The origin of the Vishnu Sahasranama
The Vishnu Sahasranama (sometimes referred to as the 1000 names of Vishnu) was first chanted in praise of Lord Krishna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Kurukshetra war involved two feuding sides of the same family dynasty called the Kurus and the Pandavas. The war lasted for a total of 18 days and it is said that 4.8 million people died from both sides. During the war, a great warrior called Bhishma on the side of the Kurus had been shot with many arrows, and he stayed there, lying on this bed of arrows waiting to die. In the past, Bhishma had received a blessing that he would die only when he decided.
On the Kurukshetra battleground, Yudhishtir (eldest brother of the Pandavas) approached Bhishma. Seeing him lying on the bed of arrows, Yudhishtir and his brothers bowed down in respect to him. Bhishma had always stood up for his dharma. He thought that his dharma was to protect the throne of Hastinapur, and to stand by the king. This is what he had promised to his father, and he had stood firm on his promise.
The Pandavas were sitting at the feet of Bhishma looking at him quietly with great reverence, deep sadness and affection. Seeing his grandsons sitting next to him, he praised them saying, “I knew that you were the ones who would win this war. You deserved to win, not because you are all great, but because you had the Lord, the greatest one, with you.” The Supreme Lord, who is Himself present within the heart of Bhishma He was thus standing in front of him, and the conversation between Bhishma and Yudhishtir is actually part of the Vishnu Sahasranama.
How it was first chanted
Yudhishthira asks Bhishma the following questions on his death bed: In this world who is the one refuge for all? Who is the greatest Divinity in the world? By praising and worshipping, who can a person reach the height of spirituality? By chanting whose name, can a creature proceed beyond the limitations of samsara?
Bhishma answers by stating that mankind will be free from all sorrows by chanting the Vishnu Sahasranama. He said the thousand names of the all-pervading Supreme Being Vishnu, who is the master of all the worlds, the essence of the universe, the supreme light and who is Brahman. All matter that is animate and inanimate resides in Him, and He in turn resides within all matter in the universe.
Bhishma tells the Pandavas, “Lord Krishna is the supreme enjoyer of everything. It is Bhagavan Himself who is standing here. Don’t look at Him like He is just a normal man with the crown on His head, adorned with peacock feathers, and dressed in yellow. Don’t let yourself be bewildered by His Maya. He is the one who is doing everything, He is the one who goes through everything and it is He who enjoys everything. Besides, it is He who is standing here supporting you all. Bhishma then went on to recite the Vishnu Sahasranamam in praise of Lord Krishna. The same chant has been recited in temples for centuries and the good news is anyone can chant the 1000 names of Vishnu and benefit from the effects, even today.
Benefits of The Vishnu Sahasranama
The Vishnu Sahasranama is extremely powerful. It has the ability to deliver a person from the wheel of birth and death to emancipation who chants it with devotion. Just listening to Vishnu Sahasranama removes anxiety and unfavourable karma. Chanting without even knowing the full meaning is beneficial, it can:
- Help overcome negative astrological influences from the planets
- Creates spiritual growth and knowledge of the Atma
- Overcomes financial difficulties and brings good luck
- Relieves the mind from stress and helps it focus on positives
- Helps you attain self-confidence and pursues goals confidently
- Forms a protective barrier around the mind and body from enemies
- Brings peace to the home where the chanting occurs
- Helps cure infertility and diseases of the physical body
- Enhances all-round spiritual growth and knowledge
- Removes sins from past lives and helps us to become more virtuous
- Propels us closer to the Supreme Being and attain Moksha (salvation) in the afterlife
How to get started chanting the Vishnu Sahasranama
We run Vedic chanting courses in Bhakti Marga. One of the courses we teach is the Vishnu Sahasranama. If you are interested in learning the Vishnu Sahasranama or other Vedic hymns, please reach out to us on our contact page. If you are new to Vedic chanting in Sanskrit, we recommend you start with our free Sanskrit class and work up to the Vishnu Sahasranama from there.