What is the role of the Kirtan leader, spiritually?
By Bada Haridas
Dear Bada Haridas,
I led my first kirtan yesterday evening! I was wondering what is the role of the kirtan leader? I know that practically speaking they are playing an instrument and singing the mantra for the group to repeat, but what is their job spiritually?
I felt a little bit nervous to take on the task at first and was wondering if you could share some of your wisdom in that regard. Hare Krishna!
Glad to hear you are leading kirtan. Thank you for asking such a nice question and for taking it so seriously. (Serious doesn’t mean it’s not blissful!)
We could speak about kirtan for a long time. There’s way more to it than it may seem. Briefly, the kirtan leader’s role is to help people connect with Krishna and you can’t do that if you’re not connected. So really the focus is internal. Try to be present in the moment, hearing attentively, sincerely calling out, asking for service and purification, singing for Krishna’s pleasure, thinking of the Lord, and begging for mercy. Chanting is all about re-establishing our relationship with the Lord.
As the kirtan leader it is best to be in the mood of serving the devotees. When Krishna is pleased, as Supersoul within their hearts, He pleases them, and that’s how we serve them. It’s not a show, or a performance.
Srila Prabhupada wrote, “The principle of chanting is to glorify the Lord and not to attract a crowd. If Krishna hears nicely then He will ask some sincere devotee to gather in such a place.” Letter to Subala, November 12, 1967.
Another important thing to remember is that a good kirtan happens by the mercy of the Holy Name alone. We can’t “make it happen.” We can sincerely call out (like a child crying for it’s mother) but it’s up to Him if He will appear or remain hidden. We have to try our best to serve, but we’re completely dependent on His mercy. So kirtan is a dynamic process of experiencing Krishna’s reciprocation in different ways. It’s never the same twice. It’s a discovery process.
Still, the more we actually love Krishna, the more He will want to come to us during kirtan.
One practical point: Try to sing melodies that are fairly easy for people to repeat. At the same time, try to make it musically pleasing and appropriate for the crowd and the circumstance.
Hope this helps. Thank you again. All the best. Hare Krsna!
When Krishna hides
You were saying we can call out to the Lord and sometimes He can make Himself known, whereas at other times He may remain hidden. What were some experiences you have had in situations like these?
Krishna is present in His Name. He is there when we are chanting. Sometimes when we chant, by His mercy, we really feel His presence. We know He is there and the kirtan becomes very wonderful. I experience this in different ways, never quite the same. The Lord in His deity form, Srila Prabhupada, or other spiritual personalities, appear in the mind. Sometimes spiritual feelings arise.
Although Krishna is always there, sometimes we don’t feel His presence. He keeps Himself hidden, and I feel like a stone and the chanting seems empty. Krishna does this so that we will examine our heart and, with greater humility and sincerity, call out to Him. It’s not automatic or mechanical bliss, there is a reciprocation going on. Somehow, we need to chant and hear. But that is our time to be with Krishna and we need to be aware of what is happening in our relationship with the Lord.
If this seems like too much work sometimes, you can always go back to the basic instruction of chanting and hearing, and bringing the mind back to being present with each mantra. This is the basic instruction Srila Prabhupada gives and we don’t have to over think this. Chant with the tongue and hear with the ears. But it is natural that, as the mind settles down and you become absorbed in chanting, devotional feelings come.