"...this sankirtana or street chanting must go on, it is our most important program. Lord Caitanya's movement means the sankirtana movement. You may simply take two hours for chanting sixteen rounds daily, two hours for reading congregationally, and balance of time go out for sankirtana. We must do both, reading books and distributing books, but distributing books is the main propaganda."
Srila Prabhupada Letter, 09-18-72
The Lord's devotees are engaged in many different types of service throughout the day. During the afternoon period following Raj-bhoga-arati, the devotees may go out into the community on Harinam Sankirtana.
A Harinama party can be anywhere from two to two hundred devotees, and the larger the party, the better! More typically, a small group will be available for Harinam. It is ideal to go out in a party of six to twelve devotees, because two groups can then rotate between activities. While one group is chanting, the other is nearby distributing books or prasadam and preaching.
There are no hard and fast rules for how the Harinam party is to be organized, although Srila Prabhupada made various comments indicating how one should properly represent Lord Caitanya's movement. What is offered here is my personal preference for organizing a sankirtana party. Others may do things differently.
The kirtana party should be dressed as nicely as possible. Everyone should be dressed in proper devotee garb, whenever possible. Clothing should be colorful, but also relatively uniform, so the group appears organized. Those who are part of the kirtana should have a sense that they're being observed by the public and are representing Srila Prabhupada. They should have this mood not only when considering their dress, but also how they dance and sing, their facial expressions, etc. Devotees on Harinam are not just there to bliss themselves out, but are there to be emissaries for the whole sampradaya.
If temple visitors are going out on sankirtana for the first time, don't attempt to semi-dress them up in devotee garb by wrapping a dhoti or sari over their street clothes. They will look and feel out of place. It's better for the devotees to be dressed properly, from head to toe. Besides, having others in street clothing join the party will encourage passers-by to join in. Guests might be invited to carry colorful flags, or banners with the words to the Hare Krsna maha-mantra.
Harinam Party Leader
There should be one person designated as being 'in charge' of the Harinam party, so that necessary decisions can be made without disagreement. If there's more than one kirtana leader, they should change off as members of the party rotate between activities.
The leader should be always aware of what kind of impression is being made by both the kirtana party and the preachers. They should be sure that neophytes don't give the wrong impression in the kirtana, and that the preachers aren't offending anyone by aggressive tactics, or becoming too entangled in talking to just one person for an extended period of time. Before embarking on Harinam, the party 'rules' should be discussed, and everyone should understand who's in charge and be prepared to follow cooperatively.
Harinam leaders should know the art of kirtana. They should know a variety of tunes and be able to lead kirtana songs that are easily sung by everyone in the audience. Tunes should be simple enough so that anyone who's watching the kirtana party can read the banner, listen to the tunes, and easily follow along.
Kirtana Song List
Kirtana should primarily emphasize the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, which is the simplest to sing. It's good to include pranam prayers for the glorification of Srila Prabhupada (Nama Om Visnu Padaya) at the beginning of every set of kirtanas. It's also fine to include songs glorifying Lord Caitanya, like Jai Gaura Hari Bol! and short, easy mantras like Govinda Jaya Jaya or Jaya Govinda, Jaya Gopala. It's best to stay away from long, bhajan-like songs that others can't sing along with. Don't just repeat the same tune over and over at the same tempo like zombies - kirtana should not be monotonous. Devotees should express their transcendental pleasure while on Harinam!
Each kirtana set should be five to ten minutes in length. The kirtana should gradually build-up, ending at the crescendo. There should not be prolonged, frantic types of kirtana, with people dancing wildly like madmen. That doesn't create the right impression, and was not what Srila Prabhupada encouraged. The dancing should be done stylistically, with as much uniformity as possibly (without looking choreographed). It's better to stick to the "Swami two-step" than to go off wildly in all directions.
There should be a good balance between the different instruments taken out on Harinam. The party shouldn't be overwhelmed with too many kartals or too many mrdangas. Having two kartals to each mrdanga is a good balance. The kartals shouldn't be too big, particularly the large, heavy brass kartals. In a very large Sankirtana party you might want to have a set of brass 'whompers'. Otherwise, a set of thin large brass kartals in the hands of the right player can add much to the kirtana.
Using harmoniums and amplifiers can be appropriate under certain circumstances, but in a traditional Harinam party, the kirtana group should be able to move easily up and down the street. Spend five to ten minutes in each spot, then move a little distance away between each kirtana set. In that way you'll be less likely to offend shopkeepers and others. You also contact more people by moving the party along. Of course, each situation must be adapted to time and circumstance.
Preaching and Book Distribution
Like the kirtana party, those who are engaged in preaching, distributing books and prasadam should understand the art of doing this kind of preaching. They should not get hung up or absorbed in one person, regardless of how receptive that person may appear to be. When street preaching, try not to be too obstructive to people who are passing by. With practice, you can develop the art of catching people's eye, letting them stop without feeling they've been corralled or waylaid by a trick.
Preachers should not get engaged in heated arguments with the confrontational types, and they shouldn't respond negatively to any kind of abusive statements. Before going out on the streets, preachers should be trained in how to handle the people and situations they're likely to be presented with. There are a lot of crazy people out there, and some of them are fairly deceptive.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted His followers to move all over the world to preach in every town and village. In the Caitanya-sampradaya those who strictly follow the principles of Lord Caitanya must travel all over the world to preach the message of Lord Caitanya, which is the same as preaching the words of Krsna--Bhagavad-gita--and Srimad-Bhagavatam. The more the devotees preach the principles of krsna-katha, the more people throughout the world will benefit.
Devotees like the great sage Narada, who travel all over to preach, are called gosthanandi. Narada Muni is always wandering throughout the universe just to create different types of devotees. Narada even made a hunter a devotee. He also made Dhruva Maharaja and Prahlada devotees. Actually, all devotees are indebted to the great sage Narada, for he has wandered both in heaven and in hell. A devotee of the Lord is not even afraid of hell. He goes to preach the glories of the Lord everywhere--even in hell--because there is no distinction between heaven and hell for a devotee.
Book Distributors should always invite people to come to the Sunday feast. They usually carry Back To Godhead magazines, for which they request a donation. They might also carry one medium sized and one large book, perhaps carrying extras in a backpack, with a back-up supply of books nearby. The best approach is to talk to someone with the idea of first getting them to accept an invitation, second to accept a BTG, and if they're still interested, getting them to take a larger book. Unless you have a table with books, or similar arrangement, it's advisable to not be selling other items (like incense or stickers) during Harinam.
Don't try to give someone new the 'reader's digest' version of the philosophy while they're out on the street. Instead, tell them that all their questions will be answered in Srila Prabhupada's books, and encourage them to come to a Sunday program. You can also suggest they visit the HareKrsna.com website or other Krsna sites.
Prasadam distribution happens at many different levels, from Food For Life programs to handing out sweet balls on Harinam. When doing prasadam distribution on Harinam, be sure to distribute foodstuffs that are easy to handle. Don't hand people messy or sticky sweets that they'll get on their clothing, or preparations with turmeric that will stain their clothes. It's better to stick to things like laddus or sesame sweets. If you're handing out burfi or Simply Wonderfuls, you'll want to keep them cool and preferably, offer them wrapped.
You should also tailor your prasadam distribution to the movement of the Harinam party. For example, on a naga-Sankirtana (snaking single-file down the street), you won't want to be burdened down with a lot of prasadam distribution gear. If you're chanting in a park, it's nice to have a small table with prasadam on it. Be sure to clean up thoroughly afterwards, so the devotees will always be welcome in that place.