This Upaniṣad takes the form of a conversation between Lord Brahmā and the great sage Nārada. It takes place around the time of Kṛṣṇa’s death, which marked the end of dvāpara yuga and the beginning of kali yuga.

Yuga is a complicated concept. It describes a cyclical process in which humankind’s awareness of our own spiritual nature waxes and wanes. There are four yugas: kṛta yuga (also known as satya yuga), tretā yuga, dvāpara yuga, and kali yuga.

During kṛta yuga (“age of accomplishment”) humans are inherently aware of their higher self and their relationship to Spirit. During tretā yuga (“third age”) — the age when Lord Rāma incarnated and the events of the Rāmāyaṇa took place — humans start to lose their inherent spiritual knowledge and selfish tendencies and material desires begin to arise, though most people are still generally benevolent. During dvāpara yuga (“second age”) — the age when Lord Kṛṣṇa took birth and the events of the Mahābhārata took place — selfishness and lust for power become more predominant, and what little inherent spiritual knowledge remains is often misused for personal gain. Finally, during kali yuga — “dark age” — humankind loses their awareness of Spirit completely, and only through diligent spiritual practice can they regain it.

Although likely apocryphal, there is a lovely story told about the Nārāyaṇa temple at Badrinath in the far north of India that serves as a demonstration of the yuga concept, (which I related in my Landslide Chant article):

It is said that in the spiritual golden age of satya yuga (kṛta yuga), the Lord Badrīnārāyaṇa Himself was visible to all who visited the holy site. But as human consciousness descended and passed into the tretā yuga, only saṃnyāsins (renunciant monks) and the most steadfast devotees had the vision of the Lord. As the collective consciousness descended further and entered into the dvāpara yuga, only the most advanced yogis and gurus were able to have the Divine vision. And when kali yuga took hold of the world, and humanity was plunged into spiritual darkness, the vision of Lord Badrīnārāyaṇa was hidden to all, and it was necessary to install a mūrti (consecrated statue) in the temple.

The yugas are cyclical, meaning that after kali yuga comes another dvāpara yuga, then tretā yuga, and finally kṛta yuga.


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ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यङ्करवावहै ।
तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

oṃ saha nāvavatu
saha nau bhunaktu
saha vīryaṅkaravāvahai
tejasvināvadhītamastu mā vidviṣāvahai
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ॥

May we both (guru and disciple) be protected, may we both have nourishment, may we both work with great energy and vigor, may our learning be brilliantly luminous, and may we never be enemies.1

Peace, peace, peace.


॥ भगवन्नामस्मरणमात्रेण कलिसंतरणम् ॥

॥ bhagavannāmasmaraṇamātreṇa kalisaṃtaraṇam ॥

Mentally Repeating the Divine Names Will Carry One Through the Darkness


द्वापरान्ते नारदो ब्रह्माणं जगाम कथं
भगवन् गां पर्यटन्कलिं सन्तरेयमिति ।

dvāparānte nārado brahmāṇaṃ jagāma kathaṃ
bhagavan gāṃ paryaṭankaliṃ santareyamiti

At the end of the dvāpara yuga, the great sage Nārada approached Lord Brahmā and inquired thusly: “O Lord, as I am roaming all around the world, how will I make it across kali (the oncoming age of darkness)?”

स होवाच ब्रह्मा साधु पृष्टोऽस्मि सर्वश्रुतिरहस्यं
गोप्यं तच्छृणु येन कलिसंसारं तरिष्यसि ।

sa hovāca brahmā sādhu pṛṣṭo’smi sarvaśrutirahasyaṃ
gopyaṃ tacchṛṇu yena kalisaṃsāraṃ tariṣyasi

Then Brahmā replied: “You have cleverly asked after the most closely guarded knowledge of all the śrutis (“that which has been heard”, referring to the vedas), which will bring those who hear it across this dark period in the endless cycle of mundane existence.

भगवत आदिपुरुषस्य नारायनस्य
नामोच्चारणमात्रेण निर्धृतकलिर्भवतीति ॥ १ ॥

bhagavata ādipuruṣasya nārāyanasya
nāmoccāraṇamātreṇa nirdhṛtakalirbhavatīti ॥ 1 ॥

“By simply repeating the names of Lord Nārāyaṇa, the primordial Lord of creation2, one may shed the negative effects of kaliyuga.”


॥ परब्रह्मावरणविनाशकषोडशनामानि ॥

॥ parabrahmāvaraṇavināśakaṣoḍaśanāmāni ॥

The Sixteen Names That Destroy the Veil Concealing the Supreme Spirit


नारदः पुनः पप्रच्छ तन्नाम किमिति ।

nāradaḥ punaḥ papraccha tannāma kimiti

Nārada again inquired, “What are these names?”

स होवाच हिरण्यगर्भः ।

sa hovāca hiraṇyagarbhaḥ ।

Hiraṇyagarbha (Brahmā)3 replied:

हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे ।
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे ॥

hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare

(This mantra does not have a single, direct translation, as it is just a list of repeated names4)

इति षोडशकं नाम्नां कलिकल्मषनाशनम् ।
नातः परतरोपायः सर्ववेदेषु दृश्यते ॥

iti ṣoḍaśakaṃ nāmnāṃ kalikalmaṣanāśanam
nātaḥ parataropāyaḥ sarvavedeṣu dṛśyate

“These sixteen names will wash away the moral stains of this age of darkness. There is no superior means to be found in all the vedas.

षोडशकलावृतस्य जीवस्यावरणविनाशनम् ।
ततः प्रकाशते परं ब्रह्म
मेघापाये रविरश्मिमण्डलीवेति ॥ २ ॥

ṣoḍaśakalāvṛtasya jīvasyāvaraṇavināśanam
tataḥ prakāśate paraṃ brahma
meghāpāye raviraśmimaṇḍalīveti ॥ 2 ॥

“Just as the face of the moon is uncovered through its sixteen phases5, the veil of ignorance separating living beings from the Divine is also lifted, revealing the full radiance of the Supreme Spirit, as the rays of the sun are revealed when storm clouds disperse.”


॥ नामजपमहिमा ॥

॥ nāmajapamahimā ॥

The Greatness of Repeating the Divine Names


पुनर्नारदः पप्रच्छ भगवन् कोऽस्य विधिरिति ।

punarnāradaḥ papraccha bhagavan ko’sya vidhiriti

Again Nārada asked, “My Lord, what are the rules governing this practice?”

तं होवाच नास्य विधिरिति ।
सर्वदा शुचिरशुचिर्वा पठन् ब्राह्मणः
सलोकतां समीपतां सरूपतां सायुज्यमेति ।

taṃ hovāca nāsya vidhiriti
sarvadā śuciraśucirvā paṭhan brāhmaṇaḥ
salokatāṃ samīpatāṃ sarūpatāṃ sāyujyameti

Brahmā replied, “There are no rules. By constant repetition of these names — whether one is pure or impure — one will reach the realm of Spirit (saloka), then will gain close proximity to Spirit (samīpa), then will take the form of Spirit (sarūpa), and finally will achieve total absorption into Spirit (sayujya).

यदास्य षोडशकस्य सार्धत्रिकोटीर्जपति
तदा ब्रह्महत्यां तरति ।
तरति वीरहत्याम् ।
स्वर्णस्तेयात् पूतो भवति ।
वृषलीगमनात् पूतो भवति ।
पितृदेवमनुष्याणामपकारात् पूतो भवति ।
सर्वधर्मपरित्यागपापात् सद्यः शुचितामाप्नुयात् ।

yadāsya ṣoḍaśakasya sārdhatrikoṭīrjapati
tadā brahmahatyāṃ tarati
tarati vīrahatyām
svarṇasteyāt pūto bhavati
vṛṣalīgamanāt pūto bhavati
pitṛdevamanuṣyāṇāmapakārāt pūto bhavati
sarvadharmaparityāgapāpāt sadyaḥ śucitāmāpnuyāt

By uttering these sixteen names 35 million times6, one is absolved of the karma from murdering a brāhmaṇa (a member of the priestly class responsible for preserving the knowledge of the vedas) or murdering a noble hero. They are cleansed of the act of stealing gold, or for sexual crimes7. He is purified of all transgressions against his ancestors, the gods, and humankind. Even abandoning all dharma (morals and righteous actions) is immediately forgiven.

सद्यो मुच्यते सद्यो मुच्यत इत्युपनिषत् ॥ ३ ॥

sadyo mucyate sadyo mucyata ityupaniṣat ॥ 3 ॥

They are immediately freed! They are immediately freed! This is the upaniṣad (esoteric teaching).


ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यङ्करवावहै ।
तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

oṃ saha nāvavatu
saha nau bhunaktu
saha vīryaṅkaravāvahai
tejasvināvadhītamastu mā vidviṣāvahai
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ॥

May we both (guru and disciple) be protected, may we both have nourishment, may we both work with great energy and vigor, may our learning be brilliantly luminous, and may we never be enemies.

Peace, peace, peace.

  1. This mantra is found in several upaniṣads, including taittirīyopaniṣad, śvetāśvataropaniṣad, kaṭhopaniṣad, and māṇḍūkyopaniṣad. It extolls the nature of the relationship between guru and disciple which facilitates the highest results for the aspirant. The transference of intellectual and spiritual knowledge and energy is best achieved when there is mutual trust, enjoyment of the teaching process, and complete absence of malice or negative thoughts.

  2. Puruṣa has different meanings depending on the context, as the term has evolved from its original ṛgvedic meaning. To some śaivites (worshippers of Lord Śiva) and śaktas (worshippers of Śakti, the supreme goddess), puruṣa means the unmanifested Supreme Spirit beyond creation, and its counterpart is prakṛti, meaning “nature”, “material existence”, or Spirit manifested within creation. Some other śaivites, specifically adherents of Kashmir Śaivism, view puruṣa as the individualized soul within humankind. In some schools, puruṣa simply means a person. In the creation story of the ṛgveda, puruṣa was a divine being that was sacrificed by the gods in order to create life in the universe. Later, in the upaniṣads, the term puruṣa becomes synonymous with paramātman — the supreme, undifferentiated Soul — or with paramabrahman — the Supreme Spirit.

  3. Hiraṇyagarbha literally means “golden womb” or “golden egg”, and refers to the story of creation related in the hiraṇyagarbha sūkta of the ṛgveda, wherein the universe is created within a golden egg formed by svayambhū (Self-manifested Spirit) and comes into being when the egg breaks open. In the purāṇas and upaniṣads, hiraṇyagarbha is often a name for Lord Brahmā who was himself born out of a golden egg.

  4. The simplest grammatical interpretation is that the mantra contains three names: Hari (from the root word hṛ, “remove” or “destroy”, meaning “destroyer of illusion and ignorance”), Rāma (the legendary king of Ayodhyā whose life story is told in the epic Rāmāyaṇa and serves as an example of perfect dharma, or righteousness), and Kṛṣṇa (the divine teacher of the Bhagavad Gītā), all in the vocative case, meaning the one being named is also the one being addressed. The vocative case changes hari to hare. Though not a literal translation, I personally meditate upon this interpretation of the mantra in the following way: “Hari (the Supreme Lord Nārāyaṇa) is Rāma, and Hari is also Kṛṣṇa. When the earth was in great peril, Hari incarnated as Rāma and as Kṛṣṇa to combat the forces of darkness and restore dharma (righteousness). Likewise, may Lord Nārāyaṇa protect me from the darkness of ignorance.”

    There is another somewhat more complicated interpretation of the mantra, mostly expounded by gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas (followers of the medieval saint Caitanya Mahāprabhu). The gauḍīya sampradāya (lineage) believes that Kṛṣṇa is the supreme form of Spirit and all other deities — and indeed creation itself — are merely expansions of Him, and Rādhā (Kṛṣṇa’s childhood friend and most ardent devotee) is his śakti, or the energy by which he acts. Another name for Rādhā is harā, which in the vocative case is hare. They interpret the name rāma as referring either to balarāma (Kṛṣṇa’s older brother and first expansion), or to rādhāramaṇa, another name of Kṛṣṇa meaning “Rādhā’s beloved”. This grammatical interpretation of the mantra makes it entirely about Kṛṣṇa, which is why the gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas change the order of the stanzas so hare kṛṣṇa comes first, though that is not how it appears in the original text.

  5. The disc of the moon is divided into sixteen equal portions called kalā, usually referred to in English as “digits”. Collectively they are known as ṣoḍaśakalā (“the sixteen digits”) or candrakalā (“the digits of the moon”).

  6. The saṃskṛta numbering system can be a bit confusing to an English speaker. This number, 35 million, is written sārdhatrikoṭi. Koṭi (10 million) was the largest single number in the vedic numeric system, so 30 million is trikoṭi, literally “three 10 millions”. Sārdha means “plus a half” (half of koṭi is 5 million) so sārdhatrikoṭi is literally “three 10 millions plus a half”, or 35 million.

  7. I have translated this line as “sexual crimes” because the saṃskṛta term vṛṣalī is vague, anachronistic, and decidedly misogynistic. Monier-Williams defines vṛṣalī as “a woman of low caste”, which presents a philosophical problem for me (aside from the inherent sexism).

    I don’t believe the varṇa system, which was later corrupted into the caste system, was ever intended to be a rigidly enforced stratification of society from birth. The original varṇas were merely descriptors of an ideal society and the roles that would naturally be filled: brāhmaṇa, keepers of knowledge (priests and educators); kṣatriya, governors and soldiers; vaiśya, farmers and merchants; śūdra, laborers and service providers. The modern caste system is a gross perversion of what was originally a noble, philosophical idea. Joel Brereton, PhD., a noted expert on the ṛgveda, describes the varṇa system as “a social ideal, rather than a social reality.”

    Monier-Williams gives some alternate definitions for vṛṣalī: “an unmarried girl twelve years old in whom menstruation has commenced”; “a woman during menstruation”; “a barren woman”; “the mother of a still-born child”. A literal reading of these definitions, in the context of this verse, implies that a sexual encounter with a woman unable to conceive children is as heinous a crime as murdering a brāhmaṇa, which is ludicrous. But I believe the translation “sexual crimes” captures the intended spirit of the verse, wherein the spiritual damage done to one’s self by committing sexual violence can be absolved by ardent sādhana.