In the past decade in the UK there has been a huge upsurge in the amount of people participating in the practice of kirtan for the first time. Kirtan literally means 'coming together and praising the Name'. Which name are we referring to? The answer with kirtan is that each one comes to the practice with their own connection to the name of the beloved or divine Self. Kirtan is the Yoga of devotion or 'bhakti' through the power of recitation of mantra.
The practice of kirtan originated in 7th century AD in Southern India in Tamal Nadu with the first movement of the Poet Saints who were known as the Alvars and the Nayanars. These saints came to realize that divine consciousness lived within their own hearts. They then wrote poetry expressing the exquisite love and devotion and freedom that they had connected to within hence the name 'bhakti' yoga emerged where the Self could be attained through surrender to the power of divine Love. These saints would travel thousands of miles to share this incredible news with the' lower caste' people or shudras' of India in all the marketplaces around the country. These people had nothing and were banned from attending temples to worship because of their class. The poet saints appeared and transformed their lives. The poor people realized that they didn't have to go to a priest in a temple to find God and that the treasure they were seeking came from within. In that moment of recognition came joy and elation and kirtan came into existence as a celebration in song that they were finally inwardly wealthy and free! As they sang kirtan together praising the name of the God of their understanding they experienced divine love over and over again!
So here we are now in 2019 where the legacy of the Poet Saints has reached the west centuries later. I have witnessed directly, in my experience of leading kirtan for the past 30 years, a huge increase of people searching and thirsting for an inner connection both in my classes and events. They report that their minds have been racing with 'western stimulus overflow' and that they have have been craving a more 'vibration based solution to calming the mind and to uplift the spirits. This intense subject of over thinking is where the practice of kirtan is making a massive impact on communities and is literally transforming lives and especially those with an addictive personality a subject (I will devote more time to in a future blog).
When we come together and chant divine mantras, we are essentially plugging in to Yoga lineages that have preceded us for centuries and we are receiving the blessings of all the enlightened beings who have come before us. Because of their transmission we are able to tap into our inner nature which is blissful and free. We access this state through the vibration of the lineage that the kirtan leader is connected to and is subsequently transmitting. Therefore, it is actually the devotion of the kirtan leader to the mantra they are chanting and the lineage from which it came that is felt by the sangham. It is then that the mantra becomes 'alive' for us and we experience our own higher Self. For some we begin to follow the same devotional lineage as that of our leader but for the most part it is enough to maintain the connection through our own individual practice and devotion to a particular mantra of choice or should I say that invariably the mantra chooses us!
The other essential ingredient to a mantra becoming 'alive' for us is the raga or melody it is sung in. The particular notes of the melody invoke specific moods and vibrations that touch our hearts and inspire strong emotion. (another area I will share more about in a future blog)
It is so exciting to see the great kirtan movement spreading today in the West as rapidly as it did in India centuries ago. Recently in London I had the good fortune to attend the great American kirtan leader Jai Uttal's recent concert in London.Jai Uttal's lineage is Neem Karoli Baba or most commonly known as Maharaj -ji and was a Hindu guru mystic and devotee of the Hindu deity Hanuman. I could tangibly feel Jai's devotion to Maharaj-ji when he sang particularly in the devotional mantras to his teacher at the start. The evening developed into a classic climax of exquisite mantras accompanied by rock and roll rhythms and the sangham erupted into celebration and dance for joy and freedom! (see video below).
Next month stay posted for Kirtan and the Addictive Personality.
Nikki Slade copyright. August 2019.
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