A video currently making the rounds on social media shows well-known U.S. kirtan chanters Gaura Vani and Ananta Govinda dancing out of a conference room into the hallway at the Korea Yoga Conference in South Korea.
They’re followed by two lines of smiling Koreans, who are holding their arms up in the air, swaying with the Swami step, and sweetly chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
“Korean people are very hardworking, very modern, and tend to be very stressed out,” says Gaura Vani, who toured South Korea’s capital city of Seoul from October 6th to 20th this fall.
“So with kirtan, we tried to help them open up more and live less in the head, and more in the heart. And they were very receptive.”
Despite its 50-million-strong population and renowned tiger economy – it’s the fifth leading exporter in the world – South Korea has been largely overlooked by ISKCON so far, with just two small preaching centers, and only one difficult-to-understand scientific translation of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
In addition, while yoga has been practiced there for about twenty years, the focus has been mainly on the physical practice and exercise benefits.
“The spiritual side of yoga is still underdeveloped there,” says Gaura. “So our friend Fara Marz of the Om Factory yoga studio in New York City, who just opened a branch in Seoul and is a real fan of kirtan, said, ‘Let’s try to bring the spiritual side of yoga to Korea!’”
During their tour Gaura Vani and Ananta Govinda first visited Seoul’s Om Factory, a yoga studio that specializes in aerial work with silks hanging from the ceiling.
“We spoke through a translator, presenting Krishna as the source of all beauty, since Koreans are famous for their love of beauty and style,” Gaura says. “We talked about the pursuit of beauty as one of two paths – either a decadent, selfish pursuit that would lead us to ruin; or a selfless journey that would bring us to the source of all beauty; the source of all life, the source of all knowledge. And we presented kirtan as the easiest means to be in touch with that source.”
People were receptive to the message and the kirtan, and when Gaura and Ananta invited them to dance, they happily complied.
The next stop was the Korea Yoga Conference at the Korea International Exhibition Center, just twenty minutes away from North Korea’s demilitarized zone. It was attended by 2,500 people.
Gaura Vani and Ananta Cuffee with students at the Korea Yoga Conference
There, along with live kirtan during yoga classes and two kirtan concerts, Gaura and Ananta gave workshops on Bhakti, presenting basic Krishna conscious philosophy.
“There was a whole room of yogis who didn’t know what to expect; and within just a few minutes, they were all weeping, thinking of themselves as the soul, not the body,” says Gaura Vani.
Of course there was also the joyous hallway kirtan – a dancing, clapping procession that got more and more ecstatic as it went on.
“It didn’t take much to get them into it,” Gaura says. “Koreans have a culture of going out dancing and partying, so to do it in a conscious way that was connected to a spiritual practice really brought two worlds together for them.”
Two yoga masters and organizers of the conference, Sei and Kim I Hyun, along with a student, were so intrigued by the kirtan and its instruments, that they got Gaura and Ananta to give them an impromptu lesson on harmonium, mridanga and kartals. They then formed their own kirtan band and followed the rest of the kirtan tour, chanting Hare Krishna wherever they went.
Although Ananta left after the Conference, Gaura Vani continued on with Russian brahmachari Liladhara Das.
The two performed kirtan at Kim I Hyun’s Kula Yoga Studio in the heart of Seoul, to an enthusiastic reception from around 75 to 100 people. They also chanted at Seoul’s small ISKCON preaching center, run by Indian immigrants Kamala Roy and Deepak Narayana Bashyal, where Radha-Shyamasundara Deities are worshipped.
For relaxation, they shared preaching adventure stories at the Korean spa, a cultural staple in the country and a common place to spend a family day out.
Gaura Vani also visited the port city of Busan, bravely venturing out on his own to chant in the streets.
“It was just me, walking with my harmonium slung around my neck,” he says. “Korean people love music and culture, and when they saw me, they were really responsive, singing along and having fun. It was incredible!”
Gaura Vani and Ananta Govinda have already been invited back to South Korea, and intend to make good on the invitation as soon as they can.
“Korea is a powerhouse of Asia, and we really need to nurture the community there more,” he says.
코리아 요가 컨퍼런스 (Korea Yoga Conference) Yoga Playground, 1st Harinam. Gaura Vani & Ananta.
코리아 요가 컨퍼런스 (Korea Yoga Conference) Fara Marz, @ Yoga Playground, Harinam with Gaura Vani Buchwaldt & Ananta CuffeePosted by Fara Marz on Saturday, October 10, 2015