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Kaustubha das

Franny and Zooey and Kirtan

Something I read today from J.D. Salinger’s novel “Franny and Zooey”. Zooey is trying to convince his sister Franny that she is taking shelter of the Jesus prayer with the wrong motivation based on her misunderstanding of the character of Jesus. I thought it had some interesting implications regarding how we understand kirtan and mantra chanting.


Dhanurdhara Swami

Yoga Made Easy By Music: How Kirtan Works

(Kirtan refers to devotional singing, but it also refers to the recitation of spiritual poetry and drama or even just speaking about spiritual subjects. In the school of Sri Caitanya, when devotional singing is done in a group with musical accompaniment it is specifically called sankirtan. The prefix “san” comes from samyak, which means “complete”. It is called sankirtan or complete as the group experience of kirtan is more absorbing and moving than the individual one. For the purpose of distinguishing group from individual kirtan, when I refer to devotional singing and music in congregation I will use the word sankirtan, although it is commonly known as just kirtan.)

I was happy to read that “sankirtan (chanting with others) is superior even to kirtan (chanting alone) because it produces such extraordinary feelings”. 1 That has always been my conviction, but here was a declarative statement by Sri Jiva Gosvami, one of the greatest Vaisnava scholars, in his classic work Sri Bhakti Sandarbha.

Although I was happy to find a supportive statement for the magnificence of sankirtan, the question still remained, why? Why does sankirtan produce such extraordinary feelings? Luckily the answer came soon. While thumbing casually through a book containing the personal correspondence of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, I chanced upon the following statement:

“The hearing tendency is made easy and still more favorable by songs and music of spiritual value to be equally shared by all classes of men namely the highest educated and the lowest illiterate.” 2

The answer was simple and clear, “hearing made easy by music!” The test of any meditational practice is its ability to help focus the mind on the object of one’s meditation, usually mantra. As proper melody and rhythm spontaneously allure the mind, mantra couched in music naturally makes mantra meditation easier. And as the focus in sankirtan is the very object of the practitioner’s devotion (the divine names of God), extraordinary feelings, such as devotion and joy, increasingly arise as one’s meditation deepens.

The power of music is not the only reason why sankirtan invokes more astonishing feelings than chanting alone. Being inspired by the reference about sankirtan from Sri Jiva, I delved further into why this practice is considered exceptional. As bhakti and kirtan, are the components of sankirtan, I naturally began my study there.

Bhagavad-gita clearly distinguishes bhakti as the topmost yoga. 3 It also implies why:

In bhakti, the object of meditation is the Divine (Brahman) designated in mantras containing holy names such as Rama and Krishna, which are considered non-different from Brahman. 4 Thus unlike yoga, where to quell the mind one chooses an arbitrary object as a prop for meditation, the bhakta selects an object of devotion. Consequently, the bhakta is spontaneously drawn to meditation out of attraction, rather than just will power, making it the best means of focusing the mind.

Furthermore, the Divine names as an object of meditation are alive and personal. They thus can reciprocate the practitioner’s devotion by bestowing the desired fruits of his practice, even samadhi, the final goal. For this reason, that in bhakti the fruits of devotional meditation can even exceed the practitioner’s yogic effort, bhakti is called the path of grace and is highly praised.

As mentioned above, the use of songs and music in mantra meditation is deemed particularly powerful, even within the path of bhakti. Why? Among sense objects, sound is considered particularly absorbing, and especially gripping in good music. The mind is thus naturally allured to the designated mantra embedded in musical sounds. In addition, the melodies, or ragas, accompanying kirtan, are composed to stir devotion, the very force behind the bhakta’s meditation.

Philosophers throughout history describe how attraction to music is embedded deep within the psyche. Plato in The Republic, for example, recommended that a child’s education be mostly composed of good music to harmonize or spiritualize the mind. Srila Viswanath Cakravarti, a prominent 17th century Vaisnava scholar, went even further. In his commentary on Krishna’s famous midnight dance with the cowherd maidens (the gopis) of Vrindavana, he described the number of melodies the gopis sang as one for every 16,000 species of life, implying the innate connection between the essential nature of each species and a particular melody. It is precisely this instinctive connection between tune and being that so powerfully weds mantra and music in the heart and mind of the chanter and makes the experience of sankirtan so potent.

Still it is not the power of music alone that elevates sankirtan over other practices of bhakti. Other important enhancing characteristics of sankirtan are the full capacity to evoke grace, the power of group petition, and the superiority of shared bliss.

For the followers of Sri Caitanya, the inaugurator of the sankirtan movement, perhaps there is no greater reason why sankirtan is considered so effective than its potency to invoke Divine grace. They understand it in this way:

Sri Caitanya is glorified in Caitanya Bhagavat as sankirtanaika-pitarau, the father of sankirtan. The best way to please the father is to serve his son. Thus by wholeheartedly giving oneself to that which is born of Sri Caitanya (sankirtan), they will gain His blessings. This is consistent with the culture and philosophy of traditional India: by honoring the predecessors of one’s tradition, the power of what they exemplified, practiced and taught flows to one’s heart. The fullest manifestation of Sri Caitanya’s teachings is prema (divine love), which manifests to those fully absorbed in the sankirtan of the holy names born from Him.

The Srimad Bhagavatam gives another interesting perspective on the efficacy of sankirtan in its description of the events leading to Sri Krishna’s advent. The story begins with Mother Earth in the form of a distressed cow tearfully approaching the chief executive of the universe, Lord Brahma. She seeks relief from the burden of the increasing number of militaristic rulers plundering her planet. Concerned, Lord Brahma, accompanied by Siva and all the demigods, leaves for the sacred milk ocean to petition the Lord’s advent. The question has been raised why Lord Brahma brought such an entourage of luminaries with him, when he was perfectly qualified to gain direct access to the Lord by the purity of his own prayer. Learned commentators on the Bhagavatam have shared this interesting insight: Lord Brahma was instructing by example that in prayer, all things being equal, group petition is more powerful than individual prayer. Bhakti is the path of entreaty. Accordingly, sankirtan, the kirtan of collective appeal, invokes extraordinary feelings of grace and delight.

Ideally in sankirtan all qualified participants share not only in the musical devotional offering, but also in the deep sentiments being expressed. And as the sentiments are shared they tend to be more intense. This type of phenomena can be clearly seen in drama. One purpose of good theater is catharsis, the literary effect where the audience (or the characters) is overcome with the emotions of the drama, a shared experience that uplifts the audience in a unique way. Abhinavagupta, one of Indian’s most respected theorists on mystical and aesthetic experience, writes extensively on the necessity for the experience of rasa to be in the company of like-minded souls. He even goes so far as to say that the fullness of joy in theater and mysticism occurs only when every participants fully shares the experience. 5

One of my favorite examples of this is the scene describing the day Sri Caitanya left home to take sannyasa. He is effulgently sitting amongst His devotes who remain unaware that their master will leave in the evening. His splendid form is covered with the many exquisite garlands that His associates have piled with love around His neck. Fresh sandalwood paste has also been affectionately patted across His forehead. Their unbounded bliss reaches its height as “they gazed upon Him as if with a single pair of eyes!”6

For this reason, that shared feelings are so powerful, devotional emotions tend to increase in communal kirtan.

I remember a kirtan I joined one summer evening in 1986 in the Indian town of Farrukhabad where the accomplished BB Govinda Swami was leading our sankirtan group in the town’s annual Ram Bharat procession. Almost one million people from the district lined the streets for this yearly commemoration of the wedding of Sita and Ram. I could barely stand the heat on this muggy August day, but it was the portable lanterns on the heads of the dozens of coolies walking to light our way that created an especially intolerable setting. One can’t imagine how many bugs even a single lantern attracts on a muggy summer night in India! The Swami is not an ordinary kirtaniya. As a child he grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of a famous music agent. Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash regularly frequented his house and often held him on their laps. Whatever soul he imbibed from his birth was later channeled into kirtan in his youth. In the early 70s he became a devotee of Krishna and lived in Vrindavana at the feet of some of the greatest kirtan masters. On that muggy night in August his sweet, powerful, melodious kirtan accompanied by a host of expert Bengali and African American mrdanga players was exceptionally potent. I remember it well. Due to my discomfort, when it began all I could think of was, “when will this end!” Shortly, however, the mantra, the melody, the rhythm, the camaraderie, and the grace sent us to another world, as it did the throngs of Indian villagers lining the streets. I closed my eyes and absorbed myself in the sankirtan. What seemed a relatively short time later, I opened them. It was five in the morning! I was startled! How did that happen, I pondered? Now I know: Yoga made easy by music!

Dhanurdhara Swami’s essay Yoga Made Easy by Music: How Kirtan Works is also posted at his website Waves of Devotion.

More articles by Dhanurdhara Swami.

  1. 1.Sri Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuchheda 269
  2. 2.Correspondence of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, letter to Seth Mangumal Amarsingh, Bombay
    24 July 1958
  3. 3.Sri Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita 6.47 “Of all yogis one who worships Me with faith and devotion is the best of all.”
  4. 4.The Absolute Reality is called Brahman, which can manifest in various ways. When the Absolute Reality is fully manifest in sound (sabda), it is called sabda brahman, sound, which is Absolute Reality.
  5. 5.See Acting as a Way of Salvation, David Haberman, p. 16-29
  6. 6.Caitanya Bhagavat, Madhya-lila Ch. 28, text 24
Kaustubha das

Radhanath Swami Celebrates the Life of Aindra Das With Tears of Gratitude.


As the effulgent sun of Sri Aindra Prabhu’s divine personality has risen in the spiritual world of Goloka Vrindaban, the sun of his physical presence has set in Gokula, the Vrindaban of this world. And we cry in separation. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Dhanurdhara Swami

Kirtan Insights from Aindra Das

The following is an interview with Sripad Aindra das done in 2009 for the forthcoming book Kirtan Meditations – The Mood and Technique of Bhakti Kirtan compiled by Dhanurdhara Swami and Akincana Krishna dasa.  Due to the unexpected loss of this great soul I decided to release his interview quite before the editing has been finished. More can be read at wavesofdevotion.com. I hope it gives some pleasure and solace to the congregation of the devotees feeling the loss of this great soul. Dhanurdhara Swami

Chanting with purity

Harinam-sankirtan means to loudly chant the holy name for the benefit of others.  We should seriously consider to what extent we are benefiting others, and also to what extent we are benefiting ourselves. There is apparent kirtan and real kirtan. Only sankirtan where the pure name is chanted is real sankirtan.  If someone is making offenses to the name, simply articulating the syllables “Hare Krishna,” that is not real sankirtan.  One must thus carefully consider the offenses to be avoided in the matter of chanting.

Can you talk about the different types of chanting?

There is bhukti-nama, offensive chanting, which results in material gain; there is mukti-nama, shadow chanting, which results in liberation, and there is prema-nama, pure chanting, which results in prema-bhakti, pure love of Godhead.

Bhukti-nama means offensive chanting. By chanting offensively, you can benefit others only by increasing their material piety.  Bhaktivinoda Thakura therefore states that a pure devotee should not participate in kirtan led by offenders to the holy name.  Who are those offenders?  Those who do kirtan for ulterior motives–who chant for money, or to augment their sex appeal, or do it for name and fame.  Such chanting can at best result in material gratification.

Then there is mukti-nama or namabhasa. By such chanting one not only gradually becomes freed from all material contamination, but also liberates others from material existence. In other words, by hearing someone’s loud chanting of namabhasa, one can attain liberation from material existence. Sounds good, right? It’s certainly better than staying bound in the material world. But by such kirtan alone you cannot inculcate bhakti into the hearts of those who hear that kirtan, because namabhasa kirtan is only a resemblance of the holy name and not the pure name.

Lord Caitanya’s movement is the prema-nam-sankirtan movement. Its purpose is to give the highest benefit, pure love of Godhead.  Therefore if one actually wants to give oneself and others the highest benefit, one must awaken pure devotion to Radha and Krishna and for Sri Caitanya.  To achieve that purpose we have to chant purely.

Jagadananda Pandit in Prema Vivarta thus recommends that if one wants to elevate their chanting to the platform of the pure name, one should perform sankirtan (as well as japa) in the association of those who are chanting the pure name. Only then can sankirtan can give the highest benefit.

Purity is the main thing – musical style is secondary

The most important ingredient in kirtan is the mood in which it is done. If one is either chanting the name with offenses, or chanting for liberation, one will not get bhakti, nor will one be able to offer it to anyone else.

It doesn’t matter whether one is accompanying the kirtan with kartalas, mrdangas and harmonium1, using a drum set, electric keyboard and bass guitar, decorating the kirtan with flute and violin, or even just clapping one’s hands. One can chant with very melodious classical ragas, or one can sing raucous, hellacious, heavy metal chanting to attract certain people.  One can sing ten tunes an hour or sing one tune every ten hours, sing in complex rhythmic patterns or simple rhythmic one. One can have jumping dancing kirtan or a very slow, contemplative kirtan. No matter what you do, no matter how you decorate the kirtan, if such chanting is not done with pure devotion, it will never ever inculcate bhakti into the heart of anyone.

The real question is: Are you chanting suddha-nama?

On the other hand, if you are chanting suddha-nama2, you will get prema3, the greatest need of the soul.  Such chanting is real kirtan and it gives authentic, eternal benefit, by elevating ones soul as well the souls of others.  It is real welfare work, not simply material altruism or liberation from repeated birth and death.  It is thus the work meant to help others reconstitute their original dormant love of Godhead and uplift their soul to the platform of real satisfaction based on unalloyed pure devotion.

If one has the power, by the grace of suddha-nama, to do that kind of good to others, then it doesn’t matter how you decorate the kirtan with accompaniment and skill.

The real question is then, are you doing real good for others by chanting suddha-nama?

If we are only chanting a lower stage we shouldn’t perform sankirtana?

No, I’m not saying that.  But we should know that we are not actually manifesting the real form of kirtan unless we are chanting without motive where suddha-nama, manifests.

Raga kirtan

It is also important to know the meaning of raga kirtan. In a musical sense raga refers to appropriate melodies. The classical Indian system of ragas are thus certainly useful in kirtan, but real raga kirtan, goes beyond  just musical consideration  It is kirtan on the platform of bhava, devotion with spontaneous feeling.

Raga literally means attraction or affectionate attachment. In kirtan it refers to melodies that create an attractive atmosphere to affect the heart and increase affection.  This doesn’t mean that raga is just meant for making the music attractive for us and others.  It means to perform kirtan in such a way that Krishna becomes attracted to our kirtan. It is kirtan where Krishna is attracted to the expression of our love expressed by the atmosphere we have generated for His pleasure.

And that principle of attraction is expansive.  When you satisfy Krishna you satisfy the whole creation. Thus everyone is automatically pleased and attracted by performing sankirtan solely for the pleasure of Krishna.

Instrumentation in kirtan can thus be likened to so many zeros.  Zeros, even many zeros, have value only if one is added before them. You then get ten, 100, 1,000 or even a million. Similarly musical talent in kirtan has no value within itself, but expands exponentially in value when one, when suddha-nama, is added before it.  And without the one of suddha-nama, the mood of offering the kirtan for the pleasure of Krishna, all the best music and instrumentation, is simply zero.

We should note, however, that we don’t see in Govinda Lilamrta4. the gopis concerned about Krishna not accepting their hundreds and millions of zeros, their unlimited musical talent in the performance of kirtan.  That is because their kirtan is solely for his pleasure. They never thought, “Oh we better not make the musical instrumentation too nice because we may get trapped by our own desires to enjoy the musical vibration and then Krishna won’t accept our kirtan.”  Rather the gopis’ used  whatever complex musical and rhythmical arrangements found in the music of Lord Brahma and the residents of the higher planetary systems and beyond that the even more difficult musical arrangements performed by Laksmi Narayana and the residents of Vaikuntha.  But whatever musical embellishments they used were all simply done without any tinge of ulterior motive.

It is said in sastra5 that when Krishna plays his flute it is so complex and astounding that demigods like Lord Brahma become bewildered  and Lord Siva  falls off Nandi the bull, unconscious.  So we can’t insist that only simple tunes and melody satisfy Krishna.  Krishna enjoys a variety of flavors, many of which are intricate.  If Krishna only enjoys simple presentations then why do we change the dress of the Deities’ dress twice a day? It is the same Krishna, but the new dress allows us to appreciate him in a fresh way.  Similarly when we see Krishna decorated in a different ragas or tunes, the attractive atmosphere created enhances our appreciation of the beauty of Krishna In the form of his name.  Instead of decorating him in only one dress, a red dress all the time, we decorate him sometimes in a blue dress, or yellow dress, that contrasts so stunningly against Krishna’s black body.  But then sometimes we dress Him in a pink dress which brings out Krishna’s beauty in a slightly different way.  Sometimes He is dressed with simple ornamentation, and sometimes with very complex ornamentation. The simple ornamentation makes Krishna’s bodily form look a little more complex, whereas the complex ornamentation brings out the simple beauty and sweetness of Krishna in another way. In the exact same way we can bring out the unique beauty of the holy name with various decorations of ragas.

Why is it that we offer Krishna a feast and not just khichari.  Of course Krishna was satisfied to eat Sanatana Gosvami’s wheat balls without any salt, because it was offered with devotion, but that is all he had. Do you think that the gopis only offer khichari6 to Krishna every day?  Why is it that Radharani never cooks the same milk preparation twice?   To entice Krishna, to add his appetite, to enchant him, to make him think that Radharani really loves him.  So in the same way, when we make a nice feast for Krishna we offer Him so many different varieties.

So there is scope in Krishna consciousness for making everything first-class, better than first-class, and offering all these hundreds and thousands of zeros of first-class arrangements for the pleasure of Krishna. Therefore if the kirtan arrangements are all first-class and done simply for Krishna’s pleasure without any other consideration involved, that is raga kirtan.

Does Krishna like Indian classical music the most?

Yes, why not, but the over riding principle is Krishna’s pleasure? Govinda Lilamrta describes that the gopis were using hundreds of ragas and they weren’t even performing the ragas according to the strict rules of time consideration. They were performing all varieties of ragas, daytime ragas, seasonal ragas, any type of ragas, within the course of one night’s rasa lila.  Not only did they relish varieties of previously established ragas, but they mixed ragas and they created new ragas, combined with extremely complex mrdanga playing and extremely complex dancing. It describes how one gopi came out into the middle of the arena and she tapped her feet once, then twice, then thrice, to prove to the audience that her ankle bells were working, and then began to dance in such an unprecedented way that in spite of all of her intricate footwork, her ankle bells did not sound.  Krishna and Radharani and all the sakhis7 exclaimed bravo, bravo, well done! She had such so much talent, but it was for the pleasure of Krishna and all the devotees.

At the same time, however, when Srila Prabhupada asked a pujari8 to identify a carob-peanut butter sweet on the Deity plate that he was not familiar with he disapproved.  “Do not offer it to the Deities. I have given you so many varieties of sweets that Krishna likes to eat.”  So there are things that Krishna prefers. The Indian classical raga system is something like that–a musical system that Krishna appreciates, but that doesn’t mean that Krishna cannot appreciate new ragas beyond the old established ragas that are created for His pleasure.

Personal Meditations

In both my japa meditation, and in my performance of sankirtan, I begin by meditating on and worshiping Sri Sri Gauranga9 and Nityandana in Navadvipa. Then I gradually enter through the mood and bhava of Sri Caitanya into the chanting of the madhurya nama hare krishna maha-mantra and meditation on Radha and Krishna. Gaura-nama is audharya-nama, the name of compassion, and Radha-Krishna nama is madhurya-nama, sweetness personified. The audharya-nama-sankirtan can very quickly elevate the devotees to the platform of suddha-nama- sankirtan. And suddha-nama-sankirtan, as we have discussed before, has the power to inculcate bhakti-sakti into the heart of the people associated with the kirtan.

Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita “first surrender, then bhakti, or prema, comes later.” Gaura is so merciful, however, that he says without considering who is fit and who is not fit, “Just take love of Godhead.”  Surrender comes later. But how can one just take love of godhead if one doesn’t take gaura-nama first?

What is the difference between japa and kirtana?

There are two prominent ways that the gopis are absorbed in the services of Radha and Krishna.  One is in nikunja seva, where one serves Radha-Krishna alone. The other is rasa-lila – dancing and singing and serving Krishna with all the gopis.

Similarly as all the gopis have their individual kunjas for individual personal service, we chant nama japa in the mood of nama seva, to assist in personal intimate service.  Nama japa is thus like facilitating the meeting of Radha and Krishna alone.

So nama japa is a more secluded, personal affair. You may even pull your chaddar over your face so that no one can see your emotions. Japa is your own relationship to Radha and Krishna without the consideration that your feelings are shared with others. One is thus free to allow the heart to flow and express one’s desperation for the eternal loving service to the holy name in a way that one can’t do in public assembly.

However, nama japa is not simply a matter of only one’s personal relationship with Radha and Krishna. We also perform nama japa to become inspired to share our devotion to Radha and Krishna with others in the form of nama sankirtana. In that way japa is never a selfish affair. So japa can either be chanted for the satisfaction of Radha and Krishna or chanted to attain the spiritual experience necessary to have real compassion on others.  In either case, the aim is never selfish or self aggrandizing.

As practicing devotees, it’s powerful to chant nama japa in the mood of separation – especially a type of separation called purva raga, which means the intense, desperate anticipation to meet Radha and Krishna.  The idea is that you meditate on the types of services that you would like to do for Radha and Krishna and pray, “When, oh, when will that day be mine?” That is purva-raga.

Sankirtan, on the other hand, can be performed in the spirit of Krishna’s rasa lila. The rasa lila acts as an appetizer to wet Krishna’s appetite for more intimate reciprocation with his gopis. In Ujjvala nilamani10, however, there is a description that says that the rasa lila generates in Krishna a happiness that far surpasses even the experience of His complete intimate union with Srimati Radharani and the gopis. One may ask “How is it possible for rasa-lila to be the highest when the culmination of all pastimes is Radha-Krishna enjoying alone in the forests of Vrindavana? “The answer is vipralambha; it is the mood of separation. In the rasa lila Krishna although so close is so far away as well. He is dancing with the gopis, but not yet in his most intimate association with them.  The rasa lila is thus like the hors d’oeuvres that are served before the meal. The meal is the real objective, but hors d’oeuvres can often be more tantalizing, more piquant and full of rasa than the feast itself.  In the same way the most exuberant expression of nama-bhajana is not being alone with Krishna in japa, but in the performance of nama-sankirtan with others.

By nama-kirtan Krishna also sees that you are serious about sacrificing your egocentricity for the purpose of helping others to gain access to the holy name. An attraction thus naturally awakens within Krishna to the soul who is performing that yajna. It induces him to relish deeper with that devotee even more intimate, loving reciprocation in the form of nama japa In that way, nama-sankirtan and nama japa are always inter-supportive

Nowhere, however, it is said that nama japa is the yuga-dharma, the specific spiritual practice for this age. The yuga-dharma is nama-sankirtan, loud chanting for the benefit of others. And that’s what brings nama seva to the highest level.

The yuga-dharma facilitates the proper result from the performance of all other practices of devotional service. Therefore without performing sankirtan, one cannot gain the highest benefit and deepest realization of the purpose of hearing the Bhagavata, chanting nama japa, taking first-class sadhu-sanga11, worshipping the Deity, or of residing in the holy dhama12.  In other words, one cannot gain the highest result from engaging in any other practice of devotional service without spending sufficient time in the direct performance of nama-sankirtan.

How does one achieve the highest benefit in all devotional practices by nama-sankirtan? When Krishna sees that someone is helping others by giving them the opportunity to hear the holy name, then Krishna from within and from without lifts the curtain of yogamaya from that person.  He thus allows them to see the actual nature of the Deity and to penetrate and realize the deepest imports of the Bhagavata, the path of spontaneous devotion.  And by serving  guru and Krishna on the path of raga, or at least by practicing serving them on that path, ones  understanding of Bhagavata and ones relish of the Deity becomes even further enhanced. Then all one’s practices enter the raga dimension and helps one evolve to the plane of raganuga bhava, vraja bhava. That is real sankirtan. That is the sankirtan of Lord Caitanya and his associates – the relish of vraja bhava in the course of performing sankirtan-yajna.

It is essential that devotees who are actually very serious about advancing in Krishna consciousness, advancing to the perfectional stage, to come to this position of performing raga-mayi-sankirtan, kirtan laden with spiritual emotion. Only then can one help others awaken their deepest appreciation of the Bhagavata and their deepest appreciation of all gifts that Srila Prabhupada and all the acaryas13 have left.

Aindra’s style

I have more or less coined the name for my style of kirtan as progressive kirtan. Just like there is progressive rock, so I have more or less named my way of doing kirtan as progressive kirtan. The kind of kirtan that I have been influenced by is a northern Indian classical style called kayal.  Kayal, as far as I understand, means fantasy. I haven’t gotten deeply into that style, but I have incorporated elements of that style in my humble attempt.

What I see about the kayal style is that it leaves room for improvisation more so than the dhrupad style. Dhrupad style is more rigid. Dhrupad style is more concerned with the letter of the law of musical ragas, whereas the kayal style more or less accentuates the spirit of the law of musical ragas.  In the kayal style you may add a note to a raga, for example, for the purpose of inspiration or generating a bhava. That kind of reflects the gopis’ mixing of ragas or creating new ragas.  The basic principles of the raga remain intact, but some extra note may be added just to enhance the flavor.  In that way it tends to enhance the beauty of a raga in some ways.

Getting devotees to chant

When you’re leading kirtan we not only benefit people by giving them a chance to hear, but benefit them a hundred times over by giving them a chance to chant. In the Hari-bhakti-vilasa14 it said that one who is hearing is benefited, but one who chants is benefited a hundred times more.

Some devotees complain about the complexity in my style, but I think that if you actually listen to the vast majority of my kirtan, it is quite simple if one just pays attention. One thing I try to do is keep people on their toes, forcing devotees who participate with me in kirtan to tune in and listen more attentively, instead of just putting their mind on automatic.

In the kind of kirtan that I prefer, there are many varieties of tastes being generated, along with progressive rhythmic patters. We’ll use the mrdanga and kartalas to change up, change over, shift gears, and bring the kirtan into new dimensions. I try to use a variety of technical musical embellishments which I feel enhance the attractiveness of the kirtan.  My practical experience is that putting the kirtan through changes helps to keep the devotees who are participating in the kirtan alert. It gets them out of the automatic mode and gets them into the thinking mode. From the thinking mode you can come to the conscious mode. Conscious of what you are doing, conscious of how the kirtan is developing, conscious of the mood that the kirtan leader is trying to inspire in the hearts of the other participants, whether it is direct inner circle participants, or outer circle public. From what I gather, many devotees take inspiration from the style of kirtan that I have developed.

No one said that leading a kirtan is meant to be a cakewalk. It is a sacrifice, an austerity. It is not easy. It is difficult to have the necessary clout, purity of purpose and intention in chanting to inspire people from within to come forward to help. Personally I don’t claim to be so powerful, or so expert, so I have to struggle sometimes just to wake people up to get them to chant. It’s not that the tune is too complicated; it is that people are not attentive. So sometimes you have to remind those people again and again “Prabhu, haribol! Chant!” because they are going to get much more benefit by participating in the responsive chanting.

Breaking down false ego

In the Caitanya-caritamrta15 in the chapter called the bheda kirtanas we see a description of how Lord Caitanya divided the devotees into various kirtan groups. There were four kirtan groups each having two mrdanga players, and eight kartal players, That’s sixteen kartala players and six lead singers, simultaneously singing the lead with six lead responders simultaneously responding.

I have incorporated that standard to a large extent in my own endeavors to perform kirtan, largely because my voice has been destroyed due to so many years of very intense kirtan.  My voice has its limitations, but I see that as Krishna’s mercy in a few different ways.

I can’t be falsely proud about how beautiful my voice is, because it is not anymore.  I ask for others to help me sing the lead when I perform kirtan, which helps to generate enthusiasm and bring more devotees on board. Devotees are naturally eager to help when they see someone needs help, and they become enthusiastic when they are part of the leadership. I may still give the impetus to the progressive direction of the kirtan, but for the most part it is other people who are singing more than me. So when we go up to the high parts to, as Jayadvaita Swami would say, “kill my voice,” then other devotees come and kill their voices too. I reason that the louder the voice the more Lord Caitanya will acknowledge our attempt to selflessly cooperate for his pleasure and bestow his mercy on us.

So when I do kirtan, it’s not a one-man show. That checks the tendency for one person to exploit the kirtan for personal self aggrandizement.  Then even if it is not the pure name, it helps us come a lot closer to the offense-less platform. And others become inspired that the kirtan is selfless.

When Lord Caitanya organized the bheda kirtans not only did he have six kirtan leaders singing, but he had six lead kirtan responders.  There is a very good reason for that.  The mass of people are not going to be so expert at picking up what tune was just sung, but if there are expert kirtan responders singing the correct tune, the rest of devotees will more likely be able to follow.  This is very useful.

“We’re all in it together”

If the kirtana leader is singing without playing an instrument, or if he’s playing the harmonium, which is not a rhythmic instrument, then the mrdanga player must tune in and pick up on where the kirtana leader wants to go with the kirtan. The idea for the mrdanga player is to serve and enhance the mood of the kirtan leader. Then kartals should follow the mrdanga. The mrdanga player should not be so self centered that his mrdanga playing becomes more important to him then the kirtan forcing the kirtan leader to surrender to whatever he is doing.

I have experienced that with a few different mrdanga players. They are neither interested in, nor capable of, understanding my mood or musical preferences.  They just can’t pick on what I am doing to effectively inspire and engage others. When the mrdanga or kartal player is insensitive to what the kirtan leader needs, then the kirtan loses direction and the leader becomes very frustrated.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there is no room for self-expression, for innovativeness, or for artistic finesse on the part of the different instrument players, because after all, even though the kirtan leader is the person in charge, it is not his performance alone.  Sankirtan is a congregational effort. Everyone is in it together.

Love is always a two-way street. In real kirtan there is thus a give and take among the performers.  Sometimes the mrdanga player has a good idea, or the kartal player has a good idea. And if it is good idea, the kirtan leader benefits by surrendering to what the mrdanga player has to offer. There is natural reciprocation between good kirtan performers.  That’s called jamming.  It’s sharing inspiration with each other.  That sharing brings kirtan to another dimension of spontaneous dynamism which increases the inspiration, enthusiasm and appreciation of each other as cooperative constituents in Lord Caitanya’s lila.

Playing with expertise and playing in tune

There is place for expertise. Prabhupada expressed great pleasure with Acyutananda’s mrdanga playing. At that time Acyutananda was pretty expert compared to most of the rest of us. Prabhupada complemented him, telling him “You are playing just like a professional.” That wasn’t a criticism, “what the hell are you doing trying to play like a professional!”  He was complimenting him that “you’re playing just like a professional.” He was exhibiting a certain level of competence and Prabhupada appreciated it.  Not that professionalism supersedes the principle of purity, but there is need to understand the instrument that you are playing.

There is also a need to tune the instrument that you are playing.   I personally demand that devotees who are playing the mrdangas understand that the first lesson in playing any instrument is how to tune it.  Just like if you are going to play a guitar, or a sitar, the first thing you have to do before you start playing it, is you have to tune the instrument.  Similarly a mrdanga needs to be tuned properly to have the proper vibration.

In any musical performance you’ll have soprano instruments, mid range instruments and base instruments. The mrdanga is supposed to be a bass instrument. That is madhura mrdanga bhaje, very low and sweet – very moving to the heart.  The professional kirtan players, sahajiya16 as they may be, they know how to tune their instruments. You’ll hear them playing very low, very sweet, deep resounding mrdangas.  Mrdangas constitute the bottom of the kirtan.

Similarly, it is important to understand what it is to have a tuned pair of kartalas. If one kartal is lower in pitch than the other kartal, if they are not the same pitch, then it can create an awfully discordant vibration that breaks the ear. And rather than attracting people to the kirtan, it drives them away.  Kartals constitute the high end.

So you have bottom and high end complementing the mid range, which is the voice. If the mrdanga is not tuned low, then the mrdanga intrudes upon the mid range, where the voices are singing.  Rather than enhancing the kirtan of the holy name, an un-tuned mrdanga intrudes on the chanting and spoils the kirtan.

Just like when you are coming down the street and hear a hari nama party, what is the first thing you hear?  Kartals because it has the highest range and is automatically louder. The last thing you hear is the mrdanga. You hear kartals the voice and finally the mrdanga.

According to Prabhupada the mrdanga should be half the volume of the voice, and the kartals should be half the volume of the mrdanga. So if you are going to have four mrdanga players, you should have six men leading the kirtan. It is not that there should be four mrdangas playing competing on the mid range, frequencies with a single voice making it difficult for the leader to sing.  So mrdanga must be tuned very low. It then not only creates the bass frequencies on the bottom of the kirtan and allows the mid range vocals to shine through, but it is madhurya, very sweet and moves the heart.  Most important it t allows the holy name to shine through, which is the whole purpose of the kirtan.

Playing and singing

Prabhupada said that the instruments should not be played in way that one cannot sing along with them at the same time.  That’s another problem. Sometimes devotees become so absorbed in trying to play their instruments in complicated way that they can’t chant while they play.  That means they haven’t learned to play them properly.  If one is not competent, or if one did not learn properly, he may know how to play intricate beats on the mrdanga, but not how to sing at the same time — which is a hundred times the benefit of only hearing.

So if one is playing the mrdanga properly by following the kirtan leader and serving the holy name and at the same time hearing, that’s great. But higher than that, better than that, is being able to play the mrdanga and sing at the same time, at least as much as possible.

Sometimes when the kirtan gets very heavy and it is really taking off, then the mrdanga player may have to back out of chanting to execute the changes the kirtan leader is putting the kirtan through. But that should be the exception, not the rule. As a general rule, as much as possible, the mrdanga players should also respond with chanting.

As far as the kartal players are concerned – I have seen people playing the kartal, or playing the gong, or playing the whompers, or playing the shakers, or banging on instruments just for their own high, completely oblivious to the fact that they should be chanting.  And honestly speaking – that boils my blood!

Play it the Vedic way

If devotees can learn how to play instruments in the Indian classical style, it goes a long way to enhance the transcultural experience of sankirtan. If you learn how to play the mrdanga nicely, according to a traditional mantra system, that generates the type of vibration which takes the kirtan to another cultural dimension.  Similarly with the violin—someone may play the violin in a western classical style, but I think for kirtan it is much better to play with an Indian classical style. Have you ever heard Indian classical guitar playing?  It’s outrageously good, tremendous.  Have you ever heard Indian classical clarinet? It’s tremendous. Have you ever heard classical Indian flute? Compared to the occidental style of flute or violin playing, the Indian classical style is much more appropriate for kirtan.  When you play those instruments in kirtan in a western style, I think it’s not as harmonious. The same can be said for harmonium playing. Srila Prabhupada played harmonium in an Indian classical style.  He didn’t use chords.  It’s not that the Vedic culture doesn’t lend itself to higher cultural expression than other so called cultures of the world. The highest cultural expressions in the world are Vedic cultural expressions. It’s not like you are going to lose something by learning how to play the instruments in accordance with the Vedic way.


I go by Srila Prabhupada’s instruction on the matter. First Srila Prabhupada said that the harmonium should not be played in the temple. Why did he say that? I think it was because he didn’t like harmoniums being played with western chords.

That becomes evident by the time he wrote the third letter on this point.  First Prabhupada said that harmoniums couldn’t be played in temples, only for festival programs. Then he said that harmonium could be played in the temple but not during the arati. And then the third and last letter that came out, Prabhupada tells said that harmonium can be played during an arati, but melodiously.”  Melodiously means following the melody line, not hanging on chords. Melodiously means following the way Srila Prabhupada taught us to play harmonium.  He recorded the harmonium not just that we can enjoy hearing, but so that we can learn how to play the harmonium.

One time Srila Prabhupada was asked “Srila Prabhupada, what kind of instruments are there in the spiritual world?” and Prabhupada answered, “Well, there is mrdanga, there are kartalas,” and then he said, “and there is a little harmonium.” Prabhupada appreciated the harmonium enough to import it to the spiritual world. Prabhupada himself played harmonium.  And even members of the Gaudiya Matha appreciated that Prabhupada’s playing of the harmonium was very expert. Prabhupada said that the harmonium creates a nice atmosphere.

Therefore I learned how to play harmonium, and I use the harmonium in temple kirtanas because Prabhupada said it was okay.  He gave his permission.  I don’t feel that it is altogether wrong to play the harmonium.  But I do feel that it is at least somewhat wrong to allow the harmonium to play you.  In other words, if you are going to play the harmonium you should be expert enough to play the harmonium like Srila Prabhupada, or at least according to his instructions.  Not that you can’t get around on the keyboard and that forces your tune to conform to whatever chord you find on the harmonium.  Chords destroy the raga system, or imprison it, as Vaiyasaki would say.

Advice to junior kirtana leaders

If someone is not expert in following in a kirtan he is actually not an expert leader. An expert leader is expert at both leading and following. It is not that one puts on a big show of being the kirtana leader, but when someone else is leading, he is either disinterested in or incapable of following others. Just like someone is expert in harmonium only by reading music, but the real expert is one who can play just by hearing. He is one who also can follow the tune that the other leader is singing. That is actual expertise.

Why is it that Lord Caitanya organized so that there were six kirtana leaders? First of all there were no microphones, so you need six kirtana leaders to be heard. After all you have four mrdangas and sixteen pairs of kartalas to compete with. And don’t think that the mrdangas and kartals weren’t played loudly. They were played very loudly. It is described in the sastra how they were played resounding like thunder.  It is not that in Lord Caitanya’s time the kirtana was only very mellow and contemplative and soft. They didn’t have microphones so those who are not so expert can’t overkill it with tone deaf singing.  Not that Lord Caitanya had to resort to that in organizing his kirtanas. Rather he had six expert kirtana leaders who were able to understand themselves enough to go in the next phase of the kirtana, cooperating together to sing louder enough so that the thousands of people who participated in the kirtanas could hear.

Supplementary instruments

Instruments are important, but we already have all the instruments we need – we have a tongue, and we have ears. So we have to remember that our performance of nama sankirtan is primarily based on those instruments. Everything else should be seen as supplementary, or supportive, a decoration to enhance. So then any other instruments should actually enhance and not detract from the chanting with the tongue and ear.

That’s why I don’t allow djembes when I perform sankirtana.  At one time I allowed it, but after gaining experience as to what happens when I allow it, I decided that definitely I shall not allow djembe to accompany my kirtana. The djembe has its appeal perhaps because it is easier to play than a mrdanga nicely.  But the djembe is a tamasic instrument, which totally overpowers and obliterates the beauty of the madhurya mrdanga vibration.  Of course someone could argue that Lord Caitanya didn’t have a harmonium, but certainly Lord Caitanya didn’t have a djembe in his sankirtana parties. If the djembe must be used at all, it should be used outside. But even then the tendency is for it to overpower the mrdanga and to impede the beauty and sweetness of its vibration to move the heart which in and of itself is a transcendental sound which moves the heart toward Krishna.

Personally, I don’t prefer to have a bass guitar cranked up so loud that it obliterates everything else, although it doesn’t have to be cranked up so loud. I know that when an expert plays the bass guitar it can be a little tasteful if it is not cranked up very loud.  I’m not into enhancing the kirtaa with bass guitars. In my opinion it doesn’t do much for the kirtana.

I hate accordions.  The sound is weird and it brings back memories of Russian bar music.  That’s why I have developed this other style of small harmoniums, to offer an alternative to the accordion.

The main mantra

One thing is, I always emphasize the importance of chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Although Prabhupada said that the Gosvamis’ songs are the extensions of the maha mantra, still more important than all of them is the mukhya mantra, the chief mantra. So many times devotees become side tracked because of lack of taste for chanting the maha-mantra due to not chanting enough. They are thinking that the kirtana is boring if you don’t switch to “Govinda Jaya Jaya”, or “Radhe Radhe”, or whatever jaya, jaya, jaya. Undoubtedly Srila Prabhupada’s instruction is that the main focus of the kirtana should be the maha-mantra. Here in Vrindavana for the 24-hour kirtana we exclusively chant the maha-mantra. That is the main and best sankirtana mantra for this age. So even though there is Hari Haraye Namah Krishna, another way of chanting the maha-mantra given by Lord Caitanya, still, the 16-syllable maha-mantra mentioned in the sastra is the main mantra.

The 24-hour kirtan

Why akhanda-nama, 24-hour kirtana? Why? People are forced to become pious by even entering into an atmosphere where a kirtan had been performed as the ethereal atmosphere still remains purifying.  So how much more one is forced to become pious when one walks into a place where the kirtana performance is going on and one hears the holy name. And how much even more purifying is the place where the holy name is being heard 24-hours a day, nonstop. When you chant non-stop in a place the power of that place simply increases, increases and, increases, but when the kirtana breaks, it loses power.

The akhanda kirtan also forces people to surrender more, because they can’t just start talking about something or even stop to eat. One has to sacrifice. There is also a greater degree of responsibility toward the other members of the team as they are working very hard to keep hari-nama continuously manifest in the atmosphere.

If you are doing akhanda-nama-kirtan for years and years, the atmosphere that has been generated by the continuous manifestation of nama becomes so powerful that it not only purifies one from material contamination, but purifies the egoism of the soul, bringing the soul to its original egoism, the mood of a resident of Vrindavana.

Related Posts: In Loving Memory of Aindra Das, Kirtan Podcast 2

Dhanurdhara Swami’s Interview is also posted at his website Waves of Devotion.

  1. 1. Indian cymbals and two headed clay drum, and a hand-pumped, reed keyboard instrument
  2. 2.the pure name
  3. 3.love of God
  4. 4.an esoteric work explaining the daily pastimes of Krishna and his associates in Vrindavana by the 16th century bhakti saint Krishna das Kaviraja
  5. 5.sacred texts
  6. 6.a simple stew of rice and lentils
  7. 7.the girlfriends of Radharani
  8. 8.temple priest
  9. 9.another name for Sri Chaitanya
  10. 10.an esoteric work by the 16th century bhakti saint Rupa Goswami
  11. 11.the company of saintly people
  12. 12.holy places
  13. 13.great teachers
  14. 14.a bhakti manual adressing the observance of vows and rituals by the 16th century bhakti saint Sanatana Goswami
  15. 15.an important biography of Sri Chaitanya by Krishna dasa Kaviraja
  16. 16.one who takes bhakti cheaply
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In Loving Memory of Aindra Das

The first time I visited India was in 1989. My flight arrived at the Delhi Airport at some early hour and I took a precarious taxi ride through the morning fog to the holy town of Vrindavan. Upon arriving, I prostrated in the dust of Vraja and headed straight for the Krishna Balaram Temple. It was shortly after the daily scriptural discourse and the place was nearly empty. As I approached the foot of the alter a musician caught my attention. He was alone, sitting before the shrine of Sri Sri Radha Syamsundar. He appeared austere. It was cold and he was wrapped in a ragged wool shawl. His music was unlike anything I had heard before. The melody was stripped bare. A desolate voice accompanied only by a frail harmonium scale, slow and slightly off beat – crawling, barely dragging along. His song was the cry of a dying man. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

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patram pushpam phalam toyam / yo me bhaktya prayachati
tad aham bhakty-upahritam / ashnami prayatatmanah

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.”

Bhagavad-gita 9.26

On January 31, 2009 photographer Stephan Crasneanscki shot the annual Pushya Abhishek Festival at the Radha Gopinath Temple in Mumbai. Below are some of the photos as well as an excerpt of the inaugural talk given by H.H. Radhanath Swami Maharaja.

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Excerpt From the Inaugural Talk

“This wonderful festival is a festival of devotion. Please don’t see just with your eyes, see through your heart. Through the wisdom we receive from the Holy Scriptures and the great saints. It is a shower of our combined intent to please Krishna, to purify our own hearts and ultimately to be instruments of love in every aspect of our life.”

“The world is in turmoil, economically, ecologically, emotionally, psychiatrically. According to the World Health Organization depression, mental illness, is the number three disease that causes pain and death. Why? Externally we have so much, but internally so little. The jewels of divine love within our hearts have been plundered by the thieves of greed, envy, anger, arrogance, selfish passion and illusion. Driven by those thieves, enemies within us, even the pure soul creates havoc within this world. There is a great need to understand what is really of value. Things like character, integrity, humility, self- control, a selfless spirit of compassion towards other living beings, which are all part and parcel of love for God. These are the greatest needs within this world.”

“Today hundreds and hundreds of devotees have been plucking flower petals. It is really beautiful to see, and to really appreciate it you have to know the people. There are simple taxi drivers, simple waiters who work in restaurants, simple people who are unemployed, living in little huts. And they are sitting next to multi, multi millionaires who are industrialists with international corporations. And together they are just plucking the petals. Little children are sitting next to PhD, IIT graduate engineers. Anyone can do it. We are all united in our combined efforts to just offer this very, very simple service to the Lord. It is said that all people are created equal. On the spiritual level we are all created equal but as long as we think ourselves American, Russian, European, or any of these other things, we are not equal. As long as we think ourselves man or woman, young or old we are not equal. There are no two snowflakes, since the beginning of time, that are identical. There are no two cats, two dogs or two human beings that are the same. We all have our karmas, conditionings, and attributes. Real equality is on the spiritual platform. In our devotion to the Lord we are equal. It was beautiful to see this.”

“India has been condemned because of its caste system, which is a perverted conception as it is lived and understood today. On the spiritual platform we are all servants of God and we can be united in that love, on a real level, not just a sentimental level. So we are all together plucking flowers and the result is baskets and baskets of flower petals, more than one ton. How beautiful! How much does the flower petal weigh? The endeavor to get so much made everyone so happy. People go to Bollywood movies, people work so hard to get a Mercedes Benz, or good clothes. They go to the gyms to get strong. Nothing against these things, but as far as happiness is concerned, none of these could compare to plucking the flower petals. Why? Because it awakens such ecstasy in our hearts if we do it with the right intent. And we really all become brothers and sisters, united. And the culmination of so many people plucking is that, although not one of them is getting paid, they are happy because they are doing it out of love in the spirit of service.”

“The culmination is that we get to see every single tiny flower petal made an offering of our united devotion. Our meditation while offering these flower petals is that we are making a prayer for the purification of our own hearts, for the awaking of the love that is dormant within us. We are praying for the blessing of the Lord within all living beings. We are praying for the spiritual prosperity of every living being. That is the mood of the offering of each of those millions and millions of petals. And after the offering there will be the festival where of all the maha prasada flower petals showered upon all of us.”

H.H. Radhanath Swami Maharaja

Click here to hear the entire talk, and for more photos and descriptions of the festival.

More Slideshows

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Flower Festival In Mumbai!/SLIDESHOW

On January 31, I was fortunate to be present at the Radha Gopinath Temple in Mumbai for their annual Pushya Abhishek, a devotional festival in which the temple congregation comes together to profusely decorate the deities of Radha and Krishna with flowers, and then offer them an extended shower of over a ton of fresh flower petals.

In the early morning devotees gathered to pluck the petals from millions of fragrant flowers. In the evening 2000 devotees squeezed into the temple as thousands more gathered in the temple courtyards to watch via video screen. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

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Kirtan Podcast 4 – Karnamrita “The Story of Pingala”

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Among all the kirtan singers out there, it would be hard to find one with a voice more pure or beautiful than Karnamrita. She’s been singing kirtan since her early childhood and was trained in Indian classical vocals in Vrindavan. This track, “The Story of Pingala”, is from the CD Dasi–Prayers by Women, a compilation of songs and prayers by or about great women in the Krishna Bhakti Traditions. This brilliant and exciting recording is composed of verses taken directly from a section of the Srimad-bhagavatam’s 11th Canto known as the Uddhava-gita.

The Uddhava-gita is a rich resource of teachings on bhakti. Responding to Uddhava’s request for instructions on renunciation, Krishna relates an avadhutas account of his twenty-four gurus. These twenty-four gurus are an eclectic group of people, animals and other natural phenomena – for instance, the earth, the wind, the sky, the moon, the python, the moth, etc. The avadhuta‘s account shows how one can develop wisdom and conviction in bhakti through observing one’s surroundings.

One of the guru’s, the prostitute Pingala, is the subject of this song. These verses are an expression of her frustration with sensual pursuits and her joyous awakening of detachment and devotion.

I’ve included the Srimad-bhagavatam verses below, both in the original Sanskrit and the English translation. I highly recommend the CD which has a variety of beautiful songs.

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To Purchase the CD Dasi – Prayers by Women Click Here

The Story of Pingala From the CD Dasi – Prayers by Women

Vocals: Karnamrita
Melody composed by: Yuddhistira and Karnamrita
Tablas: Yuddhistira
Kartals: Chaitanya Nitai
Hand Claps: Ron Marinelli
Produced by Karnamrita and Ron Marinelli
Mixed and mastered by Ron Marinelli

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From Srimad-Bhagavatam 11th Canto, Chapter 8

aho me moha-vitatim
ya kantad asatah kamam
kamaye yena balisa

The prostitute Pingala said: Just see how greatly illusioned I am! Because I cannot control my mind, just like a fool I desire lusty pleasure from an insignificant man.

santam samipe ramanam rati-pradam
vitta-pradam nityam imam vihaya
akama-dam duhkha-bhayadhi-soka-
moha-pradam tuccham aham bhaje ‘jna

I am such a fool that I have given up the service of that person who, being eternally situated within my heart, is actually most dear to me. That most dear one is the Lord of the universe, who is the bestower of real love and happiness and the source of all prosperity. Although He is in my own heart, I have completely neglected Him. Instead I have ignorantly served insignificant men who can never satisfy my real desires and who have simply brought me unhappiness, fear, anxiety, lamentation and illusion.

nunam me bhagavan prito
vishnuh kenapi karmana
nirvedo ‘yam durasaya
yan me jatah sukhavahah

Although I most stubbornly hoped to enjoy the material world, somehow or other detachment has arisen in my heart, and it is making me very happy. Therefore the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu, must be pleased with me. Without even knowing it, I must have performed some activity satisfying to Him.

maivam syur manda-bhagyayah
klesa nirveda-hetavah
yenanubandham nirhritya
purushah samam ricchati

A person who has developed detachment can give up the bondage of material society, friendship and love, and a person who undergoes great suffering gradually becomes, out of hopelessness, detached and indifferent to the material world. Thus, due to my great suffering, such detachment awoke in my heart; yet how could I have undergone such merciful suffering if I were actually unfortunate? Therefore, I am in fact fortunate and have received the mercy of the Lord. He must somehow or other be pleased with me.

tenopakritam adaya
sirasa gramya-sangatah
tyaktva durasah saranam
vrajami tam adhisvaram

With devotion I accept the great benefit that the Lord has bestowed upon me. Having given up my sinful desires for ordinary sense gratification, I now take shelter of Him, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

santushta sraddadhaty etad
yatha-labhena jivati
viharamy amunaivaham
atmana ramanena vai

I am now completely satisfied, and I have full faith in the Lord’s mercy. Therefore I will maintain myself with whatever comes of its own accord. I shall enjoy life with only the Lord, because He is the real source of love and happiness.

[Translation from Srimad-bhagavatam, courtesy of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. Used with permission.]

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Kirtan Podcast 3: In the Temple of My Heart

Bhaktivinode Thakurmama– my, mana– mind or heart, mandire– in the temple
Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinode Thakura was a nineteenth century religious reformer in the Chaitanya or Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya. He was a prolific author, songwriter, poet and proponent of Krishna bhakti.
In this beautiful Bengali song, Bhaktivinode Thakur expresses his ardent desire for Lord Krishna to reside in his heart, where he can make his offerings of love. I find this song serves as a reminder and inspiration that behind all religious ritual lies the purpose of the transformation of the mind or heart, and that ultimately, the heart is both the place of genuine worship as well as the truest and most pleasing item to be offered in devotion.

The song is sung by the bhajana group Spiritual Skyliner, which was a traveling group of Vaishnava brahmacaris from Germany. The angelic lead singing is by Gadadhara Das. Musically this song is unique in that each verse is sung in a different melody. Mama Mana Mandire appeared on the cd Spiritual Skyliner: Sacred Mantras. More of their music can be found here and here.

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Mam Mana Mandire
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Mama Mana Mandire

by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura

(1) mama mana mandire raha nisi-din
krsna murari sri krsna murari

Please abide in the temple of my heart
both day and night, O Krsna Murari, O Sri Krsna Murari!

(2) bhakti priti mala candan
tumi nio he nio krsna-nandan

Devotion, love, flower garlands, and sandalwood- please accept them,
Delighter of the Heart!

(3) jivana marana tava puja nivedan
sundara he mana-hari

In life or in death I worship You with these offerings,
Beautiful One, O Enchanter of the Heart!

(4) eso nanda-kumar ar nanda-kumar
habe prema-pradipe arati tomar

Come, son of Nanda, and then, O Son of Nanda
I will offer Your arati ceremony with the lamplight of my love.

(5) nayana jamuna jhare anibar
tomara virahe giridhari

The waters of the Yamuna river cascade incessantly from my eyes
in your separation, O Holder of Govordhana Hill!

(6) bandana gane tava bajuk jivana
krsna murari sri krsna murari

May I pass my life absorbed only in songs of Your praise, O Krsna Murari, Sri Krsna Murari!

Related Posts: Kirtan Podcast: As Kindred Spirits / Kirtan Podcast 2: Aindra Das

Kaustubha das

Kirtan Podcast 2: Aindra Das

Aindra Smile

Whenever I stay in Vrindavan, I make a point of spending every evening in the Krishna Balaram Temple with hundreds of bhaktas singing in kirtan led by Aindra Das. An American who moved to Vrindavan in the early 8o’s, Aindra das leads a group of kirtaniyas who maintain kirtan 24 hours a day, everyday in the temple. He lives simply, he’s learned in the teachings of bhakti and he is deeply devoted to kirtan. One can always witness and experience the most amazing things at his kirtans, not just occasionally, but every evening. Here’s one example. It’s a fifteen minute recording that starts slow and gradually builds. The rhythms may feel unfamiliar at first, but if you relax and give it a little time I think you’ll find a special treasure here.

Kaustubha das

Aindra Das Kirtan
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Related Posts: PODCAST: As Kindred Spirits

Aindra Kirtan

Kaustubha das

“The Yoga of Kirtan” Excerpt: Bhakti Charu Swami Interview

Bhakti Charu Swami

An excerpt from Steven Rosen’s new book The Yoga of Kirtan – Conversations on the Sacred Art of Chanting.

Steven Rosen: In our remaining time, can you talk a little more about kirtan? I know this is actually the center of your current practice and also the main theme of your recent temple, opened in Ujjain.

Bhakti Charu Swami: The way I understand it, kirtan is actually a prayer to the Lord. Originally, those prayers were very personal, when initially composed. And then they take on more general expression, and anyone can chant it. But, early on, these were confidential prayers, like the mantras in the Vedas, where they are not open to the general public. Those mantras – like Gayatri, for example – were meant for meditative chanting, but they were circumscribed, only for special clientele, so to speak.. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Ravindra Svarupa Dasa

The Divine Names: An Adventure Continued- Episode Two


A group of us gathered in the bedroom after the wedding, and as the large reels of the tape recorder slowly revolved, the room filled with the sound of “the Swami” leading the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. I sang in response, answering his call. Looking back, the chanting on that August afternoon in 1967 appears to me now as a rare moment in time, a kind of karmic singularity, like the pinched waist of an hourglass, into which my whole past poured and from which my entire future would expand. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Ravindra Svarupa Dasa

The Divine Names: An Adventure

SIH-logoMy first connection with the Hare Krishna maha-mantra happened during the “Summer of Love” in August, 1967 in the course of a wedding within a three-room apartment in Powelton Village, the budding hippie district in Philadelphia. The wedding epitomized the time and place. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Kaustubha das

New Book on Kirtan

Yoga of kirtan

Author Steven Rosen and FOLK Books have just released a new book on kirtan. From the press release:

“The Yoga of Kirtan explores the history, musical dimensions, and emotional content of sacred chant. Through a series of intimate conversations, this volume brings it’s readers into the company of present-day kirtan masters, such as Krishna Das, Jai Uttal Vaiyasaki, Ragani, David Newman, and others. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Dhanurdhara Swami

Kirtan and Humility or: Scrambled Thoughts on Grass

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“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant constantly.”
(Shri Shikshastakam verse 3)

Pradyumna, a friend and noted scholar, recently shared with me, in his own words, Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s interesting commentary on the phrase trnad api, “lower than a blade of grass” from Shri Shikshastakam (Shri Caitanyas eight core instructions), where the anonymity of the kirtaniya (kirtan leader) is described: CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Kaustubha das

Hari Sankirtan

From A Portrait of the Hindus: Balthazar Solvyns
& the European Image of India 1760-1824


More from Robert Hardgrave’s A Portrait of the Hindus: here is Balthazar Solvyns’s etching of a kirtan gathering in 18th century Calcutta. The term sankirtan – a compound of the Sanskrit words san (together), and kirtana (glorification) – refers to the practice of congregational singing of the holy names of God, especially in public, as a practice and expression of bhakti. CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Kaustubha das

An Etching of the Khol

From A Portrait of the Hindus: Balthazar Solvyns
& the European Image of India 1760-1824

Khol detailAs promised, from Robert L. Hardgrave’s A Portrait of the Hindus, Balthazar Solvyns’s etching of the khol or mridanga drum. Here, I’ve provided a detail of the etching. The entire image can be found below. I’ve included an excerpt from the description by the artist, Balthazar Solvyns, and below that, an excerpt from Robert Hardgrave’s commentary, (I’ve not included the footnotes). One observation of my own: it appears that the musician is wearing, around his right ear, a small pushpa-mala (flower garland). CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE »

Kaustubha das

PODCAST: As Kindred Spirits

AKS cover

He Gopal (Yasomatinandana)
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From the CD Nectar of Devotion, Hey Gopal (Yasomati-nandana)

On this track As Kindred Spirits blend the traditional chant “Krishna, Govinda, Govinda, Gopal, Nandulal” with the bhajan Sri Nama Kirtan (Yasomati-Nandana) composed by Vaishnava theologian and songwriter Bhaktivinode Thakura. In Sri Nama Kirtan Bhaktivinode Thakura employs a lyrical device wherein nearly the entire song consists of Krishna’s names, each of which serve to rouse remembrance or meditation of the Lords many lilas (pastimes). You can find the translation below.

Kaustubha das

From the CD’s liner notes:

“Adapted from a melody performed at the world famous Radha Ramana Temple in Vrindavan, this song is composed of names of Lord Sri Krishna. Vaisnavas love to sing the names of Krishna – amala harinam amiya-vilasa. ‘These pure, holy names of Lord Hari (Krishna) are full of sweet, nectarean pastimes.’ If you know what to listen for, you’ll also hear a riff from one of the sweetest devotional Indian movies ever made, called, Sita Swayamvara.”

More Information on As Kindred Spirits

Purchase the CD

Gaura Vani: Lead vocal, Harmonium arrangements and recording engineer
Sandeep Mody: Tabla, Sarod, Violin, arrangements, and backing vocals.

Sridhama, Bhakti, Tuka, Radhika, Ani, Rombhoru, Ketu, Radha Madhava, Nandu, Sunanda, Jayananda, Jagannath Chandan, Bali, Mitrasena, Shyam, Sita and Krpa: All vocal and instrumental accompaniment.

Bada Haridas, Bhakta Jim Sater: Sound mastering, mixing, and additional technical assistance.

Sri Nama-Kirtana

(by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura)

yashomati-nandana, braja-baro-nagara
gokula-ranjana kana
gopi-parana-dhana, madana-manohara

amala harinam amiya-vilasa
vipina-purandara, navina nagara-bora
bamshi-badana suvasa

braja-jana-palana, asura-kula-nashana
govinda madhava, navanita-taskara
sundara nanda-gopala

jamuna-tata-chara, gopi-basana-hara
rasa-rasika kripamoya
shri-radha-vallabha, brindabana-natabara


(1) Krishna is the beloved son of Mother Yashoda; the transcendental lover in the land of Vraja; the delight of Gokula; Kana [a nickname of Krishna]; the wealth of the lives of the gopis. He steals the mind of even Cupid and punishes the serpent Kaliya.

(2) These pure, holy names of Lord Hari are full of sweet, nectarean pastimes. Krishna is the Lord of the twelve forests of Vraja. He is ever-youthful and is the best of lovers. He is always playing on a flute, and He is an excellent dresser.

(3) Krishna is the protector of the inhabitants of Vraja; the destroyer of various demoniac dynasties; the keeper and tender of Nanda Maharaja’s cows; the giver of pleasure to the cows, land, and spiritual senses; the husband of the goddess of fortune; the butter thief; and the beautiful cowherd boy of Nanda Maharaja.

(4) Krishna wanders along the banks of the River Yamuna. He stole the garments of the young damsels of Vraja who were bathing there. He delights in the mellows of the rasa dance; He is very merciful; the lover and beloved of Shrimati Radharani; the great dancer of Vrindavana; and the shelter and only refuge of Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

Related Posts: An Expression of Conviction in Bhakti

Matthew Dasti

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Raganuga Sadhana Bhakti

by Dhanurdhara Swami

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Dhanurdhara Swami’s paper, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Raganuga Sadhana
explores a central point of contention regarding the influence
of Vaishnava reformer and modernizer, Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (1874 – 1937).
The following is meant to serve as a brief introduction, as the paper’s primary
audience are those persons who are somewhat familiar with the Gaudiya
tradition and the main forms of sadhana which it advocates.

Like other traditions of late-Medieval Indian spirituality, Gaudiya
Vaishnavism, the tradition stemming from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
(1486-1533), developed visualization techniques to aid the meditation of
adept practitioners. Such techniques are often passed down from guru to
disciple in some form of initiation. The purpose of these practices, called
Raganuga Sadhana Bhakti (“the devotional practice which follows from deep
attachment”) is well summarized by scholar David Haberman:

The goal of Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana is to shift identity. . . [to] the
“perfected form” (siddha-rupa), which is one’s true and ultimate identity.
Salvation, to the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, is unending participation in the
cosmic drama, and the skills of the actor are employed in pursuit of the
true identity which allows such participation. (Acting as a Way of
, Motilal Edition, 4)

Such practices are traditionally nourished by absorption in kirtan, which,
for Gaudiyas, takes the form of nama-sankirtana, meditation on God’s
(Krishna’s) names. It should be underscored that the visualization practices
involved in raganuga sadhana bhakti are highly esoteric. Most members of the
tradition (including non-renunciates and most lay persons) do not engage in
it, though, doubtless, they engage in some kind of kirtana. Most hope to
eventually practice some form of Raganuga sadhana when they are spiritually

Dhanurdhara Swami’s paper discusses the decision by Sri Bhaktisiddhanta to
deemphasize certain developments of Raganuga sadhana, particularly what is
called ekadasa-bhava, where a guru imparts to the disciple different
features of his or her siddha-rupa at the time of initiation.
Bhaktisiddhanta instead focused on the performance and promulgation of
kirtana. This was part of Bhaktisiddhanta’s adjustments to Gaudiya Vaishnava
tradition in the face of modernity, and is a source of no small contention
among his critics. What makes Bhaktisiddhanta and his reforms so important
is that his followers are largely responsible for the global awareness of
Gaudiya Vaishnava religion and culture (including kirtana). Dhanurdhara
Swami argues that Bhaktisiddhanta’s reforms are quite within the tradition’s
boundaries–in fact, he argues, they help manifest the heart of the
tradition, not obscure it. He further argues that both critics and followers
of Bhaktisiddhanta must understand the spirit behind such reforms, lest they
forget Bhaktisiddhanta’s deep engagement with tradition.


To read the article follow the link above.

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