An incredible fifty hours of kirtan from this year’s Kirtan Mela in Mayapur, West Bengal has just been made available for download at www.kirtanmelamayapur.com.
Professional audio engineer Ekendra Das has spent over 300 hours editing and mixing the recordings, to create the best quality spiritual listening experience.
It’s a chance for those who missed the Kirtan Mela to participate in one of the most transformational sacred experiences ISKCON has to offer.
The event came about when Mayapur.tv global secretary Yasomati Dasi watched Germany’s 2011 Kirtan Mela live on her streaming website. The world’s first four-day Kirtan Mela, it was the biggest event of its kind yet, attended by 1,000 devotees and held in Germany’s Tharandter Wald forest.
Its organizer, Sacinandana Swami, had commented that he had been inspired by the gathering of sages in the forest of Naimisaranya 5,000 years ago. There, sages had performed a great yajna and discussed the Srimad-Bhagavatam to counteract the evils of the age of Kali. And now, devotees were gathering to perform the yajna for this age, chanting the Holy Names of Krishna.
Seeing Germany’s Kirtan Mela and hearing Sacinandana Swami’s words, Yasomati became enthused to hold a similar Kirtan Mela in Mayapur.
After all, Mayapur was the birthplace of Kirtan. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had introduced the ancient call and response singing of God’s names there in the 1500s.
What’s more, the original Naimisaranya was located in Godrumadvipa, just a stone’s throw from Mayapur.
So Yasomati approached ISKCON Mayapur’s management and requested that they facilitate a Mayapur Kirtan Mela during the famous Gaura Purnima festival.
“I felt that it was time we establish Mayapur as the capital of Kirtan worldwide,” she says. “I think it’s part of our mandate following Srila Prabhupada and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in making Kirtan and Mayapur known to the world.”
Germany’s Kirtan Mela organizer Sacinandana Swami came on board the project, as did local devotee Doyal Gauranga Das and a number of other devotees, forming a dedicated team.
The first Mayapur Kirtan Mela, held from February 22nd to 25th 2012, was a huge success. The amount of devotees participating for at least some time every day neared five thousand. And ISKCON Mayapur management promptly decided it would be an annual event.
This year, a huge crowd of devotees from all over the world once again gathered for the second Mayapur Kirtan Mela, this time in March.
On the 10th, devotees observed Adhivasa, the day prior to any major spiritual gathering, by singing an appropriate song composed by Narottama Das Thakur, and
worshipping the sacred musical instruments of kirtan.
The Mela proper then ran from March 11th to 15th. This time, 7,000 devotees participated. Meanwhile, the number of lead chanters doubled, from around fifteen last year to thirty-five this year.
These included Sacinandana Swami; GBC members Niranjana Swami, BB Govinda Swami, Radhanath Swami, and Bhakti Vaibhava Swami; senior devotees Bada Hari Das from the US and Aditi Dukhaha Das from Eastern Europe; and second generation devotees Madhava, sisters Jahnavi and Tulasi Harrison, Kirtan Premi, and Amala Harinam and his wife Nadiya Mani.
More important than the increase in attendees and singers, however, was the fact that the depth of concentration and devotion at the Kirtan Mela also increased this year.
“The Kirtan Mela is more than just a transcendental jam session,” Yasomati says. “It’s a communal prayer. When we pray together, we can increase the depth and intensity of our own chanting by accessing all that beautiful consciousness from everyone else as well. So the first year, it took devotees a few days to understand this difference between a regular kirtan and the Kirtan Mela. But this year, from the moment the first note on the harmonium was touched, everybody was there. Everyone was fully present.”
What’s more, to increase the focus, kirtaniyas such as Sacinandana Swami, Amala Harinam and Madhava would take a few minutes before each kirtan to remind everyone why they were there and to inspire them to concentrate on chanting together.
The chanting ran for twelve hours daily. Every morning from 9:00am, chanters rushed to get their seats next to the lead singers, with a few hundred people gathered by the time the kirtan began at 10:00am.
The crowds continued to grow, with a different lead singer every hour or two, until a quieter period starting at 1:00pm. At 4:00pm, attendees once again began to pour in, with the energy building and building. Most evenings saw two thousand devotees gather to chant at one time until the finale at 10:00pm.
But still, the chanting wasn’t over.
“We would stop officially at 10:00pm, but then we would just clean the area, take a break and some prasadam, and start again,” Yasomati says. “We would have kirtan until we wanted to stop: sometimes it was 1:30am, sometimes 2:00am. One night, we went on until mangala arati at 4:15am.”
With such an intense kirtan schedule, the Mela organization team made sure all the devotees were taken care of nicely. Not only was attendance free, but free breakfast, lunch, and an evening snack was provided daily for all.
Meanwhile, as much space as possible was provided for devotees to sit in both the Pancha Tattva temple room, where the lead singers were located, and in the Radha Madhava temple room. Screens were set up in both places so that those who were sitting far away could clearly see the lead singers and the Deities.
Meanwhile, a third location was set up outside, with parents of restless children especially in mind. There, devotees could watch the kirtan on a screen with speakers, take shelter from the sun beneath a tent, and be refreshed by spray from cooling water fountains.
Another key element of the Kirtan Mela was the seating: rather than having the lead singers sit on a stage facing the devotees, all chanters, including the lead singers, sat on the floor, facing the Deities.
“We try to play down the idea that it’s a performance as much as possible,” says Yasomati. “Yes, there are some people who are more qualified at playing musical instruments and leading the kirtan. But there are all the other devotees too, and they’re all singing for the pleasure of Pancha Tattva.”
With such a devotional mood, the Kirtan Mela escalated until the most memorable final day, when the excitement was palpable in the air and devotees chanted and danced in nonstop ecstasy.
“Everyone gave a hundred per cent or more on the last day,” Yasomati says. “Everyone was dancing, everyone was absorbed, everyone did everything they could to be fully present.”
As the devotees chanted, musical instruments that had been offered to the altar of Sri Pancha Tattva throughout the Mela where taken down and distributed to donors.
After the Kirtan Mela, thousands of devotees who had attended expressed how the event had changed their lives, allowing them to taste the nectar of the Holy Name in a way they hadn’t before, even through years of practicing Krishna consciousness.
“The purpose is one,” says Yasomati. “That’s what makes the big difference. But, like a dessert that you have to taste for yourself, it has to be experienced to be believed.”
Thanks to the Kirtan Mela’s technical support team, those who weren’t able to be there did get the chance to experience it, at least second hand.
Throughout the Mela, a large camera crew of ten to fifteen people worked in a tight knit team to provide a high quality multi-camera live feed of the event for Mayapur.tv. Meanwhile, the audio crew ensured excellent live sound and created the multi-track recording which is now available for download. On top of that, both crews spent hours setting up and dismantling their high quality equipment, which thousands of pounds were spent on to ensure the ultimate streaming experience.
“At some points in the Mela there were over 5,000 people watching and listening to the live stream,” says audio engineer Ekendra Das. “So from Mayapur, the birthplace and heart of the sankirtan movement, the Holy Names reverberated globally. It was a privilege to be involved with something so spiritually uplifting.”
After the event, Ekendra spent 300 hours editing and mixing the recordings and preparing them for download on www.kirtanmelamayapur.com. This meant fixing recordings where a mridanga was too loud, or where someone sat too close to a mic with a pair of kartals or a conversational neighbor—all for your listening pleasure.
Next year, the Mayapur Kirtan Mela will run from February 28th until March 4th. As well as making plans to further expand outside space for the event, Yasomati has submitted a proposal to ISKCON’s Governing Body Comission to start a Kirtan Academy in Mayapur by this fall.
“It would cover music, but also help students understand more deeply what is the chanting of the Holy Name, by studying bhajans and different literatures from Bhaktivinode Thakur and Srila Prabhupada,” she says. “It will be another step by the Kirtan Mela team to educate devotees in kirtan and bring the Kirtan Mela to the next level.”
Please support the Mayapur Kirtan Mela by downloading and donating for the over fifty hours of kirtan available at www.kirtanmelamayapur.com.