Let me tell you a story... about my first Kirtan experience, the smell of barbecue and how a mantra can change your life; about how chanting to a god has nothing to do with religion; what is a Kirtan and what does all of this have to do with a barbecue?
I remember the first time I sat in a Kirtan. It was about 8 years ago. I had just started to embark on the yogic path and the only thing I knew about was Asanas and some Pranayama techniques. Everything else still sounded weird and made me suspicious. Especially the chanting. An Om at the beginning and end of the class was okay. Everything else though was too much.
„Even the impossible becomes possible through devotion.” Sarada Devi
As my friend Anne was also starting to venture out on the yogic path we decided it would be amazing to go on a yoga retreat together. We both needed to watch our spending so decided to go with an offer we had found on Groupon. Little did we know that the place we chose is one of Germany’s few Ashrams and that they are really rooted deep into the philosophy and yoga as a path, not an Asana.
When we arrived at the place we were already startled that everybody was dressed in white or orange, people didn’t seem to be too chatty and everything seemed very serene. When we found out that we were supposed to clean our own room after checkout we were shocked. We still didn’t know about the concept of an ashram back then.
Anyways, one morning we thought we might try the morning chanting. It was in a cellar room where they had done the Agni Hotra, the fire ceremony, just before the chanting and it felt like walking into a barbecue. We were handed a book with songs and kind of felt like being back in church. While everyone was singing we tried to follow the text, get the pronunciation right and not be thrown off by the seriousness that seemed to be printed on everyone’s face. My friend and I just looked at each other, trying not to laugh and thinking, “What the ... am I doing here?”
I probably don’t have to tell you that we didn’t go back. Neither to the Kirtan nor the Ashram.
Fast forward 8 years. I couldn’t appreciate and love mantras more. I have had amazing teachers guiding me through all kinds of mantras, showing me how to play the harmonium and how to sing from the heart. How to chant with different intentions and for different purposes, which mantras to use in which situation and how to pass on this knowledge. Mantras are sacred texts that are chanted or internally or externally recited. In general they are very liberating. Mantras are chanted in a Kirtan but also part of a yogic practice or the Hindu culture. Listen to our Ganesha Mantra here.
You might be asking yourself by now, what is a Kirtan actually? Kirtan is part of the Bhakti Yoga path (the path of devotion) where you come together to chant i.e. sing to different gods. As Yoga isn't related to a religion, the gods actually stand for something deeper like devotion, consciousness etc. It is kind of a spiritual concert, mostly accompanied by a Harmonium, a string instrument and drums or something else to mark the rhythm. In a Kirtan everybody is part of the concert, the musicians only lead the way. Participants sing, clap, dance and allow whatever emotions arise to show up. Sometimes this music can open your heart, filling you with joy, sometimes it can send you into a beautiful melancholy, bringing out bittersweet tears. Everything is welcome in a Kirtan which creates a beautiful space of love and connection. We completely surrender to the practice and create a state of deep gratitude, belonging and peace.
"I am the Supersoul, seated in the hearts of all living beings. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings." Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita
Both my first "real" experience with a mantra and with a Kirtan were in India. During my first Teacher Training in 2014 we had a guest teacher, a Swami who had learned Mantra chanting in Kerala. He sang the Gayatri Mantra for us. His voice was so pure and the tones were so perfect, in unison with the universe. I felt like someone had sent me to heaven (nirvana/kaivalya) during the duration of the mantra. I had never had an experience like that before. And I wasn't about to have that experience again until early 2016.
We went to a Mooji satsang and before it started, Kirtans or also called Bhajans were played on the stage. One of the mantras, Arunachala, hit me like lightning. I couldn't stop the tears from coming. They weren't sad tears. They weren't happy ones either. They were just pure. Cleansing. Liberating. It felt like coming home. Like remembering. It felt like oneness. I remember thinking how amazing it is to be able to play an instrument, sing so pure and bring such a gift to people.
I went to more Kirtans all around the world and had a few of these experiences. They are always different. Each Kirtan is different. Depending on the musicians, the instruments, your mood, your intention, if combined with cacao and much more. Click here to get an idea and watch our last online Kirtan. Listen, sing, let go, allow, dance, flow. Every experience is unique. But each one is bringing you a little bit closer to home.