From our collection

Sundarangi devi dasi and Vajrakhya devi dasi

Jamadagni and his Kamadhenu Cow, 1999,
oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm

(click image for more information)

Soft chanting on beads

"Kirtan" is the loud, congregational chanting of Krishna's names.

(Krishna says:)
"I dwell not in the spiritual kingdom, nor in the hearts of the yogis; where My devotees are chanting, there, O Narada,
stand I!" (Padma Purana)

Vaishnava texts state that in much the same way that one could awaken a person who is sleeping bu making a sound or calling out his name, man can awaken from his conditioned, materialistic slumber by calling out the name of God. In fact, the world's major religious traditions concur that it is by chanting the name of God that one attains enlightenment and freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Mohammed counseled, "Glorify the name of your Lord, the most high." (Koran); Saint Paul said, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10.13); Buddha declared, "All who sincerely call upon my name will come to me after death, and I will take them to paradise," (Vows of Amida Buddha 18); and the Vaishnava scripture repeatedly asserts: "Chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of the Lord. In this age of quarrel there is no other way, no other way, no other way to attain spiritual enlightenment." (Brihan-naradiya Purana 3.8.126).

Praise of the holy name of God is found throughout the literature of the Vaishnavas: "Oh, how glorious are they whose tongues are chanting your holy name! Even if originally low-born dog-eaters, they are to be considered worshipable to have reached the point of chanting the Lord's holy name, they must have executed various austerities and Vedic sacrifices and achieved all the good qualities of true Aryans. If they are chanting Your holy name, they must have bathed in all holy rivers, studied the Vedas and fulfilled all prescribed duties." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.33.7)

"The holy name of Krishna is the spiritually blissful giver of all benedictions for it is Krishna himself, the resevoir of pleasure. Krishna's name is complete in itself and is the essential form of all spiritual relationships. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krishna himself. This name is not tinged by any aspect of material nature, because it is identical with Krishna." (Padma Purana)

Because chanting the name of God is so much emphasized in Vaishnava texts, practitioners focus on chanting as acentral devotional method. Thus, deep meditation and great emotion accompany japa (the soft chanting), kirtan (the loud chanting), and sankirtan (the congregational chanting). When perfected, the chanting leads to awareness of God's absolute nature. Elucidation on the absolute nature of Krishna and his name is the heart of Vaishnava mysticism, leading to love of God.

The Hare Krishna maha-mantra, or "the great chant for deliverance," is considered by scripture to be the most powerful of incantations, for it includes the potency of all other mantras.

The maha-mantra can be expressed in two distinct ways. The most significant and well known version is: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

It is the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra that the Vedic literature particularly recommends for the current age. Breaking down the sacred mantra into ts component parts: The word "Hare" refers to Lord Hari - a name of Krishna that indicates the ability to remove obstacles from His devotees' path. In a higher sense the word "Hare" is a vocative form of "Hara", which refers to Mother Hara, or Srimati Radharani, the divine feminine energy.

"Krishna" means "the all-attractive one," referring to God in His original form. "Rama" refers to both Balarama (Krishna's elder brother) and Lord Ramachandra, a prominent incarnation of the Lord. It is also said, however, that "Rama" refers to Radha-Ramana-Rama, which is a name for Krishna meaning "one who brings pleasure to Srimati Radharani." Thus the maha-mantra, composed solely of theLord's most confidential names, embodies the essence of the Divine. 

As a prayer, the maha-mantra is translated in the following way: "O Lord! O divine energy of the Lord! Please engage me in your service."