Music is a very powerful thing. It can act as a band-aid, helping to heal emotional wounds, or as a time machine, instantly transporting one back 5, 10, 15 years or more just by hearing an old favorite. Music is universal, uniting people of all races, genders and ages. It can put a smile on your face, pep in your step—even cause you to lose all inhibitions and start singing at the top of your lungs!
When music is combined with God’s Holy Names, the effects are magnified immeasurably. The singing or chanting of transcendental mantras is called kirtan. It is both a form of meditation and a way to have a relationship with God. Kirtan comes in many shapes and sizes; it can be mellow with a harmonium, or small pair of cymbals, or a complete rock out with electric guitars, bass, and full drum sets. Kirtan can be done in large groups, or with only two or three people.
The process of kirtan is a simple call and response system—one person leads by chanting a mantra, and the rest of the group repeats it. Engaging in kirtan helps to relieve stress, increases one’s attraction for God’s Holy Names, and brings one closer to God- The Absolute Truth.
Much like japa meditation, kirtan engages our physical senses in transcendental sound—our ears in hearing, and our tongues in singing, purifying the mind and helping us to focus on the mantras with less distraction from the material world. And while it is not required, if we are moved to dance, then we can engage even more bodily senses in transcendental activity.
In fact, acharyas and spiritual teachers have said that dancing during kirtan helps remove the dust and cobwebs that have accumulated on our restless hearts and minds due to the influences of this material world. And the more your soul, mind and body are purified, the easier it will be to focus during your meditation.
This process is so easy that even someone like myself, who has little musical talent and ability, can practice kirtan in the privacy of his home. Just by learning a few chords on an ukulele or guitar, or even just by clapping, I can create a melody that I can sing mantras to. As for the mantras themselves, there are plenty of combinations that can be used for kirtan. Some of my favorites are, “Gopala Govinda Rama MadanaMohana,” and “Haribol Nitai Gaur, Nitai Gaur Haribol.”
Because these mantras are transcendental, you won’t find yourself becoming bored or tired of them, as one does with popular music on the radio. My family and I have daily kirtan, usually in the morning or evening. It’s great to start off the day remembering God, and a nice way to wind down after a long day of work. And like japa meditation and Gauranga breathing, kirtan is a great way to reduce stress or help refocus when the problems of world start piling up.
Another great benefit of kirtan is being able to associate with others who are also striving for a relationship with God. Unlike Japa meditation or Gauranga breathing, which are usually practiced in solitude, kirtan is enhanced when more people participate. Imagine a concert where everyone is singing along with the performing band or individual; that would be a lot of fun, don’t you think? Well, that is what kirtan is—people from all walks of life, all genders and nationalities coming together with one thing in common: God’s Holy Names. The energy of the other people is palpable, and as you immerse yourself in the mantras, you feel happiness, freedom from worldly fear and forget about any life troubles or any kind of mental or psychological suffering you may have.
I hope you will give Kirtan a chance.
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