Jai Ma, Jai Jai Ma Saraswati, Saraswati ..
As rain clouds closed in on Whitetop Yoga in downtown Abingdon, VA we gathered in hushed anticipation for an evening of chanting, meditation and song—a celebration of Kirtan ((KEER-tahn), a branch of Bhakti Yoga which is considered to be the most direct path to experiencing the Divine within.
Yoga instructors-in-training, and occasional practitioners like me, opened our minds and hearts to the rhythmic fusion of Asheville’s Sangita Devi Kirtan. And we were richly rewarded!
Joining in the call-and-response Sankrit mantras, or simply absorbing the meditative (and at-times-hypnotic) beat of the music, had its way of holding us in its charm. You could be swept up in a wave of emotion, or lulled into reflective stillness .. All of it healing and cleansing, as we swayed and swooned to the tight melodic riffs; hearts singing in unison, and hands clapping in time.
We had become “Sangha”— a community bonded by our intention to be whole and to heal divisions within and without; a community intent on co-creating a lived experience of peace, justice and harmony for all.
As Samata our song leader explained, Sanskrit mantras invoke the various Hindu deities, but by invoking them in chant and verse, we are essentially tapping into the core universal energies that surround us ..
sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts …
Kirtan reminded me, not only of this verse from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, but of the Christian meditative practice of Taizé—a candlelit ritual of meditative chanting founded by Brother Roger of the monastic community of Taizé, in Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France.
Like Kirtan, the Taizé service is centered on the reptition of simple chants, many of them in Latin like Ubi caritas et amor .. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est (where there is charity and love, there God resides). “It is a time to rest in God, to let the words listened to and sung penetrate one’s being,” is how Brother John, a Taizé monk, explains this elegant service in the dark.
As in Kirtan, a Taizé prayer service is punctuated with many moments of silence, allowing participants to rest in stillness or in quiet prayer or reflection.
Way of Devotion
Singing in an ancient, holy language like Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew or Punjabi has a way of evoking devotion in the heart of the singer. As our Kirtan leader Samata explained, simply allowing the music and mantras to evoke whatever response they do, is enough. It is a sacred experience of joy and upliftment, whether one dances around the room belting out the chants or sits in quiet stillness enjoying the feeling of connection with the group ..
The essence of the experience is that of connection and communion ..
“Kirtan is a means of finding our way back to the core of our Being, to our heart, and to our connection with each other.” ~ Ragani
With one final drumroll from the rain on the roof of Whitetop Yoga, our evening of Kirtan came to an end. And with it, we felt awashed in a spirit of gratitude and renewal.
Given the relentless grind of deadlines, finances and social networking we all indulge in daily, an occasional evening of Kirtan (whether one is a yoga practitioner or not) is an elegant way to decompress, reconnect with spirit, and nurture a heart of devotion for the divine presence within and around us.
A precious gift to self and a ragged world in search of its soul.
Om Shreem Hreem Saraswatyai Namaha . . .
Gerard Murphy is the author of Do It Anyway: Deep Spirituality Meets Real Life (Patheos Press), available on Amazon.