Street Kirtan: “Knocking at the Door of their Hearts”

Last month I was with my family in New York city and we joined devotees of Krishna in a street kirtan in Union Square. The Square is well known for gatherings of all kinds. The devotees regularly go there to perform kirtan and anyone who is there often comes to listen, tap their feet, clap their hands, or jump into their own form of dance. Here’s what happened when I led kirtan for a few minutes:

On the same day as this was shot, in the morning, we were fortunate enough to visit the small shop front where Srila Prabhupada began his teaching and  incorporated his fledgling society. I was struck by how small it was but how large his movement has grown. And we’re still in the first 50 years. Incredible.

Sometime in 1971  – in Los Angeles – an introductory letter explaining Krishna consciousness was written either by Srila Prabhupada or by a disciple on his instruction. In it he describes how the movement would be spread by public kirtan and that such kirtan was ‘knocking at the door of the heart’ for all those who heard it.  Here’s how it reads:

‘Our basic mission is to propagate the sankirtan movement (chanting of the holy names of God) all around the world, as was recommended by the incarnation of the Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. People in this age are very much reluctant to understand God consciousness because of their unfortunate condition of life. They are working hard day and night simply for sense gratification. But this transcendental vibration of sankirtan will knock at the door of their hearts for spiritual awakening. Therefore, they should be given the chance for this opportunity.

‘It is not recommended that a Krishna conscious devotee go into seclusion to chant by himself and thereby gain salvation for himself alone. Our duty and religious obligation is to go out into the streets where people in general can hear the chanting and see the dancing. We have already seen practically how by this process many, many boys and girls of America and Europe have been saved from the immoral practices of this age andf have now dedicated their lives to the service of Krishna.

‘It is hoped that the government authorities will cooperate with our sankirtan parties in enabling us to perform sankirtan on the streets. To do this it is necessary that we be able to chant the names of Krishna, dance, play the mridanga drum, request donations, and on occasion, sit down with the mridanga drum. As devotees of Lord Krishna, it is our duty to teach the people how to love God and worship Him in their daily life. This is the aim and destination of human life.’

A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami


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