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Skambha Sukta - A Sri Vaishnava Commentary (Part 1)

The four Vedas were divided by srI veda vyAsa on the following basis – 

  1. The Rg Veda describes the auspicious attributes of sriman nArAyaNa and identifies him alone as the Supreme Reality as vouched by the statements like “ekaM sat viprA bahudhA vadanti” and “yo devAnAm nAmadhA eka eva” Several sUktas glorify nArAyaNa by various names like Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Rudra, Soma, Vayu, etc. Only that god with all auspicious attributes is the Supreme – kasmai devAya haviShA vidhema reinforces it. This Veda represents the “akAra” of OM as it talks about the glories of viShNu (akAro viShNuvAcakaH, akAravAcyo vAsudevaH).

  1. The yajur veda highlights that the performance of duties must be done with the knowledge that sriman nArAyaNa is the enjoyer of all sacrifices and offerings. That is highlighted in the nArAyaNa sUkta which occurs in the yajnIki Upanishad – nArAyaNa is the param brahma, param tattvam, paro jyotiH and para AtmA. Everything is pervaded by him and as he has everything as his body, all offerings go to him.  So, he alone is to be propitiated. This veda is the “ukAra” of OM as the “ukAra” means that sriman nArAyaNa ONLY (and no other) is to be resorted to.

  1. The sAma veda takes these two in conjunction and identifies that the means to attain nArAyaNa is the Lord himself. Thus, upAsaNa is performed with the knowledge of the auspicious attributes of sriman nArAyaNa and by dedicating all activities to him with the knowledge that he is the sarvAntaryAmin. Thus the sAma veda is the Rg Veda set to music and also shows that the karmas prescribed in the yajur veda are ancillaries to “upAsana” which is the theme of the Veda and its most prominent Upanishad – the Chandogya. This Veda is the “makAra” of OM which signifies the jIva, as the purpose of upAsana is to identify via direct perception, the essential nature of the jivAtmA, which is sheShatvam (servitude to the Lord) and the jIva having nArAyaNa as its indweller.

  1. The atharvaNa veda thus, occupies the pride of place as the chaturthi vibhakti of OMkara. Once the above three are understood properly, the only thing left is to continuously reflect on tattva traya – the three realities of cit, acit and iSvara – until moksha is attained. Thus, this veda contains a mixture of themes elaborating on the nature of cit or the jivAtma, the nature of acit or prakrti (matter, the mind, sense organs, etc) and the nature of paramAtma as well. The atharvaNa veda reinforces the truths of the three Vedas.

Unfortunately, the atharva veda, out of the 4 vedas, has suffered the most at the hands of indologists, tantriks and other veda-bAhyas, who have misinterpreted it. Not understanding the highly metaphorical nature of this magnificent veda, they have called its themes as describing black magic, spells and all sorts of nonsense. So, let this write-up also show how lofty the themes contained in this veda are.
The skambha sUkta in the atharvaNa veda (10-7) is one such sUkta which elaborates the tattva traya and describes the artha pAnchakam – the nature of the jivA, the nature of paramAtma, the nature of the means to liberation, the nature of the  obstructions to liberation and the nature of the highest goal to be attained.
The following is a commentary on this sUkta faithful to its true meaning. This is a rebuttal to several vaiShNava-baiting shaiva groups who have misappropriated and misinterpreted this sUkta. The claim is that the term “skambha” refers to the shiva-linga based on the lingodbhava story occurring in the tAmasa purANas. The term “skambha” is misinterpreted as “pillar” and hence “shiva-linga”.
Indeed, thanks to useless indological interpretations floating around the internet, some clueless vishNu dveShis have completely misappropriated this sUkta. Therefore, we feel a clarifying commentary on this portion of the veda is warranted.
To that we reply as follows –
  1. The lingodbhava story is discounted since it occurs in the tAmasa purANas which contradict the veda. This has already been elaborated in the section on tAmasatva of purANas in this blog.

  1. The veda itself says – “nArAyaNAt brahmA jAyate, nArAyaNAt rudro jAyate, nArAyaNAt indro jAyate” and “eko ha vai nArAyaNa AsIt, na brahma, neShAnaH”. Rudra is declared as anapahatapApmA. Hence, there are innumerable proofs from shruti that the Lord nArAyaNa alone is praised by all sUktas and bears all names.

  1. Even the popular Shaiva-friendly commentator Sayana does not say that the sUkta praises shiva in the linga form. He simply says that the sUkta is an exposition on the mUla brahman, who is superior even to the four-faced brahmA.

  1. The term “skambha” does not imply a physical pillar. Neither does it mean “pillar”. The term means “support”. This meaning is apt to the descriptions of the sUkta which describe this Being as the support of various entities – prakrti, the jIvas, the supreme abode, the true devotees, the means to liberation and so on. The collection of all these is called “nAras”.

  1. The term “skambha” is etymologically connected with the “-ayana” sabdam in “nArAyaNa”. According to srI pillai lokAcArya, - “ayana” means the support or locus (Ashraya) for the nAras. Since the word ayana means support or locus (Ashraya), 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.”

  1. We have the following pramANa in the shAstra (pAdmottara purANa 254.52) as quoted by srI pillai lOkAchAryA – “nAras are interpreted to be the collection of all persons. nArAyaNa is known by them as their way and support.”

  1. The sUkta talks about a collection of entities like gods, prakrti, the jIvas, the supreme abode, the devotees, auspicious attributes of bhagavAn, the means to attain him etc. These are collectively known as “nAras” according to the above pramAnA. “skambha” means “support” and is synonymous with the “-ayana” sabda.

  1. Therefore, the sUkta is a praise of sriman nArAyaNa only, who is known as “skambha” as he is the support of the nAras.

In fact, the entire sUkta can be summed up in a one liner – this sUkta is a commentary on the meaning of the name “nArAyaNa”. For, it describes the nAras in detail and also the Lord who is the support of these.
A point to note is that some mantras tend to repeat in the sUkta, wherein either the meaning (what was said earlier) is repeated again or the mantras itself repeat in a modified form. This should not be construed as a doSha or flaw of redundancy. When someone is meditating on Brahman, the ecstasy is such that by experiencing his guNas, he tends to repeat it. srI rAmAnuja often repeats certain auspicious attributes of bhagavAn in the gadyas due to his joy on experiencing the Lord. Yet another explanation is that the description of certain tattvas are repeated because they are to be reflected on constantly by the jivA – thus, repetition is not a doSha this way either.
With that knowledge and by the grace of pUrvAchAryAs, let us begin the study of this sUkta.

kásminn áṅge tápo asyā́dhi tiṣṭhati kásminn áṅga r̥tám asyā́dhy ā́hitam
kvà vratáṃ kvà śraddhā́sya tiṣṭhati kásminn áṅge satyám asya prátiṣṭhitam 1
Meaning: In what part does the tapas or penance which is the concentration of the mind abide? In which part does Rtam or the individual self that has no modification in its essential naturereside? Where is karma or performance of duties (vratam) and conviction (sraddha) established? In what part is truth (that leads to archirAdi) established?
“tapas” is the concentration of the mind.
“Rtam” means that which is not subject to modification in its essential nature, ie, the jivAtma.
“Sraddha” is conviction that paramAtma alone is the supreme goal.
“satyam” refers to truth which is part of upAsana along with “vrata”, which is the performance of duties. The duties include good deeds such as building temples, tanks, etc as laid down by the smritis and also rituals for various gods like Indra, Agni, Surya, etc (with the knowledge that paramAtmA is the inner self of all).
Truth refers to speaking words for the good of others according to srI ranga rAmAnuja muni – bhUta hita vachanam. This is an accessory of upAsana that leads to the devAyana and is part of the means to liberation.
What is the support of all these? The question posed by this mantra is answered in the mahAnArAyaNOpanishad, 6th mantra which says Brahman is bhuvanasya nAbhi, or the hub of the Universe as he is the ground.
In other words,it is the Supreme Brahman, without which nothing exists and to him are tapas, shraddhA, vratam and satyam directed towards, performed by the jivA who is Rtam. In Gita 9.24, bhagavAn refers to himself as “prabhureva” which means – as He is the ground of the universe, He is the dispenser of all fruits. This is more clearly brought out in the next mantra.
kásmād áṅgād dīpyate agnír asya kásmād áṅgāt pavate mātaríśva
kásmād áṅgād ví mimīté 'dhi candrámā mahá skambhásya mímāno áṅgam 2
Meaning: From which part does agni shine forth? From which part does air proceed? From which part does the cool light of the moon (chandramA) traverse (ie, illuminate the earth)? Of (which) part of Skambha, the support of all, the waters sound?
“skambha” – The Support of the Universe.
The name “skambha” means the support of all. He is the support of the Universe, the ground of all being, the very existence of all. And hence, the bestower of all fruits. As mentioned in the Gita 9.24, bhagavAn is “prabhurEva” by virtue of being the ground of all and hence the dispenser of the fruits of all karmas as sarvAntaryAmin.
That bhagavAn is the support of the Universe is mapped to the following sahasranAma nAmas – “vyavasAyaH vyavasthAnaH samsthAnaH sthAnadaH dhruva:”.
As proven in the introduction earlier, it is only sriman nArAyaNa who is referred to as “skambha”.
The reference to angas is to elaborate that everything functions according to his will like the limbs of a body. This establishes complete dependence. The BrihadAraNyaka says "aN^gAnyanyA devata:"
Note that "anga" does not occur for "kva vratam kva sraddha" - this is because these are dependent primarily on the jivA and secondarily on paramAtma (his will is needed for the jivAtma to execute its will, on which are dependent the performance of duties and conviction). Since the degree of performance of duties and conviction varies and is not always in tune with paramAtma's will (though he allows it), the "angam" is not mentioned there.
This does not mean it is not dependent on his will, rather that the dependence is absolute but indirect. By his will, he allows jivAs to execute their will.
In contrast, satyam, tapas, the jivAs and the deities - agni, matarisva, waters, moon, etc are his angams as they are directly subservient to him or controlled by him.
kásminn áṅge tiṣṭhati bhū́mir asya kásminn áṅge tiṣṭhaty antárikṣam
kásminn áṅge tiṣṭhaty ā́hitā dyáuḥ kásminn áṅge tiṣṭhaty úttaraṃ diváḥ 3
Meaning: In what part does earth abide? In which part does antarIksha or the intermediary region abide? In what part does dyuloka or the celestial region abide? In what part does the highest world, ie, srI vaikunta known as uttara diva abide?
“uttaram divaH” – refers to paramam padam.
kvà prépsan dīpyata ūrdhvó agníḥ kvà prépsan pavate mātaríśvā
yátra prépsantīr abhiyánty āvŕ̥taḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 4
Meaning: What is the (goal) of the shining (path) that leads the desirous (mummukshus) upward? Where does the transmigrating jivA (mAtarisvA) desirous (of mOksha) go? Who indeed, tell me, is the One who covers the three worlds, that which is the support of the worlds, (who) alone (is) the best or the foremost (because he protects the worlds by enveloping them), unto whom the desirous (the devotees) go towards, ie, whose thoughts are always directed towards?
“dIpyata UrdhvO agniH” – The shining path of archirAdi. “Agni” refers to that which leads upwards (UrdhvaH) to moksha. The desirous here refer to mummukshus. Or, it could be the path lead by Agni as the deities of the light beginning with Agni. Meaning is the same.
“mAtarishvA” – The isavasya upanishad refers to the transmigrating jivA as vAyu. Since the jivAs move like wind ceaselessly in samsAra, they are called “mAtarisvA” here. Since the archirAdi path is traversed by those mummukshus who are transmigrating in samsAra, it is relevant to mention transmigration here.
“AvRttaH” –Bhattar quotes taittiriya Upanishad 1.1 for the nAma “varuNa” in the sahasranAma -  yena AvRtam kham ca divam mahIm ca - He by Whom are covered the Ether, the Svarga, and the Earth" – so, “AvRttaH” means he who envelopes the three worlds as well.
"skambam" and "katamah" are repeated in the subsequent mantras. Each time they have a different meaning based on context. Here, he is the support of the worlds and hence, the foremost protector.
The desirous, ie, devotees, go towards him, meaning, their thoughts are always directed towards him.
And finally, the nature of the enquiry is set. “Tell me, O Acharya, about that Brahman which is the support of the worlds, by virtue of which he envelopes and protects the three worlds, and who is the best or the foremost protector of all because of this?”
Yatra – who, prepsantIr – desirous, abhiyanti – go towards/up, AvRtah – filled with/concealing, skambham – the support, tam – unto him, brUhi – tell me, katamaH – the best/out of many, svid – indeed, eva – only, saH –that which
kvā̀rdhamāsā́ḥ kvà yanti mā́sāḥ saṃvatsaréṇa sahá saṃvidānā́ḥ
yátra yánty r̥távo yátrārtavā́ḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 5
Meaning: Where do the (jivAs) associated with (bright) halves of months, the year constituted by the months go? Who indeed, tell me, is that which is the support of the means (or the paths)  to attain the goal, (who) alone (is) the best or the foremost (because of being the means), to whom (the jivAs associated) with time and periods of time go to?
“ArdhamAsaH”, “mAsAh samvatsarEna saha” – the presiding deity of the bright half of the months, the presiding deity of the year constituted by the months. This refers to the adi-vahikAs of the archirAdi gathi as seen in the panchAgni vidya prakaraNam of the chAndOgya Upanishad and gita.
“samvidAnaH” – should be taken as the jivAs associated with these half-months, months and year. Because of very close association, the jivA himself is termed “months”, “year” etc. In the panchAgni vidyA, similar usage is seen when it is said that the transmigrating jivA “becomes” cloud, “becomes” rain, etc. In reality, the jivA is in close association with these elements and hence designated as these elements, but does not literally become these.
“rtavO”, “ArtavaH” – The jivAs on the path of liberation associated with time and divisions of time. The kaushItaki upanishad says that the jivAs, upon reaching paramam padam, have a dialogue with paramAtma and say the following:
“So strive, O divisions of time, to make me immortal, by that truth, by that austerity, I am time. I am of time.” ~ Kaushitaki Upanishad.
This is a recognition of time as an accessory for upAsaNa.
Note that each time, “skambam” and “katamah”, meaning the best or foremost and support respectively, is interpreted based on context. In the previous mantra, he is the support of the worlds, and hence, the foremost protector. Here, he is the support of the paths which are the means to attain the goal and hence, the foremost means to attain the goal. This is in the context is of archirAdi gathi, which is supported by him.
kvà prépsantī yuvatī́ vírūpe ahorātré dravataḥ saṃvidāné
yátra prépsantīr abhiyánty ā́paḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 6
Meaning: What is (the nature of that Brahman) associated day and night with the two young devIs of different natures (ie, hrI and srI), in agreement, seek with speed (Arti)? Who indeed, tell me, is the One who is obtained (after such mediation), that which is the support of the senses, unto whom the desirous waters (the mind and the senses) go towards, ie, whose thoughts are always directed towards?
“yuvatI virUpE ahorAtrE” – The puruSha sUkta says “hrIsca tE lakShmisca patnyou; ahOrAtrE pArShvE”.  This is interpreted by the AchAryAs as “He is associated day and night (ie, always) with bhU devi and Lakshmi devi”.  He is always associated with these eternally young consorts as indicated by “ahOrAtrE”. Although this describes mOksha sthAna in the present context, it is applicable in general everywhere.
These devIs are of different natures (virUpE). While srI dEvi is the epitome of all prosperity,  bhU dEvi (hri) is the epitome of modesty.
AchAryAs also say that the two dEvIs mediate for the jivAs as follows – SrI devi asks bhagavAn – “what jivA has not committed sin? Hence, forgive the jivAs”. But bhU dEvI goes one step further and asks bhagavAn – “In reality, these jivAs have never committed sins”. This shows the difference in their approaches and hence, “virUpE” is justified here as well.
“dravataH samvidAnE” - However, despite being different in natures, these two devis are in perfect harmony with respect to their goal – which is to mediate on behalf of the jIvAs and ensure bhagavAn’s grace is secured for them. They do this very speedily, meaning, they are easily able to persuade him and also act quickly in compassion for the jIvAs.
“ApaH” – “waters”, refers to the senses. Those who know this tattva seek bhagavAn with their mind and senses, denoted by “waters” which refer to the subtle elements constituting these organs. Thus, he is Skambha as he is the support of the mind and senses.
“skambam”, “katamaH” – As he is attained by those with intense longing, he is the support of these devotees and hence, the foremost goal of attainment for them.
yásmint stabdhvā́ prajā́patir lokā́nt sárvām̐ ádhārayat
skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 7
Meaning: Tell me about that (Brahman) which is the support of (Brahma), the best or foremost of gods (as he is superior to Brahma), on which Prajapati (who) established all the worlds, is firmly fixed (in meditation)?
Note that the nature of inquiry here has nothing to do with any ambiguity over which deity is Brahman. By asking “who/what/which” all the time, the sUkta is only enquiring about the nature of Brahman. What indeed is his essential nature that makes him the support of all? Because we can clearly see from the queries, the knowledge of Brahman being the support of all is already there.
Stabdhva – firmly fixed in meditation or one who firmly abides by the directions of sriman nArAyaNa. This is an adjective of Brahma.
This mantra has an upabrahmaNa in the mahAbhArata as well:
yuga-kOTi-sahasrANi vishNum-ArAdhya padma-bhU: |
punas-trailOkya-dhAtRtvam prAptavAn-iti SuSRuma ||  ~ mahAbhArata, kuNTataropAkhyAnam
Meaning: Worshipping VishNu for one thousand million yuga-s, the lotus born catur-mukha-brahmA attained the ability to create the three Worlds.
The svetAsvatArOpanishad refers to Brahma as “devAnAm prathamaH” indicating that Brahma is superior to all gods (for the benefit of viShNu-dveShIs reading this, this includes Shiva as well since Brahma is his father and teacher). Brahman is thus, the support of Brahma (skambam) and the foremost of gods as he is older than even Brahma (katamam).
yát paramám avamám yác ca madhyamáṃ prajā́patiḥ sasr̥jé viśvárūpam
kíyatā skambháḥ prá viveśa tátra yán ná prā́viśat kíyat tád babhūva 8
Meaning: Of that Universe characterised by higher, lower and middle (worlds) that prajApati (Brahma) brought forth, how much of he who is the support of the jivAs (skambhaH) entered (having jivAs as his body) and of that (skambhaH), how much remained without entry  (ie, remained in paramapada)?
“kiyatA skambhaH praviveSa”  - After the creation of the Universe, Brahma guided by his antaryAmin, created the classes of gods, men, etc. And hence, individual selves were allotted bodies and became gross forms in the Universe. Since the jivAs are the body of Brahman (yasya Atma sarIram), all names which designate the jivAs denote Brahman owing to inseparability. Since paramAtma is all-pervading and has no need to “enter” the Universe, the reference to entry is only to the entry of the jivAs who have paramAtma as their antaryAmin. In other words, sriman nArAyaNa, with the gross forms of the jivAs as his body, entered the Universe.
It is in this sense he is called “skambhaH” here – the support of the jivAs. The jivAs acquired gross forms and entered the Universe. So, it is said that paramAtma, who has the jivAs as his body, entered the Universe. This is the crux of sAmAnAdhikaraNyam and sharIrAtma bhAva. The pramAna – “anEna jivAtmanA anupravishya nAmarUpE vyAkaravANi” establishes this.
The taittiryOpanishad reiterates the same thing – “Having created that, that brahman (having the jivAs as its body) entered into that itself”. The mahAnArAyaNOpanishad also contains the following – “He entered into all such created entities, moving and non-moving, such as herbs, plants and animals and puruShas, (as their innerself) is Brahman”.
For the next line, which asks how much of skambha entered and how much remained without such entry,this must be understood in the context of the puruSha sUkta which says - pAdo 'sya vishvA bhUtAni tripAdasyAmRtam divi.  One part of that puruSha sustains the universe and three parts are in paramapada.
One part refers to the paramAtma who is the form of the jivAs in samsAra (as sarvAntaryAmin) who are born again and again. The remaining three parts are the three forms that are hidden– namely, the object of experience (bhOgyasthAna), the place of experience (bhOgasthAna) and the instruments of experience of paramAtma (bhOgOpakaraNasthAna). These refer to paramapada, hence they are hidden.
kíyatā skambháḥ prá viveśa bhūtám kíyad bhaviṣyád anvā́śaye 'sya
ékaṃ yád áṅgam ákr̥ṇot sahasradhā́ kíyatā skambháḥ prá viveśa tátra 9
Meaning: Of what qualities or nature is that supporter of the jivAs, who has entered the (jivAs) existing (ie, presently being born)? Of what qualities or nature is this (Brahman) who exists near, ie, has as his body, (those jivAs who will be born in) the future? Of what nature is that supporter of the Universe, who has entered that part of his (prakrti) which he made thousand-fold, ie, variegated?
As explained earlier, “entering” only refers to Brahman being the innerself of the jivA who moves about in samsAra. The mahAnArAyaNa Upanishad says that Brahman is the innerself of the jivAs who were born before, who are being born presently and who will be born in the future. “bhUtam” refers to jivAs being embodied, or born in the present, while “bhavisyad” refers to jivAs that will be born in the future.
As mentioned earlier, one part of that Brahman is the Universe or the jivAs migrating in samsAra, who constitute his body. So “ekam yad angam” refers to prakrti here.
SvetasvatAra Upanishad calls prakrti as that “one unborn, which is creating manyfold creatures similar to itself”. What it means is, prakrti which is of the nature of sattva, rajas, tamas – is the producer of varied entities (objects of enjoyment and the jivAs associated with bodies) that are similar to it in nature, ie, they have varying proportions of the triguNas.
The same thought is expressed here by saying that one part becomes infinitely many. “sahasradhA” must not merely be taken as a thousand, but of infinite/many-fold forms.
“kiyatA” must not be taken as “to what extent” or “how much” as it makes no sense to ask how much he has entered into the present and future beings. In this context, it refers to an inquiry on the essential nature and qualities of Brahman.
yátra lokā́mś ca kóśāṃś cā́po bráhma jánā vidúḥ
ásac ca yátra sác cāntá skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 10
Meaning: Who indeed, tell me, is that supporter of the sentients and insentients, the foremost or superior to the sentients and insentients, the source or cause or limit (as the innerself) of the sentients and insentients, that men know (meditate as) in whom (is supported) the worlds, the coverings of the Universe, “water” signifying the subtle elements and unmanifested prakrti (consisting of the collection of sentients and insentients)?
“asat” refers to prakrti which is changing constantly in its svarUpa and svabhAva. “sat” refers to the jivAs who do not undergo any changes in their essential nature.
“skambhah”, “katamah” – he is the supporter of sat (jivAs) and asat (prakrti) and hence the foremost or superior to both.
“anta” – used in the sense to denote that he is the source, cause, end or limit of the jivAs and prakrti, ie, he is their innerself.
“ApaH” – This does not merely indicate “water” only according to srI ranga rAmAnuja muni but also indicates the other subtle elements including water, which make up the universe.
“brahma” – The unmanifested prakrti which is the collection of  sentients and insentients is known as brahma according to the Gita 14.3 ~ “This Brahman is my womb”. The mundakOpanishad 1.1.9 also says – “Of him is born (this food) of the form of Brahma and through that, food having name and form”. srI rAmAnuja as well as Upanishad bhAshyakArar say that the Upanishad uses “brahma” to denote the unmanifested prakrti which is the collectivity of sentients and insentients.
janA vidhuh – “janA” refers to all classes of men, gods, etc (and not merely humans). “viduh” refers to the fact that they meditate on Brahman in this manner as the support of everything. The word “viduh” does not indicate mere knowing or vAkyartha jnAna, but denotes meditation or jnAna visEsaNa upAsaNa.
Yatra – in which, lokams – the worlds, kosams – the enclosures of the Universe, apa – water signifying the subtle elements, brahma – prakrti which is great, janA – men, viduh – know, asat – the insentient, yatra – in which, sat – sentient, anta – the source, skambham – supporter of the sentients and insentients, katamah – the best or foremost as he is superior to the sentients and insentients
yátra tápaḥ parākrámya vratáṃ dhāráyaty úttaram
r̥táṃ ca yátra śraddhā́ cā́po bráhma samā́hitāḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 11
Meaning: Say indeed, that supporter of auspicious attributes (Skambah) and the foremost as he possesses all attributes (katamah), is he in whom (exists) tapas, ie, the quality of having the knowledge to guide the chEtanas out of samsAra, having excelled , ie, surpassed all obstacles, (parAkrama), bears or sustains (dhArayati) the vow (vratam) which rescues (uttaram), ie, the vow to protect and hence rescue those who surrender and in whom is fixed the jivAtma whose essential nature undergoes no modifications (Rtam), conviction (sraddha) and prakrti characterised by the subtle elements signified by “waters” (ApO brahma).
Now, the sUkta gives a definition of Brahman by describing his auspicious attributes.
“tapaH” – yasya jnAnamaya tapaH – the name occurs as “mahA tapaH” in sahasranAma and also in mundakOpanishad. This signifies that he has the knowledge to lead samsArIs to moksha – namely, he knows their distress as well as their desires.
“parAkrama” – Owing to the knowledge denoted by “tapas”, he excels or surpasses all obstacles to the fulfilment of that knowledge and uplifts all jIvAs.
“Vrata” – this name occurs in the sahasranAma as “su-vrataH” and refers to his vow of protecting those surrendered to him. As srI rAma says – “sakRdeva prapannAya tavAsmIti ca yAcatE. Abhayam sarva-bhUtEbhyo dadamyetat vratam mama” – “This is my vow, that to him who seeks protection from me just once and says ‘I am Yours’, I give him protection from all beings”.
“uttaram dhArayati” – This name also occurs in the sahasranAma (uttarO gOpatir gOpta). Uttaram – uttaraNAt uttarah. He is the rescuer of the devas from the asurAs by virtue of the previous qualities and hence, supports the devas. The vow of saranAgati is “uttaraM” as it rescues the jIvAs, and he bears or sustains that vow.
Having described his attributes that arise due to his nature, the next line begins again with “rtam ca yatra” to show a new set of attributes he possesses by virtue of association. These include those which he has as his body – “yasya prithvi sarIram”, “yasya Atma sarIram”.
“rtam” refers to the individual self and “ApO brahma” refers to prakrti with subtle elements as explained in previous mantras where these terms occurred. They are his body.
“sraddha” refers to conviction that paramAtma is the supreme goal. Since bhagavAn himself is the means to the end (amRtasya sEtu:), he has sraddha as his body or he himself is the means which is the conviction, to attain the end.
“skambhah”, “katamaH” – since attributes by nature and by association are described, these terms here denote that he bears all attributes and hence is superior to all by virtue of that.
yásmin bhū́mir antárikṣaṃ dyáur yásminn ádhy ā́hitā
yátrāgníś candrámāḥ sū́ryo vā́tas tiṣṭhanty ā́rpitāḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 12
Meaning: Say indeed, that supporter of existence (Skambah) and the foremost of all that exists (katamah), is he in whom (is established) the earth, the intermediary region and the celestial regions, which rest (on him for their existence), in whom Agni, Chandra, Sun and Wind abide as dependents.
The previous line talks of insentient entities, namely, the earth, intermediary and celestial regions. Hence, the usage “YasminadhyAhitA” later shows that they rest on him for existence, ie, without Brahman, they wouldn’t exist. That much is the nature of the insentients. Since they lack sentiency, they do not have seshatvam, but their existence is due to him.
But the next line talks about sentient entities like Agni, Surya, etc and hence the words “tisthantyArpitaH” means – they abide as dependent on him, ie, they are sentient beings who are subject to him (seshatva) by their essential nature.
“skambhah”, “katamah” – As this mantra talks about the essential nature of insentient entities (dependence) and sentient entities (seshatvam), he is the supporter of existence and hence foremost of all that exists.
yásya tráyastriṃśad devā́ áṅge sárve samā́hitāḥ
skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 13
Meaning: Say indeed, that supporter of the three and thirty gods (Skambah) and the One superior to all these gods (katamah), is he on whose limbs are fixed all three and thirty gods, ie, they are his vibhUtIs.
The three and thirty gods are the eight vasus, eleven rudras, twelve adityas, Indra and Prajapati. YajnavAlkya says in the brihadAraNyaka Upanishad that though there are 3306 gods, all of them are either the powers or manifestations of these thirty three gods, and hence, there are thirty three.
The Upanishad goes on to say that all these gods are vibhUtIs of Brahman as srI ranga rAmAnuja muni explains – tatasca brahmaNo mahimAn: sarvE deva: iti paryavastita: artha:
yátra ŕ̥ṣayaḥ prathamajā́ ŕ̥caḥ sā́ma yájur mahī́
ekarṣír yásminn ā́rpitaḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 14
Meaning: Say indeed, that supporter of the rSis (Skambah) and the foremost of all the rSis (katamah), is he wherein (abide) the rSis born prior to all  (sapta rSis), the rk, sAma and yajur veda, the cow (speech of the form of the three vedas), on whom  the foremost rSi kapila (expounder of sAnkhya) is dependent (for knowledge).
“skambhah”, “katamah” – bhagavAn himself is called a maharSi by the svEtAsvatAra 3.4 as he is infinitely omniscient. Hence, he is the foremost of rSis as well.
BhagavAn says in Gita 10.7 that the sapta-rSis –marIci, atri, Angiras, pulastya, pulaha, kratu and vaSista were born of him (through the agency of Brahma).
“mahI” means cow and refers to speech which is of the form of the 3 vedas – rk, yajus and sAman. brihadAraNyaka Upanishad 5.8.1 enjoins meditation of speech which is of the form of the 3 vedas as a cow. The 4 udders of speech are svaha, vashat, hanta and svadha. SvahakAra and vashatkAra are used for deva yajnA while “hanta” is the term  used in manuShya yajna when food is given to humans. “svadha” is offered to the pitrs.
“ekarsir” – ekaH means chief. Kapila is the chief or foremost of the rSis. Under vishNu sahasranAma bhAshya for “maharSih kapilAchArya”, Bhattar explains that kapila is celebrated for expounding the sankhya system - sAnkhyasya vaktA kapilah paramrshih sa ucyate and Bhattar also quotes svEtAsvatAra 5.2 which says rSim prasUtam kapilam mahAntam– “He who endowed the rSi kapila who was born prior to creation with knowledge and cast his kind glances on kapila even before he was born.
“arpitaH” – this indicates that kapila muni is a vibhUti and a shaktyAvEsa avatAra of bhagavAn, hence dependent on bhagavAn. In the Gita, krishNa also says siddhAnAm kapilO muniH, which is quoted by Bhattar as well.
yátrāmŕ̥taṃ ca mr̥tyúś ca púruṣé 'dhi samā́hite
samudró yásya nāḍyàḥ púruṣé 'dhi samā́hitāḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 15
Meaning:  In which puruSha (jIvAtma), who is firmly established (in paramAtma), abide srI vaikunta (amRta) and samsara mandala (mrtyu), whose nADis or veins, well-established in the puruSha (paramAtma), is (associated with) the aggregate of puNya and pApa karmas designated as “samudrA”, Say indeed, that is (in terms of inseparability), the supporter of puruSha and prakrti (skambah) and the One who is superior to both (katamah)
The first “puruSha” denotes the jIvAtma. The existence of the jIvAtma is dependent on paramAtma and hence he is established in the latter. The existence of srI vaikunta (amRta) and samsara mandala (the place of deaths, mrtyu) depend on the existence of the jIvAtma and are said to abide in the latter.
The nADis of the jIvAtma refer to several veins of different colors in the body associated with the jIvAtma. At the time of death, the jIvAtma passes out of one of these veins, to lower or upper worlds, with the suShumna nADi leading to moksha. Since this is dependent on the puNya and pApa karmas, the rk states that these nADis are (ie, closely associated with) the karmas.
“samudrA” denotes any great collection or aggregate and hence refers to the groups of puNya and pApa karmas here. srI ranga rAmAnuja muni states that samudra is a term signifying a great volume of water and hence, signifies the group of elements -  samudrasabdEna jalarAshivAcinA bhUtavarga upalakShyatE, but in general can be applied to any large collection of things.
“skambhaH”, “katamaH” – Since both srI vaikunta designated as “amRta” and samsAra mandalam designated as “mRtyu” (as it is the place of deaths) can be grouped as “prakrti”. The first “puruSha” denotes the individual self. Hence, these terms “skambhah” and “katamaH” denote he is the supporter of and superior to prakrti and puruSa.
Due to aprthak-siddham or inseparability between jivAtma and paramAtma, the jIvAtma is called as Skambha.
yásya cátasraḥ pradíśo nāḍyàs tíṣṭhanti prathamā́ḥ
yajñó yátra párākrāntaḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 16
Meaning: Say indeed, that supporter of the quarters (skambah) and the foremost Lord of All, ie, sarvEshwara, who rules over the quarters (katamah) is he in whom, (as the form of) the chiefs (the presiding deities – aniruddha, pradyumna, sankarshana and vAsudEva),are established the 4 quarters (vaisvAnara, taijasa, prajna and turIya), in whom, sacrifice, ie, the means (ie, actions of the jivA which experiences in the 4 states) is strong (of the form of knowledge or sentient).
“catasraH pradIsho” refers to the 4 quarters of the mANDUkya – vishva, taijasa, prajna and turIya.
“prathamAH” – refer to the chiefs or the presiding deities of these 4 states – aniruddha, pradyumna, sankarshana and vAsudEva. He supports the 4 quarters in the form of the 4 vyUhas.
“skambha” – He supports the 4 quarters in the form of the vyUhas.
“katamaH” – The mAndUkya says that the suShupti sthAna is the lord of all, the sarvEshwara – eSha sarvEshwara: eSha sarvajna:.
“yajna” – refers to bhagavAn being the means for the jivAs to experience the waking, dream, deep sleep and the state of tUrIya which is different from the other 3 states and represents para-vAsudEva mUrti.
“parAkrAntaH” – strength, which is a metaphor for knowledge. In other words, the means (yajna) is bhagavAn who is sentient or knowledge-self and hence, can fulfil the desires of the chEtanas.
“vaisvAnara” means “one who leads the beings of this world” – so aniruddha is the means for the jivAs to experience the objects of enjoyment in the waking state. “taijasa” refers to dream state as very subtle objects of the dream that are not known by others, shine out like tejas – pradyumna is the means for the jivAs to experience the dream objects. “prajnA” is the state of oneness in dreamless sleep – sankarshana is the means to experience the bliss of this state. tUriya is the experience of mokSa sthAna and para-vAsudeva is the means of this experience.
Thus, he is the sentient means in all cases for the jivAs to experience the objects of enjoyment. This is as opposed to means such as japa, yajna, etc which are insentient.
yé púruṣe bráhma vidús té viduḥ parameṣṭhínam
yó véda parameṣṭhínaṃ yáś ca véda prajā́patim
jyeṣṭháṃ yé brā́hmaṇaṃ vidús te skambhám anusáṃviduḥ 17
Meaning: The wise know the puruSa (vAsudEva), in whom is Brahma ie, having Brahma as his body and his dependent, to be parameshti, ie, the Supreme Reality that resides in srI vaikunta. That which is known as the supreme reality (paramesthinam), who is also known as the lord of all beings (prajApatim) including the lotus-born brahma, known as older than the oldest as he is older than even the self-born Brahma (jyEstha), who is the instructor of the vedas (to brahma), they know (meditate) thus as the supporter of all beings (skambhah).
“puruSa” – Ancient vedAntins automatically held puruSa to be synonymous to “vAsudeva”.
“paramESThinam”  - the name occurs in the sahasranAma and Bhattar interprets it as  “parame sthAne tishThati iti paramESThI” – he who resides in the supreme abode.
The wise seers know that puruSa, vAsudEva, who is the inner self of Brahma, as paramESThin. “Brahma is in puruSa” means that Brahma is dependent on vAsudevA or he is meditating on vAsudeva, who is the inner self of Brahma and has Brahma as his body. The mahAnArAyaNa Upanishad echoes the same thought by saying “eSha aditya puruSa saH paramESThi brahmAtma” (that puruSa in Aditya is paramESThi and the innerself of Brahma).
The names “prajApatiH” and ”jyEshta” are the names of paramAtma and occur in the vishNu sahasranAma. “jyEshta” means he is older than even Brahma who is regarded as the oldest. “prajApatiH” means he is the lord of all beings.
“brAhmaNaH” – the name also occurs in the sahasranAma and means he is the instructor of the vedas to brahma. The svetAsvatAra also reiterates this as “yo brahmaNam vidhAti purvam…..saranam aham prapadyE.
“tE skambham anusamviduh” – they, the wise acharyas, therefore as a consequence of such understanding, meditate on this puruSa, vAsudEva, as the support of all beings (skambhah).
How do they meditate on him? The following rks answer that.
yásya śíro vaiśvānaráś cákṣur áṅgirasó 'bhavan
áṅgāni yásya yātávaḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 18
Meaning: Say that he is the support of meditation (skambhah) and who is the foremost as he is the supreme object of meditation (katamah), of whom the head became the digestive fire indicative of the quality of rulership (vaisvAnara), the eye became the prAna indicative of the quality of sustaining (Angirasa) and the limbs became the sense organs indicative of reaching out  or travellers (yAtava).
“skambhah”, “katamaH” – the support of meditation and the supreme object of meditation. This is as per “nArAyaNa parO dhyAta: dhyAnam nArAyaNa para:”
“vaiSvAnara” – this refers to the digestive fire. BhagavAn says “ahaM vaisvAnarO brutva” – I become the digestive fire. “vaisvAnara” refers to being the ruler of all and hence one must have such a view of Brahman in jatarAgni,  meditated as the head.
“Angiras” is mukhyaprAna, which is the essence of all parts (angarasa) according to the Upanishad. and is meditated as the eye. The eye is known as the sustainer (cakSurvAva pratiStita) since it shows the even and uneven surface of the earth and helps in being stationed firmly. Similarly, mukhyaprAna is celebrated as the sustainer of the body, without which other organs cannot function.Thus, his eye is to be meditated as the sustainer of life in the form of prAna.
“yAtava” means  “travellers” –  the sense organs like eye, ear, etc which travel or reach out to the external world and hence allow the action of seeing, hearing, etc. Understandably, these are meditated as the limbs as they form the basis for sAdhana.
yásya bráhma múkham āhúr jihvā́ṃ madhukaśā́m utá
virā́jam ū́dho yásyāhúḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 19
Meaning: Say that he is the support of sacrifice (skambhah) and who is the foremost as he is the supreme object of sacrifice (katamah), of whom the mouth is dharma or injunctions prescribed in the sAstra, the tongue is said to be the quality of honey (experience of the fruits), of whom the udder or base is that (paramAtma) having the form of prakrti (virAT).
“brahma” is interpreted as dharma by Bhattar in the sahasranAma on account of the usage “tapObrahma”. Here, dharma refers to the rites of the form of jyOtishtOma and other sacrifices to be performed. Since bhagavAn is the enjoyer of all sacrifices, dharma is to be meditated as the mouth.
“madhukASha”  - the quality of honey, or the fruits of the sacrifice such as svarga, etc which are enjoyed by the jivA.
“virAjam UdhO” – Udder refers to the base of the tongue, metaphorically meaning the base of such sacrifices and phalans which is Brahman himself. He is the recipient of all offerings and provider of all the fruits of sacrifices and hence is the base. The reason being, he has prakrti, denoted by “virAja” as his body, and is the inner controller.
“skambhah”, “katamah” – Since this mantra talks about sacrifice, it is relevant to take these terms as related to sacrifice. It is also likely not wrong to take it as the same meaning of the previous mantra, as this is also a continuation of the form described for meditation.
yásmād ŕ̥co apā́takṣan yájur yásmād apā́kaṣan
sā́māni yásya lómāny atharvāṅgiráso múkhaṃ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 20
Meaning: Say that he is the support of the vedas (skambhah) and who is the foremost as he is the supreme object to be attained by the veda (katamah), from whom the riks were formed (arose) by breathing, by whom the yajur mantras were split (into shukla and krishna), whose hairs are the sAmans, whose face (mind) is the atharvAngiras.
“ rco apAtakSan”apana-takSatithe rks arose from the breath of Brahman.
“yajur yasmAd apAkasan” – the yajus was split into krishna and shukla.
“sAmAni lomAni” – the sAmans are resting on rk and hence are described as hairs.
“mukham” – refers to the mind, to which the atharvAngira is compared.
“skambhah”, “katamah” – As the context is the vedic mantras, he is described as the support of the vedas and the supreme object of the vedas.
asaccākhā́ṃ pratíṣṭhantīṃ paramám iva jánā viduḥ
utó sán manyanté 'vare yé te śā́k+hām upā́sate 21
Meaning: The wise men (janA) know (viduH) the individual self, which called “paramam” as it is superior to prakrti, as indeed the foundation of the divisions of insentients (gross forms), and those who (yE) are inferior (avarE), consider (manyatE) it (prakrti) as the individual self (sat), they meditate on the divisions.
In the previous mantras, meditation on paramAtma’s various parts as related to vaisvAnara, prAna, organs of action, yajna and veda was enjoined. This was related to practice of karma yOga, which involves performance of nitya naimittika karmas to gain an understanding of the essential nature of the jivA.  The idea is by equating all those to his parts, the jivA is instructed to understand all activities as dependent on Brahman.
Here in this mantra, the next step of realisation, namely, jnAna yOga is outlined.
It is the individual self referred to as “paramam” here as it is superior to acit or prakrti. In Gita 8.20-21, bhagavAn explains thatthe jivAtma is called by terms like “paraH” and “paramAm gatim” as it is a superior goal of human endeavour as compared to prakrti.
The Upanishads refer to the individual self as “prAna” as it is the supporter of all movable and immovable bodies, which comprise the divisions of insentients. This samsAra mandalam exists on account of the jivAs and hence, the jivAs, collectively referred to in the singular because of their identical natures, constitute the foundation of insentients.
Therefore, the wise, who undertake jnAna yOga, meditate on the individual self, as the supporter of all gross forms. They do not see differences and consider all equal as they only perceive the individual selves with identical natures in different gross forms.
In contrast, those who are inferior in terms of knowledge, mistakenly identify the gross forms as the individual selves (dehAtma brahmam) and reflect on the differences in gross forms.
“janA” – the class of men, gods, etc eligible to meditate on Brahman.
“viduH” – they should know the individual self thus. There should be no scope for doubt.
yátrādityā́ś ca rudrā́ś ca vásavaś ca samā́hítāḥ
bhūtáṃ ca yátra bhávyaṃ ca sárve lokā́ḥ prátiṣṭhitāḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 22
Meaning: Say that the support of the vibhUtIs (skambhah) and who is the foremost as everything is his vibhUti (katamah) is he in whom the AdiytAs, Rudras and Vasus are fixed (ie, who are his vibhUtIs), in whom that which was and that which will be (as well as that which is) and all the worlds (leela and nitya vibhUti) are established, ie, he is their innerself.
This mantra refers to bhakti yOga or upAsaNa proper.
“samAhitaH” – the gods are his vibhUtIs. They should be meditated as such.
“bhUtam yac ca bhavyam ca sarvE lOkaH pratishtithaH” – As everything is pervaded by him, the entire  universe containing the worlds associated with the three times of past, present and future is established in him, ie, he is the innerself of all. SubalOpanishad says “eSa sarvabhUtAntarAtma apahatapApma divyO deva ekO nArAyaNa:”.
“skambhaH”, “katamaH” – He is the support of his vibhUtis and the foremost as he has everything as his vibhUtis.
yásya tráyastriṃśad devā́ nidhíṃ rákṣanti sarvadā́
nidhíṃ tám adyá kó veda yáṃ devā abhirákṣatha 23
Meaning: He whose wealth (the shAstra), the 33 devas always protect. Who knows that treasure of the form of prapatti (or bhagavAn) now (here, in this samsAra), which is guarded by you devas of godly nature, surrendered unto him?
The first part of this mantra talks about the 33 devas, who are of sattva guNa, protecting bhagavAn’s wealth, which refers to the shAstra. The devas carry out their prescribed tasks as per the upanishadic statements – “in fear of him the wind blows, etc” – and in doing so, protect the shAstra.
The name “draviNa-pradAyaH” in the sahasranAma refers to bhagavAn as the bestower of wealth that is the shAstra – the substance and meaning.
The second part of the mantra talks of nyAsa vidyA or prapatti, which is the fruit of the shAstra. “yam deva” – those of deva bhAva or prapannas who are surrendered to him (yacchati iti yam), always guard this treasure known as prapatti yOga. Or, one can say “nidhim” refers to bhagavAn who is of the nature of being the means, which again, is prapatti. Since prapatti yOga is nothing but considering bhagavAn himself as the means, both “prapatti” and “bhagavAn” are synonymous as sentient means.
“nidhim” – this prapatti or bhagavAn as the means, is the highest knowledge of the sAstra and hence is a treasure. It is always guarded by the prapannas because it is a secret and not revealed to those who are not inclined towards it.
The mahAnArAyaNa Upanishad contains the following statement with reference to prapatti or nyAsa – “mahOpanishadam devAnAm guham” – srI nAyanAr AchAn pillai interprets this as “a secret guarded by the gods like treasure”. “devAnAm” refers to parama sAttvikAs.
The sahasranAma refers to bhagavAn as a treasure in many places. Hence, by use of the word “nidhim”, the double meaning of prapatti indicating bhagavAn is intended, ie, that prapatti is to be guarded just as a treasure is guarded and at the same time, this prapatti is nothing other than considering bhagavAn, who is the true treasure, as the means.
This prapatti can be anga prapatti, ie, surrender performed to destroy obstacles to upAsaNa or svatantara prapatti (considering bhagavAn as the means instead of others like upAsaNa).
“kaH veda” – who knows the extent of his glories? yatO vAcho nivartantE aprApya manasA saha: - his glories are endless. This should be understood by the upAsaka.
Note: srI ranga rAmAnuja muni gives an alternate interpretation for this statement as “this prapatti is a guarded secret difficult to be known by the gods”. I have taken nAyanAr AchAn pillai’s interpretation since it suits the context for the sUkta. However, the difference is minimal and either interpretation does not change the fact that prapatti is the secret.
yátra devā́ brahmavído bráhma jyeṣṭhám upā́sate
yó vái tā́n vidyā́t pratyákṣaṃ sá brahmā́ véditā syāt 24
Meaning: Where (in paramAtma who abides as the inner ruler), those upAsakAs of sAttva bhAva (devA), who know the veda, meditate on the One who is older than Brahma, the supreme Brahman. He who indeed knows by direct perception, is the great knower (brahma veditA) in whom the form of Brahman is manifest.
This mantra shows that only para-vidyA which is upAsaNa leading to brahma-sAkSatkAratva leads to moksha.
“yatra” – where. SrI rAmAnuja mentions in vedArtha sangraha that “where” signifies paramAtma who abides as the inner ruler of all. Everything is his body, which should be the mode of meditation.
“brahmavidO devAh” – those upAsakAs with knowledge of the apara-vidya or the vedas and a sattvika nature owing to practice of yama, niyama, etc.
“jyEshtam” - They meditate on the inner ruler, who is older than Brahma and hence, older than all. This indicates his sarva-seshitvam.
“brahma” – They meditate on the Supreme Brahman. Bhattar interprets this name as follows - “bRhatvAtbrahmaNatvAcca brahmeti parikIrtyate” – He is called Brahman because He is big, and He also makes others big. He is everywhere, He is in everything, He makes everything big, His guNa-s are big, and He performs all His actions without any other support and by his mere samkalpam. He expands the non-sentient matter into gross and subtle, He sustains these in a form that is useful for the jIvAtmA-s to enjoy, He sustains the jIvAtmA-s, He grows them towards their ultimate goal, namely His realization. He does all these only for the benefit of the jIva-s. He is big with countless unsurpassed qualities, by his essential nature, by the glory of his vibhUtIs, etc. His greatness is such that He can lift a baddha jIva – an ordinary samsAri – to the level of a nitya sUri through his infinite mercy.
Thus, “brahma” refers to the extraordinary auspicious attributes of bhagavAn to be meditated on by upAsakAs. This rules out the idea of nirguNa brahman as well.
“vidyAt” – This is para-vidya or knowledge which is of the character of vivid perception and the form of love. The last stage of yOga is brahma-sAkshAtkAram which leads to moksha. This rules out the idea of jivAn mukti.
“saH brahmA veditA syAt” – Direct perception of Brahman leads to instant moksha and thus he knows by direct perception is called “BrahmA veditA” or the great knower. “BrahmA” signifies that in him, after moksha, the form of Brahman is manifested. The mundakOpanishad says “brahmavid brahmaiva bhavati” – the knowers of Brahman become those in whom the form of Brahman is manifested. This means that they will be freed of rAga, dvEsha and others caused by matter having the triguNas, and will manifest in themselves the 8 characteristics of Brahman - apahatapApma (freedom from sin), vijara (freedom from age), vimRtyu, (freedom from death), viSoka (freedom from sorrow), vijigIsa, (freedom from hunger), avipASa (freedom from thirst), satyakAma (desires are true), satyasankalpa (whose will is true).
Thus, they attain moksha.
br̥hánto nā́ma té devā́ yé 'sataḥ pári jajñiré
ékaṃ tád áṅgaṃ skambhásyā́sad āhuḥ paró jánāḥ 25  (?)
Meaning: Those called devas, ie, the indrIyas, who originate severally from the insentient prakrti (asat), are known as great ones as they allow experience of numerous objects of enjoyment.  That one part of the supporter of ubhaya vibhUti is called by those men who know the supreme truth as “asat” or that which is in a constant state of change (temporary due to being born again and again in samsAra).
Having explained the means to attain him (karma, jnAna, bhakti, prapatti yOgas) in the previous mantras, the sUkta now embarks on a description of samsAra. This is to highlight the plight of the baddha jivAs and induce them to perform sAdhana for moksha. Or, since it is necessary to understand the nature of cit, acit and Isvara prior to gaining liberation according to sAstra (jnAnan mOkshO jAyatE - knowledge leads to liberation), the sUkta embarks on describing the tattvas such as matter and jivAs as well as Isvara who supports both.
“asat” – in the first line, it refers to prakrti since it is different from “sat” which is the jivAtma.
“nAma tE devA” – refers to the indrIyas or senses who are luminous (divi) as they manifest or make visible external objects to the individual self. They originate from matter.
“pari” – means several. The senses are several and the objects of enjoyment they allow experience of is also several.
“bRhantO” – The indriyAs are the great ones as they allow innumerable experiences of several objects of enjoyment.
“skambhah” – The supporter of the 4 parts – 3 parts of which is the nitya vibhUti and one part is leela vibhUti. So, bhagavAn is the supporter of the ubhaya vibhUtIs.
“asat” – in the second line, it refers to samsAra or the baddha jivAs in prakrti who are temporary or in a constant state of change, ie, being born again and again in various forms depending on karma. This is as opposed to nitya vibhUti which is permanent.
“ekam tad angam” – This “asat” or temporary samsAra in which baddha jivAs are born again and again is recognised as one part of skambha.The puruSa sUkta also says - pAdo 'syehAbhavatpuna: - one part alone is manifested again and again.
“parO janaH” – those men who know the supreme truth about the permanence of parama-padam and ephemeral nature of samsAra call that one part as asat or temporary; it is the condition of births and deaths. In other words, these are jnAnis who recognise the tattvas.
yátra skambháḥ prajanáyan purāṇáṃ vyávartayat
ékaṃ tád áṅgaṃ skambhásya purāṇám anusáṃviduḥ 26
Meaning: Where (ie, abiding as the inner self) the supporter of the jivAs in subtle state (skambhah), caused all beings, ancient/ever existing or prior to creation (purANam) (to obtain) names and forms, that one part of the supporter of the jivAs in gross state (skambhah), is to be known (meditated) as “purAnam” or that which though being ancient (Ie, having no beginning and existing eternally), is ever new (being born again and again).
“yatra” – refers to bhagavAn as abiding in all entities as the inner self. As mentioned earlier, srI rAmAnuja says "where" always denotes this meaning in the vedArtha sangraha.
“skambhaH” – In the first line, it means he is the supporter of the jivAs in the sukshma dasa or subtle state before creation. In the next line, it means he is the supporter of the jivAs in the sthUla dasa or gross state.
“prajanayan purAnam vyavartayat” – he caused all beings (prajas), ie, the jivAs, to have names and forms (vyavartayat). Thus the sahasranAma refers to him as “prajAbhavah”. Here, “purANam” can mean that these jivAs exist eternally and are merely said to be born as they are allotted bodies based on karma. Or, “purANam” can mean that these jivAs existed prior to creation in subtle state and were born in the sense of attaining name and form. Either way, the meanings remain the same.
“purANam”  - In the second line, this is interpreted as pura api nayam iti puranam – that which is new despite being old. Though the jivAs have no beginning and exist eternally, they are born again and again in samsAra in new bodies and forms depending on karma.
“anusamviduH” – This tattva, that of the baddhas being born again and again via attainment of names and forms during successive creations, ie, samsAra, is to be meditated upon constantly. The idea is that such meditation will induce disgust in the meditator for his miserable state in samsAra and cause him to seek the means to end the cycle of births and deaths.
yásya tráyastriṃśad devā́ áṅge gā́trā vibhejiré
tā́n vái tráyastriṃśad devā́n éke brahamvído viduḥ 27
Meaning: In whose (paramAtma) limb, the thirty three devas (trayastriMshaddevAH) separated out (vibhejire) the bodies (gAtrAH), Some, well-versed in the vedas, know (the essential natures of) those thirty three gods (as vibhUtis of the supreme brahman).
The thirty three gods are the 8 vasus, 12 adityas, 11 rudras, indra and prajApati. Since we had already seen this earlier, to avoid redundancy, this must be interpreted in the context of sRshti. So this mantra describes how the thirty three gods constituting the limb of Brahman are divided, ie, they were made the presiding deities of certain aspects of prakrti to carry out specific functions according to the will of Brahman.
Yajnavalkya explains this in the brihadAranyaka as follows:
  • Fire, Earth, Wind, Ether (antariksha), the sun and heavens, moon and stars are the 8 Vasus. They are called “vasus” since all the precious wealth of the world is placed in them.

  • The 5 jnAnEndiyas, the 5 karmEndriyas along with the mind constitute the 11 rudras. When these rudras depart from the body, they make us weep, hence they are called “rudras”.

  • The 12 months are the 12 adityas. They are called “adityas” as they go taking away the days of living beings with them.

  • The cloud or thunder is Indra. Thunder signifies power or vigor.

  • Sacrifice or animals is Prajapati. Since animals are useful as a means for sacrifice, they can be addressed as sacrifice.

In this way, does shRshti occur. The worlds are created, bodies are allotted to the jivAs and presiding deities are made to carry out specific functions.
Those well versed in the vedas know that these thirty three gods are indeed vibhUtIs of Brahman. In other words, they recognise that these deities are the vibhUti of that Supreme Brahman who is called “ekaH” as it has none superior to or equal to itself and is distinct and different from everything other than itself (tatasca brahmaNo mahimAn).
hiraṇyagarbhám paramám anatyudyáṃ jánā viduḥ
skambhás tád ágre prā́siñcad dhíraṇyaṃ loké antarā́ 28
Meaning: Men (ie, those who meditate) know that Supreme Brahman designated as “Hiranyagarbha” as he is the auspicious object of meditation, the Supreme and One whose auspicious qualities(which are mediated on) cannot be expressed fully. That foremost object of attainment (agraH), supporter of all desires and objects of enjoyment (skambha), fills gold (enjoyment of his attributes) inside (ie, dwelling as the inner meaning revealed by) the sAstra.
“hiranyagarbhah” is a name which occurs in the sahasranAma. Bhattar interprets it as follows – He is called hiranyagarbhah because he remain concealed in the delightful and lovely hearts of those who contemplate on him. It signifies that he is the auspicious object of meditation. Alternatively, it also means he is like a treasure of gold for the meditators. He alone is to be meditated as the Self of the Universe according to Bhattar. In the context of “janA viduH” as well as previous mantras declaring Brahman to be EkaH and the self of the created universe, this meaning fits well.
“paramam” – He is nArAyaNa, the parabrahman of the Veda.
Bhattar gives several pramAnas under the name “paramAtma” in the vishNu sahasranAma:
“na param puNdarIkAkshAt drsyate bharatarshabha" - There is nothing superior to the Lotus-eyed.
"param hi puNdarIkAkshAt na bhUtam na bhavishyati" - There was nothing in the past, and there will be nothing in the future, that is superior to the Lotus-eyed Lord.
"na daivam kesavAt param: - There is no God superior to Kesava.
"matta: para-taram nAnyat kincidasti" - Greater than Myself, there is nothing else (GitA 7-7)
"param hi amrtam etasmAt visva-rUpAt na vidyate" - There is no greater nectar than the Lord of Universal form.
"parah parANAm paramah paramAtmA" - He is greater than the great; He is superior, and he is the Supreme Soul  (visHNu purANa - 1.2.10)
"paramAtmA ca sarveshAm AdhAra: paramesvara:    |  vishNurnAma sarva-vedeshu vedAnteshu ca gIyate || - The Isvara above all Isvaras, the paramAtmA who is the supporter of every being, is sung by all vedas and vedantas as Lord VishNu. (VishNu purANa 6.4.10)
“anantyudyam” - His auspicious qualities are infinite and cannot be expressed fully – yatO vAchO nivartantE aprApya manasA saha:
Tad agrE skambha – Since the context is about his auspicious qualities being the object of meditation, he is the supporter of all objects of enjoyment and the foremost of the object of enjoyments himself.
“lokE” – Refers to the sAstra according to Bhattar. “loka” means the thing by which we see, ie, the sAstra consisting of shruti, smriti, etc because the sAstra alone can teach us about the gods.
“antarA” – The innermost part of the sAstra, ie, he is the highest secret and innermost meaning of the sAstra.
“prā́siñcad dhíraṇyaṃ” – he fills the sAstra with gold. As “gold” signifies object of desire and enjoyment, it refers to his auspicious attributes which are meditated lovingly upon by the wise, and which are revealed by the sAstra.
skambhé lokā́ḥ skambhé tápaḥ skambhé 'dhy r̥tám ā́hitam
skámbha tvā́ veda pratyákṣam índre sárvaṃ samā́hitam 29
Meaning: The sAstra (lokA) abides in the supporter of the sAstra (skambha). Tapas or penance which is the concentration of the mind abides in the supporter of tapas (skambha). Rtam or the word of truth abides in the supporter of Truth (skambhah). I know you, who are the supporter of all (skambhah), on which everything is established as his inseparable attributes due to being his body (samAhita), as the wealthy (Indra) by vivid perception (pratyaksam).
Rtam is satyavachanam – words of truth. Rtam, tapas and sAstra are accessories to meditation.
“samAhita” – Since everything (cit and acit) is his body, they are his inseparable attributes by way of “aprtak siddham”.
“pratyaksam” – upAsaNa vidhi brahma-sAkSatkAratvam. By meditation of the form of love upon gaining knowledge from the sAstra, Brahman is directly perceived.
“Indra” – The name “mahEndraH” in the sahasranAma means he has great wealth. Bhattar says this is so because since he pervades everything in different ways, he is the lord of everything. The root is “idi” – paramaisvaryE – to own great wealth. The meaning fits the context of “samAhita” as everything is his inseparable attribute by virtue of being his body.
The meaning is that the wise realise that supporter of all, nArAyaNa, as having everything as his body and hence, having everything as his property by direct perception through meditation.
índre lokā́ índre tápa índre 'dhy r̥tám ā́hitam
índraṃ tvā́ veda pratyákṣaṃ skambhé sárvaṃ prátiṣṭhitam 30
Meaning: The sAstra (lokA) abides in the lord who owns the wealth of sAstra (Indra). Tapas or penance which is the concentration of the mind abides in the Lord who owns the wealth of tapas (Indra). Rtam or the word of truth abides in the Lord who owns the wealth of Truth (Indra). I know you, who are wealthy as you are the lord of everything by virtue of pervasion (Indra) as the supporter of existence (skambhah) on whom everything is dependent, ie, depending on him as for their existence and having no separate existence from him, by vivid perception (pratyaksam).
After realising that he is the lord of everything and that everything is his wealth or property by virtue of being his body and inseparable attributes, the meditator realises that the means to such realisation such as sAstra, tapas and Rtam are also owned by him as they constitute his body. Hence, it again leads to the understanding that he himself is the means.
“skambhah” – The meaning is different from what was given earlier. Having realised that he owns everything, the meditator now sees Brahman as the foundation without which other things would not exist.
In the previous mantra, “skambhah” signified the knowledge that Brahman is the supporter of everything. Here, however, “skambhah sarvam pratistithaH” shows that by direct perception, it is realised that everything depends on Brahman as the support for their own existence, ie, they have no separate existence and have utter dependence on him.
Note that as opposed to “samAhita” (connected by being attributes), the word used here is “pratisthita” (dependent). The former word denotes the knowledge that everything is his inseparable attribute by virtue of being his body. The latter word denotes that this knowledge leads to the understanding of seshatva and pAratantrya, ie, they depend on him for their very existence and are hence subservient.
This is again understood by direct perception via meditation.
nā́ma nā́mnā johavīti purā́ sū́ryāt puróṣásaḥ
yád ajáḥ prathamáṃ saṃbabhū́va sá ha tát svarā́jyam iyāya yásmān nā́nyát páram ásti bhūtám 31
Meaning: From the mind (sUrya) and from dawn (of knowledge), the embodied one offers in abundance (johavIti), the nAma (namaha) as the offering, with nAma (namaha) as oblations. That (salutation of namaha) is the essential nature (svarAjyam) which the mover in samsAra (the individual self) came to be before, which he indeed attained. Beyond it nothing higher exists.
“pura” – refers to body and hence to the embodied jivAtma. As Atma dwelling within a body is inseparable from the body, it is referred to by the name “body”.
“sUryAt” – The root “sR” means to move. This refers to the mind, whose thoughts move quickly towards paramAtma.
“uShas” – dawn of knowledge. Azhwar says “pagal kanDen, nArananai kanDen”.  True dawn is when the realization of paramAtma is attained.
“johavIti” – offer oblations in abundance. This signifies prapatti or self-surrender. The jivAs offer themselves to him, ie, they acknowledge that they are his property, which is metaphorically stated by the usage of “offering oblations in abundance”. The nyAsa vidya of mahAnArAyaNopanishad compares nyAsa vidyA (prapatti) to a sacrifice.
“nAma” – the first nAma refers to what is being offered and this is the utterance of “namaha” – not mine. The jivAtma acknowledges that everything, including himself, is a property of paramAtma.
“nAma” – this refers to the means used to surrender to paramAtma and again is the utterance of “namaha” – not mine. In other words, “I do not claim to have undertaken a means to surrender, even that means is yours and you accomplished it”. It relinquishes the idea that the jIvAtma is doing something to attain paramAtma.
“ajaH” – The the root “aj” – movement . Thus, this refers to the individual self moving in samsara.
This “namaha” is said to be “svarAjyam” or the essential nature of the individual self, which it had before (in the sense of always having this essential nature) and has now, by virtue of prapatti, “attained” it, ie, recognized or acknowledged it. Thus, utter dependence and servitude to paramAtma is the essential nature of the self, which was forgotten and is now remembered. There is no puruShArtham higher than this.
yásya bhū́miḥ pramā́ntárikṣam utódáram
dívaṃ yáś cakré mūrdhā́naṃ tásmai jyeṣṭhā́ya bráhmaṇe námaḥ 32
Meaning: Whose base is the Earth, stomach is the intermediary region and who caused the celestial regions to be the head, Salutations to that One who is the eldest and the inner controller of cit and acit.
Since prapatti was the focus of the previous mantra, the following mantras focus on his rulership as the inner controller.  Since protection can be conferred by only Isvara, these mantras establish that nArAyaNa is indeed Isvara by declaring him to be the inner controller of all and the eldest as well.
Earth is the foundation or base since sAdhana is performed for attaining the higher regions here. AntarIksha is the intermediary region and hence his stomach. The celestial regions attained by performance of yajnAs are his head.
“yas cakrE” - By saying this for the celestial region, it is intended that he is indeed the granter of the fruits such as attainment of the higher regions. He is the means.
“jyEsthAya” – One who created Brahma, hence is older than even Brahma and therefore is the eldest. This establishes his Isvaratvam.
brahmaNE – The term “Brahman” refers to sentients and insentient, ie, AtmA and prakrti. Since he is the inner controller of both, he is designated by their name, and hence he is Brahman. This shows that he is the inner controller.
These names occur in the sahasranAma.
“tasmai…namaH” – I surrender only to that Isvara and the inner controller of cit and acit as he alone is capable of protection.
yásya sū́ryaś cákṣuś candrámāś ca púnarṇavaḥ
agníṃ yáś cakrá āsyàṃ tásmai jyeṣṭhā́ya bráhmaṇe námaḥ 33
Meaning: Whose sight is the Sun and the rejuvenating Moon, who made the fires his mouth, Salutations to that One who is the eldest and the inner controller of cit and acit.
It would be better to interpret caksuS as sight and not eye, because both sun and moon are his eyes and sight comprises the set of eyes. Here, the context means that his sight is twofold – one eye is hot like the sun as it looks at the asurAs and the pApa karmas of the jivAs with anger, while the other eye is like the cool moon that looks at his devotees and the punya karmas of the jivAs with grace. “punarnavaH” refers to the act of rejuvenation – his cool glances of grace rejuvenate the jivAs by destroying their ignorance and bestowing them with puruSarthams.
Agni is his mouth as he is the enjoyer of all sacrifices, by virtue of being the inner controller. “yaS cakrE” – once again, he caused the fires to be his mouth in the sense that he, abiding as the inner controller of agni, accepts the oblations.
yásya vā́taḥ prāṇāpānáu cákṣur áṅgirasó 'bhavan
díśo yáś cakré prajñā́nīs tásmai jyeṣṭhā́ya bráhmaṇe námaḥ 34
Meaning: Whose inward and outward breaths are the jivAtmas moving about, eye became the vital air, who effected the quarters (the vyUhAs) his instruments of knowledge, Salutations to that One who is the eldest and the inner controller of cit and acit.
“vAtaH” – means winds and refers to the jivAs moving about, abodeless and immortal.The jivAs move about like wind owing to the extent of their knowledge and karmas. Like air that is inhaled and expelled out of the body, the jivAs take up a material body and leave it, thus they do not have a permanent abode.This is the explanation of srI vedAnta desikan in his isavasyOpanishad bhAshya.
“angirasa” – the essence of the organs is praNa which is the eye. The eye is known as the sustainer (cakSurvAva pratiStita) since it shows the even and uneven surface of the earth and helps in being stationed firmly. Similarly, mukhyaprAna is celebrated as the sustainer of the body, without which other organs cannot function.
The quarters refer to the 4 vyUhAs – vAsudeva, sankarshana, pradyumna and aniruddha – the states of vaisvAnara, taijasa, prajna and turIya - who cause the jivAs to experience, hence they are known as prajnAnIs.
“yas cakrE” – The 4 vyUhAs are the effects, ie, manifestations of the supreme brahman.
skambhó dādhāra dyā́vāpr̥thivī́ ubhé imé skambhó dādhārorv àntárikṣam
skambhó dādhāra pradíśaḥ ṣáḍ urvī́ḥ skambhá idáṃ víśvaṃ bhúvanam ā́ viveśa 35
Meaning: The supporter of the earth and celestial regions (Skambha) sustains (as the inner self) both the celestial regions and earth, the supporter of the intermediary region (Skambha), sustains (as the inner self) the intermediary region, the supporter of the directions (Skambha) sustains (as the inner self) the 6 wide directions of the worlds, the supporter of the jivAs (Skambha) has fully entered and pervaded (with the jivAs as his body) these worlds.
Each time the name “skambha” is used, it is interpreted differently to avoid redundancy based on the context, as above.
“skambha idam viSvam bhuvanam A vivEsha” – As bhagavAn already pervades everything, there is no question of his entry. This statement, as explained before, refers to the jivAs, who are the body of bhagavAn and hence, owing to aprtak siddham (inseparability) are designated the same terms as paramAtma. These jivAs, being the body of paramAtma and having paramAtma as their inner self, fill the created universe by entering into gross forms, ie, bodies allotted to them on the basis of karmas. Hence the Universe is filled with jivAs. Since these jivAs are inseparable attributes of paramAtma, their entry is referred to as his entry, ie, he enters and fills the universe as the inner self of the jivAs and having them as his body.
yáḥ śrámāt tápaso jātó lokā́nt sárvānt samānaśé
sómaṃ yáś cakré kévalaṃ tásmai jyeṣṭhā́ya bráhmaṇe námaḥ 36
Meaning: He (as the inner self of Brahma), who is born (jAtaH), by laborious tapas (knowledge), attained easily all the worlds (sam+Anashe); who (as the inner controller of Brahma) alone effected the objects of enjoyment (sOma), Salutations to that One who is the eldest and the inner controller of cit and acit.
The first part refers to vyastha shrShti or creation of Brahma, who was born by virtue of tapas. Because Brahma is the body of paramAtma, it can be said that paramAtma, as the inner self of Brahma, is born. This Brahma, or paramAtma as the inner self of Brahma, attained all theworlds easily, ie, he became their Lord. Brahma then conducted samastha shRshti or creation of the Universe with it’s objects of enjoyment.
“kevalaM” signifies that it is only paramAtma as the indweller of Brahma who created the Universe with its objects of enjoyment through Brahma, the latter being an instrument. To that Sriman nArAyaNa who is the indweller of Brahma, salutations.
katháṃ vā́to nélayati katháṃ ná ramate mánaḥ
kím ā́paḥ satyáṃ prépsantīr nélayanti kadā́ caná 37
Meaning: How does the jivAtma, which moves ceaselessly in samsAra, never abides (permanently in one body)? How does the mind never stay still? Do the waters, ie, the senses (kim ApaH), indeed desiring to reach the individual self, (satyaM prepsantiH), not stay still (na ilayanti), ever (kadA ca na)?
The previous mantras described the nature of Brahman as the inner controller and the creation of the Universe. So now, the means to liberation from samsara is explored.
One of the methods is jnAna yOga, which is meditation on the jIvAtma, which in turn would lead to knowledge of the jIvAtma as a servant of paramAtma. This would lead to bhakti yOgA. But the question arises – is it easier to meditate on the jIvAtma, or on paramAtma?
This rk explains that meditation on the jIvAtma is difficult.The questions are of the form of brahma-jignyAsa and the idea is that the upAsaka needs to meditate on these aspects sequentially as part of jnAna yOga.
“vAtaH” – As explained earlier, this refers to the jivAtma moving in samsAra. The yOgI intending to meditate on the jIvAtma needs to have an understanding of the panchAgni vidyA, which details the process of birth and death of the jivAtma. He must be constantly meditating on the five fires. This way, he will gain Atma sAkshAtkAram and meditate on the essential nature of the jivAtma.
“na ramatE manaH” – As pAn perumAl says, “mandhi pAi vada vEnkata mAmAlai” – the mind is compared to monkeys moving constantly. The mind is very fickle and easily attracted to samsAra again. So, if the mind is made to focus on the essential nature of the jivAtma by the yOgi, there is a very good chance that it will not stay focused – rather, it is very difficult for the upAsaka to meditate on the jivAtma as the mind is difficult to control. This is mentioned in the gita by Arjuna (6.34) in the context of meditating on the mind.
“kim ApaH satyam…” – The senses are always inclined towards the pursuit of the objects of enjoyment. The object of jnAna yOga is to direct the indrIyas inwards towards meditation on the individual self which is designated as “satyam”. But it is difficult to do so when the senses are tempted towards external objects. In such a situation, is it entirely possible for the upAsaka to queiten the senses by meditation on the individual self? The answer is no.
The term “ApaH” does not merely indicate “water” as explained earlier but the senses which are composed of subtle elements denoted by “water”.
To sum up, this mantra says that meditation on the jivAtma to understand it’s essential nature and proceed to bhagavad upAsaNa is impractical. This is the answer given by bhagavAn to the question posed by Arjuna in Gita 12.1.
mahád yakṣáṃ bhúvanasya mádhye tápasi krāntáṃ salilásya pr̥ṣṭhé
tásmin chrayante yá u ké ca devā́ vr̥kṣásya skándhaḥ paríta iva śā́khāḥ 38
Meaning: The great yakSha, in the orb of the Sun, who overcomes samsAra for his devotees by the quality of knowledge or “tapas”, resides on the surface of the waters. In that (Brahman), all the devas, without exception (ye u ke ca devAH), take refuge (shrayante), just as (iva) branches of a tree (vR^ikShasya shAkAH) that is dense (paritaH) are to its trunk (skandhaH).”
As the previous mantra describes the difficulties of meditating on the individual self, which is part of jnAna yOga, this rk gives the solution.  Sri krishNa explains in the gita that his beautiful form which is suddha sattvam, of unsurpassable loveliness, his weapons and ornaments and his essential nature along with the innumerable auspicious attributes, are far superior to the individual self and hence, anyone who focuses his mind on the svarUpa-rUpa-guNa-vibhUti of bhagavAn will be able to control their mind and senses easily and constantly meditate on bhagavAn.
Thus, either bhagavAn can be meditated on for the goal of accomplishing jnAna yOga, which is to attain the nature of the essential self, or he can be meditated on for the sole purpose of attaining him. For both jnAna and bhati yOga, meditation on bhagavAn alone is recommended over the meditation of the individual self.
As the svarUpa-rUpa-guNa-vibhUti of Brahman are alone worthy of meditation in yOga, this mantra shows that Brahman has taken up specific forms in specific places and is resorted to by those with knowledge of their seshatvam, which is crucial for bhakti yOga.
Mahad-yakSham – “mahad” means great. “ya + kSa” – he is the great one who destroys that which moves, ie, he destroys the indrIyas and mind which move towards sense objects. Or, he destroys the movement in samsara.
“bhuvanasya madhyE” – refers to the orb of the sun.
“tapasI krAntam” – he possesses the knowledge (tapas) to lead his devotees out of samsAra, thereby overcoming (krantam) samsAra for his devotees.
“salilasya prsthE” – he resides on the waters of the milky ocean. The reference here is to “ambhasya pArE, bhuvanasya madhyE” mantra in the mahAnArAyaNa Upanishad which talks of his residence in the solar orb and the waters of the milky ocean.
All take refuge in that Brahman, recognising him as the master and themselves as servants. They consider themselves inseparable to him as the branches of a tree are to the tree; ie, aprthak-siddhi between the individual self and paramAtma is realised. They also realise the sesha-seshi bhAva which is true knowledge and the culmination of bhakti yOga.
yásmai hástābhyāṃ pā́dābhyāṃ vācā́ śrótreṇa cákṣuṣā
yásmai devā́ḥ sádā balíṃ prayáchanti vímité 'mitaṃ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ 39
Meaning: Say that the support of seshatvam, the true nature of the jivAtma (skambhah) and who is the foremost as he is the enjoyer who accepts the services of his devotees (katamah) (is he) unto whom those with hands, those with feet, those with mouths, those with ears, those with eyes, unto whom the nitya sUrIs, fixed on the immeasurable (auspicious attributes), uninterruptedly worship by offering (services).
The previous mantra talked about sesha-seshi bhAva. This mantra shows the anushtAnam of that knowledge, ie, how it is put into practice. The idea of saying “those with hands, those with feet”, etc is to show the twofold view that:
  1. The very existence of such body parts is to serve him. Hands to form the Anjali mudra, eyes to see his beautiful form, ears to hear his glories, feet to run towards his temples and mouths to praise him. If these body parts do not do these functions, then they are not fit to be called body parts.

  1. It is also to highlight that devotees perform different varieties of services – some use their mouths to praise him, some perform physical services with hands and feet (such as making garlands, building temples, etc) that this usage with reference to organs is employed.

“devAh sadA balim” – This is a parallel to “sadA paSyanti suraya:” The term “deva” refers to nitya sUrIs. “sadA” – they are uninterruptedly worshipping him.
“prayachanti” – Refers to offer of all types of services at all times and all places to bhagavAn. Lakshmana also says “ahaM sarvam karishyAmi” – I will perform all types of services at all times and all places to srI rAghavan.
“vimitEmitam” – “vimita” means fixed, ie, they are always meditating. “amitam” means immeasurable and refers to his unlimited auspicious attributes. So, they are always meditating on his auspicious attributes.
The first part of the mantra talking about devotees serving him with hands, feet, etc can be taken as a general reference to all devotees while the special usage of “deva” can be taken as a reference to nitya sUrIs. Or, it is also possible to take “devas” as referring to the devotees or prapannas with sAttvika bhAva (knowledge of seshatvam) serving him with hands, feet, etc and meditating on his kalyAna guNas.
“skambhah, katamaH” – He is thus the support of true nature of the jivAtma, which is seshatvamsince service cannot exist without the master to serve. He is also the foremost one as he alone accepts the services offered to him by such devotees.
ápa tásya hatáṃ támo vyā́vr̥ttaḥ sá pāpmánā sárvāṇi tásmin jyótīṃṣi yā́ni trī́ṇi prajā́patau 40
Meaning: Which three lights (rik, yajus and sAman) are in the Lord of all sentients and non-sentients (PrajApati), all (knowledge) is in that. By his (supreme power of vishNu that resides resplendent in the sun), darkness or prakrti is dispelled and sin is removed. He is uncovered by sins.
This mantra is a reference to the Aditya Mandala. In that is the flame in which abide the three purushas of the form of Rk, Saman and Yajus, with their mandalas and lokas. So, in the form of these three, the vidya or knowledge alone of the three vedas is shining out. The yOgIs see this form of the mandala of the three vedas as having a beautiful auspicious form and meditate on that.
Hence, “trini jyOtImsi” refers to the rk, yajus and saman. “sarvAni tasmin” – the knowledge or vidyA of the three vedas is present in this. Since there are different types of knowledge and different things to attain knowledge about, it is in plural (sarvAni). Sriman nArAyaNa is prajApati, or the lord of all sentients and insentients abiding in the sun.
The vishNu purAna contains the following statement,
sarvashaktiH purA visnoH rk yajus sAmas-saMJita
saiSa trayee tapatyaMho jagatashra hiMsati yA (~vishNu purAna 2.11.7)
Meaning: The Supreme Power of vishNu is signified by the names Rik, Yajus and Saman; this trayee burns all sins and that resides resplendent in the Sun.
“vyAvR^ittaH sa pApmanA” - He is devoid of sins or karmas. This is according to “eSha sarvabhUtAntarAtmA apahatapApmA divyo deva eka nArAyaNaH” in the subalOpanishad.
yó vetasáṃ hiraṇyáyaṃ tiṣṭhantaṃ salilé véda sá vái gúhyaḥ prajā́patiḥ 41
Meaning: The one who knows the golden (jIvAtma associated with desire), situated in the waters (subtle elements), established in the perishable (avyaktAkAsa/unmanifest ether) woven as warp and woof, is indeed the hidden Lord of all sentients and insentients.
The brihadAranyaka Upanishad contains a dialogue between Gargi and YajnavAlkya which explains the meaning of the rk.
“hiranyayam” – golden, signifies rajas or desire. The jIvAtma in samsAra is inseparably associated with desire, thus it is called “desire” itself by virtue of aprthak-siddhi.
“salile” – the waters, ie, the subtle elements denoted by the term. They cause rajas or desire by association with the jIvAtma
“vetasa” – vayate tasyati iti vetasa – the perishable which is woven as warp and woof. The perishable is nothing but the unmanifest ether. The brihadAraNyaka Upanishad refers to Brahman as “Akshara” or “Immutable/Imperishable”, as the support of this akAsha. Hence, to drive home this difference, the ether has been referred to as perishable.
One must note that Akasha here does not signify vAyu and that which is evolved because that elemental ether is not the source of evolution. It refers to unmanifest ether or avyAktAkAsha.
Guhyah – The Lord, who is hidden, is the support of that AkAsha which in turn supports the subtle elements, that are associated with the jIvAtma. The name occurs in the sahasranAma and Bhattar explains how he is hidden as follows – his divyAtma svarUpa is concealed by his divine body (divya mangala vigraha) which is aprAkrta and pachOpanishad mayam.
“prajApati” – This Brahman is the Lord of all sentients and insentients.
tantrám éke yuvatī́ vírūpe abhyākrā́maṃ vayataḥ ṣáṇmayūkham prā́nyā́ tántūṃs tiráte dhatté anyā́ nā́pa vr̥ñjāte ná gamāto ántam 42
Meaning: The two young devIs, srI devi and bhUmi devi (yuvatI), each of whom is unique (matchless in auspicious attributes and stature), having different natures/forms (virUpE), go towards ie, resort or surrender for mediation (vayatE), the “loom” or principal means (tantra), ie, sriman nArAyaNa, who has the sixfold nature, ie, characterized by 6 attributes (sanmayUkham) by repeatedly appealing for puruSakAram (abhyAkramam). One of them (srI devI) crosses over or draws out, ie, redeems (tirate) the jIvAs signified by “threads” (tantU), the other one (bhU devI) fixes them (in meditation on paramAtma). They never interrupt (their labor), nor do they reach the end (of their mediation).
yuvatI virUpE tantram eke – This refers to Lakshmi and BhU Devi. Both are unique or matchless in their own way with auspicious qualities but have different physical forms, or natures of wealth and modesty respectively. But their intent and function is only one, which is puruSakAram or mediation.
abhyAkramam – They repeatedly appeal to bhagavAn on save the jivAs.
vayataH – They move towards bhagavAn. In other words, they perform puruSakAram by themselves surrendering first to bhagavAn, so that he grants their wish to save the jivAs.
tantra – This refers metaphorically to a loom, and also has the meaning of the underlying principle or means.  Just as the loom or frame is the base to weave the cloth, paramAtma is the underlying means for all sAdhaNas.
sanmayUkham – This refers to bhagavAn who shines with the 6 attributes of jnAna, balam, veeryam, aishwaryam, Shakti and tejas required to save the jivAs. In other words, he alone has the power to protect.
prAnyA tantUMstirate – srI dEvI crosses over, ie, wins over or redeems the erring jIvAs (tiratE). The They listen to her advice by being attracted to her “vAtsalya guNa” (affection) and are won over. This is illustrated in the case of sIta who protected kAkAsura. BhU devI ensures that the jIvAs who have been redeemed remain fixed in their conviction that bhagavAn is the means, as they keep meditating on his auspicious attributes. This is illustrated by how bhU devI obtained the charama slOka from varAha.
The jIvAs are called “threads” because they are woven about or supported by the “loom” or underlying principle which is paramAtma.
“nApa vR^i~njAte na gamato antam” – This can be interpreted in two ways. If we take it as referring to the two devIs, it means they never interrupt their labor of mediation as they do not change their favorable disposition to the jIvAs. And they also never reach the end of it, ie, even if the jIvA attains moksha, it requires their mediation to enjoy paramAtma eternally.
If we take this as pertaining to the jIvAs signified by “tantU” rather than the devIs, it means this – that after being redeemed by the devIs, these jIvAs never interrupt their meditation on paramAtma as the means, and they never reach the end of such meditation as his auspicious qualities are inexhaustible.
This rk can be summed up in a nutshell by srI vedAnta desikan’s words in the rahasya ratnAvali:
“sarva swAminiyAy, sarvEshwaranukku seshamAy, saha-dharmachAriniAna periya pirAttiar, ithalayilE vAtsalyAdhisiyatAlum, athalayilE vAllabhyadhisiyatAlum, purushakAramAy konDu, ijjivargalluku thanjam AgirAl”
Here, Acharya says that Lakshmi, who is the SarvEsvarI, the servant of SarvEshvara (sriman nArAyaNa), who aids him in his dharma of sharanAgata rakshaNam by herself being the puruSakAra bhUtai (mediator), attracts the jivA to obey her by virtue of her affection and attracts bhagavAn to obey her because of her beauty and thus, by virtue of puruSakAram or such mediation, she becomes the cause of protection (rakSana hetu) for the jivA.
táyor aháṃ parinŕ̥tyantyor iva ná ví jānāmi yatarā́ parástāt
púmān enad vayaty úd gr̥ṇanti púmān enad ví jabhārā́dhi nā́ke 43
Meaning: Of the two consorts (tayor), acting alike for the sake of the jivA (parinRtyantor), I do not know, which is the superior (in attributes). The jIvAtma (pUmAn) goes, ie, resorts to the paramAtma who is the underlying principle or means (enad). Besides (being the means now), he (the paramAtma) bore or sustained it (the jIvAtma), in the supreme abode (nAka) which celebrates (paramAtma).
It is not possible to distinguish the greatness of the two consorts. Their kindness towards all jivAs, ability to tolerate the faults of the jivAs and steadfastedness in seeking the protection of bhagavAn for the jivAs are equal. The veda purusha wonders – can I ever say which one is superior in guNams?
“parinRtyantor” – nRtya refers to acting as puruSakAra bhUtai or mediator. “pari” – for the sake of the jivAs.
“pumAn” – Refers to the jIvAtma.
“vayatE” – resorts to paramAtma.
“enad” – refers to the “tantra” or means mentioned in the previous rk, ie, paramAtma.
The second line simply means that not only does paramAtma act as the means here, but also in srI vaikunta, he is the means for the jIvAs to enjoy him. Thus, “upAyatva” or being the means is his essential nature and continues eternally.
imé mayū́khā úpa tastabhur dívaṃ sā́māni cakrus tásarāṇi vā́tave 44
Meaning: These, lustrous (mayUkhA) jnAnIs with extended dharma bhUta jnAnam or attributive knowledge, stopped/immobilized the mind which is shining (divam) and made the sAmans into the shuttles or means, for movement (in all worlds or towards paramAtma).
Due to such puruShakAram,these jIvAs became lustrous due to extended dharma bhUta jnAna and stopped the movement of the fickle mind. Here, the mind is called “divam” as it is shining due to perception of sense objects through the indrIyAs.
These jnAnIs sing the sAmAns and move. The movement can be taken as “singing the sAmAns, which are a praise of paramAtma’s auspicious qualities, and move or resort to paramAtma”.
Alternatively, another way to take it is by Shruti which says “sarvAn lOkAn kAmAni kAmarUpyanusancharan” - the devas or the liberated move in all worlds like  dyulOka, prithvi and others. They move among all objects in all directions. They also move in the abode of the Supreme Brahman, Sriman nArAyaNa. This they do by virtue of being free of karma. The purpose of such movement is to serve bhagavAn at all times, all places and in all states.
Ultimately, both meanings are the same. And thus, the first part of the sUkta concludes by emphasising the upAyatva of bhagavAn, the puruShakAratva of his devIs and the seshatva of the jIvAs.
(to be continued in the next part)


  1. Kudos to the blog authors for the excellent and sincere efforts in bringing out the true meaning of the Skambha Sukta.


  2. This is regarding the rk "yo devānāṃ nāmadhā eka eva". This has been used by many vaishnavas to prove that Brahman/Narayana alone bears the names of other gods. Even we had assumed that was the meaning of this rk, and as you can see above in the introduction of the Skambha Suktam, had cited it in that context.

    However, I realized that the rk does not mean that, but something entirely different. Thought of sharing it with everyone here. This is the translation of the mantra in its' entirety:

    yo naḥ pitā janitā yo vidhātā dhāmāni veda bhuvanāniviśvā |
    yo devānāṃ nāmadhā eka eva taṃ sampraśnambhuvanā yantyanyā ||

    Meaning: He, the Cause (pitā) who created us, who produced the Universal womb and creates Brahma (vidhātā), knows all the Jivas (dhāmāni) and all the bodies such as man, deva etc. The giver of names (ie, gross forms) to the Jivas (devas) is one alone, the Jivas who are other (than the Supreme Brahman) come to inquire about him.

    This rk is actually quite simple. “Pita” means father in general, but in Vedic parlance, means “Cause” since the term refers to akAra who is Vishnu, the root cause. “dhāma” means abode or light. Taken as light, it refers to the self-luminous Jivas. “bhuvanāniviśvā” means all the abodes, ie, bodies of man, deva etc which are the residence for these jivas. The Lord knows the Jivas and the bodies as he is the innerself of both.

    Then, the rk goes onto say “yo devānāṃ nāmadhā eka eva” – Here, due to the context given above, “devānāṃ” refers to the jIvās since the term “deva” means “shining”. The Lord is “nāmadhā” as he initiates creation and assigns gross forms to these jivas based on their karmas, and hence they become known as man, deva etc. Hence, he is said to be their name giver. That this is referring to creation is proven by the terms “eka eva” which imply that the Lord is the material and efficient cause of the Universe.

    Finally, he is to be inquired by the jivas who are different to him – the permanent difference between the Jiva and Paramatma is brought out by the term “anyā” and it is in plural to indicate the permanent plurality of Jivas – this refutes brahmaikya vAda. As the shruti itself says “kāraṇaṃ tu dhyeyaḥ:”, this exhorts meditation on the Cause to the exclusion of all as the highest object of attainment.

    Thus, it has nothing to do with claiming Brahman bears the names of the other devas, though that is also a correct tattva.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Skambha here clearly refers to the Supreme Brahman. It is seen in the 4th mantra "kvà prépsan dīpyata ūrdhvó agníḥ" etc that the inquiry is directed towards the Being who is the Supreme Goal.

      Adi-Sesha bears the cosmos, but the Lord bears even Adi-Sesha and hence is the ultimate support.

  4. Superb commentary by the author.
    Adiyen was pondering how every attribute in the Skhambha sooktha aptly matches Sri Nrusimha avatar of Sriman Narayana when he manifested from a sthambha in the purana.
    Jai Sriman Narayana

    1. The pAncharAtra also says that the Lord takes the form of a pillar called "viSaka-yUpa" with 4 nodes of different colours that are the 4 vyUhAs. Hence, if ever "endless pillar" occurs in shAstra, it is a description of that and not necessarily a shiva-linga.

      However, "Skambha" doesn't denote a literal pillar here.


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