How to tell your friends about Kirtan

sean johnson kirtan

I live in Atlanta where we have a fairly large Kirtan community, in fact, next to maybe Denver or  Santa Monica, it’s perhaps one of the largest in the US.  I had the absolute pleasure of attending a Kirtan this weekend with Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus band and Dhvani courtesy of Atlanta’s Swaha Productions.  I was so excited, yet when family or friends asked me what I was doing for the weekend, I paused.  I’ve been participating in Kirtan’s for several year, and yet when I try to describe a Kirtan or ‘call and response’ chanting to someone who’s not deeply familiar with yoga or if they’re devoutly Christian, I get looks like I’m going to sacrifice baby goats and worship the devil.

What is hard for me, though, is articulating an experience that can be indescribable.  Trying to wrap words around it doesn’t do it justice, and yet, to be as impassioned about it in describing it to non-yogis, I might very well sound like I’m going to participate in a brain-washing cult. So what DO I say when people look at me quizzically when I mention I’m headed to a Kirtan?  Depending on who I’m talking to and their receptivity, I’ve explained, “It’s a yoga sing-a-long,” “It’s like a hippie concert,” “It’s a call and response devotional chant,” “It’s like a singing meditation.” The truth is, Kirtan is personal and important to me, so whatever the method of education or explanation, there’s no value judgement. It just is.

Kirtan plays an important role in bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion. In general, there are three important aspects of devotion: Listening (shravan), Chanting (kirtan), Remembering with love (smaran).

If that’s too ethereal, I found this great neutral ‘wikipedia’ type definition of Kirtan on the New World Kirtan website:

Kirtan is a very different kind of music.  Based on ancient chants, it has the ability to quiet the mind if listened to with intention.  Everyone experiences kirtan differently, and it doesn’t have to be a religious experience.  You can think of it as a sing-along.  A kirtan concert is not your typical concert either.  Everyone sits on the floor, although chairs are usually available.  The performers are accessible, in fact there’s not much of a distinction between performers & audience.  The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back.  A single chant can go on for up to forty minutes.  As you sing with each other you experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other audience members and yourself.  And when the music stops, your mind is quiet.”

But, Bhakti yoga or Kirtan for that matter aren’t an outward worship like one might find at a Catholic church, it’s an inward practice and a way of clearing our pranic (energetic) bodies of the blockages that prevent us from truly being able to love, accept and surrender. As the chants are in Sanskrit and each word has it’s own vibrational energy, one can literally be transformed through song.

There is one bit of advice I’d like to pass along that I learned when I began a consistent meditation practice.  Practice for practice sake, not for results.

“No better love than love with no object, no more satisfying work than work with no purpose.” – Rumi

Namaste (and much love to Swaha, Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band, and Dhvani)

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Swaha Productions)

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2 thoughts on “How to tell your friends about Kirtan

  1. Wow. I’ve never had a chance to attend a Kirtan. Never even heard of one until now, but it sounds interesting. I’m from Atlanta, but live in the Outer Banks now, so attending seems highly unlikely. I do plan on moving to the Boulder, CO area in the near future so maybe there.

    Dan @

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