Fabulous Four – 3


Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore


If you were to look for the Lord’s own favorite number, you would definitely plump for 4. For those who require proof of this, I would refer them to Sri Vishnu Sahasranaamam, which has no less than 12 names are based on Four. Shall we look into them individually?

1. Chaturaatma

Commentators have interpreted this naama differently and we are blessed with a variety of meanings, all of which enable us to enjoy different facets of the Lord’s auspicious attributes.

a) Emperuman has five forms—Param, Vyooham, Vibhavam, Antaryaami and Arcchaa. We are concerned here with the Vyooha form of the Lord, because it is further classified into four. In this manifestation, the Lord divides Himself into four, as

1. Vaasudeva,
2. Pradyumna,
3. Aniruddha, and
4. Sankarshana.

These are primordial forms of the Lord, emanating from the supreme Para Vaasudeva or the Lord who rules at Sri Vaikunttam. The Naaradeeya Samhita tells us that there is a sequence in which these four Vyooha moorties manifested—first Vaasudeva, then Sankarshana, followed by Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

The first to manifest, Vaasudeva, is pure white in complexion and complete in all divine aspects. He has four arms, representing the four dimensions of the created universe, viz., Creation, Protection and Maintenance, Dissolution and Emancipation—respectively termed Srishti, Sthithi, Samhaaram and Mukti. He is pacific in aspect and clad in Peetaambaram. His right hand at the front holds a lotus or is in the gesture of protection (abhaya hastam), the corresponding left hand adorned by the Cosmic Conch. The upper right hand carries the Divine Discus Sudarsana, while the left holds the Mace (Gadaa) or a Book. When represented in the Vimaana of a temple, He is sculpted facing west. Out of the divine tirumeni of Vaasudeva manifested Sankarshana (literally meaning one who was dragged out of the parent body), lustrous like the early morning Sun, wearing blue garments, wearing a kundalam in one ear, with His arms holding the plough (instead of the chakram) and pestle (instead of mace). In temple Vimaanaas, He faces the south.

Pradyumna, again, emerged from Sankarshana, red in complexion, wearing red silken garments. He has two or four arms. When He has two, He holds a bow and arrow and when four-armed, the Chakra and bow are held in His right and left upper hands, while lower ones are held in the Varada and abhaya postures respectively. He faces west.

Performing penance, Pradyumna produced from His own body the last of the four Vyooha moorties, viz., Aniruddha, the Lord of the Universe and the Master of Yogis. Dark blue in complexion and wearing yellow garments, He is four-armed and carries the Bow Saarnga, arrows and the gestures of Varada and abhayam. This form of the Lord is often found in a recumbent posture, with Sri and Bhoo Devi, facing north while on the Vimaana.

According to the Vishnu Dharmottara Puranam, there is a composite form of Sriman Narayana, with all the aforesaid four moorties in a single body, having four faces and eight arms, mounted on Garuda. The face of this Lord presented to the viewer is in a beautiful human form, representing Vaasudeva, while the face to the right is leonine, that of Nrisimha (symbolizing Sankarshana). The face to the left is that of a beautiful boar (Varaaha), standing for Pradyumna, while the face to the back is terrifying in aspect and tawny-red in colour (raudram), representing Aniruddha. Each of the four Vyooha moorties brings forth three other forms, known as Vyoohaantaraas—

1. From Vaasudeva– Kesava, Narayana and Madhava,
2. From Sankarshana –Govinda, Vishnu and Madhusudana
3. From Pradyumna— Trivikrama, Vaamana and Sridhara
4. From Aniruddha— Hrishikesa, Padmanabha and Damodara.

It is also said that the four Vyooha moorties are responsible for the ten avataaraas (known as the Vibhava avataras)—

1. Vaasudeva for Vaamana and Krishna,
2. Sankarshana for Matsya, Koorma, Rama, Balarama and Kalki,
3. Pradyumna for Buddha and
4. Aniruddha for Varaaha and Nrisimha

Paancharatra texts speak of a great pillar in Sri Vaikunttam, known as Visaakha Yoopam, which is wisdom personified. It has four branches up and down, in the four directions. On each of these branches, the Lord is ensconced in Vyooha roopaas, with Vaasudeva in the East, Sankarshana in the South, Pradyumna in the West and Aniruddha in the North. Swami Desikan speaks about this Visaakha Yoopam in his Varadaraaja Panchaasat.

The corresponding feminine Divine Consorts of the Vyooha moorties are:

1. Shanti for Vasudeva,
2. Sri for Sankarshana,
3. Saraswati for Pradyumna and
4. Rati for Aniruddha.

There is a wealth of information in the Aagamaas regarding the Vyooha moorties. I have confined myself to a brief outline of them, and shall elaborate on some other occasion.

b) Coming back to Vishu Sahasranaam and the name Chaturaatma, the second interpretation of this tirunaamam” is–one who incarnated as four Vibhava forms, viz., Sri Rama, Sri Parasurama, Sri Balarama and Sri Krishna, all of whom represent the pinnacle of human perfection and exalted models for everyone to emulate.

Dwadasa Moorthy's

c) The four functions mentioned above, those of Creation, Protection, Destruction and Emancipation, are the sole preserve of the Lord. He may delegate these duties to lesser demigods for performance, but He is the one who brings forth the universe with all its diverse inhabitants, affords it all protection in all forms, destroys it when the time comes for Pralayam and also blesses the devout with emancipation. As one who performs these functions, He is Chaturaatma. The following Vishnu Puraana Slokam confirms this—

“Vyoohya aatmaanam chathurdhaa vai Vaasudevaadi moortibhi:
Srishtyaadeen prakaroti esha visrutaatmaa Janaardana:”

d) Four intellectual functions owe their operation to the Paramaatma—Manas, Chittam, Buddhi and Ahankaaram (Mind, Intellect, Sense and Intuition)—He is therefore Chaturaatma. While the Mind resolves to carry out an act, the Intellect analyses the pros and cons and arrives at a modus operandi, Intuition guides us based on past experience and Ahankaaram is the pleasure of accomplishment born out of successful completion of the task.

e) The Lord is the Antaryaami or Inner Dweller of four types of devotees, as defined in the Bhagavat Gita—the sufferer, the seeker of truth, those in search of wealth and prosperity and those wise souls who seek only the Lord. Therefore, He is Chaturaatma.

f) The Jeevaatma too has four forms

1. The material, body called Visva
2. The subtle, spiritual portion called Taijasa
3. The Kaaarana Sareeram or the aspect of Jeevaatma which enable the carry over of memories from a previous birth, and
4. The aspect of the soul transcending the aforesaid three forms, which is attained only through self-realization, is known as Avikalpa. The Lord supports each of the aforesaid forms of the soul, with appropriate forms of His own, known as Viraat, Sootramoorty, Isvara and the Paramaatma. This we come to know from the Nrisimha Uttara Taapini Upanishad.

Each of interpretations—the aforesaid is an example of how such a simple tirunaamam as Chaturaatma can conjure up so many varied and vivid portraits of Emperuman and His innumerable auspicious attributes.

2. Chatur Vyooha:

Leaving Chaturaatma reluctantly (for there is so much more to be said about Him), we come to the next tirunaamam, Chatur Vyooha: Sri Bhattar tells us that this name clarifies the functions of the four Vyooha forms of the Lord— Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. The four forms divide among themselves the four states of existence—

1. Jaagrat avasttha or wakefulness,
2. Swapna or half-sleep in which dreams occur,
3. Sushupti or deep slumber and
4. Turya or deep yogam, resulting in union with the Paramaatma.

3. Chatur Damshtra:

The name Chaturdamshtra: tells us that the Lord, in His primordial form, possesses four large teeth, which Srimad Ramayana lays down as the characteristic of a great deity. While describing the incredibly handsome form the hallowed names of the Lord is capable of Sri Rama in order to generate confidence in the troubled mind of Sita Piraatti, Hanuman tells Mythily that Her beloved Raghava has four great teeth—

Chatushkala: chatur lekha: chatush kishku: chatussama:
Chaturdasa sama dvandva: chatur damshtra: chatur gati:”

Sri Sankara opines that this name refers to Sri Nrisimha, who displayed four terrifying teeth, during His impromptu avataara. Not only the Lord, but the divine elephant Iraavatam, (which too emerged along with Sri Mahalakshmi from the Milky Ocean when it was churned by Devas and Asuraas) also has four teeth—“Iraavatam chaturdantam kailaasam iva sringinam”

4. Chatur Bhuja:

The next quartet that is referred to in the Sahasranaamam is the four arms of the Lord—Chaturbhuja:

Azhwars lose themselves in the beauty of the four-shouldered Emperuman. “My Lord of the four great arms!” Exclaims Sri Nammazhwar—“Naal Tol Endaai”. The four lovely shoulders of Tirukkurungudi Nambi fill the hearts of all on-lookers—“Neela meniyum naangu tolum en nenjam niraindanave”. Whichever direction one turns to, the sight of the four handsome arms fills the sight—“mannu poonum naangu tolum vandu engum nindridume”. This characteristic of being four-armed is indicative of Supremacy, which can be gleaned from Mandodari’s recognition of Sri Rama as none other than the four- shouldered Mahavishnu—“Tamasa: paramo dhaataa shankha charka gadaadhara:”.

Why should the Lord have four arms and not just two as we do? Sri Nammazhwar says that the Lord sports four shoulders, so that He could destroy asuraas and save His devotees that much quicker—“asurarai tagarkkum tolu naangudai churikuzhal kamala kan senkanivaai Kaalamegam”. The reason the Lord sports four arms instead of two is perhaps to ensure speedy and adequate response in His principal occupation of providing succour to the distressed. Another reason is that He blesses His devotees with the four Purushaartthas or desires of people—Dharmam, Arttham, Kaamam and Moksham. He gives to each devotee according to His prayer, with one hand specifically earmarked for each of the Purushaartthas.

These arms are compatible in size, proportion, beauty and strength with the rest of His glorious form and appear to be beautiful branches of a magnificent tree, growing upwards and down. These arms symbolize superlative Strength, Protectiveness and Might, all of which are indispensable qualities in the Paramapurusha, providing the rationale for devotees to pay obeisance. It is no wonder therefore that these divine arms are said to be the origin of the mighty ruling class, the Kshatriyas- “baahoo raajanya: krita:” (Purusha Sooktam). The beauty of these four arms is such that anyone casting even a stray glance at these stupendous specimens of virility is captivated totally, and doesn’t like to prise his eyes away from the mighty arms, says Kamban- “tol kandaar tole kandaar”. Even during the Krishnaavataaram, where, as a man, He ought to have sported only two arms, the Lord was born with four hands, but hid two of them at the request of His parents, who feared retribution from Kamsa—“Tam adbhutam baalakam ambujekhanam, chaturbhujam shankha chakra gadaadyudayudham” The Sahasranaama Stotram is so enamored of these four stupendous shoulders of the Lord, that about 600 tirunaamas later, there is a repetition of this supreme characteristic, as “Chatur baahu:”

5. ChaturMoorti:

Difficult though it is to leave the subject of the four great arms, let us move on to the next group of four—Chatur Moorti: During Ramavataaram, the Lord divided His form into four separate entities, as the four sons of Dasaratha. The Lord had four forms in the Krishnaavataara too, as Krishna, Balabhadra, Pradyumna (Krishna’s son) and Aniruddha (Krishna’s grandson), corresponding to the four Vyooha moorties.

“Chatur moorti:” may also refer to the four complexions the Lord sports during various Yugas– white in Krita yuga, red in Treta yuga, yellow in Dvaapara yuga, and black in Kali yuga. Sri Tirumangai Mannan confirms this— “Munnai vannam paalin vannam muzhudum nilai nindra pinnai vannam kondal vannam”

6. “Chaturgati:”

“chaturgati:” is another tirunaamam, which connects the Lord with number 4. Sri Bhattar tells us that depending on the intensity of devotion and requirements of the devotees, the Lord bestows on them exalted status and power, represented by the posts of Indra (the chief of celestials), Brahmaa (the four-headed creator), self-realization or Aatmaanubhavam (known too as Kaivalyam) and finally, unimaginable bliss and uninterrupted service to the Divine Duo at Sri Vaikunttam. Others say that the Lord bestows on sincere devotees four types of Moksham, differing from one another in the intensity of pleasure (Ananda taaratamyam).

These are

1. Saalokyam (being in the same world as Emperuman)
2. Saameepyam (being in close proximity to the Lord),
3. Saaroopyam (attaining the same beautiful form as the Paramatma, with four hands, etc. and
4. Saayujyam (deriving the same degree of bliss as does Emperuman).

We Visishtaadvaitins do not agree with this, as we feel that all jeevaatmas who attain liberation become equal in all respects to the Lord, but for the power and responsibility for creation, etc. (“Jagat vyaapaara varjam”, “Bhoga maatra saamya lingaaccha”) and that there is absolutely no difference of any sort, whether in bliss or otherwise, between one occupant of Sri Vaikunttam and another.

“Chaturgati:” can also be taken to mean the four gaits of the Lord. Sri Rama was credited with four styles of walking and bearing. At times, His gait resembled the ponderous stepping of an elephant, at times that of a regal lion, at others the spring of an angry tiger and at others, the majestic step of a virile bull—“Gaja simha gatee veerou saardoola vrishabhopamou”. It is interesting to note that Sri Ranganatha too is said to move in a variety of gaits as aforesaid.

7. “Chatur Veda vit”

“chatur veda vit” is another tirunaamam, which tells us that the Lord is the only person who knows the exalted purport of the four Vedas. Others may indeed learn the entire Vedas, but they can realize only a minuscule portion of the Lord’s glory as revealed in the Shruti. This can also be interpreted as referring to the Paramaatma as the only entity to be known through the study of the four Vedas—“Vedaischa sarvam aham eva vedya:”

8. “Chaturasra:”

The Lord takes care of all the four types of creatures—those born from an egg, those from sweat, those from a womb and those that come out of the earth. His command is obeyed in all four corners of the universe. He bestows desired fruits on those who worship Him in a “Chturasra”, i.e., a yantra square in shape.


Since the other naamas with the theme of four have more or less similar purport, let us leave the Sahasranaama Stotram at this stage, and go on to the Taittireeyopanishad, which tells us that Paramaatma has four horns. “Horns and the Paramaatma!” You may wonder. The Shruti often speaks symbolically and allegorically and here, horns mean the Vedas and four horns refer to the four Vedas—“Chatvaari shringaa: trayo asya paadaa: dve seershe sapta hastaaso asya”.

The Lord’s fascination with 4 doesn’t end with the aforesaid. During the Mahabharata war, the chariot He drove had four horses pulling it. And the names of the horses were Saibya, Sugreeva, Balaahaka and Meghapushpa. These were really the best of their species and are described as “Haya ratna chatushtayam”.


There are four ways of accomplishing getting things done by others. You first try nicely to convince the person who is to do it, of the need to do the job. If this doesn’t work, you try to create division among the ranks, to ensure that your job gets done. If this too fails, you offer material inducements so that the person is motivated to carry out the task. If all else fails, you pick up the stick and resort to punishment. Till date, we find managements adhering to the aforesaid steps for achieving their goals. This, however, is no new management technique, but one as old as the hills, finding mention in the Amara Kosam, which names these steps respectively as

1. Saamam,
2. Bhedam,
3. Daanam and
4. Dandam

“Sa prataapa: prabhaavascha yat teja: kosa dandajam
Bhedo Danda Saamascha Daanam iti upaaya chatushtayam”

(To be Continued…)

Srimate Sri Lakshminrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
dasan, sadagopan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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