A Kirtan is a communal singing experience that uses call and response chanting of Sanskrit mantras to transport the singers to a state of bliss, peace and joy. Everyone sits on the floor. The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back. A single chant can go on for anywhere between 10 – 40 minutes. Musical instruments like the harmonium and Tabla drums are played.
Going into it I was a bit anxious and not sure I’d really want to sing mantras in a room full of strangers. I was also worried it would feel overly religious or “new agey”. However the atmosphere in the room was very calming by candlelight. The performers welcomed everyone warmly and explained how the Kirtan works. Even though I sometimes forgot what I was suppose to be saying the flow and vibrations of the Sanskrit words created a beautiful mix. My favorite moments were right after the music for a particular mantra/song stops….. it’s then that we have a few moments of silence. It’s in that silence that I felt the potential power of singing the mantra. And found that my mind eased into meditation easier. My only negative was I wish a better translation of all the words were provided – and even a print out of the mantras. The performers provided a summary of what each mantra meant to them beforehand but my brain kept wanting to know exactly what I was singing.
Here a hilarious skit where someone tries to explain what a Kirtan is