Srila Prabhupada and 24-Hour Kirtana
By Giriraj Swami
I just participated in the 24-hour kirtana with Madhava, Bada Haridasa, and other devotees in Alachua, on Krishna. com. It was one of the most powerful kirtana experiences I have ever had, even from afar. The kirtana was divided over two days, twelve hours each, and it reminded of an experience I had with Srila Prabhupada related to such a kirtana.
The incident came toward the end of Srila Prabhupada’s manifest pastimes with us, when he was already quite ill, in 1977. Srila Prabhupada had a dear devotee, Sri P. L. Sethi, who was so staunch and had so much faith in Prabhupada that his devotion reminded me of Hanuman’s for Rama. From before he met Prabhupada he was associated with a group called the Radha Madhava Prema Sudha Sankirtana Mandala. Their guru was based in Vrndavana, and they chanted the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. In Bombay, they were almost all householders. Every Sunday they would have a twelve-hour akhanda-hari-nama-sankirtana, unbroken, continuous kirtana, from six in the morning to six in the evening, followed by two hours of Vraja songs.
So, Mr. Sethi had the idea that instead of having the kirtana in one of their devotees’ homes, as they usually did, they could have it at Hare Krishna Land, Juhu. So we arranged it, before the Deities in the small temple, beside the new complex that was nearing completion, just beneath Srila Prabhupada’s new quarters. Although the construction wasn’t finished and the lift wasn’t working, Srila Prabhupada insisted on staying there. And ill as he was, he was listening to the kirtana, reclining or lying down. These devotees in the temple really wanted to see him, but they were too many to come up, Prabhupada was not able to come down, and anyway it would have been too taxing for him to meet them all.
At one stage they were so eager that they came out of the temple and were doing kirtana beneath Srila Prabhupada’s balcony. Eventually Mr. Sethi helped Prabhupada walk to the balcony. Prabhupada glanced down upon them. They were in ecstasy. He stayed for a little while and then went back in. One highlight came at the end when a lady devotee sang, “Jaya radhe jaya radhe radhe, jaya radhe jaya sri radhe. Jaya krsna . . .” Later, Mr. Sethi told us that when Prabhupada was listening to that song, tears were streaming down his cheeks.
The next day, I went up to see Srila Prabhupada. “That kirtana was wonderful,” he said. “We should invite the whole group to stay at Hare Krishna Land. Tell them that we will maintain them. They won’t have to work. All they have to do is continuous kirtana.” I wasn’t sure what to do about that–I just heard it. But I think Prabhupada knew that that might take some time. Then he said, “At least our devotees, they should do the twelve-hour kirtana every day, from six a. m. to six p. m.” Now, we had been taught by Prabhupada that we have to serve and spread the mission, and in Juhu we were especially busy, finishing the temple and getting it ready to open. I didn’t see how all the devotees could spend twelve hours a day in the temple chanting. So I said, “Srila Prabhupada, we have so much service to do. How will we be able to do it all?” Then Prabhupada said, “All right, then one day a week, on Sunday.” And when Prabhupada said that, I said, “Yes,” because I felt relieved–only one day, twelve hours. Later, Tamal Krishna Goswami commented that Prabhupada had done some transcendental bargaining. If he had begun, “Twelve hours every Sunday,” we might have said, “Oh, that’s too much. Maybe four hours.” But because he began with twelve hours a day seven days a week, when he finally said twelve hours, one day a week, we were relieved. “Oh yes, we can do that.”
So every Sunday we did twelve hours’ continuous kirtana. And it was just as Prabhupada had told us in 1969–that all problems would be solved, materially and spiritually. I was the temple president and had to deal with many problems. We had to construct the temple complex, deal with the civic authorities, organize the temple programs, deal with the devotees, and just survive in India, with all the disease and other hardships. So, devotees would come to me, and on Monday, Tuesday, maybe Wednesday, I would deal with the problems. But by Thursday we were getting close to the twelve-hour hari-nama, and I knew–it happened every time, without fail–all the problems would be solved. Either the problem would solve itself or the devotee would realize that the problem wasn’t really a problem after all or we would get some insight into and inspiration about how to deal with it. So from Thursday I would say, “Well, just give me a few days to think about it,” but I knew, “Let Sunday come–let us do the twelve-hour kirtana–and it will be solved.” And it happened every time. It was really wonderful.
As Srila Prabhupada had told us earlier, by sincerely chanting Hare Krsna, Krsna is satisfied, and by Krsna’s pleasure and mercy, we are successful in all respects. This was Srila Prabhupada’s mood, his conviction. And we may find that in such kirtana everything comes together–service to the guru, service to the holy name, chanting the holy name, pleasing Krsna, pleasing Srila Prabhupada, and being successful, as Srila Prabhupada said, materially and spiritually.
I am deeply grateful to Madhava, Bada Haridasa, and the other wonderful kirtana leaders (and followers) who are giving us a taste of the nectar for which we are always hankering–the taste of Krsna consciousness.
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