The Chanting of the Bhagavan-nama or the Divine Name has an important place in all the disciplines of the Vedic traditions. The adoration of the Divine by the name takes two forms – Japa and Stotra. Japa is the silent repetition of a single Devine name or of a Mantra. The Stotra, however, is invariably uttered aloud, and it may consist of chanting verses conveying the Glory and attributes of the God. The Sahasranam is perhaps the most popular and the holiest form of Stotras among devotees.
The Word Sahasranama means “Thousand Names”. According to the Vedic tradition there is only one manifestation sound (sabda) indicative of the supreme being (Para-Brahman), and that is called the ‘Om’, as far as the human ears could capture it. Just as that one Para Brahman is adored as manifestation in the form of many Deities, the one name ‘Om’ is indicative of Him, as It takes innumerable sound forms representing Divine attributes and other excellences. Sahasranaam is perhaps the most extensive elaboration of the God’s Names.
Developing the “Inward Concentration” is the main essence of the devotional practice of the ‘Sahasranama’. Even for Great Man like Arjuna it is difficult to the Inward Concentration. In Gita 6.34 Arjuna asks Krishna “The Mind is fickle, turbulent, powerful and unyielding. To control and concentrate is as difficult as controlling the wind itself.” So aspirants walking in the spiritual path are given the practices of varying subtlety for communion with the God. Concentrated Meditation is the highest form of communion, Japa comes next; and the Stotra and external worship come still after. While meditation and Japa can be only done imperfectly by the majority of men, Stotra and external worship can be practiced much more successfully and with greater devotional satisfaction. Hence the importance of Stotra in devotional practice.
A Stotra has Six Characteristics – Salutation, Benediction, Statement of doctrine, Praise of the Deity and his attributes, Description of his valor, forms and deeds, and Prayer. While there are Sahasranama Stotras in praise of most of the Deities of Hindu Pantheon, two of them have attained great popularity and form parts of the devotional programs of the worship of the deities to whom they are related. These are Lalita Sahasranama in praise of the Deity as the Devine Mother and Vishnu Sahasranama in praise of the Lord conceived as Maha Vishnu.
Vishnu sahasranam is a part of the Shanti parva of the Mahabharatha, Tradition says that it was composed by Sanaka, one of the Kumaras (eternally living Youths) and was transmitted to Bishma who recited it in the presence of Lord Sri Krishna to the Pandava Brothers when he was questioned by Yudisthira: Who is that Being who is the supreme Lord of all, who is sole refuge of all and by praising and worshiping whom man gains, what is good and attains to Salvation?” The Thousand names of Maha Vishnu is the answer that Bhisma gives to this enquiry.
Besides its inherent quality, the importance of the stotra has enhanced a hundredfold by the fact no less a personage that the great Sri Adi Shankaracharaya thought it worthwhile to write a commentary on it, expounding the meanings of the various names that find place in it.
The VishnuSahasra naam is the most widely chanted by people in all stations of life. A devotee should daily chant the Upanishad of his Sakha, the Gita, Rudram, Purushasukta and Vishnusahasranam. It is believed that in any case if one is not able to recite all the five on any day, chanting Vishnu Sahsranamam is sufficient.
Vishnusahsranam is open to all, irrespective of Gender, caste, creed. It can be chanted during any time of the day no special rituals are obligatory on one chanting it.
Audio : Sri Sri Tridandi China Jeeyar Swamiji (http://www.chinnajeeyar.org/)