50 days Kiirtan in Jamalpur

50 Days Kiirtan, Jamalpur India from Didi Devapriya on Vimeo.

In 2005, I was invited to India for a very special, sacred moment: my avadhutika diiksha.  I had already been a brahmacarinii (the equivalent of a novitiate) for four years, posted in Italy, but now I would have the opportunity to learn a special, advanced form of tantra sadhana called kapalika sadhana, and take a deeper set of sannyasi (renunciate) vows. I was full of excitement, and arrived in India, eager to begin the lessons.

However, somehow the central authorities had forgotten about the arrival of me and another brahmacarinii sister from abroad.  The trainer wasn’t ready, the other Indian trainees had not yet been assembled.  I was prepared to wait, though. I love being active, and of service, and previously had spent time in India with the senior Didis supporting them in organizing office work. I was also equipped with a video camera to record their personal experiences and work on a documentary project.

Meanwhile, in Jamalpur, the birthplace of my Guru, Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii, a special program was happening.  It was the 50th anniversary of Ananda Marga, and in honor of the event, my brother monks had organized 50 days of continuous kiirtan (chanting of mantra), that would culminate on Ananda Purnima, Baba’s birthday.  Didi Ananda Giita said to me, “You should go to Jamalpur, and do kiirtan.”  There were at least two weeks until Baba’s birthday.  My first reaction was that that was a very long time to only do kiirtan.  The program was only continuous, 24-hours a day kiirtan.  I thought I should be doing something more productive, more useful.  But she insisted. So I surrendered and bought my ticket to Jamalpur.

When I arrived at the ashram in Jamalpur,  loud squealing feedback and crackling was coming out of the loudspeakers, and dissonant, out-of-tune kiirtan was droning somehow through it all.  My first thought was “This is going to be a very long 14 days”.  Myself and the one other brahmacaryinii sister from Hong Kong were the only ones present that were not Indian, and only a few Dadas were able to speak English.

I went to join the kiirtan. Groups of margiis from different cities had signed up to lead the kiirtan by rotation, day and night. They were also camping out in the large meditation hall.  There was a small group of margiis gathered around a microphone to sing.  They waved me to join them and gave me a microphone asking me to sing a kiirtan.  I did and soon fell into the flow, playing a simple tambourine type of instrument.  In the evening, after work had finished, hundreds of margiis from the local community poured into the hall, and a very young girl,  Candrakala’ and her sister, both barely entering their teenage years, led the kiirtan with some of the most angelic voices I have ever experienced.

I don’t know how or when it happened, but I became so deeply absorbed in kiirtan that this became one of most intensely spiritual experiences of my life.  I was literally like a bee, magnetized towards the nectar that was flowing from the kiirtan.  I couldn’t stay away.  If the kiirtan started to go out of rhythm or out of tune, I wanted to go and help bring it back into a melodious flow, and if it was beautiful, then I needed to be there.  It was painful to tear myself away to eat something, or go to sleep.  I would be singing kiirtan until deep into the night, sleep a few hours, and then go down again at three in the morning and sing until eight or so in the morning.  After days and days of this intense bliss, my voice lost a considerable part of the spectrum of notes I could sing, but that didn’t deter me.

In the meantime, as my heart opened more and more with the kiirtan, I felt such an intense feeling of love and connection with the margiis and acaryas I was singing with. Even if we didn’t share a common language, there was a deep sense of communication. I remember one sister in particular, her name was Omkarii, which means “cosmic sound”.  She did not speak any English, and yet when she spoke to me I understood that she wanted to sing with me at three in the morning together.  We met, and led the kiirtan while hundreds of people were sleeping peacefully in the hall around us. I suddenly heard the sound of a conch shell being blown.  We both looked around, thinking that it was the brother Ramjii, announcing paincajanya.  However, nobody else stirred.  And then I noticed, the conch shell was on the table in front of us. I looked at her, smiling, and said “Omkara?” Perhaps it was a mysterious manifestation of the “pranava” cosmic sound, just like her name, we will never know.

The only other thing I managed to do, was to take some footage of Jamalpur for the documentary project I was working, giving me the opportunity to interview some of the early disciples. When the Dadas saw that I had a camera, they asked me to also make a video about the program itself.

The ten days went by in a stream of bliss.  I then received a call from Didi Ananda Giita, who had been the one that sent me to Jamalpur.  She told me that the trainer had arrived, as well as the other trainees and I should return to complete my avadhutika diiksha. Meanwhile, the intensity of the kiirtan was increasing hour by hour, as some of the really professional, classically trained singers started to arrive for the grand finale.  I didn’t want to go.

When I stepped onto the train, I felt a physical pain in my heart, as if leaving a lover. The only thing that soothed it, was to listen to the recordings of kiirtan that I had made in those days. When I arrived for the training, in any spare minute I had, I began to sift through the video footage to put together the little video that is posted above, and again it made me feel as if I was still there.

It turns out, that kiirtan was my primary avadhutika training.  It immersed me in the most intense bhakti flow I have ever experienced.  I felt the irresistable attraction of the hiranyamaya kosa, the golden layer of the mind, in which no other desire is present except an increasingly intense longing for union with the Divine that burns away all other attachments in its fire.  The intense saffron orange of the avadhutika uniform is meant to reflect the color of that fire of renunciation.

The training itself lasted only a few days, and it was very beautiful.  After receiving kapalika diiksha, I meditated, the night before Baba’s birthday, until three in the morning.  Then, just before five am we piled into auto-rickshaws to attend an akhanda kiirtan (3 hours of continuous kiirtan) to celebrate Baba’s birthday, just as the sun was rising. Indeed, the name Baba’s parents gave him was Prabhat Rainjan, which means  “the Crimson Dawn” as he was born during a particularly beautiful rosy sunrise.

Immediately following the kiirtan, we took our avadhutika vows, and I received my new name, Avadhutika’ A’nanda Devapriya’, Acarya’, and left my white sari for a brand new saffron one.  Now in complete orange uniform,   I was glowing with immense joy and bliss. It was one of the most important moments of my life.