The Kirtan Book — Part Two?

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By Steven Rosen (Satyaraja Dasa)

The publication of “The Yoga of Kirtan: Conversations on the Sacred Art of Chanting,” while sparking some mild controversy within ISKCON, has enabled me to share our philosophy in venues I wouldn’t have previously thought possible. Radio shows ask for interviews, yoga studios and health food stores repeatedly invite me to lecture, to explain “the new phenomenon” known as kirtan, and numerous New Age magazines and yoga journals have either asked me to write feature articles on kirtan or have favorably reviewed the book. Some of these events can be seen on the “events” page of our website (www.yogaofkirtan.com).

Many people understandably wonder: Will there be a part two? After all, there are numerous kirtaniyas that didn’t make it into the book, and an entire second volume could easily be conceived along the same lines as the first.

That’s partly why I’m writing this short article: I feel there are several people that absolutely should have been represented in the first volume, but, due to time and space constraints — and perhaps my ignorance of their contributions — simply didn’t make it.

As I was about to go to press, I noticed that the book was going to be well over 400 pages, and I wondered where the considerable print money would come from. This was to be a mammoth book — particularly because I was also planning to include a CD (which i did). Perhaps I was being overly ambitious. But I wanted to include as many kirtaniyas as I could, especially from the non-ISKCON world. Along these lines, I am sorry I didn’t include Wah!, Donna De Lory, Bhagavan Das, and several others (including the unique and popular spiritual rapper, MC Yogi). This would have further rounded out the book and appealed to my chosen audience (Western yogis and the New Age movement).

If I could do it over — and if I had unlimited time, space, and financial backing — I would have also included many other ISKCON-related kirtan artists, such as Sura Prabhu and the Temple Bhajan Band, who are now well known in the preaching field mentioned above. Not having Sura and his band in the first volume was an oversight on my part. But there were many such oversights. I should have included Achyutananda, Mangalananda, Bharadvaja, Bada Hari, Shivarama Swami, Sacinandana Swami, Aindra, Indradyumna Maharaja, Lokanath Maharaja, Niranjana Swami, Gauravani, and several others.

In my defense, again, I had limited time, space, and resources. This is only one book, after all, and it was meant to give a mere sampling — to introduce a ready and waiting contemporary yoga scene, already developing a taste for call-and-response chanting, to some of our luminaries, to introduce them to Sri Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada, in a way that they could easily digest.

My biggest regret, perhaps, was not including an interview with Uttamasloka Prabhu. His early ISKCON kirtans are now legendary, and he was clearly one of the movement’s sonic innovators — it is he, along with a few others, who may be credited with bringing Bengali-style kirtan to the West. In addition, he was the producer of Karnamrita’s beautiful CD, “Dasi,” and although she had mentioned that fact in our original interview, the truth became obscured after the innumerable edits that such writing inevitably goes through. Uttama was also the producer of the Temple Bhajan Band’s second and third CDs, which won critical acclaim. In fact, two of the songs on our “Yoga of Kirtan” compilation CD — that of Karnamrita and the one by Dravida — were recorded and produced by Uttama; he’s even singing on those tracks in the background. His contribution to the world of kirtan was, and continues to be, astounding.

Luckily, Vaiyasaki Prabhu mentions Uttama in his interview, but it’s a case of too little, too late. Truth be told, I didn’t know of Uttama’s contributions before working on this book. The information came out in my research, but by then the book was already going to press. This seems to be a pattern with me: My own ignorance was once again the reason for an imperfect book.

Still, it is what it is. That being said, many people are learning about kirtan from this work, and, if the numerous accolades I’m getting through letter and email correspondence tells us anything — and if the positive reviews in journals month after month and increased online and bookstore sales are any indication — people are appreciating “The Yoga of Kirtan,” despite the serious omissions mentioned above.

Every endeavor is covered by some fault. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t endeavor. Krishna carries what we lack and preserves what we have, and if we try to offer Him some service with the best of intentions, He will reciprocate accordingly. I am happy to see this firsthand.

Will there be a “Kirtan Book: Part Two.” It’s highly unlikely. But one never knows, does one . . .

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1 Japa Jim

I haven’t read the book, but I would just like to make a comment about the kirtan talent of Uttamasloka prabhu. I was in the Chicago mandir during the heyday of Uttamasloka prabhu. I remember a time when I came down from kitchen duty to the downstairs temple room in the old Chicago temple in Evanstan to join the kirtan in the temple room on a festival day. When I got to the doors of the temple rooms I just stopped and was shocked at the power that was emanating from the temple room. I struck me like there was some kind of nuclear reactor of kirtan inside the temple room. The power of that kirtan was just totally awesome. I was partial to playing the gong in the kirtans of Uttamasloka prabhu, years before I became a fairly decent mridanga player myself.
Wow, Uttamasloka prabhu? I always felt he was some demigod who had come down to Earth to join the movement of Srila Prabhupada.
I still believe that to this day.
He was truly one of the greatest kirtan leaders in the history of ISKCON.

Comment posted by Japa Jim on September 30th, 2008
2 abrennan

I hope there is a Kirtan Book volume two. The Yoga of Kirtan is a fascinating, highly readable, multidimensional treasure trove.

The introductory section highlights the spiritual tradition that is kirtan, stretching out beyond human record.

In the main body ofthe book It is fascinating to learn about the breadth of people, devotees and non-devotees, who are singing the names of the Lord all over the world. They way in which many are drawn by surrounding events, friends, relatives and teachers onto the path leading to kirtan is inspiring.

From the title on the cover to the last page this book never loses sight of kirtan as devotional service, as a spiritual practice. The majority of those interviewed in the book head straight into this subject, some explaining it in detail.

The Yoga of Kirtan is not just a biography. I would expect that many who read this book will find themselves drawn to kirtan, and will seek the association of those who sing the Holy Names.

As if that is not enough there is also a CD. It’s not enough to read about kirtan you have to hear it and feel it, you have to participate in it. The CD contains kirtans in a variety of forms and styles. I don’t know if you can wear out a CD but if you can I’ll need another one soon.

Will there be a part two? I have all my fingers crossed which made it really hard to type this out!

Hare Krishna

Comment posted by abrennan on October 3rd, 2008

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