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Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider the following 16-word mantra as the Mahamantra and always chant it.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

This mantra is mentioned in the very beginning of the Kali Santarana Upanishad (verse 2), a minor Upanishad. However, there the Mantra is mentioned as the following -

Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

नारदः पुनः पप्रच्छ तन्नाम किमिति। स होवाच हिरण्यगर्भः। हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे। हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे। इति षोडशकं नाम्नां कलिकल्मषनाशनम्।

Very strange. Why do they chant it from the opposite direction?

Reference -

  • 30 Minor Upanishads translated by K. Narayanswami Iyar
  • 112 Upanishads translated by K L Joshi
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    It was the mantra given as initiation to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu that was inspired via Kali Santarana Upanishat. When chanting it in a sequence, the mantra automatically coincides with the original mantra. Since they are pro-Krishna sect, they keep Krishna first without any harm to original mantra via sequential chanting.
    – user29449
    Commented Mar 27 at 6:34
  • @User29449 You simply cannot change the sequence of a Mantra, which is part of Sruti - revealed scripture! Commented Mar 27 at 7:09
  • @User29449 You can say it is a new mantra, which has no scriptural basis. That is fine. You can chant whatever you like. But you cannot just get "inspired" by the scripture and then change the scripture. Commented Mar 27 at 7:38
  • It is not changing, it is a custom guru mantra (mantra diksha) to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It definitely does not has any scriptural basis, but Krishnites keep Krishna foremost and chant in that way. Repeated japa automatically leads to correction.
    – user29449
    Commented Mar 27 at 9:39
  • @User29449 If the creator Brahma himself put Rama before Krishna, then I do not think anybody has the right to change the sequence. If they do, they have to come up with a solid theological justification. Commented Mar 27 at 9:47

3 Answers 3

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As the present Shankaracharya of Puri Govardhan Math, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati ji has said in one of his videos the order was reversed so that women and Shudras could be initiated into it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2OvJhGktw8g

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  • That is a good theological justification. Commented Mar 27 at 16:16
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    However I'm not sure if this is what the sringeri acharya thinks since there is a video of him making the audience(consisting of people of multiple castes) chant the mantra with hare rama at the beginning @AmritenduMukhopadhyay
    – amit
    Commented Mar 28 at 17:43
  • Thanks for raising an important point. If possible please add the video link. However, at least, one Shankaracharya (of Puri) thinks the above way. That itself made it an authoritative explanation. Commented Mar 29 at 2:37
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    Here m.youtube.com/watch?v=uphe_8bm3NA @AmritenduMukhopadhyay
    – amit
    Commented Mar 29 at 4:58
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    Commented Mar 29 at 6:39
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In Caitanya Caritamrta, it is mentioned that some Brahmins claimed that the maha mantra cannot be chanted by non-Brahmins. So Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, reversed it so it starts with Hare Krishna first. This way the mantra, which consists of names of God, stays valid and is not part of scriptures so it can be chanted by anyone.

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  • Thanks for the information. You have to cite the verse number of Chaitanya Caritamrita and also you have to quote the verse. You have to back your answer with the reference from holy texts. Commented Apr 2 at 10:28
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𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗴𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗻 𝗯𝘆 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝘄𝗵𝗼 𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗴𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗼𝗿𝗱𝗲𝗿 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗿𝗮 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗴𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝘀𝘁𝗿ī 𝗮𝗻𝗱 śū𝗱𝗿𝗮 𝗮𝗱𝗵𝗶𝗸ā𝗿𝗮 𝘁𝗼 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝘁, 𝗶𝘀 𝘃𝗲𝗵𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗹𝘆 𝗿𝗲𝗷𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗯𝘆 𝗚𝗮𝘂ḍī𝘆𝗮-𝘀.

Apparently the Navadvīpa manuscript had the mantra starting with "Hare Kṛṣṇa".

Further the mantra has no adhikāra requirements either way; as the Kalisantaraṇopaniṣat itself says:

punarnāradaḥ papraccha bhagavan ko'sya vidhiriti । taṃ hovāca nāsya vidhiriti । sarvadā śuciraśucirvā paṭhan brāhmaṇaḥ salokatāṃ samīpatāṃ sarūpatāṃ sāyujyameti । 3 ।

Translation :

Again Nārada enquired: ‘O Lord, what are the rules to be observed with reference to it (chanting the mahā-mantra)?" Brahmā replied, “There are no rules. Whoever, in a pure or an impure state, utters these always, attains the same world of the Lord (sālokya), proximity with the Lord (sāmīpya), the same form as the Lord (sārūpya), or absorption into Brahman (sāyujya).

They further state, quoting verses from Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, that 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙣𝙖𝙢𝙚 𝙧ā𝙢𝙖 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙨 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙆𝙖𝙡𝙞-𝙮𝙪𝙜𝙖 𝙢𝙖𝙝ā-𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙖 𝙪𝙡𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙮 𝙙𝙤𝙚𝙨 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙧𝙚𝙛𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙤 𝙢𝙖𝙧𝙮ā𝙙ā𝙥𝙪𝙧𝙪ṣ𝙤𝙩𝙩𝙖𝙢𝙖 𝙇𝙤𝙧𝙙 𝙍ā𝙢𝙖, 𝙩𝙤 𝙇𝙤𝙧𝙙 𝘽𝙖𝙡𝙖𝙧ā𝙢𝙖, 𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙤 𝙇𝙤𝙧𝙙 𝙋𝙖𝙧𝙖ś𝙪𝙧ā𝙢𝙖. 𝙄𝙩 𝙖𝙙𝙙𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙨𝙚𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙎𝙪𝙥𝙧𝙚𝙢𝙚 𝙇𝙤𝙧𝙙 𝙃𝙞𝙢𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙛, Ś𝙧ī 𝙆ṛṣṇ𝙖, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙧𝙚𝙢𝙚 𝙚𝙣𝙟𝙤𝙮𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙘𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙪𝙧𝙚 (𝙧ā𝙢𝙖).

Here, the name rāma is another direct name of Kṛṣṇa Himself. Kṛṣṇa is the supreme enjoyer as He is always in the mood of a charming lover who wants to enjoy (ramaṇa). There is no greater enjoyer than Śrī Kṛṣṇa; therefore, He is called rāma. Thus, rāma in the mahā-mantra refers to the supreme enjoyer, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

विज्ञाप्य भागवत्-तत्त्वं चिद् घनानन्दि विग्रहम् हरत्यविधं तत्कार्यमतो हरिरिति स्मृतः आनन्दैकसुखः श्रीमान् श्यामः कमल लोचनः गोकुलानन्दो नन्दन्दनः कृष्ण ईर्यते वैदग्धी सारासर्वस्वं मूर्तलीला धिदैवतम् श्री राधां रमया नित्यं राम् इत्य् अभिदीयते

vijñāpya bhāgavat-tattvaṃ cid ghanānandi vigraham haratyavidhaṃ tatkāryamato haririti smṛtaḥ ānandaikasukhaḥ śrīmān śyāmaḥ kamala locanaḥ gokulānando nandandanaḥ kṛṣṇa īryate vaidagdhī sārāsarvasvaṃ mūrtalīlā dhidaivatam śrī rādhāṃ ramayā nityaṃ rām ity abhidīyate

Translation:

“(Śrī Kṛṣṇa) is the līlā-vigraha and the crest-jewel of all expertise and wisdom. Because He eternally enjoys loving transcendental pastimes with Śrīmatī rādhikā, He is also known as rāma (the enjoyer).”

Gauḍīya Ācārya Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī in his work Mahā-mantrārtha Dīpikā, explains each of the four names of Rāma that appear in the mahā-mantra in this way:

First Rāma:

govardhana-darī-kuñje parirambha-vicakṣaṇaḥ śrī rādhāṁ ramayāmāsa rāmastena mato hariḥ [10]

“Kṛṣṇa, who is expert at embracing, sports with Rādhā in the forest groves or in the caves of Govardhana. Thus He is known as Rāma.”

Second Rāma:

ramate bhajato cetaḥ paramānanda-vāridhau atreti kathito rāmaḥ śyāmasundara-vigrahaḥ [12]

“The minds of the devotees are continuously drowned in an ocean of supreme joy by seeing the beautiful dark form of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore He is known by the Name Rāma.”

Third Rāma:

ramayaty-acyutaṁ premnā nikuñja-vana-mandire rāmā nigaditā rādhā rāmo yutas tayā punaḥ [13]

“Rādhārāṇī is known as Rāmā because She enjoys loving pastimes with Acyuta (Kṛṣṇa) in a secret forest pavilion. Since He is always by Her side, He is known as Rāma.”

Fourth Rāma:

rodanair gokule dāvānalam-aśayati hyasau viśoṣāyati tenokto rāmo bhakta-sukhāvahaḥ [14]

“When the residents of Gokula were crying due to fear of the forest fire, Kṛṣṇa immediately swallowed it and gave His devotees great joy. In this way, He is known as Rāma.”

Further, a text, Anantasaṃhitā (which is held by some Gauḍīya-s as genuine) (Kṛṣṇa’s holy name) provides four separate mantras for each of the four yugas. Thus the current mantra was present even in the previous yugas, before the appearance of līlā-puruṣottama Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Dvāparayuga.

𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗞𝗮𝗹𝗶-𝘆𝘂𝗴𝗮:

हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण । कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे ॥ हरे राम हरे राम । राम राम हरे हरे ॥ षोड-शैतानि नामानि । द्वात्रिन्शद् वर्ण कानि हि कलौ युगे महा-मन्त्रः । सम्मतो जीव तारणे ॥

“Hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare, hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare. This hari-nāma mahā-mantra consists of sixteen names and thirty-two syllables. In Kali-yuga this mantra can deliver all jīvas.”

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  • Can you please add the verse numbers and links to the texts (both Ananta Samhita and Jiva Goswami's book)? Commented Apr 12 at 12:09
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    So I added the link to Mahā-mantrārtha Dīpikā of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, excerpt from the Upaniṣad itself and removed the Ananta Saṁhitā part because the text seems to be of doubtful veracity. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ananta_Samhita Commented Apr 12 at 15:49
  • Thank you. Please add the ananta samhita back. The information was useful. The text is of doubtful origin that you can't help. Because Gaudiya Vaishanavas consider the text important. Commented Apr 13 at 2:57
  • Apparently, in Caitanya caritamrita it is mentioned that Brahmins opposed it. Not sure. Commented Apr 13 at 2:59

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