Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu, the free e-magazine from ISKCON’s Gopaljiu Publications in Bubhaneshwar, India, has just entered its ninth year of circulation and sent its 200th issue to an ever-growing list of subscribers.
A search for the magazine’s origins take us back to 1977. When ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada visited Bhubaneshwar for the last time, he instructed its spiritual leader, Gour Govinda Swami, to not only reach out to outsiders, but also to inspire and teach those who were already devotees. Gour Govinda took this to heart, often expressing how concerned he was to see devotees falling away from their spiritual practices. He wanted to, in his words, “uphold the prestige of Prabhupada’s movement” and to encourage devotees to go deeper into the practices and philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. One of the best ways to do this, he said, was “by propagating pure discussion about Krishna.”
Taking a step in this direction, Gour Govinda Swami’s followers launched the print magazine Sri Krishna Kathamrita in 1994, under his direct guidance. The magazine was, as promised, an internal source of inspiration for ISKCON members, delivering philosophical discussion and esoteric stories of Krishna and his devotees. It strictly avoided politics, exposes, revolutions, institutional bashing or promotion, focusing only on straightforward discussion about Krishna.
The title Sri Krishna Kathamrita was not accidental—it was, in fact, carefully chosen and pregnant with meaning. The word “Sri” can signify beauty, wealth, and the topmost, “Krishna” means all-attractive, and “katha” means “stories, or topics of discussion.” One meaning of “Sri Krishna-katha,” therefore, is “those beautiful, topmost, transcendentally valuable words that are all-attractive because they pertain to topics of Lord Krishna.”
Since “Sri” is a name for Srimati Radhika, Krishna’s eternal consort, “Sri Krishna-katha” can also refer to the activities of Radha and Krishna. And since Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s 15th century founder, Shri Chaitanya, is considered to be a combined form of the supreme couple, “Sri Krishna-katha” also relates to topics about him. Finally, because a well-known facet of Vaishnava theology is that the Lord is never separated from His devotees, “Sri Krishna-kathamrita” also covers the lives and teachings of great saints.
Of course, it’s the final phrase “amrita” that really puts the icing on the cake and shows how important a magazine of this nature is to devotees. “Amrita” translates as “nectar,” meaning that the Krishna conscious topics it contains are a tasty treat. And looking at it from another angle, adding the prefix “a” to “mrityu,” the sanskrit word for death, changes it into “amrita,” or “that nectar which frees one from the four wordly miseries of birth, old age, disease and death.”
In 1996, Gour Govinda Swami passed away, but his followers steadfastly continued his work. These included Sri Krishna Kathamrita’s American-born editor Madhavananda Dasa, a “cultural refugee” who has lived in Bhubaneshwar since 1993.
“We tried, and continue trying, to release the print editions twice a year,” he says. “But at sixty-four pages, nearly half of which are in full color, it’s a lot of work and not always possible. So in 2001, we decided to launch a four-page email edition as well.”
Dubbed Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu—“Bindu” means drop—the email magazine is released every Ekadasi, a bi-monthly holy day for Vaishnavas. Each issue begins with an inspiring article from ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada, which is usually followed by writings from his predecessors Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Thakur Bhaktivinode. Articles by Gour Govinda Swami are also a common feature, as are contemporary pieces by the Bindu editors.
Making up the rest of the magazine are many first-time translations, including stories and songs from little-known works. “There are many publications in Bengali, Oriya, Sanskrit and Hindi that most western devotees are not aware of,” Madhavananda says. “We try to present excerpts from these in a humble attempt to inspire.”
One of these publications is Sri Abhiram-lilamrita, a Bengali book on the life of Shri Chaitanya’s extraordinary associate Abhiram Thakur. Written directly under Abhiram’s instruction by his disciple Sri Tilak Ram Das, it contains many esoteric stories. One claims that Krishna’s childhood friend Sridhama Sakha lived in a cave at Govardhan from the age of Dvapara 5,000 years ago until Chaitanya’s birth in 1486. Another describes how Chaitanya’s closest companion Nityananda Prabhu met Sridhama and brought him to Bengal, where he then became known as Abhiram Thakur.
Bindu editors have also derived material from Sri Karnananda, translated from the original Bengali as “blessed happiness for the ears.” This volume focuses mainly on the pastimes of the Vaishnava saints Srinivas Acharya, Narottam Das Thakur and Syamananda Pandit. Similar in subject matter to the more well-known Prema-vilasa, it is considered superior in language, philosophical content, and historical accuracy.
Another resource is Gopala-campu, a Sanskrit book considered by many to be the crest jewel of the writings of Vaishnava scholar Jiva Goswami. The author of Chaitanya-Charitamrita, Krishnadas Kaviraj, called it “the essence of all books.” In it, Jiva Goswami expounds on Krishna’s activities as related in the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, giving many fascinating details not found anywhere else.
Finally Pada-kalpa-taru, or “the wish-fulfilling tree of song,” is a collection of over 3,000 Gaudiya Vaishnava songs from various exalted devotees. Compiled in the 1850s, it contains songs describing the births and activities of Krishna, Radharani, Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda. “It’s a rare book that has been out of print for nearly 100 years,” says Madhavananda. “Amazingly, however, we found a copy at a book fair in Calcutta.”
As well as these, Bindu regularly features stories and philosophy from scholarly translations of various Puranas including Padma, Nrsimha, Brahma-vaivarta, and Vishnudharmottara. Madhavananda delights in finding unique stories that have seldom or never been heard before. One describes how Krishna’s half-man half lion incarnation, Lord Nrsimhadeva, once took the form of a cat to capture a demon who took on the form of a mouse. Another tells how Nityananda Prabhu once subdued a giant cobra from a past age. Yet another recounts how Krishna once had to take sannyasa, the renounced order of life, in order to pacify Srimati Radharani's loving sulky anger.
None of these stories are chosen whimsically. The magazine’s eight-person core team spend a lot of time contemplating what material would be pleasing to Srila Prabhupada, Gour Govinda Swami, and devotees worldwide. First, they discuss ideas with learned scholars locally and abroad. Next, they turn to the substantial library of multi-language Gaudiya books they have accumulated over the years, and get studying.
“Our copy editor Bhakta Rupa and I know enough Sanskrit and Bengali to go through the books and get a basic understanding of their general contents,” Madhavananda explains. “We then ask local Vaishnava scholars to read sections that sound interesting and let us know the details. Based on that, we decide what to translate for the magazine.”
Translations are done by a number of expert volunteers, including the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust’s Gopiparanadhana Dasa, with help from local Bhubaneswar scholars. Where already existing translations are used, Bindu editors examine the original Sanskrit texts and try to edit the scholars’ translations into a style closer to that of Srila Prabhupada. They also try to give a flavor of the original text by including transliterations of some of the most important verses.
Bindu’s bi-annual print edition, Sri Krishna Kathamrita, combines many of these gems while also adding new material—and to say it is meticulously researched would be a major understatement. “It has taken us up to five years of investigation and study before we felt ready to print on some of the topics we have presented in the print edition,” says Madhavananda. “It’s very important to us to create a magazine that faithfully represents our tradition and that is philosophically, culturally and artistically inspiring.”
True to their word, each print issue features beautiful old Vaishnava paintings, a treasure which staff are always on the lookout for, as well as articles from teachers in the Gaudiya Vaishnava line, new translations, and carefully-researched staff articles.
The print editon’s unique feature is its focus on a particular topic with every issue, as well as its penchant for solving many commonly raised mysteries in the Gaudiya tradition. For instance, one issue is dedicated to the demigod and great devotee Lord Siva, and explains why he is always seen with snakes covering his body: Because they represent Krishna’s brother Balarama, who appears as the celestial snake Ananta-Sesa and who Siva constantly worships.
The issue also explains why Siva is depicted with a half moon in his hair: Once Chandra, the demigod presiding over the moon, was cursed by King Daksa for neglecting his wives, who were Daksa’s daughters. The curse caused the moon to gradually lose its luster and strength until finally Chandra asked for the help of Siva, who placed him over his head, thus freeing him from danger. Daksa was angry with Siva for intruding in his business, but Siva, while humble, refused to return the moon because it had asked him for shelter. Lord Krishna then solved the dispute by returning half of the moon to Daksa and letting Siva keep the other half.
It’s not all stories—philosophical mysteries are also unraveled. For example, if so many Gaudiya scriptures describe the inherent faults in religious institutions, then why did Srila Prabhupada and his guru Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati establish such societies? In the article “False Gurus, Institutions, and the Holy Name,” Sri Krishna Kathamrita notes Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s observation that most people in this age of hedonism need some form and regulation to help them be steady in their devotional practices.
It also explains that while Vaishnava institutions can also be affected by the typical dangers, Srila Prabhupada and his guru considered themselves well-protected by two formidable “weapons”: the scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Hare Krishna mantra. Quoting Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.23.16 it says, “There may be discrepancies in pronouncing the mantras and observing the regulative principles, and moreover, there may be discrepancies in regard to time, place, person, and paraphernalia. But when your Lordship’s holy name is chanted, everything becomes faultless.”
Which brings us back to Sri Krishna Kathamrita and Bindu’s modus operandi: to discuss only the pure topics of Krishna’s activities and teachings. The magazine prides itself on being, "Only Krishna-katha, with no politics, institutional bashing or promotion." Madhavananda Das says, "We don't see those as solutions to the problems of this world. Our motto and inspiration is Srila Prabhupada’s instruction to the ISKCON Governing Body Commission: ‘This chanting should go on. Instead of meetings, resolutions, dissolutions, revolutions and then no solutions, there should be chanting.’”
He adds, “I hope that devotees and pious people all over become inspired to read, write, speak and distribute more and more Krishna-katha. Doing so will certainly, as the Srimad Bhagavatam says, ‘bring about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization.’”
Bindu’s many readers agree. These include public figures such as Bangalore Economic Times journalist Chandni Raj, who says she is always telling her co-workers stories from the magazine; and Professor Samaresh Bandyopadhyaya, Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture at the University of Calcutta, who remarked, “I was not able to take up any of my other works until I finished this book.”
Of course, ISKCON devotees are also quick with praise. Sacinandana Swami called the magazine “Concise and thick with nectar,” while Jayadvaita Swami commented, “A newsletter with nothing but pure Krishna-katha—so refreshing! This is the real need of the day.” Other devotees commented on its unique content, with Sarva-Drk Dasa from Denver saying, “I especially appreciate the non-partisan spirit of the publication. I can hardly read anything on the internet these days that isn’t trying to promote, argue pro or con, or solicit. There is a place for that I admit. I have my opinions, too. But it’s easy to forget our real business in life.”
The Sri Krishna Kathamrita 64-page print edition is available from
www.gopaljiu.org for $4.95 per issue. To subscribe to the free 4-page email
“Bindu,” write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For some samples, click the links
How Krishna took sannyasa to pacify Srimati Radharani's loving sulky anger: