Kirtan is a very different kind of music. Based on ancient chants, it has the ability to quiet the mind if listened to with intention. Everyone experiences kirtan differently, and it doesn’t have to be a religious experience. You can think of it as a sing-along. A kirtan concert is not your typical concert either. Everyone sits on the floor, although chairs are usually available. The performers are accessible, in fact there’s not much of a distinction between performers & audience. The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back. A single chant can go on for up to forty minutes. As you sing with each other you experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other audience members and yourself. And when the music stops, your mind is quiet.
Because kirtan has roots in India, many of the songs are sung in Sanskrit. Some I choose for the New World Kirtan podcast are also in Punjabi, the language of the Sikhs. If you’ve ever chanted responses in Latin or Hebrew in your religious tradition, then you know how powerful singing in an ancient, holy language can be. You can be completely immersed in the sound, with no words to distract the mind. The magic of the chants can then carry you within.
Kirtan is non-denominational, the Universal language of Spirit, the song of the Soul.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to tell people when they ask, What is kirtan? So I’ve put together an elevator speech, a few soundbites of information to help explain it.
- Kirtan is a very simple & powerful way to meditate. It’s effortless & joyful; the music does the work for you as you flow with the melody & rhythm.
- The performers & the concert-goers create the experience together.
- The chants are sung in Sanskrit unless you attend a Sikh kirtan ( e.g. Snatam Kaur). The ancient chants contain powerful renewing & transformative energy that helps us reconnect with the Divinity that resides within all of us.
- Singing is the heart of kirtan, and no one cares what you sound like. At a kirtan concert all voices merge together to become One Voice.
- “Kirtan is a means of finding our way back to the core of our Being, to our heart, and to our connection with each other.” Ragani
Here are some more interesting things I found out about kirtan.
- It began in India centuries ago as a spiritual practice, and was known as the layman’s way to connect with the Divine.
- In the last ten years, kirtan has become a phenomenon across the United States, and has transformed musically to appeal to the ears of American audiences.
- Kirtan is a new kind of concert experience here in the West. It’s not so much a performance as a journey into the self through the practice of listening & singing. The leaders at a kirtan concert are called wallahs, and everyone is part of the music. My all-time favorite descriptions of a kirtan concert: “It’s like singing around a campfire”, “It’s like a hootenanny with meditation.”
- While singing along at a kirtan concert, you can experience your own voice becoming as beautiful as those performing—all voices merge together to become One Voice.