Last night’s kirtan at Dharma Mittra’s satsang (literally, “the company of truth,” usually refers to a gathering of people who sing, read philosophy, and meditate) was just what I didn’t realize I needed: sweet sweet devotional song.
Kirtan is a kind of call and response chanting of hymns or mantra with instruments. It takes me back to ashram life in India (always fun to go back there in my mind . . . sweet days full of practice and learning), but there are some proven medical benefits to the practice as well, including:
- relief from chronic pain and asthma
- enhanced mood
- neurological evolution – yeeeeah!
For most of us, singing is something that’s been sanitized out of daily life, along with many other beneficial old school rituals like dance and the pilgrimage. Science is actually bringing things full circle, especially in Britain where advocates are petitioning for activities like choirs to be covered by the NHS. Good luck, to the Brits on that one, who are already basking in free universal health care covering acupuncture and psycho therapy.
The most known kirtan singer from the States … a man with a tremendous voice … and an even more tremendous heart …
To read more on kirtan from the Wiki monster:
Kirtan or kirtana (Punjabi: ਕੀਰਤਨ, Sanskrit: “praise, eulogy”; also sankirtan) is call-and-response chanting or “responsory” performed in India’s bhakti devotional traditions. A person performing kirtan is known as a kirtankar. Kirtan practice involves chanting hymns or mantras to the accompaniment of instruments such as the harmonium, tablas, the two-headed mrdanga or pakawaj drum, and karatal hand cymbals. It is a major practice in Vaisnava devotionalism, Sikhism, the Sant traditions, and some forms of Buddhism, as well as other religious groups.
Kirtana may be categorized as ‘bhana’, which, according to Bharata, the initiator-commentator of bharatiya natyasastra, is an individual performance of an actor, who at a time plays many roles as a self and as many others. An n-glossic (amalgamation of many [n] codes) situation was observed in the discursive formation of kirtana. This code-analysis reveals a difference between speaking and ‘musicking’ (the term used by Christopher Small). One of the focuses of kirtana is the akhar, which is between or in between speaking and musicking.
There are several steps in the kirtana: speaking, musicking, dialoguing, rhythmic gaps, well-constructed pauses or silences, simultaneous dancing, acting etc. and akhar is at a time an insider and an outsider. Thus, akhar is a liminal or threshold point of the song, which is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. Moreover, the complicated role-playing of single interlocutors is also also observed in this performance. Though [Volosinov]  found this type of multi-layered performance by a single reader/performer is difficult in the context of Russian narratives, the Bengali kirtaniyas showed the path by performing such difficult text with professional precision. The reporting of the reported speech in the ‘bhana’ of kirtana had become quasi-direct discourse with the full non-authoritarian participation of the three: composer, performer and the audience. If linguistics is considered to be a “discipline” for establishing dialogue without manipulation, the performance of kirtana as an open text might be cited as an example of such dialogue.
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.13-9.14) Krishna states that great souls worship and glorify him single-mindedly. In Maharashtra state of India keertan is a style of devotional solo performance and theatrical folk art which accompanies spiritual story telling along with call-and-response chanting or “responsory” that generally includes combinations of
multiple element of performing arts. Narada is considered the originator of this tradition. The practice of kirtan was popularized as a means to this end in the Hindu devotional revival of the Moghul era.
The Varkari saint Namdev (c. 1270–1350), a Shudra tailor, used the kirtan form of singing to praise the glory of god Vithoba. In the early 16th century CE Chaitanya Mahaprabhu traveled throughout India, popularizing Krishna sankirtan.
In the West
Kirtan became more common with the spread of Gaudiya Vaishnavism by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness‘s (ISKCON) founder A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the 1960s. Yoga centers report an increase in attendance at kirtan; according to Pure Music’s Frank Goodman in 2009, kirtan has taken on a wider popularity.[clarification needed] Kirtan singers have appeared in the West, such as Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das and Jai Uttal as well as Snatam Kaur, Lokah Music, Deva Premal, Sadhu Nada, Aindra Prabhu and Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits.