Prabhupada disciple and Gainesville Krishna House leader Kalakantha Das may not be your typical rapper. He is, after all, in his words “a sixty-four-year-old white guy.” But his new book “Bhagavad-gita: The Rap of God” is already getting rave reviews from contemporary audiences.
“I’ve been working with young devotees at the Krishna House near the University of Florida for many years, and I wanted to imagine what it might sound like if Krishna came and spoke the Bhagavad-gita to a young person in 2018, with contemporary language, idioms and expressions,” he says.
Available now on Amazon, “The Rap of God” includes the entire 700 verses of the Bhagavad-Gita rendered in rap, with common phrases and language set to a rhythmic meter and rhyme. The book also contains a FAQ section about the philosophy of Krishna consciousness and a foreword by scholar Ravi M. Gupta (Radhika Raman Das).
With an innovative format, the entire book is turned sideways and opens from the bottom – both to allow for a larger font without breaking up the lines of verse, and to quite literally turn the idea of a wrathful God on its side.
The verses within are full of metaphorical imagery and rolling rhythm, like this sample from Chapter Two:
"Forever, forceful rivers flow and finish in the sea,
which welcome all their water but won’t waver one degree.
So senses push their urges in a river that won’t cease;
the cool can view the surges and yet always keep the peace.
"If you can see the senses sulk without ceding control
you’ll keep a peaceful, humble scene, your mind serene and full.
Subsisting in that saintly style, succeeding with each breath,
you shift to the Supreme estate as soon as you meet death."
To promote the book, Kalakantha is currently touring a thirty-minute Powerpoint show meant to convey to an English-speaking audience what it might be like to hear Lord Krishna speak the Bhagavad-gita today.
According to a 1973 lecture by Srila Prabhupada, Krishna originally spoke the Gita in just half an hour, so to replicate that fast-paced experience for his presentation Kalakantha selects only a third of the verses and organizes them by topic.
He then raps the verses live with a tambura and tabla backing track, while the words appear on a screen along with illustrations.
So far audiences at universities, Sunday Feasts and small gatherings in Columbus, Portland, San Jose and Los Angeles have been very receptive. Indian as well as Western people have been excited by the project, with one Indian gentleman commenting, “This is like a PhD thesis on the Gita!”
Meanwhile in his foreward, Dr. Ravi Gupta, the Charles Redd Chair of Religious Studies at the University of Utah comments, “As someone who has read many editions of Bhagavad-gītā, I truly enjoyed reading ‘The Rap of God,’ particularly its colloquial style of language. The message conveyed in this volume is authentic, profound and beautifully expressed. This fresh version is sure to bring this classic to a new generation of readers.”
The book is indeed selling briskly, and is being seen by ISKCON preachers as a good introduction to Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita As It Is.
Jaya Chaitanya Das, one of the top book distributors in Los Angeles and a former hip-hop producer himself, distributed it at the LA Rathayatra recently and found that many people were interested.
Jaya Chaitanya also passed on a copy to eighties rapper KRS-One, whose name is extracted from “Krishna” and who would quote from the Bhagavad-gita during his concerts. Kalakantha hopes that he or another professional rapper will record an album using the book in the future.
“I have gotten a lot of benefit myself while writing ‘The Rap of God’from meditating on the Bhagavad-gita verses, and looking at them from different angles,” he says. “I hope that new people will get excited about Krishna consciousness by learning about Krishna through the book, and will go on to read Prabhupada’s books and associate with devotees.”
He adds, “I also hope that devotees who have been well-versed in Prabhupada’s Gita will find this a good refresher overview to help them keep sharp and fresh in their study of Bhagavad-gita.”
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