Soothing for the mind, body, and soul, kirtan invites devotees into the world of participatory meditation. Stilling ones mind in full meditation comes with years of practice and discipline, but kirtan offers a way to effortlessly carry oneself to a serene state, inducing stillness of the mind. This form of responsory, or call-and-response, chanting shares a glimpse into Indian music of the past, with kirtan proving to be one of the world’s oldest sacred music traditions. Ancient Sanskrit mantras are used to channel spiritual energies, said to quiet the mind, clear obstacles, and serve as a source of self centering.
A simple mantra transforms into a rhythmic chant as the words repeat and accelerate into kirtan’s enveloping experience, freeing participants from the mind’s chatter as it becomes engulfed in the all-encompassing meditational mantra. It is through the use of mantras with non-material words that the songs of kirtan gain their powerful and inspirational nature; whereas, repetition of material words can drive the mind crazy, and even be used as torture, rather than as a meditative practice.
Practicing kirtan involves accompaniment of instruments, including the harmonium, tablas, two-headed mrdanga (or pakawaj drum), and karatal hand cymbals, giving kirtan its added musical appeal. While these devotional songs can be sung in solitude, sharing in the sensation of these songs with hundreds of chanters has led to what people often describe as a “buzzed” feeling that carries on with them for days. Transcending the realm of the body and soaring into the spiritual world, the deep vibrations providing the “buzzing” echo the powerful words of the ancient and sacred scriptures. Each human being reverberates at a unique frequency, so when individuals share in the same chanting and breathing, the synchronized vibrations create a powerful harmonious experience. Soft vibrations align with stronger vibrations so even those sitting and observing the acceleration go kirtan chants would feel the shift in energy that activates and engage their inner spirit. The internal buzz not only stems from the collective vibrating of tones, but the spiritual buzz of kirtan comes from the collective calling for prayer and repeating the non-material words of the Divine.
Participants are invited to step outside of their own thoughts for an extended period of time with kirtan songs lasting around 20 – 30 minutes, with moments of silence marking the transition between chants to fully absorb the vibrations and impacts of each song. Approximately 500 years ago, kirtan arose as street devotional phenomena with the advent of the avatar of Kirtan Sri Krishna Caitanya. People would praise together as they took their devotion to the street, sharing in the communal energies of kirtan. Since then, the tradition carries on sharing in the power of the group prayer with kirtan chants. The transformational energies offer healing properties as participants are whisked away to a mental oasis and can begin to reconnect to the Universe within.