Why such a question you might ask? In one sense anyone can lead a kirtan, but let us consider a few things first. I write this as much for myself as others as I too am prone to egoism and a lack of proper attitude at times in my service.

There are few leaders, such as Indradyumna Swami and Sivarama Swami, who will only have capable devotees lead a kirtan, those who know how to keep a steady pace and stick to the same melody. I am not of the opinion that
anyone can lead at any given time, maybe we need some sort of training program? There does not seem to be an exact standard even, some will sing Gaura Nita and other things, which are not wrong, obviously, but we saw Srila Prabhupada mainly stick to the Hare Krsna mantra, so why don’t we do that. It is after all called “sarva mantra sar”, that which contains all other mantras.

We all know that Srila Prabhupada taught the famous three couples who came to England, how to conduct kirtan, it seems that is a necessity, we should have some idea how to conduct a proper kirtan, whether we are pure or not,
that will come in time no doubt.

On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada was once asked, what can we do to attract more people to kirtan, he said you don’t need to do anything externally, but if you chant purely and sincerely, Krsna will send people to you. I believe he also stopped some travelling festivals because it was getting too extravagant and losing the purity, I would have to look that up to remember the specifics though.

There are many instances where Srila Prabhupada would stop somebody if he felt they were in the wrong mood, one particular instance comes to mind. One devotee was leading, dressed very nicely and very expert at playing mrdanga and he had a very nice voice, but Srila Prabhupada stopped him and asked a young gurukula boy to sing, whose voice was even a little off tone, apparently that devotee who began leading walked out. I heard this in one of Srila Prabhupada’s memories.

We have heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta asking his devotees to lead who did not have a great voice, I think he was making a point there, Krsna wants our love, not our expertise.

Should a devotee ask to lead or be asked to lead? It may be he or she wants to lead as a service, and that is okay, as long as their motivation is just that. Nowadays we do have a bit of a celebrity culture and it seems one needs to know a very good melody also. Does that matter? One could be pure in heart still, one who sings a basic melody that we all know, may not be so pure, it may be difficult to tell for some of us. It is up to that devotee to be sure of their own heart. I prefer the scenario where a devotee is asked to lead.

There is a nice interview with Agnideva Prabhu where he mentions that he has now become well know, even famous, he didn’t want that, but he takes the opportunity to lead kirtan as a service which I think is a nice attitude.

As for melodies, now we have a few of our Guru’s using melodies from songs of the 60’s and 70’s, I don’t say it is wrong or bad, I don’t think it is necessary either, in fact it makes some think of that song the melody has been taken from. Now younger devotees follow that sometimes, and may not always do a good job of it, then better they sing something simple for all to follow.

You sometimes get a situation where a devotee is not thinking of the audience, but instead is singing a “far out” melody that perhaps only a few know, so why is that, are they being taught that it is necessary to know great melody, or a new melody, that could give the wrong impression, it could be we get bored of the same old melodies, that is not a good mood to create I don’t think. I have even had a few devotees tell me that when they are leading they think the melody should be changed as others might be getting bored!

I know one of our sanyasi who will only sing the same melody when leading, one that Srila Prabhupada taught us, he feels that is right I guess, and other melodies are not needed. I have never asked him though.

I have seen situations where every single festival the same few devotees are leading a kirtan, they should give others an opportunity. There are often senior devotees present, but I never see that they are asked to lead, it may be they don’t mind, but I think it is good etiquette to at least ask them, but it is not happening, at least in England. I go on a local Harinam on festival days, we often have a disciple of Srila Prabhupada there, Saksi Gopal, we always invite him to lead, even though some of us have been in the movement over 40 years, as he is still lout senior devotee and it is the right thing to do.

We also have kirtans now with all sorts of instruments, which can be a distraction, we may like that kirtan because it is funky or jazzy etc. You can listen to Revati Nandan Prabhu on Srila Prabhupada memories telling us how Srila Prabhupada did not like such kirtans, he said the ear will tend to hear those instruments and distract one from hearing the maha mantra properly. I don’t really like the extra instruments, but now it is another fashion in ISKCON. I hardly think they are necessary either. You might see a flute player who is not even able to chant along with the kirtan.

I remember Bhaja Hari Prabhu saying in one of his Vyasa Puja offerings that the devotees used to argue over who should lead, not a very nice mood for having a kirtan in my opinion. Some devotees like to “book a spot” for an
upcoming festival, in some cases that seems okay, for example, there is 24 hour kirtan on Gaura Purnima and devotees are asked to put their name forward, but when I see a Harinam coming up and devotees want to book their place, they are often the same devotees again and again. I am not sure if that is the right and fair thing, to start with it takes away the opportunity for others on the day. Usually singers are asked on the day, organised by one devotee who might be organising the festival, I think that is better. I have heard that Aindra had two others lead with him, he said that helps diffuse the false ego of the leader, let’s face it, it is easy to think I am singing nicely, I know I struggle with that sometimes.

There are some situations where only one devotee will lead the whole time for a Rathayatra festival. Is that right or fair? I recall a small Rath Yatra festival in England where the devotee led the whole time, another disciple of Srila Prabhupada asked me if he could lead, but I said I can’t say anything (it was another Srila Prabhupada disciple leading). I think some or many devotees really do not mind that happening, it seemed to be common in the early days, Visnujana Swami would lead a lot, or Parikisit and Bhardvaja, most are just happy to be in a kirtan actually.

At the end of the day we have to be pure and concentrate on the melody whether we are leading or responding, the same goes for our japa, we all know what a struggle that can be at times. I do not think devotees have to *lead the kirtan* to be encouraged to attend a Harinam. That could possibly give the wrong impression and create the wrong mood for that person, as well as the motivation to go on Harinam could be spoiled, instead the emphasis should be on why we go out on Harinam, for both our own and the public’s benefit. How we have to have good sadhana and japa in order to be in the correct frame of mind at the time of the Harinam.

These are some of my thoughts on the matter. I welcome any input, especially from senior devotees who knew how Srila Prabhupada wanted us to behave in all situations.

Here are some headline quotes I found from the kirtan standards book plus other quotes I found online, as below.

*“Srila Prabhupada’s Kirtana Standards,” installment 5*

*Guidelines from His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami*

*1. Kirtana means glorification of Sri Hari by means of singing. (When only one devotee sings, it is bhajana.)*

*2. Glorify Sri Krsna, not yourself.*

*3. Sing with sincere devotion for the pleasure of Sri Krsna and His devotees.*

*4. When singing in a group, one or two persons should lead and other devotees should follow.*

*5. The instruments that Srila Prabhupada instructed for accompanying kirtana were karatal, mrdanga and jhampa (whompers). He didn’t approve of harmonium for kirtana. For bhajana it is all right. The instruments, especially jhampa, should not drown out the holy name or cause pain to the ears. The instruments should follow the kirtana leader.*

*6. Use simple melody and preferably the appropriate melody (raga) for the time of day.*

*7. Don’t think that you are the best singer and therefore you should lead. Vaisnavas are by nature humble. They naturally want to follow, not lead. However, if they are requested to lead by the Vaisnavas, then they are happy to serve.*

*Melodic instruments divert attention from the mantra; rhythm instruments make one inclined to dance and dancing unlocks devotion; melodies are to be filled with the mantra; no extended notes*

Revatinandana: “Srila Prabhupada gave a Sunday feast lecture about kirtan, and he said things that I never heard him say at other times, particularly not during a lecture. He remarked that melodic instruments, including the harmonium, are not meant for kirtan, and he explained why. He said that the ear will automatically follow musical strains, and then our attention will be diverted from the mantra. He said that rhythm instruments are good for kirtan because they make one more inclined to dance, and dancing, in turn, unlocks devotion. He liked graceful dancing. He used to mention that Jayatirtha was a graceful dancer. He said, “See how he dances. This is very good. This will help one feel more devotion.” Another time he told Vishnujana that he did not like melodies that had long, extended notes in them. He liked the melody to be filled with the mantra.

*Prabhupada wanted the devotees to learn how to do kirtan properly*

Prabhupada wanted to teach his London-bound disciples to sing and play instruments in a specific way. Someone should learn to play the harmonium properly-following the melody, not simply pumping it, as the devotees had been doing for years. And the Sanskrit mantras and bhajanas should be pronounced properly and the melodies sung correctly. Some melodies were to be sung in the morning, others in the evening. Each word was to be pronounced correctly and with the right intonation.

Prabhupada liked Yamuna’s singing, and Mukunda was an expert musician for organizing the party. The spacious Montreal temple was a suitable place for them to practice. Ideally, Prabhupada said, the party should have two mridanga players, one harmonium player, one tamboura player, and at least six karatala players. He talked about sending the group not only to London but to the European continent and then to Asia also. So he wanted them to
become expert at kirtana. (Prabhupada Lila 7– 4, Satsvarupa Swami: A Summer in Montreal 1968)

*Musical ornamentation attracts people but devotees should not be attached to it*

“Aniruddha: Vishnujana Swami was a wonderful devotee who sang beautifully. Prabhupada said, “By his singing alone, he can go back to the spiritual world.” And Vishnujana Swami was expert in playing the tambora, the mridanga, the harmonium, and in making up his own melodies. He was a little embarrassed to play his own melodies for Prabhupada, but he wanted to be recognized. Once, in the La Cienega temple, where Prabhupada had a small private room adjoining the main temple room, Vishnujana was elaborately playing his melodies on the harmonium in the temple room when Prabhupada came out of his room and said, “What is wrong with the melodies I have given you?” Today the movement has grown and we have many different melodies, but I’m fond of Prabhupada’s original ones.

Prabhupada knew that we were attracting all varieties of people and he was broad-minded. When Vishnujana Maharaj started the road shows using guitars and a lot of music, Prabhupada said, “This is very good to attract people, but the devotees shouldn’t get attached to it.” Today, however, in some places it’s common for devotees to play all these songs. Whatever brings a person to Krishna consciousness is all right – Prabhupada taught us to be broad-minded – but we have to be careful not to compromise.” (Srila Prabhupada Remembrances [Siddhanta das ITV], Chapter 32)

*Not to please the crowd but to deliver Krsna in the right way*

“Your business is not to, I mean to say, satisfy the crowd. Your business is satisfy Krishna, and then crowd will be automatically satisfied. We are not going to please the crowd. We are going to give them something, Krishna. So you should be very much careful whether you are delivering Krishna in the right way. Then they’ll be satisfied. Your only business should be to satisfy Krishna.” (Bhagavad-gita 7.1, Los Angeles, December 2, 1968)

SP letter to Jadurani, 26 May 1969:

Regarding your question about kirtana, practically we are not concerned with the instruments. They are used sometimes to make it sweeter, but if we divert our attention for using the instruments more, that is not good. We can accept everything for Krishna’s service, but not taking the risk of diverting attention to any other thing which will hinder our Krishna Consciousness. That should be our motto, or principle.

Source: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=98293

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