Mixed Melodies At Mangal Aroti
Posted June 6, 2008
One morning in 1991 after mangal aroti at the Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir in Brooklyn, my initiating spiritual master, HH Vipramukhya Swami, called over the kirtan leader and informed him: "You're mixing melodies." Then Maharaja launched into an interesting explanation which I will now attempt to briefly summarize.
The Gurv-astaka prayers by Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur which are sung every morning in all ISKCON temples are traditionally sung in two distinct melodies: one for the morning and one for the evening. For those unaware, the morning melody is the one which is always used at the beginning of all mangal arotis. It is similar to the tune in which many "morning" songs are sung: Arodaya-kirtan, Jiv Jago and Vibhavari Sesa being some examples. Conversely, the famous early recording of Srila Prabhupada chanting the Gurv-astaka prayers is in the evening melody.
While the sound vibrations of our kirtans and bhajans are transcendental and may still be effective while sung in any tune, the traditional melodies Vaishnavas use are meant to evoke appropriate moods for the pleasure of the Deities. Hence, the morning melody should be sung exclusively for the duration of the aroti, and the evening tune should be reserved for the occasions when the song is sung at that time.
I just returned from a week in Sri Mayapur Dham, and I was surprised to hear that the kirtan leaders there were regularly mixing melodies during mangal aroti. Indeed, almost daily the two melodies were being alternated: odd-numbered verses in the morning melody and the even-numbered ones in the evening tune. At the headquarters of our movement I was surprised to hear how casually the devotees were shuffling these melodies any which way. As our Mayapur temple maintains such a high standard of Deity worship, why would the kirtan also not also be sung in the melody which is most pleasing to Sri Sri Radha Madhava? While such mixing of melodies may inspire the devotees to dance more, it misses the central point of the aroti ceremony itself: to awaken the Deities.
I cannot claim to have any specialized knowledge of such matters but am only commenting based on what I heard from my diksha guru. The purpose of this short post is simply to inspire further discussion on this topic, so if anyone has further insights, scriptural evidence, etc., it would be nice to see that posted as well.