Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura originally published Saranagati in 1893. 50 Bengali songs outlining the six-fold process of submissive surrender unto the Supreme, Sri Krishna. The New York hardcore/punk band Shelter recorded a song of the same name based on the same teachings and released it in 1990 on Equal Vision records as the ‘No Compromise’ ep. The track began with the ‘japa’ chanting of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra by the Hare Krishna movement’s founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is a disciple of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. In keeping with the lineage of disciplic succession by paying homage to the current teacher in the line, the track began with the words ‘sit properly’ in which Prabhupada was instructing one of his disciples not to slouch while doing the group mantra meditation!
After the mantra was heard for a few seconds the unforgettable repetition of the songs bassline kicked in followed by the drums, and Ray (now Raghunath) Cappo’s vocals. The song started softly and gradually built to a crescendo up until the chorus of almost screaming “Saranagati”!! A very heartfelt plea. The song begins by pointing out the huge discrepancy in this world of claiming proprietorship over the earth’s resources, ‘playing God’, and the destruction mankind has caused in recent history due to this mentality.
The end of the first verse begins to point out the real proprietor of the material energy, though without naming Krishna specifically. Remember, the audience for this band consisted of punks and kids into the hardcore scene in the early 1990’s, many (or most) of whom would have been staunchly atheistic – and with ample reason, having seen the hypocrisy of modern religion and thus rejected it wholesale. Myself included! Little did we know there was a genuine alternative and songs like this warmed us to the idea that there was something more out there, even if at that time it was pretty difficult to grasp…
The second verse talks sweetly how God (remember a 3 letter word amongst peers that was almost like saying a 4 letter word to your parents!), is actually a friend, the most compassionate benefactor of all living beings, and from whom we’ve turned away from and caused ourselves so much suffering and entanglement in the world of illusory happiness. It mentions the duality created by the situation of trying to enjoy the material world – pleasure/pain, heat/cold, good/bad etc.
The songs third and final verse mentions the ‘roots of creation’, as the Vedas state that by watering the root of a tree all the branches and leaves are nourished – so by serving the complete Whole [Sri Krishna] all the parts and parcels are nourished and become happy. Without that we’re left only with sense gratification which is merely the cessation of suffering, distraction, and so-called love and romance which again being the reflection of true spiritual love only ends in misery.
‘Surrounded by people, but left all alone’, and I think we have all experienced that at times the existential loneliness that can’t be filled with anything but the reconnection with our maker. The song ends with the chorus again, a plea of Surrender. As stated in the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita, ‘abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me’ Krishna says, ‘I will deliver you from all sinful reactions, do not fear!’.
Fear is a constant factor in material consciousness as we struggle for survival, and the material nature is so overwhelmingly powerful we cannot fight it with or tiny strength. But Krishna is omnipresent and in the hearts of all and arranging whatever is necessary for us to come back to our original position of loving service, bhakti.
I for one owe an unrepayable debt to this band and early songs like this, without which I can’t see how I could have opened my mind to the spiritual path. As singer Raghunath states in a TV documentary on the band in 1996, “We think we’re so open minded in our culture, but it’s not a fact.” I used to think I was open minded but when we’re challenged with the often harsh truths of the Vedas we realise we’re not open to the ideas that seriously undermine our own illusions, and seem to refuse to admit our position is one of suffering! With humility though we can accept and understand these profound teachings laid down by ancient sages that not only had the wisdom to see things as they are, but great compassion to rescue the fallen souls of this degraded age of Kali-yuga: the age of quarrel and hypocrisy.