Chakra Discussions

Kirtan in America

by Mangalananda Das

Posted February 15, 2007

The new American Kirtan movement is alive and growing. If you don't believe me, just google "kirtan;" I did and got 598,000 hits in .07 seconds. For me this is exciting. It would be even more exciting if the chanters were Personalists.

I started participating in the Hare Krishna Kirtan movement in the early 1970s. The chanting profoundly changed my life and I've been an advocate of the benefits of kirtan ever since. As a songwriter born in the U.S. I naturally write about my unique American experience which includes kirtan. For the last three years, my wife, Yamini, and I toured all over the U.S. as the musical duo AverageSoul. We took the opportunity to drop in on many of the Hare Krishna Temples along the way. I was sad to find that despite America's growing interest in kirtan, I saw no wave of new faces coming to chant. The Temple programs were failing to inspire more locals to join in the kirtans. In fact, compared to the 70s and early 80s, attendance was down and the majority of full-time residents were foreigners.

Kirtan gets a very small part of the overall energy and finances given to running a Krishna Temple. Most of the manpower and money goes to orthodox Deity worship. Large temples were purchased or built back in the 70s and 80s with money from armies of street-solicitors. The strategy was "Build it and America will come." But this idea failed. The problem has been compounded by the fact that these huge properties which house the Deities can't be maintained without a tithing congregation. Worship of Deities is a very foreign concept for Americans, and except for Indian-born believers, it still has not attracted committed congregations.

Great saints in the devotional tradition have said that Deity worship is a valuable tool for personal spiritual growth. This is an accepted fact. We have seen many a heart won over by beautiful Deities. However, it's apparent that over the past thirty years in America, Deity worship hasn't attracted many new American followers.

A real strategy has to be developed and executed to propagate Hare Krishna Kirtan, the yoga of our times. I thought of the old Hare Krishna creed "Chant and be Happy." And I had to ask myself why the Hare Krishna Kirtan movement was not having the same success as the newer American Kirtan movement.

The following is a list of my personal observations and comments. Of course there are exceptions to these examples on both sides. In looking for answers, I try to remember the words of Srila Bhaktivinode: "A truth-seeker should have a comprehensive, good, generous, candid, impartial, and sympathetic soul; Party spirit is the great enemy of truth."

These are some definitions I read to keep myself on track:

I've written this to try to make sense of it all for myself or spark an idea in someone else who's trying to understand it.

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