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  • Writer's pictureDeva Vidya

Demystifying Kirtan

The buzzword spreading through yoga communities is kirtan. Some of you may wonder, what exactly kirtan is. Let’s demystify it for you. Most associate yoga with the path of Hatha, the yoga that involves the body and moving it into different postures known as asana. However, Hatha Yoga is only one path of yoga. The other paths are Raja Yoga, the path of self-control and self-mastery; Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge and wisdom; Karma Yoga, the path of selfless service; and Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotional love.

Kirtan, a Sanskrit word meaning praise, is a form of Bhakti Yoga. Traditionally, Sanskrit mantras are sung accompanied by musical instruments such as the harmonium, sitar, tanpuara, and tabla. One of the musicians, who is called the wala, leads the chant by singing out to the audience, and the audience sings back in a call-and-response. It is a dynamic exchange that builds to an ecstatic expression. As the enthusiasm rises, many are moved to clap and dance.

Kirtan is universal; all religious, philosophical and cultural affiliations are welcomed. There are no prerequisites to joining a kirtan, no musical talent or experience is needed. Unlike other musical performances, kirtan offers the audience an opportunity to participate; the audience actually becomes part of the band!

The mantras sung at a kirtan are made up of names of a variety of Hindu deities. These deities are all aspects of the divine energy that lives in each of us. As we sing these names in repetition, we evoke these energies, bringing forth that power within us that lies dormant. When this energy comes to the surface, wonderful things occur. The heart opens. Negative thought patterns erase. Low vibratory emotions of fear, anger, sadness, anxiety and the like dissipate. The chanter is lifted into higher vibrations of love, joy, peace and bliss.

Most healing has been approached on an individual basis. In the energy of kirtan, a group of people can receive the healing all at once. As a matter of fact, the more bhaktas chanting together, the higher the vibration lifts, and the energy increases! Most leave a night of kirtan energized and elated.

Kirtan also brings together and creates community. As we sing kirtan, our voices meld together and become one, unifying the community in devotional love. Differences, judgments, prejudices – all drop away, and we become a family in spirit. According to nationally recognized kirtan artist, Ragani, “Kirtan is a means of finding our way back to the core of our being, to our heart, and to our connection with each other.”

Kirtan has its origins in India. As our western culture has done with many Eastern modalities, we have embraced kirtan and made it our own. There are many ways to enjoy kirtan today, from folk music to soul, jazz to rap. There are flavors for everyone, whatever your musical preference might be.

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