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The Glory of Çri Viñëu Sahasranäma

The Setting

The Pāõóava brothers, Yudhiùñhira and Arjuna, were both birds of a feather.

Moments before the great Kurukùetra war began, the younger one, Arjuna, was
consumed by a profound sense of moral despair. It took the great Gītopadeśam of 700
verses delivered by Lord Kçùõa to dispel Arjuna’s mood of world-weariness, to bring
him back to his senses and to make him resolve again to do his duty in war.

When the Kurukùetra War ended, it was the elder scion of the Pāõóava Dynasty,
Yudhiùñhira’s turn to plunge headlong into deep moral dejection, perhaps not as
dramatically as his younger brother, but no less distressingly. Arjuna’s grief had been
caused by anticipation of the tragedies of a War wherein Dharma would be the first
and worst casualty. Yudhiùñhira’s despair was caused in the aftermath of the same
War… wherein the worst fears of Arjuna, sadly, all came true.

At the end of the gruesome, fratricidal 18-day Kurukùetra War, there were very few
victors left to blow trumpets in triumph. On both the Kaurava and Pāõóava sides, the
grim task of grieving for the dead took precedence over everything else. Those who
survived the devastation were left only to survey the mayhem and mourn the dead. In
the Pāõóava camp, as in the Kaurava’s, instead of bugles blaring out victory, only the
piteous wailing of bereaved mothers and widows was heard.

For Yudhiùñhira, the victory at Kurukùetra seemed an utterly hollow one. It had been
nothing but a mindless bloodbath in which brother had savaged brother, father and
son, guru and śiśya had gone for each other’s throat, in a no-holds-barred orgy of
unmitigated violence. Heinous acts had been committed; humane norms had been
forgotten and all laws of dharma thrown with impunity to the winds. In terms of
human life, pain, and suffering, and in terms of lost values and cherished beliefs, the
cost of the 18-day War, as Yudhiùñhira saw it, was indescribably, staggeringly
irreparable.

As he watched the ghostly battlefields of Kurukùetra fall silent, Yudhiùñhira felt an
immense pall of perplexity descend upon him. “The War is over”, he thought, “and
victory is won. But is it worth all this? Should this be how it all it ends finally? Is this the
true purpose of life? Is this the happiness one seeks in life? Is this what we have to leave
behind for our children and future progeny? This war they say is dharma-yuddha! Is
this the final reward of dharma? What is this so-called Dharma?”…

Eighteen days ago, at the very beginning of the War, his brother Arjuna had sought

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solace in Lord Kçùõa’s profound Gītopadeśam… That had been 18 long days ago…
Rivers of blood had flown since then and many a Pāõóava hero slain senselessly… The
pain and woe Yudhiùñhira now felt in his heart derived no comfort from the forgotten
wisdom and lessons of the Bhagavadgītā. There was a dark storm beginning to gather
inside Yudhiùñhira’s sinking heart; it grew unbearably heavy and troubled…

In his hour of crisis, the younger Arjuna had turned to Lord Kçùõa, his friend,
philosopher and mentor, for consolation and encouragement. Who was Yudhiùñhira to
turn to now in his own moment of crisis and confusion, and receive similar wisdom of
counsel? His guru, Droõācārya, was long dead in battle. And wise, eminent elders on
either side of the Kaurava and Pāõóava family, to whom Yudhiùñhira might have
otherwise gone for comfort, had all been killed in battle, one by one.

”To whom can I now go to for comfort? In this moment of pain and isolation,”
Yudhiùñhira bitterly cried to himself, “I see nothing but darkness and confusion in the
world around me? Who will share the burden of my soul and relieve it of its grief?”

The Śānti Parva of the Mahābhārata tells us that Sage Vyāsa, sensing the great pall of
gloom that had enveloped Yudhiùñhira, advised him as follows:

s te svRrhSye;u s<zyaNmnis iSwtan!,

DeÄa ÉagIrwI puÇ> svR}> svRxmRivt!.

sa te sarvarahasyeùu sa§śayān manasi sthitān |
chettā bhāgīrathī putraþ sarvaj–aþ sarvadharmavit ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.38.7)

”O Yudhiùñhira! Do not give way to grief! Go now and quickly to your Grand Sire,
Bhīùma! He knows everything there is to be known in this world. He is replete with all
knowledge of Dharma. The son of the pious and pure Gaïgā will dispel all your
doubts.”

ïaetuimCDis ceÏmaRniolen yuixiór,

àEih ÉI:m< mhabahae v&Ï< k…éiptamhm!.

śrotum icchasi ced dharmān akhilena yudhiùñhira |
praihi bhīùma§ mahābāho vçddha§ kurupitāmaham ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.38.6)

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”My dear Yudhiùñhira, arise from this state of depression, tarry not, go forthwith to
your Grand Sire! To know all dharmas, resort to the eldest of the Kuru clan, Bhīùma,
the Great Warrior.”

Vyāsa further urged the eldest of the Pāõóava brothers:

jnyamas y< devI idVya iÇpwga ndI,

sa]aÎdzR yae devaNsvaRÁz³puraegman!.

ySy äü;Ry> pu{ya inTymasn! sÉasd>,

ySy naividt< ik< icJ}an}eye;u iv*te.

s te vúyit xmR}> sUúmxmaRwRtÅvivt!,

tm_yeih pura àa[aNs ivmuÂit xmRivt!.

janayāmāsa ya§ devī divyā tripathagā nadī |
sākùād dadarśa yo devān sarvā– śakrapurogamān ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.38.8)

yasya brahmarùayaþ puõyā nityamāsan sabhāsadaþ |
yasya nāvidita§ ki§ cijj–ānaj–eyeùu vidyate ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.38.15)

sa te vakùyati dharmaj–aþ sūkùmadharmārthatattvavit |
tam abhyehi purā prāõān sa vimu–cati dharmavit ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.38.16)

”Did you know, O Yudhiùñhira, he who has directly seen the great lords Indra and
others, in whose court great sages daily assembled and held forth on lofty matters, he
whose knowledge is complete and without anything left unknown, he is the great seer,
Bhīùma! He will clear all your doubts, being fully conversant with Dharma in its
minutest detail.”

”Go now,” said Vyāsa to Yudhiùñhira, “go now to Bhīùma and unburden yourself of
all despair and moral quandary.”

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Upon hearing Vyāsa’s words, Yudhiùñhira began to recall how during the first 9 days
of the Kurukùetra War, when the venerable Bhīùmācārya had been their commander-
in-chief, the Kaurava forces had seemed virtually invincible. So terrible had been the
havoc Bhīùma caused, that for a while, it had even looked as though the war was all
but over for the Pāõóavas. So valiantly and skillfully had the Pitāmaha fought and led
his forces.

Yudhiùñhira also recalled how the Pāõóavas had to finally resort to a strategy of subtle
subterfuge to put an end to Bhīùma. On day 10 of the War, when it became clear that
unless Bhīùma was stopped the Pāõóavas would be simply routed, they had asked
Śikhaõói, a lesser prince in their camp who was known to be of doubtful gender, to
take the battle into Bhīùma’s camp. When Bhīùma faced Śikhaõói, a mere eunuch, the
venerable Sire was overcome by severe misgivings about having to battle a warrior who
was not a man. Taking advantage of Bhīùma’s momentary hesitation and distraction,
Śikhaõói had quickly felled the great Pitāmaha… And when Arjuna also joined forces
with Śikhaõói, their combined onslaught brought Bhīùma to his knees in no time.

Succumbing to Arjuna’s barrage of arrows, the great Bhīùma became grievously
wounded. His whole body had been ravaged by arrows, his limbs and torso shot
through and through to pieces. Crippled thus, bloodied and totally immobilized, the
great Bhīùma had been laid upon a makeshift bed of arrows (śaratalpa), which Arjuna
had fashioned, and there it was, on the battle-field, that the great warrior now lay,
waiting for the inevitable, imminent end…

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Nor in sheet or in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a Warrior taking his rest
With his martial cloak around him.

Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
We gazed on the face that was (near) dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame, fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone –
But we left him alone with his glory.

(from “The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna” by Charles Wolfe)

Recalling the sad and moribund state in which they had all left Bhīùmācārya … on a
rough bed of arrows, a śaratalpa, Yudhiùñhira was rather skeptical of what sort of
counsel or solace the Pitāmaha could possibly offer him at that point in time. The Great

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Warrior was grappling with Death; it was hardly the appropriate time to approach him
for answers to the great questions and issues of Life.

Yudhiùñhira was therefore not very impressed with Vyāsa’s suggestion.

Sensing Yudhiùñhira’s hesitation, Lord Kçùõa Himself joined Vyāsa in persuading the
eldest Pāõóava to hurry to Bhīùma’s side. Kçùõa urged Yudhiùñhira:

zrtLpgtae ÉI:m> zaMyiÚv ÷tazn>,

ma< Xyait pué;VyaºSttae me tÌt< mn>.

idVyaôai[ mhateja yae xaryit buiÏman!,

sa¼a<í cturae veda<StmiSm mnsa gt>.

s ih ÉUt< c ÉVy< c Év½ pué;;RÉ,

veiÄ xmRÉ&ta< ïeóSttae me tÌt< mn>.

tiSmÚStimte ÉI:me kaErva[a< xurNxre,

}anaNyLpI Éiv:yiNt tSmaÅva< caedyaMyhm!.

y½ Tv< vúyse ÉI:m pa{fvayanup&CDte,

ved àvada #v te SwaSyiNt vsuxatle.

śaratalpagato bhīùmaþ śāmyann iva hutāśanaþ |
mā§ dhyāti puruùavyāghras tato me tadgata§ manaþ ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.46.11)

divyāstrāõi mahātejā yo dhārayati buddhimān |
sāïgā§śca caturo vedā§s tam asmi manasā gataþ ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.46.16)

sa hi bhūta§ ca bhavya§ ca bhavacca puruùarùabha |
vetti dharmabhçtā§ śreùñhas tato me tadgata§ manaþ ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.46.19)

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tasminnastamite bhīùme kauravāõā§ dhurandhare |
j–ānānyalpī bhaviùyanti tasmāt tvā§ codayāmyaham ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.46.23)

yacca tva§ vakùyase bhīùma pāõóavāyānupçcchate |
veda pravādā iva te sthāsyanti vasudhātale ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.29)

”O Yudhiùñhira! The great Bhīùma, lying on the bed of arrows, resembles fire calmed
after being suppressed. He is mentally worshipping Me even in this state. My mind
hence has hastened to him. Radiant is his whole personality. Not only has he mastered
all there is in the art of warfare, he has also mastered the Vedas and all allied scriptures.
If he departs now from this world, dear Yudhiùñhira, the j–āna mārga itself will be
dealt a great loss. I therefore entreat you, O heir to the Pāõóava crown, to repair to him
and gain his high wisdom. And, Bhīùma, whatever that he may teach now to these
Pāõóavas, those lessons will indeed become famous as the very Veda-s of this world!”

Ay< àa[anuiTss&]uSt< sveR=_yeTy p&CDt,

k«TõaiNh ivivxaNxma¡íatuvR{yRSy veÅyym!.

@; v&Ï> pura laekaNsMàaßaeit tnuTyjam!,

t< zIºmnuyuÃXv< s<zyaNmnis iSwtan!.
aya§ prāõān utsisçkùusta§ sarve’bhyetya pçcchata |
kçtsnān hi vividhān dharmā§ś cāturvarõyasya vettyayam ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.9)

eùa vçddhaþ purā lokān samprāpnoti tanutyajām |
ta§ śīghram anuyu–jadhva§ sa§śayān manasi sthitān ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.10)

”Bhīùma is fully conversant with the prescribed Dharma of all varõa-s. Go to him
quickly, O Pāõóava, and get all your doubts and misgivings (sa§śaya) of life and
living resolved.”

The account above is of an extremely heart-rending scene in the Mahābhārata. In it we
witness two avatāra puruùa-s paying their farewell tribute to a giant of a j–āni in the

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person of Bhīùmācārya. One is Kçùõa Paramātma, the last avatāra on earth of sākùāt
Śrīman Nārāyaõa; and the other is… vyāsāya viùõu rūpāya vyāsa rūpāya viùõave.

The words used by both to describe Bhīùma are indeed poignant and significant. They
are emphatic confirmation of the respect and affection which God, the Supreme
Brahman, is said to reserve for the true jïāni-s of this world. Kçùõa’s tribute to
Bhīùma here is, in fact, verily an echo of what earlier in the Bhagavadgītā He had told
Arjuna:

ctuivRxa ÉjNte ma< jna> suk«itnae=juRn,

AataeR ij}asurwaRwIR }anI c Ért;RÉ.

te;a< }anI inTyyu´ @kÉi´ivRiz:yte,

iàyae ih }ainnae=TywRmh< s c mm iày>.

caturvidhā bhajante mā§ janāþ sukçtino’rjuna |
ārto jij–āsurarthārthī j–ānī ca bharatarùabha ||

teùā§ j–ānī nityayukta ekabhaktirviśiùyate |
priyo hi j–ānino’tyarthamaha§ sa ca mama priyaþ ||

(Bhagavadgītā VII. 16-17)

”O Arjuna, there are 4 kinds of souls in this world who profess devotion to Me – he
who is distressed, he who seeks wealth, he who is inquisitive and he who is in quest of
the Absolute – the supreme jïāni. Of these, the jïāni whose devotion springs out of his
knowledge of Me, is the best. For I am very dear to him; and he is very dear to Me.”

Kçùõa tells Yudhiùñhira, “As he lies upon the painful śaratalpa, the great Bhīùma’s
mind, even at this very moment, is firmly transfixed in Me. This is why I must hasten to
him. He is a jïāni among jïāni-s and this is why I reside in Bhīùma’s mind at this
moment even as we speak. And so you too, O Yudhiùñhira, delay not and follow Me!
Let us rush to Bhīùmācārya’s side now…”

The element of urgency in Kçùõa’s statement above is amply clear from the expression
ta§ śīghramanuyu–jadhva§… Clearly Kçùõa was telling Yudhiùñhira, “Hurry up, go
to the dying Bhīùma’s side! You may yet get to hear words of wisdom and dharma
from the Pitāmaha! I too am hastening to be with him in his last moments on earth, he
who is a parama j–āni and a soul very dear to Me!”

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Together with Vyāsa and Lord Kçùõa, Yudhiùñhira went along to the spot where
Bhīùmācārya lay limp and lifeless upon the śaratalpa.

Looking at the mangled body of the aging warrior, gasping his last, Yudhiùñhira
became once again unconvinced that it was possible to elicit answers to the great
questions of life vexing him, from someone who, obviously, was in the painful throes of
death. So it took Yudhiùñhira quite by surprise when he heard Kçùõa address Bhīùma
with the following words:

n te GlainnR te mUDaR n dahae n c te éja,

àÉiv:yiNt ga¼ey ]uiTppase n caPyut.

sÅvSw< c mnae inTy< tv ÉI:m Éiv:yit,

rjStmae_ya< riht< "nEmuR´ #vaefuraqœ.

na te glānirna te mūrchā na dāho na ca te rujā |
prabhaviùyanti gāïgeya kùutpipāse na cāpyuta ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.52.16)

sattvastha§ ca mano nitya§ tava bhīùma bhaviùyati |
rajas tamobhyā§ rahita§ ghanairmukta ivoóurāñ ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.52.18)

”O Bhīùma, there is no weariness in you even after all the great exertions and pain of
war. That is because you are a votary of the Supreme Truth (Sat). You are free of rajo
tamo guõa. You are as pure and serene as the moon uncovered by clouds.”

Bhīùma slowly opened his blood-shot eyes and looked around. He saw the entire Kuru
clan, or whatever was left of it, as it stood grieving around his śaratalpa. Then with
eyes fixed firmly on Kçùõa, and palms folded in prostration, the old warrior replied.
The words Bhīùma now spoke simply amazed Yudhiùñhira!

In a clear and strong voice Bhīùma said:

dahae maeh> ïmíEv ¬mae GlainStwa éja,

tv àsadaÌaeivNd s*ae Vypgtan".

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dāho mohaþ śramaścaiva klamo glānistathā rujā |
tava prasādād govinda sadyo vyapagatānagha ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.17)

”Due to your kindness, O Kçùõa, all the infirmities of life have drained away from me
completely – covetousness, desire, fatigue, pain, senility… I am free from all these…”

y½ ÉUt< Éiv:y½ Év½ prm*ute,

tTsvRmnupZyaim pa[aE )limvaihtm!.

yacca bhūta§ bhaviùyacca bhavacca paramadyute |
tat sarvam anupaśyāmi pāõau phalamivāhitam ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.18)

”O Kçùõa! My Lord! I am now able to visualize fully the past, the present and the
future… as easily and lucidly as one can see a fruit held in the palm of one’s hand!”

vedae´aíEv ye xmaR vedaNtinihtaZc ye,

taNsvaRNsMàpZyaim vrdanaÄvaCyut.

vedoktāścaiva ye dharmā vedāntanihitāśca ye |
tān sarvān samprapaśyāmi varadānāt tavācyuta ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.19)

”The eternal truths enshrined in the Veda-s and Vedānta now stand visible and
absolutely transparent to me… thanks to your infinite Grace, my dearest Acyuta!”

yuvev caiSm s<v&ÄSTvdnuXyan b&<iht>,

v´…< ïey> smwaeR=iSm TvTàsada¾nadRn.

yuveva cāsmi sa§vçttastvadanudhyāna bç§hitaþ|
vaktu§ śreyaþ samartho’smi tvatprasādājjanārdana ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.23)

”My Lord, my Janārdana! I have always worshipped You deep within my mind.

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“Though I am now an old and utterly ravaged man, I feel as fresh and vigorous as a
mere youth! By your Grace alone, O Kçùõa, I feel I am fit enough, even in this state of
body and mind, to explain the greatest lessons of dharma to be learnt in this world!
This dharma is the only true means to attain eternal good fortune (śreyas) and moral
merit!”

The above scene is graphically portrayed in the Mahābhārata and is a thrilling and
magnificent one indeed! It is about an encounter that is truly far more historic than the
one that took place between Kçùõa and Arjuna when the Bhagavadgītā was delivered.
It takes place at a meeting of the minds of four of the mightiest, loftiest characters in the
entire Mahābhārata viz. Vyāsa, Yudhiùñhira, Bhīùma and Paramātma Vāsudeva
Himself.

This encounter has many significant moral lessons to offer us, and we shall discuss the
most significant of them in the following pages. But by far the most outstanding fact to
emerge from it is that the Viùõu Sahasranāma, which ensued from the lips of Bhīùma
a little later in the encounter, was undoubtedly and unmistakably, pre-ordained and
inspired by Divine Will.

While Kçùõa had been obliged to deliver the Bhagavadgītā at the behest of Arjuna, a
mortal after all, Viùõu Sahasranāma was delivered at the behest of Lord Kçùõa, God
Almighty Himself! While the Gita had been intended in the main for Arjuna only, the
Sahasranāma was meant for a larger and far more august audience that included, not
only Arjuna, but Yudhiùñhira as well, not to speak of the great Vyāsa and Lord Kçùõa
Himself… who, more than anybody else in Kurukùetra there that day, was very eager
to listen to what Bhīùma had to say!

There are indeed very many subtle (sūkùmam) lessons we can learn from a close study
of the events that occurred immediately prior to Bhīùma delivering the Viùõu
Sahasranāma. Let us now examine a few of them:

(1) Military victors in a war are not always necessarily the moral victors. The reason
why Kçùõa and Sage Vyāsa urged Yudhiùñhira, the leader of the triumphant
Pāõóavas, to go to Bhīùma, the leader of the defeated Kauravas, for moral counsel was
to make Yudhiùñhira realize that often the conqueror might have much to learn from
the vanquished. It is no disgrace; in fact, it is often good policy for the victorious to
show humility in the presence of the defeated... especially one so exalted as Bhīùma.

(2) Never dismiss an old person as being senile even if he/she happens to be on the
deathbed. It is easy for all of us to regard the old and dying as useless, as a burden on
the family and on society as a whole. It is tempting to ask, “What is there left for this old
man, who is counting his days to the grave, to offer me in terms of living wisdom and
counsel? His senses are taking leave of him; his faculties are fading one by one; his
memory is weak, speech slurred and judgment faulty… Of what possible use anymore
is this old, dying man to me?” The reason why Kçùõa and Vyāsa urged Yudhiùñhira to

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approach the dying Bhīùma for moral counsel was to dispel precisely such common but
mistaken notions everywhere in the world about old, decrepit persons having really
nothing to offer to the living ones who survive them.

If Yudhiùñhira too, like common humanity, had been similarly dismissive of the dying
Bhīùma on that fateful day in Kurukùetra, the Viùõu Sahasranāma might never have
probably seen the light of day. The fact that Kçùõa, together with Vyāsa, made sure not
to allow it, and instead strongly urged Yudhiùñhira to seek the venerable Pitāmaha’s
grace in the very last moments of his life on earth, clearly shows that the Viùõu
Sahasranāma, no less than the Bhagavadgītā, was truly intended to be the Almighty’s
own message to mankind! Which is why Kçùõa refers to it, as we saw above, as:

y½ Tv< vúyse ÉI:m pa{fvayanup&CDte,

ved àvada #v te SwaSyiNt vsuxatle.

yacca tva§ vakùyase bhīùma pāõóavāyānupçcchate |
veda pravādā iva te sthāsyanti vasudhātale ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.29)

i.e. “Whatever that Bhīùma may teach now to these Pāõóavas, those lessons will
indeed become famous as the very Veda-s of this world!”

(3) The third important lesson to be learnt by us is that which, in the parlance of
Vedanta, is called antima smçti… the act of recollecting or remembering God – in
form, image or name – in the terminal moments of one’s life, even as one is preparing to
shed mortal coils and depart to the spiritual realms.

Antima smçti is a sublime and ineffably blissful experience gifted to Man by God. It is
described by Lord Kçùõa Himself in the Bhagavadgītā as follows:

ANtkale c mamev SmrNmu®va klevrm!,

y> àyait s mÑav< yait naSTyÇ s<zy>.

antakāle ca māmeva smaranmuktvā kalevaram |
yaþ prayāti sa madbhāva§ yāti nāstyatra sa§śayaþ ||

(Bhagavadgītā VIII. 5)

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”Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains
My nature. Of this let there be not even a shadow of doubt.”

It is the prospect of antima smçti as a real, positive and blissful experience that makes it
possible for man to rid himself of the morbid fear of physical death.

The common experience of death in the normal world is what we witness when we see
someone actually dying. Usually, it is someone very old in our own family, who has
been ill with some disease for a long time, has suffered the indignity of gradually losing
all sense and control over bodily functions. He or she then turns, for everyone around,
into an object of pity and faint disgust too. This abject state was perhaps exactly the one
in which Bhīùma too was seemingly found as he lay there stretched, wounded and
forlorn, upon a śaratalpa on the silent battle-fields of Kurukùetra.

The external appearance and physical symptoms of dying are indeed very morbid and
ugly. But the internal experience is, in marked contrast, if we are to go by Bhīùma’s
first-person account of antima smçti in the Mahābhārata, truly and unmistakably
beatific. Look at what the Pitāmaha tells Kçùõa:

dahae maeh> ïmíEv ¬mae GlainStwa éja,

tv àsadaÌaeivNd s*ae Vypgtan".

dāho mohaþ śramaścaiva klamo glānistathā rujā |
tava prasādād govinda sadyo vyapagatānagha ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.17)

”O Kçùõa, all the infirmities of life have drained away from me completely –
covetousness, desire, fatigue, pain, senility… I am free from all these…”

Furthermore, Bhīùma also gives Kçùõa (and us, too) a vivid idea of the cheerful and
robust frame of mind he is actually experiencing in the terminal moments of dying. In
his own words:

yuveva cāsmi sa§vçttastvadanudhyāna bç§hitaþ|

”Though I am now an old and utterly ravaged man, I feel as fresh and vigorous as a
mere youth!”

We see furthermore that Kçùõa is Himself eyewitness to Bhīùma’s utterly buoyant
experience of antima smçti! Upon seeing the old warrior on the śaratalpa we hear Him
exclaim:
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n te GlainnR te mUDaR n dahae n c te éja,

àÉiv:yiNt ga¼ey ]uiTppase n caPyut.

sÅvSw< c mnae inTy< tv ÉI:m Éiv:yit,

rjStmae_ya< riht< "nEmuR´ #vaefuraqœ.

na te glānirna te mūrchā na dāho na ca te rujā |
prabhaviùyanti gāïgeya kùutpipāse na cāpyuta ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.52.16)

sattvastha§ ca mano nitya§ tava bhīùma bhaviùyati |
rajas tamobhyā§ rahita§ ghanairmukta ivoóurāñ ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.52.18)

”O Bhīùma, there is no weariness in you even after all the great exertions and pain of
war. You are free of rajo tamo guõa. You seem as pure and serene as the moon
uncovered by clouds.”

And we see Bhīùma too conceding the same rather exultantly:

y½ ÉUt< Éiv:y½ Év½ prm*ute,

tTsvRmnupZyaim pa[aE )limvaihtm!.

vedae´aíEv ye xmaR vedaNtinihtaZc ye,

taNsvaRNsMàpZyaim vrdanaÄvaCyut.

yacca bhūta§ bhaviùyacca bhavacca paramadyute |
tat sarvam anupaśyāmi pāõau phalamivāhitam ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.18)

vedoktāścaiva ye dharmā vedāntanihitāśca ye |
tān sarvān samprapaśyāmi varadānāt tavācyuta ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.19)

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”O Kçùõa! My Lord! I am now able to visualize fully the past, the present and the
future… as easily and lucidly as one can see a fruit held in the palm of one’s hand! The
eternal truths enshrined in the Veda-s and Vedānta now stand visible and absolutely
transparent to me… thanks to your infinite Grace, my dearest Acyuta!”

If there is one thing the above exchange between Bhīùma and Lord Kçùõa makes
exceedingly clear to us, it is certainly this:

(1) antima smçti is a unique and blissful experience gifted by God to Man... It is a
foretaste of the greater ānanda that lies in store for a soul on its ascent unto Brahman.

(2) Bhīùma, lying supine on the śaratalpa, far from being an object of morbidity was
actually immersed in a deep state of supreme and serene enjoyment. It was a state in
which there was no place, not even an iota, for either rajas (self-centred activity) or
tamas (self-centred inertia). Instead Bhīùma felt pure sattva alone – exhilarating joy
that is beyond compare with anything in the world! The only joy perhaps nearest to it is
the unalloyed gaiety of youth and Bhīùma refers to it as yuveva cāsmi
sa§vçttastvadanudhyāna bç§hitaþ

It is really interesting to note why Bhīùma, the old, battered warrior that he was and on
the absolute verge of death, why he uses the phrase ‘yuveva cāsmi’ to compare his
feelings with those of a mere youth?

When we are youthful we have no thought of death at all… none whatsoever, isn’t it?
We live in utter innocence; and we are forever bubbling with hope and good cheer. At
ages seven and seventeen, we are unafraid to mock at Death even! When we are young
we are actually god-like – we believe ourselves to be immortal and perfect! Bhīùma
says that the same sense of supreme elevation felt in youth is also felt in the moment of
antima smçti! It is so heady and wonderful that the nearest comparable human
experience we can find is only in the recollection of joy of one’s youthful days bygone...

In Vedāntic philosophy a very interesting question is posed in this context: To what
does the experience of antima smçti owe its blissful nature? Where is the seat or source
of such joy? Wherefrom does it spring? And why?

We find the answer in Bhīùmācārya’s own admission:

tava prasādādgovinda sadyo vyapagatānagha

When the soul undergoes the experience of antima smçti, it re-experiences or re-visits
the joy of youthfulness because of the direct vision it enjoys of Lord Kçùõa, the avatāra
that was the very embodiment of Youthful Charm and Glory! Which is why Bhīùma
turns to Kçùõa and tells Him in clear terms, “It is due to your Grace alone, O Govinda,

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You who now stand before me, as enchantingly youthful as ever, it is by Your Grace
alone that I’m now experiencing this feeling of youthful bliss!”

It is Kçùõa’s youthfulness (yauvanam), therefore, which rubs off on Bhīùma and
induces the bliss of antima smçti.

(a) The vision of Kçùõa, (b) the concept of antima smçti and (c) the unbridled joy of
youthfulness … all these three elements have been inextricably associated within the
steep doctrine of Vedānta since time immemorial. Apart from the Mahābhārata, the
finest poetic exposition of this beautiful doctrine that one can ever find anywhere in the
religious literature of India is in the famous Sanskrit stotra of Svāmi Veïkañanāthan
called Gopāla Vi§śati. In that work there are two hauntingly lovely verses which
recreate in our minds Bhīùma’s glorious experience of antima smçti:

Axraiht caé v<z nala> mk…qaliMb myUr ipÁD mala>,

hirnIl izla ivɼ nIla> àitÉa> sNtu mm AiNtm àya[e.

adharāhita cāru va§śa nālāþ makuñālambi mayūra pi–cha mālāþ|
harinīla śilā vibhaïga nīlāþ pratibhāþ santu mama antima prayāõe||

(Gopāla Vi§śati – Verse 12)

(As I lie on my death-bed nearing the end of my life’s journey, may my eyes feast upon
nothing else but the graceful form of my Kçùõa – holding a slender flute to his lips,
peacock-feathers framing his lush hair-locks, curly and cute… bathed in colors
iridescent true… bright, vivid and sapphire blue!)

#TynNy mnsa ivinimRta< ve»qez kivna Stuit< pQn!,

idVy ve[u risk< smI]te dEvt< ikmip yaEvt iàym!.

ityananya manasā vinirmitā§ veïkañeśa kavinā stuti§ pañhan |
divya veõu rasika§ samīkùate daivata§ kimapi yauvata priyam||

(Gopāla Vi§śati – phala śruti)

(He who reads this hymn of the devoted poet Veïkañeśan, shall surely obtain that
unique vision (pratibhā) of young Kçùõa playing the divine flute; of He who is the
darling of the ever-youthful belles of this world!)

The two verses above powerfully convey the idea of that mystic vision which unites the

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individual with God in the moment of merger. It is the vision of youthful Kçùõa in the
moment of one’s physical death and spiritual release – the moment of intense bliss
called antima smçti – and the power it possesses to turn even black Death into a ‘thing
of Beauty, a Joy forever.’

Through Svāmi Veïkañanāthan’s three simple but evocative phrases, antima prayāõe
(the end of my life’s journey), pratibhā (the vision of Kçùõa’s blessed form) and
yauvata priyam (the enchantment of youth), we are thus enabled to re-live every
moment of Bhīùma’s blessed final hours on earth during which the Viùõu
Sahasranāma came to be delivered.

To conclude, antima smçti is a state of pure sattva, sheer spiritual consciousness... a
state where there is complete lucidity and illumination: when all things come to be
known to a soul, and knowing which, nothing else remains left to be known. It is the
moment of Truth. It is a state that is to be likened to what the Upaniùad describes for us
in those immortal words:

` äüivdaßaeit prm!, tde;a=_yu´a,

sTy< }anmnNt< äü, yae ved iniht< guhaya< prme Vyaemn!,

om brahmavidāpnoti param | tadeùā’bhyuktā |
satya§ j–ānamananta§ brahma |
yo veda nihita§ guhāyā§ parame vyoman |

(Taittirīya Ānandavallī)

”Truth, Knowledge and Infinitude – these constitute the nature of Brahman! He who
attains Brahman attains them too!”

It was in such supreme state of exaltation, joy and Truth that Bhīùmācārya delivered
the Śri Viùõu Sahasranāma. The Sahasranāma is thus, without a speck of doubt,
Absolute Satya§.

vedae´aíEv ye xmaR vedaNtinihtaZc ye,

taNsvaRNsMàpZyaim vrdanaÄvaCyut.
vedoktāścaiva ye dharmā vedāntanihitāśca ye |
tān sarvān samprapaśyāmi varadānāt tavācyuta ||

(Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, 12.54.19)

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”The eternal truths enshrined in the Veda-s and Vedānta now stand visible and
absolutely transparent to me… thanks to your infinite Grace, my dearest Acyuta!”

With Bhīùma declaring firmly his supreme fitness to expound upon the Veda–Vedāntic
principles of Dharma, the entire Pāõóava clan, along with Yudhiùñhira and Lord
Kçùõa, stood by reverentially to listen to the great Pitāmaha. It is a measure of
Bhīùma’s greatness indeed that when he spoke, both God and Man listened.

The 12th parva or book of the Mahābhārata, the Śānti Parva, contains a
comprehensive and detailed account of Bhīùma’s great exposition. Many of them are in
the form of instructive fable, didactic tale, sermon, homily and sage counsel. The whole
of the Śānti Parva constitutes a veritable encyclopedia of Vedic principles and values
relating to virtually every aspect of human life, both individual and social. It covers
ethics, social justice, jurisprudence etc. It also offers guidelines for securing well-being
both in this life and the hereafter…

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