Learn to Play > How did I learn how to play?

I had a teacher

Like you, I needed a teacher to learn how to play the Mrdanga. I knew nothing about the mrdanga when I joined ISKCON in 1973 and for a few years after that. Sometimes I would pick up the drum and try to follow along, but I could never manage to even come close to what the devotees were playing, and finally, after being frustrated or embarrassed, I'd put the drum back down. Eventually, I wound up in England running a very successful Bhakta Program for training new devotees. We were making 80 new devotees a year, and I was responsible for training them. It became crucial for me to learn how to play the mrdanga because I was expected to lead many kirtans.

Recognizing the need for devotees in ISKCON to learn how to play the Mrdanga properly, Srila Prabhupada requested Uttamasloka dasa to travel to India in the beginning of the 1970's to learn bona fide styles of Mrdanga playing and teach it to Western devotees. Uttamasloka dasa was initiated in 1971 in Detroit and became the temple president for Toronto and Chicago. He had association with Srila Prabhupada in the U.S., Canada and India. Under Srila Prabhupada's direction, Uttamasloka learned mrdanga from a variety of sources. He traveled in West Bengal, India, and studied Bengali mrdanga styles. He also studied under Srila Prabhupada's Godbrother, Krsna dasa Babaji Maharaja, and traveled to Jaipur, India, and studied how those Vaisnavas played the drum. According to the desire of Srila Prabhupada, he returned to America and started teaching devotees in the Chicago area how to play the Mrdanga.

Uttamasloka writes, “I learned to chant Sanskrit slokas, mantras and bhajans and I learned to play the clay drum called mridunga, as well as brass hand cymbals called karatalas. Between 1971 and 1978 I went to India 4 times and during those trips I was exposed to more of the Bengali style of mridunga playing and chanting.”

The Chicago and Toronto devotees started a “kirtan club” headed by Uttamasloka Prabhu, and they perfected many of the mrdanga beats you will learn while taking this course. In fact, during an early Mayapur Festival, there was an “International Kirtan Contest” held between devotees from around the world, and Uttamasloka Prabhu's group won the competition. They were, at the time, considered the best authentic Bengali-style mrdanga players in ISKCON.

Uttamasloka Prabhu writes: "The mridunga is used primarily during kirtans – congregational chanting of the holy names of God… Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare It is also used to accompany bhajans, which are devotional songs of love to Krishna. I got very deeply into kirtans and playing mridunga."

One of the devotees in Uttamasloka Prabhu's kirtan group was Sripati Prabhu. Sripati Prabhu had a unique quality. He appreciated fine Bengali music. He loved expert kirtans. He became not only an accomplished kirtan leader and Mrdanga player employing techniques from Uttamasloka's unique ISKCONized Bengali style of kirtan, but he also was a good teacher. Sripati Prabhu is a British devotee who joined ISKCON in Canada. Actually, Sripati was the first British devotee to join ISKCON, even before Srila Prabhupada's disciples went to England.

In 1978, Jayatirtha, who was at the time the GBC representative for the United Kingdom, requested Sripati Prabhu to return to England to teach devotees in Great Britain how to play the mrdanga. Since I was living in England running the Bhakta Program, I was fortunate to become one of Sripati Prabhu's enthusiastic first students.

Since those early days when I studied for months under Sripati Prabhu's guidance, I've picked up a lot of techniques from various other sources. Once you learn to play the mrdanga at a certain level, you continue to learn all the time. I've been to India more times than I can remember, including having lived there twice. I've watched and learned from many Bengali and experienced Western devotees, but I can tell you right here and now that I can never be as good a mrdanga player as many of the expert players we now have in ISKCON. All I can do is pass on some of the techniques and secrets I've learned from my first Mrdanga Guru, Sripati Prabhu, as well as what I've learned since then. I don't profess to be expert. Now days there are many, many more experienced Mrdanga players in ISKCON than I. What I do say, however, is that I can teach you how to play the Mrdanga so that you will eventually be able to lead kirtans and Harinam parties, and be considered one of the best Mrdanga players in your area.

Over the years, I've taught hundreds of devotees how to play the Mrdanga, and in later years regularly taught courses on Mrdanga playing. I developed a curriculum for that course, and the website you are presently viewing was born out of that curriculum. I'm no longer living in a temple. I'm no longer a sannyasi or spiritual leader in ISKCON. Don't let that scare you. I won't misguide you or try to teach you some deviant philosophy. I'm still a believer in Srila Prabhupada and the GBC system he established, even though I don't personally live in the association of devotees anymore. Heck, I don't even own a Mrdanga anymore, though sometimes I wish I did.

Everything you need to know to start you on your journey in playing the Mrdanga is on this website. I don't ask anything in return. Well, there is one thing. If someone wants to send me a Mrdanga as a gift, I'd be most appreciative. Since moving away from the association of devotees in September, 2002, I no longer have my own mrdanga. If I had one, I could occasionally add to the lessons on this website.

Anyway, that's how I learned the Mrdanga. I had a teacher. Now I'm going to teach you.

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