Jai Uttal calls his group “simply the most wonderful kirtan band in the Western world.” Dave Stringer says they’re “incredibly thrilling.” Guara Vani and As Kindred Spirits have recently released a new kirtan CD, Ten Million Moons, right on time for kirtan’s move to mainstream.
I was lucky enough to get to chat with Guara. You get to read his insights.
What’s the best part about being on tour?
Coming home. Touring is amazing. The smiles and joy and appreciation we get at each gathering are priceless. Sharing chanting and dancing with our new friends across the world is truly one of the sweetest, most precious gifts in the world, but nothing is sweeter than the sound of my kids voices as I drive up the driveway and they’re painting or playing on the lawn and they see my car and scream as they rush towards me, “Daaaaaaaaddy.” That’s the best.
Why and how did you get into Kirtan?
I’ve been into kirtan since before I can remember. Steven Rosen, author of “Yoga of Kirtan,” remembers seeing me for the first time as a newborn baby; my dad held me in his arms as he led a kirtan in LA back in the 70’s. It’s been the soundtrack to my life more than any other music. I love all music, from U2 to the Doors to the Beastie Boys, and I listen to music all the time, but nothing can quite compare to the beauty, depth and intensity of an amazing kirtan. Kirtan is the cry of the soul – calling and begging the Divine Lord for a chance to re-awaken our eternal exchange of love. Kirtan is the sound of who we are beyond our body, the sound of the world where we belong: beyond birth, beyond death.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you while performing?
Hmmm. Well it didn’t happen while we were performing, but while on tour in NYC I walked out the door of an ashram we were staying at on First Ave in Manhattan to see a man smashing my window and robbing my car. He walked off with my bag and I started running after him into the crowd hoping to catch him before he disappeared. I was so mad and felt so violated I wanted to tackle him from behind.
Then I thought he might be carrying a knife of a gun. So I started yelling at him, “Hey. You stole my bag. Stop. Thief!” He turned around and started pulling a palm sized blade out of his back pocket. I stopped short about 10 feet away from him. The crowd just kept passing and not paying any attention to the scene. He was looking at me with one hand on his knife and the other holding the large bulge under his jacket: my bag. He said, “Don’t make a scene. Come over to the side of the building and talk.” I said, “No way. I’m not coming anywhere near you. Why don’t you open the bag, take out my wallet, take whatever money you want and then put the bag down and walk away. My bag has value to me, and none to you, so just take what you want and drop it.”
He slowly pulled my bag out from his jacket. He stood there looking at me. Finally he started edging towards me with the bag in his hand. When he got a little closer he just tossed it to me. I was in shock. He had just given me back my bag. Then he said, “Please man. Just don’t call the cops. But, you gotta give me something. I could have taken the whole thing. You gotta give me something.” I thought about the 150 bucks I was gonna have pay to get my smashed window fixed, but I realized he was right. I told to him to take what he wanted and he didn’t take anything. I opened the bag. Pulled out my wallet flipped through the cash…all still there. I picked a bill out and handed it to him. Then without thinking I just walked away. As I was leaving he yelled out, “Thank you.” I shook my head and kept walking. Wild.
Where’s your favourite place to play?
I love playing wherever people are really hearing the music. Whether it’s an asana class or a home concert or a huge festival, kirtan is best when it’s really coming from and pouring into the heart. The “leader” is only a facilitator to help people deepen their own personal experience in the kirtan. The actual ecstasy comes from the strong desire and heartfelt prayer of the individual to connect with the Divine. The more we cry from our heart the more power there is in a kirtan.
What does your name mean?
Gaura Vani means “The Song or Teachings of the Golden One.” My mother gave me that name when I was born and she made a small prayer offering me to God and his dependent. It’s a very traditional Vedic practice. The name refers to Caitanya Mahaprabhu who founded the modern kirtan movement in India 500 years ago. Legend tells that his skin is the color of molten gold. His kirtan movement was the precursor to Gandhi’s non-violent social reform movement. He took the secret teachings, songs, prayers, mantras that were hidden in the temples of India known only to the highest classes and made them available to everyone.
He felt that these chants are so powerful, why should they only be available to a handful of people based on what family or class they were born in? He created huge festivals in the streets of ancient India and encouraged everyone to chant these secret and powerful prayers – the names of Krishna and Ram. He didn’t notice if someone was a Hindu or a Muslim, a man, a woman or a child, rich or poor, black or white or brown. It created a huge tidal wave of Bhakti or devotion that spread throughout India. The chanting that we’re doing now in the West is the sound of those waves reaching the shore of this country.
at Amazon.com and iTunes, as well as www.gauravani.com
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