Episode # 30 – Birth of “SHRI VISHNU SAHASRANAMA” – Bhishmacharya’s masterpiece!!!

In the previous episode, we had witnessed the second part of the Mahabharata structure, wherein we’ve witnessed the brief contents of the “Parvas” that explain the Kurukshetra war in detail. We’ve witnessed the “Bhishma Parva”, wherein Bhishmacharya was the “Senapathi” (Leader) of the Kaurava army. For the first ten days of the war, Bhishmacharya led the army from the front and all of these details are covered in this “Parva”. Subsequently as Bhishmacharya falls down, Guru Dhronacharya takes over, which is explained in the “Dhrona Parva”. Finally when Guru Dhronacharya too falls down, Karna takes over. This is described in the “Karna Parva”. Subsequently when Karna falls down, King Shalya takes over. We’ve seen a brief background of who this King Shalya is – He was the uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, which means that he was Maadri Devi’s brother. He was the ruler of the Madra-Desha, who, instead of fighting on behalf of the Paandavas, slipped away into the Kaurava army, thanks to Duryodhana’s elaborate hospitality. 

It is thus at the end of the Shalya Parva, the Mahabharata war comes to an end. Duryodhana falls to Bheemasena in the final assault of the “Gadha-Yuddha” at the end of this Shalya Parva. At the end of the war thus, the Kauravas were totally destroyed, without anyone surviving! Subsequent to this, the next “Parva” is called “Soupthika Parva”. This “Parva” comprises of two “Upa-Parvas”, and this talks about what happened the night after Duryodhana falls on the ground dead. This is where, Ashwatthaama, who is Guru Dhronaachaarya’s son comes to the Paandava camp secretly at night and launches a brutal assault to kill all the five “Upa-Paandavas” and Drishtadyumna. It is to be remembered that it was this same Drishtadyumna who killed Guru Dhronacharya with his sword, when he had dropped down his weapons, unable to bear the false death news of his son. Thus, Ashwatthama wanted to seek revenge against Drishtradyumna and the rest of the gang, and launched an assault with his “Asthras” during the middle of the night. This assault marked the end of the “Upa-Paandavas”, who were the sons of the Paandava brothers. It is at this point, Parikshit was born, which we would be seeing in detail when the time comes. 

Next to this is the “Sthree Parva”. This is where all the women in the Hastinapura Kingdom mourned the death of their husbands in the brutal war. We’ve seen the intensity of destruction, isn’t it? Thousands and thousands of men lost their lives in the war on both sides, and the wives of all these people cried their hearts out over the loss of their beloved ones. Simultaneously, the “Jala-Tharpana” of the departed souls was also performed by their sons and daughters. In some cases, the wives did it themselves for the husbands, as they did not have children. This is a very tragic event and it is described in detail in this “Sthree Parva”. This “Sthree Parva” comprises of three “Upa-Parvas” and 27 “Adhyayas”. 

Subsequently after all these things are over, Yudishtra goes back to the battlefield where Bhishmacharya is still lying there on the arrow-bed. Readers must be knowing that when Bhishmacharya fell down during the war, he did not die unlike others. He had a boon that he could exert total control over his death. Thus, he was holding his breath amidst the pain of being on the arrow-bed to see the end result of the war. Subsequently as everything comes to an end, Yudishtra goes to Bhishmacharya and there is a long discussion about the various aspects of “Dharma” that a king should exercise towards his subjects. Bhishmacharya explains this in a great deal of detail and this is talked about in the “Shanti Parva”. This is a very big “Parva” and in fact, one of the biggest in the entire Mahabharata. This “Shanti Parva” comprises of three “Upa-Parvas”, however, these “Upa-Parvas” won’t have names ending as “Parva”. The first “Upa-Parva” under the “Shanti Parva” is termed as “Aapad-Dharmam”. Second one is named as “Raaja-Dharmam”. Third one is called “Moksha-Dharmam”. This “Parva” in total comprises of 365 “Adhyaayas”. This is why I mentioned that this is one of the longest “Parvas” in this text. 

Next to this is the “Anushaasana Parva”. Once Bhishmacharya explains the three important aspects of Dharma in detail, Yudishtra is still not satisfied. He still goes ahead and asks thus, 

“Shruthvaa dharmaa na seshena paavanaani cha sarvashaha!

Yudishtirah shaantanavam punareva abhya bhaashatha!!”

Here, Yudishtra replies to Bhishmacharya thus, “Oh Bhishmacharya! You had explained all types of “Dharma”. However, I’m not fully satisfied with your explanations. Of course, whatever you’ve said is all true and very much applicable. I have no disregard for that. However, I feel that you’ve missed something very important in this whole discussion. I feel that you’ve missed out an important aspect of “Dharma”. Please think about it and clarify!” As Yudishtra asks thus, an important aspect of the Mahabharata was born. This is nothing but the “Shri Vishnu Sahasranama”. Thus, the “Vishnu Sahasranama” is nothing but an extended conversation between Bhishmacharya and Yudishtra. Bhishmacharya now explains who Bhagawan Krishna is and how He had incarnated in this world to re-establish the “Dharma” that had faded away. In due course, Bhishmacharya declares to the world that Bhagawan Krishna is an incarnation of Bhagawan Vishnu Himself from Vaikunta, and with this, Bhishmacharya explains the thousand names of Bhagawan Vishnu, which even today we chant as “Shri Vishnu Sahasranama”. 

Thus, the important “Shri Vishnu Sahasranama” forms part of the “Shanti Parva”. We’ve witnessed that the Bhagawad Gita formed part of the “Bhishma Parva” earlier isn’t it? Thus, these two sections of the Mahabharata are like two jewels that we’ve got from this great text! So for today, let us understand up to this point, and we shall continue this discussion further in the next episode! Stay tuned! 🙂 

Published by Dr. Jeayaram

Holds a PhD in Management Psychology from Universite Paris Saclay, Paris, France. Also an Asst. Professor of Human Resources management at Bharatidhasan Institute of Management (BIM) Trichy, India A professional South Indian classical musician (singer) performing concerts. Through this blog, I'm trying to bring out the richness of Indian culture & values and I request your support and feedbacks in making this humble effort a success!!

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