cetas tat-pravanam yuñjann
slaksnaya suktaya vaca
maya-gunair anuyugam vigrhita-dehah
te brahma-visnu-girisah pranato ’smy aham vas
tebhyah ka eva bhavatam ma ihopahutah
Translation by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada:
But since his heart was already attracted by the deities, somehow or other he gathered his senses, and with folded hands and sweet words he began to offer prayers to the predominating deities of the universe. The great sage Atri said: O Lord Brahma, Lord Visnu and Lord Siva, you have divided yourself into three bodies by accepting the three modes of material nature, as you do in every millennium for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the cosmic manifestation. I offer my respectful obeisances unto all of you and beg to inquire whom of you three I have called by my prayer.
Purport by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada:
Atri Rsi called for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, jagad-isvara, the Lord of the universe. The Lord must exist before the creation; otherwise how could He be its Lord? If someone constructs a big building, this indicates that he must have existed before the building was constructed. Therefore the Supreme Lord, the creator of the universe, must be transcendental to the material modes of nature. But it is known that Visnu takes charge of the mode of goodness, Brahma takes charge of the mode of passion, and Lord Siva takes charge of the mode of ignorance. Therefore Atri Muni said, “That jagad-isvara, the Lord of the universe, must be one of you, but since three of you have appeared, I cannot recognize whom I have called. You are all so kind. Please let me know who is actually jagad-isvara, the Lord of the universe.” In fact, Atri Rsi was doubtful about the constitutional position of the Supreme Lord, Visnu, but he was quite certain that the Lord of the universe cannot be one of the creatures created by maya. His very inquiry about whom he had called indicates that he was in doubt about the constitutional position of the Lord. Therefore he prayed to all three, “Kindly let me know who is the transcendental Lord of the universe.” He was certain, of course, that not all of them could be the Lord but that the Lord of the universe was one of the three.