Kirtan

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What is Kirtan?

From JaiUttal.com…

“Kirtan is the calling, the crying, the reaching across infinite space — digging into the heart’s deepest well to touch and be touched by the Divine Presence.

Kirtan is singing over and over the many names of God and the Goddess, the multi-colored rainbow manifestations of the One. It is said that there is no difference between the name and that which is being named, and as the words roll off our lips in song, the Infinite is invoked, invited, made manifest in our hearts.

Kirtan is part of an ancient form of Yoga known as Bhakti, or the Yoga of Devotion. But in Bhakti we redefine “devotion”, we expand the meaning to include every shade of color in the palette of human emotion, turned towards God through song, dance, and worship. These chants have been sung for millennium by sages, sinners, devotees, and the great primordial yogi alchemists of old. And, as we sing, we touch the spirits of the millions of people across the centuries who have sung the same songs and cried the same tears. As we sing, we immerse ourselves in an endless river of prayer that has been flowing since the birth of the first human beings, longing to know their creator.”

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I originally discovered kirtan through the ISKCON tradition when I was a teenager. A friend of mine had dropped out to become a full time devotee, leaving his family and friends to embark on this spiritual quest for transcendental knowledge. While I didn’t complete “get it” at the time I am grateful for him planting the seed on why and how the repetition of mantras was important and powerful.

Later on as I began my own quest into studying the science of Yoga I was once again reintroduced to the power of mantras that I brushed sides with in my teenage years. Additionally, my musical background also attracted me to kirtan because I thought it was so far out that these people were jamming for 20 minutes using just two chords. Sounds familiar right? This is the very essence of Grateful Dead music – using sonic structure and modal improvisation to communicate energy and engage in transformation through sound. Grateful Dead music is rock and roll kirtan. In fact, I once told Krishna Das that he was the Jerry Garcia of kirtan – to this day, I’m still not sure he knew what I meant!

The actual practice of kirtan is for every man, women and child who is on the path of self inquiry or who are yearning to dance with God. There are no experts, there are no Level 3 kirtan trainings that leave you with a certificate. Well…if there are, please don’t attend them. These exercises are Western perversions on an otherwise beautiful practice. However, there are true kirtan artists who have been ensconced in this practice for decades and these wonderful leaders can introduce you to an application of this practice that is very much your own. And yes, many of those workshops have lots of value.

It is said that “kirtan cleanses the dust from the mirror of your own heart.” What that means is that our hearts naturally have an ability to shine bright and beautiful, our own hearts are already in touch with the divine. But what happens is that our egos and desires cloud our spark of divinity and casts forth a “dust” that weighs us down, usually in the maya of the material world. That is why we do practice regularly. It takes constant reminding and repetition to get out of our own way and to let God shine through. Kirtan, when practiced with sincerity, will blow you away with it’s effectiveness.

Even if if you’re not sure who or what God is, or if you think that chanting to these Hindu dieties doesn’t sit quite right with you, I encourage you to try it anyway. There is no right or wrong way to sing kirtan. Just do it. And aside from the devotional element I promise you that there is a scientific energetic transformation that happens when the repetition of sanskrit mantras takes place. It is mystical, powerful and goes far beyond the base level understanding of what reality really is. Give yourself a break, move past any pre-coneived ideas you may have and give it a shot.

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There is so much beauty in this practice. The offering that I experience on a daily basis has turned into a daily conversation. This is how I have a conversation with my beloved. This is how we hang out and exchange ideas. I simply just show up, sing and let him and her do the rest.

If you’d like to know where to start on this path I recommend listening to most anything by Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Bhagavan Das, Arjun Baba, Vaiasaki Das, The Maypuris, Gaura Vani, The Kirtaniyas, Govin Das, Shantala, Bada Hari Das, Indradyumna Swami, Radhanath Swami and Girsh. There are many others but that’s a good start.

Anything that I offer is just a small attempt to dance at the foot of my Lord. All is bliss.