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The Hare Krishna mantra, also referred to reverentially as the Maha Mantra ("Great Mantra"), is a 16 word Vaishnava mantra which is mentioned in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad, and which from the 15th century rose to importance in the Bhakti movement following the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
According to Gaudiya Vaishnava theology, one's original consciousness and goal of life is pure love of God (Krishna). Since the 1960s, the mantra has been made well known outside of India by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as "the Hare Krishnas").
The Hare Krishna mantra is composed of Sanskrit names in the singular vocative case: Hare, Krishna, and Rama (in Anglicized spelling). The (IAST)transliteration from the Devanagari (devanāgarī) script of the three vocatives is hare, kṛṣṇa and rāma, pronounced [ˈɦɐreː], [ˈkr̩ʂɳɐ] and [ˈraːmɐ]. It is a poetic stanza in anuṣṭubh meter (A quatrain of four lines (pāda) of eight syllables).
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
"Hare" can be interpreted as either the vocative of Hari, another name of Vishnu meaning "he who removes illusion", or as the vocative of Harā, a name of Rādhā, Krishna's eternal consort or His energy (Krishna's Shakti). According to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Harā refers to "the energy/shakti of Supreme Personality of Godhead" while Krishna and Rama refer to Supreme Godhead Himself, meaning "He who is All-Attractive" and "He who is the Source of All Pleasure". Rama refers to Ramachandra Lord Ram which is one of the incarnations of Krishna. In the hymn Vishnu Sahasranama spoken by Bhishma in praise of Krishna after the Kurukshetra War, Krishna is also called Rama. Rama can also be a shortened form of Balarama, Krishna's first expansion. According to His Holiness Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev Gosvami Maharaj (Bhakti-Rakshak means "protector of Bhakti"), who was a disciple of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, founded Sri Caitanya Sarasvat Math and who was a Godbrother of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Rama in "Hare Krishna" mahamantra means "Radha-Raman" - one of names of Krishna: "Krishna, who gives pleasure to Radha, who satisfies Radharani". It is important to mention that according to all Gaudiya-Vaishnava acharyas, Krishna cannot be directly served without serving His devotees, and especially impossible without serving Radharani. Thus, it is always said first Laxmi, and only then Narayana (Laxmi-Narayana), first Laxmi, then Narasimha (Laxmi-Narasimha), first is Sita, only then we say Rama (Sita-Rama), so we first say Radha, and only then we say Krishna (Radhe-Krishna, or Radha-Krishna), first we say Radha, and only the Shyam (Radhe-Shyam, Shyam means Krishna who is Shyam in color - "dark"). So, according to BhaktiRakshak Sridhar Maharaja, Hare Krishna mahamantra has little to do with Sita and Rama, and "Hare Rama" means "Hare Radharaman" or "Hare Krishna", and "Rama Rama" in mahamantra means "Radharaman Radharaman" (Krishna, Krishna). So devotee while chanting mahamantra is thinking about Krishna, and not of Ramachandra. Thus chanting Hare Krishna mantra for a whole life, he can leave the body thinking about Krishna (RadhaRaman), and enters Goloka, and not Ayodhya (abode of Sita and Ramachandra). Please note, that other vaishnava Acharyas (Nimbarka Sampradaya) have a form of Mahamantra which sounds as "राधे कृष्ण राधे कृष्ण, कृष्ण कृष्ण राधे राधे। राधे श्याम राधे श्याम, श्याम श्याम राधे राधे।।" (Radhe Krishna Radhe Krishna Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe). Similarly, if Radharani is known as Harā, and Hare is the vocative form of this name, so "Hare Krishna" and "Hare Rama" both mean "Radhe Krishna" (vocative of Radha, plus Krishna). Thus mahamantra "Radhe Krishna Radhe Krishna Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe" is non-different from "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare" and are both calling for Radha-Krishna. We can approach Krishna only through His devotees, through Radharani, thus we chant Radhe-Krishna or Hare-Krishna which are ontologically same. One should note, that "Hare" of mahamantra (sanskrit हरे) is coming from root Harā (with long ā in the end of word, sanskrit हरा), and not from Hara (with short a in the end of the word, Sanskrit: हर): हरा means Radharani, and हर means Lord Shiva. According to His Holiness A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, हरा (Harā) also means Laxmi. The mantra is repeated, either out loud (kirtan), softly to oneself (japa), or internally within the mind. A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami describes the process of chanting the Maha Mantra as follows:
Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind; this consciousness is the original energy of the living entity. When we hear the transcendental vibration, this consciousness is revived ...... This chanting of '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 ...... As such anyone can take part in the chanting without any previous qualification.—
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The mantra is first attested in the kalisaṇṭāraṇopaniṣad (Kali Santarana Upanishad), a Vaishnava Upanishad associated with the Krishna Yajurveda. In this Upanishad, Narada is instructed by Brahma (in the translation of K. N. Aiyar):
Hearken to that which all Shrutis (the Vedas) keep secret and hidden, through which one may cross the Samsara (mundane existence) of Kali. He shakes off (the evil effects of) Kali through the mere uttering of the name of Lord Narayana, who is the primeval Purusha.
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare; These sixteen names are destructive of the evil effects of Kali. No better means than this is to be seen in all the Vedas.
The mantra was popularized by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu roughly around 1500 CE when he began his mission to spread this mantra publicly to "every town and village" in the world, travelling throughout India, and especially within the areas of Bengal and Odisha. Some versions of the Kali Santarana Upanishad give the mantra with Hare Rama preceding Hare Krishna(as quoted above), and others with Hare Krishna preceding Hare Rama. as in Navadvipa version of the manuscript. The latter format is by far the more common within the Vaishnava traditions. It is a common belief that the mantra is equally potent when spoken in either order.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a devotee of Krishna in disciplic succession, on the order of his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, brought the teachings of Sri Chaitanya from Bharat (India) and single-handedly took the responsibility of spreading them around the Western world. Beginning in New York 1965, he encircled the globe fourteen times in the final eleven years of his life, thus making 'Hare Krishna' a well-known phrase in many parts of the world.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Hare Krishnas became confused with the hippie subculture. This was an erroneous association, as the ideals of these groups are quite different. Although Prabhupada was open to anyone becoming a member of the Hare Krishnas, they had to follow the four regulative principles, one of which is strict abstention from intoxicants, including marijuana. However, the intoxication of marijuana during gatherings have become a norm during kirtans and chants. Elevation and joy were to be derived from chanting God's holy names.
The Hare Krishna mantra appears in a number of famous songs, notably those by the Beatles (in the lyrics of George Harrison and John Lennon), and has been at the number 1 spot on the UK singles charts on more than one occasion, through Harrison's solo single "My Sweet Lord". Harrison put a Hare Krishna sticker on the back of the headstock of Eric Clapton's 1964 Gibson ES-335; the sticker also appears on Gibson's 2005 reproduction of the guitar.
Produced by Harrison, Radha Krishna Temple (London)'s recording "Hare Krishna Mantra" was issued as a single on the Beatles' Apple record label in 1969. The single was a commercial success, peaking at number 12 in the UK, and led to the Temple devotees appearing on the popular music show Top of the Pops.
Less well-known but equally relevant to fans of pop music culture are recordings of the Hare Krishna mantra by The Fugs on their 1968 album Tenderness Junction (featuring poet Allen Ginsberg), by Nina Hagen, and by Hüsker Dü on their 1984 album Zen Arcade.
The Washington D.C. Production duo Thievery Corporation released a track on the 2008 album titled "Hare Krishna".
In the Seinfeld episode The Subway, a patron in Monk's restaurant yells, "Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!" when he sees George walk in wearing only a bedsheet. A similar scenario occurs in Scrubs when J.D. shaves his head in support for a chemo patient, and in the movie Stripes when John Candy's character leaves the army barber.
The Hare Krishnas are featured in the popular video game series Grand Theft Auto originally as pedestrians, and in later installments as a gang.
The band Shelter features themes and lyrics of Hare Krishna culture. Also in the Hip Hop genre, the band Govinda Sky has several songs about Krishna Consciousness.
In the film 'Osmosis Jones' (2001), Jones pushes past two cells in Franks stomach who are singing 'Hare Krishna' whilst playing a drum and jiggling a tambourine.
While addressing Stanford graduates in 2005, Apple founder Steve Jobs mentions “…I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.”
In Constantine movie Keanu Reeves is given a cup with image of Krishna on it.
All the grievous sins are removed for one who worships Lord Sri Hari, the Lord of all lords, and chants the holy name, the Maha-mantra.
— Padma Purana, 3.50.6
When the sixteen names and thirty-two syllables of the Hare Krishna mantra are loudly vibrated, Krishna dances on one's tongue
— Stava-mala-vidyabhusana-bhasya, Baladeva Vidyabhusana in Bhaktisiddhanta's Gaudiya Kanthahara 17:30
…[Anyone] can immediately become eligible to perform Vedic sacrifices if he once utters the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead or chants about Him, hears about His pastimes, offers Him obeisances or even remembers Him.”
— Srimad Bhagavatam, 3:33 6