enable us to have a miniscule idea about Him.

2. Viṣṇuḥ विष्णुः

The previous nāma said that the Brahman is beyond comprehension. This nāma says Thy name is Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu also means all pervader. The significance between the first two nāma-s is the root word viṣ, which means all pervader. Viṣṇu is also known as Nārāyaṇa. Nārāyaṇa Sūktaṁ, which forms part of Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad (XVIII.5) says, ‘antarbahiśca tatsarvaṁ vyāpya nārāyaṇaḥ sthitaḥ अन्तर्बहिश्च तत्सर्वं व्याप्य नारायणः स्थितः’, which means Nārāyaṇa pervades both internally and externally, indicating His omnipresence. He pervades as both internal Spirit and external objects. But, how does He help one in attaining liberation? Rig Veda (I.156.3) has an answer. It says, “asya jānanto nāma cid vivaktana mahas te viṣṇo sumatiṁ bhajāmahe अस्य जानन्तो नाम चिद् विवक्तन महस् ते विष्णो सुमतिं भजामहे” which means ‘since you know His greatness, celebrate His name indeed! We enjoy Your favour Oh! Viṣṇu’. It signifies that those who adore the splendour of Viṣṇu attain spiritual upliftment.

3. Vaṣaṭkāraḥ वषट्कारः

Vaṣaṭ is an exclamation used in sacrificial fire rituals. At the time of reciting the last three syllables (ṣaṭ), offerings are poured into fire by the priest. Vauṣaṭ and Vaṣaṭ convey the same meaning and are used especially for the tranquillity and stability of oblations.

But, why Viṣṇu is being called Vaṣaṭkāraḥ? Yajur Veda (I.vii.4) answers this question. It says, “By sacrifice to Viṣṇu, by the sacrifice may I attain health, wealth and security as Viṣṇu is yajna and certainly the sacrifice finds support at the end.” The original mantra goes like this:

विष्णोः शंयोरहं देवयज्यया यज्ञेन प्रतिष्ठां गमेयमित्याह यज्ञो वै विष्णुर्यज्ञ एवान्ततः प्रतितिष्ठति।

viṣṇoḥ śaṁyorahaṁ devayajyayā yajñena pratiṣṭhāṁ gameyamityāha yajño vai viṣṇuryajña evāntataḥ pratitiṣṭhati |

Viṣṇu is the Lord for all fire sacrifices. Whatever the oblations are offered in the fire for Viṣṇu, reaches Him through the god of fire Agni, who is the carrier of all oblations to the concerned deities in the upper worlds.

Vedas also convey subtle interpretations. For example, what is being described as fire rituals should not be taken on their face value. Yajña means mental oblations that purify one’s mind to establish a perpetual connection with Lord Viṣṇu, who is the upholder of this universe. Evil thoughts and actions are burnt in the inner fire offering them as oblations. When evil impressions of the mind are burnt, what remains is an unaffiliated mind. Viṣṇu upholds the universe purely on virtuousness and slays all those who indulge in evil acts. This is the reason for Viṣṇu to incarnate again and again. When there is imbalance between virtuousness and evilness, He takes avatar to preserve virtuousness.

Subsequent nāma-s discuss more on this aspect.