We have multiple versions of Vishnu Sahasranama in our scriptures like Mahabharata, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, etc. But the Mahabharata version is mostly used by us. So apart from the fact that Mahabharata is more popular than the other scriptures, is there any specific reason why that version of Sahasranama is mostly used and recommended by saints?
I wasn't aware that Vishnu Sahasranama has many versions until I read this question. So, I am unable to verify and compare them to answer. However, I remember a view point of one of the upanyasakar (person who delivers religious discourses) that this sahasranama is great because:
- It is asked by Dharmaputra who was a great person following dharma to the core.
- It was asked to a great purusha - Beeshma
- And more importantly, it was witnessed by the Lord Krishna himself when Dharmaputra asked those 6 questions and Beeshma answered explicitly mentioning the Lord Krishna while all the three connected were physically present together.
The upanyasakar said that Krishna endorsed the answers of Bheesma and hence this is the superior of all.
Puranas are a gain lesser importance with respect to Smirti granthas. Mahabharata which of course is a Smriti grantha, because Badarayana often quotes Vyasas BhagavadGita as smriti pramana in his SharirakaSutras (Vedanta Sutras) [1-2-25,1-3-23 etc]. But moreover it is considered as Panchama Veda (abridged Veda for all). Hence Smriti Mantras are more powerfull and nearer to Veda than Purana Mantras. So Indian saints from all castes have always preferred Vishnu Sahasranama of Mahabharata.
It is hard to be certain as to WHY this version of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama is the most popular, and it is equally hard for me to answer this without factoring in my understanding / opinion, or with a reference. The reason is I am not aware of a place where the reason for the popularity is clearly explained. Any such note, if found on the internet, has higher chances of being an individual's opinion than not - unless of course, such an explanation is part of one of the Puranas (which I don't believe to be the case based on the Puranas I have seen so far).
So my answer is, this version of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama became popular, probably because His Holiness Sri Adi Sankaracharya commented on it. Following his commentary, other acharyas also commented subsequently though much later. What happens is, when such commentaries are written by acharyas, the work gains credibility and popularity, their disciples propagate it further, and it continues to be included in daily worship and other observances.
Again this is an opinion, but I have seen comments by modern scholars crediting Sri Sankara for bringing some of these texts and slokhas to prominence by being one of the early commentators, if not the first commentator. So this is following the same line of thought.
But based on what I read, my working hypothesis is Sri Sankara's commentary was probably instrumental in the popularity.
Similar reasoning can also be observed about Sri Lalitha Sahasranama, though His Holiness Sri Sankara did not comment on it. But other scholars did, and that is the most popular for Devi upasakas over others such as Sri Durga Sahasranama, Sri Parvati Sahasranama, Sri Bhavani Sahasranama, and Sri Gayatri Sahasranama etc.
The Vishnu sahasranama of Mahabharata is most popular because it is the earliest Vishnu sahasranama (and may be even the earliest sahasranama. While the Shiva sahasranama is also part of Mahabharata, it is missing in the Grantha manuscripts. Therefore, Vishnu sahasranama of Mahabharata is likely to be the earliest in the sahasranama genre).
Date of Mahabharata
The bulk of the Mahābhārata was probably compiled between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE, with the oldest preserved parts not much older than around 400 BCE. The original events related by the epic probably fall between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. The text probably reached its final form by the early Gupta period (c. 4th century CE).
The Padma purana and Skanda purana are not as old as the Mahabharata.
Date of Padma purana
The composition date of Padma Purana is unknown. Estimated vary between the 4th and 15th century CE. Some parts of the text may be from the 750 to 1000 CE period. The extant manuscripts and ones widely studied, states Wilson, is very likely to have been written or revised well after the 14th century, probably in the 15th or 16th century, because it describes later era major temple sites of south India and sites in the Vijayanagara Empire. No portion of the versions of the Padma Purana available in the 19th century, wrote Wilson, is "probably older than the 12th-century". Asoke Chatterjee, in 1963, suggested that the text may have existed between the 3rd and 4th century CE, but the text was rewritten and greatly expanded over the centuries and through the second half of the 17th century.
Date of Skanda purana
Haraprasad Shastri and Cecil Bendall, in about 1898, discovered an old palm-leaf manuscript of Skanda Purana in a Kathmandu library in Nepal, written in Gupta script. They dated the manuscript to 8th century CE, on paleographic grounds. This suggests that the original text existed before this time. R. Adriaensen, H.Bakker, and H. Isaacson dated the oldest surviving palm-leaf manuscript of Skanda Purana to 810 CE, but Richard Mann adds that earlier versions of the text likely existed in the 8th century CE. Hans Bakker states that the text specifies holy places and details about the 4th and 5th-century Citraratha of Andhra Pradesh, and thus may have an earlier origin. The oldest versions of the Skandapurana texts have been discovered in the Himalayan region of South Asia such as Nepal, and the northeastern states of India such as Assam. The critical editions of the text, for scholarly studies, rely on the Nepalese manuscripts.
Additional texts style themselves as khandas (sections) of Skandapurana, but these came into existence after the 12th century.
The Mahabharata, thus being the earliest among the three, the Vishnu sahasranama of Mahabharata is the most popular. Mahabharata is also more well-preserved as compared to these puranas.