What is the role of the Kirtan leader, spiritually?

Dear Bada Haridas,
I led my first kirtan yesterday evening! I was wondering what is the role of the kirtan leader? I know that practically speaking they are playing an instrument and singing the mantra for the group to repeat, but what is their job spiritually?

I felt a little bit nervous to take on the task at first and was wondering if you could share some of your wisdom in that regard. Hare Krishna!

Srila Prabhupada leading kirtan
Yamuna Devi singing Kirtan

Glad to hear you are leading kirtan. Thank you for asking such a nice question and for taking it so seriously. (Serious doesn’t mean it’s not blissful!)

We could speak about kirtan for a long time. There’s way more to it than it may seem. Briefly, the kirtan leader’s role is to help people connect with Krishna and you can’t do that if you’re not connected. So really the focus is internal. Try to be present in the moment, hearing attentively, sincerely calling out, asking for service and purification, singing for Krishna’s pleasure, thinking of the Lord, and begging for mercy. Chanting is all about re-establishing our relationship with the Lord.

As the kirtan leader it is best to be in the mood of serving the devotees. When Krishna is pleased, as Supersoul within their hearts, He pleases them, and that’s how we serve them. It’s not a show, or a performance.

Srila Prabhupada wrote, “The principle of chanting is to glorify the Lord and not to attract a crowd. If Krishna hears nicely then He will ask some sincere devotee to gather in such a place.” Letter to Subala, November 12, 1967.

Another important thing to remember is that a good kirtan happens by the mercy of the Holy Name alone. We can’t “make it happen.” We can sincerely call out (like a child crying for it’s mother) but it’s up to Him if He will appear or remain hidden. We have to try our best to serve, but we’re completely dependent on His mercy. So kirtan is a dynamic process of experiencing Krishna’s reciprocation in different ways. It’s never the same twice. It’s a discovery process.

Still, the more we actually love Krishna, the more He will want to come to us during kirtan.

One practical point: Try to sing melodies that are fairly easy for people to repeat. At the same time, try to make it musically pleasing and appropriate for the crowd and the circumstance.

Hope this helps. Thank you again. All the best. Hare Krsna!

Your servant,
Bada Haridas

Krishna, the master of all mystics, sometimes hides