Today, 24 and 12 hour kirtan festivals seem to be spreading all over the world like wildfire. Devotees are gathering to immerse themselves in the Holy Name every year with events like Kirtan Mela in Mayapur, Germany and Australia; 24 Hour Kirtan Birmingham in the UK; Sravanam Kirtanam in Italy, Radhadesh Mellows in Belgium, and Festival of the Holy Name in Alachua, USA. The globe is reverberating with the sound of Krishna’s name.
But back when the New Vrindaban 24 Hour Kirtan began in the hills of West Virginia, it was one of only a small handful of early trendsetters.
The event began life in the Bhajan Kutir that was introduced at the first Kulimela at New Vrindaban in 2006, a gathering of the second-generation Hare Krishna community. There, “Kulis” chanted kirtan in the yajnashala, an outdoor covered space outside the temple, every day.
Inspired by the endless 24 Hour Kirtan in Vrindavana, India, led by the late Aindra Das, the kirtan went on for 24 hours straight on the last two days of the Mela. Excited by the possibilities, organizers inaugurated the New Vrindaban 24 Hour Kirtan the very next year on the same June weekend.
That first year saw a simple, grassroots event, with little promotion, basic kichari meals, and just 100 people coming together to chant. But more were attracted by the purity of the event, and it continued to grow every year.
Currently it draws crowds of six to eight hundred, and while these are primarily ISKCON devotees, a growing percentage of attendees are newcomers introduced through New Vrindaban’s Festival of Colors and kirtan performances at yoga studios and the like.
“I think they find it accessible because it’s so simple and stripped down – just 24 hours of non-stop maha-mantra,” says kirtan artist Gaura Vani, who is also one of the event’s organizers.
This year, the 24 Hour Kirtan will run from 11am on June 21st to 11am on June 22nd. Lead chanters and musicians will gather with their harmoniums, mridanga drums, cymbals and bass guitars in the center of the temple room, beneath the intricate moldings and curved stained glass ceiling.
Surrounding them will be waves upon waves of chanters, and beyond them Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindabanchandra, Sri Sri Gaura Nita, Sri Gopal Nathji, Lord Nrsimhadeva and the rest of New Vrindaban’s no less than 24 merciful presiding Deities.
In addition, many chanters will bring their own home Deities, while banners inscribed with the Hare Krishna Mantra and pictures of Lord Krishna’s pastimes will fly everywhere, creating an inspirational, uplifting atmosphere.
Devotees will begin by setting an intention to immerse themselves in the Holy Name with a Sankalpa Ceremony, before easing into the maha-mantra, the culmination of all ceremonies.
A host of experienced chanters known for their heartfelt devotion will lead, including Bhakti Charu Swami, Agnideva Das, Acyuta Dasi, Ananta Das, and Gaura Vani.
But many of these well-known chanters will take late-night slots in order to facilitate younger chanters and the less renowned at more peak hours, to emphasize the Holy Names over “big names.” “At the 24 Hour Kirtan, the Holy Name is the star,” says Gaura Vani.
And boy, is it. While other kirtan festivals are split into two days of 12 hours each with a full night’s sleep in between, New Vrindaban’s 24 Hour Kirtan is one of the few with 24 nonstop hours of maha-mantra.
“The kirtan leads itself,” says Gaura Vani, describing a tidal flow of quiet meditation and rip-roaring rock-out. One moment, devotees are sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed, swaying gently like a field of wheat in the breeze and calling out to the Lord with feeling; the next, they’re exploding into a raucous dance party, roaring, pounding drums, jumping and pinwheeling across the temple room floor.
While there are breaks for prasadam – three meals are served every day – and sleep, devotees are there for one thing. Many log 18 to 20 hours, some even going nonstop for the full 24, and some can be seen taking 20 minutes of shut-eye against the temple room wall, still letting the Holy Name sift into their subconscious.
“It’s punk rock, man!” Gaura Vani says gleefully. “And we’ve worked hard to keep it that way. This is a trial-by-fire, intense, tattoo your heart with the Holy Name kind of event.”
And the effects are undeniable. “From the beginning of the festival to the end, you can feel a tangible shift in your consciousness,” says Gaura Vani, adding that the 24 Hour Kirtan brings a sense of community to devotees usually spread out across the nation.
Meanwhile newcomers also experience the same transformational energy, feeling their hearts become more and more attracted to the devotee lifestyle and association with every 24 Hour Kirtan they attend.
To provide even more chances to associate with the Holy Name, New Vrindaban is adding a Kartik 24 Hour Kirtan to be held from October 11th to 12th, which will bring an extra dimension of atmosphere and devotion as attendees offer candles to Lord Damodara during the chanting.
In the future, Gaura Vani hopes to see the event continue to “franchise” out to other locations. Beyond that, he hopes the 24 Hour Kirtan experience will inspire people to take kirtan to the next level by bringing it out onto the streets in multi-hour public Harinama festivals.
“We can’t over-emphasize the importance of chanting God’s names – in any tradition – for the wellbeing of mankind,” he says. “And the 24 Hour Kirtan is one of the major ways to contribute to that.”
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ISKCON New Vrindaban extends a warm invitation to all to bring their contribution by attending this year’s summer 24 Hour Kirtan, from June 21st to 22nd, 2014, and Kartik 24 Hour Kirtan, from October 11th to 12th. For more information, please visit http://newvrindaban.com/.[ kirtana ] [ maha-mantra ] [ new ] [ vrindavana ]