Pyramid Yogshala

Kirmola Laxmanjhula, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand - 249302, India

The Complete Guide to Understanding Kirtan:

Unlocking the Mystical World of Devotional Chanting

Introduction to Kirtan: A Sacred Path of Devotion

In the bustling world we inhabit, finding moments of tranquility and connection with the divine can be a challenging task. Enter Kirtan, a profound practice that transcends time and cultural boundaries, providing a gateway to spiritual exploration and inner peace. Derived from the Sanskrit word “kirtana,” meaning “to praise,” Kirtan is an ancient form of devotional chanting originating from India. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the heart of Kirtan, exploring its most commonly sung mantras, the use of the voice, the main instruments used in the practice, and how Kirtan takes on unique flavors as it travels from region to region.

1. Most Commonly Sang Mantras in Kirtan

At the heart of Kirtan are the sacred mantras, potent phrases or divine names that are repeated during the chanting sessions. These mantras hold profound spiritual significance and are believed to carry transformative vibrations. Among the most commonly sung mantras in Kirtan are:

  • Om: Often regarded as the primordial sound of the universe, Om represents the ultimate reality and is considered the essence of all mantras. Chanting Om helps in centering the mind and connecting with the universal consciousness.
  • Hare Krishna, Hare Rama: This famous mantra is synonymous with the Hare Krishna movement and is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. The mantra invokes their divine presence and seeks their blessings for spiritual growth and devotion.
  • Om Namah Shivaya: Paying homage to Lord Shiva, the deity of transformation and destruction in Hinduism, this mantra is chanted to seek inner strength and guidance on the spiritual path.
  • Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti: “Shanti” means peace in Sanskrit, and chanting this mantra invokes peace at the individual, societal, and cosmic levels.

2. The Use of the Voice in Kirtan

In Kirtan, the human voice becomes a powerful instrument for expressing devotion and connecting with the divine. The beauty of Kirtan lies not in the vocal prowess of the participants but in the sincerity and intention behind their chanting. The voice is used in various ways during Kirtan:

  • Leader’s Melodic Guidance: The Kirtan leader, or “Kirtankar,” takes the lead in setting the melodic patterns and rhythm for the participants to follow. Their skillful guidance creates a harmonious and meditative atmosphere.
  • Call and Response: Kirtan is often practiced in a call-and-response format, where the Kirtankar sings a line, and the participants repeat it in unison. This call-and-response dynamic fosters a sense of unity and collective energy.
  • Bhava and Emotion: Kirtan encourages participants to infuse their chanting with devotion, love, and surrender. By expressing genuine emotion through their voices, practitioners can experience profound heart-opening moments.

3. Main Instruments Used in Kirtan

Kirtan is enriched by the soul-stirring sounds of traditional musical instruments that complement the chanting. Some of the main instruments used in Kirtan include:

  • Harmonium: The harmonium, a small hand-pumped organ, is a staple in Kirtan. It provides a melodious backdrop to the chanting and aids the Kirtankar in maintaining the rhythmic flow of the mantras.
  • Tabla: The tabla is a pair of hand-played drums, popular in Indian classical music. In Kirtan, the tabla adds rhythmic complexity and enhances the overall musical experience.
  • Mrdanga: Similar to the tabla, the mrdanga is another traditional drum often used in Kirtan, especially in Vaishnavite traditions. Its resonant sound adds a unique flavor to the devotional chanting.
  • Kartals: Kartals are small hand cymbals that produce a tinkling sound. They are held by participants and played in sync with the chanting, elevating the energy and enhancing the collective experience.

4. Prominent Figures in the World of Kirtan

Throughout history, there have been notable personalities who have contributed significantly to the propagation and popularity of Kirtan worldwide. Some of the prominent figures in the world of Kirtan include:

  • A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: Founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Swami Prabhupada played a pivotal role in introducing Kirtan and devotional practices to the Western world.
  • Krishna Das: An internationally renowned Kirtan artist, Krishna Das, has popularized the practice of Kirtan among Western audiences, blending traditional melodies with contemporary styles.
  • Snatam Kaur: A celebrated singer and songwriter, Snatam Kaur’s angelic voice has touched the hearts of many, spreading the joy of Kirtan and Sikh devotional music worldwide.
  • Jai Uttal: Known for his fusion of traditional Indian music with Western influences, Jai Uttal has been instrumental in making Kirtan accessible to a diverse global audience.

5. Kirtan: Unique Flavors From Region to Region

As Kirtan has traveled across continents and cultural boundaries, it has assimilated diverse musical styles and expressions, taking on unique flavors in different regions. In India, Kirtan can vary greatly depending on the region and the spiritual tradition it is associated with. For example:

  • Bengali Kirtan: Bengal, in Eastern India, is famous for its ecstatic and emotionally charged Kirtans dedicated to deities like Radha and Krishna.
  • Vaishnavite Kirtan: In North India, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Vaishnavite Kirtan dedicated to Lord Krishna is widely practiced, often accompanied by the vibrant sounds of mrdanga and kartals.
  • Sufi Qawwali: In the Sufi tradition of Pakistan and India, Qawwali is a form of devotional music that shares similarities with Kirtan, focusing on themes of divine love and spiritual ecstasy.

Western Kirtan Fusion: In the West, Kirtan has undergone fusion with various musical genres, creating a contemporary and inclusive approach to the practice.


Embracing the Sacred Journey of Kirtan

In conclusion, Kirtan presents a sacred journey of devotion, unity, and spiritual exploration. By embracing the power of mantra, using the voice as a vessel of love and surrender, and accompanied by soul-stirring instruments, practitioners can unlock the door to inner peace and profound connection with the divine. As Kirtan spreads its wings across the globe, it weaves together diverse cultures and musical expressions, reminding us that the language of devotion transcends all barriers and unites us as one human family. So, join the cosmic chorus of Kirtan, and let the enchanting melodies carry you on a transformative path of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.

At Pyramid Yogshala Kirtan is performed at least once every month. It is an event that brings together the whole campus: Students, teachers and staff. It is an opportunity to open the heart and let our love for the divine sink deep. 

Join us for Yoga Teacher Training or Yoga Retreat in Rishikesh, and experience this powerful and transformative spectacle yourself.

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