(Photos by Ilay Boyko)
Moscow’s first ever Kirtan Mela, which ran from Friday January 30th to Sunday February 1st, drew nearly 2,000 devotees from around Russia – and like most ISKCON Moscow events, it was a colorfuly uplifting affair on a grand scale.
The event was organized by Saraswati Dasi after ISKCON guru Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami, inspired by a “Mantra Yoga” program he attended in Moscow, expressed the desire to participate in more outreach programs there.
As the first day of the Mela fell on Ekadasi, a fortnightly fast day, it incorporated a mainstay of ISKCON Moscow – the all-night Ekadasi kirtan.
Overseen as usual by Russian sannyasi Bhakti Ananta Krishna Goswami, the kirtan took place in ISKCON Moscow’s spacious new temple room in a rented building in Polejayevskaya – where devotees moved after their old temple in Dinamo was demolished in 2013.
Nearly 2,000 people filled Forum Hall for the Kirtan Mela's main day
The kirtan began at 5:00pm and went all through the night until eight o’clock in the morning, when it concluded with a Bhagavatam class and devotees breaking their fast.
Highlights of the Ekadasi all-nighter included a unique classical music kirtan by much-loved Russian chanter Aditi Dukhaha Das, who was joined by composer Evgeny Babenko. Called “unusual and wonderful” by fellow kirtaniya Sundara Govinda Das, it featured a grand piano, violins, pre-recorded samples and an Armenian woodwind instrument called the “Duduk.”
Akinchana Krishna Das, one of the core members of Krishna Balarama Mandir’s 24-Hour Kirtan program in Vrindavana, India also chanted, as did Suryanandini Dasi, who tours with B.B. Govinda Swami.
Because the temple’s main Deities of Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Saci Suta were resting during the night, a small altar was erected, upon which sat ISKCON Botanicheskiy’s Deities of Patita Pavana Jagannatha as well as several home Deities. Throughout the night, devotees offered lamps to Them, creating an atmospheric and prayerful mood.
Adding a touch of classical violin to the proceedings
The next day saw the Mela’s main 12-hour kirtan held at the rented Forum Hall in the center of Moscow City from midday till midnight.
The vast rectangular space, framed by wrap-around balconies, was decorated with lights strung from the ceiling like stars in the night sky. Nearly two thousand devotees and members of the public crowded in to watch and sing along with chanters on the hall’s huge stage, which was flanked by altars for Sri Sri Radha Gopinath and Sri Sri Radha Vrajasundara.
First up was professional musician Sundara Govinda Das, who has been holding weekly Harinamas in Moscow for the past five years, along with his wife Nilambara Dasi. Next came Bhakta Ananta, a skilled young mridanga player, singer and graduate of Aditi Dukhaha’s Navarasa kirtan school. He was followed by Thakura Haridas, an enthusiastic brahmachari who runs two of Moscow’s biggest outreach programs, Kirtan Moscow and Mantra Yoga.
The 24 Hour Kirtan’s Akincana Krishna Das then ascended the stage with a group of devotees and began a very “old school” kirtan, chanting while standing up and dancing with only mridanga and kartalas as accompaniment.
With its authentic mood, Akincana Krishna Das' 'old school' harinam kirtan was a favorite
The energy in the hall escalated as the group climbed off the stage and plunged into the audience, rousing them with the power of the Holy Names until the whole crowd was jumping and spinning in concentric circles around five acrobatic mridanga players who leapt and pinwheeled in the center.
“For me, that was the best part of the day,” says Sundara Govinda. “Because it was so authentic, so real.”
Aditi Dukhaha followed, bringing another touching kirtan to the mix by adding more traditional elements to his classical set from the night before. After him was Bhakti Ananta Krishna Goswami, a charismatic leader experienced in encouraging a lot of people to chant at his huge Goloka Fest public programs. And then came Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami.
“Maharaja did an enormously powerful kirtan for an hour and a half, accompanied by Suryanandini on saxophone, and two amazing Russian violin players with a classical background,” says Sundara Govinda. “Everyone was already warmed up from Akincana’s kirtan, so it didn’t take Maharaja long to get people to dance. Almost half the audience ended up onstage, because everyone wanted to join him and back his singing.”
B.B. Govinda Swami puts his heart into chanting the Holy Names
Finally, another 24 Hour Kirtan alumni, internationally renowned Kirtaniya Madhava Das, closed the night with his heartfelt, meditative chanting.
The next day, however, may have been the liveliest kirtan of the Mela. Held in a large community hall in the same building as the Moscow temple, it featured Madhava, followed by B.B. Govinda Swami, who gave everything he had to the chanting of the Holy Name from 5pm until ten o’clock at night.
“It was as crazy as it can be, a one-off experience,” says Sundara Govinda. “Everyone was dancing and singing along, senior devotees were jumping like little kids. By the end, Maharaja had lost his voice, and the devotees were helping him by shouting the Maha Mantra as loud as they could at the top of their lungs. It was so moving – a wonderful way to close the Mela.”
The event was such a hit that organizers aren’t even waiting a year for the next one – the second Moscow Kirtan Mela is planned for June 26th to 28th, with B.B. Govinda Swami and Ojasvi Das from Vrindavana, India already confirmed.
It's the kirtan spin cycle -- leaves your mind fresh and clean
Devotees who attended the Mela were uplifted and inspired in their spiritual lives, while several newcomers who were attending a Krishna conscious event for the first time were so impressed that they gave substantial donations towards the next one.
“These kinds of events,” says Sundara Govinda, “Definitely have a very big impact on peoples’ attitudes towards Krishna consciousness.”kirtana ] [ kirtan-mela ] [ maha-mantra ] [ moscow ] [ russia ]