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April 27, 2015
A History of the Sacred Practice of Kirtan - Part 1
By Sri Prahalda Das
In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of people and devas [demigods], along with sacrifices, and blessed them by saying, "Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things. The devas, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you; thus nourishing one another, there will reign general prosperity for all".
Bhagavad-gita 3, 10-11
My introduction to kirtan
When I was five my dad got into kirtan, an ancient form of meditation based upon sacred music. My dad was a child of the 1960s, which were a critical time in modern history when people, particularly the disillusioned youth, began questioning the status-quo. Many also began to recognise that India's ancient yogi might hold the answers to the hollowness and superficiality that seemed to characterise most people's lives in modern society. My dad was one such questioning youth who became intrigued by the yogis and the practice of kirtan. When I was born dad was on this spiritual journey and as I grew, he endeavoured to imbibe within me all that he learned. One night before bed my dad told me the following account of the Earth's spiritual history, as described in India's yoga texts:
Once upon a time...
In the far off exotic land today known as India, our ancestors lived as yogis in sustainable rural communities called ashramas. These yogis were also called rishis, which means "seer", because they cultivated their "third eye". This is the minds eye of inner spiritual consciousness, which shone in them like an internal blazing mid-summer sun. They cultivated their inner eye through meditation practices such as kirtan, and by proper understanding of the associations between the causes and consequences of all things, allowing them to "see" past, present, and future. Although they lived simply, the life of the yogis was rich with the jewels of satisfaction, peace, spiritually, and a universal harmony between humans, animals, the rest of nature. All parties in this relationship flourished like a perennial spring with abundant beauty, fragrance, vitality, and growth. The yogis didn't have to work particularly hard because Mother Earth provided them her rich bounty of sweet juicy fruits, nutritious grains, and succulent vegetables without the need for ploughing and sowing fields with seeds for food. As the yogis were vegetarian so there was also no need to hunt and slaughter innocent animals. Additionally, Mother Earth generously sent forth her valuable minerals including jewels and gold to the surface of the earth, these the yogis used for making medicine, ornaments, and for worship; expressing appreciation to the Divine. Mother Earth's seasons were as predictable as a Swiss watch, such that yogis didn't need watches, they could accurately tell the time and the date from the weather. In this harmony, the clouds only sent rain at night when the yogis slept, enough to properly irrigate nature's vegetation, so the sun could shine pleasantly all day long. Without the need for hard work, the yogis devoted their time to nurturing beautiful relationships called yoga or links between each other, with Nature whom the addressed as Mother Nature, and with the Supreme Divine whom, amongst many other Holy Names, was called The Universal Father. They did this through the inner cultivation of spiritual practices that were given by the Supreme Divine at the beginning of time, and handed down from one yogi teacher to the next, in an unbroken chain of disciplic succession.
There my dad smiled and left off, telling me the story would be continued the next evening...
As I lay in bed falling asleep, I wondered what happened to this beautiful spiritual civilization. I also wondered if it might be possible to experience the peace, love, joy, and harmony that the yogis shared, even today.
What do you think? Feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions you might have.
Sri Prahlada was practically born into kirtan and has been singing and playing kirtan across the globe since childhood. He has performed kirtan in traditional, as well as rock and reggae styles before audiences of tens of thousands. Along with the likes of Krishna Das and Jai Uttal, he features in Steven Rosen's book "The Yoga of Kirtan". He often performs with the five-piece band featuring the hypnotic harmonium, rhythmic base and mridanga drum, melodic guitar, chiming karatals, and vocal harmonies. Sri Prahlada's heart and soul permeates every moment of every kirtan he sings, transporting his audience to the realm of spiritual consciousness. Sri Prahlada frequently shares realisations and teachings related to kirtan on his website: https://www.sriprahlada.com.
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