By this name, BhagavAn is clearly distinguished from the bound souls, released souls, and ever-free souls. The name signifies that it is His innate nature to keep all things under control under all circumstances. The name is derived from the root Is - to command, to control, to rule, to possess.
The names ISvara and ISAna are both derived from the root IS. I was not able to understand how the word ISAna is grammatically derived from its root, and what the special significance of this particular variant is. I would like to request any one who can elaborate on this further to advise me.
a) prANAn dadAti iti prANa-dah
This gives the first example of how BhagavAn is the controller as indicated in the previous nAma. Sri Bhattar indicates that the life-giving function referred to here is the act of BhagavAn in giving the strength to the nitya-sUris or ever-free Angels to visualize Him always, enjoy Him and do service to Him.
Sri Sankara points out that in addition to the above interpretation, the same name can be interpreted to mean that BhagavAn is also the taker of the prANa - prANAn dyati iti - One who takes away the prANa or vital airs at the time of death, or prANAn dIpayati iti - One who purifies and brightens the vital airs.
That which sustains is prANa - prANiti iti prANah. That which has prANa functioning in it is a prANI. BhagavAn is PrANa because He sustains the PrANi. The name can also be understood as referring to BhagavAn being the cause of the pRANA or life-impulse in the air that sustains the life - in kenopanishad we find the Supreme defined as prANasya prANah - the prANa of prANa itself.
Older than the oldest.
Brahma is called vrddha-tara since he is older than all other beings that he created as a result of this function being entrusted in Him by BhagavAn; BhagavAn is vrddha-tama because He created Brahma, and is thus older than Brahma. Sri ChinmayAnanda points out that jyeshTHa is the superlative of vrddha (vrddha - aged; jyAyAn - more aged; jyeshTha - most aged).
SreshTha is the superlative of sreya - glorious. It is to be noted that the sequence of the three names above, prANa, jyeshTHa and SreshTHa is the same sequence that occurs in the chandogyopanishad - prANo vAva jyeshThaSca SreshTHASca.
Lord of the Ever-free Angels.
PrakarsheNa jAyante iti prajAh, teshAm patih prajApatih - The leader of those who have a glorious birth - the nitya-sUris, who are far superior to the baddha and mukhta, or the bound and freed souls.
An explanation which interprets the term prajA to mean all beings, rather than the special class of Ever-free Angels, has also been provided, and thus the meaning in this case will be Lord of all beings.
He who is in a lovely Abode.
The word hiraNya means golden. Sri Bhattar interprets it as fitting or lovely. The word garbha means womb. Sri Bhattar interprets it as the Abode or Living Place. Thus the meaning - One who is in a fitting or Lovely Abode, viz. The Parama Padam. Or, He is the garbha , or originator, of hiraNya or gold, a term used to refer to all that is the Object of fulfillment and joy.
One for whom the Earth is the object of protection.
He is the protector of Mother Earth. It can also mean One who has the Universe in Himself - bhU garbhe yasya sah bhUgarbhah. Or, He is the garbha, or Originator, of the Universe. BhU, which is His garbha, is constantly and lovingly nurtured and nourished through His very Essence.
a) The consort of MA or Lakshmi.
The nAma mAdhava occurs three times (nAma 73, 169, 741) in Sri VishNu sahasranAmam, and different interpretations are offered in the three contexts. We will deal with all the different interpretations here, and will refer back to this section for the future.
a) MAyAh dhavah mAdhavah - One who is the Lord or consort of MA or Lakshmi.
The concept here is that BhagavAn and SrI are eternally and constantly associated with each other, and inseparable. As if to emphasize this, Sri Bhattar gives the detailed explanation for the qualities of MA or Lakshmi under this name, rather than dwell on the nAma MAdhava.
In Brahma PurANa, we have
tat Saktih durjayA bhImA vishNu-Saktih iti smrtA |
"Her power is invincible and awe-inspiring and She is considered the power of VishNu Himself. She is the Supreme Being who lives in the hearts of all beings of the universe and She is endowed with divine forms. Her name is prANa or life. She is the Mother of all mantras, and is the eternal Mother of the Universe".
It continues on to say that She pervades the entire universe, moving and non-moving - jagat carAcaram idam sarvam vyApya vyavasthitA.
In Sri Lakshmi sahasranAmam, She is called the Supreme Prakrti who possesses the six qualities (shAdguNya)- jnAna, bala, aiSvarya, vIrya, Sakti, tejas. She is the supreme, unique, and eternal Sakti of BhagavAn. She is one with Him, and yet remains distinct like the moon-light of the cool-rayed moon. She pervades the Universe and is the very embodiment of all Saktis. She is endowed with all glory and qualities, and is eternal. Her dharma is the same as that of BhagavAn. She is the life-giving Sakti of all beings on earth. These are expressed in the following Slokas:
mahAvibhUteh sampUrNa shAdguNya vapushah prabhoh |
The secret of the true nature of MA is thus summarized -
SraddhayA devo devatvam aSnute -
b) One who is attained through the madhu vidyA, involving mauna, dhyAna, and yoga.
The support for this comes from the mahAbhArata -
madhuvidyAvabodhatvAt dhavatvAdvA Sriyo'niSam |
Here, mA stands for mauna, dha stands for dhyAna, and va stands for yoga. He is experienced by the seeker who has stilled his mind through mauna, dhyAna, and yoga practices. Or, it can be said that He is mAdhava because He is endowed with mauna, dhyAna, and yoga - He silently observes the physical, mental, and intellectual activities of all beings, and is ever the non-interfering Observer.
c) The Lord of knowledge.
In this interpretation, mA stands for knowledge, and dhava is Lord. The support for this interpretation comes from HarivamSa -
mA vidyA ca hareh proktA tasyA ISo yato bhavAn |
"O Hari! You are the Lord (dhava) of mA (knowledge); hence you are named Madhava, the Master of mA".
d) madhukule jAtatvAt mAdhavah - One who is born in the race of Madhu, a yAdava.
e) mA dhavah yasya sa mAdhavah - One for whom there is no other Lord. This interpretation is included as one of the explanations for this name by ThirukkaLLAm sri NrsimharAghavAchAriAr in his bhAshya on Sri Bhagavad GItA.
f) One who is the Silent Observer - this is discussed under item b) above.
The slayer of the evil demon called Madhu.
In the MahAbhArata we have the following -
vishNu karNodbhavam cApi madhu nAma mahAsuram |
"Because Sri VishNu destroyed the mahAsuran by name madhu, He is called MadhusUdhana by the sages, devas, asuras, and men".
Sri ChinmayAnanda indicates that madhu is a term used in vedAnta to refer to the fruits of actions. Since BhagavAn destroys the effects of the fruits of actions of those who meditate on Him, He is madhusUdana.