This is a sweet little upanishad containing about twenty sentences.
Its name means, the upanishad for crossing Kali with.
I call it sweet because, as its central message, it takes three sweet names of Hari for chanting, namely Hari, Rama and Krishna. The name Hari is called eight times, and the names of the two principal human avataras Rama and Krishna, four times apiece. It was in the course or duration of these two avataras that Hari walked across the vast land of Bharat in human form and assured chosen devotees that mukti for human souls was available to them through taking refuge at his lotus feet. The message was that Hari Bhakti was a sure route to Mukti.
Let me give you a simple translation of the upanishad text. Tradition requires that the recital of the upanishad must begin and end with the shantipaaTh Om sahanAvavatu. I will not include it here in the translation,
Hari: Om | At the end of Dwaparayuga, the sage Narada approached Brahma and asked him,”Bhagavan! How am I to manage the effects of Kali as I roam around the Earth?”
Brahma told Narada that it was indeed a good question. He said, ” Hear this very well guarded Vedic secret, which will enable you to overcome the Kali experience. Merely pronouncing the Name of Bhagavan Narayana, who is the primordial Purusha, cleanses one of the effects of Kali. Narada asked him, “Which Name is that?”
Brahma of the Golden Womb pronounced the Mahamantra:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare|
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare||
He said, “These sixteen names totally destroy the blot of Kali.
In all the scriptures, there is no other way indicated.
For the Jiva who has sixteen characteristics, this shodasakam destroys the veil of ignorance, just as
beams of Sun’s rays dispel the clouds. The param brahma shines through these names.”
Again Narada asked, “Bhagavan! What is the vidhi, the prescribed procedure, for reciting this shodasaka mantra?”
Brahma replied that there was no vidhi. A seeker of truth who recites it, at any time at all, whether after purifying himself or otherwise, derives the benefit of reaching Bhagavan’s abode, nearness to Bhagavan, the appearance of any of Bhagavan’s vibhavas and in fact even union with him. When a devotee finishes chanting the Mahamantra 3 crore times, there can be liberation from the effects even of grave crimes like the killing of Jnanis and men of courage, or of stealing gold, or even offences against one’s own ancestors, gods and other men. Persons who have discarded all dharmic principles are also saved from the effects of such grave lapses. The upanishad ends with such assurances.
Devotees of Vishnu do not need such assurances. Most of them are most unlikely to commit any of the offences mentioned in the end of the upanishad. But over the years they have really fallen in love with the Mahamantra centred in it. The Bhajan paddhatis of South India adopted it centuries ago. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu popularised it in East India. Just changing the sequence of its two lines to give greater priority to Krishna over Rama, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness adopted it for japa as well as bhajan by Hare Krishna devotees. Swami Sivananda Saraswati, who founded the Divine Life society in his Rishikesh Ashram early in the twentieth century arranged for akhanda japa of the mahamantra in a hall in the premises of his ashram by having volunteers coming to the meditation hall in shifts. I have listened to such a Japa in the late nineteen sixties. Electronic gadgets must have most probably taken over the akhanda japa there now.
The Brihannaradiya purana, which is likely to have been added to the ninth century Narada Purana later, asserts that Hari nama recital is indeed the only hope for mortals in Kaliyuga.It says:
Harer nama Harer nama Harer namaiva kevalam |
kalou naastyeva naastyeva naastyeva gatiranyathaa ||
Fully realizing at the end of the Mahabharata war that Kali yuga was indeed on its way, how appropriate it was for Bhishma in his deathbed to have given upadesa of Vishnu’s thousand names to Yudhisthira who was seeking his guidance!