Why is the Mantra the Way it is?

r4By Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s gentle arrangement, I was asked to explain as best I could why the Hare Krishna mahāmantra is the way it is – why the words are ordered and patterned the way they are. I actually answered this question in Japanese, which must have been at least semi-comical for the native Japanese audience. Here is an English version.

The mahāmantra is infinite, and so there are infinite varieties of meanings, explanations, and beautiful details within it. What I am explaining here is simply a comprehension of the mantra that I personally can somewhat grasp and recommend.

Three Words

There are sixteen words in the mantra:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare

Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma
Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare

But if you look closely for a minute you’ll see that there are really only three unique words:

  1. Krishna
  2. Rāma
  3. Hare

Understanding the mahāmantra begins by understanding these three words.

Krishna means enthralling, attractive, alluring and similar adjectives. The word “Krishna” means the person whom no other person can surpass in being charming, mesmerizing, and attractive.

Rāma means, delightful, pleasing, blissful, ecstatic and so on. The word “Rāma” denote the person whom no other person can surpass in pleasure, delight, ecstasy, and enjoyment.

My recommendation is to comprehend that both of these names refer to the same person (svayaṁ bhagavan śrī vrajendra-nandana śyāmasundara), although those with different devotional perspective may naturally feel otherwise, and I would respect their different outlook.

The word Hare refers to the energy (śakti) that has the power to bring us into contact with all-attractive, all-blissful Śyāmasundara. “Hare” is the power that makes it possible for Śyāmasundara to exhibit, experience, and expand his all-attractive, all-delightful inherent nature. And thus, “Hare” is the entity who makes it possible for you and I to participate in that ever-expanding exploration of beautiful pleasure.

Hare is the “glue” between your soul and Krishna.

When we approach Krishna to please him from a sweet, romantic point of view, we experience “Hare” to be Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Thus one can look at the altar, at the deities of Rādhā-Krishna, and see the words “Hare Krishna” and “Hare Rāma.” This is the paramount outlook, objectively speaking. Subjectively also, I recommend this outlook, but it is up to your heart to express its own devotional perspective. From other perspectives one can experience “Hare” to be other personifications of hlādinī-śakti. Even within the romantic perspective, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī has so many infinite expansions – all of which exist within the transcendental vibration “Hare.”

Two Halves of the Mantra

The biggest pattern in the mahā-mantra divides it into two halves. The first half, “hare kṛṣṇa, hare kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa, hare hare,” focuses on Krishna – the all-attractive. The second half, “hare rāma, hare rāma, rāma rāma, hare hare,” focuses on Rāma – the all-enjoying.

Why this order?

That is the Way of Love.

First there must be attraction, and then there can be enjoyment. A mundane example: first a girl must attract the desires of a boy, and after this is accomplished it is possible for there to be enjoyable romantic exchanges. The first half of a relationship is “Krishna” – attraction. The second half, after attraction is effective, is pleasure, “Rāma.”

So, the mantra is arranged in this order that we may express our emotions to Śyāmasundar something like this, “Oh Śyāma, please attract me to you! (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare) And once you have me, please enjoy me to your heart’s content! (Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare).”

Never forget that all this – the attraction and enjoyment – does not take place independently of “Hare,” Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Therefore the whole expression is directed towards her, and becomes, “Dear Śrī Rādhā, please make me attractive to Krishna (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare), so that I might please him (Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare).” Furthermore, and of paramount importance, the whole context of being attractive and pleasing to Krishna takes place within the shelter and direction of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, not independent of Her.

This explanation is offered as a more detailed purport on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s basic instruction to chant with the mood, “O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in your service.”


Three words are repeated so many times that the mantra ends up with sixteen words. Why so much repetition?

It is to evoke more emotion in the chanter. When we call out a name two or more times in a row, it expresses great feeling. A lover may say the name of her beloved, but it is really special if she is not satisfied to say it just once, if she repeats it immediately: “My darling, O my darling.” Similarly when a mother feels very emotional about her child she will repeat the child’s name, often accompanied with a sigh. The song “Maria” from West Side Story is a fine example of this in ordinary literature.

So, out of a rise of emotion in the heart, we don’t just say “Hare Krishna / Hare Rāma” – we repeat: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna / Hare Rāma Hare Rāma.” The first time expresses meaning, the second time expresses feeling.

Union and Separation

What remains to be explained now is the second half within each half of the mantra:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare

Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma
Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare

These portions of the mantra exist to introduce the dimension of “union and separation.” This is another important principle in the Way of Love. If there is only union – if two lovers can always very easily see each other all the time – their unity will gradually become cheaper (being so easy) and the unity they enjoy will lose some of its excitement and sparkle. On the other hand if two lovers can never see each other and are always separated it also reduces the beauty of the relationship – they will eventually begin to forget about one another, or develop emotional calluses to cope with the pain of separation. So the Way of Love dictates that union and separation must balance each other – then the relationship can be eternally dynamic and enchanting.

“Hare Krishna” expresses the union of Rādhā (Hare) and Śyāmasundara (Krishna). So does “Hare Rāma.” In both phrases, the two words naming Rādhā and Krishna are right next to each other, united. But the second line of each half of the mantra separates the divine couple. “Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare” they are not paired with one another, they are separate – and again repeated out of emotion.

This separation is not “cruel” – it is a service to their relationship, enhancing the value of their unity. They are not kept apart forever, because the very next line brings them back together.

Union: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Separation: Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare

Union: Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma
Separation: Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare

Thus those who have deeply realized the inner purports of this mantra describe it as “not only a yugala mantra (a mantra of the divine couple united), but a vipralambha-māyī yugala mantra (a mantra of the divine couple permeated with the dynamics of union and separation).” As such it is a mantra capable of unlocking the highest perceptions of ecstatic prema.

Always Chant

Effective chanting of a mantra requires contemplation of the meaning of the mantra. This is why Śrīla Prabhupāda endeavored to explain, theoretically and practically, the meaning of the mahā-mantra – and this is why our ācāryas like Bhaktivinode Ṭhākur recommend “mantra-artha-cinta” (contemplating the mantra’s meaning while chanting it). The meaning of the mantra should, by repetition, become so second nature that it is evoked naturally simply by hearing the mantra – it is not an artificial imposition on the mind, it arises naturally from the inherent content within the divine words themselves.

If even one soul amongst all the readers of this humble article begins to chant more purely, lovingly, and attentively as a result of reading it – then I will surely have pleased Śrī Guru and Gauranga, which is non-different than pleasing Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. I one can please Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī there is nothing else let to want. I pray that at least one of you will grant me this blessing and improve your relationship with Krishna’s delightful names. May there be no other result from this sharing of what is uncommonly intimate and secret.

– Vraja Kishor dās


Categories: Tags: , , , , , ,


  1. Dear devotee

    Hare Krsna!
    I found this article very enlivening and intimate. Thank you for sharing your writing with us.

    I would be interested to know of the references to shastra and a little about yiur spiritual background?

    Many thanks

    Ys Jude


  2. Dear Vraja Kishore Prabhu
    Simply amazing eye opener – thank you so much
    If possible kindly ping me on skype – govinda.jps


  3. Hate Krsna Prabhu ,
    Thank you for this beatiful article.
    Would you kindly explain the difference between the meaning of the Maha mantra and the ” interpretation” .for us to avoid the 6 offense to the Holy Name .
    Thank you.
    Ys. Lalasamayi dd


    1. Padma Purana is the source for the 10 nāmāparādha. The 6th is “hari-namni kalpanam” which means “to think Hari-nama is fictitious” or “to think Hari-nama is just an idea.” In other words not to think it is real.


Do You have a Comment or Questions?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s