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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.