Although kīrtana has its importance in all yugas and is independent of time and place, yet it has special significance in the present time, Kaliyuga. In Anucchedas 270 to 274 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains the reason behind the significance of kīrtana in Kaliyuga. The translation and commentaries on these anucchedas will be presented in the upcoming weeks.
This bhakti in the form of bhagavat-kīrtana is unlimitedly merciful to those who are destitute (dīna-jana), being bereft of wealth, prestigious birth, admirable qualities, and praiseworthy accomplishments. This is understood from the Vedas and the Purāṇas. The state of destitution (dīnatvam) that is prominent in Kaliyuga is as outlined in Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa:
Therefore, in Kaliyuga, practices such as penance, yoga, study of the Vedas, and sacrifices, even if performed by those who are highly competent, cannot be executed in their entirety.
Therefore, saṅkīrtana, appearing amidst the naturally afflicted people of Kaliyuga, easily confers upon them all the results derived from the practices that are prominent in the other yugas and thus makes them perfect. For this reason, Bhagavān is especially pleased by saṅkīrtana in Kaliyuga.
This conclusion is confirmed by the following statement from the Cāturmāsya-māhātmya of Skanda Purāṇa,
In this world, singing about Śrī Hari is the foremost austerity. In Kaliyuga especially, one should perform kīrtana for the pleasure of Śrī Viṣṇu.
Thus, it is said by sage Śuka:
kṛte yad-dhyāyato viṣṇuṁ tretāyāṁ yajato makhaiḥ
dvāpare paricaryāyāṁ kalau tad-dhari-kīrtanāt
What is obtained in Satyayugaby meditating on Viṣṇu, in Tretāyuga by propitiating Him with elaborate sacrifices, and in Dvāpara-yugaby worship of the deity, is attained in Kaliyuga by Hari-kīrtana. (SB 12.3.52)
In other words, whatever is obtainable in Satyayuga and the other ages by the respective methods prescribed for those ages, can be attained in Kaliyuga simply by Hari-kīrtana. Elsewhere also it is said:
Whatever one may obtain in Satyayuga by meditation, in Tretāyuga by the performance of sacrifices, and in Dvāparayuga by worship of the deity, is attained in Kaliyuga by singing about Keśava. (VP 6.2.17)
From the descriptions found in the Purāṇas, it is understood that people in earlier yugas had much longer lives and were austere, self-controlled, religious, and renounced. As a consequence, they had the capacity to undertake severe austerities or to conduct elaborate and precise religious rituals, such as yajña. Being naturally endowed with such superior capabilities, they would not consider kīrtana as a significant means to attain perfection, because it would appear to them as being too easy and simplistic. Therefore, kīrtana was not propagated in other yugas. In Kaliyuga, people generally lack the qualifications possessed by those in previous ages. One advantage of this is that people have no reason to be proud. Humility is the basic qualification to engage in kīrtana. This humility is naturally possible in the present age in which people in general are in a downtrodden condition of life. Thus, one can obtain all the benefits of the religious deeds executed in previous ages merely by performing kīrtana in a humble mood.
Unfortunately, one can become proud even without having a legitimate reason for it, as the popular adage goes, “Even a pauper is proud of his penny.” This immodesty disqualifies people from taking to kīrtana in earnest. Either they abstain from kīrtana, thinking it to be a commonplace act, or they engage in kīrtana merely as a show. Such proud people perform kīrtana only to impress others and not as an act of devotion. Even this is of benefit, however, because at least they are spared from singing mundane songs, but it does not yield the aspired for fruit of divine love.
The verse from Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa states that in Kaliyuga, religious practices, such as penances and yoga, cannot be executed in their entirety (sāṅgā), meaning “with all their component parts.” This is because of the disqualification in the executor and the requisite material required for the execution of the dharma. The sense is that in Kaliyuga religious acts are incomplete without kīrtana. Therefore, they must be accompanied by kīrtana to bring forth the intended result. But kīrtana should not be equated with any other religious act. This would be an offense to the name, as discussed in Anuccheda 265. Kīrtana should be understood as superior to all other practices and thus as necessary to bring perfection to these other inferior religious acts.
Material relations are a chess game. Underneath the surface there is an implicit strategy of, ‘how can I gain something from the other?
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