Category Archives: Kirtan

Just Like Honey

I was thinking about kirtan melodies as I jogged through the fields this morning. I’ve always participated in kirtan in a supportive role, but in the last six months or so, I’ve been getting asked to lead more. There’s nothing like sitting down in front of a roomful of people who are waiting for you to do something, with almost no idea what you’re planning to do.

What do I sing?! It’s a time honoured question. The words are not so difficult, but there are hundreds and hundreds of melodies to choose from. Some great kirtan leaders can archive thousandsĀ in their minds, pulling them out in an effortless sequence over hours of sweet chanting. For some, like me, breaking a sweat is not uncommon.

But as I jogged, I realised that even the most beautifully crafted jar can’t make the honey any sweeter. So it is with a tune. The melody is only a vessel that carries the nectarous names of the Lord, which are sweet in a way that can’t be matched by any other sound.

Photo by Purusartha das

So next time you sit down to sing, no worries. Whatever comes out, the honey will still be sweet. But if you are looking for beautiful melodies, you could try listening to some free downloads from Mantralogy.com, where five years of 24 hour kirtans are archived, along with thousands of other recordings. Happy tasting.

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How I lost an arm and got stranded on an island…

When I’m not resorting to sensational, misleading headlines to get more blog readers, I’m often somewhere in the world, sharing the practice of kirtan.

Last weekend was no exception. My Dad and I were invited to come and lead a kirtan retreat on the beautiful, 22 acre island called Inisrath in Northern Ireland. The island is home to an old Victorian mansion that was converted into a Krishna temple in the 1980s, and is also now a regular venue for retreats, run by Tim and the rest of the Lake Isle retreats team.

We left London on Friday – me without my violin. That’s where the losing an arm part comes in. I haven’t travelled without it for a good few years, but thanks to Ryanair, who are one of the only airlines in the world that require you to buy an extra seat for a small musical instrument, I left it gently weeping at home. After arriving at our destination and taking a barge over to the island, we spent the next couple of days introducing the practice of meditation, chanting and sacred music to a lively group of Irish locals. Though most of them had never experienced it before, they took part with gusto in breathing exercises, singing, dancing, trying out instruments and exploring the basics of bhakti yoga philosophy.

Father Harrison, on the barge along with the daily flower run for the temple worship.

Onto the island…

I’ve heard the Irish know how to have fun, and as this lot belted out ‘Govinda Jaya Jaya’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ at the top of their lungs, before dancing around the room, I realised it was true.

It was fun to run it with my Dad too. We haven’t done much as a team, and I was surprised to find we got a good flow going together – passing back and forth the speaking and leading of the chanting sessions.

If you’d like to find out more about Lake Isle Retreats, visit their website here.

Home again – there’s only one way to get back…well, unless you swim.

Fire in the Irish sunset.

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Spring Kirtan!

On Saturday I joined in the annual celebration of Sri Chaitanya’s birth. Known as Gaura Purnima, it marks a momentous day for all practitioners of kirtan and bhakti yoga. Chaitanya may have only been personally present more than 500 years ago in India, but his legacy is vibrant and pulsing with the same energy today. He protested against priests who wanted to keep the chanting of sacred names of God as an exclusive practice within the temple, and brought sacred song to the streets. This caused uproar at the time, but the power of his actions soon overwhelmed any protestors and much of Eastern India, as well as pockets of the West and South fell in love with the practice of kirtan. In this way, different classes, castes and genders were united. My friend Gaura often calls him one of the first non violent social reformists. In honour of his birthday, we paraded down Oxford Street, chanting and dancing, waving flags and handing out sweets. It was all quite jolly. Kirtan continued late into the night, and the next day too.

Yesterday I visited Oxford with my dad for another kirtan with the lovely group there, organised by Keshava. It’s always a treat, and yesterday was no exception. Sun streamed in the windows and we were blessed to have a group of enthusiastic singers, including many who had never attended a kirtan before. One girl came all the way from Manchester just to find out what it was all about! They hold events every month – the next on the 19th April. Please come along if you can – and come early to explore Oxford – it’s a fantastic place. It feels like breathing there makes you more intelligent!

More to come: this coming weekend my dad and I will lead a kirtan retreat in Ireland. It’s happening at a place called Inisrath – a beautiful Victorian house on an island near Co. Fermanagh. There are still a few places left if you feel like booking a last minute ticket. It’s sure to be a great event, run by the Lake Isle retreat team who are well seasoned in offering delicious organic food, alternative therapies as well as spiritual philosophy.

Coming up in London is our next kirtan at Yogabase in Islington on 2nd April. I’ll be there with some wonderful friends and guest singers from 6.30pm onwards. Our recent dates there have been truly enlivening, so if you can make it, please join us.


 

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