If you google “Kirtan” (Keer-tahn) and watch some of the You tube clips, it may look a bit hippie dippy yahoo man, especially when everyone’s got their eyes closed, arms waving in the air, looking like they are under some sort of trance or narcotic. It could well be a scene from Woodstock.
I didn’t google before going to my first Kirtan, so I really didn’t know what to expect, and being new to yoga, I was nervous and felt a bit out of place. I was so self conscious of not being able to sit cross legged, let alone in lotus pose, and oh my lord there’s singing!
There was a little too much going on for me to really let go and enjoy the experience, but something about it stayed with me. A seed had been planted.
There are things you need to know about me and singing, I love it, when I’m on my own and no one else can see or hear me. In my wild youth and some not so youthful years, I have been known to attend a party or two, guitar slung across shoulder, belting out the best from the 70’s and 80’s, of course there’s a catch, never ever did I do this sober. I was too shy, always felt like my voice wasn’t good enough, my guitar playing wasn’t good enough, and really that me, as in I, wasn’t good enough.
Well, the man mat and I have come a long way on our yoga journey and I can now tell you of my experience of Kirtan, and what it means for me. Kirtan is a yogic practice of singing and chanting sacred mantras, where we sing, play instruments such as harmonium, drums, guitar & flute, and come together as a group and as a community. Kirtan is practiced in a call and response manner, the kirtanist sings a line and the audience sing it back. I can now google, watch and know what people practicing Kirtan are experiencing. Its called happiness!
Three years on my man mat and I’ve had an another amazing yogic experience and discovery. Through practicing asana and pranayama, my chest has expanded, giving my heart more openness and room to share and receive love. All I needed to find was a way to verbalise these effects, and I did, or rather it found me. Since that first Kirtan three years ago, I have been to a few more, and as I grew confident with my yoga practise, space was opening up for new experiences. We held a Kirtan jam at our house , and things were so different, the stage fright experienced in the past when I had tried to sing or speak was nowhere to be found. Closing my eyes, sitting on my man-mat, guitar under wing, leading a rendition of the Kirtan Sita Ram was a proud and loud Yogi John. Kirtan had found me, only this time I was open and ready to receive the beauty of its grace, and surrender myself to the practice.
An invitation to lead a Kirtan at a yoga centre came, it was a big step away from the comforts and security of home. I practiced a new kirtan, singing and playing for weeks leading up to the event, all the while pondering on what transformations kirtan was bringing into my life. When my feet left the ground, in the form of “Should I acquire a Pavaroti scarf and perhaps request a rider” my beautiful partner would lovingly reground me, reminding me that Kirtan is not a performance but a practise. So I’m guessing the Bee Gees one piece is out too?
The night came and I could feel my stage fright resurfacing, but on the other hand a powerful sense of calling came over me. I was meant to be here for some reason. I settled into my space in front of the microphone, my eyes closed, I started, and what came out was a voice I hadn’t heard before, a voice full of love, soul, and devotion. I was fully connected with the moment and feeling the beauty of kirtan. I was singing and celebrating, loud and proud, I was sharing yoga. I felt completely at one with the music and with the people singing with me.
Since that night I have gone on to take part and lead in quite a few Kirtan jams where I have played and sung with that same openness and sense of joy. I have just participated in an Akandha Kirtan, six hours of unbroken chanting of the Maha Mantra. There has been mention of a twenty four hour one, the man mat and I will be there for sure.
Come to kirtan with an open heart and open mind, it’s not what you see on the outside or on google, but what you feel on the inside.
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Copyright © 2013 John Falepau