Though not a traditional Vedic sacrifice (yajna), a festival of chanting the holy names also involves austerity, organization, and results.
For years we dreamt of the joy of taking part in the famous Festival of India Tour in Poland organized by His Holiness Indradyumna Swami. The annual tour introduces hundreds of thousands of people to Krsna consciousness through large scale cultural festivals. Last summer Lord Krsna fulfilled our dreams.
An outstanding aspect of these festivals is the harinama ("God's names") procession held every day in the towns and on the sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea coast. Though meant primarily to advertise the cultural festival held in the evening, the harinama procession itself is a grand festival, a festival of the holy names with its deep significance and immense benefits extending far beyond advertising.
For the Age of Kali, the current age, the Vedic scriptures recommend the SANKIRTANA yajna, the sacrifice of chanting the names of God. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Lord Krsna in the form of His own devotee, introduced the saitkirtana yajna for the spiritual deliverance of everyone in this age. While predicting Lord Caitanya's advent , Srimad Bhagavatam (11.5.32) refers to the saitkirtana yajna:
yajanti hi su-medhasah
"In this Age of Kali, people who are endowed with sufficient intelligence will worship the Lord, who is accompanied by His associates, by performance of sankirtana-yajna."
Since a yajna commonly refers to a fire sacrifice, with the priests reciting mantras and offering various items to achieve a specific benediction, we were always intrigued by how chanting could be considered a yajna. Our participation in these harinamas helped us understand how it is so.
During a conversation on September 11, 1969, Srila Prabhupada said, "So every nice thing presented in the world requires austerity very devout, painstaking. Then it becomes successful. That is called yajna, or tapasyd [austerity]." Our first realization of harinama as a yajna was that just as any traditional yajna involves a lot of austerities and sacrifice on the part of the performers, saitkirtana yajna demands no less. We were out for almost six hours each day, including traveling an hour or so in buses to get to the beaches from the base where we stayed. We chanted the Hare Krsna maha mantra for at least three hours in the hot sun. Walking and dancing on the beach sand were difficult. Devotees distributing flyers to advertise the cultural program had to weave through the crowds to hand out over seven thousand invitations every day, six days a week. Most of the devotees, in addition to the harinama, had four to six hours of other services during the festival in the evening, which meant less sleep and more fatigue.
Performing harinama in such places also involved austerities of the mind. For example, to share the great gift Lord Caitanya has given us the holy names one must be self controlled and not contemplate sense gratification when seeing scantily dressed people tanning their bodies, and one must tolerate the odours of smoking and drinking. Of course, one cannot artificially make mental adjustments to perform these austerities of the mind. What's required is a purified heart and genuine spiritual qualities achieved by regulated devotional service. It also requires learning the art of taking shelter of the holy names to maintain the proper consciousness and derive the desired results from this yajna. How do the devotees manage to undergo these austerities year after year and with a joyful disposition? They act for the pleasure of Krsna, out of love. When they take on the austerities in proper Krsna consciousness, the so called austerities become a source of joy. That is the secret of devotional service. For seventeen years His Holiness Indradyumna Swami has exemplified this principle by working the hardest of all. His example inspires others to take part in this great yajna and benefit their lives and others'.
Another striking realization we had of harinama as a yajna for this age was the competent organization of the processions. Just as a traditional Vedic yajna requires much organized endeavor to collect the proper ingredients, make elaborate arrangements for the performance, welcome guests, offer them charity, and so on, the sankirtana yajna requires no less.
In the face of stiff opposition from the Church and the government in Poland, Indradyumna Swami is very particular to make an attractive presentation of Krsna consciousness to win the favourable attention of the public. Srila Prabhupada defines enthusiasm in his commentary on the Upadesamrta: "Endeavor executed with intelligence in Krsna consciousness." We witnessed the trelmendous amount of intelligent organization that has gone into shaping these harinama processions over the years. All the devotees areneatly dressed in proper Vaisnava attire women in saris and men in dhotis and kurtas. The procession consists of three groups. Men in the middle group lead the chanting for all three groups. The middle group also has the instruments a set number of them: one accordion, two mrdanga drums, one African djembe drum, and four pairs of karatalas (hand cymbals). In the front and rear groups, women dance with well practiced synchronous movements that draw the attention of onlookers. Indradyumna Swami directs the whole procession from the front. Another attraction is the first two rows of women (nicknamed "the queens"), who wear garlands and flower crowns, have facial decorations (called gopidots), and carry colorful balloons.
These arrangements for the procession are important for at least two reasons. First, they make people watch with curiosity until the devotees are out of sight. Second, the arrangements help people appreciate the diversity of Krsna consciousness that it is neither nirvisesa (dry impersonalism without variety) nor siinyavada ( voidism).
Serving devotees is service to the holy name as well. To help the harinama party go non stop for three or four hours, some devotees carry water, sunscreen, flyers, books, and shoe bags. They also carry two portable amplifiers , which one devotee keeps fully charged every night, no matter how late the devotees get back to the base. Though these may seem like minor details, if neglected it would be impossible to organize such successful harinama festivals every day and keep the devotees in a blissful mood to focus on their service. Apart from the organization visible during the harinama procession, a lot of planning and execution take place behind the scenes. Someone gets permission for the festivals and harinamas from local governments, someone arranges for lodging, transportation, and prasadam for 250 devotees for more than three months, someone invites senior devotees from around the world to come and inspire the tour devotees these and other monumental tasks require money and manpower. Krsna inspires people to give financial support, and some devotees work year round so that this great yajna can go on year after year.
Just as any yajna when properly performed produces the intended results, the sankirtana yajna offers tremendous results for anyone who happens ro be a part of it. The scriptures are replete with references to the transcendental benefits of the holy names. For example, every day during the tour at least 25,000 people receive the following benediction:
na hi bhagavann aghatitam idam
tvad-darsanan nrnam akhila-papaksayah
yan-nama sakrc chravanat
pukkaso 'pi vimucyate samsarat
"My Lord, it is not impossible for one to be immediately freed from all material contamination by seeing You. Not to speak of seeing You personally, merely by hearing the holy name of Your Lordship only once, even candalas, men of the lowest class, are freed from all material contamination. Under the circumstances, who will not be freed from material contamination simply by seeing You!" (SrimadBhagavatam 6.16.44)
And anyone who chants Hare Krsna once, for whatever reason, gets the following benefit:
sanketyam parihasyam va
stobham helanam eva va
"One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures." (Srimad Bhdgavatam 6.2.14)
That's the real purpose behind all the attractive aspects of the harinama procession. Since Krsna is all attractive, anything connected to Him, when presented properly, is also naturally attractive. Thus when people are attracted to hear and chant about Krsna or His devotees even once, their spiritual journey begins even without their knowledge. For example, every day thousands of people rake pictures of the beautiful harinama party often with their family members borrowing garlands from the devotees and posing in front. When these people utter the holy name even once while showing the pictures to friends and relatives, everyone gets the spiritual benefits. One can just imagine the fortune of people who join the procession, sing the holy names, and dance with newfound joy. We commonly saw kids from the previous day's festival happily waving at us while still sporting their gopidots.
A UNIQUE YAJNA
The Vedic scriptures declare that in Kali yuga simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha mantra one can achieve whatever result was obtained in Satya yuga by meditating on Visnu, in Treta yuga by performing sacrifices, and in Dvaparayuga by Deity worship. Not only is sankirtana yajna equivalent to the traditional Vedic yajnas in many aspects; it is also unique and unparalleled. Anyone can take part in this type of yajna by performing the very natural acts of singingand dancing. They only have to redirect these natural propensities toward the Lord. By doing so they get the benefits available in former ages through other processes.
Since the people of Kali yuga are prone to be lazy, dull, misguided, unfortunate, and always disturbed, there is one special benediction available to offset these disadvantages:
kaler dosa -nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krsnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet
"My dear king, although Kali yuga is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is that simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom." (Srimad Bhdgavatam 12.3.51)
Thus harinama sankirtana is a special form of yajna to distribute the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to the masses. It is alsothe primary means to fulfill Mahaprabhu's prophecy that His holy names will be heard and sung in every town and village of the world. From their transcendental positions, Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada will greatly bless those who undertake the austerities required to perform this yajna. And as their aspiring servants, what else are our lives meant for?
tasmat sankirtanam Visnor
mahatilm api kauravya
Sukadeva Goswami continued, "My dear king, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord is able to uproot even the reactions of the greatest sins. Therefore the chanting of the sankirtana movement is the most auspicious activity in the entire universe. Please try to understand this so that others will take it seriously." (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.3.31)
We would like to offer our deepest gratitude to His Holiness Indradyumna Swami and the tour devotees for kindly giving us an opportunity to witness these grand festivals of Lord Caitanya's modern day pastimes.
Govinda Carana Dasa and Rasika Siromani Dasi are disciples of His Holiness lndradyumna Swami. They work as software engineers at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. Govinda Carana conducts weekly sessions on Krsna consciousness at Microsoft. Rasika Siromani, his wife, helps serve Sri Sri Radha Nilamadhava at the ISKCON Seattle temple.
(Photos by Govinda Carana Dasa)