Kirtan London celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month on Saturday October 5th, drawing two hundred people for a special 6 Hour Kirtan from 3pm to 9pm.
The organization, which is run by ISKCON devotees from Soho St. and Bhaktivedanta Manor, aims to make kirtan -- the ancient system of call and response prayer -- accessible to all.
Although it normally charges for its events, the anniversary celebrations were free as a thank-you to supporters. So people poured into the venue -- the beautiful 17th century Swiss Church in London’s Convent Garden -- without paying.
Inside, the Church’s blond wood floors, white arches, and high ceilings created a bright, spiritual atmosphere, while wreaths of autumn leaves added a touch of seasonal color.
Guests sat cross-legged on the floor as MC Jahnavi Harrison -- a second generation devotee and touring kirtaniya -- introduced the chanting.
The lead chanters themselves were a fascinatingly varied group. They included second generation ISKCON devotees Jahnavi Harrison and Nama, Sikh husband and wife duo Qi-Rattan, corporate businessman Abhishek Singh, and father and daughter duo Jayadeva and Gaurangi, who are successful New Age artists and also well-loved in ISKCON for their heartfelt devotional kirtan.
To keep things interesting, each singer chanted for forty-five minutes or less. Meanwhile a large screen showed the words to the Hare Krishna mantra, autumn leaves falling, and various nature scenes analogous to philosophical themes.
Guided meditations were held in between forty-five minute kirtan sessions
In between each kirtan, Jahnavi led guided meditations drawn from ISKCON guru Sacinandana Swami’s kirtan retreats such as “Temple of the Heart” and “Sacred Space.”
Readings of Krishna’s pastimes and dances portraying them further absorbed guests in their Holy Name meditation.
While some people sat focused on the chanting throughout the entire six hours, others could go upstairs, tuck into some vegetarian food, and chat with fellow chanters.
“It was very social, buzzing,” says co-organizer Bala Nimai Das, formerly popular Youtube comedian Ben Loka. “Everyone could get to know each other.”
The event also included a film showing last year’s launch of Kirtan London, and the group’s efforts to build its community since.
Guests were deeply impacted by the experience. “I talked to a few people,” says Bala Nimai. “They said they were so glad they found something like this to connect to. And afterwards, we got many emails and Facebook comments from people showing their appreciation.”
Just a few samples: “I was there for the whole six hours and didn't want the evening to end”; “A truly wonderful and magical experience…. still feeling very overwhelmed…”; “A truly powerful yet calming day.”
200 people attended
The event was a wonderful way for Kirtan London to celebrate, after a year of working hard to build community.
The organization was first put together by ISKCON devotees from Soho St. and Bhaktivedanta Manor, after they held a successful “Mantra Jam” at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and were inspired to share Kirtan across London in an accessible way.
It was officially launched on August 11th, 2012 in London’s trendy West End, with special guests Radhanath Swami and actor Russell Brand.
Over the next year, Kirtan London’s brand grew, with a host of different get-togethers.
“We decided to mix larger scale open events in big venues with regular smaller scale events,” says Bala Nimai. “We have a monthly event called Mantra Lounge, which is regularly attended by mainly the yoga crowd.”
Mantra Lounge is held on the first Friday evening of every month in Neal’s Yard, an area of Covent Garden well-known for health food cafes and new age retailers. It features one-and-a-half hours of kirtan and draws fifty to one hundred people.
“Then four times a year we have our 6 Hour Kirtan, which is our big event that we really push and promote,” Bala Nimai continues. “The two feed off each other. People that hear about the bigger events come to the smaller events, and vice versa.”
Kirtan London is also currently introducing dinner and kirtan “sangas” every Wednesday evening so that kirtan lovers can socialize and get to know each other more than they might be able to at focused kirtan events.
“In the future, we’d like to do other things too, like kirtan flash mobs,” says Bala Nimai. “But at the moment, we’re just trying to really perfect and tighten up the events we already do, and expand our audience naturally from that.”
For info about future events, please visit http://kirtanlondon.com/[ kirtana ] [ london ] [ uk ]