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The saintly king Kulasekhara lived more than a millennium ago in India, yet his Mukunda-mala-stotra speaks to us today with the fresh voice of eternal truth. It is the voice of a realized soul beseeching the Lord- and us- with the utmost sincerity. Here is how he calls us to our salvation:
"O people, please hear of this treatment for the disease of birth and death! It is the name of Krsna. Recommended by expert yogis steeped in wisdom - such as Yajnavalkya - this boundless, eternal inner light is the best medicine, for when drunk it bestows complete and final liberation. Just drink it!"
The first part of the Mukanda-mala-stotra contains the commentary of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, recognized by scholars and spiritual leaders worldwide as the most distinguished teacher of Indian culture and philosophy of the modern age. The latter part contains commentary by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's senior disciples and the author of more than two dozen books on devotional life.
Of the many hundreds of poetic Sanskrit stotras - songs of glorification, offered to the Supreme Lord, His devotees, and the holy places of His pastimes-King Kulasekhara's Mukunda-mala-stotra is one of the most perennially famous. Some say that its author conceived it as a garland (mala) of verses offered for Lord Krsna's pleasure. It has long been dear to Vaisnavas of all schools, and our own spiritual master, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, frequently enjoyed citing certain favorite stanzas from it.
King Kulasekhara was part of the Sri-sampradaya, the Vaisnava school founded by Lord Visnu's divine consort, Sri. This school's most prominent representative, Ramanuja Acarya (eleventh century), built on the work of his predecessors Natha Munj and Yamuna Acarya and established the systematic philosophy of Sri Vaisnavism. But these acaryas came in an already old tradition, that of the ecstatic mystic poets called Alvars. The twelve Alvars appeared at various times in South India, in the area roughly corresponding to present-day TamilNadu. According to the tradition of the sri Vaisnavas, the earliest Alvars lived more than five thousand years ago, at the start of the present age, Kali-yuga, while the most recent lived in the first millennium A.D.
The Alvars Tamil poetry was collected in the Tiruvaymoli, revered by Sri Vaisnavas as their own vernacular Veda. On the strength of the Tiruvaymoli's devotional authority, the sri Vaisnavas claim to follow Ubhaya-vedanta, the dual Vedanta philosophy founded on both Sanskrit and Tamil scripture. Some Alvars were atypical renunciants: the third, Andal, was a woman and three were involved in governing. Among these was the tenth Alvar, Kulasekhatra Perumal, who was a ruling king in the Cera dynasty of Malainadu, in what is now Kerala. Modern scholars say he may have lived during the ninth century A.D.
A traditional history of King Kulasekhara states that once, as he slept in his palace quarters, he had a brilliant and distinct vision of Lord Krsna. Upon awaking he fell into a devotional trance and failed to notice dawn breaking. The royal musicians and ministers came as usual to his door to wake him, but after waiting some time without hearing him respond, they reluctantly took the liberty of entering his room. The king came out of his trance and described his vision to them, and from that day on he no longer took much interest in ruling. He delegated most of his responsibilities to his ministers and dedicated himself to rendering devotional service to the Lord. After some years he abdicated the throne and went to Sri rangam, where he remained in the association of the Krsna Deity of Ranganatha and His many exalted devotees. At Sri Rangam Kulasekhara is said to have composed his two great works: the Mukunda-mala-stotra, in Sanskrit; and 105 Tamil hymns, which were later incorporated into the Tiruvaymoli under the titleperumal tirumoli.
As the other Alvars do in their mystic expressions, in his perumaltirumoli King Kulasekhara emulates the roles of some of Lord Ramacandra's and Lord Krsna's intimate devotees: King Dasaratha; two of the Lord's mothers, Kausalya and Devaki and some of the young cowherd women of Vrndavana. But Maharaja Kulasekhara expresses no pride in realizing such confidential devotional moods. On the country, with deep humility he repeatedly begs simply to be allowed to take his next births as a bird, fish, or flower in the place where Lord Krsna enacts His pastimes, and in this way to enjoy the association of His devotees.
The Mukunda-mala-stotra, although composed in elegant Sanskrit, is a simple expression of King Kulasekhara's devotion to Krsna and his eagerness to share his good fortune with everyone else. Being thus a very public work, it does not delve into intimate personal revelations or abstruse philosophical conundrums. Like most other works of the stotra genre, it aims less at presenting a plot than at vividly and honestly expressing the true feelings of a lover of God. With this much we the readers should be completely satisfied, because it is a rare opportunity for us when a devotee of King Kulasekhara's stature opens his heart so freely- and in a way just appropriate for us, with all our imperfections, to appreciate.
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