At satsang we chant songs called kirtan. Most of the chants are in Sanskrit, but we also sing some English songs. We have been hosting satsang in my home for 28 years. My children have been participating since before they were born. They didn’t have much choice as young children as satsang was in their house, but now the oldest is 21 and he is leading more chants than me. My 18 year old is following suit. What an amazing thing it is to see my kids love something that’s so close to my heart and great for them too!
At our satsang we use the harmonium (a droning keyboard from India), guitar, drums and a few rhythm instruments. The instruments follow the lead singer as he or she builds the chant from slow to fast and back down to a slower speed.
The power of sound is felt directly by chanting the ancient mantras and names of the Divine. A deep meditation is possible if aim, faith and concentration blend into the experience of the chant. In Yoga, Kirtan is the practice of singing and repeating the name of God (in both male and female aspects), as well as using descriptive phrases or divine attributes. The word Kirtan comes from the Sanskrit root “kirt”, or “kirti”, meaning to name, to communicate, to share, to participate in, to celebrate, to praise, and to glorify. The purifying power of God’s name is mentioned in most spiritual traditions.
In the classical Ashtanga Yoga system, Pratyahara is the methods used to draw the mind inwards. Kirtan is Pratyahara, 5th limb. Kirtan can be a bridge between our outer and inner selves and an expression of our desire to know and love the Divine within. Kirtan is also said to be part of Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion.
Traditionally, Kirtan is done in a call and response style. There is a subtle dialogue, or as the word itself suggests, communication between the caller and the response. How the songs unfold depends on the group’s wholehearted response. Traditionally, harmony is not part of kirtan, but when you throw ‘Westerners’ into the mix occasionally it happens and it can be very beautiful.
Concentration on the different names of God, the meanings, or the ragas (melodic structures) increases the focus of Kirtan. For some, translating the words and meaning of the Kirtan enhances concentration and devotion, while others prefer to dwell on the Name itself or on the raga. In reality, a person doesn’t need to literally know the meaning of the chant, because the power is inherent in the sound. If someone is totally present in the chant, the energy and power will be experienced and can awaken them into the Stillness within.
Written by Andrea Roth & Bhavani Siegal
© Andrea Roth & Bhavani Siegal
As with everything in world of yoga, try it for yourself. You can also hear samples on the Krishna Das site below.
Recommended Kirtan CD’s
Anything offered by Sri Ram Publishing is fabulous.
Krishna Das has some great CD’s available as well.
Quote of Babaji’s
“Repetition of a divine name
or a sacred syllable
brings the mind into the present
where there is no past or future,
only divine presence.”
“These Kirtans are mantras. By repeating those names, it creates an automatic pranayama, which purifies the mind. The emotions are purified and the mind stays on one spiritual object. It develops devotion. The ragas are fixed in such a way that it charges the atmosphere with spiritual energy. It makes a deep print in the mind, which brings the memory of God whenever there is sadness, pain, or any trouble.”
“It doesn’t matter which name you use. Faith devotion and one-pointed concentration are what counts. In all different names, the same reality.”