“World Holy Name Week,” a celebration of the spiritual practice of chanting God’s names will be celebrated on six continents beginning September 2. The event is coordinated by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). It will also mark the 50th anniversary of the date that ISKCON’s founder-acarya, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada took vows of renunciation, or sanyasa, thus launching his mission to spread the chanting of God’s name as a core spiritual practice around the world. Swami Prabhupada came to America by cargo ship at the age of seventy in 1965. He is honored as the first to carry the millennia-old tradition of Krishna worship–with its special emphasis on the Hare Krishna mantra, or sacred chant– outside of India.
Although the Hare Krishna mantra is rooted in the ancient Vaishnava faith, a monotheistic denomination within the broad Hindu tradition, the practice of chanting – individually and congregationally – is found in most faith traditions. Organizers of the World Holy Name Week are encouraging interfaith gatherings in which different names of God are also glorified.
“The Lord has millions of holy names and you can chant any one of them.” Swami Prabhupada wrote, “Each and every name of the Lord is full of potency.”
The Hare Krishna mantra, which translates as “Oh Supreme Lord, Oh Divine Energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service,” was first popularized in the west by Krishna followers singing on public streets. The mantra was also featured in the Broadway musical “Hair,” and endorsed by pop culture figures such as Beatle George Harrison, who included it in his hit song “My Sweet Lord.” In recent years, the mantra has gone mainstream with recording artists chanting to packed auditoriums world-wide.
World Holy Name Day will be marked in a variety of ways by the more than 400 temples and centers affiliated with ISKCON, popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement. Activities will include 24-hour chanting marathons, public festivals and chanting demonstrations, and seminars and workshops on the significance behind the chant.
Chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra goes back thousands of years. However, it gained prominence in the early 16th century, when a Bengali mystic named Chaitanya Mahaprabhu revitalized the devotional tradition by introducing an expansive spiritual movement that swept India. Central to this renaissance was Chaitanya’s emphasis on the chanting of Krishna’s name. Chaitanya challenged the taboos of caste-conscious orthodox Hindus by bringing the chanting into the public square, and by awarding equal access to chanting for women, outcastes, and non-Hindus. ISKCON is a vibrant continuation of the movement Chaitanya began.
Following in Chaitanya’s footsteps, when Swami Prabhupada arrived in America he sat beneath a large elm tree in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park and held the first outdoor chanting session outside of India. In 2001, the city of New York recognized this historic event by officially naming the elm the “Hare Krishna Tree” and erecting a plaque describing its significance.