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Govinda – my favourite name of Bhagavān

Nārāyaṇa the foremost

Everyone has their own favourite names to designate their beloved Supreme Being. In the Rāmānuja-sampradāya, that name is “Nārāyaṇa”. The Aṣṭākṣari mantra is the first mantra to be given during dīkṣā (initiation) ceremony and it explicitly, exclusively mentions “Nārāyaṇa”. The second mantra is the “dvaya” which invokes Nārāyaṇa together with Ṡrī-tattva (the feminine counterpart of the Divine). This one name, Nārāyaṇa, is so comprehensive that it is considered the “foremost among equals” among all the names of the One. It denotes His omnipresence primarily (sarva-vyāpakatva) but also omnipotence and omniscience. All kinds of vyutpatti (derivation of etymology) are propounded by the learned ācāryas for this one word.

Primarily, these:

  1. The One who resides in jala (water – here means the ‘pralaya’ or deluge).
  2. Son of the rishi Nara.
  3. The One from whom all the incarnations arise.
  4. The One within whom the entire cosmos is present.
  5. The One who cannot be known by shabda (He who is beyond that).

Not just the Rāmanujīyas, but also the Mādhvas revere this name. There is a work Nārāyaṇa-ṡabdārtha-nirvacanam by Swami Ṡrī Vijayīndra Tīrtha:ru, who derives 125 meanings (!) for this word.

Did you know? The word Nārāyaṇa does not occur in the Ṛgvēda Saṃhitā at all! But Gōvinda is almost there! Keep reading!

Govinda the dearmost

I’m no scholar of Sanskrit. All that I want is a name that:

  1. Combines the feminine Divine (Ṡrī or Lakṣmī) in the same word. No need to specify like “ṡrīmatē nārāyaṇāya …”
  2. Reminds me of the Vedas since they are the foundation of everything.
  3. Ties in with cow (animal world), since it is the favourite of Bhagavān Ṡrī Kṛṣṇa.
  4. Links up with Lord Vēṅkaṭēṡvara, my family Deity.

And that word is “Gōvinda”.

In my simple understanding, “gō” denotes cow/cattle, milk, mother (Lakṣmī), Earth (bhūdēvī), Vedas (speech, Vāgdēvī) and “sense organ”. He who possesses (√vind) or knows (√vid) these is Gōvinda, i.e. Bhagavān Ṡrī Kṛṣṇa.

From the dictionaries

The word “gō”, masculine or feminine, is pregnant with denotations. Of note, are:

  1. Cattle in general (cow, bull, ox, etc.)
  2. Anything produced from a cow, such as milk or ghee
  3. Mother
  4. Speech, words or its patron goddess[1], by extension the Vedas
  5. Earth[2]
  6. Sun[3], moon or the stars[4]
  7. Water(s)[5]
  8. Sky (heaven)[6] or rays of light[7]
  9. Sense organ[8], such as an eye[9]
  10. Horse[10]

The root √vind (vindati) means to possess, acquire, gain; to feel, experience; to marry. Govinda is the lord who possesses or experiences all of the above entities. It (√vid) can also mean one who knows or the one who is to be known by the above elements.

Take an example. Gōvinda means “the possessor of waters”, which is also the primary sense of the word Nārāyaṇa itself – the ayana or support/basis of waters nārā. We can thus weave plenty of imagery on the word Gōvinda, suitable for meditation:

  1. He who protects or cherishes cows, i.e., a cowherd (as Ṡrī Kṛṣṇa).
  2. He who gives pleasure to the senses
  3. He who possesses the creation itself (sun, moon, stars, earth, waters, etc.)
  4. He who acquired Mother Lakṣmī (during samudra-manthana) and married her.
  5. He who acquired Mother Earth (Bhūdēvī during Varāha avatāra) and married her.
  6. He who is omnipresent (earth, sky, sun, moon, stars, waters, etc.)
  7. He who is omniscient (“rays of light” symbolizing knowledge)
  8. He who is “married” to the “cows” (i.e., always tending to the Brāhmaṇas and bhaktas)
  9. He who is known by, or knows, the Vedas
  10. He who is the lord of speech (Vāgdēvī) and Vedas
  11. He who is the lord of sky or heavens
  12. He who is the lord of waters
  13. He who is the lord of karmēndriyas (horses) and jn̄ānendriyas (cows)

and so forth.

Encyclopediac definitions

Quite interesting definitions from the Sanskrit Kosha.


  1. गोविन्द पु० गां वेदमयीं वाणीं गां भुवं धेनुं स्वर्गं वा विन्दति “गवादिषु संज्ञायाम्” पा० श, ६ त० । “Gō” means the speech (vāṇī) consisting of Vedic knowledge (vēdamayīṃ). He who knows, or is known by the Vedas, is Gōvinda. It also means heaven (svargam) or cow (dhēnu). By whom one obtains (vindati) heaven or one who obtains felicity by protecting cows, is Gōvinda.
  2. विष्णौ वराह- रूपेण भुव ऐश्वर्य्यप्राप्तेः इन्द्रेण स्वर्गस्य निवेदनात् मत्स्य- रूपेण वेदस्योद्धारणात् गोभिर्वेदान्तवाक्यैः विद्यते इति । Govinda is Viṣṇu who rescued Earth (“gō”) in the form of Varāha. Govinda is Viṣṇu who lifted up the Vedas (“gō”) during His Matsya avatāra. He who is known by these Vedas or Vedanta is Govinda.
  3. Govinda is He who was anointed when He defeated Indra during the Govardhana-lifting episode. Just as Indra is the fortress (protector) of the gods, so is Kṛṣṇa the protector of cows.

It cites Ṡankara bhāṣya on Viṣṇu Sahasranāma. And couple of verses from Harivaṃṡa to justify the above:

गौरेषा भवतो वाणी ताञ्च वेदयते भवान् ।
गोविन्दस्तु ततोदेवमुनिभिः कथ्यते भवान् ।
अहं किलेन्द्रो देवानां त्वं गवामिन्द्रतां गतः ।
गोविन्द इति लोकास्त्वां स्तोष्यन्ति भुबि शाश्वतम् ।


  1. गोविन्दः, पुं, गां पृथ्वीं धेनुं वा विन्दतीति । He who finds the earth (thus, Viṣṇu-Varāha) or cows (thus, Kṛṣṇa).
  2. गोभिर्वाणीभिर्वेदान्तवाक्यैर्विद्यते योऽसौ पुरुष- विदन्ति यं पुरुषं तत्त्वज्ञा इति वा । That Puruṣa who is known by the sentences and speech of Vedanta, or that Puruṣa whom the philosophers (tattvajn̄āḥ) know thusly from Vedanta, is Gōvinda.
  3. गां वेदलक्षणां वाणीं गोभूम्यादिकं वा वेत्तीति । “Gō” is any speech that has the characteristics of the Veda. It also means earth. He who knows these (Vedas, earth, etc.) is Govinda.
  4. विन्दतीति विन्दः पालकः स्वामी वा । “vindaḥ”, a finder, also means a care-taker (protector “pālaka”) or master (lord “svāmī”) too.
  5. गाः मनः- प्रधानानीन्द्रियाणि तेषां विन्दः प्रवर्त्तयिता चेतयिता वा । अन्तर्यामी आत्मेत्यर्थः । “Gō” means the principal sense organ, i.e., the mind. “Vinda” means is the one who sets it in motion or enlivens the mind. That is, Govinda is the innermost Self (antaryāmī ātmā).
  6. Govinda also means Parabrahman, the Supreme Brahman (citation given).
  7. Govinda is Kṛṣṇa, who is full of auspicious transcendental form, whose qualities are recounted by His devotees while walking, moving, dreaming, sitting, etc.

In the Ṡrī Viṣṇu Sahasranāma

It occurs twice in the Viṣṇu Sahasranāma mantra, #189 and #543. Bhagavatpāda Ādi-Ṡaṅkara gives these meanings:

  1. The sages call Krishna as “Govinda” because He pervades all the worlds, giving them power.
  2. The Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata states that Vishnu restored the earth that had sunk into the netherworld, so all the devas praised Him as Govinda (Protector of the Land). This is reference to Bhūdēvī and Varāha avatāra.
  3. Alternatively, it means “He who is known by Vedic words alone”.
  4. In the Harivamsa, Indra praised Krishna for having attained loving leadership of the cows which Krishna tended as a cowherd, by saying, “So men too shall praise Him as Govinda.”

Ṡrī Parāṡara Bhaṭṭa of Ṡrīvaiṣṇavism derives these meanings:

  1. The recipient of words (of praise). He is called Govinda since He receives words of praise from the gods. ‘Gō’ means words (of praise) and ‘vind’ the receiver. The suffix ‘saḥ’ is added to form the noun along with ‘Gō’ meaning words, by a grammatical rule. He was praised by the gods Indra, etc. for the help rendered to them.
  2. He who rescued the Earth. The Earth had disappeared in time of yore and was secreted in a cave. I rescued Her. So I am known as ‘Go-vinda’ — (Go = Earth, Vinda = rescuer).

Lord Govinda in the Ṛg Veda Saṃhitā

Consider the famous Viṣṇu-Gāyatrī mantra from Taittiriya Aranyaka:

Nārāyaṇāya vidmahē; vāsudēvāya dhīmahi; tanno viṣṇuḥ pracōdayāt

Viṣṇu is a well-known name of the Divine vouched for in the Ṛg-vēda Saṃhitā itself. However, the word “Nārāyaṇa” does not occur in the Ṛg-veda saṃhitā at all. The importance of Nārāyaṇa is expanded mostly in the Brāhmaṇas and Upanishads, not so much in the Saṃhitās. Similarly, the name Vāsudēva is highlighted more in the Itihāsas (Mahābhārata) and Purāṇas (Bhāgavata)[11].

But did you know that the name Gōvinda occurs in the Ṛgvēda Saṃhitā as govindu?

govindu; go—vindu mfn. searching for milk, RV. ix, 96, 19. [ID=67605]

Who “searches” for milk? Its keeper, the cowherd Gōpāla Kṛṣṇa! Thus, the exact verse is RV 9.96.19, mentioning “gōvindu” in relation to “turīya” state:

camūṣac chyēnaḥ ṡakunō vibhṛtvā gōvindur drapsa āyudhāni bibhrat |
apām ūrmiṃ sacamānaḥ samudraṃ turīyaṃ dhāma mahiṣō vivakti || RV_9,096.19

As usual, Ralph Griffith’s translation is simply unreadable:

“Hawk seated in the bowls, Bird wide-extended, the Banner seeking kine (govinduḥ) and wielding weapons; following close the sea, the wave of waters, the great Bull tells his fourth form and declares it.”

H.H.Wilson (1866) translates it as “acquiring cattle”:

“Seated on the ladles, praiseworthy, competent, supporting, acquiring cattle, flowing, bearing arms, attending upon the firmament, the sender of the waters, the mighty (Soma) attends the fourth sphere.”

Ṡāyaṇācārya notes this:

पात्रेषु विहरणशीलः गोविन्दुर् यजमानानां गवां खंभकः ‖ विंदुरिच्छुः | पा* ३.२.१६१

It refers to the ritualistic meaning.

Pt. Jayadeva Sharma (Arya Samaj) in his Hindi translation (1935, vol. 6) comes close to the spiritual meaning of Govindu, combining all the senses of noted above:

(गोविन्दुः) वेद वाणियों और भूमियों को सूर्यरश्मिवत् धारण करने वाला, तेजस्वी
He who upholds the Vedic speech and earth like the rays of the sun, the radiant one.

This definition is exactly what Govinda means!

Pt. Harisharan Siddhalankar (Arya Samaj) in his Hindi translation, is similar:

गोविन्दुः = ज्ञान की वाणियों को प्राप्त करनेवाला यह सोम
This Soma, who obtains the knowledge of (Vedic) speech

Dr. Tulsiram (Arya Samaj) relates Gōvinda to the heavens:

… abiding with stars and planets in motion …

In short, unlike the retrofitted, non-attested denotations of the words Nara/Nārā and ayana, the definitions attributed to “Gō” and Gōvinda are attested in actual usage in the Vedas, Itihāsas and Purāṇas.

Ṡrī gōvindāya namaḥ ! Namo namo gōvindāya !

  1. Naighaṇṭuka 1.2; Mahābhārata parvas 1, 3, 5; Raghuvaṃṡa chapters 2, 5  ↩

  2. Naighaṇṭuka 1.1; Manusmṛti chapters 4, 12; Bhagavad Gītā 15.13; Rāmāyaṇa etc.  ↩

  3. Nirukta 2.6 and 2.14  ↩

  4. Ṛg Vēda 1.154.6 and 7.36.1  ↩

  5. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.10.36 and 11.7.50  ↩

  6. Naighaṇṭuka 1.4; Yajurvēda-Vājasaneyī saṃhitā 23.48  ↩

  7. Mahābhārata 1.232.11 and parva 3; Rāmāyaṇa; Harivaṃṡa (agniḥ suvarṇasya gurur gavāṃ sūryō guruḥ smṛtaḥ) etc.  ↩

  8. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 7.5.30  ↩

  9. Mahābhārata 8.90.42 (गोकर्णा सुमुखी कृतेन इषुणा गोपुत्रसंप्रेषिता)  ↩

  10. ‘a goer’ from √gā, Sāyaṇa’s commentary on Ṛg Vēda 1.121.9 and 4.22.8  ↩

  11. All three names are equivalent and there is no difference between them.  ↩