Katelin’s Kirtan Course 2015 diary
Written by Katelin Knapp
The class of 2015 has been launched into the kirtan course with blissful kirtans, deep insights and meaningful experiences. From Vancouver to London, the 18 students come from all different backgrounds to one peaceful place in order to chant the Holy Names, learn the basic instruments and unlock the nectar. Week one lays a h4 foundation for the temple of the heart, beginning with Sacinandana Swami’s mercy, stories and humour. Before even picking up an instrument, he was there to ensure that we had a proper understanding of what goes into the chanting of the Holy Name. Maharaja focused heavily on concepts such as developing a relationship with the Holy Name, chanting in a prayerful mood and being fully present for each syllable of the mantra.
After a successful lift off with Sacinandana Swami, we began our journey through learning melodious harmonium, h4 mrdanga and clear kartals. As the main aspect of the kirtan course, many enjoyed this first and challenging introduction into the subtleties of instrumental music in kirtan. One of the students, a professional singer, led us through the theory and techniques of singing. This week has only been the first steps onto a journey with colourful ice cream, loud instrument practice and singing from the heart. Hopefully the Radhadesh community will forgive us for the relentless practicing that’s been going on.
This week we were fortunate enough to have the association of Krishna Ksetra Swami, who gave a five-day seminar entitled, “Sounding Out Devotional Traditions.” His aim was to look at different types of devotional music with a wide-angle lens. By the end of the week, our knowledge of kirtan’s roots had expanded exponentially and we have a greater appreciation for different traditions classified as kirtan.
With a jam-packed schedule, we have continued to learn and practice the instruments. Some beginner students have started to lead their first kirtans whilst others play along with the accompanying instruments. At this point, we’re really starting to understand and appreciate what goes into a proper kirtan through the observation and participation of the daily evening bhajans in the temple room.
This week brought Lord Caitanya into our midst with the descriptive, dramatic and delightful stories told by Kadamba Kanana Swami. Reading from the Caitanya Bhagavata, we delved into the detailed pastimes of the Lord using the Siksastakam as an anchor to revisit and analyze throughout the readings. Whilst our practical knowledge increases, we learnt about the ecstatic kirtans from Yamuna devi and Vishnujana Swami in ISKCON’s past. Some of the musically orientated students came together to compose and perform some beautiful songs as part of a service to Radha Gopinatha and the Summer Festival.
The incredibly inspiring, humble and talented Jahnavi Harrison was our guest teacher this week. She gave a seminar on the prayers of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura where in which we spent the week diving deep into a collection of songs in one of His most popular works, “Saranagati.” There’s no doubt that all of us felt a much deeper connection with these poems and felt great inspiration to start to learn these bhajans on our own.
Weeks 6 & 7
During these last couple of weeks, it has really started to hit us that there isn’t much time left in the kirtan course; therefore, for many of us, this has inspired us to really push our limits in regards to practicing instruments. However, this was not always easy with about 200 young visiting devotees from the UK hanging around for just over a week. However, the distraction was definitely worth it due to the uplifting kirtans that took place throughout the week with incredibly talented kirtaniyas, such as Ojasvi Prabhu. In addition, we took a day trip to Cologne for the Ratha Yatra festival, where we had the good fortune of meeting with Sacinandana Swami, who shared some nectarean wisdom with us with the intent to inspire us for the remaining weeks of the course. Most recently, we were given a surprise three-day seminar by Sarvatma Prabhu, who shared some of his kirtan expertise with us in hopes of expanding our boundaries of where we take our musical inspiration from.
Along with the continuation of instrument classes, this week’s visiting teacher Mahendra Prabhu gave a seminar entitled “Kirtan as Sadhana and Sadhya,” where in which he spoke about how kirtan is both the means and the ultimate goal in spiritual life. He supported these claims with a multitude of references from the Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Caitanya Charitamrita, Caitanya Bhagavata and different quotes from the acharyas.
On Saturday, most of us went on a day trip to Aachen to do harinam and to visit one of the kirtan course students who had to leave the course early. It was a blissful reunion jam-packed with energetic kirtan, enthusiastic passersby and an absolutely delicious feast prepared by the Aachen devotees to finish off the day.