From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Nārāyaṇīya literally means ‘pertaining to Nārāyaṇa’.

The devotional sects of the religion have been divided into two main streams:

  1. The Śaiva - It is the sect of Śiva; this includes the Śākta or the sect of the Divine Mother
  2. The Vaiṣṇava - It is the sect of Viṣṇu[1]

Origin of Nārāyaṇiya[edit]

One of the basic and very important texts is the Nārāyaṇiya section of the Mahābhārata, comprising of the 18 chapters[2] of Śāntiparva.[3] The total number of verses which sometimes includes paragraphs and sentences in prose also is 1310. The entire section is devoted to the glorification of Lord Nārāyaṇa, his devotees and the nature of devotion to be cultivated towards him.

A brief Summary[edit]

A brief summary of this section is:

Chapter 1[edit]

It is chapters 334 having 45 verses. Nārada visits the Badarikāśrama where Nara and Nārāyaṇa[4] are performing severe austerities. In reply to Nārada’s question as to whom he was meditating upon and worshiping, the sage Nārāyaṇa replies that it was on the Supreme God.[5]

Chapter 2[edit]

It is chapter 335 having 55 verses. As per the directions of the sage Nārāyaṇa, Nārada visits the Śvetadvīpa, the island beyond the mountain Meru. He is wonder-struck to see there, the multitude of devotees of Lord Nārāyaṇa, who were absolutely white in color[6] and were deeply immersed in meditation on him.

Chapter 3[edit]

It is chapter 336 having 65 verses. The great sacrifice performed by the king Uparicara, a devotee of the highest order, under the guidance of the sage Bṛhaspati forms the subject matter of this chapter.

Chapter 4[edit]

It is chapter 337 having 41 verses. This chapter describes how the king Uparicara, though he had attained heaven, fell from there since he permitted the immolation of a goat in a sacrifice, thereby committing hiṅsā.[7] He was however saved by the Lord Nārāyaṇa by the power of the aṣṭākṣarī[8] mantra[9] which he was constantly repeating.

Chapter 5[edit]

This is chapter 338 with 200 names of the Lord. This chapter contains a long hymn in prose, in praise of Lord Nārāyaṇa, by the sage Nārada while in the Śvetadvīpa. It has 200 epithets.

Chapter 6[edit]

It is chapter 339 with 141 verses. Pleased by Nārada’s devotional prayer, the Lord Nārāyaṇa appears before him in his Cosmic Form[10] which was indescribably beautiful and brilliant. Nārada is advised by the Lord to serve the sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa of the Badarikāśrama. There is also a brief description of the four Vyuhas:

  1. Vāsudeva
  2. Saṅkarṣaṇa
  3. Pradyumna
  4. Aniruddha

Chapter 7[edit]

It is chapter 340 having 119 verses. This chapter is mainly devoted to the delineation of pravṛttidharma[11] yajñas or Vedic sacrifices being the main part of the same. Towards the end, nivṛttidharma[12] is also touched upon.

Chapter 8[edit]

It is chapter 341 having 51 verses. The various names by which Lord Kṛṣṇa was praised are described here along with their etymological meanings by Kṛṣṇa himself to Arjuna. The identity of Brahmā and Rudra (Śiva) with Nārāyaṇa or Kṛṣṇa has also been stressed.

Chapter 9[edit]

It is chapter 342 having 142 verses including prose paras. This section is a combination of verses interspersed with prose passages. It describes about the following:

  • Sṛṣti or creation
  • Greatness of brāhmaṇas,[13]
  • Story of the sage Dadhīci
  • Story of the king Nahuṣa being cursed by the sage Agastya
  • Creation of the work Nirukta by the sage Yāska, about the four Vedas and fighting between Rudra and Nārāyaṇa

Chapter 10[edit]

it is from chapter 343 having 66 verses. In this chapter, the second visit of the sage Nārada to Śvetadvīpa and revisiting the sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa are described.

Chapter 11[edit]

It is from chapter 344 having 27 verses. This short section expounds the nature of Lord Vāsudeva, the highest aspect of Nārāyaṇa.

Chapter 12[edit]

It is chapter 345 having 28 verses. The origin of śrāddha and tarpaṇa,[14] attributed to the Varāhāvatāra[15] is expounded here.

Chapter 13[edit]

It is from chapter 346 having 22 verses. This chapter is a eulogy of the merit one gets by listening to the greatness of Lord Nārāyaṇa.

Chapter 14[edit]

It is chapter 347 having 96 verses. When the two demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha had stolen the Vedas, Viṣṇu took the form of Hayagrīva and recovered them. Later on he killed the demons also. This is the gist of the contents of this chapter.

Chapter 15[edit]

It is from chapter 348 having 88 verses. This chapter describes how the Sātvatadharma[16] was taught by the Lord, but, forgotten again and again by the receivers. To receive it and propagate it in the world, Brahmā had to take seven births. This dharma of single-minded devotion taught in the Upaniṣads and the Pāñcarātra Āgamas is superior to the path of jñāna[17] and can be got only by God’s grace.

Chapter 16[edit]

It is from chapter 349 having 74 verses. The birth of the sage Vyāsa, first as the sage Apāntaratamas and later as Rrsna-Dvaipāyana, is described here. How he edited and divided the Vedas as also his encyclopedic knowledge are also delineated. Another interesting point stressed here is that all the five well-known philosophies contained in the metaphysical systems of Sāṇkhya, Yoga, Pāñcarātra, Vedas and Pāśupata lead to the same goal viz., Nārāyaṇa.

Chapter 17[edit]

It is from chapter 350 having 27 verses. This is a short chapter describing the meeting between Brahmā the creator and Śiva represented here as his son. The ensuing conversation is continued in detail in the next chapter.

Chapter 18[edit]

It is from chapter 351 having 23 verses. This is also a short chapter. It gives a beautiful description of Lord Nārāyaṇa, not only in the cosmic aspect reminiscent of the one given in the Puruṣasukta[18] but also as the antaryāmin.[19] The four Vyuhas are also referred to. It is thus seen that this Nārāyaniya section of the Mahābhārata is specially devoted, as the very name indicates, to the exposition of the glory of Lord Nārāyaṇa.

Nārāyanīyam is also the name of an extremely elegant poetical work on the Kṛṣṇa-theme, characterized by literary grace and devotional fervor. Nārāyaṇa Bhattātiri[20] of Meppattur in the Kerala State is its illustrious author. This work is a faithful poetical condensation of the entire Bhāgavata. It is in one hundred daśakas,[21] the total number of verses, which are in various meters, being a little more than one thousand.[22] The following table gives an idea as to how the story of the Bhāgavata has been covered:

Skandhas of Bhāgavata Daśakas of Nārāyaniyam
1 1-3
2 4-7
3 8-15
4 16-19
5 20, 21
6 22, 23
7 24, 25
8 26-32
9 33-36
10 37-90
11 91-97
12 98-100


It has been considered a unique work in the Sanskrit language since it combines its literary grace comparable to any well-known masterpiece. As a hymn of rare devotional fervor, it can be classed among the best of works in Sanskrit hymnology. Added to these two is the exposition of Vedānta philosophy with the dominance of devotional sentiment. Thus, it is a distinctive work in Sanskrit from every standpoint.


  1. It is also known as the Bhāgavata sect.
  2. Mahābhārata chapters 334 to 351
  3. Śāntiparva is the12th book of the epic.
  4. Nara and Nārāyaṇa are the twin sages.
  5. Supreme God is Nārāyaṇa.
  6. Color śveta means white.
  7. Hiṅsā means violence.
  8. Aṣṭākṣarī means the eight-lettered.
  9. This mantra is om namo nārāyanāya.
  10. This cosmic form is Viśvarupa.
  11. Pravṛttidharma means the performance of one’s duties as prescribed by the śāstras or scriptures.
  12. Nivṛttidharma means the path of knowledge and renunciation.
  13. Brāhmaṇas means the wise spiritual persons.
  14. Tarpaṇa means obsequial rites.
  15. Varāhāvatāra means the boar-incarnation of Viṣṇu.
  16. It is also called as Bhāgavatadharma, religion of devotion towards Lord Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu.
  17. Jñāna means the knowledge.
  18. Ṛgveda 10.7.90
  19. Antaryāmin means inner controller.
  20. He lived in A. D. 1560-1625.
  21. Daśakas means the decades or cantos of ten stanzas.
  22. The exact number is 1036.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore