What is Kirtan?
A jewel among the various spiritual practices associated with Hinduism is kirtan, or devotional chanting. Kirtan is one of the most beautiful and expansive aspects of bhakti yoga – the path of opening the heart through devotion and surrender.
The meaning of “yoga” is “union,” and the goal of yogic practices is to recognize our true Divine nature. In bhakti yoga, each deity in the the Hindu pantheon is seen as a different aspect or face of the Divine Beloved, and devotional practices are used to bring one closer and closer to the Beloved, until devotee and Beloved become One. Although kirtan involves singing or chanting, it is not necessary to have any musical talent or background, or even a good singing voice. Kirtan is the music of the heart, and it is sung freely from the heart.
Traditionally, kirtan is sung in call-and-response form. A leader sings a line or two of a song, and the participants sing it back. The words to kirtan songs are often repetitions of different names of the deities, usually in the Sanskrit language, or in a language derived from Sanskrit. The focus on the deities, and the repetition of their names releases the mind from its usual associative patterns, which keep us caught in the cycles of pleasure and pain that come with the ups and downs of everyday life. The vibrations of the Sanskrit sounds expand our hearts and minds beyond their normal limitations, into the depths of Spirit, and the recognition that we are never away from the Beloved.