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Kaustubha das

FLOWER SHOWER

patram pushpam phalam toyam / yo me bhaktya prayachati
tad aham bhakty-upahritam / ashnami prayatatmanah

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.”

Bhagavad-gita 9.26

On January 31, 2009 photographer Stephan Crasneanscki shot the annual Pushya Abhishek Festival at the Radha Gopinath Temple in Mumbai. Below are some of the photos as well as an excerpt of the inaugural talk given by H.H. Radhanath Swami Maharaja.

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Excerpt From the Inaugural Talk

“This wonderful festival is a festival of devotion. Please don’t see just with your eyes, see through your heart. Through the wisdom we receive from the Holy Scriptures and the great saints. It is a shower of our combined intent to please Krishna, to purify our own hearts and ultimately to be instruments of love in every aspect of our life.”

“The world is in turmoil, economically, ecologically, emotionally, psychiatrically. According to the World Health Organization depression, mental illness, is the number three disease that causes pain and death. Why? Externally we have so much, but internally so little. The jewels of divine love within our hearts have been plundered by the thieves of greed, envy, anger, arrogance, selfish passion and illusion. Driven by those thieves, enemies within us, even the pure soul creates havoc within this world. There is a great need to understand what is really of value. Things like character, integrity, humility, self- control, a selfless spirit of compassion towards other living beings, which are all part and parcel of love for God. These are the greatest needs within this world.”

“Today hundreds and hundreds of devotees have been plucking flower petals. It is really beautiful to see, and to really appreciate it you have to know the people. There are simple taxi drivers, simple waiters who work in restaurants, simple people who are unemployed, living in little huts. And they are sitting next to multi, multi millionaires who are industrialists with international corporations. And together they are just plucking the petals. Little children are sitting next to PhD, IIT graduate engineers. Anyone can do it. We are all united in our combined efforts to just offer this very, very simple service to the Lord. It is said that all people are created equal. On the spiritual level we are all created equal but as long as we think ourselves American, Russian, European, or any of these other things, we are not equal. As long as we think ourselves man or woman, young or old we are not equal. There are no two snowflakes, since the beginning of time, that are identical. There are no two cats, two dogs or two human beings that are the same. We all have our karmas, conditionings, and attributes. Real equality is on the spiritual platform. In our devotion to the Lord we are equal. It was beautiful to see this.”

“India has been condemned because of its caste system, which is a perverted conception as it is lived and understood today. On the spiritual platform we are all servants of God and we can be united in that love, on a real level, not just a sentimental level. So we are all together plucking flowers and the result is baskets and baskets of flower petals, more than one ton. How beautiful! How much does the flower petal weigh? The endeavor to get so much made everyone so happy. People go to Bollywood movies, people work so hard to get a Mercedes Benz, or good clothes. They go to the gyms to get strong. Nothing against these things, but as far as happiness is concerned, none of these could compare to plucking the flower petals. Why? Because it awakens such ecstasy in our hearts if we do it with the right intent. And we really all become brothers and sisters, united. And the culmination of so many people plucking is that, although not one of them is getting paid, they are happy because they are doing it out of love in the spirit of service.”

“The culmination is that we get to see every single tiny flower petal made an offering of our united devotion. Our meditation while offering these flower petals is that we are making a prayer for the purification of our own hearts, for the awaking of the love that is dormant within us. We are praying for the blessing of the Lord within all living beings. We are praying for the spiritual prosperity of every living being. That is the mood of the offering of each of those millions and millions of petals. And after the offering there will be the festival where of all the maha prasada flower petals showered upon all of us.”

H.H. Radhanath Swami Maharaja

Click here to hear the entire talk, and for more photos and descriptions of the festival.

More Slideshows

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Radha Govinda Temple / Photos by Robert Stoetzel

divyad-vrndaranya-kalpa-drumadah
srimad-ratnagara-simhasana-sthau
sri-sri-radha-srila-govinda-devau
presthalibhih sevyamanau smarami

In a temple of jewels in Vrndavana, underneath a desire tree, Sri Sri Radha Govinda, served by Their most confidential associates, sit upon an effulgent throne. I offer my humble obeisances unto Them. [Sri Caitanya Caritamrita Adi 1.16]

The Radha Govinda Temple is seen as one of the most impressive examples of North Indian architecture. It sits in the middle of the Yogapitha, the sacred place where Radha and Krishna would meet.

The deity of Govinda, believed to have been established thousands of years ago by Krishna’s grandson Vajranaba, was rediscovered by Srila Rupa Goswami in the 16th century. The construction of the temple was begun under the direction of Raghunath Bhatta Goswami and his disciples, headed by Raja Man Singh (a general in the Army of Emperor Akbar) and was completed in 1590. Jiva Goswami praised Emperor Akbar in his Govindam Mandir Astakam (Eight Prayers in Glorification of the Govinda Temple), which is carved into the temple’s stone. The inscription reads “Emperor Akbar is a very kind-hearted person and a Vaishnava. I give my blessings to Emperor Akbar. In his kingdom all the Vaishnavas are living very peacefully.”

Less than 100 years later Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the temple’s destruction. Before his soldiers arrived the deities of Radha and Govinda were moved. They now reside in the grand Govindaji temple in Jaipur.

Before its destruction the temple stood seven stories high. Just two stories remain. Still, the Radha Govinda Temple remains a towering monument to Lord Govinda and a place where one can feel a connection to the great saints of the past and the history of Krishna devotion in Vrindavan.

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Robert Stoetzel is a New York based photographer traveling and photographing in India trough March 2009.

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December Vrindavan

As the busy month of Kartik1 reaches it’s end, the crowds of pilgrims in Vrindavan gradually thin. December’s cold brings a thick fog and with the change in ambiance comes a change in mood. The spirit shifts. It feels like Vrindavan is calling the soul to move from festive celebration to hushed, solemn contemplation and prayer. In the mornings one can circle the path around the town visiting holy spots veiled in haze.

Early in the morning, Keshi Ghat, usually lively with pilgrims and sadhus bathing in the holy Jamuna, becomes a lonely place. Boats sit idle on the bank. Beautifully carved sandstone piers invite you to rest a moment, take a few drops of holy water on your head, gaze up river toward the Madan Mohan Temple, and offer a prayer in silence.

This is the place where Krishna killed the horse demon Keshi who represents false pride, an obstacle on the path of bhakti. In the Bhagavad-gita Arjuna refers to Krishna as Keshi-nishudana (slayer of Keshi). His hope was that, by his divine instructions, Krishna would slay the doubts which hindered his spiritual conviction. At this spot, Krishna bhaktas have been offering similar prayers for thousands of years.

Kaustubha das

Robert Stoetzel is a New York based photographer traveling and photographing in India trough March 2009.

Related Posts: Gopurams in Sepia / Portraits from the Kunds of Govardhan / Murals of the Krishna Balaram Temple

  1. Kartik is the eighth lunar month of the Hindu calendar. It is characterized by many religious festivals especially in the North Indian holy town of Vridavan.
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Murals of the Krishna Balaram Temple

Vrindavan is a town of literally thousands of Krishna temples, some small and mostly unnoticed, some popular and festive. Many date back hundreds or even thousands of years and new ones are always springing up. Among the most visited is the Krishna Balaram Mandir (temple) which was personally established by Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami in 1975. The temple is situated in Raman Reti, Vrindavan, where it is said that Lord Sri Krishna displayed His lilas 5,000 years ago. Sri Krishna and his brother Balaram would herd their cows at Raman Reti near the Yamuna River.

Approaching the temple, one passes under a grand marble archway connecting the samadhi (sacred tomb) of Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami, with a matching structure used for greeting and feeding guests. Next, one descends a few steps to enter through the temples large ornate doorway and, passing over the checkered marble floor, one comes to a sunken, open courtyard which provides a charming space for celebrating festivals or for simply resting and taking in the divine atmosphere. Past the courtyard, one steps into the temple itself where kirtan is held and scripture is discussed at the foot of the three magnificent alters dedicated to, on the left, Sri Caitanya and Nityananda, in the center Sri Krishna and Balaram, and on the right Sri Sri Radha Shyamasundara (Radha and Krishna).

Around the courtyard are large panels which serve as frames for murals depicting, on the left, the lilas of Sri Krishna and, on the right, the lilas of Sri Chaitanya. Other murals are squeezed into corners or fill open spaces. Collected here are photos of just some of the murals, to give the viewer an idea of the temples beauty and spirit of devotion. The photos are by Gitapriya dasi and unfortunately I don’t know the identity of the artists who painted the murals. If any viewer has information about the artists please feel free to leave a comment. I’ve included verses, relating to the lilas depicted in the murals, as captions.

For more photos and video of the Krishna Balaram Temple one can follow the links below.

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Photos of the Krishna Balaram Temple

Video of the Krishna Balaram Temple

Related Posts: Gopurams in Sepia / Portraits from the Kunds of Govardhan

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The Nature of the Self: A Gaudiya Vaisnava Understanding

Sri ChaitanyaA primary task of every Vedantic tradition is to provide an analysis of the nature of the self according to the Upanishads and allied texts. In terms of theory, such descriptions are meant to provide insight into the coherent message which unites Upanishadic literature. In terms of practice, they guide the inner life of sadhakas in the attempt to recover their deepest selves. Gaudiya Vaishnavas (the followers of Sri Chaitanya) are no different in this regard. Practitioners aspire to recover their genuine self which is currently obscured by various upadhis (illusory designations). In truth, the Gaudiyas claim, the self is a small spark of the divine shakti (energy) of Brahman, in a sense one with, yet in another sense different from it’s source.

In the following paper, Ravindra-svarupa dasa provides an introductory presentation on the nature of the self according to the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. It was originally presented at the Vaisnava-Christian Conference on January 20-21, 1996 at Buckland Hall, Powys, Wales.

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The Nature of the Self: A Gaudiya Vaisnava Understanding

The Sparks of God

The soul, or self (atma), is described as a separated, minute fragment of God, the Supersoul (paramatma). God is like a fire; the individual souls, sparks of the fire. As the analogy suggests, the self and the Superself are simultaneously one with and different from each other. They are the same in quality, for both the soul and the Supersoul are brahman, spirit. Yet they differ in quantity, since the Superself (param brahman—“supreme brahman”—in Bhagavad-gita 10.12) is infinitely great while the individual selves are infinitesimally small.

In the Upanisads some texts assert the identity between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, while others speak of the difference between them. The way the Vaisnava Vedanta resolves this apparent contradiction recognises identity and difference as equally real.

Such a reconciliation is conveyed in the Katha Upanisad (2.2.13) in the words nityo nityanam cetannas cetananam eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman. (“There is one eternal being out of many eternals, one conscious being out of many conscious beings. It is the one who provides for the needs of the many.”) This text states, in effect, that there is a class division in transcendence. It says that there are two categorically different types of eternal, conscious—hence, spiritual—beings. One category is singular in number (nityo), a set with only one member. This, then, is the category of God, who is one without a second. The other class is plural (nityanam), containing innumerable members. This is the category of the souls. The members of both classes are brahman, spirit. Yet one of them is unique, peerless, in a class by Himself, for He is the singular, independent self-sustaining sustainer of all others. Each of the others possesses a multitude of peers, and all of them alike are intrinsically dependent upon the one. The one is the absolute, the many are relative.

The Energies of the Absolute

Fundamental to the Vaisnava Vedanta is the doctrine that the Absolute Truth possesses energies. (The impersonalistic Advaita Vedanta, in contrast, denies the reality of the energies.) The energies are divided into different categories; one of them is comprised of the innumerable individual souls.

The “Absolute Truth” denotes that from which everything emanates, by which it is sustained, and to which it finally returns. The products of the Absolute are thought of as its sakti, its energy or potency. Heat and light, for example, are considered the “energies” of fire. Just as the sun projects itself everywhere by its radiation yet remains apart, so the Absolute expands its own energies to produce (and, in a fashion, to become) the world while remaining separate from it. Unlike the sun, the Absolute can emanate unlimited energy and remain undiminished. (The arithmetic of the Absolute: One minus one equals one.) In short, while nothing is different from God, God is different from everything.

The host of souls makes up the category of divine energy called the tatastha-sakti. Tata means “bank,” as of a river or lake. Tatastha means “situated on the bank.” The souls are characterised as marginal or borderline energy because they are, as it were, between two worlds. They can dwell within either of the other two major energies, the internal (antaranga-sakti) and the external (bahiranga-sakti). The internal potency is also known as the spiritual energy (cit-sakti), and the external potency is also called the material energy (maya-sakti). The internal potency expands as the transcendental realm, the eternal Kingdom of God. The external potency expands as the material world, which is sometimes manifest and sometimes unmanifest.

Because souls are spiritual, their original home is the spiritual kingdom. Almost all souls dwell there. These are called eternally liberated souls. Only a tiny minority of souls inhabit this material world. These are called fallen, or conditioned, souls.

Souls are small samples of God. Hence they possess a minute quantity of that freedom which God possesses in full. Although they are eternal, full of knowledge and bliss, and although their dharma, or essential nature, is to serve God, they may still, in the exercise of that freedom, wilfully turn away from divine service. Thereupon these souls fall into the inhospitable realm of the external, material energy.

Because souls are constitutionally servants, even the rebellious souls remain under God’s control, but that control is now exercised indirectly and unfavourably through the agency of material nature. Souls do not have the freedom not to be controlled by God, but they do choose freely how they wish to be controlled. Those who will not voluntarily be controlled by the Lord are controlled involuntarily by material nature. For this reason, spiritual souls become incarcerated within matter. Under the superintendence of the Lord, there is a confluence of the marginal and the external energies, and the creation arises.

Spirits in the Material World

The presence of spirit within the material world is disclosed immediately to us by consciousness. Consciousness is the symptom of the soul. It is the current or the energy of the soul. Consciousness does not arise as a by-product of the material energy. A material object like a table or chair is entirely an object and in no way a subject. It does not undergo experiences. It has no significance for itself. An embodied soul, a living being, on the other hand, is a subject; it has significance for itself as well as for others; it undergoes experiences. The claim that the soul is a “metaphysical entity” beyond all possible experience is simply false. Not only do we experience the soul; the soul is the very condition for our having any experiences at all.

Thus, souls are fundamental, irreducible entities in the world. Each living, conscious being is of a different category from the material energy which embodies and surrounds it. The Upanisads declare: aham brahmasmi, I am brahman, I am spirit. The corollary is: I am not matter. And further: I am not this body. Human beings achieve their full potential when they realise this.

The material elements, of which living bodies are made, are traditionally given as eight: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego. They are arranged in sequence from the grossest to the subtlest, that is, from the most apparent to our senses to the least. The first five are the gross elements (maha-bhuta-s); the last three, the subtle elements (suksma-bhuta-s). The gross elements become more intelligible to us when translated as: solids, liquids, gases, radiant energy, and space. The subtle elements, taken together, make up what we in the West generally call the “mind.” The subtle element manas, or mind, is the locus of habit, of normal thinking, feeling, and willing according to one’s established mind-set. Buddhi, or intelligence, is the higher faculty of discrimination and judgement; it determines mind-sets and comes to the fore when we undergo conversions or paradigm shifts. Ahamkara, or the sense of self, is the faculty by which the embodied soul assumes a false or illusory identity in the material world.

Conditioned souls attain human form after transmigrating upward through the scale of beings; thereupon they become capable of self-realisation and liberation. Liberation means giving up the false identification of the self with the gross and subtle material coils and regaining one’s original spiritual form as a servant of God.

Even in the conditioned state, the soul always remains a spiritual being. Like a dreamer who projects his identity onto an illusory, dream-self, the conditioned soul acquires a false self of matter. Although the self is by nature eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss, this nature becomes covered by illusion. Identifying with the material body, the soul is plunged into the nightmare of history, trapped in the revolutions of repeated birth and death (mrtyu-samsara). This false identification by the embodied souls with their psychophysical coverings is the cause of all their suffering.

The quest by conditioned souls for happiness in this world inevitably fails. The eternal souls naturally seek eternal happiness, yet they seek it where all happiness is temporary. The fulfillment of the most common and basic desire, that of self-preservation, has not once met with success. Indeed, the deluded souls do not know that matters are just the opposite of the way they seem. Gratification of the senses is in fact the generator of suffering, not happiness. This is because each act of sense gratification intensifies the soul’s false identification with the body. Consequently, when the body undergoes disease, senescence, and death, the materially absorbed living beings experience all these as happening to themselves. Death is an illusion they have imposed upon themselves owing to their desire to enjoy in this world. So enjoying, their agony continues unabated. A mind brimming with unfulfilled yearnings propels them, at the time of death, into new material bodies, to begin yet another round.

Recovering the Authentic Self

Fallen souls have been granted a false material identity because they reject their authentic spiritual identity. The traces of that rejection are found everywhere. We see that all organisms, from microbes on up, are driven by the mechanism of desire and hate, by “approach” and “avoidance.” This duality is the reverberation of the original sinful will that propelled them into this world. The original sinful desire is: “Why can’t I be God?” And the original sinful hate, “Why should Krishna be God?”

When souls evince the desire to become the Lord, the Lord responds by granting them the illusion of independent lordship. They enter the material kingdom, to be provided with a sequence of false identities—costumes fabricated out of material energy—along with an inventory of objects which they think they can dominate and enjoy. Even so, the Lord accompanies them in their wanderings, dwelling in their hearts as He works to bring about their eventual rectification and return from exile. When the soul in the depth of his being again turns to God, the Lord makes all arrangements for his inauthentic, illusory life to end.

The renovation of real life is called bhakti-yoga—reconnecting the soul with the Supersoul (yoga) by loving devotional service (bhakti). Bhakti rests upon the principle that desire and activity are not in themselves bad. The soul itself is the source of desire and activity. The original, pure desire of the soul is to satisfy the senses of the Lord. This is called prema, or love. When souls contact matter, their love becomes transformed into lust (kama), which is the desire to satisfy one’s own senses. The practice of bhakti-yoga reconverts lust into love. Desire is not suppressed or repressed; it is purified. One may call this “sublimation,” but it should be understood that when desire is thus sublimated it returns to its own natural and aboriginal state.

The world, the body with its senses, the sense objects are not to be enjoyed, but neither are they to be renounced. The world is God’s energy, and it should not be decried as false or evil. Rather, the elements of this world are to be engaged in divine service. When that is done, the veil of illusion is lifted, and everything and everyone are seen in their true identity: in relationship to God. The way to see divinity everywhere and in everything is to utilise everything in the Lord’s service. God is the first of fact, but our materially contaminated senses cannot perceive Him. When, however, the senses become purified by being engaged in the Lord’s service, they regain their capacity to perceive God directly.

Such purified souls are fully joyful. They neither hanker nor lament. Their happiness does not depend upon the course of circumstance. They see all living beings as the same. They see that all the agony and hopelessness of the world is exorcised when the illusion that has rendered us oblivious to our own identity is dispelled, and they engage themselves in the highest welfare work of rousing sleeping souls from their nightmare. For themselves, they take no mind of what becomes of the future of their lives.

Because they have no material desires, there is no further birth for them in this world. Instead, they attain their original spiritual forms in the kingdom of God, spiritual bodies suitable for pastimes of love with the Lord.

Spirits in the Spiritual World

The Absolute Truth has both an impersonal and a personal feature, but the personal feature is the last word in Godhead. To say the Absolute is a person is to say that it has senses (indriya-s). Traditionally, the senses are ten: those through which the world acts upon us (instruments of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling), and those through which we act upon the world (instruments of manipulation, locomotion, sound production, reproduction, and evacuation). The mind is often considered the eleventh sense. A body, accordingly, may be thought of as an array of senses organised around a centre of consciousness. Thus, to say that the Absolute is a person is to say that the Absolute has body or form.

The body of God is not material. It is a spiritual or transcendental form—sad-cit-ananda-vigraha, an eternal form of bliss and knowledge. Though differentiated by limbs or parts, a spiritual body is nevertheless completely unified and identical with its own possessor. Therefore, in God, there is no difference between body and soul, mind and body, soul and mind. Every limb or part of that body can perform all functions of every other limb.

Because the Absolute is a person, the souls, the offspring of God, are also persons, and they fully manifest their authentic identity only in relationship with the Supreme Person. When conditioned souls act under the impetus of sense gratification, their bodies evolve materially. But when the souls act in their constitutional position, their love toward God displays itself as the soul’s proper spiritual bodies. Thus, the selves achieve their full personal identity and self-expression as lovers of God.

All relationships in this world are dim and perverted reflections of their real prototypes in the kingdom of God. The taste or flavour of a relationship is called rasa (literally, “juice”). It is said that there are five primary rasa-s a soul can have toward the Lord. In order of increasing intimacy, they are passive adoration, servitorship, fraternal, parental, and conjugal.

God and His devotees engage in eternal pastimes of loving exchanges in spiritual forms that are sheer embodiments of rasa. Such bodies are the unmediated concrete expressions of spiritual ecstasies. These unceasing, uninterrupted, ever-increasing variegated ecstasies are nondifferent from the souls and from the spiritual bodies that bear them. The forms and activities of the Lord and His devotees all possess transcendental specificity and variegatedness. The forms of love are not abstractions and their relations are not allegories. In the kingdom of God life is infinitely more full, vivid, and real than anything of the thin shadows that flicker here, on and off. Here, we are not what we are. There, we are truly ourselves again because we are truly God’s.

(This article has been previously published on Ravindra Svarupa Dasa’s weblog So It Happens, and has been used here with his kind permission.)

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Mukunda-Mala-Stotra

Dravida dasa chants *

*

Dravida dasa is a Vaishnava monk, editor, musician, poet, and walking encyclopedia of devotional Sanskrit verse. He possesses a deep love for the Sanskrit language, and his mind and voice are always engaged in bhakti song and poetry. Here he immerses himself in the elaborate prosody of the Mukunda-mala-stotra of Kulasekhara Alvar. This podcast is forty-five minutes long with Sanskrit verses and English translation. I highly recommend setting some time aside, putting in the earphones and listening to the entire stotra with concentration for a very cathartic meditation. The translation is by Sriman Kushakrata dasa. Below, I’ve also included an excerpt from the introduction to the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust’s edition entitled Mukunda-mala-stotra, The prayers of King Kulasekhara. For more recordings from Dravida dasa click here.

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Mukunda-mala-stotra
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Mukunda-mala-stotra

Introduction

Of the many hundreds of poetic Sanskrit stotras-songs of glorification offered to the Supreme Lord, His devotees, and the holy places of His pastimes-King Kulasekhara’s Mukunda-mala-stotra is one of the most perennially famous. Some say that its author conceived it as a garland (mala) of verses offered for Lord Krishna’s pleasure. It has long been dear to Vaishnavas of all schools, and our own spiritual master, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, frequently enjoyed citing certain favorite stanzas from it. King Kulasekhara was part of the Sri-sampradaya, the Vaishnava school founded by Lord Vishnu’s divine consort, Sri. This school’s most prominent representative, Ramanuja Acarya (eleventh century), built on the work of his predecessors Natha Muni and Yamuna Acarya and established the systematic philosophy of Sri Vaishnavism. But these acaryas came in an already old tradition, that of the ecstatic mystic poets called Alvars. The twelve Alvars appeared at various times in South India, in the area roughly corresponding to present-day Tamil Nadu. According to the tradition of the Sri Vaishnavas, the earliest Alvars lived more than five thousand years ago, at the start of the present age, Kali-yuga, while the most recent lived in the first millennium A.D. The Alvars’ Tamil poetry was collected in the Tiruvaymoli, revered by Sri Vaishnavas as their own vernacular Veda. On the strength of the Tiruvaymoli’s devotional authority, the Sri Vaishnavas claim to follow Ubhaya-vedanta, the dual Vedanta philosophy founded on both Sanskrit and Tamil scripture. Some Alvars were atypical renunciants: the third, Andal, was a woman, and three were involved in governing. Among these was the tenth Alvar, Kulasekhara Perumal, who was a ruling king in the Cera dynasty of Malainadu, in what is now Kerala. Modern scholars say he may have lived during the ninth century A.D. A traditional history of King Kulasekhara states that once, as he slept in his palace quarters, he had a brilliant and distinct vision of Lord Krishna. Upon awaking he fell into a devotional trance and failed to notice dawn breaking. The royal musicians and ministers came as usual to his door to wake him, but after waiting some time without hearing him respond, they reluctantly took the liberty of entering his room. The king came out of his trance and described his vision to them, and from that day on he no longer took much interest in ruling. He delegated most of his responsibilities to his ministers and dedicated himself to rendering devotional service to the Lord. After some years he abdicated the throne and went to Sri Rangam, where he remained in the association of the Krishna Deity of Ranganatha and His many exalted devotees. At Sri Rangam Kulasekhara is said to have composed his two great works: the Mukunda-mala-stotra, in Sanskrit; and 105 Tamil hymns, which were later incorporated into the Tiruvaymoli under the title Perumal-tirumoli. As the other Alvars do in their mystic expressions, in his Perumal-tirumoli King Kulasekhara emulates the roles of some of Lord Ramacandra’s and Lord Krishna’s intimate devotees: King Dasaratha; two of the Lord’s mothers, Kausalya and Devaki; and some of the young cowherd women of Vrindavana. But Maharaja Kulasekhara expresses no pride in realizing such confidential devotional moods. On the contrary, with deep humility he repeatedly begs simply to be allowed to take his next births as a bird, fish, or flower in the place where Lord Krishna enacts His pastimes, and in this way to enjoy the association of His devotees. The Mukunda-mala-stotra, although composed in elegant Sanskrit, is a simple expression of King Kulasekhara’s devotion to Krishna and his eagerness to share his good fortune with everyone else. Being thus a very public work, it does not delve into intimate personal revelations or abstruse philosophical conundrums. Like most other works of the stotra genre, it aims less at presenting a plot than at vividly and honestly expressing the true feelings of a lover of God. With this much we the readers should be completely satisfied, because it is a rare opportunity for us when a devotee of King Kulasekhara’s stature opens his heart so freely-and in a way just appropriate for us, with all our imperfections, to appreciate.

Text from Mukunda-mala-stotra, The prayers of King Kulasekhara, courtesy of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. Used with permission.

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Gopurams in Sepia

Some captions were adapted from the following sources.

Introduction to Indian Architecture, text by Bindia Thapar, Periplus

India, John Howley, Spiritual Guides

India, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides

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Portraits from the Kunds of Govardhan

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