Kirtan is the call-and-response form of chanting that typifies the Hare Krishna movement; it is the congregational singing of spiritually uplifting songs, prayers, or the sacred names of the Supreme Being. It is accompanied with traditional Indian instruments such as the mrdanga (drum) and kartalas (hand cymbals). Kirtan is the most powerful means of meditation to invoke the inner beauty of one’s own identity in relation to the Supreme spirit.
There are many different forms of kirtan and there are multifarious melodies to engross the partaker into diving deeper into a meditative spirit in order to connect to the Spiritual Divinity. The mantras accompanied by the cadence of the instruments, immediately injects the spiritual potency into the listeners’ hearts nullifying inauspiciousness and transforming the consciousness to a spiritual plane. Indeed due to kirtan being of a spiritual nature, one cannot fathom the boundless beneficial effects through the limited material senses such as the ears and eyes.
The word “mantra” means to deliver (tra) the mind (mana), and it is one of the easiest methods to use. The mantra itself, depending on which one used, often incorporates a vibrational formula to call various energies or powers to oneself, or to awaken one to higher states of awareness and perception and realizations. In this way, layers of illusion and confusion are peeled away giving one clarity and focus.
There are two mantras that are especially recommended in the Vedic literature. One is omkara or the om mantra, and the other is Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, which is known as the maha or great mantra. It is explained that these two mantras can deliver one to the realm beyond material existence.
The mantra that is especially meant to be chanted in this age is easy and is actually more directly connected with the Supreme than the sound vibration of omkara because it contains the direct holy names of the Lord. So the mantra for Kali-yuga (the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy) is the maha-mantra, or great mantra for deliverance, which is Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The reason that chanting the Lord’s names is such an effective process is because the Lord and His names are identical: they are the same spiritual energy. By chanting Hare Krishna we are in immediate contact with God. If we chant someone else’s name, we cannot enjoy their association because the name and the person are different. For example, by chanting “water, water, water,” we do not quench our thirst because water and the name are two different things. But in the spiritual world everything is absolute. Krishna is nondifferent from His names and, therefore, we can feel His presence simply by chanting His names. It is explained that because chanting the names of God brings us in direct contact with God in proportion to the chanter’s purity, this process of self-realization is the way of success for everyone
Fundamentally kirtan is based on glorifying these Holy names (usually the Maha mantra). Kirtan is a spiritual journey: usually starting off with a slow tempo, gradually building up to euphoric crescendos bringing with it the concomitant emotions of extreme joy and elation. The atmosphere becomes instantly surcharged with spiritual energy and the enthusiasm of the participants knows no bounds. One who has experienced such an uplifting kirtan immediately desires to have millions of ears in order to hear the sweet kirtan more attentively and wishes to have millions of mouths so that one can venerate the Lord with greater exuberance. The captivating nature of the melodious tunes fused with the eclectic blend of instruments induces the heart with deep sentiments and enlivens the soul to profound levels of delight.
All can participate in this chanting-the more participants, the greater the efficacy. Whether one is musically gifted or hasn’t got a rhythmical inclination, not considering caste, creed, colour, religious background or gender; all unite through the medium of this musical experience, transcending the mundane platform and transporting them to a spiritual realm far beyond the grasp of any modern transportation mechanism.
The spiritual sound vibration has been invested with the unlimited divine qualities of the Lord; being fully replete with the spiritual potency, kirtan is the easiest method to connect to the spiritual stratum. The soul is of a spiritual nature and is naturally pleasure-seeking. Despite economic development and the world of consumerism in which we live in today, no amount of fanciful gadgets and hi-tech devices satisfies the soul-the soul is still yearning for something much deeper and no amount of superficial delights can appease the soul’s hankerings. Since time immemorial it has been crying out to be absorbed and reconnected to its spiritual source. The act of Kirtan nourishes and supplies that missing ingredient and pacifies the materially-stricken soul.