Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #47 – Prema Kirtan and Śuddha Nāma

November 21st, 2022

Yamuna devi had affection for Akincana Krishna das since hearing him sing a kirtan in a rāga he learned in Mayapur at her home at Śaraṇāgati farm when the youth bus tour visited there. Therefore, years later, when he went to greet her in the MVT on her visit to Vrindavan, the first thing she said to him was, “You have a great opportunity to serve the holy name as long as you don’t become a performer!” She apparently noticed a trend in ISKCON that concerned her, and in a very motherly and affectionate way, she was cautioning him based on her wealth of experience with Śrīla Prabhupāda, to vigilantly try to chant prema kirtan. In other words, the kirtan singer should be exclusively focused on the glorification of Sri Krishna rather than their own aggrandizement.


Pradyumna das, who was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s personal Sanskrit editor, shared with me a very similar perspective. He would occasionally visit my room at the Bhakti Center and, inevitably in our casual discussions, share insights based on śāstric wisdom that I would remember for the rest of my life. One time he was reflecting on the type of wild kirtans he would occasionally see on the internet and, in contrast, described the sober style of kirtan he observed in his time serving Śrīla Prabhupāda and on his frequent visits with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers. He then shared an interesting analysis on the first words of the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam, where one is instructed to chant the holy name humbler than a blade of grass. I believe his analysis was from a commentary by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He explained that although each blade of grass contributes to a pleasing over-all effect in a well-kept lawn, no blade of grass stands out individually and says, “Hey, look at me!” In a similar way, all those who participate in prema kirtan should be in the mood of contributing equally to the over-all spiritual and musical effect of the kirtan and no one, not even the kirtan leader, like a blade of grass in a lawn, should try to stand out individually.


Every day during Kārttika, in the late afternoon, Madhava das would lead a very meditative and melodic kirtan in the MVT gardens. One day afterwards, at the MVT restaurant, two prominent yoga teachers that I knew from New York who attended his kirtan that day came over to the table where Madhava was sitting to convey appreciation for his kirtan and to express how different it was from the kirtans they would normally hear at their yoga studios. I was with them. I was struck not only by how Madhava described what prema kirtan means and why it is different, but also by his own experience of what such kirtan feels like in a very visual way. He described the holy name like a fire in his mouth coming spontaneously from his heart.


I think it is necessary to clarify here that when I am using the term “prema kirtan” I am not necessarily claiming that the kirtan leader has reached the highest stage of chanting termed śuddha nāma. I am only indicating that he or she is practicing and chanting at the level of pure devotional service, which means the conscious effort to chant only for the pleasure Krishna without any motive.


Let me finish this short post about prema kirtan by clarifying something about śuddha nāma, chanting at the highest level of consciousness where the pure (śuddha) name of Krishna manifests. But wait a second! If the name is non-different from Krishna, how can one quantify its purity, that one name that is Krishna is better than another name that is Krishna? Let me share my own insight to resolve this quandary.


The full being of any person, which is one’s loving nature as a bosom friend, a loving child, or a passionate lover, is only revealed in a mutual loving relationship. Without such a relationship, although one may be standing before another person, very little of oneself is revealed. One remains a stranger. In the same way, the full being of Krishna, who is a person, is only fully manifest in His holy name (śuddha nāma) to one who chants purely and remains a stranger to one whose chanting is offensive (nāma-aparādha).


How fortunate we are that Śrīla Prabhupāda brought the pure holy name to the west and inspired his followers in prema kirtan. May we humbly follow in his footsteps and chant the holy name purely for the pleasure of Sri Krishna!



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