Kirtan is a devotional practice that includes call-and-response chanting of mantras set to music. It could also be defined as prayer or meditation in the form of the names of the divine. The musical aspect of kirtan is slightly different from “singing” in the sense that the goal is not to be on key so much as it is to participate in the group sacred energy.
Kirtan is very much a participatory experience. One goes to kirtan not just to be an audience member, but to take part in the creation of sacred space through raising one’s voice (don’t worry, no one’s listening). The purpose is to create a sacred sound vibration, and to be immersed in the experience, to be moved (sometimes literally, as you will see in the video clips). As discussed in Meditation and the Monkey Mind, a mantra can be a helpful focal point – a place to return to over and over when distracted by stray thoughts.
If you’ve ever been to a great concert, you’ve probably experienced how the music can take you somewhere, outside of yourself. Kirtan combines this musical experience with the meditation/mantra experience. Meditation has an impact on your brain waves; it changes your brain chemistry. The easiest way to understand that change is to experience it.
Check out these popular Kirtan artists in concert on YouTube (3 very different styles):
Now that you’ve had an introduction to kirtan at home, come experience live kirtan with The Sacred Waters Kirtan Group at Unity Church in South Bend on Friday, March 23, at 7pm.