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For those who are not in a position to read or recite a stotra, Hindu tradition has provided innumerable bhajans, set to captivating tunes, particularly suitable for being sung in chorus  by a congregation. In these bhajans, a variety of God’s several names are repetitively strung together in a melody and rhythm and usually with a refrain, that are so delightfully musical that one is carried into ecstasy even by simply listening to them. This tradition of musical devotion came into prominence all over India mainly after the revival of the Bhakti movement in the 15th and 16th centuries. The unceasing repetition of the classic chant

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare;

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare’  

by traditional bhajan singers as well as by the members of the contemporary Krishna Consciousness movement is one such. One might have wondered how these devotees could even dance in ecstasy singing this bhajan. In fact they maintain that the worship of the Lord with song and dance must be done by the devotees as a daily duty.


Question: When the Vedas prescribe costly and difficult sacrifices for man’s salvation, how can mere praise of the Lord, or just repetition of His names, which costs no money, substitute for them?


The very ease with which one can practise nAma-sankIrtana (= perfect singing of names of God. ‘nAma’: names ; ‘kIrtana’: singing or reciting; ‘sankIrtana’: singing with perfection) is a factor in its favour. It is highly recommended by every Hindu scripture for many reasons. It is the only mode open  to all, irrespective of caste, creed, sex, status of enlightenment, state of mind or any other distinction.  It does no harm to others. It is not conditioned by time; any time is good enough. It is not conditioned by place; there is no rule which says, you have to do kirtana only here and not there. There is no ritualistic requirement. The recitation of names can purify you both internally and externally and take you to the highest level of attainment, namely, moksha itself.


Question: How can mere words and repetition of words have so much power?


Yes, mere words and repetitions of words do have great power. First, let us consider a simple explanation. Those who rely totally on the limited laws of science and reason may argue that words are, after all, just sound and cannot be expected to cleanse or correct the mind of man. But a word is not just a sound. Kalidasa, in the very first shloka of his Raghuvamsam, very expressively brings out the identity between vAk (word uttered) and artha (its meaning, significance) by comparing it to the intertwining between the male  and  female forms in the ardha-nArIshvara representation of Shiva. When we say ‘table’ the four-legged piece of furniture instantaneously appears as mental picture. You cannot think of one without the other. People are sitting quietly in, say, a meeting. Somebody calls, ‘Snake!’. Will the calm continue? Just the word ‘snake’ magically destroys it. One might be sitting before a plateful of delicacies, but if somebody nearby speaks of something dirty or disgusting, one is repelled by the food. The mere sound of words creates so strong a reaction.


Sri Sathya Sai Baba tells an unforgettable story that illustrates this.  A certain officer was inspecting the work of a teacher in a school. The officer who had a hearty contempt for ‘mere talk’ asked the teacher, “How can you ever hope to transform the nature of these children by the words you utter? Show them by deeds: act, don’t speak!” The teacher protested and argued that words do have a profound effect on the mind. The argument continued for some time and the teacher was desperately looking for some way of carrying home his point. At last he resolved on a plan. He said to one of his pupils: ‘Look here, catch hold of this officer by the neck and push him out of the room.’ Hearing this, the inspector flew into a rage and started berating the teacher. The teacher said, ‘Sir, I only made some sounds shaped into a few words. No one pushed you or hit you or even touched you. It was all mere sound. But see how it has enraged you. It was all mere sound. Words, sir, do help in modifying character and shaping nature. They have vast power.’


And Sathya Sai Baba continues to explain: “When words referring to worldly situations have such an electric transforming effect on the mind of man, certainly words conveying spiritual and elevated meaning will help in cleansing and correcting the mind of man . When we filter the air with harshness, we become harsh in nature, when we fill the atmosphere with hatred, we too have perforce to breathe that air and we are hated in return. When we saturate the air with sounds full of reverence, humilty, love, courage, self-confidence and tolerance, we benefit from those qualities ourselves. The heart is the film  and the mind is the lens. Turn the lens toward the world and a worldly picture will fall on the heart. Turn it towards God and it will transmit pictures of the Divine”.


There is another explanation, an esoteric one, for the efficacy of nAma-sankIrtana. It is a natural outpouring of sentiments from the heart and leads to a communion between God and Man. During nAma-sankIrtanas a charmed circle of sound is produced and a strange sense of the greatness of God and the essential unity of man creeps into the soul.  With the successive awakening of each of the six yogic chakras in the human body, there are corresponding changes in one’s body, emotions, mind and degree of consciousness. The progressive expansion of consciousness yields an increase of knowledge about oneself and a deepening awareness of the self-luminant Resident of the body, namely, the Atman. 


The Kundalini shakti, which sleeps as it were at the MulAdhAra chakra can be made by yoga practices to wake up, evolve and travel upwards through the sushumnA nADi.  While it does so it is imperceptible to the senses. But every day it expresses itself, in every one of us, in all our activities. Particularly the expression of it in the form of the human voice is known as the manifestation of nAda-brahman, the Sound Absolute. Thus in the perfection of the human voice the primeval energy comes to prominence through the words, sentences, and mantras we utter. We do not realise, in our ignorance, that it is the Absolute Supreme that is expressing itself through our voice and that the satisfaction we derive in saying whatever we say is only an iota of that Infinite Bliss which is in us.  If only we could recite the names of God unendingly, it would take us towards an identity with the nAda brahman at every step.  A bhajan of the several names of the Infinite Being (like the Hare Krishna mantra) creates the necessary vibrations, starting from the MulAdhAra-chakra. An unceasing nAma-sankIrtan cleanses the crust of vAsanAs that has accumulated over several births, and thus paves the way for the stored-up Kundalini energy to get tuned to the frequency of the Infinite Energy in the Cosmos.


The recitation of the names should come from the heart, not just from the lips or the tongue. It must be a spontaneous manifestation of inner conviction and ecstasy. Such intense yearning for God  purifies oneself as well as those around. Life is full of sorrow, beset with fear and despair. The only way one strengthens oneself to meet hard times is to contact the source of all strength and bliss, namely the Infinite God. This is the way to overcome the evil in us, lay low the ‘pashu’ (beast) in us and instal the ‘pashu-pati’ (Lord of all beings) in our hearts.


In reciting the names, however, one should not be guilty of offences to the Name. Such offences will more than offset the benefits of nAma-smaraNa. One should not insult or speak ill of others, since every one is divine. No distinction should be made between different names or forms of God, though one may have some tastes in the matter –which, mostly is because of one’s background of evolution, not only in this birth, but in all previous births. The Divine Name should be looked upon as supreme  truth and not as mere eulogy. 


It is true that the repetition of God’s names will absolve one of all sins, but on that account one should not use the name as a cloak for the commission of sins. The cultivation of the five basic virtues, namely, Purity, Self-Control, Detachment, Truth and Non-violence, should not be neglected. One should not behave in a way which is devoid of love; one should not be governed by the conceits of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. The fundamental principle of nAma-snaraNa and nAma-sankIrtana is shraddhA (faith and conviction). Love of, and exclusive devotion to, the Lord, is necessary. When one does such a nAma-smaraNa it becomes a yajna  (See the Pages 9.1 to 9.5) in itself. The Lord Himself says in the Gita: ‘Of all yajnas I am the japa-yajna’.  The theme of nAma-smaraNa or a bhajan or a japa should be that the one Supreme Almighty, who is spoken of by different names, is the subtlest of things ever experienced, though hard to analyse or apprehend by ordinary commonsense and, therefore, every name of His should take us to Him, if we realise the intrinsic value thereof.

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