Introducing Srilalitaa Sahasranaamam….........
(Compilation for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, TN. USA, October 2014)
There can be no end to the introduction of the numbers of divine names of Devi. Has she only thousand names? Who knows and who can limit? Thousand names are all that we can comprehend! Devi in her aspect of Srilalita is more widely and popularly worshiped in South India as Tripurasundari. She is invoked in Srichakra Yantra, meditated upon by the Panchadasee-vidyaa which is the most sacred for the Goddess and worshiped by reciting Trisati or Srilalitaa Sahasranaamam, the thousand Names after the Japa. This is elucidated in the Sahasranaama verses 23 and 25 as follows:
Japaante keertayen-nitya-midam naama-sahasrakam |
Japa-poojyaadya-saktaschet pathennama-sahasrakam || 23 ||
Idam naamasahasram tam keertayen-nityakarmavat |
Chakraraaja- archanam devyaah japo naamnaam cha keertanam || 25 ||
Sahasra means thousand and naamah means name. The word naamam is derived from the root mnaa in Sanskrit meaning that which serves the purpose of repetition. It also means namyate anena iti--mind’s inclination towards an object. It is a means by which the deity is revealed to the devotee. Nama-sankeertanam is a technique employed in the worship of the deity, singing the glory of the deity. When mind repeatedly recites the names with devotion the mind is focused on the deity within. While Japa (meditation) is focused on a single name as Moola mantra repeatedly, Naamaparayana is recitation of number of names usually 12, 28, 108, 300 or 1000. While the former is for concentration the latter is for articulation. Lalitaa Sahasranaama is really a prayer for articulation like Ramayan Path or Paaraayana about which we recently talked about. The word Japa consists of two letters Ja and Pa. Scriptures say: Jakaaro janmavicchedaha pakaaraa paapanaasana. Ja stands for the consequent cessation of the cycle of births and deaths; and Pa stands for the purification and redemption from all sins and sinful propensities.
Practically every deity of Hindu Pantheon has three modes of manifestation. Moorti worship (the three dimensional form which includes Linga and Saalagraama) which can be sculpted; Yantra, a two dimensional form which can be drawn; Mantra, the sound form which can be contemplated upon. Moorti Upaasana and Mantra are popular in Aaagama worship as Archanaa Moorti. Yantra and Mantra are prescribed in Tantric worship. Mantra when administered by a Guru, received with reverence and repeated with faith is capable of revealing the form of deity within one’s own body and mind. It happened to people like Ramakrishna Parmahamsa and others. Yantra when properly drawn and installed like a deity gets charged as it were, binding the contemplated deity to itself. This has been elaborately described and explained in the discourse on Srichakra. Among the chakras Srichakra is most popular and is installed by Adi Sankara at Kamaakshi Temple, Jonnawada, Nellore, A.P., Vadivudai Amman Temple, Tiruvottiyur, Tamil Nadu, Mookambika Temple at Kolluru, Karnataka; some other famous temples are Kamakhya Temple, Pasupatinatha Temple, Nepal and Kaamaakshi Temple Kanchipuram. In USA, Paraaskti Temple in Pontiac, Michigan has installed Srichakra.
The names in Ashtottara (108), Trisati (300) and Sahasranama (1000) are all independent but have a common spiritual purpose of focusing on Devi as Paraasakti, Supreme energy. Lalitasahasranama(LSN) itself says recitation of single name among thousand would suffice as Vishnu Sahasra Naama(VSN) says that recitation of the name Rama alone (Sri Rama Rameti) is enough to get the full benefit. Therefore one may select the names that appeal to one and recite. Unlike VSN the names in LSN are long and symbolism of each name needs to be understood and comprehended to make recital fruitful. LSN names are more for contemplation than recitation.
Lalita Sahasranama does not have superfluous addition of letters (g) just to complete the poetic meter and also the addition of “cha” as in Chamakam. The names are not repeated as in VSN and are free from the flaw of repetition of the same description. So each name has its sanctity and importance. Each of the word in LSN has a distinct connotation which can be explained only by experts or Gurus.
LSN is found in Brhamanda Purana in its Uttarakanda. It is presumed to have been delivered by Hayagreeva, Horse-necked human incarnation of Vishnu sacred to Vaishnava followers. The eight Goddesses of Srichakra Vaasini, Kaamesee, Modinee, Vimalaa, Arunaa, Jayinee, Sarvesee and Kaulinee known as Vagdevatas close to the Mother are said to have eulogized LSN stationed in the eight sided figure Ashtaara called Sarva-roga-hara Chakra. Mother Goddess is presumed to have revealed her mysteries and power to them only and they in turn have revealed that to us in the thousand names. They too seem to have selected a thousand out of the infinite number of names to help devotees to quickly realize the benefits who in turn has given the option to devotees at least to recite one name repeatedly.
Just like VSN, though most of the names have the characteristic feminine ending, there are also names which have masculine and neuter ending. This shows the Divinity as Power is Pure Bliss and has no figure whatever. This is like Parabrahman in Vedanta concept. That is why she is often addressed as Paraasakti. The entire 1000 names are taken as Maalaa Mantra or garland of Mantras. But they are classified several ways by various authors. One classification by Paribhaasha-sesha groups them to ten each containing 100 names—1) Sri Maata; 2) Mani-poo-ranaantar-uditaa; 3) Sadgati-pradaa; 4) Hree-kaaree; 5) Vividhaakaaraa; 6) Gudaanna—preetimaanasaa; 7) Dur-andolita-dirghaakshaa; 8) Desa-kaala-Paricchinaa; 9) Pushtaa; 10) Naada-roopinee. Of the fifty one letters of the Sanskrit Alphabet only 32 have been selected in selecting the first letter of the thousand names. Among the vowels the first five and am have been chosen. It is believed only letters which are divinities are chosen called Maatrikas and the rest which are harmful have not been chosen to help the devotees. But this does not sound alright as all letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are alike and Maatrikas. Probably those letters left out are hard to pronounce or hard to start a name with which one could end in wrong pronunciation. In the LSN she is described as Maatrikaa-varna-roopinee (577) and Varnaroopinee (850) which means all letters. Even Vagdevatas are grouped among all the letters. Narayansookta describes Brahman or Naarayana as: sa indrah sa aksharah --he is Indra; he is letter.
LSN has three parts or chapters--Introductory, Middle part of thousand names and the Last part of LSN Pathanaphalasruti- benefit derived from chanting LSN, like VSN seem to be added later. Phalasruti of VSN is not found in Mahabharata. From the literary point of view the author for both LSN and VNS is Vedavyaasa as all Puraanas are attributed to his authorship. The actual text of LSN is in the form of couplets in the Anushtup meter retaining the names only in the nominative case. Each line contains one or more names and the thousand names are in an unbroken garland form of 183 couplets. The last line announces: “thus the 1000 names of Srilalitaadevi are uttered--Evam Srilalitaadevyaah naamnaam sahasrakam jaguh || “
LSN in couplet form called stotra is good for recitation as paatha but not convenient as worship format for offering flower, leaf or vermilion (called archana or worshipful offer) while chanting each name individually as in temple or home worship. So when the names are used in worship, these names are taken out individually. These are called naamaavalis and not stotras. This process started with Vishnu-Sahasranaamaavali. For every Sahasranaamastotra or Ashtottara-sata-stotram for a particular deity we have today Sahasranaamaavali or Ashtottara Satanaamaavali or simply called Ashtottaram. Each name in Stotra which is in nominative case is converted to dative case with “Om” as prefix and “Namah” as suffix as shown below:
The first line of first sloka of LSN reads as follows: “Srimaataa sri mahaaraajnee srimat simhaasaneswaree”. There are three names in this which is split as follows in archana form: 1) Om Srimaatre namah; 2) Om Srisimharaajinyai namah; 3) Om Srimat Simhaasanesvaryai namah
Volumes can be written on the first letter word Mystic Om the very first sound that emerged when Brahma manifested in the phenomenal Context (naada-braahmam). The expression denotes the absolute Brahaman-(Om tad Brahma). No religious worship, ritual or activity begins without first uttering the mystic word Om like homa (sacrifice), japa (sacred chanting ), poojaa (worship), prayaschitta (expiations), Dhyaana(Meditation), Sandhyavandana (daily ritual), samskaara (sacrament) etc. To be very effective words are packed between two Oms—“Om bhoorbhuvasxsuvar Om” Hreem is the seed syllable in Taantric rituals as the taantric equivalent of Vedic Om, yet hreem is not used while performing Ashtottara Sata or Sahasnaama worship. The terminal sound in m in hreem has bindu anuswara along with the crescent moon or half-moon period as in Om which are present only when articulated, and not when written. The complex seed Om is identified with Brahman and hreem with Mother Goddess, whose presence and power are sought to be packed into the Mantra. Maatrkosa says it is Om that contributes to the stability to the Mantra and makes it effective—Omkaaro vartulastaaro mantraadyah pranavo dhruvah. At the end the lips are not closed as is with normal am (period) and the sound somewhat lengthened to show its transcendental nature or Tureeya Avastha (fourth Phase)
Om is a composite of a, u, ma which symbolizes several triads—Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva; The three Vedas—Rig, Yajus, Saama; The three worlds—Bhooh (Earth), Bhuvah (Mid region), Suvah (Heaven); the three effulgence, Agni (fire), Soma(moon), Soorya (sun)-the three eyes of Siva; the three states of existence—wakeful, dream, deep sleep: the three conditions of Consciousness—antahprajna, bahirprjna and ghanaprajna; three kinds of Power—Icchaasakti, Kriyaasakti, Jnaanasakti; The three genders—Pullinga, Streelinga and Nishkalaalinga and others. All things in the universe are pervade by Om. According to Brihat-parasara Smriti without Om no sound can be uttered and nothing can be communicated.
The names chanted in the Sahasranaama are descriptive of the various manifestations, glory and beauty of Mother Goddess. The thousand names show unity and continuity, the oneness of Supreme Principle with no second, pervading the universe and transcending it. This form has no gender or sex, attribute or character and is hailed as Nirguna and Nishkala. In other words it is Brahman alone. This is what the Om added to the name signifies. Om is added only in the beginning in Sahasranaama. While chanting the names slight pause is made after each name after each namah. Namah means paying obeisance. It is the termination of each mantra like the Om which is the beginning. Without Om at the beginning would fail to be a mantra and makes the mere name ineffective.
Before starting the Sahasranama Japa it is customary to do Sankalpa resolution and it is also customary to announce the name of the deity, the seer (the author) of the mantra and the meter(chhandas) in which the mantra occurs. For LSN the deity is Lalitaa also referred as Lalitaamba, Lalitaa Paraabhattaarika, Lalitaa-tripurasundari. As regards the seer, the eight Vaagdevatas headed by Vasinee are mentioned. The meter in which this composition of Maalaa Mantra or LSN stotram appears is given Anushtup, same as VSN. In fact all Sahasranama slokas seems to have the same meter started by Valmiki in his Adikavya Ramayana whose soka (grief) turned to Sloka (couplet). It is customary to symbolically place the three details Devataa, Rishi and Chhandas on the parts of the body. This is done by touching the heart announcing the name of the deity, touching the head and announcing the name of the Seer or rishi and touching the tongue or mouth announcing the meter or Chhandas (prosody). This is to remind the Goddess is in one’s heart, the seer is the preceptor and so must be held on the top of the head (Gururbrahma—preceptor is Brahman) and to remind the meter has to be articulated. It is a common sight to observe lips of the devotee are moving while silent chanting or meditating even though no voice is heard. The purpose of chanting thousand names of Lalita is to lead a good life reaping the full benefit of all the four Purusharthas (aspirations of human life)--Dharma (virtue), Artha (prosperity), Kaama (pleasures) and Moksha (liberation devoid of Moha). Moksha consists of two words Moha+Kshya=Moksha, that is to attain a status when one does not feel the need for any desire other than merging with Paraasakti.
1. Krisnayya Setty & Sons, Sri Lalita Sahasranaama, Bengaluru, India.
2. Swami Chinmayananda, Thousands names to the All Pervading, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
3. Anna, Soundaryalaharee, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
4. Ramachadra Rao, S.K., Srividya Kosa, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, India.
[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganeha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further. These lectures are posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]