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This is a celebrated case - the claim that Panini's grammar makes "Narayana" with the retroflex n at the end a proper noun and that only the Vaishnavite God can be meant.

Obviously this cannot be a huge issue for Gaudiya Vaishnavas and Ramanandis to whom the supreme God is Krishna and Rama respectively.

  • Panini did not tell that the word Narayani does not exist. Depends on Purusha or Prakriti whom you consider the Highest. The Absolute is beyond these two. – user17294 Feb 6 at 17:20
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    Are Americans the only citizens who claim USA to be a Proper noun that only denotes their country? - Answer : grammar remains the same for every country. So, no. Same goes here. – Sarvabhouma Feb 6 at 17:24
  • I think another version of this question is - "Has any other god than Vishnu been referred to as NArAyaNa?". You can answer now. @Parth – Mr. Sigma. Feb 6 at 17:39
  • thnx but i am too tired of answering:) – user17294 Feb 6 at 17:41
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    @SK Whatever is supreme can't be found at least online. Further, mystics have been maintaining ultimate reality is anyway nameless. – Mr. Sigma. Feb 6 at 20:11
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The grammar is equal for all. A sect or a sub sect can't discard the rules of grammar while interpreting a name or a verse written in Sanskrit for their ease to highlight their favorite god. If it is done, then the interpretation can be neglected.

There is a Panini sutra from the ashtadhyayi.

pUrva-padAt saJjJAyAm a-gaH 8.4.3

पूर्व-पदात् सज़्ज्ज़ायाम् अ-गः

Meaning : If a compound is a tag and its former does not end in g ग् (it causes /Natvam in its latter).

In simple words, if a samjna (proper noun) is intended, na-kara gets a ṇa-kara (adesha). i.e., when a specific person is intended by a word, the na- will be replaced by Na if the word doesn't end with g (as in god).

For example, Rāmāyaṇam has a ṇa to denote it is a proper noun. It means the journey of only one Rama not any other rama like Parashu Rama or Balarama.

Whereas, this doesn't apply for a word like Dakshiṇāyana because Dakshina is not a proper noun. It is a common noun which can have many meanings. Dakshina means right, south, starightforwad etc., the word can mean any meaning. This does not happen for the word

When they say Nārāyaṇa, it means only Vishnu and not any other God who is born on water. There is a proper noun i.e., specific person is intended. No other god can be called by that name.

Now, who is the (only) Nārāyaṇa referred to?

In Srimad Bhagavatam skandha 10, chapter 14, there is a eulogy by Lord Brahma where he also gives the definition of the name. I don't think anyone can explain the definition of the word Nārāyana better than Lord Brahma.

14 Are you not Nārāyaṇa? Yes, you are Nārāyaṇa inasmuch as you are the soul of all embodied creatures, who thus form your dwelling place (and nāra means the aggregate of living beings). You are Nārāyana as you are the Lord who preside over and promote life in alt beings, and being the witness to the entire universe, you alone know them all. You are the Nārāyaṇa—the Deity that abide in (and thus are the basis) of all the twenty-four principles evolved out of Nara, as well as waters—your abode for reposing, which is the evolute of Nara who is also your part. Even your reposing on water is also not true, but your māyā, as your form is indiscernible.

So, Brahma gives several definitions already. How did he give those meanings?

There are different etymologies for the word Nāra

  1. nārāṇāṃ ayanatvāccha nārāyaṇa iti smṛtaḥ
    nāra śabdāna jīvānāṃ samūhaḥ procyate budhaiḥ

    Nāra - aggregate of all beings. ayanam - Hence who dwells in all bodies as their souls.

    The Vishnu Gayatri mantra is as follows: (From shruti):

    Nārāyanāya vidmahe vāsudevāya Dheemahi Tannah Vishnu prachodayat

    In the above Gayatri mantra, the names Nārāyana, Vāsudeva and Vishnu are equated. According to the above etymology, Nārāyaṇa means who dwells in all bodies as their souls. Vasudeva also means the same.

    He is called Vasudeva in consequence of his enveloping all creatures with the screen of illusion, or of his glorious splendour, or of his being the support and resting-place of the gods. He is called Vishnu because of his all-pervading nature. [From What is the meaning of Brahman & Vasudeva?]. So, the name Nārāyaṇa refers to Vishnu and not other god.

  2. Nārasya ayanam pravrittih - The source of the promoter of all the aggregates of Jivas.

  3. Nāram ayase - You know the aggregate of all beings. ay means to know.

  4. Nāra - which is produced from Nara

    Nāra - who dwells in or reposes in water

    teṣāṃ ayana bhutatvān nārāyaṇa iti smṛtaḥ |
    nāro narāṇāṃ saṃghatasa tasyāhaṃ ayanaṃ gatiḥ | tenāsmi munibhira nityaṃ nārāyaṇa iti smṛtaḥ ||

    cetanā cetanaḥ sarvaṃ viṣṇor yada vyatirincite |
    nāram tadayanam cedaṃ yasya nārāyaṇāstu saḥ ||

    āpo nārā iti proktā āpo vai narasūnavaḥ |
    tā yadasyāyanaṃ pūrvaṃ tena nārāyaṇaḥ smṛtaḥ || Manusmriti 1.10 ||

These are the couplets which were the basis of those above etymologies. These are quoted by various commentators on the above specific verse from Srimad Bhagavatam.

Because all the sects and commentators adhere to Panini's rules of grammar while interpreting and commenting names of god, we should not limit this meaning to a single sect. All accept the meaning equating to Vishnu.

  • Medadhi says it is applicable for Brahma also. hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/32718/8696 – Mr. Sigma. Feb 6 at 20:05
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    Sutra only says Nouns not proper nouns. Sanskrit doesn't have proper nouns. – The Destroyer Feb 7 at 5:04
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    @Sarvabhouma sorry if I have misunderstood. There is a generic rule for all words in sanskrit: if a र is followed by a न with any consonants between them (other than कवर्ग​, पवर्ग​, य, र, ल, व, ह), the न becomes a ण. Hence नारायण​ is formed. Likewise we have करण​, भरण​, शूर्पणखा etc. Even in the declinations this rule holds and hence we have रविणा and सुरेण​ but सुरपतिना (since पवर्ग comes after the रेफ​) I don't think this has to do with proper nous etc. However there may be another rule which clashes with this rule. – user1952500 Feb 7 at 5:18
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    I believe pnani created grammar after vyasa wrote all the scripture.. so if there is any conflict with pnani then it should be resolved according Vyasa scripture.. The rules of grammar was different than.. but Na can only mean Vishnu this was stated by vijendra swamigal in kumbokkonam during debate with appaya dikkisth.. – Prasanna R Feb 7 at 5:32
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    This is not an answer. The reasons why Srivaishnavites claim this is irrelevant. The question is - does any OTHER vaishnavite sect claims this. – S K Feb 8 at 13:00

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