It’s a famous verse from Gopi Gita. For one thing, when Maharaja Prataparudra recited it for Lord Caitanya while massaging Mahaprabhu’s legs Lord Caitanya suddenly got up and embraced him.
Here is the translation:
The nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those suffering in this material world. These narrations, transmitted by learned sages, eradicate one’s sinful reactions and bestow good fortune upon whoever hears them. These narrations are broadcast all over the world and are filled with spiritual power. Certainly those who spread the message of Godhead are most munificent.SB 10.31.9
Another notable usage is as a motto of Madhavananda Prabhu’s Krishna Kathamrita Bindu magazine (full archive here). Tava kathāmṛtaṁ tapta-jīvanaṁ – tava — Your; kathā-amṛtam — the nectar of words; tapta-jīvanam — life for those aggrieved in the material world;
Beautiful and sweet, isn’t it? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if there was nothing more to it, would I?
Turns out every acharya gives an alternative interpretation to this verse. Sometimes it’s explained as if two groups of gopis were speaking and so one group meant for all the verses to be sweet and pleading, and the other, headed by Srimati Radharani, sang the same verses in a contrarian mood, basically blaming Krishna for this or that. Okay, I won’t argue with that, but the alternative meaning given by the acharyas is relevant to us, too, not just to Sri Radha and her group, and that’s why I find it interesting.
Almost every word in the verse gets twisted and so BBT translations are of no help here. “Tava” is the same but “kathamritam” can be legitimately split as kathā-mṛtam instead of the usual kathā-amṛtam. In either case the connection between two words would be reduced to one single long ā. So now it gets interesting – discussions about Krishna become the cause of death, not some nectar of immortality. Tapta-jīvanam then takes a new meaning, or rather the same meaning – material aggravation, but in a different context. Tapta means hot, as in hot fire or molten metal, or, specifically, hot oil, and jīvanam can also mean water, so Krishna katha causes death in the same water splatters and evaporates when dropped in hot oil. One can get seriously burned if he does that.
Next line starts with kavibhir iditam (check for correct diacritics in BBT translation, it just gets in the way for me now). Kavibhir means by great poets and iditam means recited. The contrarian meaning is that those poets would praise anything that pops in their minds so it proves nothing, rather it says that only people not concerned with actual meaning and impact of the event would go on talking about it as if it was something great. It’s like saying “this was praised in New York Times” to Trump supporters.
The line ends with kalmasapaham – it drives away (apaham) sinful reactions (kalmasa). That is true, but not in the way simple people understand it. They think that Krishna katha destroys seeds of karma and all that, but the real meaning is that it causes so much suffering that all accumulated bad karma gets released all at once. It’s not a good thing to experience, it’s very painful.
Next line starts with sravana mangalam – hearing it us auspicious. Yes, it is, but for who? For those who are described in the last two words of the line – srimad atatam. Srimad means those endowed with all good things, and atatam means preaching it widely, broadcasting. Now it makes sense – Krishna katha is auspicious for fortunate people proud of their attainments who can’t stop talking about it. The overtly virtuous, in your face, self-righteous pricks. That’s how they make their money, after all.
Last line still talks about these people – bhuvi grinanti ye – those who (ye) spread it (grinanti) all over the world (bhuvi). So silly poets take this suffering and foolishly praise it in their worthless odes to nothing good, and then profit smelling preachers take it up and make themselves rich and famous by preaching it. What actually happens to the people, though? Bhrui-da janah. Janah is people, bhuri is “great number” and da can be short for death, for killing. They actually kill people in great numbers. Some die from suffering, some die spiritually as they have been mislead to accept some sahajiya cult for the real thing.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti cites a verse to demonstrate what actually happens when people take to Krsihna katha seriously, specifically the last line of it:
bahava iha vihaṅgā bhikṣu-caryāṁ carantiSB 10.47.18
Here bahava is “many”, just as bhuri above. Iha is “here”, meaning in Vrindavana, and then vihaṅgāḥ — (like) birds; bhikṣu — of begging; caryām — the livelihood; caranti — they pursue.
So, instead of enjoying opulences associated with being “srimad”, and instead of “mangalam” from “sravana mangalam”, people end up begging for food like birds picking loose grains in the village. Not even searching for food in the forest, not digging up worms themselves, but depending on what was discarded by humans. That’s what indulging in Krishna katha leads to. We will become exactly like those birds.
Anyone who expects his fortune to rise from hearing Krishna katha is either a fool or someone who exploits other fools misfortune. Even worse – someone who inflicts misfortune on others and takes whatever remains in their lives for himself.
I don’t want to pontificate on this, but tell me if this is not a correct description of what Krishna consciousness is supposed to do to people? It’s not there to make us happy and prosperous, unless we consider being homeless and eating what others have thrown away a symbol of prosperity. “Spiritually wealthy”, they could say. Or “opulence of Vrindavana eclipses that of Vaikuntha millions and billions of times,” they say. How’s that not the typical “suffer now, enjoy later” mentality of materialistic persons of this world? How’s that not the typical “srimad atatam” from this verse? Yes, these people learned how to live comfortably off Krishna katha, and now we are supposed to become like them? The live by killing us, bhuri-da janah, and this means they won’t let us be like them – we are their food, not their friends. They might talk, promising auspiciousness (kavibhir iditam and sravana mangalam), but when it comes to real changes they will inevitably protect their turf and keep us as outsiders, as bhuri-da janah.
When I started this article I meant for it to be half serious, but why bother? I’m dead serious now – these people who tell us that Krishna Consciousness will make everything great, who urge us to shout “Gauranga”, to raise our arms and shout “Hare Krishna”, who urge us to dance in lines, squares, or circles etc, they have no idea what they are talking about, except they know it makes them feel great when we sit and listen and otherwise follow their orders. They are just trying to build their own Babylon. If they ever give us something really valuable it’s not while doing that, but that’s a whole other topic.
For Facebook’s sake I’ll include an image. At first glance it has nothing to do with the content, but, if you look closely – it makes Krishna and Yashoda look like one of us (I mean white people) with expressions reflecting our own conceptions of what spiritual beauty and spiritual emotions are like. It’s going to be dreamy like that. Who doesn’t want to feel like that? That’s what they promise us instead of homelessness and eating discarded food. And these days we might not even be able to reach Vrindavana to do that. That’s the reality of taking up Krishna consciousness, not their promises.