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An Explanation of Kirtan Instruments

Vishnujana Maharaja was one of the most exemplary, devoted and ecstatic early disciples of Srila Prabhupada. He would play on the mridanga drum for ten hours on the streets of LA while onlookers stood awestruck. He is a source of great inspiration for all sincere followers of Srila Prabhupada. Here he is explaining the various kirtan instruments used in his Harinama party that preached all across the United States.

Vishnujana: The Sanskrit word Hari means the reservoir of all pleasure, Krishna means all-attractive, and Rama means the enjoyer. These three words are put into a 16 word formula; Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, and this is called a mantra, and it's meant to fix the mind, stop the wandering of the mind, and fix it on the real nature of the self and the supreme self. Usually our mind is wandering throughout the day, from one sense to one sense object to another, and our mind is absorbed in thinking, feeling and willing about the senses and the sense objects. Sometimes we’re hearing something, then we’re seeing something, tasting something, touching something, smelling something, and then at night we dream about these things or think about these things internally throughout the day. This wandering keeps our consciousness absorbed in the temporary nature of this world. And rarely do we find any peace of mind because of the oscillation of the senses. But in yoga one has to learn to control the senses. And this chanting, although it uses the sense object sound, is a very effective means of satisfying the mind totally. That’s why we can sing this song all day long without ever becoming saturated or bored. Because the sound vibration fixes the mind on the absolute, and that gives us a great deal of joy, and that joy increases the more we engage in the chanting. So much so that we can’t even stop chanting after we start going. We had an example of a businessman in Los Angles, he came by us when we were chanting out on the street, and he was holding his ears like this. So I asked him what his objection was to our chanting, and he said, “I have no objection to your chanting,” he said, “but now wherever I go I hear that Hare Krishna Hare Rama in my dreams, when I driving my car, all the time.” This is the effect of the chanting—that it actually pierces our unwillingness to concentrate our mind. See, usually we’re unwilling to mediate. But this chanting is so powerful that it attracts us to concentrate our mind on the absolute. The sound of Krishna is non-different from the unlimited personality of the absolute. And therefore when we’re mediating on that sound, we can actually experience the unlimited qualities of the absolute. So it’s a wonderful reservoir of pleasure, this chanting of Hare Krishna. And there’s no charge to take part in it. Even a child can take part in it, even a dog can take part, without any previous qualification. If you’d like to sit with us, we have some simple rhythm instruments, you’re welcome to shake them and allow yourself to get into the chanting some more. If you have any questions there’s a book table set up over there like a library, with our books that are translated from Sanskrit into English. There’s tapes of this music too, if you like. And over there we’re serving a vegetarian feast. If you haven’t tried some of our food or at least tried some of the nectar drink, it’s made with strawberries, buttermilk and oranges, and it tastes very beautiful. The instruments that we are playing are instruments that have been used in temples, especially in central India—There’s a place called Vrindavana. And for thousands of years, Krishna’s glories have been sung using these traditional instruments. I’m playing what's called a harmonium, and it reminds us actually of the harmony that we’re all meant to live in (plays harmonium). The instrument next to me is called a tanpura. It’s actually made out of a pumpkin, it’s a gigantic gourd. And it has four strings on it that are played like a waterfall of sound (plays tanpura). That buzzing effect is due to the very long, flat bridge that the strings are running across. The instrument next to him is called the esraj. This is the most ancient of the instruments and probably the most beautiful. It has a crying sound reminding us of our desire to achieve peace (plays esraj). Very sweet. Then the drums are all made with clay and the skins of animals that have died of old age—probably most of you know we don’t believe in animal slaughter. But when an animal dies, then the skin can be used. Then there are brass symbols. The symbols are especially meant to stop what is called cheeta, the wandering of the mind. When you hear that sound of the symbol it fixes the mind. That’s why it bothers people to hear that ching-ching-ching, but actually it’s helping us mediate.

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