We should not think that sankirtana, or the chanting of the Lord’s holy names, is simply part of the system of mantra-yoga, or is merely a formula that has been passed down through the ages like other yoga systems. Nor is it a ritual, ceremony, or activity meant for producing good karma or positive fruitive results. Neither is it merely a way to focus the mind and achieve peace and tranquility. It is far more than any of these. It is the Lord Himself who establishes the chanting of the holy names.
As previously explained, there is a system of self-realization especially recommended for each age. In the age of Kali, people are not attracted to spiritual pursuits and are often rebellious against anything that seems to restrict or stifle their freedom to do anything they want. Since in this age we are so easily distracted by so many things and our mind is always in a whirl, we need an easy path. Therefore, the Vedic shastra explains that God has given us an easy way to return to Him in this age. It is almost as if He has said, “Since you are My worst son, I give you the easiest process.” The Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila, 3.40) confirms this and says that the Supreme Being descends as Sri Caitanya, with a golden complexion, to simply spread the glories of chanting the holy names, which is the only religious principle in this age of Kali. In this way, God Himself has given the method of chanting His holy names as the most effective means to reach His spiritual abode.
The Lord always descends to establish the codes of religion. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (4.6-8) where Lord Krishna explains that although He is unborn and the Lord of all living beings, He still descends in His spiritual form in order to re-establish the proper religious principles and annihilate the miscreants whenever there is a decline of religion and a rise in irreligious activity.
Though there are many incarnations of God, all incarnations are known and predicted in the Vedic literature. Each incarnation performs many wonderful pastimes. But in Kali-yuga the Lord descends as His own devotee in the form of Sri Caitanya in order to show the perfect example of how devotional service should be performed, and to stress the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra for this age by inaugurating the process of the sankirtana movement.
Predictions of the appearance of Lord Caitanya can be found in many Vedic texts. One of them is from the Svetasvatara Upanishad (3.12): “The Supreme Personality of God [Purusha] is Mahaprabhu [great master], the propagator of transcendental enlightenment.” Another is from the Vayu Purana: “In the age of Kali I shall descend as the son of Sacidevi to inaugurate the sankirtana movement.” The Bhagavatam (11.5.32) also describes how intelligent men sing the holy names to worship the incarnation of God who is accompanied by His associates and always sings the names of Krishna. And in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila, 3.19-20) the Supreme Lord Himself describes how He will appear as His own devotee to perform and teach devotional service by inaugurating the sankirtana movement, which is the religion for this age.
The Sri Caitanya Upanishad (texts 5-11) of the Atharva-veda contains the most detailed prediction of Lord Caitanya’s appearance and activities. When Pippalada asked his father, Lord Brahma, how the sinful living entities will be delivered in Kali-yuga and who should be the object of their worship and what mantra should they chant to be delivered, Brahma told him to listen carefully and he would describe what will take place in the age of Kali. Brahma said that the Supreme Lord Govinda, Krishna, will appear again in Kali-yuga as His own devotee in a two-armed form with a golden complexion in the area of Navadvipa along the Ganges. He will spread the system of devotional service and the chanting of the names of Krishna, especially in the form of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra; Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
These and other predictions confirm the fact that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would appear to specifically propagate the chanting of the holy names. Of course, now, five hundred years after Lord Caitanya’s appearance, we have complete descriptions and elaborations on His life, activities, and philosophy, as had been written by His close associates. This verifies the fact that the chanting of the maha-mantra is the rare and special opportunity given by God for all to be relieved from the problems of the age of Kali and of material life in general. As confirmed in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila, 3.77-78), it is Sri Krishna Caitanya who inaugurates the congregational chanting of the holy names, which is the most sublime of all spiritual sacrifices. Intelligent people will worship Him through this means, while other foolish people will continue in the cycle of repeated birth and death in this material world.
In another place in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila, 20.8-9), Sri Caitanya specifically tells Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya that chanting the holy names is the most practical way to attain salvation from material existence in this age, and anyone who is intelligent and takes up this process of worshiping Krishna will attain the direct shelter of Krishna.