Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #25 – The Kīrtana of the Cowherd Boys

June 18th, 2018

What a joyous sight! Śrī Krishna leaves every morning to graze His cows in the sacred forest of Vṛndāvana. Fearing that His beloved cows are trampling Vṛndāvana with their sharp hooves, He follows behind His herd to gently caress this sacred ground with His lotus feet. At the same time, He glances lovingly at His cowherd friends, each one intensely feeling Krishna’s love for them. The cowherds spontaneously respond to Krishna’s affection with jubilant kīrtana, a kīrtana so rousing that it continues throughout the day. Just imagine that kīrtana! What does it sound like? How does it look?  Don’t imagine, just hear:


anye tad-anurūpāi
manojñāni mahātmana
gāyanti sma mahā-rāja
sneha-klinna-dhiya śanai


“My dear King, other boys would sing enchanting songs appropriate to the occasion, and their hearts would melt out of love for the Lord.” (Bhag. 10.15.18) [1]


Four characteristics of their kīrtana are described. By discussing each not only is the kīrtana of the cowherd boys described, but also the authority of proper kīrtana in general is established.


sneha-klinna-dhiya (with a heart melted from love)


The most important quality of good kīrtana is that it comes from a heart (dhiya) filled with deep affection or devotion (sneha). The symptom of such a heart is that it is not hard, but melted (klinna), a condition of devotion also called bhava. In fact, real kīrtana is only when that bhava in the heart is expressed through the discipline of music. No matter how musically talented one is, it is not kīrtana without such bhava, or at least the humble aspiration for it, even when chanting the mahā-mantra. Therefore the primary quality of the kīrtana of the cowherd boys, and all kīrtana, is that it is born from a heart of devotion.


manaḥ-jñāni (attractive to the mind)


In general, proper rāga (melody) and tāla (rhythm) are connected to deep parts of the psyche that open the heart further to sentiments of genuine devotion. The kīrtana of the cowherd boys is thus not only devotional, but their devotional feelings are enhanced by sonorous melodies (rāga) and perfect rhythm (tāla) that are attractive to the mind (manaḥ-jñāni).


tat-anurūpāi (appropriate for the occasion)


Everything about Krishna, down to the smallest detail of His being and actions, is all-attractive. One day in the forest a soft wind blew Krishna’s golden dhoti so that it gently hugged His legs in a way that further revealed His form. That visual so overwhelmed His observant friends that one enthusiastically suggested, “Let’s have a festival!” The cowherd boys immediately began to organize a forest feast and spontaneously composed songs about the beauty of Krishna’s dhoti blowing in the wind. Their kīrtana was thus tat-anurūpāi—appropriate for the occasion or pastime. Whether it is līlā-kīrtana, kīrtana describing Krishna’s pastimes, or nāma-kīrtana, chanting the holy name that is sung in rāgas suitable for the time of day, the kīrtana of the cowherd boys is always appropriate­—tat-anurūpāi.


śanaiḥ (slowly, builds up gradually)


In good kīrtana enthusiasm gradually build by the force of the devotion. It is never forced or artificial. In other words, tempo never precedes devotion, but is a natural result of devotion as the kīrtana matures. The kīrtana of the cowherd boys is thus described as śanaiḥ­—it slowly or gradually builds, an essential element of proper kīrtana.


We can now imagine the akhanda (non-stop) kīrtana of the cowherd boys with its deep devotion, beautiful melodies and appropriate rāgas that gradually build to a crescendo as they become immersed in kīrtana, overwhelmed with devotion, and, most importantly, accompanied by the virtuoso flute of the original guru of all music and dance, Śrī Krishna.


[1] The various analysis of the words in this verse that describe the kīrtana of the cowherd boys are found in various commentaries on the verse that I have read or heard over the years. I didn’t have access to them at the writing of this article.



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