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Double-voice amplification kirtans in Iskcon Mayapur

Tuesday, 19 April 2011 / Published in Articles / 6,296 views

By Chandrashekhara Acharya das BCS

“For we [the inhabitants of the spiritual world] consider loud call-and-response chanting to be the most excellent form of bhakti, better than smaranam, which appears only in one’s turbulent heart. This is so because chanting harnesses not only the faculty of speech, which it engages directly, but also the mind and the sense of hearing. And chanting helps not only the person practicing it but others as well.”
– Brihad Bhagavatamrita, 2.3.148

Dear devotees,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to your Holiness. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

If you don’t mind, I will take a few minutes of your precious time to address the issue of double- voice amplification kirtans in the Mayapur temple room. Mayapur is, after all, the “home base” temple for all members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness; it is our world-heardquarters. We should all feel concerned and connected to the Mayapur project, especially now that the new temple is under construction.

What I mean by double-voice amplification kirtan is a kirtan in which the leader sings into the microphone, after which a second devotee also sings into the microphone. It is a style of kirtan in which amplification takes place on both the call and on the response throughout the kirtan; in other words, there is constant amplification.

By now, this style of kirtan has graduated to the status of “tradition” in Iskcon Mayapur, especially among the local brahmacaris. It has definitely become the common standard during every Gaura Aroti1. It has also become the standard during the evening Nrsimha prayers. It has become the standard during the bhajans during the day. It regularly occurs during the “yani-kani ca papani” part of the Tulasi aroti kirtan. It is slowly making its’ way into the early morning Nrsimha prayers. Fortunately, it does not yet happen during the Mangala aroti kirtan. But at this rate, it is simply a question of time before it also becomes the standard during Mangala aroti. Do we want this? Prabhus, imagine, in your home temple, a Mangala aroti kirtan in which two devotees sing into the microphone on both the call and on the response. Would you allow it? If your answer is “no,” why is it okay, I ask, to allow it during the other kirtans of the day? Does Mangala aroti belong to a different category than the rest of the daily kirtans? If so, in what way? 2

This double-voice amplification kirtan standard exists only in Mayapur and in other temples in India. It should be noted that the Chowpatti temple and Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s temples do not allow it. And in the rest of the entire world, to the best of my knowledge, temple kirtans always have only one amplified voice. From Perth to Sydney, Tokyo to Los Angeles, Denver to Dallas, down to Chile, New York to Alachua, to all of Western Europe, across Russia to Japan, down to Australia and New Zealand: the global standard, everywhere, is one amplified voice. Shouldn’t Iskcon Mayapur represent the global standard? 3

Most (if not all) of the senior Iskcon kirtaneers lead temple kirtans with only one amplified voice. And Srila Prabhupada always chanted in one microphone, never “sharing” it with another devotee. Indeed, there is no evidence anywhere that Srila Prabhupada performed double-voice amplification kirtans. On the contrary, we only see and hear Srila Prabhupada singing alone into the microphone, with no one singing into it after him- always. And we also have the extreme example of the incident that occurred in Iskcon Vrindavan. A devotee was all alone in the temple room for the noon aroti. He therefore sang both the call and the response into the microphone. Hearing this from his nearby house, Srila Prabhupada instructed his servant to go to the temple and tell this devotee to stop singing the response into the microphone. 4

As I alluded to by referring to the verse from the Brihad-Bhagavatamrita at the beginning of this letter, proper kirtan is a matter of sravanam/kirtanam. However, the double-voice amplification kirtans make it practically impossible for this proper hearing and chanting to occur. In a one-voice amplified kirtan, the leader sings the mantra (kirtanam) while everyone hears him (sravanam). Then, on the response, the roles are reversed: everyone sings (kirtanam), listening to their own respective voices, and the lead-singer listens to everyone else’s singing (sravanam). This is correct. In double-voice amplification kirtans, however, the dynamic really is that of sravanam/sravanam. Indeed, devotees are not only discouraged to participate on the response due to the loud amplified voice, but even if they try to do so, they simply cannot hear themselves singing due to their voice being drowned out by the amplification of the 2nd singer. They are forced to become passive hearers of a “duet concert,” so to speak, of two local devotees (who often are, truthfully speaking, considerably “microphone-hungry”). In this style of kirtan, the only devotees who end up doing proper sravanam/kirtanam are the two devotees sharing the microphone.

These double-voice amplification kirtans alienate most devotees, especially those who know better, who have experience of single-voice amplification kirtans. These mature devotees come from all over the world to Navadvipa Dhama, at great cost, expecting to absorb themselves in quality hearing and chanting. Instead, they are forced to participate in double-voice amplification kirtans almost throughout the entire day. The double-voice amplification kirtans dampen these devotees’ spirit of participation. Instead of participating, they are forced to take the role of passive hearers of two kirtan-leaders singing into the microphone at all times. As a result, many do not participate. 5

The well-meaning local devotees who are in the habit of performing double-voice amplification kirtans often cannot even comprehend that this style of kirtan is not the common global standard. The double-voice amplification kirtan style is all they know- it is what they grew up with; it is what their authorities sanction. They have never been to Chowpatti or to other temples that do not allow double-voice amplification kirtans. Many have never been outside of Bengal or India. Thus they have no frame of reference other than what takes place in the Mayapur temple. They do not know that the rest of the Iskcon world performs kirtan with only one amplified voice. And they may not have access to audio or video footage of Srila Prabhupada leading kirtans to see and hear his example. A growing legion of these local devotees have established a tradition of double-voice amplification kirtans in Mayapur. As time progresses, managers will find it increasingly difficult to change it. Therefore it is urgent that we check this trend now, before it becomes irrevocably entrenched. Discussion about an important issue is a precursor to change. It is in this vein that I write this letter.

If you agree that the double-microphone amplification kirtans in the Mayapur temple should stop, you could humbly make a note of it next time you visit Mayapur, or next time you speak to the GBC of your zone.

Managers in Mayapur are working on this issue. But it takes time to change tradition. The more input on this topic comes from the world-wide community of devotees, the quicker we may see change in the near future.

Thank you.

Your servant,

Chandrashekhara acharya dasa

Notes:

1 We may ask if there is a correlation between the fact that the Gaura aroti kirtans are exclusively performed in double-voice amplification style and the fact that these Gaura Aroti kirtans attract participation from almost only local devotees, even during the Gaura Purnima festival. Shouldn’t the Gaura aroti kirtans, especially during the festival, attract all devotees from all over the world to participate? Is there a connection between double-voice amplification kirtan style and the complete lack of global participation when they occur? I would humbly say “yes.”

2 The argument can be made that the kirtans during the rest of the day have many visitors in the temple room, and that the double-voice amplification is meant for their benefit. However, the Mangala-aroti kirtan witnesses many visiting pilgrims also. Therefore this is not a good argument. I cannot come up with a good reason why the double-voice amplification kirtan style is inappropriate for Mangala aroti but suitable for the other kirtans during the day. Shouldn’t our policy be the same across the board?

3 Even if we argue that it should rather be the entire world that must conform to the Mayapur standard, we should be ready to judge a tree by its fruit. The standard of kirtan in Mayapur should attract participation from the global community of devotees. But as I have pointed out with the example of the Gaura aroti kirtans (in which the double-voice amplification kirtan style is most prominent), only local devotees participate, even during the festival. Double-voice amplification kirtans do not attract global devotee participation. Is it not the duty of Mayapur, however, to foster maximum kirtan participation from the global Iskcon community?

4 Told by Hari Sauri prabhu in his diary.

5 Again, it is striking to note that when a temple kirtan goes one in single-voice amplification style, we witness large global participation. When the temple kirtan goes on in double-voice amplification style, we witness a largely local-devotee participation only. This dynamic is graphic.

28 comments

  1. 0
    kavicandra swami ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I thank Candrasekhara prabhu for this observation. When he first mentioned it I admit that I did not quite comprehend the issue. Sometimes, like with a very small harinam party, the second mike helps.

    But I hear many responders with the mic singing much louder that the lead singing, and often in a different pitch. Everyone else, no matter how many , are blocked out.

    Now I am fully in agreement with Candrasekhar prabhu, on this issue, and will been this where I have any authority.

  2. 0
    Sikhi Mahiti das acbsp ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I think the problem is the sound system volume is too high. Even if only one person chants in the mic, you need earplugs.

    I personally don’t have a problem with double mic. We do it in Atlanta sometimes. I’ve seen Radhanatha Swami do it in Alachua. He handed the mic for me to respond. But, the volume was not so high on the sound system.

    One man’s taste is another man’s poison. A lot of devotees don’t like trumpets, saxophones, accordions, etc in kirtan. And, you can say that those instruments were not used 500 years ago. And, Srila Prabhupada did instruct not to use harmonium during kirtan. So, that would seem to imply don’t use an accordion.

    What to do? To each their own. ISKCON is big enough to facilitate all tastes.

    ys,
    Sikhi Mahiti das

  3. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I might be changing the subject a bit, but responding to Sikhi Mahiti’s concern about the sound system being up too high, I just want to remind all devotees of the dangers of hearing loss associated with being too often exposed to loud, amplified kirtans and loud karatal playing and gong playing and so on.

    Devotees should be aware of these issues and try to keep the decibels down, and learn to protect themselves a bit. Try not to play the karatals too loudly, and if someone is playing loudly close to you, either ask them to play more softly or at least try to move far away.

    The hearing loss is cumulative and you won’t notice it until it is too late. I am afraid many devotees will need hearing aids in old age.

  4. 0
    Babhru ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’m with Akruranatha here. My experience is that sound systems are far louder than necessary. The default seems to be that the leader’s voice needs to be at least twice as loud as everyone else’s combined, which just doesn’t make sense to me. Add to that large karatalas too close to the mic, solid gongs being played by devotees swinging from the shoulder, and lousy acoustics (as is the case in Alachua), and you have a recipe for disastrous hearing health. Too many of us have hearing loss and raging tinnitus. We should all be more thoughtful, and our kirtans more tasteful.

  5. 0
    servantofservant ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I think that the double-voice amplification kirtan style is not an ‘option.’ That the devotees do it occasionally in Atlanta and that Radhanatha Swami did it at least once may not be a good enough reason to legitimize it as a bona-fide option according to personal taste. This style of kirtan fundamentally opposes the very foundation of kirtan: attentive hearing and chanting. No?

  6. 0
    padmanabhadas ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Good observation. One more important issue, which I felt is, we must note that the sound of a person when he/she sings must be more than the total sound of all the instruments played. Sometimes we hear instruments’ sound (So loud) and Harinam is not heard clearly. So those who play different instruments like Kartal, Mridanga…etc must observe this rule that they are not obstructing Holy name sound. Padmanabha dasa (Mira Road, Mumbai)

  7. 0
    sarvopama dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I remember one particular Hari Nama party where the amplification gave out. I saw that everyone had to move in closer to the devotee leading the chanting and he also had to give more energy to his chanting to make sure everyone could hear him. Then someone reconnected the wires and immediately the party spread out, more devotees went back to lip-syncing and the party was less energetic and attractive.

    I not only heartily agree with Chandrashekhara Acharya das but would even go so far as to say that we would all benefit from less dependency on mechanical gadgetry of any kind. I think it is symptomatic of a tendency to trade away love of God for personal power. In modern life, in the name of progress and material advantage, we seem to jump at any chance to become technological wizards and magicians.

    I think Chandrashekhara Acharya das is spot on. Generally amplification is off putting. While the few select “microphone-hungry” individuals may feel enthusiastically involved, a greater number of devotees are likely to simply end up coasting and are less likely to actively participate in the kirtan.

  8. 0
    Sikhi Mahiti das acbsp ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In reply to comment #5, “This style of kirtan fundamentally opposes the very foundation of kirtan: attentive hearing and chanting. No? ”

    Attentive hearing and chanting is a principle of japa, not kirtan or sankirtan. Siksastikam states “There are no hard and fast rules for chanting the Holy Name.” One of the rules for japa states “it is an offense to be inattentive while chanting.”

    Kirtan is more beneficial and powerful than japa, param vijayata sri krsna sankirtan. Therefore, even meat eaters taste the sweetness when they contact it.

    The taste derived from japa is more difficult because it dependent upon the offenses you commit while chanting.

    That is why even though the kirtan is not performed perfectly (musically proper, too loud, meat eaters present, etc) you see most people dancing, smiling, and blissed out during it’s performance.

    ys,
    Sikhi Mahiti das

  9. 0
    taradas108 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “The Yuga Dharma is hearing and chanting and we come to our religious gatherings with earplugs. This ranks right up there with the best of Monty Python.” Hridayananda Goswami

    Chandrashekhara Prabhu says “Managers in Mayapur are working on this issue. But it takes time to change tradition.” Really? How tough could it be? Seems like one isthagoshti should do the job. At least when Kirtan connosieur B.B. Govinda Maharaj is around we can rest assured that double amp kirtans and raucous instruments won’t be tolerated.

  10. 0
    patita pavana ramdas ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In a society that is supposed to have the highest regard for the sense of hearing it is shocking how little regard we have for it. I have experienced on many occasions, even during mangal arati, supposedly a quiet and peaceful time of day, that out of so called enthusiasm there are more devotees with kartals and drums than without. My own hearing is dramatically worse now than it was when I joined ISKCON fifteen years ago, and I often find that kirtans are so loud and passionate that I cannot hear the devotee leadind as they are drowned out by the sound of the instruments. I have brought this up to temple auhorities on a number of occasions but it always gets brushed aside or I get told “well you should just wear earplugs then”. I now go to relatively few kirtans as there are no set standards. This depresses me as I joined the sankirtan movement and I cannot take part in kirtan.

  11. 0
    amalagaura ( User Karma: -5 ) says:

    One issue is it can be subjective, what is loud for you may not be loud for me. A simple solution costs around $40: http://bit.ly/kKc8iU . Industrial noise monitors which flash above 85db. I am very curious as to noise levels in kirtans. It does matter of course where you put the meter, how close to the speaker or kartals.

    Personally I think whompers are the main culprit and should not be used indoors. I find that they drown out the kirtan. But some of our gurus and sannyasis use them, so many people will continue to do so.

    Another related topic is what mantras are chanted. In Mayapur if you listen to Mayapur.tv you can hear a wide variety of mantras. This is directly against Srila Prabhupada’s written instructions in the Chaitanya Charitamrita where he desired that only the Hare Krishna mahamantra and Nam Kirtan mantra be chanted. Especially the Monday mataji kirtan has a wide variety of concocted mantras. And devotees regularly embellish the Gaura arati with lines not from the acharya authors.

    None of these seem to be a priority for the managers. I can understand they have other important things to deal with, but these things are important too. Especially since Mayapur has international visibility.

  12. 0
    Braja Sevaki ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “Alienating” people? I doubt that very much. I’m with Akruranatha prabhu: a far, far more important issue is the volume. So what, there are two mikes—-personally I think it’s wonderful and festive, but it should be restricted to Gaura-arati, where it has always happened. But the real problem is the volume.

  13. 0
    ekendra das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Here’s an iPHone app that has a dB meter. It isn’t 100% accurate but it does give some indication of how loud a room gets.

    http://goo.gl/Zd6vW

    I like a decently loud kirtan but sometimes passion enters in and I think we can sometimes mistake volume for love of God. Djembes and whompers tend to accelerate this.

  14. 0
    ekendra das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    More specific to Chandrashekara Prabhu’s point, as lovely as these kirtan duets can sound, it isn’t quite the same as a proper call and response group kirtan. Sometimes I feel like I should applaud and clap afterwards which isn’t really the best way for temple kirtans to go in my humble opinion.

  15. 0
    sita-pati ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Nowhere in Caitanya-caritamrita do we read of double-voice amplification kirtans. This is clearly a modern concoction and no doubt a product and promoter of sex life.

  16. 0
    gracenote108 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In regards to comment #8:

    This is what Srila Prabhupada says about the importance of hearing in kirtans…

    Conversation in Bombay, December 26, 1976:

    Prabhupada: The other musical instruments, if he plays his attention will be diverted in musical instrument, not to chanting. “We have to see melody, whether it is going on nicely.” But that is not good. Our concentration should be hearing “Hare Krsna”. That is… That is bhakti. Caitanya Mahaprabhu, simply this karatala, khol, that’s all. In those days… Of course, there was no harmonium, but many stringed instruments were there. Sitar, esaraja, but these things were not used. Sometimes we do use to attract, but it is not required. (Hindi).

    Two more things that need clarification as well:

    The ten offenses are not just for japa. It never says it’s just for japa, but for all the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, which means japa AND kirtan.

    The second is the actual meaning of what is meant by “no hard and fast rules.” The acaryas have explained what is meant by no hard and fast rules in our scriptures. When compared to other practices like the chanting of Gayatri mantra, deity worship, astanga yoga, fire sacrifices, or any other variation of sacrifices like the ones listed, kirtan has no hard and fast rules. That is because unlike in those practices, kirtan doesn’t require one to be in a particular state or purity, nor does it require to be performed only a certain time, and kirtan is not limited to a certain environment or place.

    This is the actual meaning of “no hard and fast rules” according to our acaryas. Many devotees misunderstand this point because they are not verifying their own conclusions with guru, sadhu, and sastra.

    Commentaries on the Siksastakam by Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta are available online, or they can be bought in some places.

    Hope this meets you in good health,

    Hare Krsna!

  17. 0
    Sikhi Mahiti das acbsp ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In response to comment #16

    “This is the actual meaning of “no hard and fast rules” according to our acaryas. Many devotees misunderstand this point because they are not verifying their own conclusions with guru, sadhu, and sastra.”

    Here is why I made the comment:

    Sadhu:
    I had this discussion with his HH Sivarama Swami at the 2010 24 hour kirtan at New Vrindavan. He agreed with the principle that 10 offense are more important in japa than kirtan and that Siksastikam point of “no hard in fast rules” applies to kirtan.

    Sastra: Siksastikam

    Guru:
    Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur explains the offense of inattentive chanting in his Harinam Cintamani:

    I will quote the last paragraph do to space constraints of this blog. He says before the last paragraph how all offenses are rooted in this one. Because we are attracted to material objects we commit this offense. And, if we follow Vaisnava etiquette, ekadasi, our basic sadhana bhakti we will overcome this offense. And then he makes this last comment:

    “One should thus never be inattentive to complete one’s prescribed number of daily rounds. This should be noted day by day. When chanting these prescribed rounds, one should avoid the different types of inattentiveness. Giving up the desire to increase the number of rounds for show, one should attempt to first concentrate nicely on what one can manage. Therefore, the devotee starts by chanting with full concentration in a peaceful place for a short time. He will always be praying to the Lord that he will chant clear, attentive rounds with the mind fixed on Kåñëa; for on one’s own one cannot accomplish anything. Krsna‘s grace is necessary to cross the ocean of material existence. Being anxious in heart, one should beg for mercy, and because Krsnaa is merciful, He will help. Whoever does not try for that mercy is very unfortunate.”

    You will not find him saying “we must not be inattentive in kirtan. You must hear the leader and respond with full attention”. If that is the foundation, then we should not use any instruments or dance. We should sit and give attention like in japa.

    Srila Prabhupada responded to a question about ‘How can we attract the karmis to our harinam?”. He said you simple try to please Krsna with your kirtan. Then, everyone will be please. Just as you pour water on the root of a tree all the leaves and branches are satisfied.

  18. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Very good points gracenote108.

    Yes, Sita-Pati, the Caitanya Caritamrta does not have much to say about electronic amplification of kirtans, whether single or double. :-)

    Or, maybe the meaning is there but we have not understood it?

    One thing is, a printing press can be a great amplifier of kirtans. :-)

  19. 0
    Locanananda dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I like that, Akruranatha Prabhu — The printing press is the great amplifier of written kirtana.
    And it was invented right around the time of Lord Caitanya’s presence, if I’m not mistaken.

    In New Mayapur, France, there is no amplification at all during mangala artik (sweet!), but in the Brooklyn temple, the amplification during mangala artik is deafening! I mean really painful. At least it was so when I lived there for a few months in 1998.

    I once attended a Rathayatra in London (must have been in the seventies), and there was no amplification of the kirtana. Instead, we had six devotees lead the kirtana in one voice. As I recall, we chanted Srila Prabhupada’s favorite tune the whole way and everyone responded blissfully.

    On Saturday night in New York City, we also use no amplification. We just sing very loud, and people are attracted to join in.

    I recall how, in 1972, the authorities in Geneva, Switzerland ordered us to stop playing musical instruments on Sankirtana. We continued to chant daily in the town square, but with hand-clapping only. That was a real test of our spiritual meddle.

    As for double amplification, it is not required. I think Krishna wants to hear all of the devotees’ responding to the lead singer. But, if you have thousands of visitors passing through the temple room
    as does occur in Mayapur, and just a few devotees chanting, I could see having the response miked up so there would be no gap in the vibration of transcendental sound. However, the response certainly should not be louder than the lead singer.

    As far as loudness is concerned, kirtana should be performed tastefully. Our NYC outdoor kirtana was measured by the police department at 93 decibels, and no one seemed to be complaining. But if you are getting up to jackhammer, rock concert or jet engine range, it might be a good idea to tone it down a bit. I’ve got a 25% hearing loss, mainly of higher pitched sounds. I wouldn’t say, though, it is the result of being in the nucleus of so many kirtanas over the years. What it means practically is that I don’t hear many things spoken by women, which some would call special mercy.

  20. 0
    gracenote108 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In response to #17:

    Hare Krsna,

    Sorry prabhu, I don’t think I was clear with my comment. Using the term “no hard and fast rules” in the context you’re using is incorrect and not in line with the purport of the acaryas.

    As for the being attentive in kirtan:

    Sadhu: HH Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Swami said, “It was shocking for me to believe the news of return of Aindra Prabhu. I first met him in February 1995 and congratulated him for his exceptional capability in chanting the Harinam and asked how he could derive so much inspiration? He said, “Chant with perfect attention the holy name, the name of Krishna.” Now he has been called back to Goloka eternally. It is a sad day unfortunately for the whole world. It is Radha-Shyamsunder’s plan to bring him back, but for us it is a great loss.”

    Sastra: It’s mentioned in the Bhagavatam, quoting Prahlada Maharaja, that devotional service starts with hearing.

    If you’re not hearing, but chanting, then you’re not getting the benefit of the chanting, either from your own voice or collectively as a group (sankirtan).

    Also, in that same section of Harinama Cintamani, at the very beginning of that chapter. Haridas Thakura explains that the purpose of chanting japa is to come to the point of spontaneous attraction to the holy name. When you’re attracted to something, your mind can’t be diverted elsewhere. So the purpose of both japa and kirtan is to bring us to the point of attraction to the holy names.

    Guru
    Interview with Revatinandana dasa, Memories of Srila Prabhupada DVD. Vol. 1:
    He [Srila Prabhupada] remarked that melodic instruments, including the harmonium, are not meant for kirtana, and he explained why. He said that the ear will automatically follow musical strains, and then our attention will be diverted from the mantra.

    Here is another instance where Prabhupada emphasized hearing the mantra in kirtan.

    I only speak from personal experience when I say this. Being more attentive to the Hare Krsna Maha-Mantra in kirtan has helped out, and is continuing to help me out tremendously in devotional life.

    Just try it out, what is the difficulty? :)

    Hare Krsna

  21. 0
    servantofservant ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krsna,

    My humble obeisances.

    I do not understand Sikhi Mahiti prabhu’s points.

    First of all, quoting Sivarama Swami is fine, but I can easily quote another sadhu who will disagree with Sivaram Swami. Quoting the siksastakam as “proof” for the category of “shastra” is begging the question, because the this very verse is what the discussion is centered around in the 1st place. And third, Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s statement does not rule out the plethora of other statements by our acharyas to the effect that attentive hearing and chanting applies to kirtan as much as it does to japa.

    Finally, Sikhi Mahiti prabhu’s comment about Prabhupada saying that just trying to please Krishna is the only requirement for attracting “karmis” to our kirtans may be somewhat irrelevant. We are not speaking here about attracting non-devotees to our kirtans; we are speaking about kirtan standards for practicing devotees in Iskcon centers.

    It almost seems as though Sikhi Mahiti prabhu is saying that it’s perfectly okay for devotees to completely give up the dynamic of lead-singer/responders. Is he saying that everyone can sing together, all at once, completely blurring the distinction between the lead-singer and the responders……. because “there is no hard and fast rules” ?

    Am I interpreting his words incorrectly? If I am, I apologize.

    As far as my limited knowledge is concerned, there is, and there always will be, this dynamic lead-singer/responders, as Sita Prabhu aptly refers us to the C.C verse:

    “Svarūpa Dāmodara was chosen as *the leader* [singular] of the first party and was given *five assistants to respond* [plural] to his chanting.”
    (Note: it does not say, “[…] to respond to *their* chanting.” There was indeed one, and only one, lead-singer.)

    Once we agree that there is no question of blurring the lines between the lead-singer and the responders, we then come back to the original issue: can two amplified voices work in a kirtan? Do two amplified voices assist and embellish the dynamic of leader/responders? Or do they rather play down this subtle but crucial dynamic?

  22. 0
    Sikhi Mahiti das acbsp ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In response to comment #21 by gracenote108, none of us are 100% wrong or any of us 100% correct. We are voicing our realizations on this subject which brings light from different angles of vision.

    This is a blog which means we are speaking quickly as compared to writing a dissertation on the subject. So, we have to give the blogger a little leeway for mistakes or not making clear points. If we were speaking in-person, we would correct ourselves as we discuss. With a dissertation, we can take more time and other opinions to make our points perfect.

    After reading all the responses, I can see how the others could be correct from the angles they are presenting. I just don’t like that the argument to stop double mic kirtan is based on what is being presented as the foundation of kirtan, “attentive hearing and responding.” I’ve always performed it in the mood of pleasing the deities. I can see arguing that it is not pleasurable for the audience or the deities because it is a “personal show”.

    I feel that chanting the holy name falls under four basic practices: japa, kirtan, sankirtan, and bhajans. They all have different foundations with principles shared by all of them. Japa is attentive hearing and chanting, sankirtan is for the benefit of the non-devotees, kirtan for the pleasure of the deities, and bhajans deities and homes.

    Again, my opinion which I can’t back with guru, sastra, and sadhu at the moment. I don’t have time to find the evidence. This is me speaking openly.

  23. 0
    Sikhi Mahiti das acbsp ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In response to comment #22, from servantofservant, yes, you can find another sadhu who disagrees as is evident on this blog. As I said, I gave the reasons I made my initial comment way up on #5.

    Also, if you were following the thread you would have read where I quoted “no hard in fast rules”. So, due to the limit on characters per blog entry, I simply said “siksatikm” for quoting sastra. I thought those who have been following the blog would not need to see the verse.

    I’ve already responded to servanofservant other points in comment #23 (before his comments were posted).

    I do better discussing in person or taking a few days preparing a paper. Blogs are difficult for me. I’ll get better with time.

    Still, I don’t agree that we should ban double mic kirtans because it is against the foundation of attentive hearing and responding in kirtan. And, that is because I don’t agree with foundation.

    Turning down the volume, choosing better kirtan leaders (they know when to double mic), controlling the instruments will solve the problem of kirtan performance.

  24. 0
    gracenote108 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krsna,

    The reason I argue it is because when you hear a whole group of people chant in unison, there’s a special flavor to that. Like we’re all crying out to Krsna all at once to take us back home, back to Godhead.

    With a second microphone, it kind of kills that because the second mic overshadows all other responses. It’s also inspiring, as a lead singer to hear heart-filled responses that is collectively coming from many people around you. Multiple people chanting with their hearts has such a flavor to it. It’s much more inspiring and pleasing than to hear one person’s amplified voice.

    That is why I favor chanting and hearing the mantra (and remembering if you can do it) in kirtan. You wouldn’t want to do anything else but pay attention to the holy name.

    I can respect the fact that you are singing in the mood of pleasing the deities. After all, the deities are only here for our love, but I find that the deities may find it more pleasing to hear many of their devotees sing their hearts out instead of one.

    That’s all.

  25. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Regarding the application of “no hard and fast rules” to kirtan and japa, two points:

    1. I heard an interesting question and answer by H.H. Bhakti Vikas Swami regarding a musician who wanted to compose music about Srimad Bhagavatam. You can hear Maharaja’s discussion here: http://www.bvks.com/category/ask-bvks/ You have to scroll down and play the clip, posted May 1, 2011, entitled, “Advice to a musician”.

    In it, Bhakti Vikas Swami raises the question, how can we harmonize Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to George Harrison to compose rock music about Krishna, and the good effects such music had, with his advice to other devotees just to use khol and karatal and try to appreciate the style of kirtan loved and practiced by Lord Caitanya? Maharaja suggests that because of George Harrison’s established fame and career the advice to him was different. He cites Srila Prabhupada stopping “The Road Show”.

    I imagine there could be a lot of follow-up questions though, because there were other, non-famous musicians whom Srila Prabhupada did not actively discourage (or did he?) I think I’ve heard anecdotes about various (good and bad) reactions Srila Prabhupada had to to Mangalananda Prabhu’s use of western pop music forms to glorify Krishna. But also surely the use of harmonium and some Indian music forms was approved (Srila Prabhupada even recorded himself singing bhajans and playing harmonium).

    I appreciate Maharaja’s concern that really jarring, inappropriate beats and melodies give a bad impression and are aesthetically lacking, but I still wonder if the flourishing of Krishna culture may involve tasteful, high-quality kirtans and bhajans in a variety of styles, some of which may not have even yet manifested.

    2. “No hard and fast rules” may also apply to nama japa, in the sense alluded by gracenote108 in comment #16, when compared to chanting of other Vedic mantras. Of course one must always try to be attentive and avoid offenses, but the Lord’s Holy names are amazingly powerful and merciful.

    I recently suggested to a young man of about 18 that he could borrow a bead bag and chant some japa while a group of us walked. He declined, because he had gotten the impression (from some instruction he had received in ISKCON) that if you could not do japa with perfect concentration you had better not even try. He said he liked kirtan, but japa was too hard for him. I was sorry he had been discouraged that way.

  26. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The GBC’s Kirtan Standards Committee has presented a paper this year (perhaps the first of various papers regarding kirtan standards). [See http://www.dandavats.com/wp-content/uploads/GBCresolutions/KirtanInstrumentsPaper.pdf ]

    After discussing relevant instructions of Srila Prabhupada, the conclusions were:

    A. Thus, the Kirtan Standards Committee has concluded that only kartals and mrdanga should be played in the temple for daily worship at deity aratiks, tulasi puja, and guru puja. Whompers, gongs, and similar brass instruments may also be played, as they were often used during aratiks in Prabhupada’s presence. No melodious instruments should be allowed, however, including harmonium, as Prabhupada was very clear on that point. It is permissible, however, to play harmonium during the Nrsimha-stuti, as it takes place after the arati when everyone is sitting down.

    B. Because Srila Prabhupada gave specific instructions about not using harmonium and other musical instruments during aratis, as cited in the first section of this proposal, the KSC has concluded that Prabhupada’s allowances and recommendations in this present section refer to instruments for kirtans and bhajans in the temple at times when aratis are not being performed. Thus, at these other times, harmonium and tamboura may be added along with mrdanga and kartals. And although Prabhupada favored these aforementioned four instruments over others, at times he also gave allowance for additional non-traditional musical instruments to be used for attracting the public. Because programs for the public are not only held outside the temple but inside as well, the use of these additional non-traditional instruments can also be accepted within the temple. In addition, under the umbrella of our “public”, we are including the phenomena, not existing during Prabhupada’s time, of large and diverse congregations of devotees and friends of all ages, spanning several generations, and encompassing a broad range of commitment. It is important to note in the above quotes that Prabhupada was extremely conservative and cautionary regarding adding additional instruments to the four that he specifically advocated. If they are to be used, therefore, the temple president and local authorities should ensure that:

    (to be continued…)

  27. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    …If they are to be used, therefore, the temple president and local authorities should ensure that:
    1. The additional instruments do not become the dominant sound in the bhajan/kirtan but support it, never being louder, more noticeable, or more prominent than the basic and traditional ones, or than the chanting of the holy name.
    2. The musician does not play a solo without any chanting, or if he does so, they are just a few measures long.
    3. If the musician is playing a wind instrument, it is better that he or she not play it continuously, but rather alternate playing and chanting, so as to receive due benefit from the holy name and not overemphasizing the sound of the instrument.

    C. The Kirtan Standards Committee has concluded that Srila Prabhupada gave the same basic instructions for outside kirtans as he did for non-arati temple kirtans and bhajans. Thus, for attracting the public, harmonium, tamboura, plus other non traditional instruments may be added. And as has been mentioned in the previous section, because Prabhupada was extremely conservative and cautionary regarding adding additional instruments to those he specifically advocated (mrdanga, kartals, harmonium, tamboura), if such instruments are used outside the temple, it should again be understood that the temple president and local authorities should ensure that:

    1. The additional instruments do not become the dominant sound in the bhajan/kirtan but should support it, never being louder, more noticeable, or more prominent than the basic and traditional ones, or than the chanting of the holy name.

    2. The musician does not play a solo without any chanting, or if he does so, they are just a few measures long.

    3. If the musician is playing a wind instrument, it is better that he or she not play it continuously, but rather alternate playing and chanting, so as to receive due benefit from the holy name and not overemphasize the sound of the instrument.

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