Have you noticed a growing fascination with the Hanuman Chalisa, the 40-verse ode to the Hindu monkey-god who embodies the heart of devotional practice? We’ve noticed it cropping up in more and more live kirtan sets, and Bhakti Fest Midwest was no exception. Both SRI Kirtan and Brenda McMorrow offered rocking original versions of this long and fairly complicated chant during their respective sets on Saturday and Sunday.
Krishna Das and his long-time assistant (and chant leader in her own right) Nina Rao might take credit for helping make the Chalisa so popular. KD’s “Flow of Grace” CD is devoted completely to the Chalisa, with six different versions of the prayer. The one by Nina Rao, the sweet “Nina Chalisa,” has formed the foundation for her own Chalisa chanting in her home ‘hood of Brooklyn, at KD workshops and at Bhakti Fest West in Joshua Tree. Her morning Chalisa sessions have become a fixture, and are well-attended despite their early-morning hour. She continued this trend in Madison, Wisc. at the Midwest fest. Her traditional Chalisa is featured in this video from Vermantra 12-hour chant fest last fall.
Kirtan geeks that we are, we get pretty excited when wallahs mix the Chalisa into their sets — typically with an introductory warning that if you don’t know the words, have no fear, there’s a nice simple chorus that everyone can join in on. Imagine our delight when this scenario occurred with not one, but two of our favorite up-and-coming kirtan wallahs at Bhakti Fest Midwest — SRI Kirtan on Saturday at high noon and Brenda McMorrow on Sunday afternoon.
Check out both shakti-shaking versions below. Warning: the videos are long (did we mention it’s a 40-verse prayer?), but we think this is one of those chants that needs to be seen, heard and felt in its entirety.
(I have no idea why YouTube is not putting up a thumbnail on this, but I assure you, there’s a beautiful picture of Sruti Ram and Ishwari that SHOULD be coming up. Please watch despite the blackness.)