ISKCON devotee-run company Radha-Krishna Records made Krishna consciousness accessible to a wider audience with its professionally-produced “Contemporary Krishna Culture Showcase” at the Camden Centre in Central London on May 28th.
Around 400 people poured in to see the show, which ran from 7:00 to 10:00pm with an intermission at 8:30. A poll taken by MC Ravin Ganatra – a professional actor who has appeared in the UK TV shows Coronation Street and Casualty – revealed that about forty per cent of the audience had never been to a kirtan event before. Many were work colleagues, friends, or prenatal class acquaintances of the performers.
“I really believe that if we invite people that we know into our cultural and philosophical space, they’ll find it interesting and powerful,” says producer Kapila Monet. “We’ll give them a fantastic show, at the heart of which is an understanding of Krishna consciousness. Not that they have to take it and run with it. But just that they understand it a little bit deeper.”
The Samadhi Dance Company
The show was introduced with a traditional Vaishnava invocation by ISKCON London temple president Jai Nitai Das.
Then came the first part of the show – a theatrical presentation with live singing and dance of Radha Krishna Records’ recent CD release “Inevitable Time.”
Sung by lifetime Krishna devotee Ananda Monet, who released a pop album in her native Russia and is well-known in London’s kirtan scene, it’s a grandiose, cinematic piece on the ancient epic Mahabharat. The Sanskrit lyrics are taken from ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s editions of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
At the show, the story of the Mahabharat was presented in seven vignettes, beginning with Ananda Monet’s solo performance of “Tears of Destiny.” Monet’s powerful vocals soared over the backing track as she told the sad story of a young mother, Kunti, who is forced to say goodbye to her baby son Karna by placing him on the river in a basket.
Samadhi Dance Company Director Vraja Sundari Keilman performs 'Draupadi - Born of Fire'
Next came “Draupadi – Born of Fire,” perhaps the most powerful and moving performance of the evening, in which the great Pandava queen beseeched Krishna to save her from being disrobed by the evil Kauravas.
Accompanying this song and most of the others was dance by the Amsterdam-based Samadhi Dance Company – winners of the prestigious Dutch Dance Audience Award. With several second-generation devotee members, the company fuses Bharat Natyam, yoga, theater, jazz, urban and classical ballet to present Vaishnava culture.
Company director Vraja Sundari Keilman portrayed Draupadi in “Born of Fire,” while Chaitanya Charan Das portrayed Lord Krishna.
“It was incredibly striking and very evocative,” says Ananda’s husband Kapila. “I know a lot of people who cried during that performance.”
Next, in “Eternal Soul” all five members of Samadhi Dance conveyed the deeply comforting verses from the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita, describing the soul as imperishable and ever-existing.
Professional stuntmen Marki Kelly and Jay Varsani perform a choreographed fight to the song 'Weapons'
In “Universal Form,” Ananda sang solo while the dynamic cover art from her Inevitable Time album, showing Lord Krishna’s Vishwarupa form and painted by professional comic book artist Mukesh Singh, was projected behind her.
This was followed by “Weapons,” about the evil Asvatthama releasing the devastating Brahmastra weapon. As Ananda sang, professional stuntmen Marki Kelly and Jay Varsani attacked each other with bows, staffs, swords and shields; and flipped, tumbled, and flew through the air in an impressively choreographed gymnastic tour-de-force.
The full Samadhi Dance Company then again converged for the final two tracks – “Inevitable Time,” in which Kuru patriarch Bhismadeva prays to Lord Krishna from his deathbed; and “Infinite Moment,” in which Lord Krishna plays out a pastime of being accidentally shot by a hunter and leaving this world.
Between each performance, narrations by Kripamoya Das gave the audience context by translating some of the lyrics, and explaining their meaning and philosophical concepts. Meanwhile, images of Jnananjana Das’s stunning original paintings from the Mahabharat Exhibition at the Museum of Sacred Art in Villa Vrindavana, Italy, were projected onto a screen.
After the Inevitable Time presentation, MC Ravin Ganatra conducted an interview onstage with Ananda Monet and Vraja Sundari Keilman, who explained their intentions and vision.
During the subsequent 20-minute intermission, audience members purchased dinner boxes from ISKCON London’s Govinda’s restaurant. Volunteers also served free laddhus, spring rolls, and lemonade.
“It was very important to us to distribute some free prasadam (sanctified food offered to Krishna),” says Kapila.
Next, in the second half of the program, renowned kirtan singer Jahnavi Harrison performed Govindam, Hari Haraye, Madhava, Vriksha Hare Krishna, and Like A River from her upcoming album Like A River to the Sea, due out on July 24th from Mantralogy.
Jahnavi Harrison performs her upcoming album 'Like A River to the Sea'
She was joined by both professional and devotee musicians including Ravi on kora, Shammi Pithia on flute, Asha McCarthy on cello, Jagat Pita Das on guitar and piano, Madhva Das on mridanga, and Keli Cancala Dasi performing Odissi dance.
“It was transformative, amazing, and beautiful,” says Kapila.
The audience responded similarly, using adjectives like “overwhelmed,” “amazed,” and “excited” to describe both parts of the show. Some equaled it to other professional shows they had seen recently.
Other people beyond the Camden Centre also got to enjoy the show – it was filmed by a professional three-person camera crew and broadcast live on a pay-per-view stream via cleeng.com.
“Next, we’re looking into the possibility of producing a professional show based on the ‘Inevitable Time’ album in Amsterdam with the Samadhi Dance Company, or in the UK with funding from the UK Arts Council,” says Kapila.
Keli Cancala Dasi dances during Jahnavi's performance
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Inevitable Time by Ananda Monet is available now at Amazon.com, iTunescom, Google Play, Youtube, and CD Baby.
Like A River To The Sea by Jahnavi Harrison will be out on July 24th. A free download from the album is now available at iTunes.com.[ ananda-monet ] [ jahnavi ] [ kirtana ] [ kirtan-london ] [ london ] [ radha-krishna-records ] [ samadhi-dance ] [ uk ]