'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

'Satyanarayana' - The Truth

"Once there lived a Brahmin in Mathura, so poor that he had to live by begging. One day, he could not get even a grain of rice as alms; as he sat under a tree lamenting his misfortune, sage Satyanarayana appeared in the guise of a Fakir...."
- a song heard in the Bengali movie: 'Meghe Dhaka Tara'.

Intro Note: Narayana is one of the many names of the God Vishnu.

Satyanarayana (='Satya' + 'Narayana') could mean "True Narayana" or perhaps "Truth personified as Narayana".

Among my early childhood memories from Kerala is a certain 'Satyanarayana Puja', occasionally performed at our ancestral home by immigrant priests from Karnataka. An unusual sweet dish called 'Sapatam' (a common dish in Maharashtra where it is known as 'Sheera') used to be prepared and served as 'Prasadam' and we all had to sit around and hear a story about how performing this particular Puja brings great material and spiritual benefits (and also how neglecting it could bring BIG trouble). There also used to be a picture at home of a standing Vishnu (four armed but with 'human complexion' not the usual blue skin) being worshipped by a wealthy looking couple and priests - with a caption 'Satyanarayana Puja'.

Later in life, I came to know that this Puja is very popular in Andhra and Karnataka and also that 'Satyanarayana' is a very common name in those states (it is rare in Kerala) and to some extent even in Tamil Nadu ('Satyanarayanan'). The Puja setup is pretty much the same - the same kind of sweet, the same story, the narration of which is mandatory and so on... Still later, I got to meet a few gentlemen from Northern India and even Bengal named Satyanarayan ('Satyanarain').

The other day, I came to read in 'Banglapedia' about 'Satya Pir' a Sufi deity of Bengal; interestingly, Satya Pir was apparently also known as Satyanarayana among his Hindu devotees. The manner of his worship, as described there, is again, what I had observed in Kerala! I was quite amazed by the syncretism and synthesis featured in this Bengali cult - Islam, Sufism, Animism and Brahminical Hinduism all mixing into a rich 'sheera'. Here and here are some details.

It is also remarkable that over a period of a few hundred years this cult spread all over India (the Sufi flavor having worn off in transit) and also metamorphosed so as to conform to more orthodox Hindu standards of worship (of course, the associated story features a devout-enough Hindu undertaking a commercial voyage by ship, which was something well, unorthodox!). But one doubts if in the South of India, many devotees of Satyanarayana know His Sufi connection.

The above link between Vaishnavism and Sufism was not probably an isolated one. There has been some identification between 'Khwaja Khidr', yet another Sufi deity, and Krishna; I remember hearing a mystic bhajan 'O Qalandar Keshava' addressed to Krishna, visualized as a Qalandar, a Sufi mystic. Let me stop on that note.

Note 1: Even the name 'Narayana' is interesting in its own right. A possible derivation for that name would be 'the one related to Nara' (or even 'son of Nara'). Nara means 'man', so 'The Son of Man' could be a very real literal meaning for 'Narayana'. 'Son Of Man', of course, is also a very esoteric Semitic epithet of God (and often used to refer to Jesus) so there could be deep connections here between .... well I dunno!

Note 2: Here in Pune, there is a 'Sachapir (Satya-pir) Street'. Wonder how the name came about!

Note 3: The name of the prasada dessert 'sapata(m)' very likely derives from 'sabato' ('sabbath') = Saturday; this Puja is said to be best performed on Saturdays ("mandavasare...").


  • At 5:57 PM, Blogger bhattathiri said…

    One of the greatest contributions of India to the world is Holy Gita which is considered to be one of the first revelations from God. The management lessons in this holy book were brought in to light of the world by divine Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Sri RaviShankar, and the spiritual philosophy by Sr. Srila Prabhupada Swami and humanism by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi and Satya Sai Baba. Maharishi calls the Bhagavad-Gita the essence of Vedic Literature and a complete guide to practical life. It provides "all that is needed to raise the consciousness of man to the highest possible level." Maharishi reveals the deep, universal truths of life that speak to the needs and aspirations of everyone. Arjuna got mentally depressed when he saw his relatives with whom he has to fight.( Mental health has become a major international public health concern now). To motivate him the Bhagavad Gita is preached in the battle field Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna to Arjuna as a counseling to do his duty while multitudes of men stood by waiting. It has got all the management tactics to achieve the mental equilibrium and to overcome any crisis situation. The Bhagavad Gita can be experienced as a powerful catalyst for transformation. Bhagavad gita means song of the Spirit, song of the Lord. The Holy Gita has become a secret driving force behind the unfoldment of one's life. In the days of doubt this divine book will support all spiritual searches. This divine book will contribute to self reflection, finer feeling and deepen one's inner process. Then life in the world can become a real education—dynamic, full and joyful—no matter what the circumstance. May the wisdom of loving consciousness ever guide us on our journey? What makes the Holy Gita a practical psychology of transformation is that it offers us the tools to connect with our deepest intangible essence and we must learn to participate in the battle of life with right knowledge?

    The Holy Gita is the essence of the Vedas, Upanishads. It is a universal scripture applicable to people of all temperaments and for all times. It is a book with sublime thoughts and practical instructions on Yoga, Devotion, Vedanta and Action. It is profound in thought and sublime in heights of vision. It brings peace and solace to souls that are afflicted by the three fires of mortal existence, namely, afflictions caused by one's own body (disease etc), those caused by beings around one (e.g. wild animals, snakes etc.), and those caused by the gods (natural disasters, earth-quakes, floods etc).

    Mind can be one's friend or enemy. Mind is the cause for both bondage and liberation. The word mind is derived from man to think and the word man derived from manu (sanskrit word for man).

    "The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy."

    There is no theory to be internalized and applied in this psychology. Ancient practices spontaneously induce what each person needs as the individual and the universal coincide. The work proceeds through intellectual knowledge of the playing field (jnana yoga), emotional devotion to the ideal (bhakti yoga) and right action that includes both feeling and knowledge(karma yoga). With ongoing purification we approach wisdom. The Bhagavad Gita is a message addressed to each and every human individual to help him or her to solve the vexing problem of overcoming the present and progressing towards a bright future. Within its eighteen chapters is revealed a human drama. This is the experience of everyone in this world, the drama of the ascent of man from a state of utter dejection, sorrow and total breakdown and hopelessness to a state of perfect understanding, clarity, renewed strength and triumph.

    Mind is very restless, forceful and strong, O Krishna, it is more difficult to control the mind than to control the wind ~ Arjuna to Sri Krishna

  • At 3:11 AM, Blogger Pooja said…

    I really liked this post.
    Infact ,i didin't know that Satyanarayana Puja is also performed in Kerala.
    Satyanarayana Puja is a very common thing in North of India.They do this after constructing a new house or when some of their wishes would have come true.
    They even say that it is not mandatory to attend the puja ,but you should never miss out the Prasadam(called Halwa)(only for outsiders)

  • At 5:02 AM, Blogger Random Vandamme said…

    Before "this" comment of mine there are 2 comments, where as the link from the blog shows it as "1 comments", which is an untruth; Narayana!
    Apaprt from SatyaNarayana, there exist many other Narayanas; viz. GitaNarayana, UttaraNaryana,and BhavaNaryana. May all of them shine on all of us :-)

  • At 10:12 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    hi all,

    thanks for visiting and for the comments.

    the worship of satyanarayana might have modern day parallels in shirdi sai baba or even ayyappa - local religious phenomena going national. in kerala it still remains marginal , although very much known.

  • At 1:33 PM, Blogger Gilad said…

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  • At 6:57 AM, Blogger the fifth columnist said…

    Probably not older than the 18th century. Read up a few notes from DD Kosambi where he mentions the pir origins and the fact that pir and narayana would have similar connotations. It is amusing that it has become a big business here in my area where there are "sarvajanik satyanarayana pooja" with the crucial help of headband wearing youth who don't just beg for donations but seem to imply that great Bushism "either you are with us or with them". With so many temple jeernodhara and brahma kalasha celebrations I wonder if it is contributing to our new found super-power status. But rest assured it has enriched quite a few individuals from my area who even win elections on the basis of the number of poojas they have conducted :)
    Nice going.

  • At 10:36 AM, Blogger Ana said…

    Hi Nadankumar,

    i stumbled upon your blog in a search for instructions for performing this Pooja with Homa at home.
    Would you be so kind to get and send me the instructions for this ritual.

    My Best, Ana
    email to

  • At 5:25 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 5:38 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Nice blog.Satyanarayana Pooja & Homam brings peace and happiness to your life.Get plenty of wealth and abundance.It helps to Clear negativity from your life.Read More click here

  • At 1:23 AM, Blogger Pooja Dravayam said…

    satyanarayana vratam
    satyanarayana vratam samagri

    best satyanarayana vratam in hyderabad

  • At 11:40 PM, Blogger Nagaraju S said…

    Nice article. Those who perform this Satyanarayana puja with genuine devotion are endowed with truthfulness, peace and good fortune by the deity.


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