The twelve-name shield/cage

The twelve-name shield/cage

Partha Desikan

A stotra (prayer) of eight slokas, known as Dvadasa Nama Panjaram, namely the protective cage of twelve names of Bhagavan Hari, is recited along with an invocation to Bhagavan's five sachetana Ayudhas, immediately following the recitation of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama.

The devotee sits facing East and builds for himself a shield/cage with the twelve sacred names, mentally placing them in twelve significant locations. The slokas run thus:

  1. May Kesava, wielding the chakra and shining as if made of gold, protect me from my front. May Narayana, conch-bearing and resembling a blue cloud, look after me from behind.
  2. May Madhava, dark like the petal of an indivara flower (blue lotus) and wielding the gadaa mace, save me from harm, from above me. May Govinda, glowing like the moon, wielding the bow, protect me from the Southern side.
  3. May Vishnu, bearing the hala (plough), comforting like the petals of a lotus, care for me from the North. In Agni's direction (South-east), may Madhusudana, grand like a glowing lotus and wielding a musala club, protect me.
  4. May Trivikrama, sword in hand and resplendent like flaming fire, offer me safety, from Nirruti's South-western direction. In Vayu's North-west, may Vamana, armed with vajra, and bright like the burning Sun, give me protection.
  5. In Ishanya's North-east, may Sridhara, with the splendour of the pundarika flower (red lotus) and wielding the pattasa weapon, look after me. Flashing like lightning, may Hrishikesa, armed with the mudgara mallet protect me comprehensively from outside.
  6. Seated in the lotus of my heart, may Padmanabha, with the luster of a thousand Suns, fully armed, full of energy of every description, all-knowing, and fully aware of all directions, thus facing all of them at the same time, be my comprehensive inner Saviour.
  7. Roaring like Indra's furious thunder, armed with a snaring noose, may the totally invincible Damodara pervade my body both outside and inside and stay as my protector.
  8. Thus I seem to have entered and find myself encased in the shield-cage of Bhagavan's twelve sacred names. Henceforward, I can never again have any fear whatsoever.


In a simple and common self cleansing procedure called Achamana, Hindus about to take part in any religious ritual, take three sips of water from their right palms, chanting three names of Bhagavan Hari, namely Achyuta, the infallible, Ananta, the infinite and Govinda, the Lord of the People. They then use their several fingers as prescribed to touch allocated portions of their body in a somewhat symmetrical sequence, while chanting the above twelve shield names of Bhagavan, in a nyasa procedure. They believe that this nyasa protects them from harm of every description and enables safe conduct of the ritual intended.


Srivaishanavas from some regions of India, who wear the pundra mark with watery pastes of white Tirumann compacted powder and red/saffron/yellow Srichoorna powder., wear the same mark on twelve allocated portions of their bodies too, while chanting the above twelve panjara names, thus assuring themselves of safe passage through the rituals and other karmas of the day.


On Janmashtami Day, it is heartwarming to realize that the two names Damodara and Govinda in the panjara list were first earned by Bhagavan Hari  during his Sri Krishna avatara, first when Krishna's foster mother bound his waist (stomach, udara) with a rope, and the second when he became the Lord of all cows and cowherds, by protecting them from rainstorm by lifting the Govardhana hill with his little finger. But these names have stuck with Bhagavan Hari beyond their limited contextual significance. It is significant to remember too that the five pre-Dasavatara names of Bhagavan Narayana from the panjara list, namely Kesava, Madhava, Madhusudana, Sridhara and Hrishikesa were used freely by Sri Krishna's contemporaries to address him during his advent, as we can find from passages in the Mahabharata and the puranas. These persons were definitely aware that they were in the presence of a Purnavatara of Bhagavan Narayana.


The two names Vamana and Trivikrama, not referring to Sri Krishna, once again refer to a Purnavatara, an avatara during the brief tenure of which, Bhagavan started his leela with a dwarf-stature and quickly transformed himself to a size capable of measuring the entire created Universe with his lotus feet.


Srivaishnavites also enjoy the use of four sacred vyuha names of Bhagavan Vishnu, namely Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, in association with Bhagavan's manifestation in Sri Krishna, his brother, son and grandson respectively.

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