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Chanting 101: A Guide to Kirtan and the Power of Devotion

One of the simplest ways to open your heart, bring about inner peace, and uplift the mind is through the powerful practice of kirtan. By singing praises to the divine—in whatever form it manifests for you—you’ll experience unity with those around you and a sense of true joy. But what exactly is kirtan, what are we chanting about, and how does it heal the body and spirit?

What is Kirtan?

Kirtan, a Sanskrit word that translates to narrating or recital of an idea or story, is a call-and-response style singing or chanting of a mantra, often accompanied by musical instruments. It is about bringing together people of all backgrounds for a shared spiritual experience. The more one sings and repeats the sound, the more one gets immersed in an atmosphere of devotion. It is a conscious culturing of the mind to move towards a higher calling in life, and in the art of kirtan, one finds deep silence, clarity, and unconditional love gets kindled. One simply gets happy!

Why do kirtan?

These songs typically describe a legend, express devotion, or discuss spiritual ideas. They speak of the glories of the divine. Sound is energy, and it has no beginning or end. When you sing a mantra or verse, you are essentially tapping into the eternal nature of your consciousness. Kirtans or mantra chanting soothe and rejuvenate our nervous system, eliminate stress, and produce a state devoid of thoughts, where the mind is dissolved in the vastness of the present moment.

Find out more about mantra and how to change here.

Sound and Emotions are Linked

Each sound, in nature, has a particular emotional effect on us. It can uplift our consciousness or create negative emotions. For example, the sound of a baby’s laughter creates joy whereas the roar of a lion might create fear within us.

Have you seen the images of ice crystals from Japanese researcher Maseru Emoto? Emoto scientifically showed the effect of sound and mantras on water. Water drops exposed to the sound of mantras and positive thoughts were frozen, microscopic images of the ice crystals showed beautiful consolidated patterns, and water exposed to negative words like ‘you disgust me’ or ‘fool’ created dispersed patterns. Whatever the scientific validity of the experiment, it brought us closer to what humans have experienced for ages—the deeply calming effect of the ancient chants that have remained in the consciousness for thousands of years.

A Call for Harmony

Engaging in kirtan is a beautiful way to create harmony in the environment. Usually, sounds can be noisy, chaotic, or unsettling. But the sound vibrations that emanate in kirtan singing produce calm and harmony in the hearts of those attending.

“When there is rhythm or harmony in life, the heart blossoms; there is humanism. It is this rhythm that takes us back to our source,” says Art of Living Founder and spiritual master, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

It Is For Everyone

One of the best things about kirtan is that it does not restrict participation to members of a particular group or geography. No matter who you are or what your background or economic status is, you are always welcome to sit and sing and fill yourself up with soulful beauty. And if you are the shy type, you can simply close your eyes and soak in the vibrations. (but we strongly recommend you sing along!).

Sacred sounds, whether they are the gongs in Buddhist traditions or Jewish hymns, have been spiritual tools for people from all cultures and traditions to move together on the spiritual journey since ancient times.

When there is a metaphorical storm outside…

Sitting and spending a few minutes in kirtan can be powerfully healing when you are going through an emotional storm in life—a separation, breakup, loss of a loved one, or financial or other significant losses in life. It immerses your worries in the joy of pure and sacred kirtans.

And even if you are a happy person with not enough to worry about, singing and chanting can lead you to feel light, centered, and steady.

An Effortless Way to Meditate

If you are someone who struggles with meditation or letting go, kirtan is the perfect tool for you to get into meditation most effortlessly. This is because when you sing wholeheartedly in a satsang, between two bhajans or compositions you will experience these moments of pristine silence and meditation that are a result of your consciousness soaking in the sounds of chants or mantras.

Kirtan Your Way to Happiness

A kirtan connotes sharing of everything divine, sharing the joy, silence, and sanctity of this moment with everyone. It signifies coming together and becoming one big mind, leaving behind small individual identities for the time being. This is the essence of devotion.

Are you worried about getting the chants wrong? Kirtan is not so much about what you sing but how and from what space you sing. And that is where devotion has a role to play. When you sing from your heart, totally connected to a higher power in prayer and love, it is only then that the mantras come alive and you start going deeper within, peeling layers of consciousness.

This also works the other way around. The more one chants and sings, the more they start feeling closer to the divinity, as the singing opens up one’s heart. The atmosphere gets charged with positive vibrations, which are known to nullify negativity, lack, and illnesses in the place where such a satsang takes place.

“In satsang (or kirtan), both the left and right hemispheres of the brain get balanced. The wandering mind comes back to the present moment and experiences a deeper dimension to life,” explains Gurudev.

Happiness Lies in Turning Inward

Kirtan is a good starting point when you aspire to turn inward but don’t know how. It can be difficult to calm the mind just by engaging it or making positive affirmations. Kirtan reduces the agitation and resistance in our mind, settles it down, and prepares it for that inward journey.

A popular verse in Sanskrit is Antarmukhi Sada Sukhi—one whose mind is turned inward is ever in bliss. With the help of mantras the small mind effortlessly dissolves into the higher self.

Be sure to make time to soak in these high vibrational sounds to infuse your body and mind with more prana or life force, bring a glow to your personality, and get the dopamine flowing!

Kirtain Nightly in an R&R Retreat

Our all-inclusive R&R Retreats offer you the opportunity to do as much or as little as you like. Our seasonal schedule includes daily yoga and meditation, nightly kirtan, creative workshops, cooking demos, and much more.