Is the title 'Vishnu Sahasranama' a later addition or originally attributed to Lord Vishnu? The question arises because the names Brahma, Ishwar, Siva, Durga etc also find mention in the Sahasranama.


Vishnu sahasranama refers to 1000 names of Lord Vishnu , who is infact the Para Brahman. Let us see the nature of the question raised which leads to revelation Vishnu sahasranama by Bheeshma.

Yudhisthira raises real fundamental questions.

Kimekam daivatham lokay kim vapyekam parayanam !

Sthuvantham kam kamarchanthaha prapnuyurmanavaha shubham!!

Ko dharmaha sarva dharmanam bhavathaha paramo mathaha !

Kim japan muchayatey janthurjanmasamsara bandhanath!!

Yudhisthira is basically asking questions which means

" Who is the supreme Lord who when worshipped provides provides succor, auspiciousness etc and also the ultimate deliverance from cycle of life and death. Who is such ultimate supreme?"

No where yudhisthira has mentioned any deity. To this Bheeshma says it is Lord Vishnu who provides moksha.

Bheeshma then goes on to describe the thousand names of the supreme lord which is famous as Vishnu sahasranama.

Such a background is not there for sahasranamas of other deities, in the sense like the unique and generic questions raised by Yudhisthira.

So, Vishnu Sahasranama alone describes the ultimate Para brahma, who is known as Lord Vishnu\Narayana.

Because, Vishnu sahasranama talks about the original Supreme Lord , so all names like sambhu, siva, sthanu etc also apply to Lord Vishnu only. Moreover, the names like Siva, Sambhu, Isana, Sthanu are all common nouns which are very apt for Lord Vishnu only.

  • By the way, speaking of other Sahasrananams, in the part of Anushasana Parva that includes the Shiva Sahasranamam, I found a strange quote: "It is in consequence of the devotion of the high-souled Krishna to the illustrious Rudra whom he gratified, O Bharata, in the retreat of Vadari, by penances, that he has succeeded in pervading the entire universe. O king of kings, it is through Maheswara of celestial vision that Vasudeva has obtained the attribute of universal agreeableness,--an agreeableness that is much greater than what is possessed by all articles included under the name of wealth." Apr 4 '15 at 16:41
  • It's from this chapter: sacred-texts.com/hin/m13/m13a024.htm What do you think Bhishma meant by this? Is he just intentionally exaggerating the greatness of Shiva? Or could it be an interpolation? Apr 4 '15 at 16:42
  • @Keshav - Check the narayanastra blogspot for Shiva sahasranama. Siva sahasranama is big time interpolation. If, some one reads mahabharata without any bias , surely one will understand Siva sahasranama is interpolation. Even, telugu mahabharata writers of 11, 12, 13 century and also tamil mahabharata dont contain siva sahasranam. Moreover, madhvacharya in tatparya nirnaya, clearly stated, that by his time itself, mahabharata has been interpolated largely.
    – user808
    Apr 4 '15 at 17:31
  • Thanks, that Narayanastra page was really convincing, especially the Addendum section at the end: narayanastra.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_17.html By the way, I just posted a question related to the Shiva Sahasranamam yesterday that you might be interested in, because it deals with an incarnation of Vishnu: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6931/36 Apr 4 '15 at 17:49
  • @KeshavSrinivasan The 'sacred-texts' links that you added refers to Bhishma's explanation regarding Brahminicide and not greatness of Shiva. Can you repost the correct link?
    – Naveen
    Jun 6 '15 at 17:52

In introducing the Vishnu Sahasranamam, Bhishma specifically says that he is going to recite the thousand names of Vishnu:

tasya lokapradhānasya jagan nāthasya bhūpate

viṣṇor nāma sahasraṃ me śṛṇu pāpabhayāpaham

Hear, O king, the thousand names, possessed of great efficacy in destroying sins, of that foremost one in all the worlds that Master of the universe, viz., Vishnu.

He makes a similar statement after he finishes reciting it:

Even thus have I recited to thee, without any exception, the thousand excellent names of the high-souled Kesava whose glory should always be sung.... This hymn in praise of the illustrious Vishnu composed by Vyasa, should be recited by that person who wishes to acquire happiness and that which is the highest benefit (viz., emancipation).

As far as whether its original name is the Vishnu Sahasranamam, not exactly. As opposed to the rest of the Mahabharata, the Vishnu Sahasranmam consists of mantras, not shlokas, and thus it is said with a preamble, which says this:

asya sri viśṇūr divya sahasranāma stotra mahā mantrasya|

sri vedavyāso bhagavān Rśiḥ|

anuśṭup candaḥ|

sri mahāviśṇu paramātmā sriman nārāyaṇo devatā|

Of the great mantra called the Sri Vishnor Divya Sahasranama Stotra, the sage [who heard it from the gods] is Sri Vedavyasa Bhagavan, the meter is Anushtup, the deity [whom it is about] is Sri Mahavishnu Paramatma Sriman Narayana.

So it's technically known as the Sri Vishnu Divya Sahasranama Stotra.

As to why names of other gods are included, in some cases it might seem like it's the proper name of some familiar god, but it's actually being used with its literal meaning. So for instance, the name Ishwara is often used as a personal name of Shiva, but literally it just means "the lord" and is thus applicable to Vishnu. In other cases, names of other gods are used intentionally to denote that as Paramatma (the supreme soul), Vishnu dwells as the Antaryami of all the gods. As the Vishnu Purana says, "The term Vásudeva means that all beings abide in that supreme being, and that he abides in all beings."

By the way, there are also Sahasranamams for other gods. In fact the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata, which contains the Vishnu Sahasranamam, also contains a Shiva Sahasranamam, as I discuss in this question. (It's not recited by Bhishma though.)

  • In case you had a chance to read [this] book (amazon.com/Universe-That-God-Panduranga-Rao/dp/8124601534/…) please do comment on it. I found author Panduranga Rao's in depth analysis of the Sanskrit meanings of the Sahasranamas to be very precise and insightful.
    – Naveen
    Apr 4 '15 at 1:58
  • @Naveen I've never heard of that book and it has no review, so I'm not sure how good it is. But if you want a really good in-depth explanation of the meanings of each of the names, I suggest you read N. Krishnamachari's commentary: kirtimukha.com/chinnamma/sahasra It contains quotes from lots of different schools. Apr 4 '15 at 2:24
  • @Naveen - Read the commentaries of Shankara (Advaita), Parasara Bhattar (Visistadvaita), Madhvacharya (Dvaita) on Vishnu Sahasranama. There are a few more good ones too, but the above three are the best. These have been translated into english also and should be available online. Rest all commentaries are just expansions based on the above mentioned three main ones.
    – user808
    Jun 6 '15 at 6:56

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