This article is in response to those lovely devotees questioning Sripada Premananda Prabhu’s statement in the book Sri Guru Darsana As It Is, that the Govinda Damodara Madhaveti kirtan is greater than the Mahamantra, and on the basis of that, criticizing him in general.
In Bhakti, we are taught the importance of navadha-bhakti, beginning with sravanam, kirtanam, and smaranam. We are taught by the Gosvamis that of all the limbs of devotion, kirtana is supreme, especially in this age. It is described in the Bhagavatam, that although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, its one redeeming quality is krsna-kirtana: kirtanad eva krsnasya. It is important to remember that kirtan is not the same as japa, and that the yuga-dharma is kirtan—kalau tad hari kirtanat. We also hear the glories of hari-katha sravana from rasika-vaisnavas to awaken pure devotion, in many verses of sastra. So what is superior, chanting harinama-japa or deeply associating with pure Vaisnavas and hearing hari-katha from them? The limbs of bhakti go in tandem with each other and are best performed in high-class of sadhu-sanga. We do not neglect one limb of devotion and focus only on another. Bhakti is best performed under guidance of high-class sadhus, and then we can understand the deep truths of devotion and doubts will be dispelled from our minds.
When we hear hari-katha twice daily in Sri Radhe Kunj, we are oftentimes instructed to do our best to chant 64 rounds of the mahamantra daily. So in Radhe-Kunj, we do not neglect kirtana, hari-katha, chanting japa, seva, parikrama, or any of the limbs of devotion.
When dealing with the superiority of one thing over another in transcendental subjects, we should look at things not only from the perspective of a baddha-jiva or jiva in this world, and what is most beneficial for them in the different stages of devotion, but what is superior from the perspective of the spiritual world itself. For example, Srila Gurudeva taught many times, quoting Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Harinama-cintamani, that there are two types of Bhagavan’s names—those which are secondary, and deal with this world, and those which are primary and are in relation to the spiritual world and that they are more beneficial and spiritually powerful.
When discussing the practices of devotees, it is important to look at things in their proper context. And when discussing the superiority of something, it does not mean that something which is technically superior is necessarily more beneficial for everyone in all circumstances.
What is superior, mahamantra-japa, nama-kirtana, or sadhu-sanga? Sometimes, some devotees glorify nama-japa as superior to nama-kirtana. And some even criticize the singing of the Guru-vargas’ and Gosvamis’ bhajanas, saying there should be more focus on just chanting the mahamantra in kirtana. In Harinama-cintamani, we learn that loud chanting of kirtana is superior to quiet or silent japa. That is not to minimize one or the other.
It is important when we judge others that we consider our own position and qualification as a critic, in reference to the position of those we criticize. Are we an authority, deeply experienced in the subject matter? Do we approach the topic already from a biased perspective?
To shed some light on this subject, I think it is important to show the example followed in the matha, particularly, in Sri Radhe Kunj.
On an average day in Sri Radhe Kunj, there are at least seven hours of kirtana and aratis. This is not including the frequent extra kirtanas that brahmacaris or devotees perform in the midmorning till noon or in the afternoon before the regular bhajanas. This is also not including festivals or vrata months (seven to eight months of the year) which have an extra couple hours of kirtana and programs a day. At some point in all the kirtanas and aratis, we sing the mahamantra. For much of the year, we have an hour of seated mahamantra kirtana attended by the brahmacaris and devotees. We never minimize the importance of bhajanas, mahamantra-kirtana, or mahamantra-japa. Rather, all are emphasized. All the devotees are regularly advised to do their best to chant 64 rounds daily. This does not mean we should neglect seva or any limb of devotion. The full-time sadhaka will be engaged as much as possible throughout the day and night in bhakti related activities.
Here’s the average daily temple schedule for most of the year. Premananda Prabhu attends the bhajanas before Mangala-arati and usually chants his first 16 or 32 rounds before this time (for decades, Prabhuji has daily chanted one lakh of harinama).
4:15-5:45 a.m.: Stutis/bhajanas, Mangala-arati, Tulasi Parikrama
6:00-7:30 a.m.: Bhajanas
7:30-8:45 a.m.: Hari-katha
8:45-9:15 a.m.: Guru-puja, Tulasi-puja, Tulasi Parikrama
Free Breakfast Prasada for Any and All: Usually three or four preps.
Various Sevas or Japa.
Oftentimes there is mahamantra-kirtana from 10:30 to 11:30.
11:45-12:30: Bhoga-arati and Midday-arati
Free Lunch Prasada for Any and All, usually about 200-300 devotees, in two batches. Usually rice, dal or cuddy, three or four sabjis, ghee roti or puris, chutney and/or pakodas, sweet rice, and/or fruit salad or another sweet.
We sometimes have mahamantra-kirtana or bhajanas from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
6:30-7:30 p.m.: Gaura-arati and Tulasi Parikrama
7:30-9:00 p.m.: Bhajanas and Mahamantra kirtana
9:00-9:30 p.m.: Sayana-arati
Free Evening Prasada for Any and All, usually rice, dal, rotis, two sabjis, and halava.
The reason I am giving this schedule is to show the importance that is placed on performance of kirtana and bhajanas in our line. The emphasis of the Gaudiya-Matha is on kirtana, hari-katha, and nama-japa. That is our main sadhana. At the same time, we perform the other limbs of bhakti as well.
Now, to deal with the specific question at hand, what is greater or more powerful, the mahamantra or the Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti Kirtan? We will look at this first from the perspective of eternal Vraja and the kirtana that is performed there.
Srila Gurudeva glorified the Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti kirtana countless times in his lectures in India and the West, over the years. During his preaching in the West, he focused on infusing the devotees around the world with the mood of the Vrajavasis, specifically by his singing and encouragement of the singing of Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti. And after Gurudeva’s classes, while he was walking back to his quarters, the devotees would always sing Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti and Radhe Radhe Radhe Jaya Jaya Jaya Sri Radhe.
Why did Srila Gurudeva focus so much on this kirtana, making it a hallmark of his preaching? Gurudeva taught that this Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti is sung by none other then the Vraja-gopis themselves. In the Bhagavatam, it is stated:
vande nanda vraje strinam
pada renum abhiksnasah
yasam hari kathodgitam
punati bhuvana trayam
The kirtanas sung by the Vraja-gopis purify the three worlds. What kirtanas do the Vraja-gopis sing? Do they sing the Mahamantra? They sing Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.
In Houston in 1996, Srila Gurudeva said:
Srila Gurudeva: Glorifying the gopis, the ladies of Mathura said:
ya dohane ‘vahanane mathanopalepa
gayanti cainam anurakta-dhiyo ‘sru-kanthyo
dhanya vraja-striya urukrama-citta-yanah
—Srimad Bhagavatam 10.44.15
[The ladies of Vraja are the most fortunate of women because, with their minds fully attached to Krsna and their throats always choked up with tears, they constantly sing about Him while milking the cows, winnowing grain, churning butter, gathering cow dung for fuel, riding on swings, taking care of their crying babies, sprinkling the ground with water, cleaning their houses, and so on. By their exalted Krsna consciousness they automatically acquire all desirable things.]
I am speaking on this because how can we remember Krsna while we are in this this material world? Bhakti is not difficult; Bhakti is very simple. Staying in their houses, the gopis always remember Krsna. How do they do so? Ya dohane ‘vahanane. There are cows in the homes of the gopis. The gopis milk the cows in the early morning. Gayanti cainam anurakta-dhiyo; the gopis sing about Krsna. What do they sing?
They sing, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”
[Srila Gurudeva and the audience sing, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”]
The gopis are milking the cows; but where are their minds? They are only thinking of Krsna. A gopi is taking a pot of butter on her head and she is only thinking of Krsna. They only remember Krsna. What do they say?
Govinda Damodara Madhaveti
A gopi is gathering cow dung for fuel. All of you have not seen how cow dung can be used for cooking. A house can also be cleaned using cow dung. I grew up in such a house. Cow dung is pasted on the floor and made to dry. A cool breeze comes from all four sides. Fresh air comes from the banks of the Ganga and Yamuna. Therefore, when the gopis are cleaning their homes with cow dung or when they are making cow dung patties, then where are their minds? They are near Krsna.
They sing, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”
In India, a pestle is used to separate the rice and wheat from their husks. A couple of gopis would each lift five or six kilos of rice or wheat and they would help each other thresh the husks. But as they would do this, what would they sing?
Govinda Damodara Madhaveti
A gopi goes from one house to another carrying a pot of butter. She sings, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti,” and doesn’t notice the pot slipping from her hands. The pot falls on the ground and breaks. Her anchala falls from her head and the gopi doesn’t notice this. The gopi doesn’t know where she is going. Thinking about Krsna, she has forgotten everything. Her consciousness has become fixed on dark Krsna. Thus, she sings, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”
A baby is crying during the night. The baby’s mother sings a lullaby to pacify the baby. The gopi gently pats her baby and sings, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”
A parrot speaks very sweetly. He will repeat what you will say. If the parrot is in a house where abuses are hurled at each other, then the parrot will also speak accordingly. But if the parrot is in a home where the pastimes of Bhagavan are discussed, then the parrot will say, “Citrakuta ke ghata par baisantana ki bira, tulasidasa candana ghise tilaka le ta raghuvira.”
The parrot will remember anything you say. If you teach the parrot to say, “Radha Damodara,” then it will say so.
One gopi was feeding a parrot some sweet rice. She told the parrot to sing, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.” And, the parrot sang, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”
A gopi is worshiping Thakuraji in her house. But as she worshiping Thakuraji, who is the
Salagrama-sila, she sings, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.”
They think about Krsna while doing any work. Vraja’s gopis have become absorbed in Krsna.
They only sing, “Govinda Damodara Madhaveti.” Therefore it is said, “Gayanti cainam anurakta-dhiyo.” Their minds have become fully attached to Krsna. Krsna’s chariot is the minds of the gopis. Krsna always sits on the chariot of their minds. The gopis think of no one else. And, who sits on the chariot of Krsna’s mind? The gopis do. Krsna is also absorbed in always thinking about the gopis. What does He sing?
He sings, “Radhe Radhe Radhe Jaya Jaya Jaya Sri Radhe.”
[Srila Gurudeva and the audience sing, “Radhe Radhe Radhe Jaya Jaya Jaya Sri Radhe.”]
Srila Gurudeva gave this mood of Vraja. He said in the end of this class: We are meant to reside in Goloka Vrndavana. This world is the world of refugees. We are the refugees of Goloka Vrndavana. There is no guarantee on how many days we will stay in this world.
Krsna will tell you, “O brother, empty your house.”
What is the meaning? It means you have to leave your body that you have leased. You will be told, “Empty your house in one minute. I will take no more rent.”
You cannot say, “Oh I am a five year old boy. Oh I am a twelve year old girl.”
“No. I don’t want to listen to this. Empty the house now.”
You will have to empty the house at that time. Therefore, before this time comes, do Bhagavan’s bhajan and attain everlasting peace and happiness.
Srila Gurudeva taught that we should follow the footsteps of the anuragi-bhaktas and endeavor to awaken the moods of the Vraja-gopis in our hearts, through high-class of sadhu-sanga, and especially through the kirtanas of our Guru-varga.
He taught that the gopis specifically sing this Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti, and he gave the practice of singing this kirtana to the devotees as a sweet hallmark of his preaching and his Vraja mood. So this is an eternal kirtana going on in eternal Vraja itself. We have not heard that the mahamantra is sung by the Vraja-gopis. On the other hand, the eternal associates of Krsna in all the rasas relish this Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti kirtana, as sung by the Vraja-gopis.
The Mahamantra is described as the Yuga-dharma in sastra. Every yuga has its own mantra prescribed in scripture, and the Mahamantra is the Yuga-dharma. This Mahamantra was infused with Prema by Mahaprabhu in this specific kali-yuga. The Mahamantra is nama, and rupa-guna-lila are hidden within this nama. When the sadhaka progresses through chanting the Mahamantra, then rupa-guna-lila and other Vraja names of Krsna will manifest in the heart.
Within the Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti kirtana, Krsna’s nama-rupa-guna-lila are directly present, specifically with the mood of Vraja. The eternal Vrajavasis and anuragi-bhaktas perform this kirtana, and the Mahamantra is chanted by Vaisnavas in this world. By chanting the Mahamantra, the sadhakas attain siddhi and enter Vraja, where they may chant Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti with the Vraja-gopis. The kirtana performed by the nitya-siddhas and the kirtana done by the sadhakas can never be equal. The Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti kirtana is giving bliss to Radha-Krsna and Their associates, directly in the spiritual world. Therefore, what is the limit of its transcendental power?
The Guru-varga taught that until we do kirtanas related to Vraja we cannot develop the moods of Vraja or ever enter Vraja. Attaining svarupa-siddhi in Vraja is not a cheap or easy thing. We must give up all material attachments and perform one-pointed ananya-bhakti under guidance of an anuragi-bhakta.
Mahaprabhu taught that we must chant one lakh of harinama every day if we want Him to accept any offering from us. He strongly taught that all Gaudiya-Vaisnavas must chant one lakh of harinama daily. By chanting harinama like this, in high-class of association, and also performing kirtanas throughout the day, such as Govinda-Damodara-Madhaveti, by hearing hari-katha, inquiring deeply, offering pranamas like the Gosvamis did, and going on parikrama, by body and by mind, in this way we can progress and attain pure taste and ardent greed for entering Vraja.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu would chant the mahamantra and perform nama-sankirtana with the devotees. In this way, He established the Yuga-dharma. But where did Mahaprabhu experience Prema-rasa-niryasa? Mahaprabhu’s most powerful and deep moods of prema were experienced in the Gambhira, where He resided for 18 years, and would hear from His most intimate associates the kirtanas with the moods of the Vraja-devis, by Candidasa, Vidyapati, and Jayadeva Kavi. These pastimes can be read in the Caitanya-caritamrta.
The full glories of the Mahamantra can be understood through the moods of Vraja and the Vraja-anuragi-bhaktas. For the baddha-jivas, the most beneficial mantra is the Mahamantra. This is prescribed by Mahaprabhu. When the sadhakas chant this mantra in proper association, with the right mood, then gradually all the Vraja names of Krsna and all the pastimes of Krsna in Vraja will manifest in their hearts. They will then realize: harinama tuwa aneka svarupa. By chanting the Mahamantra in proper association, while engaged in sravanam, kirtanam, smaranam, and the other limbs of bhakti, and following the instruction of Rupa Gosvami given as the essence of all advice, then gradually Nama-prabhu will manifest fully and one will be submersed in the fathomless well of prema and his bliss will ever-increase: Yasoda Nandana Ananda Vardhana Nanda Tanaya Rasa Kupa.
It is very easy to be an armchair critic, but at Radhe Kunj, we are fortunate to be under the guidance of someone who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. Everyone has the freedom to speak their mind and criticize if they like, just please don’t expect us devotees living in Radhe Kunj to take people seriously when they criticize Prabhuji, because to us, its just a bad joke. All great Vaisnavas of the past were criticized, all great Vaisnavas of the future will be criticized. What’s new? The difference is you can choose to be absorbed in the bliss of bhakti or you can criticize the devotees who are. It is natural to question and there should be an inquisitive spirit, but the path to higher knowledge is not through criticism, it is through submissive inquiry.
Rasik Mohan Das