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The glory of chanting

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The glory of chanting

The diverse names of Krishna were construed on account of his numerous forms as conceptualised in the Indian tradition, writes Dr Asha Goswami

The fascinating aspect of Krishna’s personae is that he serves the only instance in the world history where a person ever acquired so vast number of names and epithets by virtue of his deeds and high personal qualities. The great number of names acquired by Krishna is, in fact, a measure of his greatness. The Vishnusahasranama in theMahabharata consists of a long list of names attributed to Krishna. In the Puranas also one comes across various names of Krishna. He is called Janardana, Govind, Madhusudhana, Madhava, Achyuta, Keshava,Vasudeva so on and so forth. Study of theMahabharata shows that he was addressed differently by different persons with whom he came into contact.

For instance, Draupadi addresses him as Govinda, whereas, Arjuna calls him Madhusudana, Madhava, and Acyuta. As the human intellect is too feeble to understand the mystery of the divinity and divine epithets, one is naturally desirous to know how Shri Krishna acquired so many names and epithets and what significations each name carries.

The tradition goes that various oft-repeated adjective epithets and names of the Lord have some hidden meanings. The objective is to solve the mystery behind the diverse names of Shri Krishna. Sufficient clues to it are available in the scriptures. For instance, in the Mahabharata, Arjuna had asked Shri Krishna about the imports of the names by which the Lord is mostly adored. Then Shri Krishna gave ample clues to solve the mystery of his various names by stating that: “I am evoked with many names. But among these names, some are subordinate figurative and metaphorical, while the others are derivable from my attributes, and some others relate to my acts.”

From this statement of the Lord, it follows that there are two categories of Shri Krishna’s names. One comprises the names which are assigned to him on account of his various deeds (karmaja) and the same are therefore quite famous. While, the second category consists of those names which are figurative and hence are subordinate (gauna) and are not used so often. Besides, the Brahmavaivartapurana refers to a list of 11 names with which Shri Krishna was addressed by Yudhishthira. Similarly, the Vishnusahasranama presents a list of synonyms illustrating Krishna’s connection with the Yadavas and other anecdotes of the epic. Of these there are 20 names of Krishna which are very famous. Herein only the popular names of the Lord will be discussed with reference to their purports and significations.

To start with Vasudeva name, which will be explained as “one who is the son of Vasudeva of the Yadava clan”, or that who covers or pervades the whole universe and also that in whom the whole universe resides, since Shri Krishna himself has explained this  name that “I am Vasudeva because I am the abode of all beings and also that I pervade the whole universe”.

Let us next know why Krishna is called Keshava. Firstly, because he is immeasurable as being above the power of speech to describe. Secondly, he is called Keshava on account of the reasons that He being the presiding deity of sun possesses Keshas ie, the rays, in the form of Sun, He provides heat to the world; one who donates the brilliance of the Sun-Moon, fire; since he is the killer of the Keshi demon in the form of a horse-Keshava Keshisudana; since He combines in himself the trinity Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva (K+a+isha) and also above all since he has very beautiful long curly hair.

Although all names of Shri Krishna are propitious, Keshava is especially productive of boons (vardam naam Keshavah). Keshava epithet also denotes “one who sleeps in Ke-sea waters; and that one who is the abode of all the beings”.

Next, as to why Krishna is addressed as Hari? Because he par takes the appropriate share of offerings (ahutis) made by the devotees in prayers; because his complexion is like the Harit gem (nilamani) and is ever beautiful and charming; because he destroys (harati) the world assuming the form of Prachand-Rudra; and since he daily removes the sins of his devotees.

Further about Krishna’s most famous name Damodara, it be learnt that he is called so since his brilliance is uncreated and is very of his own sva prakashashatvat, also that he has self-control (doman) and is endowed with rope (dama) around his waist; as he is attained by the devotees who have restraint over their senses; that who as sky remains between heaven and Earth. Similarly, Krishna is called Govinda because he is well versed in the Vedas; for his knowledge of the speech of every kind; because he always resides in truth and truth in him; because in former Yuga, he in the form of boar had raised the earth that had submerged in the depths of sea waters and as he is thus the only sovereign of earth; since he is also that one who got afloat on waters on the leaf of banyan tree at the time of destruction of the world; since he is knowable by prayers and last not the least one who is the obtainer of the cows. Govinda name of Krishna is important as it connects him with the cows, gopas and gopis.

Krishna’s other name Madhava suggests him as the Lord of penances; as Lord of Maya, Saraswati and Radha (Mahalakshmi) because he is the descendant of Madhu clan; because he has slain the Madhu demon, He is Mukunda because he destroys the evil karmas of his devotees; and bestows moksha, excellent belief, love and faith on them. He is known as Achyut as he had never swerved from his highest  state (param brahmatva).

Over and above all, he is called Krishna — the best of his names — as is said: “Krishna naama param naama”. He is Krishna since he tills the earth in the form of black plough share; because he destroys the evils of his devotees; since he combines within happiness and eternal peace, excellence and since he grants all these to his devotees. His Krishna name also proves him as an enticing personae who proves the motto of unceasing action, since the name Krishna denotes one who is always tireless in action — aklishta karman.

While concluding, it is ascertained that the diverse names of Krishna were construed on account of his numerous forms as conceptualised in the Indian tradition for fulfilling the spiritual urge of the people at large apart from serving the key notes to his mysteries which would be impossible otherwise.   

The writer is a noted Indologist and authority on Krishnaite Studies




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