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A depiction of Lord Narayana at Badami cave temples
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Narayana (Sanskrit: नारायण, IAST: Nārāyaṇa), also Narayan, is the supreme absolute being in Hinduism and is considered as the supreme deity in Vaishnavism. The Bhagavata Purana declares Narayana as Para Brahman Supreme Lord who creates unlimited universes and enters each one of them as Lord of the Universe. Narayana engages in the creation of 14 worlds within the universe as Brahma when he deliberately accepts rajas guna. Narayana himself sustains, maintains and preserves the universe as Vishnu when he accepts sattva guna and annihilates the universe at the end of maha-kalpa as Shiva or Rudra when he accepts tamas guna. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Lord Narayana is the supreme controller and is supreme among deities, the ultimate soul. He is said to pervade whatever is seen or heard in this universe from inside and outside alike. He is also mainly associated with the cosmic waters of creation. According to Madhvacharya Narayana is one of the five vyuhas of Kṛṣṇa, which are cosmic emanations of God in contrast to his incarnate avatars.
In the Vedas and Puranas, Lord Narayana is described as having the divine blue colour of water-filled clouds, four-armed, holding a padma (lotus flower), Kaumodaki (mace), Panchajanya shankha (conch) and the Sudarshana Chakra (discus). Narayana is also described in the Bhagavad Gita as having a 'Universal Form' Vishvarupa which is beyond the ordinary limits of human perception or imagination. He is also known as Vishnu, Hari, Purushottama or Purusha and Jagannath in the Hindu sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas and the Puranas. Narayana is also venerated as Mukunda which means God who is giver of mukti or Moksha or liberation from cycle of births and deaths in the material world. In the Mahabharata, Krishna is often referred to as Narayana and Arjuna as Nara. The epic identifies them both in plural 'Krishnas', or as part incarnations of the earlier incarnations of Vishnu, recalling their mystical identity as Nara-Narayana. Narayana's eternal and supreme abode beyond the material universe is Vaikuntha which is a realm of bliss and happiness called Paramapadha, which means final or highest place for liberated souls, where they enjoy bliss and happiness for eternity in the company of supreme lord. Vaikuntha is situated beyond the material universe and hence, cannot be perceived or measured by material science or logic. Sometimes, Ksheera Sagara where Narayana or Vishnu rests on Ananta Shesha is also perceived as Vaikuntha within the material universe.
Lord Narayana is hailed in each and every part of Vedas like Shatarudriyam, Purusha Suktam, Narayana Suktam, Hiranyagarbha Suktam, Vishnu Suktam, Rudra Suktam and Upanishads like Isopanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, Kenopanishad, Prasna Upanishad, Svetasvatara Upanishad, Maha Narayana Upanishad, Narasimha Tapani Upanishad.
There are a number of alternative variations of Narayana's name.
- The word 'Narayana' means "The one who rests on water's of creation". The Manusmriti states, The waters are called "narah", for the waters are, indeed, produced by Nara-Narayana (the first Being); as they were his first residence "ayana", he is called Narayana.
- Narayana also means "The Supreme Being who is the foundation of all men".
- Another interpretation of the word Narayana sees Nara meaning "human" and Ayana as "direction/goal". Some view Narayana as meaning "son of man." Hence Narayana refers to the "direction of a human" (or the one that helps a human to his/her goal, i.e. towards moksha). Nara is related to moksha as both are rooted to the Water element (Ap), one of the Great Elements (Mahābhūta). (See also Tattva).
- Nara means Human and Ayana means Shelter so Narayana means the shelter of all human beings. The Narayana Upanishad reads: Om Namo Narayanayeti mantra upasaka Vaikuntha bhuvanam gamishyati,
- In Sanskrit, The word 'Nara' can also refer to a man, male or a person.
- Narayana is spoken of in the scriptures as being 'parabrahman', 'paramatma' 'parameshwar' 'parashakti' and 'parajyothi' which are all ways of saying "absolute" or "supreme" God/Soul/Lord/Energy/Light. In the Vedas it is written that that "Narayana parabrahman tatvam Narayana paraha |", which points to how Narayana is essentially the supreme force and/or essence of all.
- Bhagavata Purana Canto 2 Chapter 10 Verse 10
- Bhagavata Purana Canto 2 Chapter 5 Verse 16-18
- Bhagavata Purana Canto 11 Chapter 4 Verse 5
- Vishnu Purana 1.2.61-63
- Bhagavata Purana (12.12.56): "Narayanam Devam adevam isam - Lord Narayana, the Supreme controller and the ultimate Soul of all existence, beyond whom there is no other God.
- Bhagavata Purana (12.13.16): Just as the river Ganges is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Achyuta (Vishnu or Narayana) the supreme among deities (devas) and Lord Shambhu (Shiva) the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Bhagavata Purana is the greatest of all Puranas.
- Bryant, Edwin F., Krishna: a Sourcebook. p.359 "Madhvacharya separates Vishnu’s manifestations into two groups: Vishnu’s vyuhas (emanations) and His avataras (incarnations). The vyuhas have their basis in the Pancharatra agamas, a sectarian text that was accepted as authoritative by both the Vishishtadvaita and Madhva schools of Vedanta. They are mechanisms by which the universe is ordered, was created, and evolves. According to Madhvacharya, Vishnu has either four or five vyuhas, named Narayana, Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, which evolve one after the other in the development of the universe. The status of the fifth vyuha, Narayana, is not clear, and in some passages, he is not even mentioned."
- Prabhupada, AC Bhaktivedanta. "Bhagavad-gita As It Is Chapter 11 Verse 3". vedabase.net. Retrieved 2008-05-10. "see the cosmic manifestation"
- Bhagavad Gita (15.18): Because I am transcendental, beyond the fallible and the infallible, and because I am the greatest, I am celebrated both in the world and in the Vedas as that Supreme Person (Purushottama)
- Name No. 515 in Vishnu Sahasranama
- Vaisnavism Saivism and Minor Religious Systems, Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar. Published by Asian Educational Services, p.46.
- Hiltebeitel, Alf (1990). The ritual of battle: Krishna in the Mahābhārata. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0249-5. p61
- "Narayanastra – Defending Vaishnavism as the supreme Vedic position". narayanastra.blogspot.in. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Manu Smruti 1:10 " The Law Code of Manu", Published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280271-2, page 11, also, The Laws of Manu in the 21st Century  by Pt. Sri Rama Ramanuja Acharya, page 6
- Harivansh, Adhyay 88 shlock 44, also, Manu Smruti 1:10 " The Law Code of Manu", Published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280271-2, page 11
- "॥ नारायणसूक्तम् सार्थ ॥ - .. Narayana Sukta .. - Sanskrit Documents". sanskritdocuments.org. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Name of Narayana even at the time of death can save a great sinner, Ajamila.
- http://www.srivaishnavan.com/ans_secrets.html (See Answer #14.)
- http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/om_namo_narayanaya Om Namo Narayana and Ayurveda