The Epicenter of Kirtan


The most influential kirtan leader in the world over the past 25 years passed away last week.  Many readers of my blog may not know him by name since he never pursued a career as a kirtan recording artist; you’re not likely to hear him on a play list during a yoga class. His only interest was in practicing and teaching the art of kirtan at the deepest, most devotional level. And anyone who wanted to chant with him had to go pretty far out of their way to do it.

I traveled to Vrindavan, India, in 2008. Vrindavan is a small but very significant place of pilgrimage for bhakti sadhikas – practitioners of devotional yoga. The purpose of my trip was specifically to deepen my sadhana – my spiritual practice – and the primary means through which I intended to do that was through harinama sankirtana; the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra accompanied with musical instruments in the association of sadhikas for whom such chanting is the essence of their spiritual life.

Vrindavan is the worldwide epicenter of kirtan and the epicenter of kirtan in Vrindavan is adjacent to the ashram where I was staying: Krishna-Balarama Mandir. The kirtan goes on there continually – 24 hours a day. And the person at the epicenter of the 24-hour kirtan was an extraordinary bhakti sadhika named Aindra Das.

Originally from the Washington D.C. area, Aindra left the United States for Vrindavan in 1986 and never came back. The 24-hour kirtan was his project, undertaken as a self-motivated service to his guru. He was both a master kirtan leader and a profound scholar of devotional philosophy. He led the evening kirtan in the temple at six o’clock and I made a point of being there every night from day one of my visit. It was an extraordinary kirtan, unlike any I’d attended in the past. It was familiar yet foreign, operatic, immense and dynamic; like a volcanic eruption of devotion. I’m no stranger to kirtan (my name even means “servant of the kirtan”) but Aindra’s kirtan was so deep and different that, at first, I couldn’t really access it. And I quickly realized that my inability to enter into Aindra’s kirtan was an indication that, although I was in Vrindavan, I had not yet entered into Vrindavan on a spiritual level.

As the weeks went by I gradually developed, or was given, the ability to taste a drop of the nectar of Aindra’s incredible kirtans. But it wasn’t until my last night in Vrindavan that I finally introduced myself to him. I told him that it was my first trip to Vrindavan and that I hoped I could internalize the experience enough to take some of it home with me. Without hesitation he invited me up to his room and offered to burn some CDs of his kirtans for me.

Aindra’s living quarters felt more like a cave than a room. It was dominated by beautiful deities that he obviously worshiped with great care; a sacred space meant solely for intimate communion with the Divine. He gave me a set of music CDs and a crash course in playing the harmonium. He was very generous with his time, cheerful, energetic, and very encouraging when I spoke of my desire to make some small contribution to the worldwide kirtan movement.
Aindra Das
Aindra’s contribution was incalculable: there are hundreds of recordings of his kirtans available for free on the Internet so if you can’t get to Vrindavan, Vrindavan can come to you. I’m very grateful for his generosity in allowing those recordings to be freely distributed. And I’m deeply grateful for the brief time I got to spend with him. But what I appreciate most is his influence on an entire younger generation of kirtaniyas around the world, from New York to New Zealand, who grew up with his kirtans and, following in his footsteps, lead the most amazing, devotionally charged kirtans you’ll ever hope to hear. As they were sustained and enlivened by Aindra’s kirtans as they grew up, so now do their kirtans sustain and enliven me, as I grow old.

For an extensive collection of recordings of Aindra Das’ kirtans, go to http://www.gauravani.com/download/aindrakirtan

To hear kirtans lead by kirtaniyas who were influenced by Aindra Das, check out the recordings of the annual 24-hour kirtan held in West Virginia, which you can download for free, and the monthly 12-hour kirtan held in New York City, which you can watch live, at http://www.mantralogy.com/

To hear directly from Aindra Das about the art of kirtan in the Gaudiya Vaishnava devotional tradition, please go to http://bhakticollective.com/2010/07/21/kirtan-insights-from-aindra-das/

3 Comments

  1. Heidi Sohng
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 4:05 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you Hari, for educating me on kirtan. It’s such a vast subject! I hope to spend some time kirtaning with you soon!

  2. Posted July 24, 2010 at 9:58 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this Hari! The story of Aindra Das being the force behind the 24-hour kirtan in Vrindavan inspired me to feel the need to get some at least once-a-month kirtan going again in the city!

  3. Posted July 25, 2010 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Beautiful tribute Hari-ji —- thank you for sharing. And I’m sorry for your loss –I’m thinking you were planning to spend time with Aindra soon. Thankfully you have such a wonderful experience to keep with you. Om shantih.

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