Danforth chapel was full of people, on benches, seated on floor pillows, some standing and some just getting seated. All circled around the group of musicians in the middle. Two drummers, an organist, a cymbal player and a bell clapper all led their audience into a state with meditative chanting. The intense, emotion-filled mantras seized the organist, who closed his eyes in concentration, with other mediators soon following. The night was just beginning.
Every Tuesday, monks of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness come up from Denver to Danforth Chapel for a night of Musical Meditation. Notwithstanding the looming cross of the chapel or the religious affiliations of the organizers, this secular event welcomes people of all faiths and nationalities to come together and get closer to their spiritual centers.
Ananda Murari Das, who helped found the weekly session three and a half years ago, says that its goal “is to help encourage students and community members from all over fort Collins to seek out that sincerity in their hearts and endeavor deeply in their path of spiritual life.”
It begins at 4:30 p.m. with the chant. All newcomers are given a pamphlet with the words, excerpted from the Brahmanda Purana, an ancient Hindu text. The chant, known as the Great Mantra, goes:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Das described the Great Mantra as “a transcendental sound vibration not belonging to any religion or culture.” In its recitation, “one is trying to connect to the supreme.”
The chant is accompanied by an ensemble of Classical Indian instruments. The organ is known as a harmonium, a floor level pumped keyboard descended from an early version of the modern pipe organ. One hand presses the keys while the other hand pumps in air with a lever on the back.
The rhythm is kept by two drummers, both using the double-headed Mridangam. Referring to the Mridangam’s history as a street procession instrument, Das said “the special feature of this drum is that it’s both played indoors and outdoors.” It is also unique in that “it has both a very delicate sound and also a very loud and dance-y sound.”
After about 20 minutes of chanting, the group moves into a discussion of philosophy and consciousness. On Tuesday, Das opened with talking about the need to give up material things. The Hindu month of Kartik had just ended, during which people were encouraged to surrender something to better themselves. A few attendees described their efforts to quit smoking.
After further discussion, the group begins to chant again. Some people dance to the music. A vegan feast is prepared and served on pressed leaf plates. This week, items on the menu included a delicious rendition of pumpkin pie with syrup.
All the way up until it ends at 7 p.m., anyone can join at anytime and at no cost.
Das, a self-described “full time student monk,” founded the group three years ago. “It is a collection of people coming together practicing the art of Kirtan, a form of meditation,” Das said.
Once a student at Northern Arizona University, Das wanted “to understand myself, who I was and why I was here.” In wanting to see these questions out to their ends, Das sought a group of monks and read the Bhagavad Gita. “I was thoroughly inspired by its universal and profound all-encompassing message of knowledge and the soul,” Das said.
Now, Das works in liturgical communites in Colorado. With Musical Meditation at Danforth Chapel, he said he is “trying to create a sense of community so anyone can come and take something from it, whatever their spiritual background.”
Before meditation at the chapel on Tuesdays, Das and others can be found at the CSU Plaza in front of the Library practicing Kirtan and anyone can join in.