Rules of Devotional Music

Question: Are there rules for devotional music?

Answer: Thank you for your inquery. I started the Harmony School of Conscious Art many years ago.

The purpose of that school is to enthuse artists of all kinds to utilize the language of their art to awaken consciousnesses and to spread the glories of the Holy Name. We take shelter of this part of the Siksastakam, where Sri Caitanya says that there are no hard and fast rules to chant the Holy Names. There are different types of standards. I heard that my parama Gurudeva did not like the music of harmoniums in the temples, but my Gurudeva enchanted many thousands of people with beautiful harmonium bhajanas. He enthused George Harrison and had Yamuna Govinda-prayers played in every temple every day. On the other hand, myself, I cannot tolerate loud bells, wampers or gongs. When they create an incredible amount of decibel, “deafening” sounds, I have to run away immediately. Sometimes one cannot even hear which song they are singing. I asked many older devotees about that circumstance and most of them have the same feelings as I do. When I visit one of my temples, I first send somebody to find all the wampers and gongs and hide them. I tell the devotees not to use them but some devotees, who were previously attached to the heavy metal music still like to play them. So it may be a relative point. I do not think Krsna is deaf. He does not need so much noise to hear what the devotees are singing. One has to judge the rules of music according to place, time and circumstance. We have some straight-edge or heavy metal musicians amongst our devotees. They make this music for Krsna. Most of them are actually very serious devotees and they simply utilize this tool for attracting friends from that scene.

When we talk about ragas, there are so many rules. I do not know much about them.

Nowadays there exists vaisnava music in practicaly all musical styles. Of course in our temple ceremonies we prefer soft and classical styles, but that is not a hard and fast rule. When I was temple president in Sao Paolo, a famous Brasilian musician, Ceatano Veloso, came sometimes to the temple to sing the kirtana in the Sunday feast, in samba rhythm. We want to preserve the classic styles, but there is also space for expanding into new areas of devotional music. Everything can be utilized for Krsna. I am very fond of singing bhajans in any local respective language. That is so helpful for the devotees to understand the real meaning of the message. I have been critisized for introducing this singing, but I checked with senior Gaudiya Vaisnavas and got approval from them, both Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila BP Puri Maharaja welcomed it.

Even for myself, the songs which I have been singing for 30 years become close to me when I sing them in the language which a commonly use. I am sure much more can be said about this topic. I can just report to you, that due to the approach of the Harmony School of Conscious Art, in Santiago, the capital of Chile, the devotees have eleven devotional music and art groups. And “Ahimsa all Stars” under the guidance of BV Damodara Maharaja have already won two prices from the city; so there are some very positive results. And Akarma Prabhu's song “I want to live” was choosen by the UNICEF as a song for life. There is a lot of advice coming from our tradition on how to play kartalas and mrdanga and how to dance on sankirtan, but that is a topic which is better to be organized locally and according to the musical capacity of the devotees involved. In general I would say, whatever music we make it should sound as good as possible. Singing of any type which makes people run away is not the best choice. Even in the Caitanya Caritamrta it was pointed out that there were some expert dancers and singers.