“O lotus-eyed one, Your sweet voice and charming words, which attract the minds of the intelligent, are bewildering us more and more.” – Gopis to Sri Krishna , Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.31.8
It Might seem naive to wonder what God sounds like, to speculate about the tone of His voice and the language He employs when communicating with those near and dear. Because He is transcendental, we know He is beyond mundane sounds. Most religious people would simply say that when God communicates, He does so in unmistakable tones, and they leave it at that. Extrapolating freely, we can say that He speaks the language of love, and anyone who communicates with Him purely, sincerely – in any language, any pitch – will be understood and can have a back-and-forth with Him based on their own devotion. And this is certainly true as far as it goes.
And yet, historically, God has communicated in specific ways with those who love Him. In the West, Judaeo- Christian scholarship theorizes an ancient divine language, a spiritual proto-dialect that predates human speech. Jews and Christians have traditionally wondered about the language of Adam, who gave names to all living things (Genesis 2:19). It is usually suggested that the early form of language he used deviated slightly from God’s very own system of verbalization. In the early books of the Bible, God uses language during creation, a language medieval Jewish authorities assumed was Hebrew. Since it is clearly indicated that He uses language, some have pondered related questions: Is His voice deep or high? Would it always please the ear?
Christian scholars say that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language and probably knew Hebrew and Greek as well. Because of Jesus’s intimate relationship with God, Christian scholars often say that his language must be the same one that God uses. But there is no evidence for this in biblical literature.
When we turn to Vedic sources, as in, for example, the Rig Veda (1.164.45), we learn of four kinds of sound: para, pasyanti, madhyama, and vaikhari. These correlate with four states of consciousness: turiya (transcendental), susupti (intellectual), svapna (mental), and jagrata (physical). The first of these is spiritual, the next two are subtle, usually employed by beings on higher planets, and the final variety is grossly material, used by beings on lower and middle planets, such as earth. God, of course, can use any of these methods to communicate with beings of this world, and we in turn can use any to communicate with Him.
Srila Prabhupada says that chanting the maha-mantra – Hare Krishna , Hare Krishna , Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare – “is directly enacted from the spiritual platform, and thus this sound vibration surpasses all lower strata of consciousness – namely sensual, mental, and intellectual. There is no need, therefore, to understand the language of the mantra, nor is there any need for mental speculation or any intellectual adjustment for chanting this maha-mantra. It springs automatically from the spiritual platform, and as such, anyone can take part in the chanting without any previous qualification, and dance in ecstasy.” Prabhupada is essentially saying that the sound of Krishna ’s name is transcendental, or of the turiya variety, without any connection to the three lower forms of sound.
Since Krishna is absolute, His form and the sound of His name are identical. And so, because the mahamantra is Krishna in the form of sound, hearing or uttering that sound with a pure heart gives practitioners an auditory experience of Him. This is true of any selfless prayer chanted with devotion. By perfecting one’s chanting, one can come to see the Lord in all His glory.
Unlike other religious traditions, Vaisnavism affords a scientific procedure of just how to do this, and a close study of Srila Prabhupada’s books, all gleaned from the Vedic literature, will disclose methods of practice that put one in direct touch with the Supreme Lord. The specificity or particularity of Vaisnavism’s divine revelation of God through sound is unparalleled in the history of religion. We get to know who God is and, through intimate proximity, what He sounds like.
Krishna the Linguist
For example, in Chapter 21 of Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, as summarized by Srila Prabhupada in The Nectar of Devotion, we find details about Krishna as a transcendental polyglot:
Rupa Gosvami says that a person who knows the languages of different countries, especially the Sanskrit language, which is spoken in the cities of the demigods – as well as other worldly languages, including those of the animals – is called a wonderful linguist. It appears from this statement that Krishna can also speak and understand the languages of the animals. An old woman in Vrndavana, present at the time of Krishna ’s pastimes, once stated in surprise, “How wonderful it is that Krishna , who owns the hearts of all the young girls of Vrajabhumi, can nicely speak the language of Vrajabhumi with the gopis, while in Sanskrit He speaks with the demigods, and in the language of the animals He can even speak with the cows and buffalo! Similarly, in the language of the Kashmir Province, and with the parrots and other birds, as well as in most common languages, Krishna is so expressive!” She inquired from the gopis as to how Krishna had become so expert in speaking so many different types of languages.
In other words, Krishna speaks all languages. This fact hearkens back to a more general conception of God – that He hears and understands whatever we say, especially if we communicate with Him in a mood of love and devotion. But here we learn specifically how Krishna employs this talent and of some instances when He does so.
Srila Rupa Gosvami wrote many books besides Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu, including dramas. In these, Krishna is depicted as speaking with some people in Prakrta (the language of ordinary people) and with others in Sanskrit. Prabhupada said that when Krishna was in Vraja, some five thousand years ago, He spoke Vraja-bhasa, the local language of the cowherds spoken even today. And yet when conversing with Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, He spoke in poetic Sanskrit, as both scholars and demigods still do when they find it appropriate. In fact, as Prabhupada informs us, Krishna sometimes speaks this same sophisticated language on His own planet in the spiritual world: “Yes, Sanskrit is spoken not only on Krishna loka but also in higher planets of the demigods.” (Letter, February 1, 1968)
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu revealed something even more specific about Krishna ’s voice:
My dear friend, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna , has a voice as deep as a cloud resounding in the sky. . . . Krishna ’s deep voice is more resonant than newly arrived clouds, and His sweet song defeats even the sweet voice of the cuckoo. Indeed, His song is so sweet that even one particle of its sound can inundate the entire world. If such a particle enters one’s ear, one is immediately bereft of all other types of hearing. (Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya 17.40–41)
In Chapter 21 of Bhakti-rasamrtasindhu, Rupa Gosvami also describes Krishna ’s voice as deep.
Sounds for Loving Exchanges
In the end, the voice of God manifests variously, embodying, we might say, limitless inflections. Sometimes He speaks to us without words – through a trying situation, the morning dew, a sunset, a stranger’s smile, a loving child, a physical ailment. He comes to us in numerous forms, and we need to be ready to hear Him, regardless of our expectations or preconceptions.
That being said, the Vedic literature tells us of His ultimate form and reveals that we can perceive Him when we truly love Him with heart and soul. Krishna sounds different for different people. But for pure devotees there is a certain uniformity of experience as well. To be sure, they perceive Him according to their unique, subjective relationship with Him, but they all hear the call of His alluring flute, relish His deep, resonant voice, and communicate with Him in languages that enable the deepest of loving exchanges.
Satyaraja Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, is a BTG associate editor and founding editor of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies. He has written more than thirty books on Krishna consciousness and lives near New York City.