Why the name Keshav?

In the middle of the discussion regarding the research topics yesterday, when Professor Dr. VP Agrawal asked me if I knew why I was named Keshav (Keshava), I was confused how to begin.

Keshava is one of the names of Lord Krishna. And, I knew this. Since yesterday with my limited knowledge of Sanskrit language, I was of the opinion that the word got derived from two other words Ka (=water) and Shava (=dead body). If you go into the Sanskrit linguistics, you will get to know how true I am.

Also, I believed that there would be some legend with regards to Lord Krishna, water and dead body, which I had not known yet, behind the genesis of the name.

And, I preferred telling him this thing. I recited a humorous stanza in Sanskrit which has two meanings. It talks about Keshava (Lord Krishna), Kaurava and Drona.

केशवं पतितम् दृष्ट्वा
रुदन्ति कौरवा: सर्वे
हाहा केशव केशव।।

Keshavam patitam drishtwaa
Dronaah harshamupaagatam
Rudanti Kauravaah sarve
Haha! Keshava Keshava!

The first meaning may be pertained to the great war of Mahabharata. “When Lord Keshava fell down, Drona was delighted but the Kauravas started crying.” But this doesn’t make good relation with the original story of the Mahabharata.

Meanwhile, the literal meaning of the verse is

* Ke shavam patitam drishtwaa == by seeing dead body falling in water

(Ka= water, Ke= in water, patitam=falling, drishtwaa=by seeing)

* Dronaah harshamupaagatam == Crows came to the state of joyfulness

(Drona= crow, Dronaah= crows, Harsha(m)= joyfulness, upaagatam=came)

* Rudanti Kauravaah sarve = All the Kauravas cry

(Rudanti = cry, Kauravaah= the Kauravas, sarve=all)

*Haha! Keshava Keshava= hey Keshava, hey Keshava!


The professor was, with interest, listening to me. I was “through” making evident my ‘noesis’ on linguistics and legend. And, the learned elderly gently smiled at me and said, “Well Keshav, this name got established when Lord Krishna killed a demon called Kishi who had called to take life of the baby Krishna.”

Okay. This is the legend then. Thanks to the professor of Bio-chemistry, he taught me something related to the mythology which I did not knew earlier.

After all, we can learn new things every time with anybody.

Right now, it will be appropriate to remember Lord Dattatreya, who had considered even the beasts as his guru.


8 comments on “Why the name Keshav?

  1. Pingback: Songs and Names » Why the name Keshav? My world my perspective

  2. Hi,
    Just happened to land up on this post.

    The proper Slokam is such:

    के_शवं पतितम् दृष्ट्वा
    पाण्डवाः हर्षनिर्भराः
    रुदन्ति कौरवा: सर्वे
    हा हा के_शव के_शव।।

    के (in the water),शवं (dead body) पतितम् दृष्ट्वा (having seen fallen) पाण्डवाः (fishes) हर्षनिर्भराः (were enthralled with joy – cadavers being their favourite food). However, रुदन्ति (crying) कौरवा: सर्वे (All the crows are,)
    हा हा के_शव के_शव।। (oh, oh, the cadaver is lost in the water!)

    There are a few meanings for kESavaH:
    1. के शववत् प्रतिभाति – The one who remain in water like completely dead (between the kalpas.) – Lord Vishnu

    2. The one who shines with rays (hairs) brahma, vishnu and shiva.

    3. The one who killed the demon ‘kESi’

    Perhaps the first one should be considered as the primordial meaning.

  3. With all respect to the other opinions already expressed:

    (i) Keshava is the twenty-third in the list of 1,000 names of Vishnu (sahasranama) – usually translated as either “with long/beautiful hair”, or “slayer of the long-haired demon”. To the extent that rays of light can be visualized as “heavenly hair” one meaning would then be of Vishnu as the supreme lord immanent in the universe.

    (ii) As part of the “sandhyavandana”, the recital by initiated Hindu boys and men three times daily, the first invocation is of Keshava, which supports the interpretation of the name as calling on the universal deity.

    (iii) Macdonell’s practical Sanskrit dictionary provides the meaning as “long-haired”, and notes it as an epithet of Vishnu and Krishna. “Keshin” is glossed also as “long-haired” or “maned”, but additionally as the name of an Asura and of several men.

    I hope this is helpful. As often in the evolution of Hindu beliefs and traditions over millennia, titles and myths became attached to different deities and all are equally valid to devotees.

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