Question: I have read numerous translations and comments about the ‘pujala raga-patha’ verse on the Internet and there seems to be a lingering controversy about who wrote the verse, what it means, etc. Can you provide me with a broader overview of the topic so that I might clarify my understanding?”

Swami Narasingha: My answer below may seem a little tedious at times, but if you bear with me on the details you may find what you are looking for. Regarding the verse that you have quoted, it is part of a six-line Bengali song that reads as follows in the Roman transliteration:

matala hari-jana visaya-range 
pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange
bhramala chadi' bhoga cinmaya bange
 dhaula pathi-pathi bhakata-sange
chadla para-ghara arccite gange 
bujhala rasa-niti nacata dange

The controversy that you speak of only surrounds the meaning of the first two lines and particularly the second line. As for the translation of verses 2 and 3, we are not aware that any controversy exists. The translation of the song by our asrama, Sri Narasingha Caitanya Matha is as follows:

matala hari-jana visaya-range
pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange

The servants of Hari are engaged in lavish affairs, handling material wealth and engaging all manner of things in the Lord’s service. They worship the path of spontaneous devotion with gaurava-bhange [in a mood of awe and reverence] and to show that the raga-patha is above all [above our heads], they remain as servants, being a little distant and below, praying for that of a servant’s duty, not for that of a confidential nature — not to bring that highest divine love down here, but to hold that upon their heads.
bhramala chadi' bhoga cinmaya bange
dhaula pathi-pathi bhakata-sange

Having given up all sense-enjoyment, one should wander through the divine land of Gauda-desa, running along the paths and roads in the association of the devotees.

chadla para-ghara arccite gange
bujhala rasa-niti nacata dange

Leaving that previous house forever to worship the Deity on the banks of the Ganges, one will understand the science of rasa by the process of dancing (i.e. sankirtana).
The history of this song, its origin, and its later alteration from the original is very interesting. The original author of the song was Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who composed the verses in 1930. It was on the occasion of moving the Deities of Sri Gaurasundara and Sri Sri Vinoda-Anandajiu from the old house at Ultadanga Junction Road to the new temple in Bagh Bazaar, Kolkata. Sarasvati Thakura especially composed the six-lines of song for the occasion and requested the devotees present to sing it during kirtana. The day of the procession was Sunday 5th, October 1930.
In that month’s edition of the Bengali magazine Gaudiya, the six-line song was printed above a photo that showed the ratha of the Deities with Sarasvati Thakura and the devotees standing in front. The first two lines of the Bengali read as follows:
matala hari-jana visaya-range
pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange
Herein begins the controversy. The first line reads matala harijana visaya-range. In later years the first line became popular as matala hari-jana kirtana-range. The original composition by Sarasvati Thakura however reads visaya-range, and not kirtana-range. Howthis came to pass is indeed interesting. But before mentioning how kirtana-range came to replace visaya-range, we should first mention that some leading contemporary Vaisnavas such as Swami B.V. Tripurari Maharaja, Swami B.V. Madhava Maharaja and others are quite comfortable with the implementation of kirtana-range. Both these personalities that I have mentioned have at least on one occasion quoted the first line of the song in their writings and discourses as matala harijana kirtana -range. Swami B.V. Tripurari Maharaja translates the first two lines as:
The devotees, intoxicated by the kirtana of the Holy Name that consumes the entire world, worship the raga-marga at a distance until the time when by such kirtana their hearts are cleansed of any charm for the world and the distance between themselves and their Deity is bridged as reverence for the Deity breaks down and is replaced by love.” [Sanga of Swami BV Tripurari, disciple of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada]
Swami B.V, Madhava Maharaja translates the same two lines as:
"The servants of Hari revel in the chanting of the Holy Name. They worship the path of spontaneous devotion, whereby awe and reverence is overthrown." [from the website of Swami B.V. Madhava, disciple of Swami B.V. Narayana Maharaja]
In our humble opinion, the translation of Swami B.V. Tripurari Maharaja is in consonance with a deeper understanding of the verse, whereas that of Swami B.V. Madhava relies solely on a reading based on the meaning of gaurava-bhange as ‘to overthrow awe and reverence’ focusing on the word bhanga [breaking or splitting].
However, when it is understood that the root of bhange is actually derived from the noun bhangi [a mood, a distinction of style, way or attitude], then gaurava-bhange means ‘in a mood of awe and reverence’. Thus, pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange is to worship the path of raga-patha with awe and reverence.
In the controversy that we are discussing this is then the ultimate question – when composing the verse pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange, did Sarasvati Thakura intend gaurava-bhange to mean ‘to break awe and reverence’ or ‘a mood of awe and reverence’? It will be seen later on in this essay that his intention was gaurava-bhange – a mood of awe and reverence.
It has recently been suggested by some devotees that it was Srila B.R. Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja who changed visaya-range to kirtana-range, but from the history of Sri Caitanya Sarasvata Matha it is said that the disciple of Sridhara Maharaja, namely Sripada B.S. Govinda Maharaja suggested to Sridhara Maharaja that kirtana replace visaya in order to make the verse more understandable or clear to the devotees. Sridhara Maharaja welcomed the suggestion. Govinda Maharaja recalls as follows:
“Matala hari-jana visaya-range. Originally Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura made that poetry. Later it became matala hari-jana kirtana-range, pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. Kirtana-range – this word I gave and Srila Guru Maharaja accepted it very happily, ‘You can change this for us.’”
Hence it is engraved on the wall of the nat-mandira at Sridhara Maharaja’s temple, matala hari-jana kirtana-range, pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange.
The controversy that is addressed in the beginning of this essay is not actually about visaya-range or kirtana-range. The real controversy is about pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. Does this simply mean as Swami B.V. Madhava points out that, “they worship the path of spontaneous devotion, whereby awe and reverence is overthrown" or is there another meaning to pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange that suggests a completely different approach to raga-patha, the path of spontaneous devotion?
We should mention here that contemporary preachers outside the following of Srila Sridhara Maharaja rarely if ever quote the song we are discussing. In fact, Swami B.V. Madhava Maharaja only ever referenced the song that we are discussing in response to a video production that expressed the opinion of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, that raga-patha is worshipable and should always be kept above our heads.
However, Srila Sridhara Maharaja quotes pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange again and again throughout his discourses and in his books. What to speak of those words being engraved on the wall at his temple, they are engraved in the core of his heart as the essence of the teaching and mission of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Srila Sridhara Maharaja speaks about the song in question in several places as follows:
Pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange – composed by Guru Maharaja himself when from the hired house in Calcutta, the Deities and the matha was removed to his own constructed matha. The Deities were carried in a chariot and we were dancing and singing just in front of the Deities. At that time he composed some six lines perhaps. ‘You should sing this and direct the chariot from the hired house to our own matha.’ Matala hari-jana visay-range pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. It is currently seen that the devotees have made themselves mad in handling so much material wealth. Generally the devotees should engage themselves in the subject of the Lord, but here in Gaudiya Matha we find they are handling money, motor car, this, that – everything here, lavishly, visaya range. For what purpose? Pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. Gaurava bhange – to show that the raga-patha is above all. Those that are followers of raga-patha, their position is very high. Not that they cannot be masters of this mundane world. So, they have left everything and are taking the path of worshiping Him, in their heart. But all this grandeur, all reverence everything should go to serve them. Pujala raga-patha – everything will have its fulfillment with their connecting in any way with the feet of those that are engaged in their worship exclusive of these worldly things with his heart. [Darsana with Srila Sridhara Maharaja, 14-08-81]
Pujala raga-patha gaurave-bhange — that is always upon our head, that the prospect of our life’s future, life after life, cannot be finished. We shall rather foster the hope, the pure hope that we may be taken in one day in that camp. With this idea. (Follow The Angels, Part 2)
But we must be ready to pay for it, and our Guru Maharaja came for that purpose. Pujala raga-patha —don’t go hurriedly. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. That experience is for the highest minded. It is the highest. One must go step by step. If we omit any step, we will be nowhere. (Follow The Angels, Part 2)
Pujala raga-patha gaurave-bhange — very sweet. The raga-patha is on the head. We are servants of the raga-patha. We are in vidhi-marga, under sastrika rule. We must live and move under sastrika rule, and always keep the raga-patha upon our head. The whole tenor of Guru Maharaja’s life was such: “That is high, very high, and from below we are to honor that.” We must establish this conception, the proper regard for that higher lila, throughout the entire world: “That is too high.” (Follow The Angels, Part 2)
In madhurya-rasa, the highest conjugal relationship, even Radharani’s own tendency is always to serve Krsna. Her inclination is towards dasya-rasa, service. Is sakhya-rasa, intimate friendship with Krsna, a very small thing? No, it is too high for me. Pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. From a distance I want to show my respect to sakhya-rasa, but I really crave dasya-rasa. That should be the inclination of a real devotee. If we disregard all these things, we are playing like children. (Follow The Angels Part 2)
First understand the degree of purity in Krsna consciousness. The followers of form are only imitationists; they want only to exploit Mahaprabhu and not to serve Him. They are our worst enemies. They are traitors; they have taken the garb of Mahaprabhu's sampradaya, and they are saying something bogus. This is cheap marketing; they are extensively selling adulterated things very cheaply. They have no inner necessity to attain the purest thing (pujala ragapatha gaurava-bhange). Although he was such an exalted Vaisnava, our Guru Maharaja never presented himself as a great devotee. He always used to say, ''I am a servant of the servant of the Vaisnavas.” That was his claim. And he would say, "The higher devotees are my guru, they are so exalted." First come and practice all these things, and then you can hope to reach the goal. It is not so easy, or so cheap. (Sri Guru and His Grace, Ch.3)
And to take our stand in the negative position is the strategy of remaining in the relativity of the highest quarter of service to Krsna, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura once composed a verse expressing the proper attitude. Pujala raga-patha gaurava bhange, matala hari-jana visaya range. ‘The path of divine love is worshipable to us and should be held overhead as our highest aspiration.’ (Loving Search For The Lost Servant, Ch.6)
Pujala raga-patha gaurave-bhange—The whole tenor of his life was such: “That is high, high. And from below we are to honor that.” We are to establish in the whole world this sort of posing: the proper regard of that higher lila, “That is too high.
Pujala raga-patha gaurave-bhange, Guru Maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, preached exclusively this madhurya-rasa, but with great precaution. What is not that thing, he used perhaps 90% of his energy to point out the negative side —“This is not madhurya-rasa”— and clear away the negative side. He had to spare, in his words, “gallons of blood to establish what is not that madhurya-rasa. (Darsana with Srila Sridhara Maharaja, 14-08-81)
Srila Sridhara Maharaja preached extensively from the verses of the song that is under discussion and supported the idea that gaurava-bhange is derived from the root bhangi. Thus gaurava-bhange means a mood of awe and reverence — of this there can be no doubt. And that Sridhara Maharaja represented the adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” in his explanations, also goes without question.
Equally, we can say that since the time of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura no second person has given a clearer or more pronounced understanding of the pujala raga-patha verse than Srila Sridhar Maharaja. His depth of understanding was profound and his respected Godbrothers never hesitated to accept his deep realizations. As Sarasvati Thakura had said of Sridhara Maharaja, “At least one man is left behind who will be able to represent my conceptions.”
This brings to mind a pastime that occurred in the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu during the annual Ratha-yatra festival in Puri. During the procession Caitanya Mahaprabhu sang a verse from the Kavya-prakasa of Sri Mammata as follows:
yah kaumara-harah sa eva hi varas ta eva caitra-ksapas
te conmilita-malati-surabhayah praudhah kadambanilah
sa caivasmi tathapi tatra surata-vyapara-lila-vidhau
reva-rodhasi vetasi-taru-tale cetah samutkanthate
That very personality who stole away my heart during my youth is now again my master. These are the same moonlit nights of the month of Caitra. The same fragrance of malati flowers is there, and the same sweet breezes are blowing from the kadamba forest. In our intimate relationship, I am also the same lover, yet still my mind is not happy here. I am eager to go back to that place on the bank of the Reva under the Vetasi tree. That is my desire.’ (Cc. Madhya 13.121)
Taken at face value [mukhya-vrtti], the devotees could not understand the internal purpose of the Lord. However, Sri Rupa Goswami, being a super caliber devotee could understand the Lord’s internal purpose [gauna-vrtti] and thus he composed another verse revealing the Lord’s heart.
priyah so ‘yam krsnah sahacari kuruksetra-militas
tathsham sa radha tad idam ubhayoh sangama-sukham
tathapy antah-khelan-madhura-murali-pancama-juse
mano me kalindi-pulina-vipinaya sprhayati
My dear friend, now I have met My very old and dear friend Krsna on this field of Kuruksetra. I am the same Radharani, and now We are meeting together. It is very pleasant, but still I would like to go to the bank of the Yamuna beneath the trees of the forest there. I wish to hear the vibration of His sweet flute playing the fifth note within that forest of Vrndavana. (Cc. Madhya.1.76)
In this way we cannot help but express our conviction that when Sarasvati Thakura composed the six-line poem for the ratha festival of the Deities in Kolkata in 1930, that Srila Sridhara Maharaja being a super-caliber devotee, dear to Sri Rupa Gosvami, could unequivocally understand the internal purpose of his Guru Maharaja. Thus it is our lasting determination that the explanation of the pujala raga-patha verse as given by Srila Sridhara Maharaja should be accepted in the hearts of all the devotees desiring to follow in the footsteps of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.