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Holy Kirtan

By on October 3rd, 2010 — Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

The MayapurisA couple of weeks ago, I returned from the second annual Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California. For four days, kirtan artists like Krishna Das, David Newman, Deva Premal, Shyamdas, Shantala, Girish (pictured at left), The Mayapuris, and handfuls of other amazing devotional musical acts played nonstop on two stages. People were dancing, picnicking, spinning poi, forming makeshift drum circles, and springing into spontaneous AcroYoga. In fact, everyone I met there was high. That’s not to say they were on anything; this may have been the soberest music event I have ever been to. It was the music—combined with a full spectrum of daily yoga classes, desert heat, and yummy raw food—that elevated the energy on the concert grounds to an ethereal buzz of bhakti bliss.

But when I wasn’t entranced by the magical vocals and the tribal tablas, I got to thinking: What is all of this really about? We were singing day and night in Sanskrit to Hindu deities and the musicians kept talking about how we were there to chant the names of God. In the yoga community, we’ve gotten so used to this ritual that we don’t often discuss its deeper implications. But at Bhakti Fest, obviously, there was no getting around them.

Ever since I started attending kirtan gatherings, I have noticed deep energetic shifts in my body, and a sharper ability to feel vibration. Kirtan has also encouraged me, after years of thinking I wasn’t a “musical person”, to sing with confidence and start playing a drum. It also helps me simply feel more connected to something greater than myself. But at the festival, it was often referred to as if it were a form of prayer. I get that, but it also made me wonder how people who don’t believe in a higher power connect with kirtan. Or do they? Can kirtan mean different things to different people?

What is kirtan about to you? Is it a celebration of energy and spirit? Is it a Hindu practice? Is it a form of prayer? Do you not care what it technically is and just do it because it feels so good? Do you not do it because you can’t relate to the practice? Write in and tell us what you think!

(Photo credit for Bhakti Fest photo at top: Kadri Kurgun)

If you like this topic, check out last month’s post on yoga and religion, which created a big buzz. And check out our exclusive interview with kirtan artist David Newman!

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8 Reader Comments

  1. Posted By: Rick Romig 10/4/2010 @ 4:06 am

    I’m not particularly religious or even spiritual but I do enjoy kirtan. I attended my first out of curiosity and found I enjoyed the energy and the vibrations of the music and the chants and I get caught up in it. I’ve also found myself drawn to the music of kirtan artists such as Michael Cohen, Krishna Das and David Newman.

  2. Posted By: meredith 10/4/2010 @ 8:50 am

    I’ve connected with kirtan as a profound form of meditation. The repetition lets the mind melt away, the body becomes still, and the ego steps aside while the light of the divine pours forth. In moments of intense emotion, pain, etc., I’ve found chanting to be one of the most therapeutic techniques for slowing down the whirling of my mind.

    When I first began attending kirtans, I felt as though I was chanting outwardly, to something external to myself. Over time, I have come to realize that by chanting, we acknowledge the divine (in all its forms) within.

  3. Posted By: jane 10/5/2010 @ 2:44 pm


    every tradition has its form of kirtan…so there must be something going on! I noticed in my yoga school, it was also the most..I don,t know ..threatening to some people.

    whether singing does something for our breathing…..or it stimulates the vagus nerve.. or the higher chakras or what…it can be magical /transformative in a way different from other practices. I think perhaps its because yor are more direactly sharing energy with others.

    • Posted By: Daniel 10/19/2010 @ 5:52 am

      Yes, but not just with other sitting around doing kirtana, but with everyone who h as ever chanted that mantra, with the rishi that realised the mantra and the deity of the mantra.

  4. Posted By: Cheryl 10/7/2010 @ 2:25 pm

    I find that any form of singing or music making just “feels right.” Kirtan is a practice, sure, one which comes straight from the heart as well as from the body, just like other forms of yoga. Am I “worshipping Hindu deities?” Not exactly, but I am expressing love and gratitude for whatever it is that animates and energizes this world, in all of its beautiful expressions.

  5. Posted By: Daniel 10/19/2010 @ 5:32 am

    Chanting mantras is a devotional act towards the Hindu deities. It’s difficult for a lot of westerners to have devotion towards Hindu gods. In Hinduism it is believed that the name of God is equal to God itself. The name of God is like an avatar, or an incarnation of the Deity self. When you chant hare krishna, hare krishna, maybe you do not feel anything for Krishna, because it’s hard for someone with western social conditioning to accept a Hindu God. But if you develop love towards the name, you are also loving the named. It is said, yasya nishvasati vedah, whose breath are the vedas. The mantras are also seen as the breath of God. Chanting the mantras means that the divine presence is going through your body. The breath is going through your lungs and the vibrations of the sound through your ears. This way you can love the divine from within, you are purified by the chanting and can experience bhakti. The dieties have different forms, you can deepen your bhakti towards to deity by meditating on their form, on their name, on their Lila or divine pastimes. You do not need to have faith in Hindu gods to benefit from chanting, because fire burns anyone and anything, even those who are unaware of the characteristics of fire.

    • Posted By: Daniel 10/19/2010 @ 5:38 am

      …(continued) All though you don’t need faith to feel the benefits of chanting. Ultimately, faith is very important in Hinduism. The rigveda says: “”O ye who wish to gain realization of the supreme truth, utter the name of Vishnu at least once in the steadfast faith that it will lead you to such realization.”

  6. Posted By: janis 3/28/2011 @ 4:44 am

    I love Kirtan Chanting ,I have had the oppurtunity to be with David newman several times and also Deva Permal they are so in love with Spirit what ever that means to you ..they are so gifted and the music is so healing ……… the musid allows you to feel the spirit with in !! namaste