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The Love of Kirtan September 6, 2009

Posted by Ann Bertorelli in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , ,


I am spending the Labor Day weekend at Omega Institute, a highly regarded holistic/alternative education facility, located in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York.

I have come here, as I do most every Labor Day weekend, to participate in Omega’s Ecstatic Chant Workshop—a long weekend devoted to a practice called kirtan. Kirtan is the practice of chanting the name of God. Its roots are found in the Hindu religion. I am, and have been for many years, totally in love with kirtan.

It all began when in the mid-70’s (as in 1970’s), I took myself off to live in an ashram to become a yoga teacher. For those of you who know about these things—it was Sivananda Ashram in Val Morin, Canada. Living in a yoga ashram is in many ways like living in a monastery or dare I say it—a nunnery in that there are certain spiritual practices that are a part of each day’s routine. One of these was the practice of satsang which occurred each morning and each evening. In satsang we chanted until our guru decided it was time to stop–which could be an hour or much, much longer. It was during this time that I came to love kirtan.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a practicing Hindu. However, some of the practices that I learned during that time have remained with me in the years since.

Kirtan is a form of yoga. The most common association with yoga is the image of very flexible people putting themselves into unusual positions. That is the form of yoga called hatha yoga. Kirtan is the yoga of devotion, sometimes referred to as bhakti yoga.

So what does kirtan sound like? If you’d like to hear a sample go to http://www.krishnadasmusic.com/all_one.htm. (more about Krishna Das later)

The classic form of kirtan is call-response. The chant leader sings the chant then the followers repeat the chant. The leader sings again and the followers respond. This goes on for a very long time. It’s not unusual for one chant to last for a half hour or more. A good kirtan singer sings variations of the melody and varies the the pace.

The words of a kirtan are usually the names of God in Sanskrit. An example? “Om namah Sivaya.” Roughly translated as “hail to Shiva.”

But really it’s not the translation of the words that make kirtan a powerful form of meditation. The power of kirtan comes from the “juice” of millions of people singing these same words over hundreds of years and, in the process, imprinting them with the power and love of their devotion. When I chant kirtan I feel myself to be a part of that devotional community. And when I chant kirtan I feel better than when I started—way better– which is why I do it.

More about that later….now I have to go chant. Hari, Hari!

— Amara



1. Daniel Tucker - February 16, 2012

Such a great description & post. I’ve heard wonderful things of the Omega chant weekends, I gotta get out for one of those… thanks for sharing your love of kirtan!

edgyangel - February 17, 2012

Thanks for stopping by Daniel…I hope you do get to Omega for the chant weekend.Your website is wonderful and at this moment I am listening to the beautiful Snatum Kaur sing ‘By Thy Grace’ courtesy of your great video…Namaste!

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