Kirtan is a bhakti yoga practice of chanting sanskrit mantras to music. Mantra means freeing of the mind (man = mind, tra= free) – freeing ourselves from thoughts and fears, allowing ourselves to be our loving pure essence. Kirtan works by occupying the mind, or focusing the mind on mantra, so there is no room for incessant thinking, worries and ruminating thoughts.
Every morning I play kirtan music to relax and still my mind and bring good vibes into my energy field. It is truly beautiful music with mantras that stay in my mind during the day, keeping me focused on loving energy rather than negative thinking. Personally, I have found that the mantras and tunes spontaneously pop into my mind when I’m just about to think too much! I’ve also used kirtan to heal a broken heart, work through grief and find solace in hard times.
What makes kirtan special?
The mantras used in kirtan hold spiritual meaning, and are often devotional to Hindu gods and goddesses. Westerners may choose to view this practice as a secular one, however I find it opens us up to working with ascended masters of India. The result is usually the same for everyone who tries kirtan – a peaceful mind and joyful feeling in the heart.
Western kirtan music can be of any genre – from rock to jazz to lullabies. The main criteria: it makes the practice appealing to your senses while delivering a meditational experience. As the guru of American kirtan wallah (singer) Krishna Das said, it is easier to take the medicine if it is sweeter.
How do you practice kirtan alone?
You can sing along (but don’t do this while you’re driving!) or listen purely for relaxation. Instead of watching the news or looking at social media when I wake in the morning, I sing along with Krishna Das – he is truly a master of kirtan and I can listen to the same album daily without getting bored. I also play kirtan music while I’m cooking – it puts me in a good mood and hopefully puts good vibes into my dinner!
Attending kirtan events
Going to a live kirtan is a slightly different experience. I first discovered kirtan at a yoga ashram just outside of Sydney. It was a Friday night and a group of yogis were playing beautiful music with instruments including the guitar, Indian drums called the tabla and a portable organ-style keyboard called a harmonium.
A kirtan wallah was leading the audience in call and response chants. As the music built up in energy, the chants became louder and faster, with the audience eventually jumping off the ground into ecstatic dance. As the chant slowed down and the volume lowered, everyone came into stillness and felt the pure Divine energy within. Singing mantras with others led by an experienced kirtan wallah can give you a deep blissful feeling – I like to think of it as cleaning one’s mind and energy body.
Throat chakra healing
Singing might be the one thing that holds people back from participating in a kirtan. It is not necessary to have a beautiful voice or to be able sing well – the act of singing has an effect on your throat chakra, Visuddha – which relates to self expression, authenticity, speaking your truth, standing up for yourself. Have you ever had a knot in your throat? Was this when you needed to tell someone something but couldn’t? Or perhaps you didn’t have the courage to speak up or show the world your real self? Kirtan can help you clear stuck energy in this chakra and strengthen your ability to communicate your needs and authentically be you.
Kirtan for kids
Children will find all kinds of kirtan music appealing – it’s great for calming them down, pre-bedtime, anytime! American kirtan wallah Jai Uttal made a special album just for kids, Kirtan Kids.
Famous kirtan singers
I’ve highlighted some of the top kirtan artists of the Western World in this YouTube playlist (also on my YouTube channel). If you find songs that you like, please support the artists by buying their albums or streaming on official channels such as Spotify or Soundcloud, where royalties are paid.