Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #28 – The Greatest Kīrtana Ever!

July 15th, 2019

They were wildly cheering for God! Nine hundred thousand enthusiasts lined the streets of Farrukhabad. It was their annual Ram Bharat parade. “This is God’s country!” shared one humbled god-brother observing the scene. Lord Siva sat on Mount Kailash in the float before us—a huge block of ice, with live snakes circling his body. I was freaked and restless. It was a late start—already 9 PM. When will it end? BB Govinda Swami began kīrtana in his overpowering, yet sweet and melodic style. We all joined in. At first, I struggled on that muggy summer night, but the resonant melodies opened my heart to Krishna’s holy name. I gradually began to sway with the rhythm. My heart was touched, my mind concentrated. It was 5 AM before I knew it, and time to return to Vṛndāvana. This was 1992, and certainly one of my most memorable kīrtanas. But the greatest kīrtana ever?

 

What about the kīrtana of the cowherd boys as they left for the forest accompanied by Krishna’s flute? Their kīrtana was rich with sonorous melodies, sung deeply from their melted hearts of devotion, built up slowly in tempo from the force of their bhava, and appropriate for the time of the day and pastime. Some cowherd boys even spontaneously blew trumpets crafted from the large smooth leaves of particular Vṛndāvana trees. They also returned with the same fervor, awakening the residents of Vṛndāvana from their slumber of separation. Seeing Krishna in the distance blowing His flute, prancing behind a stampede of cows accompanied by the kīrtana of the cowherd boys, they were overflooded with bliss. Imagine how the Vrajavāsīs felt. Can there be anything better than that?

 

Mother Yaśodā fainted upon seeing her son hanging limp in the coils of the many hooded snake in the midst of the fuming, boiling polluted waters of the Yamunā. She fainted. In desperation, Mother Yaśodā’s friends, whose love for Krishna was equal to her own, tried to revive her by singing with the most heartfelt devotion about Krishna’s exploits of killing the demons in Vṛndāvana. What a heartfelt kīrtana! Can there be anything deeper than that?

 

Seeing the gopīs’ seeming pride from dancing with Him in the rāsa dance, Krishna suddenly disappeared from their company. They madly began to search the forest of Vṛndāvana for their beloved:

 

“When they saw that it was getting gradually darker, they stopped. Their minds and intelligence became absorbed in thoughts of Krishna; they all imitated the activities of Krishna and His speeches. Due to their heart and soul being completely given to Krishna they began to chant His glories, completely forgetting their family interests. In this way all the gopīs returned to the bank of the Yamunā and assembled there, and expecting that Krishna must return to them, they simply engaged in chanting the glories of Krishna—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”[1] Can there be anything sweeter than the unsurpassed kīrtana of the gopīs on the bank of the Yamunā?

 

The depth of Śrī Radha’s devotion for Krishna manifests in her intense feelings of separation from Him. That devotion is the pinnacle of bliss, and even inspires Śrī Krishna Himself to come in the form of Śrī Caitanya to taste that love, especially during the Jagannath Ratha-yātrā, a festival that commemorates that devotion. Overwhelmed with Śrī Radha’s love for Krishna, He personally organized seven separate kīrtanas surrounding Jagannatha’s cart for His lord’s pleasure. He placed two expert mṛdaṅgas in each division, assigned Svarūpa Dāmodara, Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura, and his best singers to lead each of those parties, as well as His most charming dancers, such as Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura, to be the lead dancer in each group. The groups suddenly converged.

 

“All the Vaisnavas came together like an assembly of clouds. As the devotees chanted the holy name in great ecstasy tears fell from their eyes like rain. When the kīrtana resounded, it filled the three worlds. Indeed no one could hear any sounds or musical instruments other than the sankīrtana. Lord Caitanya wandered through all seven groups chanting the holy name, ‘Hari, Hari!’ raising His arms, He shouted, ‘All glories to Lord Jagannatha!’”[2] What it must have been like to be inundated with the holy name and inspired by the ecstatic dancing of Śrī Caitanya at Ratha-yātrā! Can there be anything more sublime than that?

 

Krishna surfed the return wave caused by His atomic splash into the Yamunā onto one of the wide heads of the multi-headed serpent, Kālīya. In order to dodge the bites of the venomous reptile and to crush his various poisonous heads, he dexterously jumped from one head to another. Observing His own feet moving so quickly, and being innately filled with rhythm, a beat arose in His heart. By way of His infallible desire, two ankle bells appeared on His legs, and Krishna began to dance.[3]

 

Krishna is the guru of all arts. He is thus also naṭa-vara, the most excellent of all dancers. His enthralling dance thus attracted the demigods. First came Indra, an expert in mṛdaṅga, and then Nārada, the maestro of vinā. As news of Krishna’s desire to dance began to spread, more and more celestial instrument players appeared above Vṛndāvana.

 

Of particular note were the vidyādharas, a community of heavenly musicians, especially expert in percussion. They carefully observed the tal (beat) of Krishna’s dance before starting, and they gradually supported His dancing performance in a circle of various expertly played drums, mostly the paṇava and ānaka, huge drums with majestic sounds played with two sticks on each side, one representing bass and the other treble. The vidyādharas made sure that all the instruments in the heavenly realm that were suited for the occasion were brought to enrich the kīrtana and support the dance. Experts in the flutes, bugle, vinā, and shehnai soon arrived and joined the fun.

 

The gandharvas, the heavenly singers, already knew of Krishna’s extraordinary artistic abilities. When the news of Krishna’s dancing reached their ears, they rushed to the earth for kīrtana sevā, especially the most prominent of the gandharvas, such as Viśvāvasu, Citraratha, and so on. The Krishna kīrtana of the gandharvas, the best singers in the universe, accompanied by the vidyādharas, the world’s unparalleled percussionists, and supported by the powerful mṛdaṅga playing of Indra, brought the kīrtana to heights never before imagined. And just to add to the scene’s glory, the residents of siddha-loka, the planet of poetic geniuses, arrived. They immediately spontaneously composed lyrics to what they were witnessing in booming and rhythmic Sanskrit chants.

 

As the demigods never touch the earth, the kīrtana was hovering from above, an excellent vantage point for a puṣpa abhiṣeka. Those without instruments immediately began to shower the scene with a cascade of the most colorful and fragrant flowers from the celestial realm, even from Vaikuṇṭha itself. And from the shore below, the residents of Vṛndāvana, having just gained full consciousness, became overwhelmed with relief and joy at the spectacle before them. Especially the cowherd boys danced along with Krishna’s movements in extreme bliss. By the powerful beats of the mṛdaṅga led by Indra, an instrument especially designed to invoke dance, even the crestfallen heads of the serpent began to move in time to the beat.

 

With the Vrajavāsīs dancing and cheering in utter amazement on the ground, and the kīrtana symphony of the demigods above, the performance of Krishna’s supreme virtuoso dance on the swaying stage of the serpent’s hood lighted by his red jewels became the festival all festivals.

 

And that’s what I think is the greatest kīrtana ever!

 


[1] Chapter 29, p 299 Krishna Book

[2] Cc. Madhya-līlā 13.49-51

[3] The elaborate description of Krishna’s dance on the serpent Kālīya’s head with the accompaniment of the demigod musicians is from various commentaries of Bhag. 10.18.26-19 as described in the lectures of Śrīla Radha Govinda Swami.

 

 

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