Of the many hundreds of poetic Sanskrit stotras-songs of glorification offered to the Supreme Lord, His devotees, and the holy places of His pastimes—King Kulaśekhara's Mukunda-mālā-stotra is one of the most perennially famous. Some say that its author conceived it as a garland (mālā) of verses offered for Lord Kṛṣṇa's pleasure. It has long been dear to Vaiṣṇavas of all schools, and our own spiritual master, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, frequently enjoyed citing certain favorite stanzas from it.
King Kulaśekhara was part of the Śrī-sampradāya, the Vaiṣṇava school founded by Lord Viṣṇu's divine consort, Śrī. This school's most prominent representative, Rāmānuja Ācārya (eleventh century), built on the work of his predecessors Nātha Muni and Yāmuna Ācārya and established the systematic philosophy of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism. But these ācāryas came in an already old tradition, that of the ecstatic mystic poets called Ālvārs. The twelve Ālvārs appeared at various times in South India, in the area roughly corresponding to present-day Tamil Nadu. According to the tradition of the Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, the earliest Ālvārs lived more than five thousand years ago, at the start of the present age, Kali-yuga, while the most recent lived in the first millennium A.D.
The Ālvārs' Tamil poetry was collected in the Tiruvāymoli, revered by Śrī Vaiṣṇavas as their own vernacular Veda. On the strength of the Tiruvāymoli's devotional authority, the Śrī Vaiṣṇavas claim to follow Ubhaya-vedānta, the dual Vedānta philosophy founded on both Sanskrit and Tamil scripture. Some Ālvārs were atypical renunciants: the third, Āṇḍāl, was a woman, and three were involved in governing. Among these was the tenth Ālvār, Kulaśekhara Perumāl, who was a ruling king in the Cera dynasty of Malaināḍu, in what is now Kerala. Modern scholars say he may have lived during the ninth century A.D.
A traditional history of King Kulaśekhara states that once, as he slept in his palace quarters, he had a brilliant and distinct vision of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Upon awaking he fell into a devotional trance and failed to notice dawn breaking. The royal musicians and ministers came as usual to his door to wake him, but after waiting some time without hearing him respond, they reluctantly took the liberty of entering his room. The king came out of his trance and described his vision to them, and from that day on he no longer took much interest in ruling. He delegated most of his responsibilities to his ministers and dedicated himself to rendering devotional service to the Lord. After some years he abdicated the throne and went to Śrī Raṅgam, where he remained in the association of the Kṛṣṇa Deity of Raṅganātha and His many exalted devotees. At Śrī Raṅgam Kulaśekhara is said to have composed his two great works: the Mukunda-mālā-stotra, in Sanskrit; and 105 Tamil hymns, which were later incorporated into the Tiruvāymoli under the title Perumāl-tirumoli.
As the other Ālvārs do in their mystic expressions, in his Perumāl-tirumoli King Kulaśekhara emulates the roles of some of Lord Rāmacandra's and Lord Kṛṣṇa's intimate devotees: King Daśaratha; two of the Lord's mothers, Kauśalyā and Devakī; and some of the young cowherd women of Vṛndāvana. But Mahārāja Kulaśekhara expresses no pride in realizing such confidential devotional moods. On the contrary, with deep humility he repeatedly begs simply to be allowed to take his next births as a bird, fish, or flower in the place where Lord Kṛṣṇa enacts His pastimes, and in this way to enjoy the association of His devotees.
The Mukunda-mālā-stotra, although composed in elegant Sanskrit, is a simple expression of King Kulaśekhara's devotion to Kṛṣṇa and his eagerness to share his good fortune with everyone else. Being thus a very public work, it does not delve into intimate personal revelations or abstruse philosophical conundrums. Like most other works of the stotra genre, it aims less at presenting a plot than at vividly and honestly expressing the true feelings of a lover of God. With this much we the readers should be completely satisfied, because it is a rare opportunity for us when a devotee of King Kulaśekhara's stature opens his heart so freely—and in a way just appropriate for us, with all our imperfections, to appreciate.
About the Present Edition
Using a Sanskrit edition published by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in 1895, Śrīla Prabhupāda began translating the Mukunda-mālā-stotra in the late 1950's. But after completing six verses with commentary, he suspended it to work on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He never resumed it. Yet he clearly intended that the Mukunda-mālā be published, since he included it in the list of his other English books at the beginning of each of the three volumes of the Bhāgavatam's First Canto.
In 1989, the Governing Body Commission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness requested Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami to complete the Mukunda-mālā-stotra. One of Śrīla Prabhupāda's earliest disciples, Satsvarūpa Goswami had distinguished himself over the years as one of his most learned and literary followers. He had served as editor of Back to Godhead magazine—the Society's monthly journal—for most of the twenty-three years it had been published in the West, and had written many books already, most notably a six-volume biography of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Satsvarūpa Goswami accepted the assignment and enlisted the help of Gopīparāṇadhana dāsa, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust's Sanskrit editor, to translate the remaining forty-seven verses. Then he carefully prepared the purports, often quoting from Śrīla Prabhupāda's Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and other works. The result is a book that we trust will be informative and enlivening to devotees, scholars, and laymen alike.
Editor's note: Citations from Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead are from "The Great Classics of India" edition (1985). Citations from The Nectar of Devotion are from the 1982 edition.