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Kirtan Standards Committee

Saturday, 09 June 2007 / Published in Articles, Janananda Gosvami / 11,602 views

By Janananda Gosvami

Dear Devotees

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada

As Kirtan is the single-most important activity of our movement, the GBC decided this year at Mayapura to form a “Kirtan Standards Committee”. I would like to briefly inform you of the progress in this regards.

The request of the GBC is to produce a book, laying out ISKCON standards and guidelines for Kirtan and related matters. By Mayapura 2008 the committee is expected to make a presentation to the GBC.

Our Krishna Consciousness movement is practically based upon music and dancing. Letter to: Mr. Levine, 25 January, 1969

Kirtana is our first duty. Letter to: Palika, 13 November, 1975

Lord Caitanya’s movement of Krishna consciousness is full of dancing and singing about the pastimes of Lord Krishna. CC Adi 2.2 purport

Kirtana means glorification of Lord Krsna. All activities in the Hare Krsna movement are meant for Krsna-kirtana—glorification of Lord Krsna. Although this glorification takes many forms, kirtana is particularly understood to mean chanting Krsna’s holy names. This is also called sankirtana. The prefix “san” means “complete” or “in association.” So sankirtana means “complete glorification” or “congregational chanting.”

Kirtana means alone, and sankirtana means in the assembly of many others. 741210SB.BOM

Sankirtana means when many persons combine together and chant and dance. 740417bg.bom

It is often experienced that without any checking, or guidelines, the standards for Kirtan, Bhajan, playing musical instruments, dancing, kirtan etiquette, dressing, consciousness, etc develop in numerous ways, many of which may not be pleasing to Srila Prabhupada or favourable for the awakening of pure devotional service. Many of them may be speculative, introduction from apa sampradayas or a show of false ego. It is the business of the committee, whilst inspiring everyone in the performance of kirtan, to nonetheless lay out the guidelines for this and future generations, based on Srila Prabhupada’s directions.

We can hardly imagine the possibilities of deviations in generations to come when even now 30 years after Srila Prabhupada’s departure we are faced with this phenomena.

During Prabhupada’s personal presence many incidents occurred where Prabhupada himself intervened to correct and establish the standard. There are other situations where no specific directive from Prabhupada is available. In these less clear areas the need to focus on Prabhupada’s approach would be even more essential. There are areas where according to time place and circumstance Prabhupada gave different directions. It is a challenge and a great privilege to render this service to ISKCON. We feel it is of great value to the society.

The committee consists of HH Lokanatha maharaja, HH Bhaktivikas Swami, HH Janananda Gosvami (convenor), HG Hari Sauri prabhu, HG Jagajeevan prabhu and HG Aniruddha prabhu.
We have set up a conference to exchange with each other. Later on after sorting through all the available materials and analysing them we will be calling upon the open forum of devotees to offer their input and comments.

On the 21st May, Hari Sauri, Aniruddha and Janananda Gosvami met to formulate a plan of approach and to establish a format for the book.

Our intention is to put forward Srila Prabhupada’s will, without losing the enthusiasm of the kirtan practitioners. Our aim is to portray the mood of Srila Prabhupada.

We are looking at presenting our findings in the easiest understandable and applicable way so the devotees can access the information as simply as possible. At the present the committee is finalising our strategy and approach to the outline – thematic etc.

We will need some devotees with some expertise, time and willingness to help with the data sifting etc. If any devotee would like to assist in this important service please contact myself. More details of this service will be released shortly.

HARINAMA SANKIRTAN KI JAYA
Your servant (on behalf of the Kirtan Standards Committee)
Janananda Gosvami

House for sale
The "Savior-Guru" syndrome

20 Responses to “Kirtan Standards Committee”

  1. Gaura Dasa says :

    Dear Maharaja, Pamho. AgtSP ! It was last summer in Montreal that I relished chanting and dancing with you down St Laurent Street in Montreal during our Ratha Yatra in July. Congratulations on your taking sanyassa !

    I have a humble suggestion. Have you considered involving other prabhus who specialized in kirtan and received direct instructions from Srila Prabhupada regarding kirtan, such as Uttama Sloka prabhu, Mangalananda prabhu, Baradaraj pabhu, Vaiyasaki prabhu, Aindra prabhu and the list goes on… ? There are many that I think should be consulted.

    In one letter , Srila Prabhupada said “You can do kirtan in the tune of your own country”, yet from some quarters, I have seen objection to almost any tune that was not chanted by Prabhupada. Of course we relish chanting Srila Prabhupada”s melodies, because they reimind us of him, and they are pleasing to him, but does that mean that everything else is MAYA ?

    Is Aindra prabhu “unbonafide” if he happened to use a tune from a cinema song to chant Hare Krishna with ? According to this quote by Prabhupada, he is not. Whatever gets people chanting, isnt that the bottom line ? There are no hard and fast rules is what Caitanya Mahaprabhu also said. Of course there are ragas that are more sattvic than a western tune, but is it not fanatical to rule out anything that is not “Vedic” ?

    I remember one old letter I read from Prabhupada, that I dont think is even in the Bhaktivedanta Archives. In it , Prabhupada said that we should organize kirtan as a concert in a hall, and people should pay to purchase a ticket to attend. He said there should be a mrdanga, harmonium, tamboura andkaratals, and a very nice concert should be performed. Of course, we know he also shed tears of love when he heard George Harrison’s musical arrangement for Govindam, that we still hear every morning in an ISKCON temple , to this day, but he was using slide guitar, harp, bass , organ, a full drum kit, etc…

    Just opening things up for broader discussion

    Your servant,
    Gaura dasa

  2. satyahit2 says :

    Are there not sufficient quotes by Srila Prabhupada on this subject matter ? If you constrict too much then some persons will shy away.
    If you add something different , new or constricting, then who has that come from ?
    Early days we wore only a cloth above waist or nothing in Miami area for hari nam.
    In early days with Srila Prabhupada present we all took spontaneously to everything offered by Srila Prabhupada ..If you make a hard and fast rule that Srila Prabhupada has not made specifically, then you are asuming he left that out ? Is that not offense ? Offering all his quotes on the subject is fine in a small book. Some devotee’s are as good as profesional musicians and impose these standards, which constricts or disallows a simple devotee from heart felt public kirtan. thank uou

  3. satyahit2 says :

    hare krishna
    satyahit2@yahoo.com

  4. satyahit2 says :

    ps I definetly feel that there is not enough hari nam kirtan as there used to be . we could be encouraged far more to go on hari nam kirtan with books, prasadam and invitation cards. daily . and the leaders may show this by example. that is what Srila Prabhupada had us all doing . books are also distributed . there should be some room for discussion as per Srila Prabhupada’s words rather than strict rules concerning kirtan manufactured by others than Srila Prabhupada. On Indradhumya swami’s last visit to Alachua in the temple room kirtan he was sometimes sitting on the floor with the little girls, some on his lap, photo’s taken, some times dancing flamboyantly. It all seemed quite wonderful to me. although quite different and certainly not all could do that as he did so naturally. How long must re writting Srila Prabhupada’s books go on before we are simply all going out again daily on hari nam kirtan. All this re writting is setting precedents for new devotee’s ! They will think this re writting and re analyzing Srila Prabhupada’s words to come up with new hard and fast rules which Srila Prabhupada did not, is the norm in krsna consciousness. There is comon sense and there must be room for concensus,differences and discussion.

  5. Madhava Ghosh dasa says :

    I hope that volume of the kirtan is considered. I frequently find myself leaving the temple room because my ears hurt, and sometimes avoid even going if I think it will be loud.

    This must turn off a lot of casual visitors.

    Has it become a de facto standard that if you can’t play well, play loudly? It seems to.

    Don’t get me started on the dancing. (eyes rolling upwards). I was taught we danced for the pleasure of Krishna, under the direction of Radharani, and that the swami two step was the best way to do that. Some twirling.

    It seems that so many are unable to master the two step and its infinite variations and refinements, and instead gyrate and flop around like untrained dancing bears, simply dancing for their own pleasure, or to display raw athleticism to impress whomever they deem necessary to impress. If you can’t dance well, dance with lots of energy, another de facto standard.

    Kirtan is supposed to be pleasing. If it ceases to be pleasing to listen to or to watch, is it still kirtan?

  6. Tamoharadasa says :

    Haribolo! PAMHO.

    Many bhajanas are written in local languages in India. I have long felt that we should popularize Bengali tunes with English lyrics, and in this way many may have more immediate entrance into the mood, and others would appreciate the
    now-understandable meanings. Some devotees have done this, but I never hear them, at least not at the temple functions. Ii would be nice to hear more from them, in my humble opinion.

    At New Remuna, Toronto temple, sometimes “Jaya Radha Madhava” gets the devotees going in a delightful thumping and tapping of the table around which we sit, accompanying the mantra and mrdanaga ,and it is brightly hilarious and enlivening for us all, but also somewhat ad hoc;, a spontaneous delightful dalliance on the edge of deviance, something innocently relieving to the soul living amongst all the rules and regulations.

    So far as kirtana, the aratiks and ceremonies shoud be standard, but afterwards, why place restrictions on enjoying kirtana? When I travel to other temples, it is good to feel at home with the managala artika kirtana; Samsara, nama om, Jaya Sri Krsna Caitanaya, Hare Krsna… On street kirtana, or at home or after the main functions; some variety is spicy! .. and attractive to many?

    As I recall, Lokanataha Maharajah’s name appeard amongt the committee members; I have not heard from Maharajah for years, and I wish to offer my humblest respects and well-wishes, from an old small-time padayatri. Hare Krsna!

  7. loveharekrishna says :

    Dear Janananda Gosvami
    Please accept my humble obeisance.

    All Glories to Srila Prabhupad.

    I am very happy to read the Kritan Standards Committee has been formed
    to recommend the actual Kritan standard in the temples and out in the public
    as per the instruction of Srila Prabhupad.

    Most of the time in our temples the instruments are played much much louder than the
    Singer’s voice, it often happens that only the musical instruments are heard and the actual glorification of the Lord is barely heard. According the musical rules the instruments should be subordinate to the actual voice of the singer.
    With this short note, I would like to request the concerned committee to add Jaiyadvaita Swami Maharaj in the committee. I was very impressed by his research regarding the Music, Noise and its long term effect on kids and adults.

    Sincerely,

    Dwija Raj Das.

  8. bhakta piyush says :

    This seems to me to be a genuine attempt to write a book/train-up devotees on guidelines on Kirtan standards with reference and consultation to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. It is not in my humble opinion a sinister attempt to establish the Kirtan police force run by Kazakh goverment officials ;)

  9. Pandu das says :

    Hare Krishna. A few years ago I acquird a text document of about 30 pages of kirtan standards based upon Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. I’m not sure who was the author, but it was very informative, and I appreciated it enough to share. (If someone wants a copy, e-mail me at pandu.bms{at}gmail.com). I look forward to reading this book.

    Once I felt compelled to dismiss myself from a kirtan in the temple because the chanting had become so irregular and disturbing. Many times I’ve been unable to tolerate the loud instruments, or been unable to hear the chanting because of them. It would be nice to have everyone aware of some guidelines to help keep the kirtan pleasing to the Lord and attractive to everyone.

    Hare Krishna.

  10. Akruranatha says :

    One thing I noticed from the wonderful new Prabhupada videos by Yadubar Prabhu et al, was how inept some of the early devotee musicians were in the early kirtans, for example in what I think was Thompkins Square Park in the ’60s.

    Someone was mindlessly blowing random notes on a recorder, the harmonium was used as a drone instrument with just one key being held down, etc. We’ve come a long way baby.

    I am glad that effort is being made to improve the musical standards and skills. There are many talented devotees and we can expect many different techniques and styles to flourish that will be very pleasing to the Lord and attractive to the public.

    Of course, the important thing is the mood or feeling with which we chant, but if we have the proper mood we will be especially careful to do it nicely (and not to cause deafness by banging away loudly on gongs and karatals). Training and establishing standards of quality are important.

  11. Kulapavana says :

    Dear devotees,

    Just a few general comments from years of practice and observation:

    – If you are approaching a kirtan group and all you can hear is the instruments drowning the Maha-mantra, such kirtan is deficient. The mantra must be heard clearly and distinctly over the instruments.

    – If the lead singer introduces a complicated melody the rest of the group cant follow and as a result the congregational singing is weak, such kirtan is deficient. The same goes for complicated mridanga beats that do not follow the natural flow of the mantra and are just a show of player’s skill.

    – If devotees in the temple room are talking among themselves while the kirtan is going on, that is a disrespectful behavior and a disruption to the kirtan. It is best to ask such devotees to carry their conversation somewhere else.

    – Dancing devotees (especially those performing coordinated “wave” dancing) should keep in mind that some people may be chanting with their eyes closed, concentrating on the mantra and thus unable to avoid collision with the more exuberant dancers.

    Kirtan is above all a meditation on the Holy Name. It combines the universal and timeless tradition of sacred chant and dance with the most potent sound vibration: Lord Krishna’s Holy Name. In meditation one must avoid distraction. Complicated melodies, off-key singing, off-beat or loud instrument use can be distracting to most participants. “Kirtan Standards Committee” sounds like a good project. At one time our kirtans attracted a lot of people to Krsna Consciousness. We should definitely focus on improving our kirtans.

    y.s.

  12. Caitanya candrodaya dasa says :

    I hope to share my favorite verse about Kirtanam standards with SPs translation. Of course it should be kept in mind when saying things like: “such kirtan is deficient” or Srila Prabhupada said this was “unbonafide”. All such instructions (if they were) given according to time and place..

    “Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu instructed His disciples to write books on the Science of Krsna, a task which those who follow Him have continued to carry out down to the present day. The elaborations and expositions on the philosophy taught by Lord Caitanya are in fact most voluminous, exacting and consistent due to the system of disciplic succession. Although Lord Caitanya was widely renowned as a scholar in His youth, He left only eight verses, called Śiksastaka. These eight verses clearly reveal His mission and precepts. These supremely valuable prayers are translated herein

    ys
    Ccd

    (2)

    namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-saktis
    tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah
    etadrsi tava krpa bhagavan mamapi
    durdaivam idrsam ihajani nanuragah

    O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names like Krishna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.

    Srila Prabhupada in Teachings of Lord Caitanya

  13. Kesava Krsna dasa says :

    I would like to bring to attention these African drums which have recently featured in many kirtanas, especially here in South Africa. I forget what they are called, but they certainly do have a powerful bassy sound.

    The problem is though, the sound of these drums drown out the mrdanga sounds. If mrdangas are specifically made for glorifying the Lord by lending rythm, these other grums fail to do justice.

    For instance, last Gaura Purnima, the evening kirtana was in full flow until someone barged in with this drum, which changed the whole mood – not for the better. Culturally thay may help the local African people feel a sense of convergence in terms of musical rythm, but they should be left perhaps for Harinamas or Ratha-yatra.

    Even so, when someone is leading kirtana they naturally feel enthused when the response from the congragetion is rousing. A kirtana leader will not complain too much when these drums are resounding – for they lend more support for him – in which case, he would not be the best to judge on kirtana aesthetics.

    I remember as a boy in the boy scouts and being a member of the band, we used to march down the street with military precision, each step timing with the big bass drum. They sound almost the same same as these African ones. And when they are pounded the exotic vibration causes a mixture of big bass, African and Vedic, which can be a little bizarre sometimes. Bring back the mrdanga! Save them from extiction!

    You can count me as an arch super-ultra conservative on this one.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  14. deva says :

    Prabhus,
    A couple of years ago I attended a seminar on Kirtan Reform by His Holiness Jai Advaita Maharaj. I wonder if he has been contacting concerning this conversation.
    I still have the handouts and the notes I took from the sessions if anyone is interested.
    Maharaj had a lot to say about how Srila Prabhupada lead kirtan and how he would leave his work to stop kirtan if he were not satisfied.

    I think we should also discuss kirtan dancing reform. I have many thoughts on this.

    In general, we must remember that are offerings of song and dance are for the pleasure of Their Lordships. At the same time we should attempt to engage everyone else in the congregation in the chanting of the Lord’s Names. Anything that distracts from these two goals would seem inappropriate.

    I personally cannot stand loud karatalas – they make it difficult to hear the kirtan leader and make it necessary to over use microphones. They also contribute to the destruction of the super sensitive upper range of hearing – a concern especially for musicians.

    His Grace Uttama Sloka is expert on the use of karatalas and mrdanga in kirtans. His kirtans in Chicago back in the 70’s were famous.

    YS, Deva

  15. bh. kurt harris says :

    I fully agree with Kesava Krsna Prabhu. I hope the kirtan standards committee will address djembes and minimize or eliminate their use in our ISKCON temple room kirtans. Djembes and other African drums are clearly in the mode of ignorance and passion and were never authorized by Srila Prabhupada — they are an innovation. In my opinion, they are spoiling the naturally sweet sounds of kirtan produced by melodious singing, kartal and mrdunga playing as per the standard of traditional Gaudiya Vaisnava kirtan.

    None of our previous acharyas played djembes. Bhaktivinoda Thakura sings “madhura mrdanga baje”, not “madhura djembe baje.” I think ISKCON should promote a nice standard of mrdunga playing among its member instead of encouraging the use of foreign drums.

    Please, kirtan committee, I implore you — look carefully at the fact that djembes are becoming so common and prevalent in ISKCON kirtans worldwide and carefully consider whether you think this is pleasing to Srila Prabhupada or not. We are waiting and hoping for your good guidance on this issue.

  16. Vrindavan Lila Dasi says :

    Also please bring back the simplicity and sweetness of ISKCON kirtan – Pancha-tattva mantra and then Hare Krishna maha-mantra – enough! No more sing-songs taken from indian movies and upa-sampradayas!
    Here in Mayapur Bengalis sing anything they feel like including “nadia-bihari-gaura-hari… “….- which was condemed by Prabhupada, which is totally OFF philosophicaly (being an upa-sampradaya mantra) and very serious deviation which creeped into ISKCON kirtans, they also like to sing this strange movie tune “jaya-radha-ramana-haribol…” – this is the most often sang, as well as other diviated tunes and slogans.
    They say that some of them are “bradjabasi”, but Prabhupada had given us nessesary mantras to go back home to original Vrindavan, we do not need to pick anything off the streets of mayavady and bhogus sadhu infested Vrindavan (what we see at present with our non-perfect sencies).
    The worse thing is that even when sometimes management tries to get on these “kirtaneer’s” case and get them in line – just then some travelling “ecstatic” ISKCON sanyasi(guru) comes along and start singing in “Vrindavan-style” instead of Prabhupada-style… and all the endevours to get kirtan onto right track go to hell again…

  17. Pandu das says :

    Concerning the djembe and other drums… Before I learned of the Hare Krishna movement, I played congas semi-professionally in an Afro-Latin percussion band. However, I’ve never been very comfortable playing congas in the temple, even when a set of congas was among the instruments provided there. When on occasion I did play them, the music sounded good to me; but I felt more prideful than when playing mridanga, and that made it more difficult to focus on pleasing Krishna.

    The mridanga is made for Krishna’s pleasure and played for Krishna’s pleasure. Other drums are normally made and played for sense enjoyment. If I need to pound a nail, a heavy wrench or a big rock can often do the job when a hammer is not available, but it’s always better to use the right tool for the job if possible. The mridanga is made to accompany the chanting of Hare Krishna.

    And speaking of chanting Hare Krishna, my favorite part of the Hare Krishna movement has always been simply chanting Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare in the company of devotees. There are other nice mantras, bhajans, etc, but I would much rather practice the chanting of the Hare Krishna mahamantra rather than other mantras or bhajans.

    Although I’ve been chanting Hare Krishna and visiting Hare Krishna temples since 12 years ago, I still have trouble following all the various bhajans and mantras. Being unable to follow along is always discomforting, making me feel self conscious as I try to sing words that I don’t know. Maybe it’s good for me to always feel like a beginner in this way, but sometimes it feels a little discouraging as it also makes me feel like somewhat of an outsider. I know I’m still a relative beginner at chanting Hare Krishna, and I really appreciate every opportunity to participate in the congragational chanting of the Hare Krishna mahamantra. I hope to do more of that in the future. Hare Krishna.

  18. Pandu das says :

    In comment 9, above, I said that a I had received via e-mail a report on ‘kirtan standards,’ which I was willing to share. Last week I happened to locate an updated version on H. H. Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s website. Anyone can download it directly from his web site by clicking on “Hare Krishna,” below (www.bvks.com/books_downloads.htm):

    Hare Krishna.

  19. Locanananda dasa says :

    The use of African drums in kirtana is one of my pet peeves. They do not remind us of Krishna because they are not a part of His lila. In my humble opinion, when these lower mode drums are played in kirtana, either in the temple or on the street, they are a distraction from the mood of service to the Holy Name.

    Srila Prabhupada wrote to Brahmananda Swami that the Africans should learn to play mrdanga, not that Western devotees should learn to play African drums. Referring to Africans who wanted to join our temple, he wrote

    “Train them up to become devotees — how to play mrdanga, how to play karatalas, take prasadam, attend arati, etc.” (Letter to Brahmananda 12-2-76)

    Here are a couple of suggestions you might want to consider:

    Kirtana should start out slowly and gradually build up, increasing the tempo, but not to the point where devotees can no longer dance to the beat.

    Try chanting the same melody for an extended period of time rather than switching tunes every five minutes.

    Popularize the tune sung most often by Srila Prabhupada (Prabhupada’s tune) because it will enable devotees to experience the nectar of the Holy Name. It is also the tune most people are familiar with, which makes it easier for them to join in the chanting.

    Very few devotees seem to be able to pick up and play a mrdanga in kirtana. I would like to recommend to the “kirtana committee” that they compile a tape or CD with four or five (or more) common mrdanga beats that all devotees could learn as part of a new devotee training program. Then any trained mrdanga player would be able join in any kirtana anywhere in the world and quickly assimilate himself (or herself) into the chanting party.

    Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur said that kirtana should demonstrate “the excellence of the elements,” in other words, excellent mrdanga playing, excellent karatala playing, excellent chanting and excellent dancing in kirtana. But what makes every kirtana extraordinary is the spontaneity of the participants. We should be careful not to subdue that spontaneity with a book of rules and restraints.

    Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,
    Locanananda dasa

  20. sita-pati says :

    Perhaps the problem with djembe is more a problem with people not being able to play mrdanga?

    I’ve participated in many kirtans with other devotees who are expert mrdanga players and they’ve used the djembe to reinforce the mrdanga beat to great effect.

    I’ve also done kirtan (such as at the recent Janmastami festival in Sydney) with only a djembe, played by an expert mrdanga player, accompanying the kirtan. The effect is similar, but the sound is different. It can actually be closer to the sound of a clay mrdanga, if the djembe has leather heads, than that of a fiberglass Balaram mrdanga. There is a drum in the Vrndavan 24 hour kirtan with a top end that is reminiscent of a djembe, and you can get a similar effect with a good djembe player.

    In his book Great Transcendental Adventure Kurma Prabhu relates how H.H. Ramai Swami (at the time Bhakta Johnny) played a bass drum on Ratha Yatra with Srila Prabhupada present.

    I got a huge South America bass drum while I was there, and brought it with me to Australia. H.H. Ramai Swami gave me some pointers on playing it in the kirtan, basically to play the main bottom end beats of the mrdanga to reinforce it. That’s easy enough to do.

    I think that the issue with djembe and the issue of people not being able to play mrdanga are related. If you have three expert mrdanga players and someone playing a djembe in such a way that it reinforces the mrdanga beat and doesn’t override it, there doesn’t seem to be a big problem to me.

    When you have someone lording it over with a djembe that’s an issue. When you have people who cannot play mrdanga together (which basically means that they can’t play mrdanga) that’s an issue also.

    By the way, I recently published a downloadable booklet with over 50 mrdanga beats in it that can be used for standard ISKCON kirtans. Check it out here: http://www.atmayogi.com/node/458

    And H.H. Bhaktivikasa Swami’s kirtan pdf, as mentioned by Pandu Prabhu above, is absolutely indispensable.

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