- Sara Black Brown
A Vaishnava Hindu devotional movement dedicated to the worship of Krishna and known for the ecstatic singing of kirtan. The movement, formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), was established in New York by Bengali guru A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966 and has since attained international popularity. The Hare Krishna movement traces its spiritual lineage to the 15th-century Indian saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who began the performance of kirtan as it was later practiced in ISKCON.
Kirtan is a process of singing scriptural texts and mantras as a form of congregational call-and-response music. Hare Krishnas emphasize chanting the Maha Mantra, a petition to Hari, or Vishnu, and his avatars Krishna and Rama. Krishna devotees also interpret the name “Hare” as a name for Krishna’s beloved Radha. Because the mantra is composed of names for Krishna it serves as the predominant form of worship and means of salvation: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” According to ISKCON belief, the presence of Krishna is contained in the sound of his name, and the process of chanting brings the singer into the presence of the divine. Because the holy names are believed to carry Krishna’s presence, special emphasis is placed on chanting loudly so that those within earshot may also benefit. The singing of the mantra as kirtan is extremely prevalent in Hare Krishna practice, both as an act of worship unto itself and as an accompaniment to other ritual and festival activities....