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