The vishnusahasranama is one of the most powerful stotras available in the literature of sanatana dharma. Upon dharmaraja’s request, it was recalled by bhishma while on his bed of arrows and delivered in the presence of krishna and others. Because of the presence of krishna next to bhishma, this stotra assumes special significance since it necessarily had his approval.
Sri madhwacharya has highlighted through his works that every single “naama” in the vishnusahasranama actually carries at least 100 different meanings. So in effect, chanting the sahasranama once is equal to chanting 100,000 names of the lord. Only that the anusandhana (interpretation of the activity) must be present in our mind when we chant it.
Due to the fact that hundreds of meanings are possible for every word, it is possible to put together a sequence of meanings for every shloka in the stotra and arrive at an interesting conclusion. This article attempts one such interpretation for the very first shloka of the vishnusahasranama that shows that the first shloka is actually a very good description of the paramatma.
Put differently, the first shloka summarises the answer to the question — “Who is paramatma?”
Let us look at the entire shloka first.
विश्वं विष्णुर्वषट्कारो भूतभव्यभवत्प्रभुः |
भूतकृत्भूतभृत्भावो भूतात्मा भूतभावनः ||
Let us look at a certain train of interpretation for each of these नामs in this shloka.
1. vishwam — “One who is inside of this (manifested) universe”
This meaning follows from the derivation as “visha praveshane” — “विश प्रवेशने”
2. vishnu — “One who pervades everywhere”
“sarvam veveshti vyapnoteeti vishnuh” — “सर्वं वेवेष्टि व्याप्नोतीति विष्णुः”
So the words vishwam-vishnu indicate the omnipresence of paramatma — he is present inside and outside of this (manifested) universe.
He is deshatah-vyaapta — देशतः व्याप्तः
3. vashatkara — “One who has the six most well known gunas”
Vishnu has unlimited aishwarya, veerya, yashas, shrI, jnAna and vairAgya. Hence he is known as the one with the six (most well known) guNas.
ऐश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य वीर्यस्य यशसः श्रियः |
ज्ञानवैराग्ययोश्चैव षण्णां भग इतीरिणा ||
Since he has these भगs he is known as भगवन्त
It naturally follows that one who has the most important guNas also has all the other guNas (also backed by various other pramanas).
Hence the word vashatkara indicates that he is gunatah-vyaapta — गुणतः व्याप्तः
4. bhutabhavyabhavat-prabhuH — “One who was present in the past; One who will be present in future; One who is present now”
“kAlatraye api vidyamaanatvaad bhUtAdirUpaH, prabhuscheti bhUtabhavyabhavatprabhuH” — “कालत्रयेsपि विद्यमानत्वाद् भूतादिरूपः, प्रभुश्चेति भूतभव्यभवत्प्रभुः”
So this word indicates that paramatma is kAlatah-vyaapta — कालतः व्याप्तः
5. bhootakrut — “One who creates all beings”
“bhUtAni karOti srujati iti bhUtakrut” — “भूतानि करोति सृजति इति भूतकृत्”
Hence this word indicates that he is the creator of all
6. bhootabhrut — “One who maintains all beings”
“bhUtAni bhibharti pOshayati iti bhUtabhrut” — “भूतानि भिभर्ति पोषयति इति भूतभृत्”
Hence this word indicates that he is the sustainer of all.
7. bhaavah — “One who is ferocious and destroys all”
“bhAti ugrO bhavati iti bhah | bha ugrabhAvE | avati hinasti iti avaH” — “भाति उग्रो भवति इति भः | भ उग्रभावे | अवति हिनस्ति इति अवः”
Hence this word indicates that he is the destroyer of all.
Thus the words bhUtakrut-bhUtabhrut-bhAvaH indicates that paramatma is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of all beings.
8. bhootaatmaa — “One who is present inside of all beings”
“bhUtAnAm AtmA antaryAmI bhUtAtmA” — “भूतानां आत्मा अन्तर्यामी भूतात्मा”
Hence this word indicates that paramatma is present inside of all of us.
9. bhootabhaavanah — “One who grants the appropriate end-result for all beings”
“bhUtAni yOgyagatIH bhAvayati prApayati iti bhUtabhAvanah” — “भूतानि योग्यगतिः भावयति प्रापयति इति भूतभावनः”
Hence this word indicates that paramatma is the giver of either moksha, andhantamas or nityasamsara depending upon whether we are satvikas, tamasicas or rajasikas respectively.
Thus combining all the above interpretation, we can arrive at the following description of paramatma from the first shloka of the vishnusahasranama.
“One who is omnipresent; One who has all attributes; One who is temporally infinite; One who creates, nourishes and destroys beings; One who is present inside all beings and One who grants moksha”
“One who is देशतः-गुणतः-कालतः व्याप्त, One who is सृष्टि-स्थिथि-संहार-कर्ता, One who is अन्तर्यामी in all, and one who is मोक्षदाता