Learn to Play > Lesson 2: Your first mrdanga mantra

The history of the mrdanga in ISKCON


His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada

When Srila Prabhupada boarded the Jaladuta to sail from Calcutta to New York in 1965, his mission was to establish temples all over the world. On board the ship he had 40 rupees, a trunk of books and a pair of karatals (hand cymbals). He did not have a mrdanga with him.

In 1965 he incorporated his new Movement and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was born.

As the Movement began to spread, new followers joined and new temples opened. Srila Prabhupada arranged to have the first mrdangas (clay drums) shipped from India so that his new disciples could play this traditional Vaisnava instrument in kirtans.

When the first mrdangas arrived in the temples, devotees started picking them up and practicing. Essentially, without a teacher, they taught themselves how to play. Although Srila Prabhupada himself did give one or two mrdanga lessons to some of his early students, by and large most devotees learned either by experimentation or from someone else who had learned from experimentation.

Thus a wave of "ISKCON style" mrdanga beats was born. Those beats were fairly primitive and didn't really resemble traditional Vaisnava mrdanga beats very well.

As the Movement continued to expand, Srila Prabhupada saw the need to have some devotees trained in how to play the mrdanga nicely. In a letter to Mukunda on 11th June, 1968, he wrote, "You are learning some techniques about playing mrdanga is very nice; that will help others also to know how to play." 

Eventually a group of devotees from Montreal and Toronto traveled to India to study mrdanga playing. These devotees, under guidance of Srila Prabhupada, studied for some time under the tutelage of Srila Prabhupada's dear late Godbrother, Krsna dasa Babaji Maharaja.

Later they returned to America and taught other devotees how to play. One of those devotees who learned how to play from that group was Sripati dasa.

In 1977, Sripati dasa came to England by request of Jayatirtha, the GBC there, to teach the devotees how to play. I became a student of Sripati dasa and learned the mrdanga from him at Bhaktivedanta Manor.

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