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On the name "Narayana" used to denote Supreme Brahman in the Vedas

This is an article regarding the word "nArAyaNa". It is well known that vaiShNavas prove viShNu paratva (Supremacy of Lord Vishnu) using the name nArAyaNa. One can look into the introduction of the SrI Rudram vyAkhyAna on this blog to understand how viShNu paratva is arrived at.
The shaivas pose the following argument:
  1. nArAyaNa, even if it means a proper noun according to panini can still denote Shiva as he can be equated to this deity.
  2. nArAyaNa is not a proper noun since there is no rule that the veda needs to follow panini grammar.
Argument 2) arises because shaivas are defeated by 1) and hence resort to this. But we will explain both. I am not going to go into details as to how viShNu paratva is proven because that has already been summarised in the shrI rudram intro section of the blog. But this article will simply clarify some truths with respect to the name “nArAyaNa”.
nArAyaNa as a proper noun since all vaidikas have accepted this. And it is very easy to show that nArAyaNa does not denote Shiva.
Panini grammar states this name is a proper noun because of the Na-kAra. This has been discussed already and needs no more explanation.
Since nArAyaNa is a proper noun, the following explanation is arrived at. A word can have a yaugika or rUDhi artha. Yaugika artha is a meaning obtained by joining words while rUDhi points to the commonly known meaning for the word. But when the word is accepted to be a proper noun as per panini grammar due to the Na-kaara, the yaugika meanings of the word nArAyaNa also point to the one who is denoted commonly by this name (rudi). Names like Shiva, Indra, Brahma, etc which are common nouns and hence can denote anyone besides the popular deities.
As an example, "shUrpanakha" can mean anyone with large nails like a winnow if yaugika is used. But when it becomes shUrpaNakha, a proper noun as per paninian grammar, it denotes the sister of rAvaNa who has large winnow-like nails. In other words, if it is a proper noun, all meanings of the word denote the commonly known person referred by the name – in this case, the sister of rAvaNa.
So, similarly the proper noun makes the meanings of the word nArAyaNa denote only the person who is commonly referred to by the name. And the only one who is commonly referred to by the yaugika and rUDhi usage of the name is shrI mahA-vishNu.
In other words, the name “nArAyaNa” has several meanings – “One in whom all things inhere”, “One who is the resorted to by all”, “One whose abode is in the waters”, etc. Because of the “NakAra”, ALL these meanings denote the person commonly known by this name, which is of course, shrI vishNu.
Some ignorant of Sanskrit grammar and vaiShNava traditions mistakenly think we use only the meaning “He who lies in the waters” to identify vishNu with nArAyaNa. This is nothing but stupidity. Due to paninian grammar, even the yaugika artha of “He in whom all things inhere” denote only mahA vishNu and not any other deity.
But then, shaivas try another argument: It is not necessary to take Paninian grammar since the veda itself does not need to follow such rules.
To that we say: The very context where the nArAyaNa nAma occurs itself establishes it as a proper noun. What other sUkta has the words “param brahma, para tattva, paro jyotiH, etc” so explicitly stated? All sUktas glorify vishNu only. But the choicest and most clarifying epithets are used with this nAma. The reason is because while other sUktas are also bhagavad stutis, the vedas expect us to begin with the most appropriate name for Parabrahman – nArAyaNa. So, all proofs must proceed from this name. Secondly, shrI rAmAnuja establishes in his vedArtha saMgraha the reason why the nArAyaNa sUkta holds precedence over others like indra sUkta, agni sUkta, etc.: Those other sUktas have come about because of a specific reason – take the example of the rudram. The prashnam came about because of a desire to quell the wayward indrIyas and recommends propitiating narasiMha. So, the underlying motive is indrIya nigraha. Therefore, it directly embarks on praising the bhagavad guNas (like beauty of his arms, etc) without dwelling much on giving a definition of Brahman.
But the nArAyaNa sUkta has no such underlying motive. It is solely devoted to ascertaining the true nature of Brahman and hence takes precedence over other sUktas. Please keep in mind that this does not belittle other sUktas – they all glorify bhagavAn only.
Common sense itself shows this paninian grammar holds.
However, let us humor our opponents. Without even using Paninian grammar, it is easy to prove that nArAyaNa is not shiva or anybody other than vishNu. Firstly, nArAyaNa occurs in the same context as the terms “sath, Atma, brahman”, etc. And the reference to “para tattvam”, etc in the nArAyaNa sUkta shows that nArAyaNa is unambiguously the highest term for the supreme reality.
Secondly, because Shiva has been declared as different from nArAyaNa by various shruti vAkyas, he is not nArAyaNa. These shruti vAkyas include such as the following:
  • "eko ha vai nArAyaNa AsIt, na brahmA, neshAnaH"
  • "nArAyaNAt brahmA jAyate, nArAyaNat rudro jAyate"
And so on.
Thirdly, the vishNu gAyatri equates this nArAyaNa directly with vishNu:
"Om nArAyaNAya vidmahe, vAsudevAya dhImahi, tanno viShNuH pracodayAt".
Whereas, the rudra gAyatri uses the format,
tatpurushhaaya vidmahe mahaadevaaya dhiimahi | tanno rudraH prachodayaat.h ||
As interpreted elsewhere on this blog, the usage of “tatpuruSha” is to show the following meanings: “Rudra, who belongs (as vibhUti) to Brahman designated as tat (tasya paramAtmanaH puruShAya). Or, one can take nArAyaNa as “tatpuruSha” - ‘sa cAsau puruShashcha’ – and say “we meditate on Rudra to attain that puruSha known as nArAyaNa” which means that the usage of “tatpuruSha” is to show that Rudra is different and distinct from this puruSha and only leads the seeker to him.
But in the case of the vishNu gAyatrI, the usage of the “nArAyaNanAma directly shows the identity (as opposed to merely acting as a mediator in the case of rudra) of nArAyaNa with vishNu.
Other pramAnAs like “hrIshca te lakShmIshca patnyau” as referring to the consorts of vishNu have already been explained.
Fourthly, names such as “shiva”, “shambhu” etc are addressed to nArAyaNa in the nArAyaNa sUkta itself as well as viShNu sahasranAma showing all these names denote viShNu only.
Thus, nArAyaNa is a proper noun  because:
  • Panini says so.
  • All ancient vedAntins have accepted this. shrI yAmunAchArya explicitly states in stotra ratna – “what vaidika would deny nArAyaNa is the parabrahman?” showing that no vaidika – advaitin, vishishtadvaitin or dvaitin – ever contested this during his time.
  • The context of the name in the veda itself indicates this.
This nArAyaNa is viShNu and all meanings of the name denote only lakshmIpathi viShNu and no other deity because:
  • Other deities have been declared as distinct from nArAyaNa.
  • Only viShNu is identified with nArAyaNa along with distinctive characteristics. This is proven both by using the “Na-kAra” rule (“pUrvapadAt saMj~nAyAm agaH”, aShTAdhyAyi 8.4.3) and even without using it.
  • It also rules out bizarre claims that nArAyaNa is nirguNa brahman, etc. Adi Shankara himself has only used the “nArAyaNa” with the “Na-kAra” showing that it denotes a specific entity, ie, saguNa brahman. Besides the fact that nirguNa brahman is devoid of names, the “Na-kAra” makes it impossible to attribute this to any entity besides lakShmIpati viShNu. And as seen earlier, even without “Na-kAra”, it denotes saguNa brahman, ie, viShNu. Even according to shaivas like Appayya Dikshita, who had to accept this fact after much debate.


  1. Dear Sir, why is it that some people think that Narayana is a name of Surya? What are the basis for such arguments by the non-Vaishnavas? As far as I can understand, Suryanarayana only shows that Surya is a Vibhuti of Narayana. Is this correct?

    1. As a note to our readers, we will be more active in a few weeks. We have other engagements now and haven't been able to update the blog with some articles.

      In answer to your question, firstly, nArAyaNa is a name that cannot be used to denote anything. Its the reverse - every name denotes nArAyaNa. Secondly, the reason why some people equate vishNu with surya is because there is an Aditya named vishNu.

      Krishna names this Aditya as "AdityAnAm ahaM vishNu" in the Gita. It cannot be argued that this Aditya is mahA vishNu because in the case of rAma, krishNa says "rama sastrabhRtAm aham". Note that for vibhUtIs like rudra, he says simply "I am sankara among rudras", but for rAma he says "I am rAma among the wielder of weapons". This means, since rAma is verily krishNa, rAma cannot be a vibhUti (property) of krishNa. So, the attribute of wielding weapons here is the vibhUti. krishNa does not say "among manushyas, I am rAma" purposely for this reason, that he is rAma himself. Whereas no such qualification is mentioned for "rudrAnAm sankarAscasmi" which shows sankara himself is a vibhUti (property) of krishNa and hence the former is a jivAtma.

      That is however, not of consequence. Even if "AdityAnAm ahaM vishNu" is interpreted as mahA vishNu, it only means bhagavAn takes avatAra among Adityas.

    2. Thank you sir. Hopefully all your other engagements will be resolved soon.

      I do have a couple of questions.

      1) You said that Narayana cannot be used to denote anything. Does it not denote Supreme Brahman Lord Vishnu?

      2) Is the Aditya being named after Supreme Lord Vishnu a classic case of naming oneself after Brahman?

      3) Does Narayana denote only the 4 armed Vishnu with form or can it denote a formless Brahman?

      Best wishes with this blog. I am glad to see it being active again.

    3. 1) You said that Narayana cannot be used to denote anything. Does it not denote Supreme Brahman Lord Vishnu?

      Read the article. It is not possible to repeat everything. What I meant was, nArAyaNa cannot be applied to common nouns but common nouns are applied to nArAyaNa. This nArAyaNa is the being who is well-known as lord vishNu and not any other deva because of the reasons given in the article - the panini sutra and vishNu gAyatri explain it.

      2) Is the Aditya being named after Supreme Lord Vishnu a classic case of naming oneself after Brahman?

      Every name is a name of Brahman, so there are no "classic cases". Even names like rudra, indra, agastya, vishwamitra, pulastya etc are names of Brahman. The reason each being names itself that way is based on its own limited attribute. Indra names himself so because he is king of svarga and has wealth. But Indra is a name of nArAyaNa who is supremely wealthy as he pervades all and owns all as his vibhUtIs.

      The aditya known as vishNu is the greatest of the 12 suns. Since rays of the sun pervade, obviously he has named himself vishNu.

      The term vishNu is also used to denote the all pervasive knowledge of the mukta jiva. These are common nouns unlike nArAyaNa which is the only term that ONLY denotes supreme brahman and no other vastu. We have already explained how nArAyaNa is equated to vishNu deva, the latter being an avatAra among the devas.

      When bhagavAn says "avajanAnti mAm muda:" - fools mistake me as being human, he includes those who mistake him as equal to other devas as well. Because devas are also within the realm of samsAra like manushyas, they are subject to birth and death and their bodies are made of prakrti.

      3) Does Narayana denote only the 4 armed Vishnu with form or can it denote a formless Brahman?

      The term nArAyaNa denotes the supreme reality which has taken avatArAs as rAma, krishNa, kurma, matysa, vishNu deva (among the devas), etc. Whether 4 arms, or 2 arms, or having the body of a fish, turtle or woman (mohini), this being is always the lord of lakshmi, ie, sriman nArAyaNa.

      Brahman is always associated with a form and distinct from its form. The different forms all are characterised by the same attributes, suddha sattva and subhAsraya. This is a big topic that cannot be explained in a comment - it requires knowledge of the astra bhUshaNa adhyAya of vishNu purAna, the brahma sUtrAs and the upanishad tattvas.

    4. The term nArAyaNa is a proper noun and hence both yougika as well as rudi is applicable only to the person popularly known by the name, ie, bhagavAn vishNu. The vishNu gAyatri also states the same. It does not mean its a "4 armed form" or "2 armed form" only - it is the name of Brahman who has all these suddha sattva forms, and this Brahman is different from jivAs like Brahma, Rudra, Indra, etc.

      To clarify all confusions, let me quote srI pillai lOkAchArya who elucidates the meaning of the name lucidly as follows. No more questions will be entertained on this subject as we intend to move on to other topics post sep 10.


    5. contd..

      ---The word “ nAra ,” as in nara , nAra , and nArAh, is form the root “ri --” meaning “to be destroyed.” Thus the ra refers to things which are destroyed and the word “na” negates that; [this yields] “nara,” indicating the things that are eternal and are not destroyed. The suffix an which gives the meaning of a group, lengthens the vowel to yield nAra, meaning the group of eternal objects. Because it is in the plural (nArah), this means a collection of groups. Thus [piLLai lOkAchArya] says “the [entire] collection of eternal beings.” Here, “eternal” refers to the meaning of the word nara , “beings” refers to the meaning of the word nAra , and “group” refers to the meaning of the plural form. These "naras" collectively refer to [his] qualities of knowledge bliss, purity, etc, (jnAnAnandAmalatvAdi), knowledge and power, etc. (jnAna SaktyAdi), affection, affability, etc. (vAtsalya souSeelyAdi), the holy figure (tirumEni),, brilliance, tenderness, etc. (kAntisoukumAryAdi), the divine ornaments (divyaBooSaNa), the divine weapons (divyAyudha), the consorts beginning with Sri, the eternally free soul’s (nityasoori), the parasol, whisk, etc. (chatrachAmarAdi), the chief guardians of the holy gates, the leaders of the retinue of gods (gaNAdhipar), freed souls (muktar), the supreme realm (paramAkASa), primordial matter (prakriti), bound souls (baddhAtmAkkaL), time, the evolutes [of prakriti] mahat, etc. the cosmic eggs, entities such as gods, etc. which are contained in the cosmic eggs.

      “ayana” means the support or locus (ASraya) for them. Since the word ayana means support or locus (ASraya), saying that [he is] their ayana [he is] their support or locus. If not interpreted as a tatpuruSha compound meaning “the support or locus for them,” it may be taken as a bahuvrihi, meaning “the one who has them as his support or locus.

      Form these two [phrases] – “the support for “nAras” and “the one who has nAras for his support” – the meaning that the results is 1. his supremacy (paratva) in being the support (AdhAra) for all things other than himself, and
      2.his accessibility (soulaBya) in which the very one who is [their] support in this way enters into all sentient and insentient [beings] and resides there.

      Or, [the Lord’s] status as the inner controller (antaryAmi), means (upAya), and goal (upEya). What results from the two compounds – bahuvrihi and tatpuruSha – may be [interpreted as follows]:

      1. [His] status as the inner controller (antaryAmi) – that is, as the controller situated in the inner soul of all sentient and insentient beings, as stated in the antaryAmi brAhmaNa. (brihadAraNyaka upaniShad 7.1—23)
      2.[His status as the means (upAya) and goal (upEya), which is shown in the instrumental and passive formation of the word ayana—whose root is either I --, “to go,” or ay--, “to go.”(*)

      When interpreting the bahuvrihi, it is appropriate to the context to take the word “ nAra ” as referring to things other than [the Lord’s] qualities. Similarly, in interpreting the tatpuruSha, when he takes the word “ayana” to mean the upAya and upEya, the word “nAra” must be taken as referring to sentient beings and not insentient. This meaning is stated in such passages as [the following] - nAras are interpreted to be the collection of all persons. nArAyaNa is known by them as their way and support. (Attributed to pAdmottara purANa 254.52)----


      This nArAyaNa is identified as the deva vishNu in the shAstra, the latter being an avatAra of nArAyaNa in the deva loka just as krishNa, rAma, etc are avatArAs in the manushya lOkas. That much is enough, leave it at that.

  2. Replies
    1. Atharva Rahasyam provides another perspective on Sriman Narayana as vishnu.

      This sruthi is traditionally known as LakshmiNarayanaHrudayam.
      Lakshmi is associated with Vishnu as we all quite well know. So Narayana is Vishnu.
      The first 16 slokas after the dyanaslokam is given below.
      Translation is by P R Ramachandar. Sloka 5 reverberates sri vaishnava viewpoint.

      1 . Om Narayanah paramjyotiraatma narayanah paraa
      Narayanah parambrahma narayana namostute||

      Narayana is the divine light and our soul is divine Narayana,
      Narayana is the divine Brahmam and I salute Narayana.

      2 . Narayanah parodevo dhatha narayanah paraha
      Narayanah parodhyata narayana namostute||

      Narayana is the divine God and Narayana is the divine giver,
      Narayana is the supreme support and I salute Narayana.

      3. Narayanah paramdhama dyanam narayanah paraha
      Narayanah parodharmo narayana namostute||

      Narayana is the divine abode and is the object of meditation.
      Narayana is the divine Dharma and I salute Narayana.

      4 . Narayanah parodevo vidya narayanah paraha
      Viswam narayana ssakshaath narayana namostute||

      Narayana is the divine God and he is the education,
      Narayana is the real universe and I salute Narayana.

      5 . Narayanad vidhir jato jato narayanad bhavaha
      Jato narayanad indro narayana namostute||

      From Narayana was born the Brahma and Shiva and ,
      Indra was born to Narayana and I salute Narayana.

      6 . Ravir narayana stejah chandro narayanomahaha
      Vahnirr narayana ssakshaath narayana namostute||

      Sun shines because of Narayana and moon gets light from Narayana,
      And the fire is really Narayana and I salute Narayana.

      7 . Narayana upaasya syaad gurur narayanah paraha
      Narayanah parobodho narayana namostute||

      Narayana has to be meditated as he is our Supreme Guru,
      Narayana is the highest wisdom and I salute Narayana.

      8 . Narayana param mukhyam siddhi narayanah sukham
      Harir narayana shudhih narayana namostute||

      Narayana is the divine necessity and he gives us pleasure,
      And Narayana is purity and I salute Narayana.

      9.Nigama vedhithanantha kalyana guna varidhe,
      Narayana Namosthasthu nara karnava tharaka||

      Oh Ocean of good qualities enumerated in the Vedas,
      Oh God who helps me cross hell, My salutations to Narayana.

      10.Janma mruthyu jara vyadhi para thanthrayadhibhi sada,
      Doshairaspashta roopaya Narayana Namosthuthe||

      Oh God who is not touched by birth, death, old age and diseases,
      Which arise out of the bondage, my salutations to Narayana.

      11.Veda Sasthrartha Vijnana sadhya bhakthye khagochara,
      Narayana namosthesthu , Mamudhara bhavarvatha||

      Oh God who can only be seen by devotion arising out of,
      The knowledge of Vedas and Sasthras, my salutation to Narayana,
      I request you to lift me out of the hell of domestic life.

      12.Nithyananda mahodhara parathpara jagad pathe,
      Narayana namosthesthu Moksha samrajya dhayine||

      Oh God of everlasting joy, who is extremely benevolent,
      Oh God who is higher than the highest and Lord of the universe,
      Oh God who gives us salvation, My salutations to Narayana.

      13.Aabrahmasthamba paryantham Akhilathma mahasraya,
      Sarva bhoothathma bhoothathman, Narayana namosthuthe||

      Oh God who is in all things from a grass to Lord Brahma,
      Oh God who is in every being in this world, My salutations to you.

      14.Palithasesha lokaaya, punya Sravana keerthana,
      Narayana namosthesthu , pralayodhaka sayine||

      Oh God who protects the world, chanting whose name leads to blessings,
      Oh God who sleeps on the ocean of milk at deluge, My salutations to Narayana.

      15.Nirastha sarva doshaya bhakthyadhi guna dhayine,
      Narayana namosthesthu , thwam vina nahi may gathi||

      Oh God who removes all defects and showers good characters on us,
      I salute Narayana because I do not have any other refuge other than him.

      16.Dharma artha kama mokshascha purushartha pradhayine,
      Narayana namosthesthu punasthesthu namo nama||

      Oh God who bestows Purushathas like Dharma, wealth, passion and salvation,
      My salutations to Narayana, Again and again my salutations to him.

    2. Kindly use only the shruti and smrti texts quoted by pUrvAcAryas. If what you have provided has been quoted by ancient AcAryas of any of the three predominant vedAnta darshanas, kindly provide a reference.

      A humble request also not to post translations of P R Ramachander and the like who are not scholarly.

  3. MantraRajapada sthothram - Rudra praying to Narasimha
    Rudra - ahirbudhina
    दासभूताः स्वतस्सर्वे ह्यात्मानः परमात्मनः |
    अतोऽहमपि ते दासः इति मत्वा नमाम्यहम् ||

    dAsabhUtA: svata: sarvE hyAtmAna: paramAtmana: |
    atOahamapi tE dAsa: iti matvA namAmyaham ||

    All devotees of Parama-Purushan Narasimhan seek His sacred feet of their
    refuge for protection. adiyEn follows this group of blessed PrapannAs and
    perform SaraNaagati at Your feet with the bhAvam (mood) of Your Servant.
    Rudran states that He is conducting himself as the servant to Lord Narasimha
    and as One who has performed Prapatti to Him as His Master


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