Kirtan as Meditation

Kirtan is a singing, chanting practice that is part of the Bhakti* (devotion to your creator) tradition in yoga. While it might appear on the surface…

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Kirtan is a singing, chanting practice that is part of the Bhakti* (devotion to your creator) tradition in yoga. While it might appear on the surface that it is an entertainment, the reality is that Kirtan is a profound meditation practice.

Meditation is often thought of as the elimination of thought from the consciousness. True enough, if not an oversimplification, but a difficult task. Sometimes it’s easier to replace the random, spontaneous thoughts with a single, repetitive thought that has meaning and loft, and to concentrate and focus on that, assisting stillness, resting on a single thought.

 Tablas
 

The Mantra:  Mantra means ‘Mind Tool’

Kirtan uses mantra, simple (not always), repetitive devotional phrases which the practitioner swaps with the random spontaneous thoughts streaming from the mind. The mind takes up the mantra and its meaning, or at least its implication and becomes a center of Self-awareness. We work on that divine inner place that we know is there but that we cannot touch. The mantra is repeated over and over until it becomes something like a background object, there reminding you of your particular quest. A single syllable or phrase, a long, involved invocation; to chant is enough. This is the basics, except for one thing. One should cultivate a supreme purity about this practice. It is nothing less than a celebration of life, creation, existence and a personal expression of heart-centered gratitude for your existence.

Kirtan turns what would ordinarily be a solitary, personal offering into a musical celebration among friends. People gather and chant together. Musical instruments are played. A Kirtan leader sings the chant and the participating audience sings it back in response, over and over… It creates a sort of rapture. It entrains vibrational energies. It becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. You realize that your participation was essential to that event. It couldn’t have happened the way it did without your (and everyone else’s) being there… Being present. It really can be extraordinarily profound.

 Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band
 

A solitary, personal offering:

To chant is the object. Our personal, heart offering is the object. The mantra guides, focuses your inner path, either by meaning or by melody/rhythm. It keeps us attuned, sharp, aware. It is a drishti, a center, which holds us to our path. It’s a technique that enables us to explore by choice. The moment you start to chant, your practice begins. One begets the other. It requires no one but you.

And yet, we gather for Kirtan with like-minded (and the curious) folks with the intention to participate in each other’s experience. Our personal experience both radiates and absorbs energy. It becomes a oneness of individual AND a oneness of multitude. As your practice grows it becomes a part of your makeup. You look forward to the mantra, the Kirtan. You realize that your voice has meaning and that it’s worth sharing. You become part of a community. Kirtan is a place of being. It becomes a group home.

 Kirtan Collage

A Universal offering:

Kirtan comes from the east, from India. But it was never intended to be exclusively Hindu or Buddhist. All faith-based systems have both singing and invocation in their traditions. Singing, music and devotion to creation are universal expressions. They span all traditions.

Pilgrimage of the Heart hosts Kirtan every Thursday evening at 8:30pm in the East Room. No experience necessary. Free and open to all.

 

* For further reading about Bhakti see Sir Edwin Arnold’s Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 8. This is the most beautiful translation of the Gita I know of. It is said that Ghandi carried this translation with him for the majority of his life. Read this book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gayatri Mantra – An Ancient Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence…

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The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence.

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

 

I lead a weekly Kirtan practice at Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego. We’ve been practicing as a community for over five years and the Gayatri Mantra has become one of our staple chants.

As a Kirtan leader I enjoy exploring the deep meanings of the chants, which allows me to enter more deeply into the spirit and intent behind these beautiful utterances.

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The Gayatri Mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago. It is said that the sage Vishwamitra was given the Gayatri Mantra by the Supreme Being for his many years of reverence and meditation, to be shared with all humanity, so there is considered no earthly author.

It has also been said that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself recited this mantra. (See The Light of Asia – Arnold, Book the First, page 7, Routledge)

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Chanted through the Ages…

The Gayatri Mantra has been chanted by trillions of people over the course of eons. Quite literally it is likely sung by a billion people every day, even today.

There is a wealth of commentary and opinion as to good translations of the chant. Googling Gayatri Mantra will generate numerous interpretations. The basic gist follows:

The word Gayatri refers to the meter of the verse. The mantra consists of three lines of eight syllables each. But wait. There are four lines! That’s because the first line isn’t actually a part of the mantra itself. Its a prefix.

The Great Utterance.

The first line is a mantra unto itself and is known as, “The Great (spiritual) Utterance” (mahāvyāhṛti).

It precedes many other mantras, is used universally or can be recited by itself. It is a great aligning and centering phrase and can be interpreted as aligning oneself to the earth, heavens and what lies beyond… Or, aligning with the material world, the world of mind and with the supreme spirit… The important idea is the alignment of one’s Self with the purest Unity.

The meaning…

The mantra itself begins with the word, ‘Tat’ which means ‘That’ and refers to the Supreme that defies any earthly description…

Savitur means Sun, but not the physical sun. More like the divine light of knowledge and discernment, the animating impetus for everything.

Varen(i)yam means adoration.

Next line: Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi means contemplation of the Divine, Illuminated Grace.

Last Line: Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat means loosely, whose divine intellect/illumination our prayers/meditations are for/about…

As a leader of a kirtan practice, I found the original meter (three lines of eight syllables) to be somewhat cumbersome to arrange musically/lyrically for western interpretation. So, I broke from the original meter and formed lines as follows:

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya

Dhimahi dhiyo yo

Nah prachodayat

 

This arrangement allows for a chant that musically simple and beautiful, and easy to play and sing.

Here’s our version and a link to another version with the classic meter:

Our arrangement: Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan band

Classic arrangement: This is a beautiful version by Deva Premal.

It actually maintains the classic meter while running each ‘measure’

as 5 – 6 – 6 – 7 beats per line. Beautiful, but challenging for most to follow and sing with.

 

A must have…

What is important is that the mantra be chanted with the utmost of pure intentions and an appreciation for the profound implications of the scope of this chant. It is an outpouring of one’s heart to the Supreme and a recognition of the Divine Grace bestowed upon all creation and beyond.

If you have a chanting practice, The Gayatri Mantra is a ‘must have’ in your repertories.

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Tonight: Kirtan Band Streaming Live!

Join us online for an evening of music, community and joyful fun! Every Thursday night Pilgrimage Yoga Online…

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Join us online for an evening of KIRTAN: music, community and joyful fun!

Every Thursday night the Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band streams Kirtan music live.  WATCH LIVE at 8:15pm (Pacific) using the FREE Stre.am app for iOS and Android. Download the app, sign in and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us. Become part of our world-wide Kirtan community.

Kirtan is a music and chanting meditation practice with its origin in the bhakti tradition of yoga; the practice of devotion to the creator. By singing and chanting we vibrate our bodies and resonate with good energy.  And by occupying our minds with a ‘Mantra,” a meaningful devotional phrase, we are better able to focus our attention on devotion to our creator, creation and our place in it. At its very best kirtan is a deeply profound and moving meditation practice. At its least its a fun, entertaining hour.

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Pilgrimage Yoga Online Kirtan features chants from the major faith based systems, ancient, contemporary and original mantra and song.

Join us streaming live Thursday nights at 8:15-9:15pm (pacific)!

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