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A sahasranama (Sanskrit:सहस्रनाम; sahasranāma) is a type of Hindu scripture in which a deity is referred to by 1,000 or more different names. Sahasranamas are classified as stotras, or hymns of praise, a type of devotional scripture. Sahasra means a thousand, or more generally, a very large number. Nama (nāman) means name. The literal translation of sahasranama is "a thousand names".
A sahasranama provides a terse but encyclopedic guide to the attributes and mythology surrounding a deity. There are also many shorter stotras, called ashtottara-shata-nāma stotras, which have only 108 names.
The role of sahasranamas in spiritual practice
Many religions include praise of the Divine Name as an important part of their tradition. In Hinduism all of the most widely-known forms of the divine have sahasranama stotra devoted to them. Recitation and study of these often constitute part of the daily routine of formal worship both at home and in temples.
Among the Nine Expressions of Bhakti, usually elaborated in Hindu tradition, four have relevance to the use of sahasranamas:
- shravana, listening to recitals of names and glories of God
- nama-sankirtana (nāma-sankīrtana), reciting the names of God either set to music or not
- smarana, recalling divine deeds and teaching of divine deeds.
- archana (archanā), worshipping the divine with ritual repetition of divine names.
A Lakshārchanā involves the repetition of names one hundred thousand times. Laksha, in Sanskrit, means one hundred thousand. This is an intensive version of the Sahasra-nāma-archanā. It involves the repeated chanting of sahasranamas, multiplying the number of the performances by the number of the people who joined in the chorus.
To achieve this goal several people sit together and perform repetition of the names in chorus. This continues for a prefixed time duration, usually for several days, chanting for a certain number of hours each day. The recital of the different participants for the several days adds up to at least 100,000 repetitions of divine names.
There are occasions when a Koti archanā is also performed to the deity by counting up to 100 Lakshārchanās. Koti (crore, in English) is one hundred lakshas; that is, ten million.
Such elaborate devotions usually mean a good deal of expense and so they are usually done in temples or public organizations which can obtain the necessary sponsorship.
The most well-known and widely used include the following:
- Vishnu sahasranama is found in the Mahabharata.
- Shiva sahasranama has eight different versions. The best-known version is from Book 13 of the Mahabharata.
- Lalita sahasranama. This is part of the Lalitopākhyāna, one of the apocrypha added to the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa.
- Ganesha sahasranama has two different major versions, with subvariants of each version. One major version is based on I.46 of the Ganesha Purana. The second major version is completely alliterative, with all of the names beginning with the letter "g" (ग्).
Tantrikas chant the Bhavani Nāma Sahasra Stuti and the Kali Sahasranāma.
While the Vishnu and Shiva Sahāsranamas are popular amongst all Hindus, the Lalita Sahasranama is mostly chanted in South India. The Ganesha Sahasranama is mainly chanted by Ganapatya. The Bhavani Nāma Sahasra Stuti is the choice of Kashmiri Paṇḍits and the Kali Sahasranāma is mostly chanted by Bengalis.
- Names of God
- 108 names of Durga
- Shiva Sahasranama
- Vishnu Sahasranama
- Lalita sahasranama
- Ganesha Sahasranama
- Swami Vimalananda. Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram. With Namavali, Introduction, English Rendering and Index. Fourth Edition. (Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam: 1985).
- P. Sankaranarayanan. Sri Viṣṇusahasranāma Stotram. With English Translation of Srī Saṅkara Bhagavatpāda’s Commentary. (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan: Mumbai: 1996).
- Ram Karan Sharma. Śivasahasranāmāṣṭakam: Eight Collections of Hymns Containing One Thousand and Eight Names of Śiva. With Introduction and Śivasahasranāmākoṣa (A Dictionary of Names). (Nag Publishers: Delhi, 1996). ISBN 81-7081-350-6. This work compares eight versions of the Śivasahasranāmāstotra. The Preface and Introduction (in English) by Ram Karan Sharma provide an analysis of how the eight versions compare with one another. The text of the eight versions is given in Sanskrit.
- Swami Chidbhavananda. Siva Sahasranama Stotram. Third Edition (Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam: Tirupparaithurai, 1997). With Navavali, Introduction, and English Rendering. The version provided by Chidbhavananda is from chapter 17 of the Anuśāsana Parva of the Mahābharata.
- Swami Tapasyananda (Editor). Śrī Lalitā Sahasranāma. (Sri Ramakrishna Math: Chennai, n.d.). With text, transliteration, and translation. ISBN 81-7120-104-0.
- Labhashankar Mohanlal Joshi. Lalitā Sahasranāma: A Comprehensive Study of One Thousand Names of Lalitā Mahā-Tripurasundarī. Tantra in Comtemporary Researches, no. 2. (D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd.: New Delhi, 1998). ISBN 81-246-0073-2.
- R. Ananthakrishna Sastry. Lalitāsahasranāma. With Bhāskararaya’s Commentary and English Translation. (Gian Publishing House: Delhi, 1986). First reprint edition in India, 1986.
- Joshi, op. cit., p. 11.
- The Gaṇeśa Purāṇa. Nag Publishers; Reprint 1993. "Introduction" in English by Ram Karan Sharma. Text in Sanskrit. ISBN 81-7081-279-8.
- Gaṇeśasahasranāmastotram: mūla evaṁ srībhāskararāyakṛta 'khadyota' vārtika sahita. (Prācya Prakāśana: Vārāṇasī, 1991). Source text with a commentary by Bhāskararāya in Sanskrit.
- Swami Krishnananda. A Short history of religious and philosophical thought in India. Divine Life Society. Sivanandanagar, 1970.
- C. Ramanujachari. The Spiritual heritage of Thiagaraja. Ramakrishna Students Home, Mylapore, Chennai, 1957.
- V. Krishnamurthy. Essentials of Hinduism. Narosa Publishing House. New Delhi, 1989.