Illinois Kirtan Workshop Launches Ambitious Kirtan Education Plan
Photos by Vraja Pati Das
Twenty-five devotees from the greater Chicago area and beyond—half of them middle aged, and half youth aged 13 to 22—were excited to see what lay ahead as they applied for the five-day Art of Kirtan workshop at the ISKCON Center in Naperville, Illinois, earlier this month.
Led by master kirtan musician Bada Haridas and his wife Kosarupa Dasi, both senior devotees dedicated to Srila Prabhupada’s mission of spreading Krishna’s Holy Names, the workshop, running from July 3rd through 7th, was sure to be a treat.
In particular, it would teach the essence of kirtan: how to sing from the heart for the pleasure of the Lord, using as an example the heartfelt kirtan of ISKCON’s founder.
It was Srila Prabhupada’s kirtan that greatly impacted Bada Haridas himself, changing the course of his life when he heard a cassette recording while visiting Los Angeles’ ISKCON temple for the first time in 1975.
“It was playing in the gift store, and I was immediately drawn to it,” he recalls. “I just went over there and stood and listened. And the thought that went through my mind was, ‘This is the best musician I’ve ever heard.’”
As he had just finished a degree in music composition at the time, and had spent two years in New York listening to some of the greatest musicians in the world, it took Bada Haridas some time to reflect on why this thought had sprung to mind. Ultimately, he realized, it was because Srila Prabhupada’s music was from the heart, based on pure devotion.
Inspired, Bada Haridas joined the temple, and engaged his musical talents in learning Vaishnava songs and melodies from kirtan singer Agnideva Dasa. Starting out as Agnideva’s harmonium player, he soon began singing kirtan himself.
Since then, he has held kirtans and taught Vaishnava music lessons for 35 years, with the last 10 spent traveling around the world and teaching at events such as Ukraine’s mega Black Sea Festival.
This July’s Art of Kirtan workshop was his first ambitious attempt to deliver all the essential basics of kirtan in one five-day package.
The 30-hour course featured two 3-hour sessions per day, the first from 10:00am until 1:00pm, and the second from 4:00pm until 7:00pm.
Students got practical introductions to the North Indian music system, various scales, melodies, and raagas, and instruments such as harmonium, kartalas and mridanga. In interactive lessons, they learned about different styles of kirtan, how to develop their voices, and how to manage the flow, transitions, starting and ending of a good kirtan.
“We divided the students into groups, putting the more musically-advanced ones—usually the youth who had grown up doing kirtan—in the role of mentor,” says Bada Haridas. “So for them it was a sort of teacher training, too.”
As well as the more practical aspects, the workshop also examined the mood, meditation and philosophy behind kirtan, with a special focus on Srila Prabhupada’s approach and pertinent instructions on the subject.
“Prabhupada was very open, and encouraged devotees to sing in their own way,” Bada Haridas says. “And at the same time, I think it’s important for us to connect with his mood, and the depth of his kirtan. So we listened to some of his kirtan, discussed it, and also heard from his instructions.”
Bada Haridas also taught a series entitled What is Kirtan? including classes on Kirtan as Sadhana: Purification & Self-discovery; Kirtan Sanga: Purifying Relationships through Kirtan; and Kirtan as Preaching: Sharing our Good Fortune.
After each lunch break, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm every day, participants had the chance to try out and rehearse what they had learned by leading kirtan.
On July 6th, the final day, the entire class got the opportunity to take their kirtan skills out onto the street, singing live at Naperville Riverwalk Park from 5:30pm until 9:30pm.
A total of 75 local devotees gathered to watch the event, joined by intrigued passers-by, who were served sanctified vegetarian food and offered Srila Prabhupada’s books while they enjoyed the music.
“All in all, we tried to make the workshop a balance of the inspirational and the practical, with a healthy dollop of fun,” says Bada Haridas. “We strive to create a kirtan sanga that will foster pure devotion, help devotees gain the full benefit of kirtan, and feel confident to teach others.”
Students had uniformly positive feedback about the workshop, saying it deepened their connection with Srila Prabhupada, and helped them appreciate his kirtan in a whole new way.
It also helped them to understand what a powerful process kirtan is—that it is, as Srila Prabhupada’s guru Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati called it, the Emperor of Sadhana (spiritual practice).
Next up, Bada Haridas and Kosarupa will be offering their Art of Kirtan workshop on as-yet-unconfirmed dates in Detroit, Michigan; New Vrindaban, West Virginia; Gainesville, Florida; and even abroad in Australia.
Each workshop will be for 20 to 30 people at most, rather than for larger audiences of 100 or more, so that students can get individual attention and musical instruction.
In the future, The Art of Kirtan is expected to evolve into a brand that will branch out into home study courses with videos, books, and online study materials, so that students can perfect their skills beyond the five-day workshop.
“Kirtan is for everyone, and I want to give as many devotees as possible the opportunity and the experience to lead kirtan and to become comfortable with it—for their own personal spiritual practice, as well as to take it out onto the streets,” says Bada Haridas.
He adds, “Sometimes people see us chanting in public these days and say things like, “We thought you were extinct!” So we need thousands and thousands of kirtan leaders to continue spreading the Holy Name all over the world.”
To book Bada Haridas and Kosarupa Dasi for a kirtan workshop in your location, or to find out how to sign up for the next workshop, please write to them at http://badaharidas.com/contact.
Video and audio of the entire Naperville Art of Kirtan workshop, as well as a regularly updated schedule of upcoming workshops, will be available on the brand new website Artofkirtan.com when it goes live on August 15th.