Paying to Pray: Why Kirtan Should Be Free. ~ Matthew Gindin

Via elephant journal
on Jun 14, 2013
get elephant's newsletter


I recently saw an ad for a kirtan.

Cost to attend: $25.

This bothered me.


Kirtan is a communal spiritual practice which began showing up in earnest in North American settings in the 1960s through the activities of Srila Prabhupada, the guru of the Hare Krishna movement.

In the ’70s it spread further through the growth of American ashrams and through students of Neem Karoli Baba like Ram Das, Bhagavan Das and Krishna Das.

In the last 20 years, devotees of Hatha Yoga have taken it up as the soundtrack to yoga classes (although that trend seems to be passing in favor of pop music in many places).

What is Kirtan?

Kirtan is a devotional practice central to Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion) in the Hindu and Sikh religions. It was popularized in Hinduism by Chaitanha Mahaprabhu (1486-1534) and in Sikh tradition by its founder Guru Nanak (1469-1539).

In essence, kirtan consists of singing names of God.

This beautiful group practice is usually led by a kirtan wallah. The wallah sings out a name, often accompanying himself on a simple instrument while playing the melody of the mantra being chanted. The wallah then repeats the melody on the instrument without chanting, and the others present sing the holy words back.

The wallah is free to creatively vary the melody and to speed up or slow down. Everyone enters into a kind of joyful contemplative ecstasy together, drawing closer and closer to God in all Her beauty.

God might be experienced in the form of Krishna, or Lakshmi, or Shiva, or Ekomkar, or Satnam, or all of the above, in any given session. The session might last for hours. It might last all night.

Usually there is not just one wallah; people take turns freely.

And you know what? No one is charged to attend.

You know what else? The wallah is not seen as a performer. The wallah is not a rock star. The wallah is just the chant leader.

Of course, some wallahs sing better than others, and some are more popular. But that doesn’t make them, in the public conception, artists or performers.

I remember a Kirtan at Shivananda Ashram in Val Morin, Quebec. One of the Swamis began to lead, choosing a certain mantra and melody. The mike was then passed through the crowd to people who signaled they would like to lead a chant.

Two women lead, one after the other, offering haunting traditional melodies.

Finally, the mike came to an Ayurvedic doctor from South India who was visiting the Ashram.

He yelled, “Rama bol!” (Praise God!). He then led the kirtan with such passion and artistry that he had a room of 100 people clapping, drumming, and dancing in ecstasy within moments.

All of us together faced the puja (shrine) for worship (except the swami). I couldn’t see the good doctor’s face, nor did I ever learn his name.

Jump forward a few years. I have been to several attempts at Western kirtan led by Westerners and usually been disappointed (though not always).

The reason is simple: generally people don’t know what they are doing.

How could they? They don’t know the mantras; they don’t know the melodies. They’re struggling just to remember that when the wallah sings, you are quiet; and when the wallah is quiet, you sing.

More perniciously, however, people are confused about some fundamental things.

Whereas at Indian kirtans most people have their eyes closed, at Western kirtans, most eyes are fixed on the wallah or on each other or perhaps on those who inevitably rise up and dance sinuously around the edges of the crowd like some cross between a Christian revival meeting and a belly dancing convention.

People care what their voices sound like. This is not generally true in a traditional setting, as anyone who has been to a down-home Indian kirtan can testify.

Out-of-tune wailing is common, as it should be.

Out-of-tune wailing should be common, because kirtan is about God, not us. Of course, we should sing with beauty and artistry if we can. Fundamentally, what we are doing is not about that. It is about praising the divine, getting close to the sacred and leaving behind our egos and worldly relationships for a short while to soar into the heart of the Self, the loving arms of the Mother of all things. It’s about dancing to the sounds of Krishna’s flute, not showing off our own riffs or the sway of our hips.

All of which brings me to my point.

When kirtan is led by a certain person, or group of people, who charge others to attend, a number of things inevitably follow:

First of all, the entire event is reframed as an experience that certain people are, at bottom, purchasing from other people. The sellers are now responsible for creating an experience for the buyers, which means that they need to be performers and artists.

People will attend the kirtan and feel it was, or wasn’t worth their $25. They will discuss the wallah and his voice or her style. This in itself automatically shifts the whole activity away from being a humble offering to God and a shared communal feast of Her love.

Most people’s attention will be on the wallah instead of the Goddess, and they will expect the wallah to create the experience for them. This is likely to discourage, not encourage, the hard work of learning the mantras and melodies.

Since performance is accentuated, people are likely to feel that they need to sing well. This will lead people to focus on the quality of their own singing with all the attendant self-consciousness, shyness, self- reproach and/or egotism. All of which goes exactly in the opposite direction of kirtan, which is about becoming so absorbed in the singing that you forget yourself and dissolve in the ocean of divine love. Or at least come a little closer to that.

Lastly, the most important problem.

If kirtan is kirtan, then it is about a bunch of people getting together to sing to the Divine. Period.

If there is a charge to attend, then some people will not come. Who? The poorest among us, of course—single mothers, low-income families, students, people who thought they could make a living teaching yoga. You know.

How does this make sense?

For Shri Chaitanya and Guru Nanak the great popularizers of kirtan, it was all about throwing open the way to the divine to everyone.

In India the bhakti movement, which transmitted kirtan to our day, was known for transcending caste barriers and including poor servants, women, and even outcasts.

Is this trend of inclusion something we want to reverse here in the West?

Some may object with practical concerns.

Some may ask, “How will we rent out the hall?”

My answer, “Don’t rent out a hall. Find a church, temple, house, yoga studio, or field that is free.”

“We can’t find one big enough,” you say.

Good for you. My suggestion, then, is to find a venue which will allow the event to function on a donation basis. I guarantee you can find such a venue.

If you do this, please do not post a “suggested donation.” That is not a donation. That is a fee.

I have even seen, recently, a poster which listed a “required donation.” Kali save us from this nonsense. A required donation, people, is a fee.

A donation is voluntary and is not set before hand. Got that? Great.

When events are free and are co-created, then people need to invest themselves to make them work. When people invest themselves, they find value in what they are doing. They learn. They grow.

What about Krishna Das, Wah!, Snatam Kaur and other teachers who popularized kirtan in the West and charge for their concerts?

I respect all of the above and have benefited from their teachings and music. I do think, however, that they have made a mistake in spear-heading the professionalization and commercialization of kirtan in the West.

In its original context, kirtan was culturally subversive and arose out of communal relationships of equality and cooperation. This is sometimes true in its Western context as well, thankfully, especially in ashrams, gurdwaras and temples.

The challenge we face, however, is the increasing invasion of kirtan by the capitalist ethos, even among those whose intentions are good.

The “ethics” of our market culture are so pervasive that we sometimes reproduce them even when we have no intention to do so, and without realizing it- even in the midst of supposedly “spiritual” activities.  The only remedies are dialogue, education, resistance, and re-imagination.


Matthew GindinMatthew Gindin, R.Ac., is an acupuncturist, ayurvedic counselor, meditation, qigong and yoga teacher living in Vancouver, BC. He began teaching meditation and yoga after living as a Buddhist monastic for three years. He regularly lectures on yoga philosophy, Buddhist psychology, holistic medicine, and Jewish spirituality. Being curious and perhaps a little too thoughtful, Matthew has explored and practiced neo-shamanism, tantric yoga, all of the major schools of Buddhism and Daoism. His core spiritual commitments are to the contemplative life, positive action in the world, and his home tradition of Judaism whose two core demands, “love God” and “love people” are what he tries to live up to. In addition to his professional site, Matthew blogs at Blue Waters, Blue Mountains and Talis in Wonderland.


Like elephant Health & Wellness on Facebook


Asst. Editor: Paula Carrasquillo/Ed: Brianna Bemel


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


73 Responses to “Paying to Pray: Why Kirtan Should Be Free. ~ Matthew Gindin”

  1. liveandletlive says:

    This is making the assumption that those conducting a kirtan in which there was a donation or even a fee are performing for one's own glorification. Given that no one, not even Sripad Aindra prabhu can know what is in another's heart, I would say this amounts to little more than an angry, narrow minded, egotistical response.

    I mean the guy goes on for 45 mins. Everyone has a perspective and his serves him and I guess you Thaddeus but in the grand scheme of things his opinion is no more valid or important that any one else's.

  2. Matthew Gindin says:

    Thanks Sara Lee.


  3. Shubalananda says:

    Here is an interview I did with Krishna Das on this subject; at the end of the interview he makes this comment:

    "If you want anything other than to sing to your Guru completely, you ought to give up. You should stay home and sing in your f*ck*ng bathroom. It is not a career. The desire you must have must be to surrender completely to that love to your guru. It can't be about you. Otherwise all you do is get more ego: Look at me, I'm such a great kirtan wallah. I never think that."

    The complete audio of this interview is available on my website,
    Click on Pioneer Sprit Episode #3. The interview begins at 1:07:15, and this section transcribed below is at 1:34:10:

    Shubal: "When people would come to Ma Chetan Jyoti and ask her what does one need to do in order to become a kirtan wallah, she would say you must sit in the chorus for 20 years. What advice do you have?"

    KD: "I'd say sit in the chorus for 20 lifetimes. I don't want to be a kirtan wallah. I want to be with God. I want to be with Maharaji. I have no desire to share what I have with people. I'm not trying to get anybody off. I'm not trying to help anybody. I'm not trying to save anybody. Who am I to do that? Only he can do that. I'm singing to him. He does everything else. If you want anything other than to sing to your Guru completely, you ought to give up. You want to stay home and sing in your f*ck*ng bathroom. It is not a career. It is not to be used… Well, you use it anyway you want. Everybody's got to learn their own way. I can only talk for my own experience. And my experience is… People think I'm rich. I have just enough money to keep singing. If I stop singing, we go into debt. And that's fine all around because I have to keep singing for the sake of my own heart. This is what transforms me, what helps me. So this is what I want to do. The desire you must have must be to surrender completely to that love. It can't be about you. Otherwise all you do is get more ego. Look at me I'm such a great kirtan wallah. I never think that. I don't even think I'm the best singer out there by far. I'm certainly not the best musician by far. But it's his grace. He touches people through the chance. And so it happens. I can't claim that this is mine in any way whatsoever. It's his doing, and as long as he wants me to do this I'll be doing it. If he decides to change the program what can I do."

  4. Delilah says:

    I am a musician who plays in Kirtan. THis article has gotten a lot of attention, and ive been told to read it by several people. I have resisted because i didnt even want to get involved in this discussion, but it seems importent in these times so i will share my perspective.

    I have, in my life, learned and seen firsthand many times over that we frequently speak about things we dont understand. Saying how we think things SHOULD be, about a position we are not in, is dangerous i believe because its like trying to describe the view from the top of the mountain, without actually climbing it. You can do it, but its not the truth, and its not of the highest resonance nor is it really fair.

    IF we tell the people channeling these devine powers to "get a job", doesnt that take away from their time spent connecting to the devine? Dont we want to SUPPORT these people, not force them into poverty? In my opinion, people pay for work they dont want to do. You can go to the store and spend $5 on lettuce, or you can spend a couple months growing your own for free. Most people would rather go to the store. You can buy a house or you can build a house. Point being. You can sit in a room with your friends for FREE and do your own kirtan if you choose. It embodies the spirit of the devine just as much as a KD kirtan or otherwise, regardless of musical talent or devine abilities. SOme people have spent MANY years, or maybe many lifetimes honing their connection to the devine…be it the chanting, the musical ability, and the ability to TRANSMIT clearly. This requires EXTREME effort, work and dedication. It does not come easy.

    WHen i first started playing for kirtan, i was mostly homeless. It made me more happy then anything in the world, and it was the first place i could be part of music that was conscious, healing and harmonic…. it felt right, and it felt like it was where my energy as a musician (my craft) truly belonged. To delve into my craft with other amazing people doing the same, and to heal myself and others in a high vibrational large group of people nightly is my dream come true. I would often LOSE money to go play a kirtan for people (factoring in travel, expenses and time), but i did it anyway. Ive eaten out of trash cans, had to walk miles with equipment due to lack of funds, and slept on benches, beaches, parks and rooftops to pull this off. I still dont have a bed, and have shoes from the thrift store that have mostly fallen apart. I found ways to do it though, and kirtan has always taken care of me just enough to get me to the next kirtan. Ive starved over stolen and always tried to be grateful, and believe that if i keep going…it will get better. If i had "gotten a job" i wouldnt be able to do this. i wouldnt have participated in the healing of people, or been able to send those vibrations into the world nightly.

    This path has made me who i am and i dont regret that…its been exceedingly hard, however it has only sharpened my devotion and dedication to my craft. I think that people who argue this should be free vastly lack an understanding of a musician or chant leaders side of the view though.

    In RAM DAS's book Be Here Now, it says MOney is GREEN ENERGY. Just as breath fuels us, food fuels us, love fuels us…money fuels our ability to create in the physical world. To say someone you are specifically coming to see, who is attempting to heal you and has gone to great lengths to sharpen those healing abilities, deserves to be deprived of that energy I BELIEVE is a grave error. Would you argue they should not be provided food? or love? or Breath? No. that would be nonsense.

    Its not free to get to a kirtan. Gas is not free nor is food. Nor are busses or trains. Its not free to take lessons on your instrument, nor to travel to attain much of the spiritual wisdom and crafts that our favorite chant leaders have taken. It is not free to produce an album so that YOU can listen to it and experience healing in your day to day lives. Its not free to buy the equipment to produce that album, nor the packaging or materials to make the album.

  5. Delilah says:

    I DO think that when you get into the realm of $108 kirtans, Record Labels, managers, and all of that you enter the realm of spiritual black magic. But THOSE people are entitled to do that. YOU vote with your actions. If you dont support that, dont go. If you dont need someone else to lead your kirtans for you, lead your own…for free…in your home….with your friends.

    If theres something i can prove…its where there is WILL…there is a way. There are often MANY ways to go to a kirtan or even a kirtan festival for free. Seva oppertunities, etc. As someone who has been virtually without money at points, i can tell you…if you really want something…you will find a way. Is there anything WRONG with free kirtan? absolutly not…. but lead by example, not by pointing fingers. If you believe kirtan should be free…lead kirtans. for free. See how many musicians can come regularly to those kirtans while losing money. See what venue will host you, pay for your electricity, take the energy to enlist, promote and volunteer time for you. Try to maintain your energy to give the most focused healing kirtan possibile after working a 9-5 under flourescent lights.

    I think you will find it is more difficult then your words make it sound, and i think an A HA moment may even be in order where you realize, that a $25 a head, even THEN… a kirtan artist doesnt make much PROFIT from playing once he spends his whole day getting to a kirtan, paying for gas, paying for food, paying his musicians who have also given their time or even investing in creating a cd of healing music, which kirtans can sometimes just be a way to recoup from. Its a catch-22. Does it lead to a dangerous place of a Lululemon'ization of kirtan? maybe. But as i said before you Vote with your choice and you pay for the work you dont want to do.

    Not to bring you into this personally Matthew, but you list numerous eastern/spiritual crafts in your bio. "Matthew Gindin, R.Ac., is an acupuncturist, ayurvedic counselor, meditation, qigong and yoga teacher living in Vancouver, BC. He began teaching meditation and yoga after living as a Buddhist monastic for three years." I would assume after reading this article you offer all these services for free? If you were to charge for this, wouldnt you be just as guilty of "professionalizing" yoga? Ayurveda? Meditation? Acupuncture? QiGong? If you do, what makes these "spiritual" crafts any different then a musician who has perfected their craft of kirtan? COuld i get acupuncture or yoga for free? YES! If i want a truly trained and advanced professional to do this work, am i OK paying you? YES. Why is music and kirtan diffferent? Should you "GET A JOB"? I dont think so….i think you should be able to make a living and support yourself and your loved ones through your chosen craft just as much as anyone else. If your ego gets rampent and you start charging $108 an hour, maybe i would just go somewhere else? Is that fair? I think so! Again i dont aim this as an attack, but your two CLAIRifying points seem in dire disharmony with what i assume is how you make your living. If you do offer all these services for free, then you are not only talking the talk, but walking the walk and i greatly applaud you.

    Regardless of my disagreement thank you for making this a talking a point and an issue, because it has the whole kirtan community talking and serveral great conversations have been created JUST from mentioning this article, and im sure MANY more i have not been involved in. this is a GREAT article and point that you have brought up… i am glad to see heartfelt and honest opinions from various sources.

  6. Matthew Gindin says:

    Great post Shubalananda, thank you. I love Krishna Das and this is a great quote.


  7. Matthew Gindin says:


    Thank you for your comment.

    You've misread my point. Please read my replies above to simialar comments from others. My argument, in a nutshell, is not that everything in life should be on a donation basis (though that would be nice) but that not everything should be commercialized and made less available to everyone.

    When I have (rarely) offered kirtan and when I teach meditation (every week for 9 years more or less) which I think in many but not all circumstances should be free, I have not charged.

    Thank you for your final comments- I am glad the piece is generating conversation!

    Best wishes

  8. Matthew Gindin says:

    Hi friends

    In light of Delilah's comment, and a few simialar ones, I wanted to clairify one point.

    I believe that kirtan should not be professionalized. Many people have responded to me, "How will professional kirtan wallahs support themselves then?"

    I hope you can see the problem in this argument. I am saying: we should not become professional kirtan wallahs.

    I am not against professions, however, not am I entirely anti-capitalist, though some seem to think I have a problem in general with money or commerce, which is not the case.

    What I am arguing is that kirtan is a special activity with a special dymanic, and it is best if we do not professionalize leading kirtans or charge people to attend (as I have said, voluntary donations or fine in my eyes- just not required donations).

    There are some other activities I would put in this category too, but that's a whole other discussion.

    I think it is very important that some areas of human life, and particularly of human spirituality, are not commercialized but remain "outside the marketplace." I believe this strongly. I hope there are silent others out there who agree as well as the few who have written in. I have been disappinted to see how many others do not understand or agree witht he importance of keeping some things outside of the all-pervasive commercial culture that we live and breathe.

    Very happy with the amount of discussion and debate, however.

    Thank you all for writing in!


  9. Delilah says:

    Your title of this article is WHY KIRTAN SHOULD BE FREE. Not WHY KIRTAN SHOULD NOT BE COMMERCIALIZED. not WHY EVERYTHING IN LIFE SHOULD BE DONATION BASIS. There is a MASSIVE difference, and i think in all honesty from reading ALL of your comments it seems your view of your own point has changed as the criticism has mounted. Perhaps there is a depth of understanding that you are begining to realize and its not that I have "missed the point" (blame is a very low vibrational habit), its that your own point and understanding of the concept is evolving as we go along. This is fine…this is healing…this is growth in all of us… but lets leave blame out of it. Your argument, in a nutshell, has morphed as we go along. I agree 100% with you that not everything SHOULD be commercialized and made less available to everyone. THat is NOT the title of your article, and that was NOT your original argument though. As a writer im sure you understand the importence of being selective of your words. That is not blame, that is fact.

    In all honesty if we can cut through the rhetoric for a second. How DO you make your living? I think its importent to have a certain amount of transperency if you're going to argue a point like this. Truth is the great light and often what you dont like in others is only reflected to you to show you something in yourself.

    Again best wishes…and to clairify my own point. We are free beings. If someone wants to charge $108 dollars for a kirtan…my argument would be invalid if i did support that that is their right. I wont go to this kirtan, and i will voice opposition to this as its my right as a human to do so, Perhaps I do not understand something that one day i will understand why this is ok…. i accept that possibility…. but we all have choice, and there are many FREE kirtans i can go too as well.

  10. Matthew Gindin says:


    Thank you for your reply. I am disappointed that you seem to be offended and think I attacked or blamed you for something. I did not "blame" you for anything, I simply wrote that I thought you had missed my point. That is not an insult or an attack- is it not possible for you to miss someone's my point? I am sure I can miss someone else's point.

    Judging from what you wrote I am left thinking that you still have missed my point, unfortunately. Please don't take this as an insult. I have already addressed the questions and arguments you raise in other comments of mine, however- and I'm sure you understand that I don't have time to reiterate my points again and again. My perspective has not changed, though I have clarified aspects of it in response to what people have written. Not that it would be a bad thing if it had changed- as you say, we grow through conversation.

    One quick point: "should be free" and "should not be commercialized" have more or less the same meaning. Also, I had explicitly stated that I do not think everything should be on a donation basis, and you quote me as saying the opposite. This leads me to think you have not read what I wrote with due care. Again I am not attacking you, just pointing out that you seem to have made an error. "To err is human."

    Best wishes

  11. JenC says:

    Thank you Delilah for your comments. I think you have spoken well and clearly and I believe you understood Mr. Gindin's original message very well. That he keeps changing his tune speaks very loudly.

  12. Mt Shasta Paul says:

    According to Swami Satyanandaji and Shree Maa of the Devi Mandir in Napa California, spirituality means giving more than you take. And commercializing spirituality is inherently disempowering and actually subject to curses in various scriptures. I don't see any wiggle room.

  13. Danie says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I love kirtan, but I rarely get to chant with others because I cannot afford the fee or "suggested donation". Thank you for speaking the truth about the capitalization of something that should be available for EVERYONE to experience!

  14. Nick says:

    In my understanding, Kirtan is simply another Yogic path. Asana is praying with the body just as Kirtan is praying with the voice. To argue that a Kirtan wallah should not be compensated for his or her service is to argue that a yoga (asana) teacher should not be compensated for theirs. Where do you draw the line about who should or shouldn’t be compensated for doing their Dharma?

  15. Ri says:

    I really enjoyed this article as it really hit was I was also thinking but couldn’t articulate.

    For free kirtan/bhajans you can go to any Hindu, Sikh or other spiritual centers (Vivekananadan center, Maharishi, Sai Baba Center, yogananda ashram, Hare Krishna temple, Arya Samaj center, Kabir center…the list goes on) it is sung many times per week. The singers and musicians are volunteers and anyone is welcome to attend and participate.

  16. steve says:

    WORD! Prabhu. Thoroughly sick of this nonsense. God is love. Love is free. If it ain't free, it ain't love and if it ain't love, it aint God.

  17. Lakshmi says:

    My feeling is that if you do it with pure surrender to God, you must trust that your needs will be met. That is how it has always worked in India. If you are thinking about making your ends meet, your thoughts are not fully on God. You are not surrendering to God. That is the ideal. We don't live anywhere close to that ideal. It's true that there are so many free kirtans in S. Asian community places of worship available, but lovers of Western kirtan are not so interested in free traditional kirtan. They prefer to be around their own people, perhaps. Or maybe they prefer the more Western sound. I know for me it is very very difficult to listen to mangled Sanskrit, no matter how good the music is. But that said, occasionally I can feel the bhakti and transcend that aversion. But since people here don't know what the chants are supposed to sound like, that wouldn't affect them. Maybe they are going for the music, and therefore want the music to be good. Or they maybe just enjoy the more performance oriented aspect of Western kirtan. But the kirtan rock star element is totally weird and off-putting to me.

  18. Sol says:

    Greetings everyone. Thanks so much for this interesting article Mathew. I am not into arguments. But I wonder, how can you make a profession out of devotion to God? It is certainly not a class where I learn postures ,stretches, and healthy habits. It is not a concrete physical therapy given to another human being. It is your expression of love to God shared in a community. I have to pay you to share the experience of your expression of devotion to God? Sounds absurd to me. I didn’t know about Krishna Das. I love community Kirtans and my friends told me about his concert here in May. I looked him up on Youtube, beautiful music, but nothing I haven’t heard or felt before in community Kirtans. I even felt his was very separate from the community. Anyhow I liked it alright. I looked to buy the ticket. To my surprise the tickets are $50!!!!! I have nothing else to add. Complete dissappoinment. That’s what I make in a day of work. Why $50? Very exclusive sharing of devotion. Not what I am looking for. I respect those who do. I wish you all happiness and love.

  19. Sol says:

    Greetings. Thanks for the article. I believe it is very healthy and even essential to ask ourselves the questions you have put forth in the article. Per example: how do you measure your devotion in terms of money? Is it devotion that you charge for or is it your art? Is devotional art someone´s property? Did the kirtaniya wrote the words of the chant? Or did he or she made a unique musical arrangement that give the kirtaniya the right to call it his property? Did the kirtaniya give a special service to someone in particular with expected results, like a teacher or an acupunturist? Or is it that the devotional chanting and playing of instruments is in itself the offering, the gift that the individual and community offers to God? So what are they charging for? For their devotion? For their Art? For their efforts? I thought the idea was precisely to give from the heart, to share without expecting something in return. Sure donations are good to supplement one´s material needs. But charging 48 dollars for a Kirtan concert, like Krishna Das is doing in my country right now feels really weird. We are in a deep recession. I am not judging him. Just asking. Why so much? Is his devotional experience only to be shared with the wealthy? Love to All.

  20. Ree says:

    I find it frustrating at times when we use the term "India" as a generalization as it is sometimes not fair to compare the practices of a huge country with over a population of 1 billion people each with 1 billion different opinions. Kirtan in itself consists of different religions, sects and practices such as Hindus, Sikhs, and others. One person may do different things from the person across the street.

    Traditionally, a student gives a teacher Guru Dakshina – a gift in terms of service, clothing, food, cleaning their house, and now a days money to for the knowledge and guidance of a teacher. This includes music lessons, yoga, etc.

    However there is a difference between a musician and a kirtan/bhajan singer. A musician is not necessarily based in spirituality and devotion and is based on a performance. They usually charge for a concert. For traditional Raagas (not kirtan), there is a fee for a professional concert to cover the costs of the stage. Really, after talking to many traditional musicians, the majority have day jobs unless they are a Pandit or Ustad (i.e. famous).

    The nature of kirtan is different as it is based in the temples, local centres, and homes. This is not considered a profession. People usually show up, and sing voluntarily with many different singers taking turns. There is usually not one person singing unless it is a Pandit leading a service. At times, my temples has sponsored devotional bhajan/kirtan singers to come and perform, but we covered cost of flight and accommodation. They never received a fee and would be insulted to receive one. Donations are given to the temple and the musicians do not receive anything. I know in the Sikh tradition, there are donations given to them as they sing in the temple and they divide it with each other for services during weddings etc.

    So what to do? I reference the great Gurus and what they have said, and many people have already pointed this out. I was taught by my Guru that is it not acceptable to charge to attend a kirtan/bhajan as it goes against the whole meaning of it. Even when we do an event in a professional stage, the congregation are never charged. However when I was Indian some people charge. It does not mean that because they did it, it is alright. Some indians also find ways to make money just like anyone else.

    As for the comment of listening to CD's, again I know many Indian "kirtan" singers who charge only to cover the expense of making the CD and all proceeds go to the temple, a charity, or service project. Of course there are others who do not do this, you cannot make generalizations with what people do in India.

    Within the "Indian" community, some find the western of kirtan at times exclusionary and misguided and that people are taking advantage of sacred music e.g. selling music that is often pronounced incorrectly. Although there can be great bhakti and there are some great singers, but you can feel it when it is genuine. I just cannot get over some festivals with kirtan raves and parties where people are going against all the principles of yoga. I have had many friends who now refuse to go to yoga festivals, kirtan festivals etc. due to the disrespect of the music. I guess that is another topic.

    Ok I'm going to stop now!

  21. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I read the original post with mixed feelings, because it is idealistically appealing that kirtan and such events would be given away for free. But I too am a musician, and musicians are treated in this society marginally at best with regards to making a living. I almost felt like the original post should have attacked capitalism and all charges for anything spiritual. Why should anyone pay to hear Eckhart Tolle or Deeprak Chopra or the Dalai Lama or anyone? That's a different issue. With regards to kirtan, i found myself writing kirtans and chants some years ago, and attended some kirtan. My own root path has been zen however, and they were not very open to musical spiritual offerings, the chanting in the Zen center is purposefully non musical, which fits the author's admonition here that people should wail out of tune. Personally, I see American kirtan as an evolving form, a place for people to sing together who are not christian so don't have a church choir, and not musicians per se. It is call and response, not really so different than gospel music. I have studied some classical Indian music and singing, so my style tends towards that-I like it. AT the same time, nothing wrong with the western musical stylings of many current kirtan leaders. I am at a transition, having successfully led a small group locally and looking at recording and possibly traveling, but all the economic realities you speak of play a big part in my decision. I'd do it for love if love would feed me and pay the bills…


  22. sergey says:

    hey are to good,and i agree with you.hare krsna.

  23. Chaitanya says:

    Seems the autjhor is a bit contradictory himself. Why is it ok to charge for skills as an "acupuncturist, ayurvedic counselor, meditation, quigong and yoga teacher?" All of which have deep spiritual elements that remain purest when given and received freely. It's easy to be an idealist in someone else's world.