By H.H. Swami Tapasyananda Saraswati
(senior disciple of Prabhuji)
The word prabhu in Sanskrit means “a master , lord or a king” and it is applied in the scriptures to God and to the Guru.
Like many words in the Sanskrit language, the word is actually made of some components, and understanding its etymology, will lead us to discover its various meanings. The word prabhu is a combination of the root bhu
which means “to become, to exist, to be, to live”, with the prefix pra
, which can mean “forth, or forward” and which then, when attached to bhu
applies- one who causes to exist, who gives life, from whom life emanates, that which sustains or maintains.
The prefix pra
can also the meaning of very much, or supremacy, and then when attached to the root bhu
will create the meanings “to be the master, to rule over”.
The suffix jī
is an honorific in Hindi and other Indian languages. It is added after the names of Gods and esteemed personalities to show respect and reverence.
Throughout the Vedic scriptures the Divine on its various names and manifestations is referred as prabhu, the master of creation. For example, the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad
chapter 3 refers to Rudra, the Puruṣa, or the original being, as prabhu:
mahān prabhur vai puruṣaḥ
sunirmalām imāṁ prāptim
īśāno jyotir avyayaḥ
"He, indeed, is the great Puruṣa, the master of creation, preservation and destruction, who
inspires the mind to attain the state of stainlessness. He is the Ruler and the imperishable Light."
sarvasya prabhum īśānaṁ
sarvasya śaraṇaṁ bṛhat
"Himself devoid of senses, He shines through the functions of the senses. He is the capable master of all; He is the refuge of all. He is great."
Several times inthe Bhagavad-gītā
Lord Kṛṣṇa Refers to himself as the prabhu or the master:
gatir bhartā prabhuḥ sākṣī
nivāsaḥ śaraṇaṁ suhṛt
prabhavaḥ pralayaḥ sthānaṁ
nidhānaṁ bījam avyayam
"I am the goal, the support, the master (prabhu), the witness (sākṣī), the abode, the shelter, the friend, the origin, the dissolution, the foundation, the treasure-house and the imperishable seed."
And he also refered as such by his loving disciple Arjuna:
manyase yadi tac chakyaṁ
mayā draṣṭum iti prabho
yogeśvara tato me tvaṁ
"If Thou, O Prabhu, think it possible for me to see it, then, O Lord of the Yogis, show me Your imperishable Self!"
As manifestations of the Divine, great ṛṣis or “seers” and gurus are also called as prabhus. For example, in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa
(1.5.4) the sage Nārada is addressing the ṛṣi Vyasadeva as prabhu:
jijñāsitam adhītaṁ ca
brahma yat tat sanātanam
tathāpi śocasy ātmānam
akṛtārtha iva prabho
"You have fully delineated the subject of impersonal Brahman as well as the knowledge derived therefrom. Why should you be despondent in spite of all this, thinking that you are undone, my dear master (prabhu)?"
In the same scripture, (1.19.38), Mahārāja Parīkṣit
, when he approaches the sage Śukadeva
, asking him for spiritual guidance, in fact, accepting him as his guru, or spiritual master, addresses him as prabhu:
yac chrotavyam atho japyaṁ
yat kartavyaṁ nṛbhiḥ prabho
smartavyaṁ bhajanīyaṁ vā
brūhi yad vā viparyayam
"O prabhu, Please let me know what a man should hear, chant, remember and worship, and also what he should not do. Please explain all this to me."