to Play > How did I learn how to play?
I had a teacher
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.
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.
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.
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
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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