The three monks leading in song sat cross-legged on the floor along the front wall. Two of them were neatly dressed in all white and played percussive instruments. The other bore a saffron robe and played a small wooden device, sounding similar to an accordion, called a harmonium. Their songs continued as people increasingly arrived. Upon arrival one would kneel in the entry way and place their foreheads on the floor. As they rose from the ground the devotees would greet friends. Men and women sat on the sitting mats near one another and if they were and item, scooted their mats closer to their mates. Conversation was completely acceptable during kirtan, or repeated chanting, among the festival’s guests. The once scarcely populated room grew large and lively towards the middle of kirtan.
The monk draped in the saffron robe announced the importance of the particular festival to a crowd of men, women, old and young. After he concluded his speech, the monks mobilized their instruments and began to dance throughout the crowd. At this point the sitting mats were moved to the side to make room for dancing. The crowd began to move and clap rhythmically in the center of the room. By watching one would assume, and soon realize, it was impossible not to move - uniformed choreography, slight foot tapping and swaying from slide to side was preformed by every festival goer. As the dancing continued, I noticed, the monks led a type of trot across the room, joining them were mostly men. To my left, women and girls in lines conducted various synchronized dances. I found that men and women did separate during the dancing portion of kirtan. Its reasoning was not announced and the idea was not strictly enforced. I do not believe that the separation is mandatory but perhaps a result of the different dancing styles. As the men athletically skipped, jumped and twirled the women executed movements flaunting their feminine flowing attire. Men’s outfits, excluding the monks, consisted of a shirt and pants of no specific color or material type. As women’s garment were much more elaborate and were made-up of many different sections. This way of dressing was not exclusive to certain women and was rather found on different ages, body types and ethnicities.
This idea, on a larger scale, was also present among all festival attendees. Many different races and ethnicities attended the festival and are committed to the Hare Krishna movement. The priests and monks hail from many different parts of the world and the country. The guest speaker, Giriraja Swami who shared his philosophies, is a Santa Barbara native of Caucasian descent. Hare Krishna devotees may not share the same ethnic background or appearance but upon my interaction I found they do share the same demeanor and love for Lord Krishna. The devotees were very welcoming and warm towards visitors such as myself. They spoke softly and seemed to permanently wear a smile. During kirtan they sang loudly while during the philosophical discussions they listen intently unafraid to call out “Jai!” when in agreeance. They are a very social group and the religion interactive. The Hare Krishna movement is engrained in its devotees personalities, actions and lifestyles.