Like there is a Bible for Christians, Quran for Muslims, Hindus have Gita and more! Its not just one for Hindus. Hindus have so many Gods and so many prayers and so many scripts to to keep them engaged during their life time (of course only when they are interested! Nothing is forced on anyone!) 😉
Vishnu Sahasranamam is one such ancient, divine script written in Sanskrit. Sahasranamam in Sanskrit means 1000 names. Vishnu Sahasranamam is 1000 names on Vishnu. There are many other such sahasranamams on Lalitha, Lakshi, Narasimha, Sudharsana, etc etc.. As many big Gods and Goddesses are there, as many Sahasranamas are there. Such scripts are all classified under slokas.
Basically I like reciting them just because, it is nice to recite. I learnt that what is more important is the way your recite it. Because, as we know sound waves are generated when we recite it. And when we pronounce the scripts correctly and in the correct pace, the sound waves follow a rhythmic pattern. This pattern is what giving you the calmness and peace of mind while and after reciting it. If the slokas are recited with correct pronunciations in a proper pace, this itself will be like a pranayama: a good breathing exercise.
I consider Vishnu Sahasranamam, a bit special than the others because it is a part of the great epic Mahabharata. The story goes like this: Yudishtra – the king of dharma, when he himself was confused about the biggest dharma to follow in life, Krishna did not answer him as he did to Arjuna in Kurukshetra. Krishna did not impart the knowledge of Gita to Yudishtra as he did for Arjuna when the latter was confused about whether to fight against his own relatives or not. Instead Krishna took Yudishtra to the great warrior Bheeshma to clarify his doubts. Bheeshma was actually in his arrow bed when Krishna brought Yudishtra to ask Bheeshma the folowing 6 questions. It is with these 6 questions the Vishnu Sahasranama starts:
- Who (“kim”) is the greatest (“ekam”) Lord (“daivatam”) in the world (“loke”)?
- Who is the one (“ekam”) refuge (“paraayanam”) for all?
- By glorifying (“sthuvantah”) whom (“kam”) can man (“manavah”) reach the Auspiciousness (“shubam”) (peace and prosperity)?
- By worshiping (“archantah”) whom can a man reach auspiciousness (peace and prosperity)?
- What (“ko”) is, in thy opinion, the Greatest Dharma?
- By (“kim”) doing japa of what can “creatures” (jantu) go beyond (“mutchyate”) the bonds (“bandhanaath”) of samsara?
Bheeshma answered that whoever brought you in here, is the greatest Lord and he is the one to whom anyone must surrender. He added that meditating on His 1000 names, one can reach the auspicious state and get rid of Bhandas and Karmas. Having said this, he continued saying the 1000 names of Lord Vishnu. This part of Mahabharat is called Vishnu Sahasranamam.
Good Reference for meanings: Vishnu Sahasranamam Meaning