For over a year now I’ve had this idealized vision of having campfire kirtan with friends. The idea of singing bhajans and chants in front of a campfire out in nature with the summer sun setting on the horizon has been a tantalizing daydream.
In my imagination, the sounds of birds and crickets would blend seamlessly with the droning chords of the harmonium and the soothing strum of a guitar while we poured out our hearts in gratitude to the Source of all life. Wow!
My opportunity for this blissful experience came last weekend. We had had several friends over to celebrate the high school graduation of one of my sons earlier in the day. As the day progressed into evening, my husband Andrew got a fire going in our backyard. He and a couple of friends warmed up their vocal chords with a few cowboy songs while I finished a game of Scrabble indoors.
Then I brought out my harmonium (named after Astara, the Germanic goddess of spring), several binders of large index cards with chords and laboriously hand-written music, and a stand that is the perfect height for playing sitting in a chair. I xeroxed several chants including the guitar chords and Sanskrit lyrics. We were ready!
I introduced a chant I had recently learned to the goddess Lalita and began to play. As I leaned forward to pump the bellows, the harmonium shifted on the uneven ground. I adjusted. It shifted again. I adjusted again. Shift. Adjust. I was getting the hang of this! Just as we were really hitting a groove and everyone had picked up on the words, I felt something crawl up my right leg.
The first one reached my shoulder and crawled out onto my arm. I remembered past years when this particular campfire location was plagued with ant hills and we all sat cross-legged on chairs to avoid putting our feet on the ground. That wasn’t an option now.
After the first chant ended, I moved the harmonium and stand to more stable ground. I checked for an ant hill by my right foot, finding nothing. Assuming the bhajan-loving ants were random ants far from home, I stayed where I was and started the next chant.
The next hour was an exercise in concentration. Mosquitoes arrived and bright green gnats. The random ants continued to find my right leg and make the long trek up to my arms and shoulders. I tried blowing them off my arms in between sung phrases to no avail.Finally I gave up and ignored everything except the music. In the end, I incurred only a few mosquito bites and the ants and gnats proved to be harmless, though annoying.
The fire was beautiful. The drumming and guitar were a welcome change from the hours that I spend playing my harmonium and chanting alone in the safety of my home.
Next time I’ll try the other side of the fire where there may be less ants. Maybe I’ll invest in some insect repellent to deal with the mosquitoes and the gnats!
My initiation is over. By next weekend I’ll be ready to schedule another campfire kirtan. Or a moonlit kirtan. Or a mountaintop kirtan….