Gaura Mandali, a new Kirtan Academy for children – with plans to introduce adult classes soon – has launched in the New Raman Reti ISKCON community in Alachua, Florida.
The project’s director and, so far, sole teacher Thakura Das, grew up in a setting perfect for meditating on the Holy Names, and had a strong attraction to kirtan from early on.
Born and raised on the Nova Gokula farm in Brazil, simple living and high thinking was the norm for Thakura.
“My dad was the cowherd man at Nova Gokula for thirty years,” he says. “I grew up in a house made of clay and cow dung, like in India. We didn’t have electricity until I was seven. But I felt lucky to be raised like that, in a community of devotees.
“Ever since I was little, I had a really strong attraction to the mridanga – so much so that my parents would have to hide it from me because I was too small and would have broken it. That’s where my love for kirtan began.”
Learning by ear until the age of eighteen, it was a visit to Alachua, and the experience of Wednesday night bhajans with the talented gurukulis there, that inspired him to get serious and study with a teacher. Learning his first mridanga mantras from a book by famed teacher Bablu Das, he continued his education with Visvambhar Sheth of the Mayapuris, Radha-Govindapal Das, and Vrindavan Das of the Vrindavan 24 Hour Kirtan.
Thakura Das of Gaura Mandali Kirtan Academy
After a stint living and teaching kirtan in California, Thakura, 30, his wife Lasika Devi Dasi, their daughter Nayana, 4, and son Chaitanya Chandra, 10 months, moved to Alachua in August 2019.
Seeing how many devotee children there were in Alachua, Thakura was inspired to engage them in kirtan.
“One of the things that gave me the most happiness as a kid was meeting with my friends in kirtan,” he says. “So it’s always been my dream to share this knowledge with other children. I feel like it’s so important and healthy for kids. Kirtan is so powerful, and singing is so healing – it’s no wonder that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and our acharyas chose it as the most important method of self-realization in this age.”
With this in mind, Thakura called his new school Gaura Mandali Kirtan Academy.
“Gaura is a name of Lord Chaitanya, and Mandali means associates,” he explains. “It sounds sweet, and the meaning is very apt. When we engage our mind and senses in kirtan, we’re associating with Mahaprabhu; and not only Him, but also Radha Krishna, Srila Prabhupada, and all of our acharyas. We’re trying to understand their moods and take them into our hearts.”
Although he’s been teaching private lessons in Alachua for the past three months, Thakura started the Gaura Mandali Kirtan Academy on February 24th this year, where he offers lessons on mridanga, harmonium, kartals and singing Vaishnava songs.
Classes are on weekdays from 3:15pm to 4:15pm at two venues – Anapayini Jakupko’s Bhakti Kalalayam Dance Academy and the Krishna.com offices. Mondays are currently for nine to eleven-year-olds; Wednesdays and Thursdays for five to seven-year-olds; and Fridays for eight to nine-year-olds, although Thakura welcomes all students aged between five and eighteen.
The first semester of Gaura Mandali will run from February 24th until May 22nd and include thirteen classes for each age group – one a week. The door is still open for new students who missed the February start date; Thakura says he can start a new class on Tuesdays for them.
The poster for the Gaura Mandali Kirtan Academy in Alachua
By the end of the first semester, students will have learned basic kartal skills (including two-beat and three-beat); basic singing skills; several main Vaishnava songs such as Gaura Arati, Nrsimha prayers, and Sri Guru Charana Padma; one song on the harmonium; and practice mantras as well as one or two simple kirtan beats on mridanga.
“For me, the mridanga has always been a special companion,” says Thakura. “So I like to share with students that they’re starting this new relationship they’re going to have for their entire life. With a friend who is always there for you in the difficult moments, and in the happy moments. A friend who has so much to give – who teaches us discipline; focus; how to align and clear our minds. We are associating with Balarama, or Nityananda Prabhu, and His association gives us so many things.”
During the summer, when many Alachua devotee children are traveling, Thakura plans to hold a summer camp in place of a second semester.
He hopes to introduce classes for adults soon too, including a possible weekly open class where he’ll help devotees work on their individual learning goals, and an advanced mridanga class for teenagers and young adults who are already experienced players.
He wants to reach out to other advanced mridanga players in the community to teach these classes, as well as to some well-known kirtaniyas to teach singing lessons once a month.
“Once my schedule is full, I’d also like to bring another regular teacher into the Academy,” Thakura says.
His long-term vision is to have many teachers; to help other kirtaniyas by engaging them; to have the Academy’s own dedicated building; and to offer classes online to provide a service for the entire world.
“But the most important thing is the quality of teaching the students receive,” he says. “I would like to cultivate a sweet and loving mood amongst students and teachers, as well as a strong relationship between Nama Prabhu and the Vaishnavas. That can be lifechanging, and my biggest dream is to provide an experience that impacts the lives of all students who learn here.”
* * *
For more info or to enroll your child age 5 and up, call Thakura at (559) 334-5190[ academy ] [ alachua ] [ children ] [ florida ] [ gaura ] [ kirtan ] [ mandali ]