Monday, 10 October 2011

October Kirtan

We begin our new season of kirtans this Sunday, 16th October. We're sorry for the long wait - we had to cancel last month due to unforseen circumstances. But we are very happy to be starting up again after the summer break and look forward to seeing you there! We have a new kirtaniya amongst us, this year, a PhD student at Oxford University, who will be taking part, and we also have our old, tried and trusted singers who will be joining us in the months to come. So - much in the way of jolly chanting coming up!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Song and Dance

For your pleasure: Chakrini sings, while Jahnavi and Tulasi dance.

Whoops! The video hasn't come out well, so you can watch it better here

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Chakram - A New CD Album.

News just in of a new kirtan CD to appear in three weeks time: what's especially interesting, is that it contains contributions by some of our favourite kirtan singers, here at our Oxford Kirtans: Jahnavi, Tulasi, Chakrini and Kripamoya.

I've just spent some time browsing the website for the album which you can find here. There's some fine writing from Krpamoya; a section on Sanskrit, which is interesting and info on the different people involved. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ratha Yatra - Street Festival of Chanting

Lucy Barton, Oxford chanter and student, wrote this account of the London Rathayatra which took place in June. Thank you Lucy!

On the 12 of June was the 41st London Rathayatra or “chariot festival”. Based on a traditional Indian street festival, London Rathayatra is lively event in which three fifty-foot chariots process from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square; pulled along by ropes by the enthusiastic crowd. Rathayatra always draws a crowd, and many of the regulars of the Oxford Kirtans, undeterred by the wet weather, went along to take part in the festivities.

Rathayatra has been performed for over two thousand years in the town of Jaganatha Puri in Orissa. However in the past forty years, this ancient parade has extended beyond the boundaries of the Subcontinent, taking place all over the world: in over a hundred cities such as New York, Montreal, Paris, Singapore, Venice, and in towns across the UK such as Birmingham, Leicester and Brighton. However, the London Rathayatra is held in special esteem, with participants travelling from a far a field as Scotland and Belgium. Many of Oxford’s favourite visiting kirtans leaders, such as Kripamoya, Tulasi and Gaura Hari were also there.

The whole procession takes about two hours, and is accompanied throughout by exuberant kirtan. Those amongst the crowd, who are not pulling the chariots, clap their hands and joyously chant in response; some of the braver and more energetic dance at the front of the chariots. This Ratha yatra it rained the whole time, and part of the joyfulness was dancing through the puddles and getting soaking wet! The chariots, carrying the wooden images of the divine siblings Jaganatha, Baladeva and Subhadra, are decorated with brightly coloured canopies and fresh flowers. Although this year enclosed in a waterproof covering, Jaganatha’s beaming smile was still visible, bedecked in flowers, on the only day of the year that He leaves the temple.

As the procession draws to a close and the chariots are taken the last few the meters by the attendants, the festival-goers continue on to Trafalgar Square. The square has been transformed, and is filled with colourful tents offering meditation workshops, activities for children; as well a free vegetarian feast, and a stage show with more kirtan and dramas about spirituality. In this way, the festival continues on until into the early evening.

The festival is open to all, and with its vibrant colours and music, it has universal appeal and accessibility. As you look across the crowd, although many who attend are from the Indian Diaspora, you see people of many ethnicities and walks of life, of all ages, in pushchair to wheelchair, absorbed and invigorated by the kirtan. For those of us who are used to performing kirtan within the security and focused space of four walls, it might seem that, with the distractions of being out in the open and together with such a number of people, it would not be possible to maintain concentration and that the magic of the kirtan would be lost. On the contrary, the group brings it own focus within a kirtan, which is simply brought to a bigger scale at Rathayatra, and it lifts the consciousness above the surroundings; you no longer feel that you are in central London, but within that same spiritual space that every kirtan brings.

Photos by Matthew Lloyd: At Zimbio.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Birmingham 24 hour Kirtan

A pirate from the Caribbean? Even more exotic - this is a portrait of Madhava - an increasingly popular kirtaniya from Mauritius, now living in Switzerland. He led some glorious kirtans at the Birmingham kirtan in May, which you can read about below, in an account from Diana, a librarian, who was one of our Oxford party to the event.

Visit to Birmingham kirtan in May.

On Sunday 29th May 2011, sixteen of us from the monthly Oxford kirtan group went to join in with part of the annual 24-hour kirtan organized by ISKCON Birmingham. This event took place in the community hall of the Sri Venkatesara (Balaji) temple in Tividale, on the west side of Birmingham. We left St Giles at 9.30, returning around 7.30 but the day was so interesting that it felt like quite a short visit!

The kirtans were led by Sachinanda M. and Madhava, among others, and there seemed to be over a thousand people present. It wasn’t easy to find a space to sit on the floor, and we were all tightly packed together but I soon forgot any discomfort. The energy raised by so many people chanting was amazing, and there was a great feeling of divine presence and love which was quite overwhelming and which seemed to be shared by all. In smaller groups I’m usually inhibited about singing loudly or clapping, but on this occasion I found myself completely caught up in the general enthusiasm and able to participate fully.

After eating a delicious lunch, some of us looked around the complex of temples in what is the largest South Indian temple complex in Europe. As well as the main Sri Balaji temple which is a smaller model of the temple in Tirupati, there are temples to Shiva, Ganesh and Murugan. As visitors we were made to feel very welcome, and we saw families offering gifts of fruit which was then distributed to all those present. The temples had a very holy atmosphere, and I felt privileged to have received a glimpse of south Indian culture without actually going there! All together it was a very satisfying and inspiring day, and I hope to return next year.

Diana Stevenson

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Celebrating the Shakespeare of Kirtan...

From a post on the Mantralogy website about the festival day of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura - a prolific writer of poetry, songs and prose about the practise of kirtan:

Though his life was materially successful, Bhaktivinode was fully absorbed in his desire to see the culture of kirtan and of bhakti spread all over the world. He wrote thousands of songs and many books, as well as creating systems for forming small groups to meet and share their practice together. One day, looking out from his balcony over the sacred Ganges River, he had a vision of a beautiful temple across the water, and hundreds of people, chanting and dancing in true happiness. He wrote ‘Oh for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mridangas, and kartalas and raise kirtan through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘jaya sacinandana, jaya sacinandana’ . When will that day be?

You can read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

May Kirtan

Three young kirtaniyas charmed us with their strong, youthful voices and heartfelt chanting: Manu, Tulasi and Madhva.

April Kirtan

In honour of Sri Rama, our April kirtan began with a very ancient chant to Sita and Rama - heroes of the great epic the Ramayana, whose feast day was celebrated that week. Since kirtan has been introduced in the West, Sita-Rama chants have been particularly popular; theirs is a universally loved story and these chants have been sung for many thousands of years.

One of our kirtaniyas for April was Dr Rembert Lutjeharms, Sanskrit scholar, who kindly elaborated on the inner meaning of the chants and on the word kirtan itself.

As chanting and dancing often go hand in hand, I thought you might be interested in this beautiful depiction of part of the Ramayana in classical Thai dance.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Manu in Maytime.

Young Manu Magnin from Belgium and his merry band of kirtaniyas will visit us this Sunday, to lead us in kirtan. Manu is the founder and organiser of the Radhadesh Mellows annual weekend of kirtan at the Chateau de Petit Somme, in Belgian and a 'deep lover of kirtan'. You can see his website here, with recordings of some of the kirtans from this January, at which both Gopal Hari and Chakrini, who have recently sung here, performed.

I like Manu's description of Kirtan there:

What is Kirtan?

Kirtan is an experience like no other. It combines sacred mantra, or spiritual words with vibrant, joyous music that lifts the soul and energizes the body. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. One leader sings the mantra, accompanied by a few instruments. After each line, the group – however large or small, respond with the same line. This call and response continues as the kirtan slowly unfolds.

Though the kirtan tradition originated in ancient India, it is no less relevant to our modern times. With the increasing demands of the average working life, kirtan is perhaps even more beneficial than ever.

In kirtan, there are no rules – you can sit or stand, or better yet, dance! You can clap or play instruments, and sing to your heart’s content. The only thing necessary is an open heart, open mind, and open ears.


Join us and sample it for yourself!

March Kirtan (Catching Up!)

Jahnavi Harrison and her father Kripamoya kindly came to lead our March kirtan. (You can see them sharing a joke above!). They had spent the previous day at a celebration of the anniversary of Sri Chaitanya the well-known promoter of kirtan, in medieval India. In fact, as Kripamoya explained, we can trace our present knowledge and practise of kirtan directly back to his influence. In between the very sweet and heartfelt kirtans, Jahnavi and Kripamoya talked of Chaitanya's writings and life which explained some of the deeper understanding of the art of kirtan; it's purpose and effects. It was interesting and pleasing to listen to, in fact as soon as it is edited, we'll post a podcast of it here.

And below is a YouTube clip of Jahnavi singing and playing violin at a kirtan in Australia, a few months ago. Her father quipped that her Jewish ancestry shows in her spirited violin improvisations!

Friday, 22 April 2011

All Day Kirtan in Birmingham - Coming Up!

It's a terrific experience to be in a kirtan with hundreds of other chanters, chanting and dancing (if you care to!) hour after hour. Our next opportunity for this is in Birmingham on Sunday 29th May (a bank holiday weekend). It's actually a 24 hour kirtan, but we are taking a party up by minibus for the day on Sunday. The event is sponsored, so there is no charge for that, and Indian vegetarian food will be served at various times through the day - also no charge. If you'd like to join us for the party, here are the details:

Depart Oxford - 9.30 am
Return Oxford - 7.00 p.m.

Venue: Sri Balaji Temple, Dudley Road East, Tividale, West Midlands, B69 3DU,

Cost: £15 per person approx. for minibus hire and petrol. It may turn out a little less.

If you'd like to join us, please let us know by 5th May, to make sure we can secure the minibus for the event. You are welcome, of course, to make your own way there, too.

For further enquiries, please phone Keshava: 01865 331716

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Ides of March...

Not quite the Ides of March, which is tomorrow, but led me to learn that March is named in honour or Mars - the god of war. It's amazing how many of the things we take for granted - the names of the days of the week and of the months, the letters of the alphabet, so many things are steeped in ancient history, and we've long forgotten the meanings of most of them.

Well, the god of war will surely be pacified by our next kirtan, this coming Sunday, 20th March and by great good fortune, Jahnavi, who has just returned from a four month tour of America and Australia, with Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits, will lead us in chanting.

Jahnavi is a writer, as well as musician, and has been writing a series of articles on Sacred Music for the dance and music magazine Pulse - which turns out to be the first 'talking' magazine!

Jahnavi will be accompanied by her father Kripamoya, also an excellent kirtaniya, who we hope will tell us something about the history of kirtan, and how it is we come to be sitting chanting in Oxford today.

We hope you can join us.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

January Kirtan.

Chakrini, who came from London, to lead our January kirtan - a very focussed chanter with a beautiful voice, has recently been on tour in Canada and will also be appearing on the main stage at the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival in May. She mentioned to us that her main desire is to spread the message of kirtan in Europe and, to that end, has engagements in Spain, Italy and Bulgaria during the summer. We wish her very well in her endeavours and hope she will come to Oxford again soon. Many thanks Chakrini!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Chanting with Chakrini - January Kirtan.

Chakrini would have led our December kirtan, had the snow not come; she has kindly agreed to come this month instead. We look forward to welcoming her to our Oxford Kirtan Experience and hope you can join us to start off the year in good spirit, with rousing chants. Chakrini's website is here and I'd just like to mention that all our kirtaniyas perform without remuneration, out of love of chanting, so we are very indebted to them for that.

Happy New Year to you all!