Rathi Krishna dasa January 4th, 2012
The following is an interview with Srimati Yamuna Devi by Akincana Krishna dasa on behalf of Dhanrudhara Swami for a kirtan book Maharaja was writing. In the interview, Yamuna Devi shared her remembrances of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on kirtan as well as her own realizations on kirtan. Yamuna Devi recently passed away on December 20, 2011.
Question: What instructions, guidelines, likes, or dislikes did Prabhupada express to you about kirtan?
Thank you for asking this question. Yes, Srila Prabhupada did give instructions about kirtan at various times, in various circumstances. A few I recall:
Instructions from Srila Prabhupada on Kirtan
1970 Mumbai: One morning soon after arriving at Kailash Seksaria's home, Srila Prabhupada called on a male devotee to lead kirtan. After two lines of guruvastaka he asked him to stop and asked another devotee to continue. The same thing happened, and he asked another devotee to lead, and another. Then he asked me to lead and did not stop me. When I asked him later about why he did that, he said:
“Learn to listen. You cannot follow nicely unless you hear nicely and you cannot lead nicely unless you have learned to follow nicely.”
August 1968 Montreal: Some mornings Srila Prabhupada had our London group meet with him in the temple room after the morning program and breakfast. On one occasion when he requested me to lead the mangalacarana prayers, he also interrupted my singing to correct my pronunciation as I chanted, he said:
“Learn how to pronounce Sanskrit or Bengali words to the best of your ability. Listen, then repeat.”
1971 Mumbai: On nagar sankirtana an Indian man criticized my pronunciation and Srila Prabhupada said:
“She is doing to the best of her ability. She is doing it in her own way.”
November 1969 London: We had some problems with volume levels. This was evident especially in store front temples where our neighbor store front occupants complained of excessive “noise”. Right from the vyasasana Srila Prabhupada would quietly instruct:
“Learn how to play instruments “softly”, quietly, if the kirtan leader is doing so.”
This proved to be difficult for the mostly passionate 20-something devotees at that time, most of whom generally felt the louder the better.
1971 India: I commented on Srila Prabhupada's chanting of jaya radha madhava, and made the statement that it was difficult for devotees to follow how he chanted, his rhythm changes, and his mood, even when chanting this simple prayer. He said jaya radha madhava was one of his favorite prayers.
Even forty years later, how many old timers can follow the subtlety of a kirtan leader, what to speak of the complexity of Srila Prabhupada's kirtan mood and rhythm.