Saturday, December 31, 2022

Prameya-ratnavali Release

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In this work, composed at the request of his students, Sri Vidyabhusana presents a summary study of nine major philosophical and theological tenets covered in the Govinda-bhasya. Each of the theorems, or objects of knowledge, is succinctly defined and backed up by quotes from the sruti and the smrti, making this text a perfect outline of the Gaudiya system of thought.

This edition includes the original Sanskrit text critically edited on the basis of 51 manuscripts, its Roman transliteration, the original Sanskrit commentary written by Vedantavagisa, a gloss by the author, an English translation of all of these, and an extensive introduction rebutting false accusations against Sri Vidyabhusana and the legitimacy of the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-parampara defended by him.


Table of Contents


     Authorship and Time




     Sundarānanda Vidyāvinoda

     Rādhāgovinda Nātha

     Kānāi Lāl Adhikārī

     Akṣaya Kumāra Śāstrī






Prameya 1: Lord Viṣṇu’s Supremacy

Prameya 2: Lord Viṣṇu is to be Known Through all the Vedas

Prameya 3: The Reality of the Universe

Prameya 4: Difference is Real

Prameya 5: The Jīvas’ Servitude to Lord Hari

Prameya 6: The Gradations among Living Entities

Prameya 7: Liberation is the Attainment of Kṛṣṇa

Prameya 8: Pure Devotional Service yields Liberation

Prameya 9: The Three Kinds of Evidence




            The prolific and astounding literary production that characterised Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism in the 16th century was followed by a drastic recess after Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī left this world. Only a few authors were then engaged in writing Bengali compositions, and even rarer were those who wrote in Sanskrit. This picture did not change until late 17th century, when Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī became another luminary, whose writings revived the old scholarly tradition started by Lord Caitanya’s followers. Despite their substantial numbers, Gauḍīya works were mostly within the scope of poetry, dramaturgy, and theology, besides commentaries on prominent Vaiṣṇava texts. Until the beginning of the 18th century, Gauḍīyas had shown little interest in presenting purely philosophical treatises, let alone comment on standard philosophical texts such as the Brahma-sūtra. This made them somewhat alienated from other schools of thought that had established themselves by actively engaging in writing Vedānta commentaries and debating various opposing systems. Each of the four original Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas— Śrī, Brahmā, Rudra, and Kumāra— had one or more Vedānta commentaries to their credit. So was the case with those who claimed affiliation to one of them, such as the Rāmānandīs and the Puṣṭimārgīs. It was possibly with the intention of filling this gap that King Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743 AD) commissioned Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa (c.1700-1793 AD) to compose a Gauḍīya commentary on the Brahma-sūtra. In response, Śrī Vidyābhūṣaṇa first presented the Brahma-sūtra-kārikā-bhāṣya in a very condensed format, and years later, the Govinda-bhāṣya, a much more extensive and elaborate work. In order to duly facilitate the comprehension of the latter, he subsequently composed the Siddhānta-ratna, a dense treatise covering major philosophical and theological topics. Being requested by his students, he further penned the Prameya-ratnāvalī, a Vedānta-prakaraṇa in which he succinctly focused on the objects of knowledge or theorems (prameya) dealt with in Vaiṣṇava philosophy.

          Prameya is an essential category in any philosophical system. For instance, in the Nyāya-sūtra (1.1.1), Gautama delineates the Nyāya philosophy in sixteen categories: pramāṇa (means of knowledge), prameya (objects of knowledge), saṁśaya (doubt), prayojana (aim), dṛṣṭānta (example), siddhānta (conclusion), avayava (members of a syllogism), tarka (hypothetical reasoning), nirṇaya (settlement), vāda (discussion), jalpa (wrangling), vitaṇḍā (cavilling), hetvābhāsa (fallacy), chala (quibbling), jāti (sophisticated refutation), and nigraha-sthāna (point of defeat). In sūtra 1.1.9, he acknowledges twelve kinds of prameyas: ātmā (soul), śarīra (body), indriya (senses), artha (sense objects), buddhi (cognition), manaḥ (mind), pravṛtti (activity), doṣa (defects), pretyabhāva (rebirth), phala (results), duḥkha (suffering), and apavarga (liberation). In his commentary, Vātsyāyana defines prameya in the following words: yo’rthas tattvataḥ pramīyate tat prameyam, “Prameya is an object that is accurately known.” Anything that can be known is a prameya, but Indian philosophers occupied themselves only with the prameyas they deemed meaningful to attain liberation.

The following definition appears on the top page of several manuscripts of the Prameya-ratnāvalī: pramātuṁ yāthārthyena jñātuṁ yogyāni prameyāṇi tāny eva ratnāni teṣām āvalī prameya-ratnāvalī, “Worthwhile theorems (prameya), which are to be truly known, are themselves jewels (ratna). A string (āvalī) of such jewels is called Prameya-ratnāvalī.” In this treatise, Vidyābhūṣaṇa delves in the nine prameyas that have been handed down through the Mādhva-paramparā, as highlighted in a famous verse often attributed to Śrī Vyāsa Tīrtha:[1]

śrīman-madhva-mate hariḥ paratamaḥ satyaṁ jagat tattvato

bhedo jīva-gaṇā harer anucarā nīcocca-bhāvaṁ gatāḥ|

muktir naija-sukhānubhūtir amalā bhaktiś ca tat-sādhanam

akṣādi-tritayaṁ pramāṇam akhilāmnāyaika-vedyo hariḥ||

“In the view of the venerable Madhvācārya, 1) Lord Hari is the Supreme; 2) the world is real; 3) difference is real; 4) the living entities are servants of Lord Hari; 5) they attain a low or high state; 6) liberation means to experience bliss in one’s own constitutional form; 7) selfless worship of the Lord is the means to liberation; 8) direct perception, inference, and verbal testimony are the three kinds of evidence; and 9) Lord Hari is to be known through all sacred scriptures.”

In spite of this outward approach, some of these prameyas have been explained by Vidyābhūṣaṇa from a primarily Gauḍīya perspective, rather than what would be considered as an orthodox Mādhva exposition. The first prameya comprises half of the book and presents evidence of the supremacy of Lord Viṣṇu, Who is non-different from Lord Kṛṣṇa or any Viṣṇu-tattva. Similarly, Goddess Lakṣmī is non-different from Śrī Rādhā. The apparent difference between Their avatāras is attributed to the gradation of the potency manifested by each of Them. While the Mādhvas may have reservations regarding the ontological status of Rādhā, they strongly object to seeing difference in the Supreme Lord. The second prameya deals with the knowability of God through the scriptures, something that is universally accepted by Vaiṣṇavas of all designations. The third prameya discusses the reality of the world, which is said to be manifested by the Lord’s energy. This theory of śakti-pariṇāma-vāda does not entail any transformation in the Supreme, which is in conformity with Madhvācārya’s philosophy. The fourth prameya clarifies the difference between God and the individual souls, which remains even after liberation. He is eternally one, and they are eternally many. In this connection, several monistic arguments are rebutted. The emphasis being on difference, there is no conflict with the Mādhva ideology. The fifth prameya describes the jīva as an eternal servant of Lord Viṣṇu. This is a further elaboration on the first prameya, elucidating how even the highest demigods are subordinate to Lord Viṣṇu. Again, this is unarguable among Vaiṣṇavas. The sixth prameya explains that although the jīvas share common attributes such as atomic size and consciousness, there are gradations among them: in the material world, on the basis of their karma; and in the spiritual world, on the basis of their mode of worship. The latter is described in terms of the five major rasas. This is an instance in which the author propounded a primarily Gauḍīya tenet. The seventh prameya defines liberation as the attainment of Lord Kṛṣṇa or any of His forms. The eighth prameya states that bhakti is the means to attain liberation. These two propositions are commonly shared with other schools, although they may differ as to the details. The ninth prameya establishes direct perception, inference, and verbal testimony as the valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa), and Madhvācārya is mentioned as an authority in this regard. In the Tattva-sandarbha and Sarva-saṁvādinī, Jīva Gosvāmī defends this same view and expounds that any further means of knowledge is encompassed within these three. Vidyābhūṣaṇa presented these nine prameyas in a very succinct manner, leaving out much scope for dissension, and thus smoothly highlighted a relatively harmonious connection between the views propounded by Madhvācārya and those propounded by Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

A large part of the Prameya-ratnāvalī consists of ample quotations from the śruti and the smṛti, interspersed by the author’s own verses, and the whole book is concise enough to be easily memorised, as he suggests at the end.

Authorship and Time

Among Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s independent works, Prameya-ratnāvalī is by far the most copied, distributed, and published one. This is in great part due to its conciseness and didactical nature as an outline of the Mādhva-Gauḍīya system of thought. The plentiful manuscript copies, the consistency of the text in each copy, the historicity of the earlier copies, the correlation between other of his works, the internal evidence, and the coordination with the commentator leave zero scope to doubt that Vidyābhūṣaṇa is the legitimate author of the original text or that his work was tampered with by an interpolator. The claims to the contrary will be debunked and exposed below as a deliberate and insidious conspiracy.

Out of the multiple manuscript copies consulted for preparing this critical edition, which are described below, two have an enormous historical significance and are decisive evidence to silence naysayers. Manuscript number 20 (described below) was thoroughly penned by Dayānidhi, who was Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s main scribe for many years. We know his name from a manuscript of the Govinda-bhāṣya preserved in Gopiballabhpur, the Śyāmānandi-pīṭha in West Bengal, dated Saṁvat 1815 (1758 AD), in which he identifies himself as a brāhmaṇa and the son of the minister of Kūrmācala. He not only copied most of Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s works but also wrote several of his personal letters. This manuscript includes the Sūkṣmā-ṭīkā, so it can be safely assumed that 1758 AD is the year of its completion, for it would have been unethical to wait for years to gift a copy of the text to the Gosvāmīs in Gopiballabhpur. The Govinda-bhāṣya might have been completed either in the same year or perhaps one or two years earlier. In corroboration to this, despite Sawai Jai Singh’s avid interest in collecting Brahma-sūtra commentaries, there is no copy of the Govinda-bhāṣya in the Khasmohor Collection, his personal library, for he passed away in 1743 AD.

The Kānti-mālā commentary on the first verse explicitly states the purpose for which this book was written: “A commentary on the Brahma-sūtra entitled Govinda-bhāṣya has been composed by Baladeva, also known as Vidyābhūṣaṇa, who is exclusively devoted to Lord Govinda. Having been asked by some students about the objects of knowledge (prameya) in that commentary, and being about to briefly speak about these, he now recites an auspicious invocation.” The commentary also refers to the Vedānta-syamantaka (on 8.8 and 9.1), Govinda-bhāṣya with Sūkṣmā-ṭīkā (on 1.16 and 8.10), and Gītā-bhūṣaṇa (on 8.10). On the basis of all this evidence, the Prameya-ratnāvalī may have been written between 1758 and 1768 AD. The manuscript number 16 indicates that the place of its composition might have been Jaipur, where Vidyābhūṣaṇa resided for many years while managing the Vijaya-Śyāmasundara Temple, which enjoyed the royal patronage for as long as it existed, as recorded in several documents of the period.


At the end of the Kānti-mālā, the author clearly identifies himself as “Vedāntavāgīśa.” He also wrote commentaries on the Govinda-bhāṣya and Siddhānta-ratna. Although his name is not openly mentioned in these two texts, therein it is evident that the commentator was thoroughly familiar with Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s works and could be none other than a close associate. Indeed, the very fact that these three commentaries— which had been just recently written and would be known only to a few individuals— have cross-references to one another, indicates that they were penned by the same person.[2] By a comparative study of these commentaries, it becomes apparent that they share the same explanations, illustrations, vocabulary, and quotations in multiple instances.[3] This could have been possible only if they were composed by the same person or if one of the commentators were a plagiarist. Since these works were not yet available to others, the latter option is totally ruled out. In fact, Govinda-bhāṣya, Siddhānta-ratna, and Prameya-ratnāvalī are a trilogy, the last two being supplementary works on the first. Thus, it is quite expected that Vedāntavāgīśa would have commented not only on one or two, but on all three of them.

In 1925 AD, the Gauḍīya Maṭha published the Prameya-ratnāvalī with Kānti-mālā. Sundarānanda was the editor, and Ananta Vāsudeva undertook the printing work. For reasons better known to them, they decided that the name of the commentator was Kṛṣṇadeva Vedāntavāgīśa, although such a name is not seen in any of the innumerable manuscripts. To make matters worse, henceforth Vedāntavāgīśa has been consistently mistaken for Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, a prominent śiksā disciple of Viśvanātha Cakravartī and a descendant of Jagannātha Cakravartī (Māmu Ṭhākura). Documentary evidence suggests that Bhaṭṭācārya had been initiated in the Advaita-parivāra.[4] Bhaṭṭācārya’s name is mentioned among five of Cakravartī’s disciples in a document dated Saṁvat 1769 (1712 AD) in connection with the Gokulānanda jī Kuñja at Rādhākuṇḍa.[5] Soon after, he settled in Amber and became the mahanta of the Vinodī Lāl Temple. A document dated Saṁvat 1773 (1716 AD) records a grant he received from King Sawai Jai Singh II to be used in the service of the deity.[6] He also played an important role in the Jaipur debates, and ample documentation corroborates his relationship with the King, who commissioned him to compose several treatises, such as Bhakti-vivṛti, Karma-vivṛti, Jñāna-vivaraṇa, Bhakti-phala-viveka, and Siddhāntaikya-prakāśikā, all of which are part of the Khasmohor Collection, preserved at the Mahārāja Sawai Mān Singh II Museum in the City Palace in Jaipur. Most of these works seem to have been written between 1719 and 1723 AD. His best known book is the Padāṅka-dūtam, whose earliest known manuscript is dated Śakābda 1645 (1723 AD).[7] Commentaries on various works of Viśvanātha Cakravartī, such as Alaṅkāra-kaustubha, Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta, and Saṅkalpa-kalpa-druma also have the name “Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma” at the end. Bhaṭṭācārya was a householder, and by 1735 AD, his son Rāmanātha Deva Śarmā was already sharing some of his duties. Kṛṣṇadeva Bhaṭṭācārya passed away either in the mid or late 1740s, as a document[8] dated Saṁvat 1802 (1749 AD) describes that after his demise, his grandson, Vṛndāvana Bhaṭṭācārya, claimed the same grant that had been previously given to his grandfather.

The obvious conclusion from all this is that Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya can by no means be the author of the commentaries on the Vedānta works of Vidyābhūṣaṇa, which were likely composed between 1745 and 1770 AD. On the one hand, Vidyābhūṣaṇa would have been about half the age of Bhaṭṭācārya and an absolutely unknown personality when he first arrived in Jaipur. On the other, Bhaṭṭācārya was already reputed as a mahanta and scholar as early as 1715 AD, while Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s name is not seen in any document related to Jaipur before 1741 AD. Moreover, in none of his works has Bhaṭṭācārya signed ‘Vedāntavāgīśa,’ ‘Vāgīśvara,’ or any similar name. We also know from the commentary on the Siddhānta-ratna that its author was a sādhu (ascetic) rather than a householder.

Some believe that Cakravartī had another disciple called Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma Vedāntavāgīśa, who is the actual author of the commentaries on the Alaṅkāra-kaustubha, Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta, and Saṅkalpa-kalpa-druma. Such a claim could be definitely proved if we could actually find manuscripts of these commentaries where the name Vedāntavāgīśa is mentioned, but up to the present day, I have not come across any, despite searching far and wide. This proposition is haunted with too many coincidences to be easily taken for granted. In view of the above dates and facts, both of the above theories are likely to be another distortion of the incidents, so common when hearsay prevails over recorded history. Furthermore, oral tradition says that one Kṛṣṇadeva accompanied Vidyābhūṣaṇa to Jaipur at Cakravartī’s command. If there were two individuals named Kṛṣṇadeva, which one is meant in this case?

At present, there is hardly any known information about Vedāntavāgīśa. Apart from the three mentioned commentaries, no other work seems to be credited to him. Even his first name is not revealed in the commentaries, which appears to be intentional. In the Gītā-bhūṣaṇa (8.24) and Nāmārtha-sudhā (108), Vidyābhūṣaṇa quotes a verse composed by Vedāntavāgīśa (from Sūkṣmā-ṭīkā, 4.3.3) and refers to him as “the commentator” (nirṇetṛbhiḥ). It would be unethical and disrespectful to refer to a contemporary and senior scholar like Kṛṣṇadeva Bhaṭṭācārya in such an informal and vague way. Rather, in the Aiśvarya-kādambinī (7.15), he is directly referred to as “Śrī Sārvabhauma Prabhu.” That casual referral to Vedāntavāgīśa indicates that the commentaries were indeed commissioned by Vidyābhūṣaṇa himself. Ample manuscript evidence confirms that the commentaries were written in coordination with the author. In corroboration to this, very few manuscripts of the three Vedānta works do not include the commentary. In the latter case, some of the scribes might have deliberately copied only the main text due to time and paper constraints. As we know that Vedāntavāgīśa was a sādhu and a scholar, it is natural to conclude that he was probably an associate of the same generation, who, out of humility, preferred to shun the limelight.


Among the large number of extant manuscripts, only number 16 (described below) has a gloss, which although different from the Kānti-mālā, is closely related to it. Unfortunately, the manuscript is incomplete and abruptly ends on paragraph 6.3. No name is mentioned, but nevertheless a few factors corroborate Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s authorship. Firstly, the gloss was noted down by his personal scribe, Dayānidhi. Rather than something written, it seems more like notes the author would have dictated while teaching the text. Being of a very terse nature, the gloss is mostly limited to word equivalents, definitions, syntactic connections, and a few quotations. Had it been written by Vedāntavāgīśa, it is likely that the gloss would thoroughly match its equivalents in the Kānti-mālā. However, this is often not the case, and in several instances sentences were paraphrased and selected vocabulary was replaced by synonyms, while some statements were omitted. This suggests that Vedāntavāgīśa just borrowed from those notes wherever he felt appropriate and was otherwise at liberty to develop his own explanations.


    For anyone who accepts Śrī Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s authority, this exposition of nine prameyas, added to the guru-paramparā given in the very beginning of the book, leaves no scope to doubt that the Gauḍīyas are a branch of the Brahma-Madhva sampradāya. For those who may question Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s word on the matter, there is also extensive earlier evidence that corroborate the same conclusion. There are some who, when faced with all the available evidence, opt for distorting, dismissing, or desecrating it, to the extent of even damaging Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s name and works, in which Madhva is often acknowledged as a previous ācārya. Although there seems to have been a certain amount of confusion for centuries, while investigating such an outrageous plot, we are led to a few individuals who had something peculiar in common— avowed hatred towards Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and his mission. As bizarre as it may sound, such individuals did not hesitate to turn nearly anything into ammunition in their attempt to malign Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and his words, even at the cost of the previous ācāryas. In their desperate efforts to pose as scholars while criticising an exalted Vaiṣṇava, they simply made fools of themselves, as do those who accept their words instead of verifying the facts as they are. This will become apparent in the following analysis of some of their statements.

[1] Some believe that this verse was composed by Śrīpādarāja, who wrote a commentary on it named Nava-ratna-mālikā-vyākhyā. Its authorship has also been attributed to other Mādhva scholars.

[2] Like Vidyābhūṣaṇa, he also did not directly sign the commentary on the Govinda-bhāṣya but just alluded to his name by a wordplay (vāgīśvara) in the last verse of the commentary.

[3] Vide his gloss on the texts ‘jñātvā devam’ (SR 1.11, PR 1.11); ‘tam ekaṁ govindam’ (SR 1.35, PR 1.12); the explanations on SR 1.18 and PR 1.17, SR 1.20 and PR 2.5, etc.

[4] Vide Prof. Monika Horstmann’s Der Zusammenhalt der Welt, 3.3.3.

[5] Vrindavan Research Institute, microfilm T1:25.

[6] Nusukha Puṇya, vol. 17, pg. 811, Rajasthan State Archives.

[7] Dhaka University, call number 200(A).

[8] Nusukha Puṇya, vol. 19 (Tālukā Havelī) p. 248, and vol.17 p. 813-814, Rajasthan State Archives.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Namartha-sudha Release

 To order a copy, click HERE

This edition includes the original Sanskrit text critically edited on the basis of multiple manuscripts, a complete English translation, exhaustive footnotes, an alphabetical index of names, and a foreword by HH Bhakti Vikasa Swami.


            Among the immense Vedic scriptures, the sahasra-nāma-stotra, a hymn consisting of a thousand names, is a genre on its own, despite being usually part of a Purāṇa or other major text, such as the Mahā-bhārata. Various Vedic devas and devīs have one or more of such hymns devoted to them, whose recitation is usually part of the worship in their respective āgamika schools. Different versions of Lord Viṣṇu’s thousand names are seen in the Padma Purāṇa, Garuḍa Purāṇa and Skanda Purāṇa. Yet none of these is even slightly as well-known as the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra found in the Anuśāsana Parva of the Mahā-bhārata, which is indeed so exalted that it is often referred to as “the” sahasra-nāma-stotra, just as the Bhagavad-gītā is unmistakably referred to by the mere word gītā, although there are countless gītās. Moreover, in spite of being a foremost Vaiṣṇava text, just as the Bhagavad-gītā is, the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra is widely recited throughout the world, not only by Vaiṣṇavas, but by people of a variety of religious and philosophical affiliations— from the layman Hindu to the Advaitavādī scholars. For thousands of people, the recitation of this hymn is a daily routine through their whole life, either at home or in a temple. The prominence of this stotra is further evinced by the fact that even other religious groups felt the need to have their own versions of it. Thus, Jain scholars composed various hymns, such as the Arhan-nāma-sahasra-samuccaya (a collection of a thousand names of Arhat) by Hemacandra (11th- 12th century AD), and the Jina-sahasra-nāma-stava by Paṇḍita Āśādhara (13th century AD). Buddhists wrote similar works glorifying Buddha’s names. A modern example is the Buddha-sahasra-nāmāvalī by S.N. Goenka, written in Pali. A collection of a thousand names of Guru Nānak (1469-1539 AD), the first Sikh preceptor, is attributed to his son, Śrīcanda. Interestingly, the Guru Granth Sahib contains multiple hymns on the names of God, and page 1082 is dedicated to the names of Lord Viṣṇu and His various avatāras.


            After slaying Duryodhana along with all his brothers and chief warriors, the Pāṇḍava brothers came out victorious in the Kurukṣetra war. Nevertheless, rather than becoming jubilant, Yudhiṣṭhira, dharma personified, was feeling utterly despondent and judged himself accountable for the sins accrued from the killings of scores of friends and relatives, including his own sons, for the sole purpose of occupying the royal throne.  By the end of the Strī Parva, it is narrated that, accompanied by the widows of the Kurus, the Pāṇḍavas had assembled at the bank of Gaṅgā in order to offer oblations for the relatives who had breathed their last on the battlefield. It was at that moment that Queen Kuntī, in tears, requested them, “You should also offer oblations for Karṇa, your eldest brother.” This unexpected revelation left the five brothers flabbergasted, and it was a devastating blow to Yudhiṣṭhira. Learning now that they had also slain their own eldest brother, his grief knew no bounds. He then resolved that instead of ruling the kingdom, he would renounce the world and lead a life of penance in the forest in order to atone for all his sinful deeds. Kuntī, Draupadī, and each of his brothers tried to persuade him to stick to his duty as the sovereign, but to no avail. Nārada Muni also addressed Yudhiṣṭhira with wise instructions, but he remained immovable. Vyāsadeva then briefly spoke about the importance of the execution of one’s duties, which prompted Yudhiṣṭhira to ask him for an elaborate explanation on dharma, particularly for those in the royal order. The all-knowing sage Vyāsa advised Yudhiṣṭhira that to be enlightened on the deep intricacies of dharma, he should approach grandsire Bhīṣma, who was fully conversant with all scriptures and whose wisdom was unparalleled in this world. However, this suggestion increased Yudhiṣṭhira’s distress even more, for it reminded him of the deceitful way they had attacked and defeated Bhīṣma by keeping Śikhaṇḍī in the front line, knowing that the latter had originally been born as a woman, and as such, Bhīṣma would never raise a weapon against him. By the incessant showers of arrows from both Arjuna and Śikhaṇḍī, Bhīṣma now laid on a bed of arrows. How could Yudhiṣṭhira face him again and ask for instruction on dharma?

            Understanding Yudhiṣṭhira’s predicament, Lord Kṛṣṇa directed him to abide by the words of Vyāsadeva, and at last he acceded. The very next day, all of them departed from Hastināpura to the presence of Bhīṣma in Kurukṣetra. Despite having arrows pierced throughout his body, he was still alive and fully conscious. On account of a boon received from his father, Śantanu, Bhīṣma would die only at the moment he wished, so he was merely awaiting an auspicious astrological position to depart, to which fifty-six days were still left. In fact, that was just a plea to occasion the monumental instructions then imparted by Bhīṣma through the whole Śānti Parva up to the end of the Anuśāsana Parva, comprising about one quarter of the whole Mahā-bhārata. Covering in depth nearly every aspect of duty, morality, and religiosity, those many thousands of verses are tantamount to a complete Purāṇa in extension, and to multiple scriptures in their vastness of knowledge. Towards the conclusion of his speech, Bhīṣma culminates with the recitation of the thousand names of Lord Viṣṇu in response to Yudhiṣṭhira’s question regarding what a person seeking liberation should utter.

            This whole incident was also meant to reveal Bhīṣma’s unexcelled qualities, as Kṛṣṇa Himself praised his matchless virtues and wisdom, and declared that no one else in the three worlds could baffle death in this way. Bhīṣma was so powerful that he rendered both Paraśurāma’s and Kṛṣṇa’s words futile: the former when He promised to Ambā that He would kill Bhīṣma, but could not, and the latter when He promised not to take a weapon during the battle, but had to pick up a chariot wheel when Bhīṣma fiercely attacked Arjuna. In his commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.9.46), Viśvanātha Cakravartī discloses Bhīṣma’s real identity: nitya-pārṣade bhīṣme vasoḥ praveśāt tasyaiva deha-tyāgo bhagavatā darśitaḥ, yāvad-adhikāram avasthitir ādhikārikāṇām iti nyāyena tasyaivāṁśena vasutve ca sthitir bhagaval-loke prāptiś ca, “Since Bhīṣma is actually an eternal associate of the Lord, his death, as demonstrated by the Supreme Lord, pertains only to an aṁśa of Bhīṣma that entered one of the Vasus. That aṁśa of Bhīṣma was in the position of Vasu and attained the Supreme Lord’s abode, in conformity with the following principle: yāvad-adhikāram avasthitir ādhikārikāṇām (Brahma-sūtra, 3.3.32), ‘Those in a position of authority remain in the universe so long as they have a duty.’ nitya-pārṣada-bhūtasya bhīṣmasya tv aprakaṭa-līlāyāṁ pārtha-sārathi-prāptir uktaiva, “Being an eternal associate of the Lord, it is said that Bhīṣma attained the Supreme Lord in His form as the charioteer of Arjuna in aprakaṭa-līlā.”


            Among the multiple sahasra-nāma-stotras, the present one is by far the most commented on. Some attribute the great popularity of the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra to Śaṅkarācārya (7th– 8th century AD), who penned what is today known as its oldest commentary.[1] Yet Śaṅkara commented only on a few texts, such as the Brahma-sūtra, Upaniṣads, and the Bhagavad-gītā, which at that time were already established among learned circles as the authoritative basis of their philosophical propositions. On these grounds, it is plausible to conjecture that the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra was by then a similarly recognised text. Nothing discards the possibility that multiple commentaries may have existed in the pre-Śaṅkara period and later disappeared, as it happened to the various Brahma-sūtra commentaries whose existence is known only through secondary references. There is no doubt that Śaṅkara’s commentaries have given impetus to subsequent scholars of different sampradāyas to present their own explanations of the same texts as a means to both refute his views and establish their respective conclusions.

            Parāśara Bhaṭṭa (11th-12th century AD), who succeeded Rāmānujācārya as the abbot of the Śrī-sampradāya, composed a commentary entitled Bhagavad-guṇa-darpaṇa (a mirror of the Supreme Lord’s qualities), wherein he extensively elaborated on the transcendental and eternal attributes of the Lord of Vaikuṇṭha, His kindness towards His devotees, and the glories of their unalloyed devotion for Him. This seems to be the oldest extant Vaiṣṇava commentary, and it has been complemented by a sub-commentary named Nirvacana, attributed to Varadācārya, which clarifies Bhaṭṭa’s interpretations and exhaustively explains each name according to Pāṇini’s system of grammar. In the form of verses in the anuṣṭup metre, a further commentary called Nirukti, whose authorship is unknown, summarises the meanings given by Bhaṭṭa.

            Although Madhvācārya (1238-1317 AD) did not write a commentary on the sahasra-nāma per se, he often glossed Lord Viṣṇu’s names throughout his various works. In the light of these, several generations of his followers presented a variety of commentaries. Vidyādhirāja Tīrtha (14th century AD), a prominent disciple of Jaya Tīrtha, composed a commentary called Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-nirukti.[2] Vādirāja Tīrtha (15th- 16th century AD) commented on selected names as part of the Mahā-bhārata-lakṣālaṅkāra, meant to gloss one hundred thousand important words through the whole Mahā-bhārata. Raghunātha Tīrtha (18th century AD) and Satyasandha Tīrtha (ibid.) also penned notable commentaries. All of them were abbots in their respective maṭhas.

There are many other commentaries composed by Vaiṣṇava followers of Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Nimbārkācārya, and Viṣṇu Svāmī, both ancient and modern, both in Sanskrit and vernacular, and there are dozens of commentaries written by authors non-affiliated to any Vaiṣṇava school.

Structure and Exegesis

            For the average reader, Lord Viṣṇu’s names here may seem to appear one after another at random, without any specific pattern or connection. It can be easily observed that sometimes names that begin with a particular letter are grouped together, but that is not consistent throughout the text. On the other hand, through their realisation, insight, and scholarship, Vaiṣṇavācāryas have unveiled innumerable mysteries hidden within this text, and that is just a fraction of something that is actually unlimited. It is said:

trayo’rthāḥ sarva-vedeṣu daśārthāḥ sarva-bhārate

viṣṇoḥ sahasra-nāmāpi nirantara-śatārthakam[3]

“Each mantra in the four Vedas has at least three meanings; each verse in the Mahā-bhārata has at least ten meanings; and each of Lord Viṣṇu’s thousand names no less than a hundred meanings.”

There is indeed no stringent principle to determine only one pattern to be followed while reading the names. Although in the traditional way, the commentators divide the whole text in ten cycles of a hundred names, the structure of the verses is flexible enough to accommodate the interpretation of some forty or fifty extra names, or even more if one would resort to everything that could be possibly justified by grammatical norms. The number comes down to an exact one thousand by either grouping words together as noun and adjective, or by reading them as compounds, as the case may be. The rules of external euphonic combination also add to an extra number of varieties. Moreover, there is a certain amount of alternative readings, and sometimes the commentaries offer different meanings depending on the reading that is chosen. Thus, each commentator has his particular way to look into the text and determine where a single name ends and the next one begins. Consequently, there is a mismatch in the list of names among various commentaries. Although only a thousand names appear in this hymn, Lord Viṣṇu has unlimited names, but these thousand names can have unlimited meanings when interpreted in connection with thousands of forms and thousands of attributes. At the same time, these unlimited names and forms converge upon one and the same undivided Supreme Person, and are non-different from Him.

Many of Lord Viṣṇu’s names are repeated several times in different verses, which some bigoted writers[4] deride as a literary flaw called punarukti (tautology). Vaiṣṇava scholars, however, have totally dismissed such shortsightedness by explaining each instance of the same name from a variety of distinct perspectives and interpretations. A similar accusation has been made on the occasional use of indeclinable words here, all of which are actually full of meaning, in contrast to what opponents allege to be mere empty words.

            There are basically three ways in which nouns can be interpreted: according to etymology (yoga), to convention (rūḍhi), and to both (yoga-rūḍha). The etymological meaning of the word kāra is “doer,” since it is directly formed from the verbal root kṛ (to do). Literally, ratha-kāra means “chariot-maker,” but conventionally this is the name of a caste. The word paṅkaja etymologically means “born in the mud,” and conventionally it means “lotus.” As the lotus is born in the mud, both senses are correctly applied here. Conventional meanings can be twofold: ordinary and those given by learned scholars (vidvad-rūḍhi). Etymology is also twofold: according to grammar (vaiyākaraṇī), and according to the usage of the sages (ārṣī). Furthermore, the common etymology applied to names of demigods and so on is here applied to the Supreme Lord in their meta-primary meaning by meta-etymology (mahā-yoga).[5] By means of all these, Vaiṣṇava commentators not only shed light on each of the Lord’s names individually, but also establish contextual connections between groups of names, interpreting them in relation to various avatāras and contemplating Their respective pastimes while reading through those names.


            Both the śruti and the smṛti abound in statements glorifying the Holy Names of Lord Hari as the utmost means to attain the ultimate goal of life, particularly in the Age of Kali. The glories of the Holy Names are found throughout the Mahā-bhārata, which is considered the fifth Veda. The Mahā-bhārata has two crest jewels: the Gītā delivered by Lord Kṛṣṇa immediately before the battle, and the thousand names delivered by Bhīṣma soon after the battle ended. The excellence of the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra has been particularly praised in the Purāṇas in the following words:

śāstreṣu bhārataṁ sāraṁ tatra nāma-sahasrakam

vaiṣṇavaṁ kṛṣṇa-gītā ca taj-jñānān mucyate’ñjasā[6]

            “The Mahā-bhārata is the essence of all scriptures, and the essence of the Mahā-bhārata is the thousand names of Viṣṇu and the Gītā spoken by Kṛṣṇa. By knowing both of these, one quickly becomes liberated.”

bhārataṁ sarva-śāstreṣu bhārate gītikā varā

viṣṇoḥ sahasra-nāmāpi jñeyaṁ pāṭhyaṁ ca tad dvayam[7]

            “The Mahā-bhārata is the best among all scriptures, and within the Mahā-bhārata, the Bhagavad-gītā and the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma are the best parts. Both should be recited and understood.”

viṣṇor ekaika-nāmāpi sarva-vedādhikaṁ matam

tebhyaś cānanta-nāmabhyo’dhikaṁ nāmnāṁ sahasrakam

            “Every single name of Lord Viṣṇu is considered superior to all the Vedas, and among His unlimited names, the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma is superior.” (Skanda Purāṇa, Vaiṣṇava-khaṇḍa, 21.53)

In the introduction of his commentary, Parāśara Bhaṭṭa summarises the importance of the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra into six points in the following words:

mahābhārata-sāratvād ṛṣibhiḥ parigānataḥ

vedācārya-samāhārād bhīṣmotkṛṣṭa-matatvataḥ

parigrahātiśayato gītādy-aikārthyataś ca naḥ

sahasra-nānmām adhyāya upādeyatamo mataḥ

            “The chapter with the thousand names of Lord Viṣṇu is considered by us as the most excellent because 1) it is the essence of the Mahā-bhārata; 2) it is sung by great sages; 3) it is has been compiled by Vedācārya Vyāsadeva; 4) it presents Bhīṣma’s highest views; 5) it is exceedingly revered; and 6) it holds the same meaning as the Bhagavad-gītā and other scriptures.”

            As the Mahā-bhārata itself is the essence of all scriptures, and the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma is the essence of the Mahā-bharata, it is understood that the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma is ultimately the quintessence of all scriptures. Its endorsement by great sages such as Nārada further corroborates its relevance and exalted position among the scriptures. Having being compiled by Vyāsadeva, Who is Lord Nārāyaṇa Himself, its authority is beyond any doubt. In the chapter of the thousand names of Viṣṇu, Bhīṣma presents his final conclusion about the multiple topics that had been previously discussed for so many days. From time immemorial, the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma has been given utmost respect by sādhus, scholars, and religious people in general, and by presenting Viṣṇu as the Supreme Lord of all and His names as the best means of liberation, it is in full consonance with the whole śruti and smṛti. Moreover, by the addition of the praṇava and the word namaḥ to each of Lord Viṣṇu’s names, a thousand different mantras are formed, which hold the same status as the mantras in the Vedas.

Philosophy in the Thousand Names

More than merely bringing out various meanings of the names and the connection between them, commentators found in the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma a powerful vehicle to impart their philosophical conclusions, and thus their interpretations are often interspersed with the views of their respective systems and doctrines. To add more authority to their comments, they also adopted the traditional dialectical approach of raising possible objections (pūrva-pakṣa) to their propositions and refuting them, amply quoting from the Upaniṣads, Purāṇas, Brahma-sūtra, and other scriptures to corroborate their arguments. This being the case in other philosophical schools, Vaiṣṇavas feel naturally inclined to gloss this text, wherein Vaiṣṇava siddhānta distinctly flows. Lord Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa, is the central topic of the Mahā-bhārata amidst innumerable other topics, but in the thousand names chapter, He is the sole topic, without any scope for diversions. Bhīṣma’s answers to Yudhiṣṭhira’s questions are thus crystal clear: Viṣṇu is the Supreme Being, the God of gods, and His names are the means to liberation. In fact, without distorting the literal meaning of the text and applying a good amount of imagination, it is not possible to come to any understanding apart from this.

Material objects and their names have different natures and attributes. The mere utterance of the word “water” serves no purpose to a thirsty person, for it is just a vibration of two syllables in the air, while the substance, water, consists of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. This principle does not apply to God and His names, for neither is a combination of material elements. The scriptures define śabda-brahma, spiritual sound, as another aspect of the Supreme Absolute Truth, which is eternal, transcendental, and immutable. Each of Lord Viṣṇu’s names expresses His forms, qualities, and pastimes, and there is no limit in what can be expressed by a single name. The śruti, the smṛti, and the names of God are non-different from God Himself, sharing the same spiritual attributes:

nāma cintāmaṇiḥ kṛṣṇaś caitanya-rasa-vigrahaḥ

pūrṇaḥ śuddho nitya-mukto’bhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ[8]

“The Holy Name is Kṛṣṇa Himself, a philosopher’s stone, a form of consciousness and rasa. It is complete, pure, and eternally free from the illusory energy, for there is no difference between the name and the named.”

Rāmānujācārya defines this relation between the name and the referent, or the quality and the qualified, in terms of apṛthak-siddhi, while Madhvācārya explains their apparent difference on the basis of viśeṣa. Following in their footsteps, subsequent ācāryas explained the thousand names in the light of these philosophical views. One of the key points in Vaiṣṇava thought, in clear contrast with other systems, is that Lord Viṣṇu’s names are not only a means to attain liberation— they are also the goal, Lord Viṣṇu Himself. Reaching this goal involves the attainment of one’s svarūpa in the spiritual world, where one eternally maintains an identity different from that of God, although sharing similar spiritual attributes. Therein, one remains serving the Lord in various capacities, including the continuous recitation of His names.


            The great popularity of the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra as an integral part of religious practises around the world is significantly due to its easiness and lack of requirements or restrictions. In contrast to the hymns of the four Vedas, which in most traditional circles are recited only by male brāhmaṇas who properly learnt Vedic intonation within a particular branch (śākhā), the sahasra-nāma can be recited by anyone without any considerations of gender, caste, qualification, time, place, or purity. Contrary to Vedānta philosophy, which is very complex and takes years of study to be grasped, the sahasra-nāma can be promptly recited by common people, whether they understand its meanings or not. Contrary to Vedic sacrifices, which require substantial amounts of money, paraphernalia, and qualified priests, the sahasra-nāma requires none of these. Even those who are illiterate or unable to pronounce Sanskrit correctly can still benefit by hearing others reciting Lord Viṣṇu’s names. Moreover, there are multiple ways in which one can benefit from the sahasra-nāma: by reading mentally, by reading aloud, by singing, by hearing, by writing down, by memorising, by remembering, by meditating on the names, by meditating on the meanings, by propagating its glories, by arranging a recitation, by gifting it to others, etc.

            In order to encourage those who are afflicted or materially motivated, the thousand names are followed by a list of results that may accrue from their recitation: freedom from inauspiciousness, victory, wealth, happiness, dharma, sense enjoyment, progeny, fame, prominence, heroism, power, freedom from fear, freedom from disease, effulgence, strength, beauty, good qualities, and freedom from sin. Indeed, the sahasra-nāma is well-known as a panacea for all sorts of miseries, and it has been applied as such in traditional medicine and astrology for centuries. In the Bṛhat-parāśara-horā-śāstra, an ancient treatise on jyotiṣa attributed to the sage Parāśara, its recitation is repeatedly recommended to counteract ailments caused by planetary influence. For instance:

viṣṇu-nāma-sahasraṁ ca hy anna-dānaṁ ca kārayet

rajata-pratimā-dānaṁ kuryād ārogya-siddhaye

            “In order to become free from disease, one should recite the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma, give grains in charity, and present a deity made of silver as a gift.” (Bṛhat-parāśara-horā-śāstra, 54.57)

tad-doṣa-parihārārthaṁ viṣṇu-sāhasrakaṁ japet

āyur-vṛddhi-karaṁ caiva sarva-saubhāgya-dāyakam

“In order to counteract such ill-effects, one should recite Lord Viṣṇu’s thousand names, which yield longevity and all good fortune.” (Ibid., 58.31)[9]

In the Caraka-saṁhitā (3.312), a standard text on Ayurvedic medicine attributed to Caraka (c. 1st century BC), it is said:

viṣṇuṁ sahasra-mūrdhānaṁ carācara-patiṁ vibhum

stuvan nāma-sahasreṇa jvarān sarvān apohati

            “By glorifying the thousand-headed Lord Viṣṇu, the almighty Lord of all moving and non-moving beings, with His thousand names, one heals all sorts of fevers.”

Subsequently, Bhīṣma mentions a few more results that may be particularly appealing to those seeking spiritual advancement: understanding the conclusion of the Vedas, self-realisation, tolerance, freedom from desires, self-restraint, and remembrance of Lord Vāsudeva. In fact, for those devotees who recite Lord Viṣṇu’s names with the sole purpose of pleasing Him, the foremost result is increasing and unflinching devotion to Him.


The context in which Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa (c. 1700-1793 AD) composed this commentary seems to be the same that led him to comment on the Brahma-sūtra, the Upaniṣads, and the Bhagavad-gītā: the necessity to legitimise the Gauḍīyas as a bona fide Vaiṣṇava-sampradāya when their credibility had been questioned in the court of King Sawai Jai Singh II (ruled 1699-1743 AD) in Amber. By substantiating the affiliation to the Madhva-sampradāya and proving that the Gauḍīyas hold valid interpretations of the prasthāna-traya, Vidyābhūṣaṇa succeeded in demonstrating their legitimacy. Yet the mission was not over, for the Gauḍīyas still lacked their own versions of other texts that consolidated the status acquired by prominent religious groups such as the Śaṅkara-sampradāya and the Śrī-sampradāya. Although not being primarily of philosophical character, the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma-stotra definitely already occupied a distinct position among scholars and religious leaders, and it is likely that Vidyābhūṣaṇa envisioned this commentary to corroborate the authoritativeness of the Gauḍīya line and to propagate its tenets. The date of the composition is unknown, but it was probably written long after the demise of Jai Singh, and possibly after other major commentaries. This is corroborated on name 889, where we see a verse written by Vedāntavāgīśa in his Sūkṣmā-ṭīkā on Govinda-bhāṣya (4.3.4).

Although the author does not directly acknowledge the names of other commentators, he often refers to their interpretations, which indicates that he had access to multiple commentaries. While some of the meanings, explanations, and quotes are clearly coming from Śaṅkara, Bhaṭṭa, and Varadācārya, there are several instances in which his sources could not be traced in the nearly fifteen ancient Sanskrit commentaries consulted in preparing this edition, some of which are unpublished manuscripts. Even while taking clues from previous commentaries, Vidyābhūṣaṇa made the Nāmārtha-sudhā an original and unprecedented work in many respects, managing to extract a Gauḍīya flavour out of the text in a unique way. Instead of the common trend shown by other authors in interpreting the names in connection with Nārāyaṇa, the Lord of Vaikuṇṭha, and the aiśvarya mood, here a large number of names has been attributed to Lord Kṛṣṇa in connection with His pastimes in Vṛndāvana, Mathurā, and Dvārakā. The whole text has been divided by Vidyābhūṣaṇa into sections of names attributed to various avatāras and their respective pastimes, and the connections and meanings are presented in a very personal and innovative manner. In several places, he remarks that Viṣṇu is actually an expansion of Kṛṣṇa, the source of all avatāras, and also corroborates Śrī Rādhā’s position as the source of all Lakṣmīs. Throughout the commentary, the author substantiates many of his interpretations by quoting extensively from the Upaniṣads, Purāṇas, Bhagavad-gītā, Mahā-bhārata, Tantras, etc. Rather than being directly from their primary sources, some of these scriptural quotes are actually from the works of Madhvācārya, Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, and Jīva Gosvāmī, which also reveals how deeply Vidyābhūṣaṇa had studied their works. As an accomplished grammarian, Vidyābhūṣaṇa also occasionally disagrees with other commentators regarding how certain names are formed and based on which rules. He continuously refers to Pāṇini’s grammar to explain both the formation and meaning of names.

[1] It is appropriate to mention that even among his followers, the authorship by Ādi-śaṅkarācārya is not totally undisputed, as is the case with other works attributed to him which may have been actually composed by one of his successors.

[2] Some scholars question the authorship of this commentary.

[3] This verse was quoted by Madhvācārya in the Ṛg-veda-bhāṣya (1) and attributed to the Skanda Purāṇa.

[4] Such as Bhāskara Rāya (18th century AD) in the introduction of his commentary on the Lalitā-sahasra-nāma-stotra.

[5] The term ‘mahā-yoga’ was coined by Madhvācārya to name certain etymological definitions specifically applied to Lord Viṣṇu. Vide his Nyāya-vivaraṇa (1.4.2).

[6] Quoted by Madhvācārya in the introduction of the Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya-nirṇaya and credited to the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa.

[7] Quoted by Madhvācārya in the introduction of the Bhagavad-gītā-bhāṣya and attributed to the Mahā-kūrma Purāṇa.


[8] This verse was quoted by Rūpa Gosvāmī in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.233) and attributed to the Padma Purāṇa.

[9] Similar statements also appear in verses 55.46, 56.47, 57.39, 58.18, 59.15, 60.5, 61.79, and 62.66.