The thousand names of Vishnu

The Hindu hymn Vishnu Sahasranāma lists one thousand different names for the god Vishnu. A surprising amount are about his bellybutton.

Vishnu Sahasranāma
Victoria and Albert Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Many religions make a big deal out of the names of their deities: Judaism holds that seven names of God are so sacred that they should never be erased; Islam has ninety-nine different names for God, and every chapter of the Quran (except for one) begins with the first name of God. But Hinduism has them all beat, at least in terms of numbers: Vishnu, the supreme Hindu deity, has a thousand names.

The Sahasranāma is a genre of Sanskrit religious hymn that consists of the various names for a god, many describing their attributes and exploits. The one devoted to Vishnu is the most popular and best known, and not just because devotees sing or recite it daily – it has a lot of great and evocative descriptions. Some of my favourites:

  • #11 – the super-soul
  • #30 – the imperishable treasure
  • #53 – the supremely gross
  • #95 – the unborn
  • #117 – the womb of the universe
  • #166 – the slayer of heroes
  • #48, #194, #196, #346, and #793 – his navel produces the lotus, is golden, is like a lotus, is lotus-like, and is beautiful… respectively
  • #631 – sorrowless
  • #999 – one who cannot be disturbed

If you have a half hour free you can listen to the whole hymn here:

Or you can read every one of the thousand names in the first link below.

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