Vishnu Sahasranama, one of the most popular litanies in Hinduism, finds a place in the ‘Anusanika Parva' of the Mahabharata. This litany consisting of 149 verses set in anustup metre could be divided into three parts. The first 13 verses constitute the introduction. The next 107 verses, forming the second part, list the one thousand names of the Lord (which give the hymn its name, Sahasranama). The concluding part (29 verses) spells out the benefits that will accrue from reciting it.

Countless are the names of God, each one of them signifying an auspicious attribute of His or a deed He performed in His various incarnations. What figures in the Mahabharata is a mere compilation of a thousand chosen names which were chanted by the sages of yore. In the epic, the context in which it came to be revealed by Bhishma is very significant.

The Kurukshetra war over, Dharmaputra is anointed the emperor. Far from being triumphant, he is stricken by grief over the widespread devastation and annihilation wrought by the war and is tormented by a sense of guilt that he and his avariciousness were to blame for it. Lord Krishna, whom he approaches for solace, takes him to Bhishma, who was lying on a bed of arrows, ahead of departing from this world. And Bhishma expounds the various aspects and subtleties of Dharma and, towards the end, comes up with the Sahasranama Stotra by way of an answer to Dharmaputra's specific question on the Supreme One.

Commentary

This hymn has been commented upon by many great thinkers, including those belonging to the three principal schools of Vedanta — Adi Sankara (Advaita), Parasara (Vishistadvaita), and Raghavendra (Dvaita). There are innumerable translations of this work in various languages. Sankara prescribes that the hymn should be recited daily. The Charaka Samhita says one will be cured of maladies like fever and mental disorders. While a mere reading of it is believed to absolve an individual of his sins, doing so with a clear understanding of what the names connote is hailed as a great virtue. And meditating on each name is the best means for spiritual uplift. Above all, it will fetch mental solace and equanimity.

The book under review gives all the names in Telugu, and their meanings in simple Telugu as well as in English to benefit the groups speaking the two languages. Its distinctive feature is the use of pictures to support the text. The depiction is not only appropriate but attractive so that the reader interest is sustained throughout, prodding him on to move from one name to another. The quality of paper used and printing is good. On reading it, one gets a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Bhima Rao deserves all commendation for having done yeoman service to the spiritual community by presenting this remarkable work. If more and more books are brought out in a format that is as attractive as this one, the younger generation will surely get hooked on to the habit of reading books of this genre.

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