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In Shri Nathji’s temple in Nathdvara Rajasthan, Shri Nathji (Shri Krishna) is praised from the early morning throughout the day until the temple is closed in the evening. Shri Nathji’s temple is the main seat of Shri Vallabhacharya’s Path of Grace and it is here that we find today one of the only existing lineages of lila kirtan alive today in India. This distinctive and authentic Pushti Margiya temple music is also referred to as a Pushti Margiya Dhrupada-Dhamar music and it stands at the root of the North Indian Classical music form yet is unique it its spiritual format and tone. Its purpose is not to entertain an audience but to please the Blessed Lord. The poems that are sung before Shri Nathji and Shri Navanita Priyaji in classical raga (melody) and tal (rhythm) are sung in the devotional language of Brajbhasa, Shri Krishna own tongue. They depict His divine lila movements through the day and year. The songs enlighten us about the amazing movements of Shri Krishna. When carefully listened to or sung, these songs draw us into Hari’s divine reality.

Most of the poetry present in this collection has been sung and written by the Ashtachhap poets. Four singers, Surdas, Kumbhanadas, Krishnadas and Parmanandadasa were initiated by Shri Vallabhacharya (1479-1531) the founder of the Path of Grace. Govindswami, Chitswami, Nandadas, Chaturbhujdas were the disciples of Shri Vitthalnathji (1516-1586). Besides these eight singers many other enlightened bhakta poets singers have been accepted into the Pushti arena like Hariraiji, Haridasaji, and even some Muslim born bhaktas like Tajbibi and Tansen. The one thing they all have in common is their personal acquaintance with Shri Krishna.

Shri Nathji is described in the Bhagavata as being dark as a rain-filled cloud, adorned with peacock feathers, wild flowers and a gunja bead necklace. This Lovely Lord graces the banks of the Yamuna river and when He applies His lips to the flute, melodious notes fill Vrindavan and enrapture the hearts of His bhaktas. Shri Nathji is not only a herder of cows, the son of Yashoda, a butter-but also the beloved of the Gopis. He is the object, means and reward of all singing in the Path of Grace.

In Nathdwara, everyday is a celebration, yet there are special festive days that are connected with Shri Krishna’s lilas such as the swing festival of Hindola and the celebration of Annakuta, when Shri Krishna is offered a mountain of food. Other festivals like Makar Sankranti, are of Vedic origin, while some festivals have their roots in local traditions. In ever case, Shri Nathji’s bhaktas are always looking forward to celebrating. Festivals elevate both the devotee as well as God and Shri Nathji is forever in festive mood.

Regardless of the time of day or season, Shri Nathji’s temple is always filled with lila kirtan. The six different seasons represent the Blessed Lord’s six different attributes. The summer season is Shri Krishna’s quality of Lordship. The rainy season holds His valor, the autumn His fame and the beginning of winter, His wealth. The second phase of winter called shishira, is knowledge. The king of all seasons, spring, is His virtue of renunciation. Shri Nathji is Dharmi that is; He is the One who holds all divine virtues. Every season brings its own inherent joy and an opportunity for us to nourish our devotion

Lord Krishna’s Seva as performed in Shri Nathji's temple is divided into eight parts and unfolds according to His daily life. Each period is called a darshan and classical Pushti Margiya lila kirtan can be heard throughout the day in the temple. Know that Shri Nathji appears for the bhaktas’ benefit and personally accepts their various types of worship and songs. Because unlimited God is unapproachable, Shri Nathji appears to His bhaktas in a lovely form and listens to their songs. For them He abandons His Lord of the universe form and becomes a child who will dance for a glass of buttermilk or the beloved of the Gopis.

The pakhavaj is the percussion instrument used to accompany these lila kirtans. The poems sung before Shri Nathji use several beats such as chautala (12 beats), jhaptala (10 beats) and dhamar (14 beats) and ada-chautala{jhapak} (7 beats). The Veena, the Sarangi and Jhanja cymbals can also accompany the singers.

The ragas commonly sung during the morning hours are Bhairava, Lalit, Aasvari, Vibhasa and Todi. Later in the afternoon you may hear Nat, Gori and Purvi while in the evening, the ragas Yaman, Bihag and Adana rule. During spring the Basant melody is sung and during the rains the Malhar Raga is chosen. For festival times there are special ragas like Hindol for the Swing lila and Vilawal Raga for Diwali and Annakuta. The melody sung depends upon the time of day and season.

“In the Path of Grace, the songs that are sung before Shri Krishna depict His lilas. They tell of how young Krishna stole the butter; they reveal Shri Radha's annoyance in love as well as other lilas. The distinctive characteristic of these lila songs is the divine manner in which the bhaktas present their bhava to Shri Krishna.

“Because the kirtan embodies a lila message, the words need to be pronounced distinctly. This aspect separates the older forms of our Pushti Margiya temple music from the other more contemporary forms of classical music, like Khyal. In the Pushti Margiya Lila Kirtans, the lila is clearly described and therefore there is equal emphasis on melody, beat and word. They are all vehicles to transport the bhakta-singer into Hari’s special lila realm. The words that are sung are never compromised for the sake of the melody or rhythm.

“In the Gayatri mantra, the mother of the Vedas, we see that the seed of bhakti is in Shri Krishna’s selection of the soul, something like the way a bride chooses her groom. In the grace-filled bhakti, lila is purely divine and there is a wealth of descriptive kirtans that describe the mutual choosing. The movements of God, although ineffable, have been captured by the bhaktas. Their songs are windows into the lila and reveal to us the inner mood of pure praise. When Krishna arrives in the bhakta’s life, everything becomes auspicious.”


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