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Bhagavan's Divine discourse on Bhajan singing

Date: Mar 3, 1992 Place: Poornachandra

The Wheel of Time can make a scholar a dumb animal, And a dumb person can become a saint, And a wealthy man may become a plaything of the Goddess of Poverty at any time. Whatever your prayers, you cannot get What you are not destined to get. Don't cherish, oh young man, any desires! Lead instead a noble life with intelligence. What more can I tell the good people assembled here?

Embodiments of Divine Love!

Samyak-keerthanam Sankeerthanam! Congregational singing of bhajans is the best form of bhajans. There is a big difference between keerthanam and sankeerthanam. Keerthanam is an individual affair. It is singing by an individual for the fulfillment of his prayers. Sankeerthanam however aims at the well-being of the whole universe. This is also described as community singing, or samaajika bhajans, a method initiated by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sankeerthana aims at the well-being of the whole universe by demonstrating unity in diversity. When all the participants combine to sing in unison with one voice, it is described as sankeerthana.

Sankeerthana is of four kinds: One is Gunasankeerthana, two, Leelasankeerthana, three Bhavasankeerthana, and four, Namasankeerthana.

Gunasankeerthana applies to the kind of bhajan in which the devotee recites the auspicious qualities of the Divine, and so experiences oneness with the Divine, and acquires those good qualities. Thyagaraja had recourse to this type of singing. In one of his keerthanas, he exclaimed:

"Oh Lord! You are beyond all words. Is it possible for even Brahma or other Gods to extol Your Glorious Exploits ? I am waiting for Your Grace. Hearken to my entreaties. You restored to the preceptor the son whom the Lord of Death had taken away. You conquered the God of Love. You liberated from prison Vasudeva and Devaki. You protected Draupadi when she appealed to you in despair. You were the guardian of the Pandavas. You relieved Kuchela of his poverty. You saved 16,000 damsels from subjection".

In this manner Thyagaraja recounted the great qualities of God in his songs.

Leelasankeerthana refers to the enjoyment by the devotee of the sacred sport of the Divine in ecstatic dancing and singing and being totally absorbed in it. This is exemplified by the Gita Govindam of Jayadeva.

Bhaavasankeerthana: This is illustrated by Radha alone, who expresses Her different feelings towards God and identifies Herself with the Divine in every mood of devotion. She expressed Her devotion in the five forms Santha (Serenity), Sakhya (friendliness), Vaatsalya (maternal love), Anuraag [affection), and Madhura (sweetness). Radha and Mira were the exponents of bhaavasankeerthana.

Naamasankeerthana: Chaitanya was the exponent of this form of keerthana. "All names are Yours! There is nothing in this cosmos which does not bear the imprint of Your Name or Form!"

Sarvaroopa Dharam Saantham Sarvanaamadharam Sivam Satchidaanandaroopam Advaitam Sathyam Sivam Sundaram!

Chaitanya reveled in singing the Name of the Lord as signifying all that was beautiful and glorious in the universe.

While in each of the previous aeons devotees adopted one or the other methods of singing the glories of God, it is the supreme good fortune of those present today to enjoy all the four forms of sankeerthana. The bhajans sung in Prashanthi Nilayam are a combination of all the four forms of sankeerthana.

There is yet another special form of glorifying the Name of the Lord. This is naamalikhitam, or writing the Name of the Lord. Contemplating the Name of the Lord mentally, uttering the Name by mouth, and writing the Name by hand serves to purify the mind, the speech and the action.

The Name of the Lord has been glorified in different ways all over the world. Jayadeva was one who enjoyed always the leelas of the Divine, experienced the Presence of the Divine within himself, devoted every one of His daily activities to enjoying the sport of the Divine, felt that He had no use for anything other than God's Love, merged His love in Divine Love and thereby became the very embodiment of Divine Love. As people did not comprehend the spiritual significance of His keerthanas, they misunderstood and misinterpreted the meaning of Jayadeva's Ashtapadis.

Hanuman, after the completion of his mission in Lanka, went to Sita to receive Her blessings before returning to Rama. At that time, Mother Sita blessed Hanuman in this manner : "Hanuman! You are full of prowess, intelligence and fortitude. May you never grow old." This did not give joy to Hanuman. Noticing His sense of disappointment, Sita blessed him again. "Live as an immortal!" Even this did not please Hanuman. Sita then blessed him again: "Hanuman, You are full of virtues! May the dwellers in the three worlds extol Your qualities!"

Hanuman felt embarrassed and bent His head as if He were ashamed to hear such praise. Observing Hanuman's reaction, Sita finally blessed Him thus: "May Sri Rama always love you." The moment Hanuman heard these words, He was in rapture. "This was all I have ever wanted," He declared. "I must be worthy of Rama's love. A life without His Love is an utter waste. It is a living death. The only thing I desire is Rama's Love".

Hanuman was proficient in music. There was none that could excel him in singing. Even Narada and Tumbura could not prevail against him. Such a great singer continues always to chant the name of Rama.

What then is the essence of sankeerthana? Its essential purpose is to earn the Love of God. Combining one's voice, tune, feeling, and rhythm to the appropriate beat of the song, the devotee should immerse himself or herself in the singing. Harmonizing the feeling with devotion and love, the sacred words of the song should be an outpouring of love toward God. That alone is devotional singing. When the song is rendered without understanding the meanings of the words and without any inner feeling or genuine love for God, it is just a mechanical performance. Bhaava (feeling), Raaga (melody), and Thaala (Rhythm) are the essentials for proper singing. Even the name Bharat (for India) signifies the combination of these three elements: Bha Rha Tha. In every action in daily life, the combination of these three elements should be observed. This rule can be applied even to one's studies. Bhaava in relation to study of a subject means understanding the subject thoroughly. Raaga implies cultivating a love for the subject, and Thaala means expressing one's knowledge coherently and clearly.

In the rendering of Thyagaraja's songs, the failure to provide the meaning of the words in the song has produced bizarre results. Thyagaraja's songs are in Telugu. Tamil musicians, who are expert in music but not in Telugu, have rendered Thyagaraja's songs melodiously, but have mangled the words of his songs and made them meaningless. In one of his songs, Thyagaraj sang, "Ne pogadakunte neekemi kodavu Rama!" This means, `If I do not praise You, what do You lose, oh Rama". A Tamil musician sang the song in such a manner that it sounded like "If I eat pakodas, what do you lose?"

It is essential to ensure that the meaning of the words, the emotional feeling of the composer and the melody of the song are all brought out in rendering the songs during nagarasankeertan and bhajans. Where one does not understand the meanings of the words, one should get the meaning from those who know.

Embodiments of Divine Love! Regard community singing as a sacred devotional exercise. Even if you have no musical ability, utter the Names of the Lord with feeling and love. There is no greater means of God-realisation in the Kali Age than chanting the names of the Lord. Dhyana in Krita Yuga, Yajna in Treta Yuga, Archana in Dwapara Yuga, and Naamasanankeerthana in Kali Age are the methods prescribed for realising the Divine.

Remembering the Name is the panacea. When the Name is chanted as a song set to music, it delights the heart immensely. Many pundits recite the names as verses, (slokas), but they do not experience the intense yearning expressed in those stanzas. Some actors are able to pronounce the words loud and clear, but without true depth of feeling. Yet when the Names are sung melodiously they appeal to the hearts of the singers and the listeners. Even non-believers and agnostics nod their heads in appreciation when they listen to devotional music.

The words of a song can be expressed in a prosaic manner which has no appeal to the listener. But when they are sung melodiously (as in the song: "Rama! Nannu Kaapaadu!" Rama, save me!), they tug at the heart strings. Such sweetness is contained in the song when it is rendered melodiously.

In bhajan everyone whether well-versed in music or not, should listen attentively to the singer and try to repeat the words of the song with feeling. Some persons attending bhajans do not move their lips at all. They may say that they are singing the song mentally within themselves. This is not proper. If you have devotional feeling, it should be expressed by the tongue joining in the bhajan. Only then it can be called sankeerthana - all together singing in unison with others. You must sing the Names aloud, full-throated, as far as the voice can reach. Only then the Divine will respond in full measure and shower His Grace. No one will go to the rescue of a drowning man if his cries are too feeble to hear. Only when he cries aloud at the top of his voice will his plea be heard and people will rush to save him. Sankeerthana means singing with that much abandon and fervour.

Everyone should realise that every limb and organ in the body has been given to man to be used for a sacred purpose. The tongue to utter the Lord's name, the hands to worship, the feet to go the temple, and so on. These organs should not be used for frivolous and unholy purposes. Sanctifying every one of the sense organs, a person should purify the mind and contemplate on God.

Embodiments of Divine Love! It is impossible to describe the sweetness and sacredness of the Name of the Lord. The intensity of the devotion with which you chant the name of the Lord will yield commensurate benefit and confer joy on you. All should strive to chant the Names in unison. Today, all the five elements in the world-- space, air, fire, water, earth-- are polluted. One cannot get pure water or pure air. The sounds that you hear are impure. The earth is polluted. The Kali Yuga has become "Kalmasha yuga", the age of impurity. To purify all this the only means is chanting the Names of the Lord. Today people spend most of their time watching the TV and video shows. Is it then any surprise if children born in these circumstances are TV products? They behave as actors from childhood. They indulge in stunts. Only the parents are to blame. In olden times, when a woman was enceinte the babe used to hear stories about Prahlada, Sathyavan, and other noble characters. The child in the womb was influenced by such stories.

Experiments in Russia and other countries have demonstrated the relationship between the food one consumes and one's mental attitudes. It was found for instance, that a child which had been fed on apple juice while it was growing in the womb, exhibited a love for apples after birth.

The recitation of the Names of the Lord will help to purify the atmosphere as a result of the sacred sound waves getting absorbed in the atmosphere. The power of sound waves is evident from the way radio waves are transmitted and received over long distances. The atmosphere that has been polluted by impure sound waves can be purified by the chanting of the Divine Name.

Likewise, sacred thoughts, pure speech and pure actions will purify other polluted elements. There is no better purifying agent than this.

Crores are being spent to purify the Ganges water. Of what use is this exercise if the Ganges continues to be polluted by the discharge of drainage water into the river? First prevent the flow of filthy elements into the Ganges. In the same manner, the evil thoughts arising in the mind should be diverted and it should be filled with pure Godly thoughts by reciting the Divine Name.

Everyone participating in bhajans should sing the Name of the Lord and thereby serve to purify the atmosphere and promote the well-being of the nation.

[Swami concluded this discourse with the bhajan Govinda Krishna Jai]

[Article posted by Bon Giovanni on Usenet]