Reflections on Kirtana
And excerpt from The Living Name by Sacinandana Swami
Srila Prabhupada once said about Kirtana: Your business is not to satisfy the crowd. Your business is to satisfy Krishna and then the crowd will be automatically satisfied. We are not going to please the crowd. We are going to give them 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.
Kirtana is not primarily about music, rhythms, fancy mrdanga-beats, karatala-playing, attractive voices or melodies. The Lord is not really attracted to our music; He has gopis in the spiritual world who are expert musicians far beyond our capabilities. They are served by thirty-three thousand ragas and Krishna Himself plays His flute all day in a style that transforms hearts, making even rocks melt! That is real music. He really doesn’t need our music. He only needs our hearts.
Kirtana is about a relationship: this cannot be emphasized enough. If we don’t become aware of our relationship with Krishna and don’t begin to meditate on where we are right now in that relationship, we will sing more or less like folk singers and never enter the mysteries of the mantra. Thus, Krishna will not be present in our kirtana because we are not present in our relationship with him. The relationship is all He looks for. If we overlook this, we will never enter the world of kirtana but remain in the world of mundane music.
Srila Haridasa Thakura, the great teacher of the Holy Name, also explains this: If a person by a saintly Vaisnava’s mercy understands his relationship with Lord Krishna and chants Lord Krishna’s Holy Name, he then attains a great treasure of spiritual love (Sri Harinama Cintamani 3.26)
The word kirtana itself is derived from the root krt, to glorify. Thus, ask yourself before you begin to sing: ‘Whom do I glorify now?’ You can actually visualise yourself standing before your Lord and addressing Him through His Holy Name, ‘O Radha, O, Krishna’.
After we have connected with Krishna and start to address Him in a mood of servitorship, then if we are able, it’s wonderful to add violin, sitar, flute, etc., to produce a concert worthy of pleasing Krishna. But first things first: the relationship should always be the focal point. With that in our hearts, we can furnish further ornaments. If, however, you are not present in the relationship, you miss the point of kirtana and will always practice shadow kirtana, which will not nourish you spiritually.