The Thames river at Oxford, a good place to take your oxen
On Sunday I went to Oxford for that city’s monthly ‘Kirtan Experience.’ Its proving to be increasingly popular with all types of people. No philosophy, just kirtan for a solid two hours. Fresh flowers and candles, but no incense or altar pictures. And no ‘feast.’ It’s different, but it works. Professors and students alike, as well as some from the yoga fraternity, turned up punctually at four for the start, and the kirtans were brought to a rousing close at six. A few minutes for herbal tea and biscuits and everyone was gone by six-thirty.
The programme has been running for two years now and seems to be a favourite on the monthly schedule of at least 40 souls. Kirtans are varied, not all of them maha-mantra, and the attractive melodies are not complicated but do require careful listening. Kirtans last for around twenty minutes each then the singer or melody changes. Any introductory or explanatory speaking between kirtans is kept to a minimum.
The Oxford group also runs a gathering where members come together for a more traditional format of class and questions. Those who attend the Kirtan Experience can also atttend this one, but they’ll know beforehand that its all about the philosophy behind kirtan, and weighted towards those actually have appreciation for Vaishnava theology.
The separation seems to work quite well. With 22,000+ students from all over the world at Oxford, many of them quite brilliant, it serves a good purpose to have a space where the students can be free from the strains of brainwork, and where they are not simultaneously urged to struggle with the philosophical beliefs behind the maha-mantra. That way, avowed atheists or agnostics can take full advantage of the ‘kirtan experience’. And they do!
You can see more of the Oxford Kirtan Experience here.
Note to my readers in far-distant lands: You might be wondering why so many British place names end in the suffix ‘- ford.’ After all, my last blog talked of the London suburb of IlFORD and the town of GuildFORD and now I am speaking of OxFORD. You might think that we are not good at naming our towns over here, or that the Hare Krishna movement only likes to start branches in towns with a ‘ford’ in the name.
Of course, the word ford means a place where a river runs shallow, where people can easily cross over either by foot, or in a horse and cart. In Britain, as in most countries of the world, they liked to settle down near a river because there was a constant supply of fresh water (well, many years ago the rivers used to have fresh, clean water) for drinking and irrigation. The best place to live – and to do business – is where people cross the river. And so that’s why many towns have a ford in the name. The name of the river often comes first, followed by ford. In the case of Oxford the settlement was where oxen could be walked across a ford in the River Thames.
Oxford today, providing education since the 13th century. Now a regular place for uplifting kirtan.
In Sanskrit, the word ford is translated as ‘tirtha’ and it means any place where you can cross over something dangerous. Just as you can get washed away by a river, so you can get washed away by the strong currents of this world. A place where there is a culture of spirituality – where you can be safe from such strong currents – is a place where you can ‘cross over’ this world more easily. And that place is known as a tirtha.
The kirtans in Oxford, and in all 45 locations throughout the country, are therefore all helping to make those towns tirthas.