What is Kirtan?

Music has been around since who-knows-when. It’s safe to say that it’s been around forever. And it’s obviously important. Music affects us in a way that not much else can. It has its own emotional and psychological territory, as well as its very own place in history. The aspect of music that very few people hear however, is of how it can also be a useful tool for spiritual enlightenment and self realization. Music can be used in the most effective spiritual practice in existence known as sankirtan, or kirtan. 

The kirtan process began in India some 500 years ago, originating from Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. This process of kirtan was widespread by Lord Chaitanya and His disciples due to its powerful spiritually cleansing effect. Today kirtan is widely regarded as one of the easiest and most effective ways for one to make spiritual advancement and develop spiritual understanding.

The way in which the kirtan program works is simple: a leader sings or chants certain mantras to a congregation, ranging from as few as 3 people to as many as a concert, after which the congregation repeats it back in turn. 

In case you’re wondering what a mantra is, unlike what most modern new wave teachings propose, it is not some far out word or strange scriptural hymn. A mantra is a name or a combination of names of God, handed down from authentic spiritual masters or preceptors, that purifies the mind and consciousness, and brings us closer to God and to self realization.

Now you may be thinking this sounds like a pretty formal solemn kind of practice of singing together but this is what separates kirtan from most other spiritual practices: it’s loads of fun. 

There are no hard and fast rules to the performing of kirtan. It can be done with guitars, with an accordion, with violins, with drums, or with all of the above. It can be practiced in almost any style of music, with any number and variety of people and voices. The key is to receive a bona fide mantra from a bona fide source. You don’t want a made in China brand, you want the real thing. And unfortunately in today’s world the real thing by way of mantras is all too rare and uncommon.

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