The One who Startled India with Kirtan

You cannot follow nicely unless you hear nicely, and you cannot lead nicely unless you have learned to follow nicely.

Yamuna Devi Dasi : From the very beginning of our programs in Bombay, Srila Prabhupada became known as one “who is startling India with kirtan.” Our kirtans were full of so much excitement. They were so thrilling. That we were like one throbbing heartbeat, the heartbeat of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission of Krishna Consciousness.

It is difficult to describe how much potency we felt in the kirtans, not just in the chanting itself, but how the chanting was being received by others. It was amazing how clearly we could see the chanting changing the hearts and psyches of so many people. This simply spurred us on even more.

The Dynamic Circle

Like a holistic circle—the dynamic circle of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Sankirtan Movement—we took the process our Guru Maharaja gave us to heart. Practiced it, gave it to others through harinam sankirtan. Then saw it act on their hearts. It was truly a magical, wonderful thing. I felt so privileged to be part of it.

Srila Prabhupada’s interplay with us at this time was truly wondrous. I can only describe him as being like a conductor. With many devotee “instruments,” watching each of us carefully and directing the rhythms and tenors of our individual services.

He Knew us!

He knew our strengths and weaknesses, tried to bring out the best in each of us, and protected us. We felt that we couldn’t have figured out anything regarding the day-to-day adjustments to being in India without his constant guidance. He set the example of how to live, how to behave, and he allowed us access to him nearly twenty-four hours a day.

Srila Prabhupada’s energy level at this time was also beyond description. Here he was in his seventies, while we were all in our twenties or less, and yet he worked circles around us. He was present, alert, and up each night until after midnight translating.

Then he had a full-on day of activities, including instructions to us, letters to write and send around the world. Meetings with important men and aspiring devotees, preaching programs, and of course, his daily personal sadhana . It was simply inconceivable, and yet he did this every day, regardless of where he was.

Srila Prabhupada’s Western disciples quickly became the “talk” of Bombay, and, with the help of Kailash Seksaria, we were introduced to many of Bombay’s elite at his functions. He would arrange very grand and elegant programs in the evenings on the rooftop of his house on Marine Drive and invite prominent members of society. Srila Prabhupada would speak at these programs, and then we would have wonderful kirtans.

Ching, Ching, Sizzle

He would simply direct us to begin kirtan by picking up a pair of kartals and playing them—ching, ching, sizzle. He would play very definitively, with straight back, eyes closed, head raised. Side-to-side movement, his garland gently swaying as he played.

Then, with a sober face and half-closed eyes, he would often direct me to lead. And I would pick up the microphone and begin chanting. Srila Prabhupada had taught us a new melody for chanting the Gurvastakam. I would generally start with this. There is an interesting instruction in his teaching of this prayer.

One morning, soon after our arrival at Kailash Seksaria’s home, Srila Prabhupada called on a male devotee to chant the new melody of Gurvastakam. After two lines of the prayer, he asked him to stop and then requested another devotee to continue. The same thing happened, and he asked another devotee to chant, with the same result. Then he asked me to lead the prayer, and he did not stop me.

Learn to Listen!

So later, I asked him why he had done that, and he replied: Learn to listen. You cannot follow nicely unless you hear nicely, and you cannot lead nicely unless you have learned to follow nicely.
–Yamuna’s Journal

Yamuna Devi: A Life of Unalloyed Devotion: Part 1: Preparing an Offering of Love.